Through the Eyes of a Captive by Angela Christina Archer

From the wide open plains of the wagon train, to the secluded village of the Lakota tribe. See how one captive manages to find freedom in the arms of a warrior.

What’s it About? 

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“It is observed that in any great endeavor, it is not enough for a person to depend solely on himself.” ~ Lakota Proverb

They called it a terrible glory and the last great battle for the American West. While the battle of the Little Bighorn was the last stand by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer against the Lakota tribes, to Lily Sinclair it was the last stand between her old life and her new beginning.

After her in-laws squander away the family fortune, Lily and her husband, Alfred, head out west to the mountains of Montana, the only land available to poor people and far away from the debts haunting them. When a band of Cherokee warriors attacks their wagon train along the way, they kill her husband and take her captive, selling her to a Lakota tribe for the price of several horses.

Widowed Lakota warrior Tahatan has vowed never to take another bride after his wife’s death. However, he soon finds himself forced in a marriage with the outspoken, yellow-haired Yankee who challenges every thought in his head. While his attraction for her grows, so do the tormenting demons of his past.

With Custer’s sights set on the hidden gold in the depths of the Black Hills, the Colonel begins his warpath on the tribe villages. Can Lily overcome the demons of her past and defend Tahatan and his people? Or will she betray them all for the actions against her dead husband, killing someone she never believed she would in the process?

First Impressions

Make no mistake, this is an emotionally heavy read. Our novel opens with Lily traveling west with her somewhat surly husband; the open plains seemingly leading to endless possibilities. It doesn’t take long though before this outlook of hope and possibility drastically changes course to one of violence as a band of Indians attacks this train of innocent travelers. We as the reader knew the attack was coming. It’s outlined right there in the synopsis. What I wasn’t expecting was the ruthlessness of the attack. The author certainly doesn’t shirk away from some gruesome details.

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We start off with the violent death of Lily’s husband, who was unexpectedly shot mid-conversation with a slew of arrows, before being stabbed repeatedly and even scalped. As Lily is captured, we see the brutal ends of her fellow travelers. Men, women, and even children whose throats were slit, or innocent bodies were penetrated by arrows. My initial question as a reader was whether or not the vicious details of such an attack were necessary. Then I realized that while the specifics were undoubtedly painful to read, you must also commend the author for not shying away from the stark authenticity of these kinds of attacks. When these two opposing worlds clashed together, violence like this was a reality. It was a harsh reality, but it was reality nonetheless. Why try to sugarcoat it?

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From Captive to Wife

When Lily is bound and captured, she immediately goes into survival mode. Escape doesn’t cross her mind, as she knows it would be futile. She has no choice but to follow her captors. At this point Lily’s entire life has been thrown into disarray. She just witnessed the slaughter of her husband and the wagon train. She’s been taken captive, traded to another tribe, and forced to marry their strongest warrior, Tahatan. Now, if it were me? I’d be curled up in a ball, shaking back and forth, and wracked by uncontrollable sobbing. For Lily, she learns how to adapt to an entirely new way of life, in a new environment, surrounded by people speaking a language she doesn’t understand. She comes to appreciate the beauty and calm of nature more than she ever felt for the bustling city streets she once knew. Her new husband speaks English, and while he initially admits he never had any intention of marrying again after the death of his first wife, the two eventually come to an understanding of friendship. Which soon blossoms into something more.

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“But that’s all I’ve known here–force. Forced to watch Alfred die. Forced to the ground. Forced to have my wrists tied….Then forced into a marriage. What else would I know?”

You might be asking yourself how it’s possible Lily could come to love another man so soon after the tragic death of her husband. The truth is that by marrying Tahatan she now has the opportunity to reflect on her previous marriage to Alfred. As they traveled the wagon train we saw glimpses that not all was well in their marriage. Lily now starts to question if she every truly loved him, or if it was simply the institution of marriage that she was attracted to. Time passes in this Lakota village she’s come to inhabit with her new husband, and she slowly starts to see the harsh mask of this warrior fade away into one of a gentle and caring person. He teaches her the ways and traditions of his people. They learn to trust each other. To confide in each other. And eventually how to love each other. However, as Lily learns to appreciate this new way of life, and this newfound love with her husband, dangerous forces start to encroach upon her newfound serenity. 

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“I missed having a man around me. I missed having conversations. I missed the assurance someone loved and cared for me, and would do so for as long as he lived. I missed the protection of a warm pair of arms…I missed the comfort of a life shared. I missed marriage.”

Tradition vs. Greed

Enter Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his band of soldiers. When the story opened we witnessed a gruesome attack of Cherokee against a wagon train. Now we see the reverse, as government soldiers heedlessly cut down innocent Lakota tribes-people in their villages. Once again, we see the violent slaughter of men, women and children come full circle, and it begs to question what either side is fighting for where death seems to be the only answer. For the Cherokee, the Lakota, and the other tribes, they are defending their homes, their traditions, and their very way of life from the slew of people invading their lands. For Custer and his men? It’s greed. Gold. The loss of innocent lives on either side is unforgivable, but to see the lengths that some men will go to simply for material wealth…it’s a tragedy that brings tears to my eyes even now. To read this fictional romance is one thing, but then to acknowledge that this story is steeped in the harsh truths of history makes these senseless deaths even more poignant.

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For the first times in their lives, both Lily and Tahatan feel whole. Their love is pure, deep, and all-consuming. This becomes particularly evident when the possibility of Tahatan becoming swept up in the ensuing war between tribes and soldiers grows nearer. While Lily feels whole for the first time in her life, she also feels fear unlike anything she’s felt before over the thought of losing someone close to her. When she and Alfred were traveling along the wagon train she knew the dangers and risks of attacks were lurking, but it never crossed her mind what it would be like to lose Alfred; to have to live a life without him. Now that she’s finally confronted with the possibility of losing Tahatan, she is filled with a crippling fear which makes her question if she’d be able to survive if he were to die.

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“And then someone captured me, like a wild animal now in irons. Only, what I didn’t know was that those shackles would lead me to more freedom than I’d ever known or believed I would feel. The freedom of you.”

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

Series: The Wildflower Women Collection, book 3. Each novel in this series guarantees a strong female lead, and superb writing which will transport you through time into the story.

Final Impressions: This is a heavy, and honestly kind of a depressing read, but it’s an important one. It certainly made me want to immediately research the Lakota, as well as the fates of the various tribes following Custer’s last stand. There was one feature towards the end which blended history with fiction a bit too dramatically for my tastes. We’re also presented with a somewhat open-ended ending that will leave you wanting more. Something I especially appreciated though with this read was the constant juxtaposition between an old way of life versus the new. Just as Lily’s previously urban way of life with her first husband disappeared when she was taken captive, so too is the Lakota’s former way of life disappearing as their lands are increasingly threatened by soldiers. The question becomes, will they too be able to adapt as she did, or will they go down fighting to preserve their traditions?

Smut Level: Definitely some passionate moments between Lily and Tahatan, but nothing overly detailed.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Long Valley Press. 280 Pages.

 

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Heaven’s Sinners by Bella Jewel

Ever wonder how our lead male character got the nickname of “Spike”? Easy. He has a line of barbell piercings on his willy wally ding dong, and at either end of each barbell he has attachable spikes. Am I the only one who wonders what kind of outline that would form in his pants? Or what a pain it would be going through airport security?

What’s it About? 

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Contains adult content, recommended for readers over 17. A modern day biker romance.

Spike knows tragedy, he knows that feelings are better left hidden. He refuses to put his heart out there again, it’s a pain he’s not willing to feel a second time around. He’s accepted he’s going to spend forever alone. That’s all he deserves.

But then there’s Ciara, the sister of his deceased wife. She’s beautiful and damned determined to throw herself into his life in hopes they can reform an old friendship, but Spike won’t hear of it, and Ciara refuses to give up.

Who will win the battle of wills?

First Impressions 

Spike is trying with all his might to push Ciara away. They have a troubled past, and he’s convinced the two of them are better off away from each other. There’s just one problem with that. The fact they have such a long history together means that Ciara knows all the tricks and ploys he might use to try and push her away. This allows her to not only stay one step ahead of his attempts to get rid of her, but she knows how to push his own buttons to get an emotional reaction from him. Now, I will say some of their attempts to “one-up” each other get somewhat petty. For example there are several instances where they try to use other people to make the other one jealous, which is a bit too high school drama for my liking.

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However, I must admit I did appreciate that Ciara especially didn’t always choose to wither away when Spike was up to something. It’s often the case in romance novel land that a female lead will run off in a huff of anger if she comes upon the male lead making out in the back of a bar’s storage area with another woman. For Ciara though? Well, after catching Spike’s eye during said make-out session she decides to rile him up a bit by erotically touching and stroking herself. Right when he’s on the edge of coming because of her antics, she leaves the room with a knowing smirk and wink. I simultaneously wanted to roll my eyes at how they resulted to some immature methods to provoke each other, yet also applaud Ciara’s ability to stare him right in the face without backing down. An unexpected dichotomy for sure.

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Past vs. Present; Ciara vs. Spike

The format of this novel was rather unique, in that it constantly switches back and forth from the past to the present. The past particularly focuses on the history of Ciara and Spike’s friendship, his pursuit of Ciara’s sister Cheyenne, and the aftermath of Cheyenne’s death. Their present is more focused on both of them learning how to forgive each other for the misunderstandings of their past, as well as pursuing a new romantic relationship with each other. While it was definitely an interesting format, something felt a bit disjointed in the execution of it. Firstly, the scenes in both the past and the present were constantly flip-flopping between both Ciara and Spike’s points of view. Secondly, the flashbacks to the past didn’t necessarily happen in chronological order, which made it rather difficult to keep track of what happened when. At the start of the novel, all we know is that in the present scenes Ciara and Spike have a definite animosity towards each other, and in the scenes from the past we see how close they used to be in their friendship.

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From that point on the entire novel felt like a build-up to understanding what exactly happened between Ciara and Spike all those years ago, as well as the animosity which developed between them because of his relationship with Cheyenne. While interesting in theory, I found it somewhat difficult to follow along with some of their arguments in the present when we don’t fully understand everything that happened in the past. Whatever happened to end the friendship between Spike and Ciara, and push him into the arms of her sister was obviously the foundation for their current animosity, but because we were left in the dark for soooo long you couldn’t help but feel frustrated at their continual bickering in the present. The true break in their relationship all those years ago never received the amount of attention it deserved, and therefore you just want them to forgive each other and get over it already.

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The Blame Game

Misplaced blame seems to be the name of the game in this novel. Everyone places blame where it doesn’t belong in every argument they have. They’ll blame each other, themselves, Ciara’s deceased sister Cheyenne, etc. The funny thing is that at some point, each of those people were in fact responsible for some kind of misunderstanding or error in the past, but they always blamed them for some other misdeed at the wrong time. This was especially true regarding both Ciara and Spike’s relationships with Cheyenne, including how Spike and Cheyenne ended up marrying each other, as well as the details surrounding her death. We know that Spike only turned towards Cheyenne all those years before out of frustration that Ciara never seemed to notice his attempts to woo her.

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All these years later he’s insistent that he did actually love Cheyenne with all his heart, but it’s kind of difficult for us to understand seeing as we never saw any affectionate moments between them. The only Cheyenne-focused scenes we did see involved Cheyenne being pretty manipulative in her pursuit of Spike, even though she knew her sister was infatuated with him. Spike blames himself for Cheyenne’s death, and Ciara initially blamed Spike as well, but both also admitted that Cheyenne wanted to be there with Spike during some kind of dangerous biker mission. It seemed like the only person they didn’t always involve in the blame game was the man who actually pulled the trigger to kill Cheyenne in the first place! It wasn’t until the very last moment of the book that we got a quick and rather intense focus from Spike on revenge towards Cheyenne’s killer.

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Series: The MC Sinners, book 2.

Final Impressions: This read definitely started strong, as you can’t help but wonder how Spike and Ciara’s strong friendship from so many years ago devolved into pure hatred in the present day. Will they be able to move on from their misunderstandings of the past? The main issue with this book though is in the execution of the story. This constant back and forth from past to present, and the lengthy delay in finding out how their friendship broke down when they were younger goes on for far too long. There was too much focus on their bickering, which resulted in the highly dramatic and suspenseful conclusion to feel rushed.

Smut Level: Spike definitely takes Ciara out of her sexual comfort zone, including going to a sex club where they watch others engage in sexual acts from behind a one-way mirror. Ciara can’t help but feel an initial sense of shame for liking something which seems so perverted. However, he teaches her how to embrace her desires. Hell, I guess when you think about it it’s basically just like watching live-action porn!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 260 Pages

Locke by Harper Sloan

Alas, it’s time to say goodbye to the members of Corps Security. This series has been brimming with alpha male tendencies from start to finish!

What’s it About? 

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Darkness is the only thing I see. Ever since the day my life changed. The day that everything and everyone I held close to me ceased to exist. The day I lost it all and the demons of my past consumed my every waking moment.

I tried to keep others at arm’s length. Tried not to let my darkness taint them. Ruin them. Harm them. And whether I want to admit it or not, as much as I wish I could keep them locked out, they refuse to leave. Refuse to let me suffer alone.

If I hadn’t been so focused on keeping those demons from flying free, I wouldn’t have missed how one perfect angel was able to sneak her way under my skin—refusing to let go. Making me want things I don’t deserve.

She consumes me. Her beauty knows no end. The love she promises tempts me every time she’s near. But that pure heart that makes her MY Emmy is the one thing I’m convinced I’ll destroy if I ever let her close.

I’m a broken man. A broken man with too much darkness in his soul to ever let her light shine upon me. But even that doesn’t stop me from craving her with every single breath in my body.

First Impressions

Emmy and Locke’s relationship has been playing out over the last two novels, so with the opening moments of this final book it sort of feels like we’re coming smack dab into the middle of their tale. In a way we’ve missed the meet cute, the initial attractions, and the fundamental draw of what connected them in the first place. That “thing” that sets each of them apart from any other love interest who has come before. With the start of this book we dive right into the complexities and intricacies of their relationship which has previously been established. You’re almost expected to remember all of the details, with very little recap or summary provided. Because we’ve only seen minor glimpses and insinuations of their attraction in the background scenes of the previous books, it seems we’ve missed out on some of the important first moments of their relationship.

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A Life in Sin

Even if we don’t necessarily know what drew Emmy and Locke together in the first place, an important aspect of their pasts that they both share are some unbelievably heartless family members. Specifically in regards to their mothers. These are women who laugh in the face of a daughter having been raped, or a son who suffered through the losses of war and an adulterous fiancée. While Emmy and Locke have both been heavily influenced by the tragic events of their pasts which are directly tied to the actions of their family, the novel focuses much more attention and depth into Locke’s recovery from his past tragedies. Those which Emmy encountered at the hands of her parents and one of their employees was barely touched upon in comparison. Emmy grew up being groomed by both of her parents to be the head act of their strip club, Sin, and didn’t see any problem or intervention necessary when she was continuously raped by one of their employees.

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Her goal in life was always to escape from this hell she had to live through every day, and ultimately it was Coope who provided the assistance necessary years beforehand to leave that life behind. And yet, after Coope’s death in a previous book, we see that she willingly goes back to that life. She voluntarily goes right back to Sin, into the scheming hands of her parents, and back to the abuse of her rapist. She could have gone anywhere in the world, but Emmy chose to go back there. Unfortunately we never really explore the psychology of this monumental decision, but rather get a brief mention that for some reason she thinks she deserves to be where she is. Eventually Emmy reflects on how much Coope risked to get her out of there all those years ago, and laments the fact she’s right back where she started. However, in the end it is Locke who succeeds in removing her from this abusive environment a second time. She never really takes it upon herself to confront her past directly. Things happen to her or around her, but she never really has the choice to heal from the pains of her past.

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Confronting the Past

As for Locke, we see a full exploration of the hurt caused by his family, his ex-fiancée who left him for his brother, and the aftermath of losing his leg in war. Emmy also makes the astute observation that due to his past with a scheming, backstabbing fiancée he doesn’t believe in love…for himself. He’s actually fully supportive of all his friends who have found love in their lives, and has always been the one to push them into the arms of their forever person. Emmy helps him confront his past slowly, piece by piece, and even helps him find professional help to resolve the areas too deep for her to assist with. The novel concludes with Locke finally facing the demons of his past head on, and letting them know how much better his life is now without them. And yet, we see no final moment of resolution for Emmy. She has no heart-to-heart discussion with her parents, no ultimate face-off to finally stand up on her own two feet. Instead Locke is always the one to solve her problems for her, with Emmy remaining in the background.

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Series: Corps Security, book 6. The final book in the series. 

Final Impressions: Overall a satisfying conclusion to the series, as we see a final overview of each of our couples from the previous books. More time is spent observing the tragedies that both Emmy and Locke suffered through in their respective pasts rather than recapping the details of how their relationship got off the ground in the first place. Ultimately it seems that Locke is provided with more opportunities to directly confront his issues head-on, whereas Emmy never really as the chance to stand-up to her parents who cause her so much pain. We do get a very suspenseful confrontation between Emmy and her rapist, but this wasn’t so much her confronting her past as it was her past coming back to confront her.

Smut Level: Locke is the king of delayed gratification, multiple orgasms, and dirty talk.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 271 Pages.

Under the Skin by Zara West

Well folks, the time has come to bid a fond farewell to the The Skin Quartet series, as we’ve arrived at the fourth and final installment of the bunch. This time it’s Hanger’s turn to find romance in the tough city streets of New York. It’s been ten years since we last saw this spunky street kid graffiti artist, and he’s now grown into a wealthy and sophisticated architect. Or has he?

What’s it About? 

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Born poor and raised on the streets, celebrated bridge builder and billionaire, Mic Vargas is knee-deep in the construction of a trouble-plagued bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey. He really can’t afford to take in a stray thief and fall in love with her. But when a beautiful, snappy-tongued, illegal immigrant literally drops at his feet, he becomes consumed with saving her and her family from poverty.

Cat burglar, Lena Correr stopped trusting anyone long ago. Not even a rich, handsome billionaire with good intentions can break through her defenses. At least, not until an East Coast crime boss threatens her family and forces her to steal for him. Mic vows to help her and her family escape the hell they are in. But will the man Lena is coming to love succeed, or will he end up dead at the hands of an old enemy?

First Impressions

Of all the books contained within this series, this final novel proves to have the most poignant, thought-provoking, and perhaps relatable observation of them all. Up until this point, we have seen a focus on characters who were wealthy billionaires, tattoo artists, and some who lived on the streets. In this final novel we see a focus on Mic, a man who just ten years before was a kid living on the streets, putting up graffiti tags all over the city with his protective sister. He’s now a successful architect, richest beyond his wildest imagination. He lives in an expensive townhouse with fancy clothes, a soft bed, warmth, and plenty of food. And yet, who is he really when you peel away all the outer layers of perceived wealth? Who is he under the skin?

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We’ve all heard the phrase “money can’t buy happiness”, and in this novel we see an examination of how true that statement can be. For even though Mic now seemingly has everything he ever dreamed of and more, underneath it all he misses his former life living on the streets. It may not have been glamorous or safe. He may have gone to bed cold and hungry, but he lived his life the way he wanted, unbound by rules and people dictating where he could and couldn’t go. This observation that Mic carries out throughout the novel in regards to how his life has turned out grounds us as the reader. It encourages self-reflection, and for each of us to consider who we might be when we remove the facade of what others might expect of us.

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Two Peas in a Pod

This deep introspection of who a person truly is on the inside carries over into Mic’s interactions and eventual relationship with Lena. Upon first meeting, Mic has a basic surface-level impression of this young woman. She’s a thief. A child of the streets, just like he used to be. But by having come from that world, Mic understands that there is often more beneath the surface that can drive a person to sometimes do terrible things. Mic becomes transfixed to discover how this beautiful young woman resulted to thievery in order to solve her problems in life.

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As we learn who Lena is under her own skin, we discover that Mic’s initial inkling that there was more to her than meets the eye was entirely accurate. Lena steals, not for herself, but for her family. As undocumented immigrants in a big city, her mother and little brothers have few options, and she’s taken it upon herself to ensure they make it through each day in one piece. Her fall into thievery was not done because of greed, but rather survival and caring for her family. Lena was initially on the path to becoming a nurse, but when her father was deported, and the scumbag lawyer who defended him demands an exorbitant fee, Lena has no choice but to result to a life of crime. We soon see that her life is much like Alice’s, in that once she makes that first fall through the rabbit hole, things start spiraling out of control very quickly.

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The Spiral

Another successful point of this story is that it manages to keep you on your toes from start to finish. Every time you think there might be a lull in the suspense, another dramatic element will be introduced just at the right time to ensure you’re still paying attention. On the one hand, we see some shady and questionable issues surrounding Mic’s latest bridge project. On the other, things start to spiral out of control as Lena’s success as a thief draws the attention of one very seedy character who becomes intent on drawing her into his world of crime. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her over to his side, even if he has to threaten the safety of her mother and brothers to do so.

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Mic is intent on helping Lena and her family escape whatever trouble it is they’ve found themselves in, to the point where he’s willing to brush aside the turmoil of his own life in order to focus all his attention on saving this woman who has quickly come to mean so much to him. Lena constantly struggles with the question of  whether or not she should put her trust in Mic, or if she should instead do whatever she can to push him out of her life to spare him any hurt. These inner debates were successful in building up the intensity and unpredictability of a scene, yet also incredibly frustrating at times. We see her logic in the fact that she barely knows this man, and that by asking him for help she might be placing him in extreme danger that he might not be able to get them out of. At the same time though, you just want to scream at her to take the helping hand that’s being offered, to hold on with all her might and never let go.

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

Series: The Skin Quartet, book 4. It was an absolute delight to reconnect with old friends from throughout the entire series, as well as thrilling to see a few familiar foes come back into the mix as well.

Final Impressions: Even though Lena and Mic have a dramatic initial meeting, you can’t help but notice that for a good portion of the first third or so of the novel, they don’t really spend any time in each other’s immediate presence. However, that first impression was all it took for them to spend practically ever waking moment contemplating the other. It adds to the intense need of their relationship, yet also helps contribute to those moments where they can’t seem to fully trust each other seeing as they barely know each other. While there was a constant roller coaster of suspenseful moments throughout the novel, the final conclusion did seem a bit rushed over, and possibly with some loose ends still left unfinished. When all was said and done there was a lot of havoc wreaked upon our primary characters, seemingly without end for a decent amount of time, and it was rather jarring to discover that the reason behind a good portion of this pain was quite trivial in the grand scheme of things.

Smut Level: Glow-in-the-dark condom…with black light. Need I say more?

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 217 Pages.

 

To the Max by Elle Aycart

What do you get when you have a pregnant thirty-something living with a devilishly handsome stuntman in the same house? As it turns out, a damn good time! Oh, and don’t forget to throw a couple of guinea pigs in there too.

What’s it About? 

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Forensic accountant Annie Griffin has always suspected she’s a bit jinxed, so when she finds herself 35, single, temporarily homeless, and pregnant on a technicality by a gigolo, her fears are confirmed.

Adrenaline junkie and professional stuntman Max Bowen needs a house-sitter to watch after his pets while he’s out of town. Annie needs a place to stay. Standard quid pro quo. No biggie. She can handle that, whatever hellhounds he owns. Until Max, the most sought-after bachelor in the county, comes back ahead of schedule and suddenly she’s roommates with a 27-year old sex God who turns out to be so much more than what she expected.

Max might have had the attention span of a humming bird on crack when it comes to women, but that was before Annie. Her quirkiness and sweet contradictions soon captivate him, not that she’s inclined to give him the time of the day. With his reputation preceding him, he knows the odds are badly stacked against him, but he will do his best to prove her that he’s what she needs, stuck-up socialite grandmothers, doomsday preppers, groupies, pregnancy hormones, and repentant biological dads be damned.

First Impressions

Right from the get go, you can’t help but feel that our two main characters are polar opposites. Annie is 8 years older than Max. She’s a rule follower, and a straight-laced accountant. She also happens to be pregnant following an uncharacteristic one-night stand with a gigolo. Max is the handsome playboy about town. The daredevil. The stuntman. A bit cocky, but not in an annoying way. When Annie’s apartment undergoes renovations, she agrees to pet-sit for Max when he’s called out of town for a film shoot. When said shoot is unexpectedly put on hold he has no choice but to return home, and the two opposites suddenly find themselves as roommates. How could this possibly end well?!

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However, as it turns out there’s an easiness to their relationship that you can’t help but adore. These two simply enjoy being in each other’s company, which neither would have guessed at the start. What begins as an unlikely friendship eventually develops into something more the longer they live together. In my mind there’s nothing better than a romance involving two friends who learn there’s a deeper emotional connection between them. The fact Max and Annie can have fun with each other by simply hanging out and watching TV is an added bonus, like whipped topping on a sundae. And her pregnancy hormones ratcheting up their sexual need for each other is the cherry on top.

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Mommy and Me

Surprisingly, Annie’s pregnancy doesn’t turn Max away, but instead actually draws him closer. Don’t worry, it’s not like he has a creepy pregnancy fetish or anything. He’s just happy to take care of her, every part of her, in whatever way he can. Once their relationship starts to become something intimate, he’s sure to specify that the fact she’s pregnant and alone isn’t the only reason he pursues a relationship with her. It’s not some outdated sense of obligation, since it was actually Annie’s personality which drew him in from the beginning. Max simply realizes that she and the baby are a package deal, and it thrills him to think he can take care of them both. One back rub leads to another…and next thing you know this friendship has evolved into full on sexual delights.

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Blood isn’t Always Thicker than Water

This novel isn’t all rainbows and guinea pigs, as we actually dive deep into a discussion of wealth, and the importance of family. Throughout this series we have seen the strength of the Bowen brothers, and this familial bond is just as strong in this novel as it was in the previous two. However, we come to the shocking realization that the Bowen patriarch isn’t Max’s actual father. His biological father was actually a mean drunk who Max had only met twice in his whole life. For all intents and purposes, Nate Bowen has always been and always will be his father. To summarize a very compelling quote of Max’s, any guy has the ability to make a baby, but that doesn’t necessarily make the man a father. Sometimes a family you choose can be stronger than the one you’re born into. The parallels of how Max sees himself playing a role in the life of Annie’s baby, even if it isn’t biologically his, couldn’t be more distinct. He might not technically be the child’s father, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be the best dad possible.

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Money also plays a rather pivotal role in Max and Annie’s relationship. The eventual discovery of Annie’s immense familial wealth makes Max start to question whether or not he’s worthy of her. She’s an heiress, even though to him she’s always been down to earth. While she’s never been one to flaunt her wealth, it doesn’t negate the fact that Max and Annie seemingly come from two very separate worlds. He can’t help but wonder if Annie would still want to be with him had he grown up in the trailer park with his true biological drunken father. It’s a rather emotional moment to see our somewhat cocky and surefire Max suddenly question whether or not he’s good enough for a woman who has quickly become the most important thing in his life. I might not have been expecting this intimate look at what truly makes a person who they are; money, blood lines, the people you surround yourself with; but it ended up being an important feature of Annie and Max’s relationship.

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Pahk the Cah in Hahvahd Yahd! 

I love an accent. I always say I have an ear for them, and can usually tell in a movie or TV show when a primary character is attempting to mask their true accent. With this audiobook I must say the accent employed by the narrator was a bit much. This novel takes place in a suburb of Boston, so our male lead has a stereotypical Boston accent. Now, none of the female characters receive this similar New England treatment! Oh no, it’s a privilege reserved for the sexy Bowen boys alone. And I gotta say, every time I heard the narrator’s thick Boston accent used for Max, I was immediately reminded of Ben Affleck’s character in Good Will Hunting, but it was exaggerated to the n’th degree, as though he was trying to sell me a hot dog at Fenway Park. It seemed unnecessarily over-the-top, especially considering at no point in the novel does the text mention that these men have a thick Boston accent.

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Series: Bowen Boys, book 3.

Final Impressions: This is a surprisingly funny read at the start. Annie and Max make for some entertaining roommates. From her pregnancy cravings, to his love of his two adorable pet guinea pigs, this book isn’t short of laughs. Or steaminess! My goodness do these two get down and dirty. No way will they let her belly come between them. The development of their friendship into something more felt incredibly natural and heartfelt. The whole thing comes together with an unexpectedly suspenseful finish that I did not see coming. All in all, a fun beach read!

Smut Level: Holy sex swing do these two get creative. It takes some time for them to start something sexual, but once they do? You’ve got some erotically charged, dirty talking, squirty sex scenes.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 334 Pages.

When Hearts Break by D.M. Porters

What started off as childhood animosity eventually developed into an adulthood attraction. Just when Alexa and William start to explore these newfound feelings, tragedy strikes. And then it strikes again. And again. Aaaaand again.

What’s it About? 

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No one can hear a heart breaking…Alexandra Wright waited, prayed in fact, for handsome William Taylor to one day turn his eyes her way. They were thrown together at a young age given their parents’ business association, but nothing ever came of it. William would grow to become a most sought-after bachelor, but had little time working on his father’s estate to notice any woman, let alone Alexa. To him, she would always be the annoying little girl his sister had befriended.

Alexa would herself, develop into a beautiful, strong woman, alas, one with little time to focus on her own happiness. With her home filled with turmoil and upheaval, Alexa spent most of her days protecting her beloved mother from her selfish and uncaring father. An opportune meeting with William in London changes everything. He quickly discovered she is not the little girl he once knew.

Despite fighting his attraction to her, William cannot stop thinking of Alexa. When he relents and allows his heart to be opened to her, deep painful losses and cruel deceptions tear them apart. Alexa is thrown into unfathomable misery; a nightmare from which, she cannot wake. With her world torn to pieces, she distances herself from William, and is forced to marry another man.

Can Alexa and William find their way back to each other and to the happiness they so deserve? Can Alexa allow herself to love and live the life she was meant to, knowing hearts can only break so much, before they crumble?

First Impressions

This book essentially takes place in three phases. Phase one reintroduces us to the characters from the first novel, and highlights how their love is just as strong now as it was all those years ago. We also see an introduction to this couple’s son, William, and the initial animosity between him and his sister’s best childhood friend, Alexa. Flash forward a few years and we see these two brush aside their childhood annoyances to instead timidly lay the groundwork for a possible relationship. The real focus though of this first phase surrounded Alexa’s mother, Celia. As you can see, there are quite a number of different characters presented here. Celia has always been a devoted wife and mother, but a mystery illness has plagued her for years. Just as Alexa and William start their own flirtations, we simultaneously see Celia in pursuit of her own happiness after being trapped in a loveless marriage for so long.

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Now, I always try to keep my reviews free of spoilers, but in my humble opinion the synopsis of the book should have come with a spoiler alert warning! It’s not hard to guess how Celia’s illness coming to the forefront might play into the synopsis’ reference to “painful losses” and Alexa being “thrown into unfathomable misery.” It made it so much easier to see where the story was going before we even got there. There were also numerous insinuations and hints that tragedy loomed closer with every turn of the page. And this brings us to phase two of the book, which is definitely an emotional downer. Gone are the seemingly carefree days of buying dresses and spontaneous flirtations with William. We see Alexa fall into a dark depression, and we feel every painful moment and heartache right along with her. Finally we arrive at phase three, where we hope and pray that Alexa and William will finally find their way back to each other. Which they kind of do before conniving characters and calamitous circumstances rip them apart. This final phase is full of suspense, as well as the feeling that nothing is ever going to go right for our characters. This is when you’ll start to bite your nails wondering if Alexa and William will ever manage to find a happily ever after.

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The Property of Men

The precarious position of women in English society is definitely highlighted prominently in this second book. In the first novel, we saw a woman from the present day travel through time to 19th century England. While she definitely encountered difficulties as a woman that she hadn’t experienced in her own time, she also managed to push the boundaries when she knew it was an area where she could excel, even if it was one typically reserved for men. Thankfully she was able to find a man who appreciated her expertise in a “man’s world”. In this novel though, we see more of a focus on two women who were actually born and raised in this time.

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Alexa is a young woman whose mobility and fate is heavily determined by her father. As for her mother, Celia, we see a woman whose very life is literally held in the hands of her husband. Her frequent bouts of chest pain and shortness of breath have been brushed aside as “women’s nonsense” by her husband for years, and we can’t help but feel that a terrible fate lies in wait around the corner. We see how these women can be trapped in life due to the very fact they are women. And yet, we also see how they reach a breaking point where they are determined to break free and take their lives into their own hands. They understand that life is short, and they’re no longer willing to push aside their wants, desires, and passions merely because of their gender. It might start off as a somewhat crushing read, but as time goes on we see these strong women become empowered to pursue love, life and happiness. Before it all comes tumbling down around them of course.

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A Point of Comparison

Alexa and William are surprisingly separated for a good portion of the book. We get a few scenes of them together as they explore their new feelings of attraction, but there’s seemingly so much more of a focus on Alexa’s mother in part 1, Alexa’s personal melancholy in part 2, and some scheming side characters in part 3. It sort of felt like we only saw a handful of scenes throughout the book with the two of them in the same room. Otherwise it was either a focus on different characters, or we would see Alexa and William reminiscing and daydreaming about each other. When they do eventually come together, and we hope that things might finally be turning in a positive direction for the two of them, calamity upon calamity strikes which pulls them further apart.

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I think it would have been particularly interesting if we saw more of what changed their negative childish opinions of each other. We see them reconnect after years apart, and they seem immediately taken with each other. Their childhood hatred has apparently been thrown by the wayside with a mere glance. There’s an obvious physical attraction that draws them together, but I would have liked if we spent more time with them developing an emotional connection. I couldn’t help but continuously compare Alexa and William to our couple from the first book. What made that couple so intriguing was that it was Beth’s mind, as well as her looks, which drew her and Samuel together. Seeing as Alexa and William spend so much of the book apart from one another, it feels like we don’t get a chance to see the added depth and strong foundation to their relationship. The most touching scene between them by far was the last scene of the novel, as it allowed us a glimpse into how affectionate and caring these two can be. I did appreciate that it was William who managed to pull Alexa out of her misery in phase 2, but I think the addition of just one more scene could have really tied together the entire progression of their relationship.

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

Series: Taylor, book 2. I can’t recommend book 1 enough, but I will say this sequel does an amazing job summarizing the events from the first installment. While you wouldn’t necessarily have to go back to book 1 to follow along with the plot of this story, it’s definitely a great one to pick up. I also can’t wait to see what’s in store for book 3!

Final Impressions: This is an emotionally intense read. Our characters seem to face more trials and tribulations than they do successes, and this is especially true when we see the introduction of two new characters in the final phase of the book. Let’s just say one particular female character manages to make the Evil Queen from Sleeping Beauty look like Oprah. Personally I would have liked to see more scenes involving Alexa and William together, as well as a deeper exploration of how their initial childhood hatred turned to affection. Instead we see their interactions restricted to a small handful of quick scenes which are constantly interrupted by tragedy and deception. They also have the tendency to try and protect the other as much as possible, to the point where they don’t confide in each other as much as they should, which of course results in more calamity. Kind of a vicious circle!

Smut Level: One delightful scene, but nothing too steamy or raunchy.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 365 Pages.

Beyond Farwin Wood by Drea Damara

Wickrits, stroomphblutels, and skithers oh my!

What’s it About? 

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Agatha Blinney’s curse is unleashed when Franci Doltman dresses up as her favorite movie star. Now the storeowners on Blinney Lane must rally together to save Franci before the possession claims her forever.

Valerie Millville is tired of her controlling mother, disappointing men, and being misunderstood. Determined to escape her life on Blinney Lane, she and troublemaker Ricky Allister volunteer to find a cure by venturing inside one of the cursed weeping books.

From mythical lands to peculiar allies to other worldly creatures, Valerie learns not all stories are written in stone—or even in one dimension. Can she and Ricky save Franci in time or will their friend become another casualty of the curse that binds Blinney Lane? Will Farwin Wood show them secrets undiscovered or are mysteries merely in the eye of the beholder? Get ready for an adventure that will transport you into the pages of a fantasy world beyond reality.

First Impressions

This book was almost like if Dr. Seuss had an influence in creating the world from the NeverEnding Story. Needless to say, there’s some interesting lands and creatures to discover here! The residents of Blinney Lane exist in what we would identify as the present day, albeit with some intense supernatural elements at work, as they are impacted by an old witch’s curse that restricts them to living within a 3 block radius of this small Salem town. However, some of the residents have successfully traveled to a faraway place: the land of Farwin Wood. This world is more fantastical yet also historical in nature, and it doesn’t exist in this dimension. Rather, one must fall asleep on top of a magical weeping book which describes this fictional world in order to go there.

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At first, I wondered where the heck this story was going! We have so many characters introduced rather quickly that exist in two different worlds linked together through magic and the written word. I wasn’t sure who or where the focus would lie. However, it’s when we see these two worlds collide that the story truly comes alive. Farwin Wood ended up being a delightfully intriguing world that I couldn’t get enough of! We didn’t know what might lie around the corner in wait for our characters with every turn of the page. We feel like we’re going on the adventure right along with them discovering new lands, new creatures, new maladies, and even new passions.

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Setting the Scene

So let’s do a crash course in the plot of this book. We begin with Franci, who is a bit of a misunderstood wall flower on Blinney Lane. She’s just lost her mother, and is desperate to break out of her shell. Franci decides to dress up as her favorite movie star from the golden years of Hollywood in the hopes of acquiring just a bit of her moxie. But because this is Blinney Lane, where the curse of a witch from hundreds of years before haunts its residents, Franci becomes literally possessed by the personality of this long lost Hollywood starlet, and her friends on Blinney Lane fear the real Franci might be lost to them forever. They have only one option. Some of them must travel to the mystical book world of Farwin Wood in the hopes of finding a magical remedy to Franci’s possession.

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Enter Valerie and Ricky. Valerie ends up being our primary female lead character. She has a background in potions, lotions and herbal remedies, so she feels she’s the best person to travel to Farwin Wood in search of a cure. She’s also looking for an escape from her overbearing mother, as well as the monotonous day-to-day of being trapped on Blinney Lane. She’ll need a guide to get her through the book, which is where Ricky comes into play. He’s the younger nephew of the lead character from book one, and has been to Farwin Wood before. I initially assumed we’d see a romance develop between Ricky and Valerie, but there’s actually a man of Farwin Wood whose path she’s about to cross. This is when the adventure truly begins!

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Ranthrop is one of the rulers of Farwin Wood, looking for adventure following the end of a war which had been waged throughout the land for over 20 years. This violent war ended at the end of book one, and peace now reigns supreme. He’s restless, and desperate for something to capture his attention. Who should come along but two visitors from the mysterious faraway land of Blinney, looking for a cure to help their friend back home. Ranthrop knows where this cure might be found, but it’s a several day’s journey to another land which the residents of Farwin Wood fear above all else. He’s determined to accompany Valerie on her quest, not just because it will provide him with some action following the end of the war, but also because he can’t deny his immediate attraction to the young and outspoken woman who has ventured into his world.

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Where Worlds Collide

This was such a fun adventure, and I can’t deny that I wore a stupid smirk on my face for a large portion of this read. The chemistry between Ranthrop and Valerie was enchanting, and you can’t help but be seduced by their verbal sparring matches. She’s convinced upon first meeting that he’s a brute, seeings as he initially mistook her for a new wench in his castle keep. However, throughout their journey she starts to discover the caring and selfless side to his character. Valerie also sees how Ranthrop must confront the errors and guilts of his war-filled past with each passing day. Their journey may have started off with Ranthrop acting as Valerie’s protector, but by the end their roles have almost been reversed. She must step in to comfort him as he faces all the pain he’s caused others through years of war. Valerie questions if she can really be falling for a man in a story book. Surely he’s pure fiction, but then why do the feelings she’s starting to develop for this soldier seem so real?

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I must say I was personally enamored with Ranthrop. He’s obviously a very masculine and physically strong character, yet he also has this kind of sweet innocence and genuine curiosity about his nature. You can tell he’s eager to learn everything about something new he happens upon, so when Valerie makes her way into his world he’s immediately enthralled. As for Valerie, she’s outspoken and full of spunk. Far from the demure and soft-spoken ladies that you’d expect to find in Farwin Wood. She’s not afraid to speak her mind in front of Ranthrop, and let him know when he’s being an ass. For his part, Ranthrop can’t quite understand what it is about her that intrigues him so, but by the end of their journey he’s come to realize that he’s finally met his match in a woman. His other half. You couldn’t ask for a more entertaining couple.

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Back on Blinney Lane

At the same time that Valerie and Ranthrop are roaming the world of Farwin Wood, we have another side romance happening between Franci and another character back in the real world of Blinney Lane. At first I was worried how these multiple story lines would blend together, especially considering we have the couple from the first novel coming back into play as well. I wondered if it would be too many story lines going on at once. I will admit, at the beginning it was kind of tricky to keep all the plots and various characters straight, but over time you really do get to know everyone, and know them well.

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We become fully invested in every story, and you really don’t want any of them to end. Throughout the book we would focus on Valerie and Ranthrop in one scene as their journey through Farwin Wood progressed, and then we’d switch back to see the progression of Franci’s madness on Blinney Lane, as well as how a young man becomes fully invested in helping her survive. To see how this man starts to develop deeper feelings for Franci, a woman whose friendship he’d always taken for granted, was just as entertaining as the journey through Farwin Wood. It was a fun dynamic back and forth between these two worlds that never felt forced or unnecessary.

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

Series: Blinney Lane, book 2. I would probably recommend reading book 1 before starting with this one. It helped that I received a crash course of the events from book 1, but even then I felt like I missed out on some of the background details for our character’s personalities. That being said, I’m fully in love with Farwin Wood, and can’t wait to visit again in the future.

Final Impressions: It takes a bit of time to set up our story and learn how to distinguish all of our characters, but once we see Valerie fall through the book into Farwin Wood it really does become a fun adventure. Farwin Wood was such a unique world full of fun and entertaining characters, I really didn’t want to leave it! Although, if I actually happened to find myself within this mystical world full of wickrits and skithers, I’d probably want to get the heck out of there as fast as possible!

Smut Level: Very tasteful. Nothing overly smutty.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. BHC Press/Indigo. 288 Pages.