Finder Keeper of My Heart by Vina Arno

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

What’s it About?

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

First Impressions

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

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

The Other Woman

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

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

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

Series: Stand-alone.

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

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

Dangerous Currents by Kathryn Knight

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

What’s it About?

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

From Second Chances to Murder, and Everything in Between

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snowball’s Christmas by Kristen McKanagh

Snowball’s Christmas by Kristen McKanagh

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

First Impressions

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

A Personal Connection

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

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

A Pinch of Love, a Scoop of Fun

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

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

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

Series: Stand-Alone.

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

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

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

Shot Through the Heart by Andrea Downing

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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From One Part to the Next

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

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

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

Series: Stand-alone

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

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

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

My Life in Shambles by Karina Halle

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

First Impressions

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

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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The Journey to Shambles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enshrine by Chelle Bliss

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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A Monumental Impact

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

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

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Series: Stand-alone

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

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

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

Withering Hope by Layla Hagen

After crash landing in the Amazon, Aimee needs to rely on Tristan to survive. As time progresses, she realizes he needs her just as much. A story of survival, mutual reliance, and love.

What’s it About?

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En route to a tropical paradise, overworked and dedicated Aimee Myller is ready to begin her new life. But when the plane defects, the pilot, sexy Tristan Bress, needs to make an emergency landing in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. With no way to reach civilisation, being rescued is their only hope. A slim one that withers away, desperation taking its place. Because death wanders in the jungle under many forms: starvation, disease, and fangs of beasts.

Forced to fend for themselves, Tristan and Aimee begin to forage for food and shelter. As they fight for survival, they grow closer. Despite knowing he’s off limits, Aimee can’t deny her attraction to Tristan. Tristan knows Aimee is the one woman he can’t have. But how can he fight love when she’s slowly becoming everything to him?

First Impressions

In a way, this story is more so one of survival than romance. The whole novel is sort of a slow build to Aimee and Tristan finally giving into their desire for each other, but essentially every scene from the moment they crash land on this hill in the Amazon involves them engaged in tasks of ensuring their survival. While some are intense, such as a face-off battle with a jaguar, for the most part we kind of focus on the monotony of their daily struggles. Light the signal fire, gather more wood, fruit, take a shower, practice weaponry, sleep, and repeat the next day. Pretty repetitive, and not always the most forward moving plot, but in a way you have to appreciate the realism of that scenario. These two are on their own, and they needed to be stranded for some time in order for us to believe, and more importantly support, the development of their relationship. The longer they spend in the jungle, the more their hope for rescue withers away, in addition to their hope of keeping their hands off of each other.

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A Slow Burning Flame

As Aimee and Tristan struggle to survive, we see their relationship slowly build into something more significant. This slow progression was something which I particularly appreciated. Tristan has always had a bit of a thing for Aimee, and while she’s always treated him cordially, they were far from friends. Upon first landing, he’s pretty quiet and tries to keep to himself, whereas Aimee seeks solace in talking so as not to go crazy at being so far removed from civilization. Only as time passes do they start to open up to each other. They slowly start to discuss their favorite foods, colors, flowers, etc. but eventually they get to some more emotional details of their pasts. Tristan eventually opens up about the horrors he experienced as a solider in Afghanistan, and Aimee discusses the untimely death of her parents who were absent, yet loving, for most of her life.

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Throughout this time she forces herself to stop thinking of her fiancé, because the thought of him searching and waiting for her is too hard to bare. Only when a few months have passed, and Aimee starts sleeping next to Tristan to calm his night terrors, does she start to feel something stirring within her. Surprisingly, it’s not really passion or even lust, but rather guilt. Guilt over the fact she’s starting to feel something for this man which goes beyond friendship. She feels it’s a betrayal to her fiancé. Aimee may have forced herself not to think of her fiancé, but now she can’t help but remember him in those moments where Tristan’s touch makes her feel alive. This inner quandary she’s fighting with, in addition to the fact she and Tristan didn’t immediately fall in love, makes us sympathize with her difficult emotional struggle.

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From Monotony to Bursts of Suspense

While the first half or so of the novel deals with Aimee and Tristan struggling to survive, the bulk of the suspense to the plot doesn’t really come around until the end of the book, and it’s just jam-packed with calamity after calamity. It had me holding my breath in anticipation more than once, and near tears with the desperation our characters display when presented with the very legitimate possibility of losing the other person. You really do question if either of these characters will make it out of the jungle alive, and if they do whether their love will survive the transition back into the real world.

Jaguar in the Pantanal

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: Overall this is a pretty good read. It’s a story of survival and love in the jungle. The progression of Tristan and Aimee’s relationship from acquaintances to friends to family is an intriguing one that is built upon openness and emotional trust. There were parts of the story that lagged with the repetitive monotony of survival in the jungle, though I definitely think I learned some good survival skills along the way. Although, the bugs, snakes and jaguars of the Amazon would still probably kill me in the end! There was a heartbreaking epilogue that I actually probably could have done without, as it seemed like a last minute attempt to pull some tears outta ya, but overall an entertaining read.

Smut Level: It takes quite some time for anything physical to develop between Aimee and Tristan, which was an aspect I certainly appreciated. Any other way and it would have seemed forced, and it probably would have been more difficult to sympathize with Aimee’s decision to sleep with someone who wasn’t her fiancé. Nothing toooooo graphic when all is said and done.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Self-Published. 262 Pages.

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Phantom by Barbara Meyers

Zoe is torn between her newfound relationship with a dashing man named Aaron, and her sexual escapades with a mysterious man she refers to as the “phantom”. Little does she know these two men are actually one and the same.

What’s it About? 

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A desperate woman. A disillusioned spy. A doomed mission.

Zoe Bradford will do anything to find her brother Ben, a missing missionary in Latin America. Even if it means sleeping with an anonymous stranger in order to finance a rescue mission.

Covert operative Aaron Manning doesn’t believe a “normal” life is possible for him. But the bizarre arrangement he creates with Zoe makes him more determined to step out of the shadows permanently in order to achieve his dream.

Zoe wants to believe in Aaron’s promise to save Ben, but she finds it impossible to fully trust him. When she blunders into the carefully orchestrated op, her interference nearly kills them all.

Aaron must fake his own death to start a new life, but Zoe still needs answers. And when her phantom lover makes contact again, a pregnant Zoe knows the only way to move forward is to learn his true identity.

When she discovers the man she’s in love with and the phantom who duped her are one and the same, will she be willing to forgive them both?

First Impressions

First things first, let’s start things off with the synopsis. I remember reading this overview right before cracking open my kindle to kick off the book and thinking, my goodness that’s a lot of detail jam packed in there. So I just soldiered on with the read, not thinking much about the synopsis once I got started. However, looking back on it now I must say it’s almost too much detail in that it gives away a few crucial plot points! Some of the specifics it mentioned were in fact some of the bigger surprise moments of the read for me, so in hindsight I’m kind of happy I forgot about all of the things the synopsis revealed ahead of time. Does this mean you should skip the synopsis? Nah, not necessarily. But maybe just give it a quick glance before you dive into the world of our characters 🙂

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A Love Triangle for Two

There are a lot of plot points going on throughout this book to keep you engaged. From Zoe’s missing brother to Aaron’s dangerous job, old enemies and lost loved ones. And yet, the most fascinating aspect of the whole story for me would have to be the psychological component behind this love triangle which emerges between Zoe, her mystery phantom, and Aaron. Our novel begins with Zoe in desperate need of money. She needs to build up some savings to hopefully pay a ransom and retrieve her missing missionary brother. Salvation apparently arrives in the form of an envelope filled with cash, and instructions for Zoe to travel to a discreet location. If she offers her body to the man at this locale, keeping the lights off throughout, and remaining silent, she’ll get even more money. What starts off as the most unusual of meet cutes quickly develops into a relationship of passion between Zoe and her “phantom”.

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And then Zoe meets Aaron, a seemingly nice guy in a bookstore who wants to get to know her. Unlike her primarily physical and transactional relationship with the phantom, her time with Aaron is spent getting to know each other, and has an emotional foundation. Not to mention the ability to actually converse with one another. However, it’s truly captivating to see Zoe struggle to take things further with Aaron, and her loyalties seemingly lie with the phantom who came into her life first. We see that beyond their sexual relationship, the phantom provided Zoe with a sense of autonomy and independence which had been lacking in her life for so long. She learns to live again, be desired again, and the phantom is continually providing her with the financial means necessary to take matters into her own hands by rescuing her brother. The fact that Aaron and the phantom are actually the same person lends even more depth and fascination behind this supposed love triangle, and constantly makes you question what Zoe will do when she uncovers the truth behind their identities.

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A Rescue Mission Gone Wrong

While Zoe’s inner musings regarding her relationships with Aaron and the phantom proved to be most captivating, the drama surrounding the rescue of her brother from mining criminals presented a bit of a quandary. I could both understand Zoe’s approach to this rescue mission, yet also couldn’t help but feel that she was being rather nonsensical at times. When Zoe discovers that Aaron is a covert spy, she implores him to do whatever is necessary to save her missing brother. She’s even willing to give Aaron all the money she’s saved from her sexual exploits with the phantom. When Aaron initially rejects her request for help, we see the first fracture of their relationship. After more pleading, Aaron eventually acquiesces, but says he won’t collect the money until after he returns from his attempt to retrieve her brother. Seems like a fairly sympathetic offer, yes? Yeaaaah, not so much. Zoe becomes enraged at the fact Aaron won’t take her money, not to mention that he refuses to allow her to tag along on his journey through the jungle.

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How can she trust that he’ll actually go? How does she know he won’t come back after a week’s vacation, and say he either couldn’t find her brother, or that he was dead? Mkay, totally logical concerns. Although the fact he didn’t immediately jump at the chance to take her money means he probably didn’t have any intention to just walk off with it. However, my biggest confusion came once Zoe decided to just traipse off on her own to locate her brother, and ultimately runs into Aaron in the jungle with his bad-ass team of spies who have also set out to rescue her sibling. Now, if it were me, and I ran into 4 burly, surly commandos in camouflage and carrying some intense firepower, I’d probably trust them to get the job done. As for Zoe? She’s still determined to try and ditch them in an attempt to rescue her brother by herself. But…why? At this point Zoe merely suspects Aaron and her phantom might be one and the same, but it’s not confirmed 100%, meaning she really has no reason to distrust Aaron when he says he’ll do whatever he can to bring her brother back home. It was an argument I had trouble wrapping my head around!

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: All in all, this was an interesting read that presented us with some rather fascinating psychological debates. From Zoe’s difficulty at opening herself up to love again following the death of her husband and child, to her questioning loyalties for the two men she’s grown to care for, we’re constantly wondering how things will come to pass. Looking back, I will say the synopsis was far too revealing in some of the exciting plot developments which took place throughout the story. At times it was tricky to follow the reasoning behind the decisions of our lead characters, including Aaron’s initial ruse to give money to Zoe in exchange for sex in the dark with no conversation, as well as Zoe both asking for and then refusing Aaron’s help to save her brother. Overall though, it portrays two characters who aren’t necessarily perfect, who battle with their inner demons and past traumas, but can find love and comfort in each other’s arms.

Smut Level: They may have kept the lights off, but Zoe’s sexual delights with the phantom were red hot!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Sandalstring Productions. 364 Pages

Other Works by this Author

Always on My Mind by Andrea Downing

Unfortunate circumstances and misunderstandings separate Cooper and Cassie just when they’re on the cusp of admitting their love. Will they ever manage to find their way back to each other?

What’s it About? 

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1972 – Vietnam, the pill, upheaval, hippies. Wyoming rancher Cooper Byrnes, deeply attached to the land and his way of life, surprises everyone when he falls for vagabond hippie Cassie Halliday. Fascinated and baffled, he cannot comprehend his attraction—or say the words she wants to hear.

Cassie finds Coop intriguingly different. As she keeps house for him and warms his bed at night, she admits to herself she loves him but she misinterprets Coop’s inability to express his feelings.

Parted, each continues to think of the other, but how can either of them reach out to say, “You were ‘always on my mind’?”

First Impressions

Typically, one of the most difficult parts of writing any review is the starting point. Where do you want to begin the analysis? How do you want to present the characters? Surprisingly, when it came to this read I encountered a much more difficult dilemma, and that was how to categorize this romance. Primarily, whether or not to tag it as a historical read. The setting of our book is 1972, and I realize a good portion of readers out there probably just gasped at the prospect that I would even contemplate filtering this as a historical read. What can I say? I was born in the last year of the 80’s, anything prior to that seems like history 😉 However, I must say that the question of historical or contemporary also made this one of my favorite aspects of the novel, in that it’s not your typical setting for a romance. If we’re ever presented with a tale of love obviously not set in the present day, we might see a far distant historical, regency, nineteenth century, or prohibition era if we really want to mix things up. But to set something in the early 70’s, and in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on top of it, makes this unique amalgamation of factors completely unexpected and exciting.

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To Be or Not to Be? 

The Vietnam War is raging. The era of the sexual revolution, feminism, and civil rights is well-established. In the midst of all this change, we find a conservative cowboy start to fall for a free-spirited hippie. It’s hard to think of two more unlikely characters in a romance.  While Cooper and Cassie differ in so many ways, from their lifestyles to their political views, it was fascinating to see these two polar opposites manage to push aside their differences to come together into each other’s arms. They’re able to provide a sense of solace and comfort as the rest of the world trespasses around the bubble they’ve built around them. And yet, we see that things aren’t always smooth sailing between them, and eventually their doubts and fears regarding their relationship risk tearing apart these two lovebirds forever.

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I’ll admit, upon first meeting, and for a rather large portion of the time they spent together, I questioned if Cassie and Cooper even liked each other. They obviously come from different backgrounds, and rarely agree on things. More than once Cassie admits to herself that Cooper’s behavior scares her, and yet his ability to turn sweet following an argument keeps her coming back for more. Borderline…mentally abusive in a way. It’s only when she completely misinterprets his commitment to their relationship does she run for the hills. The fact we’re in the period of the early 70’s, when the time of cell phones and emails are nonexistent, do we see it’s practically impossible for Cooper to go after her. We seriously question if they’ll manage to find their happily ever after, and desperately hope they’ll succeed in doing so. There were many times that I wished we could have seen a few more moments of affection and sweetness between Cooper and Cassie, so that I could be convinced these two were meant to be together. However, I could simultaneously appreciate the fact that if we had been presented with more of these moments, Cassie probably never would have doubted Cooper’s affections to flee in the first place.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: The outline of a heart-wrenching romance was definitely there, but I felt some areas could have been fleshed out more fully. Some of the first moments involving Cassie and Cooper’s interactions were somewhat uncomfortable, especially considering how often Cooper resulted to yelling and berating Cassie for the fact she didn’t fit seamlessly into his life. However, I’d have to say that one of the most compelling features of this romance was the fact that we were presented with a love story that was far from perfect. Our characters had flaws, and acted in ways that were often hard to differentiate right from wrong. But that’s what made it real and relatable. The fact our tale was set in the early 70’s, when war raged from afar, birth control was something to be debated/judged, and those who were more conservative clashed with those who were more liberal, we find ourselves confronted with a time that feels simultaneously foreign…yet achingly familiar.

Smut Level: Cassie and Cooper’s first time together in the bedroom actually seemed far from perfect, but practice certainly makes perfect. There’s not too much detail involved in their lovemaking, but we eventually find their awkwardness transform into tenderness.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 252 Pages

JacksonHole

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.