Love From Amanda to Zoey by Ian Mark

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

What’s it About?

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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The Anti-Hero

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

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

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A Second Death

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

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

Series: Stand-alone

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

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

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

He Belongs to Her by Sunny Chambers

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

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

First Impressions

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

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An Early Climax

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

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

The Question of Money

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

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

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

Series: Stand-alone

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

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

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

The Ninth Ingredient by Leon Mauvais

This short novella undoubtedly could have befitted from a longer length, and less elaboration on certain scene descriptions.

What’s it About? 

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The Renaissance has invaded France! When a Medici princess lands with her army of Italian bakers, the royal kitchens of Fontainebleau erupt into chaos.

The Italians serve up something new, gelato, a dessert so fashionable, so chilled, it captures the tongues of the French court. The French bakers are left scrambling. Henri, a young apprentice, is tasked with discovering the secret recipe.

But when he falls for its maker, things heat up beyond the hearth. Is he willing to betray his new love for a list of ingredients? Espionage has never tasted sweeter!

First Impressions

Henri wasn’t a terribly like-able character in the beginning. Considering how short this novella is at just 98 pages, when you think of the “beginning” of the story we’re essentially dealing with a rather large portion of it. He has a false sense of superiority over his fellow apprentices in the Fontainebleau kitchens. When our novella opens he seems confident that his culinary creations will soon have him rise to the position of personal pâtissier of the king. However, as things progress we see that his culinary prowess is less than spectacular. Let’s just say he wouldn’t last very long in a taping of the Great British Bake Off. He’s quick to criticize and humiliate his fellow apprentices, even giving them derogatory nicknames. However, we soon learn that this criticism has nothing to do with their own lack of skills, but rather speaks more to Henri’s own personal doubts of his abilities, not to mention his desperation to move up in the hierarchy of the kitchens.

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Enter the Italian Gelato Maker

Henri makes one too many faux pas to the point where the continuation of his apprenticeship is on the line. He is given one week to steal the recipe for gelato, the creation of an Italian baker/alchemist. 9 ingredients for this delectable dessert are all that seemingly stand between Henri and achieving his ultimate dreams of rising in the ranks. A romance soon develops between Henri and this Italian baker, and while certainly intriguing, I was ultimately left wanting for more between these two bakers. Firstly, they don’t really talk much. There’s certainly a language barrier between the two, but it seems like they’re quickly smitten with each other in spite of not really knowing anything about the other. In addition, while we eventually discover that our gelato maker was aware of Henri’s attempt at thievery for some time, we never really see them discuss this deceit, nor the fact that it could be brushed aside without issue.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: The foundations for an interesting story of romance were certainly all there in terms of espionage, lustful attraction, and infiltrating an enemy’s kitchen in pursuit of personal gains. However, more attention and editing was needed to bring it all together into a cohesive read. There were several scenes which were excessively poetic and flowery in their description to the point that it was difficult to understand what was actually being discussed in terms of the plot. I would often find myself re-reading paragraphs a few times, and having to continue on with a mere hope that I understood what was happening. Then on the flip-side when it came to the romance developing between Henri and the Italian, there was a lack of description to the point where it’s hard to tell what it was that made these two men fall into each other’s arms beyond just mere attraction. Or perhaps that’s really all there was to their relationship? Hard to tell! I’ll tell ya one thing though, it certainly had me craving gelato and other sweet treats!

Smut Level: This was another area that was kind of bizarre. Some kind of winged contraption is used to restrain Henri and keep him elevated off the ground. The fact that it has birds wings, a mask, and multiple cranks made it kind of hard to follow along with what it actually looked like.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. JMS Books LLC. 98 Pages

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McSexy by Sianah Nalika DeShield

Jollof rice and fried chicken. Banku and tilapia. This novel has me craving Ghanaian culinary specialties like nobody’s business!

What’s it About? 

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Name: Michael Abeiku Frimpong Aka Mike Frimpong
Age: 27
Nationality: Ghanaian
Net worth: $250 million United States Dollars.
About him: Yale University Graduate, MBA. Masters of Business Administration BBA. Bachelors of Business Administration. Millionaire at age twenty-one, CEO of Frimpong Insurance Corp. Voted number one most eligible bachelor by the women of Ghana for five consecutive years. Grand Master of the female orgasm, and serial playboy until his manhood was questioned, leaving him no choice but to accept the wager of getting a woman pregnant or pay $200,000 USD. Well, it’s on!

Name: Lilian Akosua Annah Aka Lily Annah
Age: 24
Nationality: Ghanaian
Net worth: The last time she checked, there were 300 Ghana cedis, the equivalent of $60.00 USD in her account.
About her: Shy, nerdy, insecure, and likes to think she is an average woman since she seems invisible to men and the last time she had a boyfriend was three years ago, but is she really that average? University of Cape Coast Ph.D. Candidate, Educational Psychology, Masters of Philosophy, Educational Psychology, M.Phil. University of Ghana, Legon, Bachelor of Arts, English BA, author of Affong’s Wishes, the newest children’s book set for the next academic year curriculum for the students in Ghana, beautiful dark skin, perfect hips, tiny waist, a good pair of perky tits, eyes that are absolutely beautiful, adorable, and innocent, they could make you do anything she wants, a voice that is so hypnotic it would make you go wild and submit to her, and a brain that is so sharp that it makes Mike Frimpong’s four-point zero grade point average at Yale seem less achievable.

One visit to her book launch leaves the playboy’s heart pumping and manhood twitching, not just from thinking of claiming her, but also making her the perfect woman to carry his child. Oops… she’s off limits and could cost him everything.

Is the playboy bold enough to chase her, risking everything he’s worked for in the process, or is he willing to let the one woman who stops his heartbeat for the first time walk out of his life?

First Impressions

What is our first impression of Mike Frimpong? He’s a successful and wealthy businessman who has fought his way out of abject poverty to reach the top. He’s worked hard throughout the years, focusing on his education, and is now in a position where he can give back to his community. He’s also a womanizer. More troubling though is that he has some questionable reactions when his masculinity is questioned. Our story opens with Mike’s masculine pride at stake as a rumor spreads of his supposed impotency. He’s never had a serious, long-term relationship before in his life, so there must be some kind of issue going on down there. A close friend of his provides him with a possible solution, saying that if Mike were to have a baby, people would finally take him more seriously. This friend even goads Mike into making a bet on the matter. A bet which Mike agrees to.

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Now, if Mike were just setting out to try and get his foot into the corporate world, I might have had more sympathy for him agreeing to this bet of getting a woman pregnant. But at the end of the day…it was all about him. Others were questioning his manhood, and therefore he had to dispel the rumors in any way he could. It was ultimately a selfish decision that he entered into speedily without much thought as to the fact that his actions would make him responsible for another human being. We’ve all read romance novels with a marriage bet or contract of some kind involving two consenting adults who eventually fall in love. No big surprise or issue there. But to have the result of a bet be a child? Simply because the main character worried others saw him as less of a man? Eek, definitely not painting him in the best light for our first impression!

Surrogacy Takes Hold

To briefly summarize the progression of events, Mike meets Lily at a book signing, they both hit it off, and they decide to go on a few dates. However, Lily also happens to be strapped for cash to save her family home, so in order to get a lot of money (and fast), she answers a newspaper ad calling for a surrogate. Little does she know that she’s actually answering Mike’s ad, and little does Mike know that Lily is the one he’s selected to be his surrogate seeing as she used a fake name when applying. One little doctor’s visit later and Lily is pregnant with Mike’s baby…only she doesn’t know it’s his. And technically she’s still dating Mike, even though she’s pregnant with what she assumes is another man’s baby. The plot thickens!

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Both Lily and Mike respectively question the timeline of their burgeoning relationship once Lily’s pregnancy becomes a reality, which lends an interesting psychological perspective to their dilemma. For Lily, it’s a signal of the end of whatever it is that’s starting between them. After all, it’s not long before she’ll start showing, and there’s no way Mike would be interested in dating a woman who is carrying another man’s baby for money. Right? As for Mike, now is the time he wants to dig his heels in with Lily, and get to know her even more. He sees her in his life long term, which means she’ll inevitably need to be comfortable raising the baby another woman carried for him. Little do they know how linked they’ve truly become in this surrogacy. Which was an aspect that seemed slightly…questionable.

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Mike is a business man. He may have entered into this baby bet quickly, but I can’t believe he wouldn’t have done his due diligence when it came to the woman who would carry his child. The fact a thorough background check wouldn’t have been involved to ensure this woman was who she said she was, and not using a fake name, seemed relatively unbelievable. Sure, it does allow for a build-up of suspense, as you wonder how long it will be before they undoubtedly discover the other’s role/identity in this surrogacy endeavor. That being said, it seems to go against Mike’s very nature which made him such a success in the first place.

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The Question of Longevity

The ultimate question with any romance is whether or not the relationship will last. Mike insists that Lily means everything to him, but simultaneously admits that “Just the thought of commitment makes me nauseated.” Lily doesn’t doubt that Mike loves her, and that he would make a wonderful husband. Yet, she constantly wonders if he’ll cheat on her, and worries that he’ll eventually hurt her by going back to his womanizing ways. In addition, the entire existence of their baby springs forth a whole other slew of worries in her mind. Is he only in love with her because she’s pregnant? Will he one day grow to hate her decision to be a surrogate because she was once willing to give her baby over to the arms of a stranger? If she doesn’t marry Mike is she strong enough to be a single mother? Is she only looking to marry Mike now because of the fact she’s afraid of being a single mother?

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I want to believe that by the end of the novel they’ve worked through all of these inner doubts to get to a point where they are confident in their decision to spend the rest of their lives together. However, I can’t say I’m entirely convinced. At one point another character warns Mike that he and Lily are simply “playing house”, and in a way I agree. When the reality of commitment and parenthood comes knocking on their door we question if they’ll be able to maintain their relationship. There were scenes where our characters faced some difficult tests to their relationship, and they’re both willing to stand up to fight for their love. However, we see other moments which highlight that sometimes when the going gets tough, our characters are wont to flee. At one point in particular we see Mike become so distraught at overhearing Lily’s doubts regarding their relationship that he runs into the arms of another woman. This continual flux of fleeing from, yet also fighting for their relationship leaves you in a kind of limbo over the fate of their relationship.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: The length could have been slightly shorter, with more attention focused on resolving their individual insecurities about the relationship, as well as them coming together over the fact they’re about to be parents. By the end it sort of seems like they’re both determined to give their relationship a go, but the fact they’re bringing a whole other life into the world was somewhat glossed over. There is some drama introduced towards the end, including the fact that their surrogacy arrangement becomes public knowledge throughout the community. It’s sort of brushed aside to the point where you wonder if it will ever be resolved, and it isn’t until the final moments of the book that this story point comes back into play. This resulted in the ending feeling a bit rushed, but we do get some fabulous moments of Lily finally standing up for her man. Definitely some well constructed verbal sparring matches that will make you want to applaud Lily for her candor. In spite of these moments though, I still can’t say I was entirely convinced by the end that Mike and Lily were poised for a long-term successful relationship.

Smut Level: Mike is a former womanizer, which means he brings plenty of experience to the table. Surprisingly though, Lily isn’t afraid to lead the show a time or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services, LLC. 405 Pages

Run Away, Lizzy by Elizabeth J. Sparrow

Sometimes when you’re not sure how to deal with your feelings for someone, the only option left is to run away. 

What’s it About? 

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With knife-like precision, Reilly asked, “Lizzy, what are you going to do when I’m no longer around for you to run away from? Have you thought about that?”
Her mouth puckered in a catch of surprise. He realized that the little girl in her had assumed the game would go on until she said it was over.

1968: During one of her father’s raucous Hollywood parties, ten-year-old Elizabeth Jane (E.J.) Hatton meets twenty-two-year old Texan heartthrob, Reilly Donner while swinging from a fourteen-foot ladder and hoping for a soft landing. She falls hard…for him.

1982: E.J is drowning in sadness after the death of her adored father. Reilly swaggers back into her life (“arrogant, patronizing and in love with the sound of his voice”) as the director of her Uncle Wade’s latest project: a prime time soap opera. As the associate producer, she’s not about to swoon over her childhood crush who riles her up by renaming her “Lizzy”, and who teases and bullies her as if she’s a child in need of a firm hand. She does her damn best to avoid him while trying to ignore those little fluttering sensations in her stomach whenever he gets too close.

Reilly is mystified, frustrated and eventually, smitten with E.J’s elusive and at times, downright perplexing behavior. He pursues her with the stealthy determination of a bobcat stalking its next meal.

Conflict arises when the soap’s leading lady, an old flame of Reilly’s, sees his budding infatuation as a threat to her plans for a rekindled affair. She’s harboring a secret about Lizzy’s father – waiting for the opportune moment to reveal it.

First Impressions

This is a fun, quick read that will have you giggling along to the shenanigans of our female lead in one scene, yet also tugging at your emotional heart strings in the next. It’s set in the 1980’s, and in hindsight I can’t really say I understand why? I mean, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the 80’s. Far from it. I am an 80’s baby after all. It just seemed like a somewhat peculiar time setting considering the era never really had a big impact on the story. They do make one reference which compares the budding TV drama they’re working on to Dallas, but other than that there aren’t many aspects of the 80’s which are highlighted front and center. In a way, our story could have been set in any decade, as long as it was one with television. Further incorporation of the time period probably could have added a fun nostalgic twist for many of us readers!

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The Passing of Time

It’s been many years since Reilly and Lizzy last set sights on each other. Back then she was just a precociously curious young girl with a crush, and he was a young stud cowboy making his way in Hollywood. Fast-forward 14 years and quite a lot has changed for these two. Lizzy just recently lost her father to a fast-acting illness, and she’s now trying to make a name for herself as a producer. Reilly still remains quite the stud, but he’s already made a name for himself as the next big thing in directing, and has been hired to take on the new TV soap opera that Lizzy is also working on. What will Lizzy do when she’s finally reunited with her childhood crush?

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As it turns out, she runs from him every chance she gets. She’s definitely still attracted to him, but she never thought her previously unrequited infatuation would suddenly be…requited. Reilly is stunned to discover that the girl he once knew is all grown up, and she intrigues him in a way he never expected. Why does she run and hide from his approach? It’s a predicament he’s determined to get to the bottom of. I must say we do get some pretty funny moments of Lizzy hiding behind doors and in secret cubby-holes to try and get away from this man. Especially considering other people on set have no problem leading him right to her secret hiding places in the hopes of getting them together. You can’t help but chuckle a time or two at her silly antics, but underneath it all there’s actually a deep grief impacting this young woman.

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“What are you so scared of?”

Running From Grief

As it turns out, Lizzy isn’t just running away from Reilly, or from finally confronting her feelings for him. She’s also trying to outrun the grief of her father’s death which chases her throughout the day, as well as every night when she closes her eyes to sleep. After his untimely passing, she’s even taken to wearing her father’s clothes as a way to feel closer to him. It’s a regressive reaction to his death, as she attempts to avoid growing up and moving on in life without her father. “Her behavior seesaws between young woman and little girl.” This overwhelming grief which impacts Lizzy’s life definitely packs a strong emotional punch to the reader, and we wonder if she’ll ever be able to escape from this dark cloud of sadness following her everywhere she goes.

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Thankfully, a saving grace has entered Lizzy’s life, and that would be Reilly. Up until this point, the majority of Lizzy’s friends and family have walked on egg shells around her, treating her as though she were a fragile object on the verge of breaking. But when Reilly arrives on set? He’s determined to finagle his way into her life any chance he gets. She might run, but he’ll make sure she doesn’t succeed in hiding. He sort of has a “tear off the band-aid approach” in how he deals with Lizzy, as he forces her to confront the feelings she has for him which she doesn’t really know how to deal with. However, I can’t say as much attention was focused on Lizzy confronting the grief over her dad’s death. Reilly is meant to act as a guiding light for her to finally move on, but we don’t get a full exploration into the heart of the issue so that Lizzy can ultimately begin the healing process in a healthy way.

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“Your body’s wanting one thing. Your head’s telling you to run away. But your heart knows what it needs and wants…me.”

The Villain-ess

In the midst of Reilly constantly chasing after Lizzy in her attempts to run from him, not to mention Lizzy’s inability to move on from her father’s death, we also see a minor side-plot involving the leading lady of the TV soap. She also happens to be an old flame of Reilly’s, and is aware of some former escapades involving Lizzy’s father. All in all, I must say this bit of drama seemed rather unnecessary. We have a short novel here at just around 100 pages, and we needed to focus as much attention on Lizzy and Reilly’s blossoming relationship as possible. This side distraction of a demanding aging actress just came across as a mild nuisance rather than anything that had a major impact on our lovebirds. The fact that this drama sort of fizzled out by the end of the story made it seem like a road we didn’t necessarily need to go down in the grand scheme of things.

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

Series: Stand-alone.

Final Impressions: A quick read that will make you laugh, possibly cry, and definitely fan yourself from all the steam these two emit once they finally come together. If you happen to find yourself on a sunny beach you can probably finish it in one sitting! While Reilly definitely succeeds in getting Lizzy to stop running away from her feelings for him, I can’t say that we delved deep enough into Lizzy overcoming the grief of her father’s death. Reilly is starting to help her move past the pain, but I wish we had been able to focus more attention on her accepting her father’s passing rather than introducing the additional story of Reilly’s former bed-fellow. Keeping all of these components probably would have benefited from an additional 100 pages or so to fully flesh out and explore each story line.

Smut Level: This might be a romantic comedy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have any steamy moments! You do sort of have to wait a bit until they’re featured, but you won’t be disappointed once they are!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. The Waxing Gibbous Press. 106 Pages

Desert Rose by J. Arlene Culiner

A woman who lives for the moment. Who enjoys her own company. A woman who acknowledges that long-term relationships can eventually turn flat with a lack of excitement. Is…is this my doppleganger?!?

What’s it About? 

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A secret life is the best protection against love…Men love Rose Badger, and if the other inhabitants of dead-end Blake’s Folly, Nevada, don’t approve, she couldn’t care less. With a disastrous marriage far behind her, settling down is the last thing she intends to do. Isn’t life for fun? Doesn’t a stable relationship always mean predictability and boredom? Well… perhaps things might be different with Jonah Livingstone, but he is off limits for anything other than friendship. Even though he’s started a slow burning fire inside her, he’s still entangled in a complicated past relationship. And Rose has another secret life—one that she’ll never give up for any man.

The last person geologist Jonah Livingstone expected to meet in a semi-ghost town is Rose Badger. She’s easy-going, delightfully spontaneous, and Jonah is certain their attraction is mutual. But Rose is always surrounded by a crowd of admirers and doesn’t seem inclined to choose a favorite. Though Jonah has also suffered a failed marriage, he can’t help being drawn to Rose—and he dares to hope she may feel the same for him. But is Jonah too independent to settle into a permanent relationship again? He’s leading his own very private life, as well…and secrets are an excellent protection against love. Will he do what it takes to hold on to his DESERT ROSE?

First Impressions

Rose and Jonah come from very different backgrounds. He’s a university professor who’s benefited from education all his life. She’s a high school drop out who now owns a second-hand clothing store, and her family has a history of prostitution and alcoholism. In spite of their different backgrounds, they’re still able to connect over those shared interests which can bring a couple together. For the case of Rose and Jonah, it’s the love of music. Russian music to be exact. Different time periods, sure, but it’s still an interest that they can discuss, and even learn more about from each other. As they spend more time together we also see a rise in their own insecurities. For Jonah, he sees himself as one of many admirers who always seem to be following Rose around like a lost puppy. Everywhere she goes in Blake’s Folly, she’s surrounded by men hoping to spend time with her, and he worries that she just seems him as another one of the crowd. Perhaps he’s too plain and boring with his love of fossils to stand out among the other lads vying for her attention.

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As for Rose, I even feel like the big reveal of her past demonstrated that she put more weight and judgement behind it than Jonah, or even we as the audience did. Whenever she would talk about the sordid past of her brothel-working grandmother, or not knowing the identity of her father, and her mother being a lowly drunk I thought…so what? Rose is still an awesome person who seems like she’d be a hoot to be around. The somewhat troubled pasts of her family members, and even her own difficult past as a musician in the big city, may have molded her into the person she is today, but they by no means negatively impacted her personality. They made her strong, caring, and even proud of certain aspects of her background. She managed to find a positive light in some of the darkness of her family’s past. Her love of Russian folk music in particular turns out to be not only a big part of who she is today, but also binds her to the future love of her life.

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Standing Out From the Crowd

Even though Jonah feared that he would simply get lost in the wave of admirers surrounding Rose in her every day life, he actually manages to do something which sets him apart from all the rest. He asks Rose questions. He quickly recognizes that she always tries to turn the focus of a conversation away from herself, and he doesn’t fall for this standard ploy of hiding from others. Instead, Jonah succeeds in getting her to open up about herself, and in those moments is able to demonstrate his total selflessness, as well his definite interest in getting to know as much about Rose as possible. It also makes Rose feel vulnerable. Keeping secrets has always given Rose an air of mystery that has drawn men to her, and she now worries that because Jonah has seen every part of her he’ll either tire of her and move on, or not like what he sees lying behind the walls she’s erected around herself.

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Secret, Secrets Are No Fun

In the beginning, secrets are a dominant feature of Jonah and Rose’s relationship. Not only does Rose not want to share the details of her family history, but she’s also keeping secret something which she doesn’t even deign to share with her fellow citizens of Blake’s Folly. Now don’t worry, it’s nothing illegal or exceedingly shocking, it’s actually the details of her musical past and present, including the fact she sings every Saturday for a Russian cultural club in the city.

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As far as the secrecy of Jonah’s life, this has more to do with a misunderstanding, and possibly even a misleading situation. The whole impetus behind Rose and Jonah’s first meeting was that he stopped into her shop to buy a necklace for another woman. Jewelry…for another woman…who isn’t his mother? This doesn’t look too good, does it? While he openly admits it’s a gift for a woman he’s living with, he remains pretty tight-lipped about the identity of this woman, and Rose has no choice really but to assume it’s someone that Jonah is romantically involved with. This designates the beginning of their relationship as one bound to the “friend-zone”. While Rose might love to flirt with other men, she’s not one to pursue a man already in a relationship, so she tries to limit their interactions to ones that “friends” would do. By Rose acting more reserved around Jonah, he in turn assumes that she’s not into him as much as he is into her. Eventually they have a heart-to-heart about the true identity and background situation of the woman living with Jonah, and it’s a rather interesting turn of events.

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Jonah openly admits that he didn’t make things as clear as he should have about the identity of this woman, and that he is to blame for the misunderstanding. However, he also scolds Rose slightly for essentially thinking the worst of him. At this point in the book, they have developed a pretty strong friendship. While they won’t admit the deeper stirrings of affection which are bubbling between them, they can’t deny they’ve grown close and have certainly come to care for each other. This is why Jonah can’t help but be slightly hurt over the fact that Rose’s first assumption would be that he’s just a typical cheater. I certainly understand his view on this, but you also can’t help but understand Rose’s misunderstanding on the whole situation.

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If they had been friends for a while, and then Jonah were to admit his living with another woman, I could probably sympathize more with his frustration over Rose thinking he was cheating. However, seeing as this misunderstanding was bred from their very first meeting, and he made multiple mentions of this woman throughout their time together without clarifying who she was, I don’t think we can necessarily fault Rose for holding onto this initial misunderstanding. After all, she didn’t know anything about his nature at that point to be able to determine for sure if her assumption was true or false. If she had this idea during their first meeting, we can see how this misconception could balloon up bigger and bigger as they spent more time together, and Rose herself felt more remorseful as her feelings for Jonah continued to grow. I think it’s one part of their story that didn’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer as to how it was handled.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: The relationship between Jonah and Rose felt “real”. Some of the misunderstandings and circumstances surrounding their time together may have been somewhat dramatized, but I enjoyed that the emotions they evoked felt natural. These were two people who had a friendship which developed into something more intimate. They were attentive in learning about the hobbies and interests of the other person, just as anyone would do in a real relationship outside of the romance novel world. I do wish this book had been slightly longer, as I think it would have been interesting to focus more attention on Rose’s various admirers, as well as her relationship with her mother. There probably could have been some features with more depth and exploration which went beyond Rose and Jonah constantly questioning whether or not the other person liked them as much as they did, but overall I’d say it was a good read.

Smut Level: Only one love scene, but it definitely has some heat to it! It certainly packs a punch in spite of how quick it was.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Fire Star Press. 152 Pages.

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