Carved Wooden Heart by Elizabeth Horton-Newton, Starla Hartless

Goodness gracious this book is an emotional roller coaster! It’s an exploration of how fate takes a hand in one woman’s love life so that she experiences the highest of highs, and lowest of lows with two men at different points in her life.

What’s It About? 32063600

A sexy encounter with a talented native artist, a broken heart, and a knight in shining armor are just the beginning in this passionate erotic romance. Dani Stone never expected to fall in love with carver Jesse Wolf Carver. She certainly didn’t foresee the results of her intense one night stand with the sexy hunk. From the wealth of New York City to a small southern community, follow Dani as she journeys the winding path fate has laid out for her.

First Impressions

Dani and Jesse initially come together as she interviews him for an article she’s writing on native art forms, and then proceed to imbibe in alcoholic delights before spending a few passionate days wrapped up in each other. She never expected her life to change forever after falling into the arms of this devilishly handsome, and sometimes hot-headed artist. But an unfortunate misunderstanding, not to mention his proclivity for alcoholic indulgence, forces Dani to run from him. Little did she know he left her with something more permanent than some memories of hot and intense sex. Soon after putting Jesse behind her, she starts to explore something new with another man who simply wants to look after her. Throughout the whole thing you wonder, how is this ride going to end? Will Jesse and Dani ever come back together to rediscover what brought them together in the first place?

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From Start to Finish

I do think this book could have been organized a bit differently to hep with the overall flow of the story. We are introduced to Jesse at the very start of the novel when he re-enters Dani’s life after an obviously lengthy time apart, and we then proceed into a flashback about how he and Dani first met. I have nothing against flashbacks, but instead of coming back to the present after discovering how they first met, almost the entire novel is a very extended flashback showing how Dani must move on in her life to explore a relationship with another man. All the while, Jesse is notably physically absent for the majority of the book. Throughout the whole story we remember Jesse in the back of our minds, and we’re just wondering how long until we reach that moment from the start of the novel where they reunite in the present.

 

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Unfortunately I do think it was almost too much of a separation from Jesse and their few days together in the past. The two had an obvious connection, and Jesse himself was a pretty intriguing character, I guess I just wanted more scenes that had him and Dani together in the same room! He isn’t reintroduced as a main character until almost 80% of the novel is complete, and honestly during all that time I sort of had trouble remembering why their brief relationship fell apart to begin with. Perhaps we could have started right away with how Dani and Jesse met, and proceeded forward chronologically as though it was happening in real time? Or I might have even liked the opposite, where we see more returns to that moment where Dani and Jesse reunite with flashbacks interspersed throughout. Just a thought!

So Freakin’ Cute

Hands down, my absolute favorite character in this entire novel would have to be a young precocious child named Dylan. He was so freakin’ adorable, and quite funny for such a young lad. His intelligence and artistic talent just added to his personality, and you can’t help but love him. Just like with Jesse, I would have liked to see more from Dylan as well, specifically in his interactions with some of the adults in the novel. He’s seemingly quite mature for his age, and if he had been given the chance to have more one-on-one moments with some of the other characters, I think he could have helped them discover things about themselves they may not have known before.

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Short Chapters

Another feature that I saw as both a blessing and a curse to the organization of the novel was the chapter length. For the most part, the chapters are quite brief which is something I usually love! It makes it so much easier to read during commercial breaks whilst watching TV in the evening. However, when you combine this with the fact that we have over 400 pages divided into about 6 parts and 104 chapters, the novel starts to feel a bit broken up and staggered.

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Many chapters would often end with a feeling of dread, or a hint of things to come. When you have so many chapters ending on this note, it kind of starts to wear on you after a while. Just when you think things will start to turn the corner for the better, you’re basically told to not get your hopes up. There’s a part in the middle of the novel where it seems like every chapter ends on a note of, “little did I know the happiness wouldn’t last”, or “I thought the worst had come, but little did I know…”. It was just too much anxiety after a while by constantly waiting around for the worst, and then the eventual ultimate worst, to come.

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Back to the Present

When we do finally catch up with the present, it was kind of shocking how quickly everything came together. We just sort of jump right back into how the novel started, with very little recap after having spent so much time apart. After spending the majority of the book going over what Dani went through for the last few years separated from Jesse, I felt like we never fully discovered what he went through in the interim.

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We do learn a few details, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he too ever spent time with someone else? Why did it take so long before he finally sought out Dani in person? It seems like we never really learn the answers to these questions. I also would have liked to simply learn more about Jesse’s past, and how he came to be the man he is today. Most of the book’s attention is focused on Dani, which is definitely understandable, but maybe having a few more chapters focus on Jesse could have provided us with a window into his oftentimes complex personality.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Should you read it? This is an emotional roller coaster of a read. It shows how fate can be both generous and a heartless bitch in the same vein. I will say it really seemed like this was mainly Dani’s story, and an exploration of her growth as a character more than anything, or anyone else. I think the story could have been structured a bit differently to help with the overall flow, but it’s still an interesting tale of newfound love, love lost, and love found again. Some of you might want to have a few tissues on hand when you read this one!

Smut Level: Phew! Jesse is a bad boy with a motorcycle, and you can definitely sense he has a naughty and flirtatious side to him. The heat between him and Dani is delectably sultry, though not too over the top in description.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Createspace Publishing. 435 Pages.

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A Drop of Paradise by Alex L. Michaels

Ahoy ladies and gents! In this steamy romance we have white sand beaches, crystal clear blue water, a city girl outside her comfort zone, a ruggedly handsome boat captain willing to show her a good time, and a few bullets flying past their heads. I mean, pretty much everything you need for a beach read!

What’s it About? 

She needs peace and quiet. He’s a distraction.

She wants to be left alone. He’s inevitable.

She has a writer’s block. He might be the cure.

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The only thing Jessica Slade wanted was some peace and quiet, and to finally finish her book. So, a place called A Drop of Paradise was supposed to do the trick. With its stunning sandy beaches, crystal clear, aquamarine waters and tropical sunsets, it was supposed to cure more than a writer’s block. But, when an unfortunate series of events leaves her stranded on a remote island with an overbearing, arrogant, roguish, but ruggedly handsome stranger, her life starts to seem much more like the romance novels that she writes about. Broad-shouldered Mike Stone is irresistible, sexy and cooler than a mojito in your hand, and maybe even a perfect, muscled ideal for the cover of her next novel, but not all the imagination in the world could prepare her for what can happen between two strangers on a spit of sand, when sparks start to fly and anger turns to lust.

First Impressions

Within the first few chapters of this novel I couldn’t help but compare it to a combination of Romancing the Stone and Six Days, Seven Nights. Our heroine is a successful romance novelist who’s seeking some peace and quiet on a beach far removed from the stresses of her life, both professionally and personally. She quickly encounters a ruggedly dashing boat captain named Mike who is determined to show her a good time, both socially and sexually.

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The two proceed to get lost and stranded on a few different islands in the Caribbean. Nothing too overly dire, but definitely some adventures that put a wrench in Jessica’s plans to relax. Throughout this time our leads run into a variety of oftentimes kooky characters with their own personalities, not to mention some elements of danger as storms approach and bullets fly. Quite the engaging read!

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Let’s Talk About Sex…ual Tension

For the love of all that is holy these two have a sexual attraction that is hotter than the Caribbean sun. Practically from the moment they meet Mike turns on his flirtatious charms, and while Jessica tries her best to keep him away from her enticing lips, well, let’s just say she fails miserably. It’s not long before these two engage in some powerful make out sessions. I seriously lost count of the number of times Mike either stomped up to Jessica to grab her face in his hands and crush their lips together, or she would try to turn away from him only to have him grasp her arm and spin her around into his chest for a heady lip-lock.

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However, something that initially adds to the overall comedic aspect of the novel is the fact that these two are always interrupted from taking things further. Oh don’t get me wrong, they definitely have their moments of grinding on each other, nipple brushes, and legs being lifted up higher for the optimal rubbing angle. Unfortunately, whether it be flying bullets, an old island man seeking help with his rusty boat, or friends walking in on them, the two never seem to have the chance to get each other completely naked. After a while I actually questioned if it would ever happen, and if it did I assumed we’d be privy to one quick scene and that’d be it. Boy was I wrong! Towards the very end of the novel we sort of switch gears from adventurous comedic romance to full on erotica. Somewhat disjointed, but I for one won’t complain.

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Let’s Take a Look at Them Bullets!

As I’ve mentioned a few times now, there are moments when Jessica and Mike will be locked in an intimate embrace, or perhaps even arguing with each other, when a bullet will fly overhead. There are a few other minor suspicious things that take place, but all in all I’d have to say this dramatic side to the story never really came full circle for me. I think it was introduced well enough, as we wonder why anyone would possibly have something against this well-known romance novelist.

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But then this element disappears from the story for a pretty large portion of the novel, and is then quickly resolved with very little explanation at the last moment. I feel like we never truly get to understand the motive behind this hidden gunman before it’s simply brushed aside. If it had been more fully incorporated into the overall story I think this really would have had a huge, positive impact to the arch of the plot.

A Hesitant Heroine

Outside factors are often the primary inhibitors to our lead characters reaching sexual fulfillment. That being said, there were also a few moments when Jessica herself would put a stop to things. To say that this would cause Mike an exorbitant amount of frustration is quite the understatement. She had the tendency to go from burning up fever hot to frigid cold in .05 seconds with no explanation whatsoever. She’d usually just run away from him if she could. At the end of the novel Jessica sort of explains that she was just scared to feel anything too much for him after being alone for so long. I gotta say though I wasn’t really buying her explanation. It lacked any real momentum behind it to the point where, similar to our hidden gunman, I feel like we never really learned her motivation/reasoning behind constantly pushing Mike away.

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

Series: I don’t think so, but there are a few secondary characters that I would just love to see featured in their own novel.

Should you read it? This is a quick, fun read. Certain details could have been expanded on a bit more, specifically why Jessica was so hesitant to pursue an intimate relationship with Mike, as well as the motivations of our villain. There were also a few grammar mistakes, but I’ve heard they’ve since been updated! Overall, a fun read to take to the beach. Just be sure you have a few Mai Tai’s on hand to cool off!

Smut Level: At first I questioned if we would ever get around to the good stuff. Then before you know it, BAM! We’ve got sensual scenes on beaches, dining room tables, and in showers with plenty of dirty talking description. Definitely worth the wait.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services, LLC. 285 Pages.

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The Weekend by Alan Winnikoff

A short novel about two people who take a weekend to get to know each other better. And the best part? You can easily finish this read in the span of a real weekend, no problem.

What’s it About? 

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One autumn Friday in New York in 1995, two people come together in a luxury apartment for a glass of wine. They already know each other, not well, but well enough to have shared a couple of kisses. They wind up spending this particular weekend together. Over the course of two days, we learn much about them – they are alternately petty and generous, brave and fearful, self-absorbed and giving. At the end of the weekend they go their separate ways. Was this a one time thing or will they find each other again?

First Impressions

Well, I had the absolute wrong first impression whilst reading this entire short novel. Just taking a first glimpse at the cover art, and then hearing that our male lead, Jeff, works in the World Trade Center? My immediate thought was…well, I hope you get the most out of your weekend because unfortunately things are about to go downhill very quickly. You see, I made the mistake of reading the Goodreads synopsis instead of the Amazon one, which fails to specify that this takes place in the mid-90s rather than 2001!

I was needlessly on pins and needles the whole time, looking for clues in all of the scenes which might imply whether or not the story was taking place in September. What’s the weather like? There’s a mention of autumn. She’s wearing a scarf. He’s watching the baseball finals. For the love of God when the hell do the finals of baseball normally take place?!?! Damn my lack of sports knowledge!! We get to the end of the weekend and I just think, oh God here it comes! And then…nothing. No reference at all to 9/11. And that’s when I made the genius decision to check out the synopsis on Amazon. Well, I almost feel like I need to re-read this now.

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Friday to Sunday

Now for the actual story rather than my crazy imagination. Honestly, I loved this format for a novel. It’s quick, concise, and the format itself also tells a story. This short novel is all about two people who want to see if it’s worth exploring a relationship beyond friendship with each other, and they do it in the span of a weekend. Literally. The novel starts on a Friday after work and ends on a Sunday afternoon. In that time, we see our lead characters question if they want something more than what they have, and explore what is most important to them in a partner.

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Flaws and Flirtations

Not gonna lie, all things considered I can’t say I’m entirely pleased with how things develop, and how they chose to test their compatibility. But that’s what’s so brilliant about this short format. I don’t think it’s really set up for us to necessarily like or dislike these characters. Instead, it’s almost like we are looking through a window at their interactions with each other. We see how they are imperfect beings, as both are currently in relationships with other people. The fact that either is even considering the pursuit of something new with the other should reflect that neither is exactly happy with what they currently have. But are they willing to make the leap to something official, or will they settle for what they already have? The ending isn’t necessarily 100% concrete with an answer to that question, in a way feeling sort of unfinished, but I think we can guess at what will happen with these two.

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An Apartment for Two

In addition to a more firm ending I think another change I would have liked to see was in regards to the setting. Carolyn is cat/house sitting for some family friends of hers (something I can personally connect with), and invites Jeff over so they can explore their feelings for each other. On Saturday though, there’s a time where they leave the apartment to eat and go shopping. Personally, I would have preferred if the entire book had taken place within the apartment.

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I think it could have given off a vibe of a stage play, while also heightening their actions and emotions when confined to a single apartment in such a large city. Then to end the weekend with them both emerging from the apartment could have been such a symbolic gesture of them taking the next steps in their relationship to either go off in the same direction arm-in-arm, or part ways. Emerging into reality as it were. Just a thought!

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

Series: Nope. In a perfect world I would love to see what comes next, but I think what also makes this work unique is the fact that we are offered just a brief glimpse.

Should you read it? It’s a quick read. I think it could have come together a bit more concisely towards the end. Also, I really wish they had stayed within the apartment for the whole weekend. It would have eliminated any possible distractions from the outside world, and allowed them to truly focus on the other.

Smut Level: We have about 1.5 scenes with some detail. It’s hard to revel in them though considering both are in relationships with other people.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Publisher: Books to Go Now. 131 Pages.

Unteachable by Leah Raeder, Eliott Wake

A clear lesson to all the ladies and gents out there: when it comes to sex, don’t lie about your age. Just…don’t.

What’s it About? 

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Maise O’Malley just turned eighteen, but she’s felt like a grown-up her entire life. The summer before senior year, she has plans: get into a great film school, convince her mom to go into rehab, and absolutely do not, under any circumstances, screw up her own future. But life has a way of throwing her plans into free-fall.

When Maise meets Evan at a carnival one night, their chemistry is immediate, intense, and short-lived. Which is exactly how she likes it: no strings. But afterward, she can’t get Evan out of her head. He’s taught her that a hookup can be something more. It can be an unexpected connection with someone who truly understands her. Someone who sees beyond her bravado to the scared but strong girl inside. That someone turns out to be her new film class teacher, Mr. Evan Wilke.

Maise and Evan resolve to keep their hands off each other, but the attraction is too much to bear. Together, they’re real and genuine; apart, they’re just actors playing their parts for everyone else. And their masks are slipping. People start to notice. Rumors fly. When the truth comes to light in a shocking way, they may learn they were just playing parts for each other, too.

First Impressions

You guys, I had a lot of problems with this book. It all starts with the first introductions we have of our lead characters. Honestly, not the best. They meet at a summer carnival, which is just so Grease I can’t even help myself (not that that’s a bad thing). As the evening progresses, they both ask the other how old they are. Each has a coy response of “old enough…”. Mkay, here we go. Let’s start with Evan. I’m sorry but if you’re flirting it up with a girl who seems young enough where you find yourself questioning her age, and she comes back with that response?! You turn the other way and run as fast as you can.

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For Maise, she knows that Evan is older than her, and that’s what draws her to him in the first place. She’s not interested in having casual sex with someone her own age who will be finished with the act in 24.3 seconds and lament over having to wear a condom. Damn, gives a pretty unfortunate generalization of teenage guys here. Not only does Maise lie about her age (says she’s 21, actually 18) and occupation (says she’s a stripper, actually a high school student), but Evan’s inability to admit what he actually does for a living (high school teacher!!!) could have avoided this whole mess from the start. It doesn’t paint them in a very good light for a first impression.

Daddy Issues

You guessed it! It all comes back to the father figure. Even Maise admits this is why she’s attracted to having casual sex with older men. Maise was abandoned by her father when she was little, and left to live with her drug addicted mother. When it comes to relationships, Maise leaves these older men by the time the night is over so they aren’t the ones to leave her. Phew, that’s a lot of family drama right there! I think this is presented as the primary reason we are supposed to sympathize with Maise’s character. My problem with this is that she has the tendency to treat everyone around her like utter crap, including her best friend. Maise seems desperate to convince herself and others that she’s an adult. She gives off this arrogant persona as though she’s better and smarter than everyone else around her, specifically when it comes to her classmates. However, in my humble opinion this attitude of hers, in addition to her actions with Evan, truly bring her immaturity to the forefront.

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After having what she thought would be a one-night stand with Evan, she comes to discover that he is actually her high school film teacher. When they both realize this unfortunate coincidence it doesn’t prevent her from continuing to pursue him. If anything, it spurs her on. When Evan tries to explain that continuing anything with him wouldn’t be good for her, Maise states that he couldn’t possibly do any more damage to her than has already been done. Powerful words, yet nowhere in her speech does she acknowledge the damage this relationship could cause him. Maise believes that the worst case scenario with carrying on this relationship is that he gets fired and she gets kicked out of school. The best case scenario? She literally has no answer. She simply asks herself that question and moves on, even admitting, “This is all to high school for me.” Even when commenting that Evan could get fired was done with a seemingly “oh well!” attitude. It highlights that she’s just thinking of herself in this scenario.

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That Being Said!

Now, don’t assume that I forgot about our boy Evan here. This is all a two-way street remember. You wanna talk immaturity, let’s look at Mr. High School Teacher having sex with his student. Come on man!! DANGER ZONE! Not only did you refuse to follow your gut when you thought this girl was too young for you, but then when you found out the truth you really didn’t put up much of a fight when she proceeded to seduce you. From the very start of this novel I kept thinking to myself, “If something happens and you two are discovered I really have no pity.” They even go to a motel together to have sex. God, could this be any more cliche?

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There was one statement from Maise that I could actually appreciate, and that was when she questioned how screwed up this guy must be to get mixed up with an 18 year old. Exactly!! But then she goes and ruins it by insisting the two can be discreet about their relationship, and continue having sex. Not only do they go to a motel together in broad daylight, but they also make-out in his classroom during lunch, send each other naughty pics, and she even has him pick her up when she’s drunk at a party with a bunch of her classmates. Discreet? Looks like a vocab lesson might be necessary?

The Immaturity Continues

Maise admits very openly that she was initially drawn to Evan because of his age, then to the fact that he’s her teacher. She constantly refers to him as Mr. Wilke, both when having sex and when thinking of him if they’re apart. The sense of the forbidden was what solidified their relationship. You have to question if she even likes him as a person! After they are almost caught having sex in his classroom by another student, Maise delights at the idea of people knowing about their relationship, yet having no way of proving it. Umm, what?

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Evan does make a sad attempt at one point to hold off on continuing their relationship until after she leaves for college, even suggesting she drop out of his class. This causes Maise to become off-the-rails offended. She’s adamant she must stay in his class if she’s going to get into film school, seeing as she needs to create a short film for her final project. Sorry to say this, but I kind of doubt just one film class your senior year is really going to make a difference. Also, if you were really serious about film school you’d probably already have some kind of portfolio built up, and you’d continue making this film even if you had to drop out of the class. As for Evan, have some self control to keep your hands off a student for the rest of the year!

In Conclusion

How the hell are we supposed to view this relationship????? Are we supposed to root for them to have a happily ever after together? My main complaint wasn’t so much about the age difference. We get it, you’re 18, technically it’s legal. My issue was with the ethical dilemma. He’s her teacher; she’s his student. And yet she felt the rules didn’t apply to them, or her in particular. Maise saw herself as better than everyone else, more mature and hardened, so why shouldn’t she be able to pursue a relationship with her teacher? Ugggggghhhhhh! Maise never owns up to her actions. There are seemingly no consequences to having an affair with her teacher, not to mention some of the other stuff she does in this book. At one point, she is even seemingly rewarded for some of her questionable activities.

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They also always seem to be putting on a role/facade when they’re with each other. Pretending to be other people, or acting out something like a scene from a movie. We’re supposed to think this relates to their shared interest in film, but I couldn’t help but question if it demonstrates their entire relationship is just an act. Are they really attracted to who the other person truly is? It seems that whenever they start to uncover something too “real” about the other person they quickly switch to their fake character personas. No joke you guys, the characters annoyed me so much I literally rolled my eyes every…single…time I listened to this audio book. I think I may have actually offended someone on the subway who thought my eye roll was intended for her.

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Series: No.

Should you read it? Blarg. To give one positive point to this novel, I will say the author was quite poetic with the writing. However, while the sentences might be strung together eloquently, that wasn’t enough to save what are essentially unlikable characters with no moral compass. Not to mention a pretty boring plot line. I didn’t even get into Maise’s treatment of her best friend, or how we discover Evan has a past that makes my opinion of him even worse. Didn’t know that was possible. All in all, I just could not like either of the main characters, which made for an almost painful read. If anyone out there enjoyed this one, I’d really love to get a discussion going! What am I missing here?

Smut Level: I don’t really wanna go there.

Get it on Amazon:  Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Atria Books. 321 Pages.

Don’t Toy with Me by Barbara Barrett

Am I the only one who wishes it was socially acceptable to still be able to play with your childhood toys as an adult? Seriously, give me a few Barbies and a Polly Pocket or two and I’ll entertain myself for hours. Actually…probably more like days.

What’s it About?

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Repossession of your car in Los Angeles is like breathing without lungs. It can make an unemployed management consultant like Jordan Wright do crazy things, such as accept a job beneath her skills on a reality competition show and pretend to be a spy for a competing outfit.

Even though he sees through the undercover story, the show’s executive producer, Bart Underwood, is intrigued by it as well as the woman spinning her tale. Creativity is not one of his strong suits, and he has found himself in over his head with this new production. Unable to ask directly for Jordan’s help, he takes advantage of her need to prove herself in hopes she’ll rescue his baby. But despite their growing attraction to each other, even she can’t save a reverse beauty pageant titled Ugly as Sin.

When several stunts go awry, she suggests a new approach, challenges based on toys designed by Bart’s toymaker uncle. Though interested, Bart must first deal with his useless partner, who has been blackmailing him to stick around. The man’s resentment of Jordan threatens to not only disrupt her growing involvement with Bart but also risk the viability of the new show, Don’t Toy with Me.

First Impressions

When it came to this book my first impression surrounded the synopsis. Goodness gracious there’s a lot going on here! The novel has a rather complicated start, which I think is perfectly reflected in the synopsis. In my opinion, it did seem a bit overly elaborate at times. For example, we have a rather complicated meet cute of Jordan trying out for a show which she thinks is a beauty pageant, and instead of admitting outright that she didn’t know what the show was about she creates an elaborate scheme about spying for a competing production company. Bart knows she’s lying, yet decides to play along even after she admits the truth. Phew, I’m exhausted already! It felt like maybe it could have been that Jordan was in need of a job to pay for her car, so she takes a job she wouldn’t normally take as an assistant on a reality show. Bing, bang, boom, still fun and interesting, yet not as many moving pieces.

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We All Know!

The feature of this novel which confused me the most was Jordan’s creation of this rival production company. It seemed like such an unnecessary story when she could have admitted, “sorry, didn’t know what this show was about, my bad.” Sure, not as interesting, but perhaps a tad more realistic? What I had more trouble understanding though was why Bart would choose to continue playing along with this story even after she admits she lied. Then, as the story progresses, Jordan starts to assume that Bart knows she was lying, yet she also doesn’t confront him about her assumptions. I couldn’t help but compare it to a Friends episode where they don’t know we know they know we know, sooooo….

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Big Reveals and Motivations

Another unfortunate aspect of the synopsis was that it sort of revealed too much of the plot. We know from the outset that the premise behind this reality show is crazy. The concept of demonstrating how terrible society can be to ugly people, and that the ugliest contestant on this show wins is troubling to wrap your head around. Throughout the whole novel we wonder how Jordan or Bart could possibly turn this around into a winning idea. Problem is, we already know how. The synopsis demonstrates it’s just a matter of time before the show transitions into a reality contest centered around Bart’s uncle’s toy creations. If this little tidbit hadn’t been revealed in the synopsis I think we as the audience would have really been stumped on how this show could possibly make a turn for the better.

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Another reveal in the synopsis which confused me a bit was the reference to Bart being blackmailed to continue on with the show. This really doesn’t become a feature until the very end of the novel. Kind of a spoiler for me! The fact that his partner doesn’t try to blackmail him until pretty late in the game makes you question for the majority of the novel why Bart would bother putting up with such a terrible show, and terrible person, for so long. He knows the show is crap, yet he sticks with it, and has a seemingly strange sense of devotion to his partner. If this blackmail feature had been introduced earlier on, I think it would have helped us understand Bart’s motivation as to why he was refusing to throw in the towel with this crazy show.

The Puppet Master

Unfortunately, although I tried my best I ultimately found it rather hard to like Bart as a character. We all know that he’s testing Jordan. He recognizes her creativity almost immediately, and believes she could be the answer to making this terrible reality show a success. However, rather than admit, “we could really use your help in making this show better”, or “let’s collaborate to improve the premise” he instead kind of treats her bad. Bart sends her on a multitude of crazy errands as a way of testing her resolve, and basically berates her any time she has a suggestion which strays from the ugly beauty pageant concept. Talk about frustrating! Especially because he secretly agrees with all her suggestions. While this strategy definitely allowed Jordan to shine and prove her worth, it sort of made me see him as, well, a coward for not vocalizing his concerns to her or his partner. In a sneaky way, it makes his partner look on Jordan as the intruding villain, when in reality Bart is the puppet master orchestrating the downfall of his “friend’s” concept. Again, such an elaborate scheme.

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A Love Blooms

Bart and Jordan have a growing attraction to each other as they invest more of their time in this show. I think some more development in their chemistry would have been beneficial. As it stands it seemed like one minute they were kind of flirting with each other, a few longing looks, a brush of the hand, and the next they were going at it on his office couch. While I’m all for office loving (assuming the door is locked!), it seemed kind of rushed to me. I guess I just had a hard time believing their connection.

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That being said, there was another relationship blooming in this novel that I found to be particularly compelling, and that was between Jordan’s aunt Sheila, and Bart’s uncle Andrew. I’ll tell ya, I’d definitely read a book where their love was the main focus! They were so freakin’ adorable I immediately perked up any time they entered a scene. Both lost their significant others years before, and for Andrew the circumstances were extremely tragic. They’ve been hesitant to interact too much with others for years, yet when Sheila and Andrew meet they are able to come out of the shells they’ve trapped themselves in. They learn to live and love again with each other. Ahhhh, sigh.

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

Series: I could see the potential for a series. A brief novella for Sheila and Andrew would be my everything!!

Should you read it? I wish we could have had more scenes involving stunts with the toys. It was such a unique concept, yet we really only got one up-close toy scene in the competition. As for our lead characters I truly admired Jordan’s ability to stand up for her opinions in front of Bart. Not my favorite male lead when all was said and done though. I think if we had been privy earlier on to his motivations behind this show, specifically in relation to his feelings of guilt surrounding his mother, I probably would have liked him more as a character. Sheila and Andrew definitely stole the show for me, and I just wanted more of their adorableness!

Smut Level: Some office couch time, but nothing too over the top.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 244 Pages.

West of Forgotten by Lynda J. Cox

A secluded Wyoming ranch set in the middle of nowhere. Sounds like the ideal place for romance to bloom. I seriously need to take a trip to Wyoming.

What’s it About? 

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Banished from civilization to the Wyoming Territory, U.S. Marshal Harrison Taylor holds a deed to half the Lazy L. He isn’t sure why his beautiful new partner, Rachel Leonard, doesn’t trust him. He has to convince her he is nothing like the man who abused her and must earn her trust before the escalating attacks at the Lazy L turn deadly. For six years, Rachel has worked to repair a shattered life. Caring for her son and invalid father leaves little time to keep the Lazy L profitable. She doesn’t want a business partner simply because her father gambled away half of her beloved ranch and most certainly doesn’t desire a husband. Unfortunately, she’s stuck with the former and can’t trust Harrison as the latter. Unless she can learn to trust Harrison, everything and everyone Rachel loves will be lost.

First Impressions

The first half of this novel is all about Rachel and Harrison developing trust in their relationship. She’s been hurt before, and anyone who comes into both her and her son’s lives needs to earn her trust. Harrison is just the man to exhibit the necessary patience to win her over. Upon meeting the tantalizingly beautiful single mother, Harrison is determined that rather than take over the ranch completely, he wants to help her see it thrive again. To do so he determines their best option is to marry. Not only will it silence the gossips in town to see a man living with Rachel, but it also ensures she’ll get the entire ranch should something ever happen to him.

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Beyond just trusting him from a business partner standpoint, Rachel must also learn to trust him physically. She shies away from his every touch with fear in her eyes over what happened at the hands of his brother years before. Although their trust comes slowly, I must say it was built unbelievably well, with a hint of reality to it. It’s not like one day Rachel is wary of the stranger on her front porch, and the next she simply decides her fate is sealed and she’ll throw caution to the wind by trusting him completely. By developing it slowly over time their relationship is stronger for it, as it is built on something more stable and important than physical desire.

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A Troubled Past

I definitely appreciated this story emphasizing the importance of trust in a relationship, but in my opinion there was something which stood out even more. This is also a tale of survival. Rachel survived a horrific rape and abuse at the hands of a man who had the ability to charm an entire city into believing his version of events over hers. It was truly frightening to see how people treated her in the aftermath, as though she were the one to blame. That she led him on. How nobody believed her save a select few.

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What sickened me even more was to consider that this still happens today. This story might be set in the bygone era of the Wild West, yet it’s underlying horrors are still present. Rachel was ostracized from the community, but the one shining light throughout it all were those select few who believed in her. Although not related by blood, they were her family, and were willing to do anything to protect her and her son from the dangers of the world. Rachel is a strong, admirable lead character who drew on the love of her friends to help raise her son, and she could stand up to anyone who dared cross their path. Including a sexy U.S. Marshal.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Should you read it? Yes! This novel isn’t just a tale of blossoming love. As Rachel receives threatening notes, and her ranch is plagued by arson, we discover that her abuser has returned. She must face her fears all over again, but this time she has Harrison by her side. An intense finish that will have you holding your breath and clenching your toes in anticipation. At least…that’s what I do when I get anxious reading a book!

Smut Level: Harrison is the ideal. He helps Rachel live her life again. He pushes her, but not too much. Harrison lets her make her own decisions, but helps to nudge her in the right direction. He also helps her explore her sexuality, and learn that there’s no shame in pleasure. They take things slow, but Harrison manages to seduce her with words, and holy hell is that man a smooth talker and sexy grinner extraordinaire!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 318 Pages.

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A Road Paved in Copper by Angela Christina Archer

A historical western romance that sets the glimmering city of San Francisco against the harsh desert of Nevada.

What’s it About?

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Armed with her six-shooter, Ava De La Vega dips the pen into the inkwell and etches her name on the Esmeralda County tax record book. A formidable force, that’s what her peers have called her. The woman in a man’s world, what did she know of mining ore, silver, and copper? Plenty. And it’s this knowledge that makes her of the richest miners in Nevada in 1903. Of course, it also makes her a target.

Traveling back and forth from Tonopah, Nevada and San Francisco, Ava blazes the trail from the dirt and grime of her mines to the fanciest hotel rooms, enjoying the finest wines, the most decadent meals, and the company of attractive young men. Unfortunately, for Ava, she doesn’t see Craig Harrison coming.

A miner from the snowy Klondike, Craig has traveled from the harsh Canadian mountains down to city streets of San Francisco. Not looking for work, he’s happy with the comfortable life away from the deep mines, the dirt, and the ever sought-after gold. Unfortunately, for Craig, he doesn’t see Ava coming.

First Impressions

This female lead is a bad ass! LOVE her!! Ava has distinguished herself in the male dominated world of mining. She’s more successful than her male counterparts, and not afraid to stand up for herself. Unlike most historical romances, Ava admits very early on in our tale that she’s no virgin. Although she works in the dirt and grime of Nevada’s desert mines, Ava also delights in her trips to San Francisco, where she can indulge in the company of a new man every time. No attachments, no expectations. However, upon first meeting Craig she immediately recognizes that there’s something different about him. He’s no one night stand. Rather than treat him as such, they actually refrain from intercourse for quite some time, even though they are both brimming with sexual need. Talk about willpower!

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From Harsh Desert to Glimmering City

A particular feature of this novel which was rather clever was that it managed to twist your initial assumptions and expectations of both the main character, and even the setting of the book itself. Ava embodies this perfectly, as she herself appears to be a contradiction in terms. She is one of the only women in this small mining Nevada town who can hold her own, and is in no way a damsel in distress. She can shoot a gun and kick a man where it counts, so you sort of have this initial impression that she’ll be kind of a tomboy.

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However, that all changes when she leaves the harsh desert of Nevada behind for the bright lights and busy streets of San Francisco. While she loves getting her hands dirty in Nevada, she loves to indulge herself in luxuries and feminine clothing when in the city. It almost seems like we are dealing with two different personalities in one woman, but we find that she manages to maintain her moxie whether surrounded by the elegance of the city or the ruffians of the mining town. The ability of the author to provide us a glimpse into two such distinct worlds is truly commendable.

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The Allure of the Land

Certain passages within this book were utterly poetic. One section which particularly resonated was when Craig describes both the allure and dangers of mining. How the earth holds such wondrous secrets and wealth, but it’s just out of reach from those who are searching for it. The bounty of the land can dry up at any time. At one point, the mines are even compared to a woman who makes you work for her pleasures; playing a teasing game with her suitor before giving up her secrets. Phenomenal metaphor!! It really made me wish part of the story could have been told from Craig’s point of view, so that we could better understand the intricacies of his own character.

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Another eloquent passage presents us with Ava as she contemplates whether or not to reveal the secret details of her troubled past to Craig. On the one hand, she wishes to keep some of her foolish girlhood decisions a secret from this man she has come to love. Senseless choices which she realizes she would never commit now as an informed adult. On the other hand, the grown woman in her wants to tell him, to admit the mistakes of her past and move on. Unfortunately Ava’s built up so many walls around herself in the attempt to keep herself safe, and ensure that only she will know the errors of her ways. This is probably a debate which many of us have faced at some point in our lives, and makes her character even more relatable.

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

Series: I would actually love to read some kind of short story or sequel to this one, but it looks like a stand-alone.

Should you read it? This book definitely starts with a bang! Ava’s enemies are trying to steal her land claims through force, and she finds herself in the cross hairs of a wild west shootout. After that initial drama the middle section was pretty mellow. If the suspense had carried more throughout the entirety of the book it could have made a positive difference. It all comes together though for an unbelievably intense ending that left me a mess of tears.

Smut Level: Craig has an appetite for this headstrong woman, so he enjoys her on the kitchen table. Hint hint, wink wink. Nothing too explicit or detailed as far as smut.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Long Valley Press. 238 Pages.