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.

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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.

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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Coming Together Through Fire

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

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

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

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Tales of Romance

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

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Series: Stand-alone

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

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

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

The Rookie by Abigail Owen

Aidan has convinced himself that he’s not worthy of ever finding a mate. And yet the need he feels for Sera is undeniable. When he discovers she carries the sign of being a dragon mate, he starts to hope that Sera could be his.

What’s it About? 

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To escape exile, Aidan Paytah has had to prove himself worthy. Every second of every damn day. He fought with everything he had to earn his precarious place on the Huracán team of dragon shifter enforcers. He can’t fail or afford distractions, no matter how temptingly sweet. Total loyalty to the clans and dedication to his team is the only way.

Sera Morrison lost her parents and her husband in short order, leaving her a single mother running her family winery alone. Nothing could ever have prepared her for the discovery that she’s a destined dragon mate. But once she finds out, there’s only one man she wants—the one who walks away.

However, the Alliance Council has its own agenda. They want to use her as a political pawn and force a mating that could ultimately kill her to save the High King. Aidan has no choice but to kidnap her, even if it means their close proximity reinforces their own mating bond. And mating with him could end up being a far worse fate for Sera….

First Impressions

It’s pretty clear to us readers that Sera isn’t just your average widow looking to protect her young son, Blake. She’s a dragon mate, and her mate is Aidan. Bada boom bada bing. No mystery there. That being said, it’s still a fun ride to see the process of Sera and the rest of the Huracán enforcers discover the truth of what she really is. Something I really appreciated about this book was that it added some surprise elements which truly distinguished it from the previous two novels in the series. We aren’t just dealing with another woman who discovers she has a significant role to play within the world of dragons.

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The sign of being a dragon mate is that the brand of the dragon clan the mate is destined for suddenly appears on the woman’s neck. The fact that Sera has not just one dragon clan brand on her neck, but three, throws everyone for a loop! What could it mean? Could she pick and choose anyone from among those three clans? Could she possibly have three mates instead of one? Not to mention we all question what her sign as a dragon mate might mean for her young son, who is a mere mortal. The truly brilliant aspect of this novel though was that we didn’t just see these events carry out from Sera and Aidan’s perspectives. There’s a third villainous character whose identity remains a mystery, but he’s convinced that Sera is meant for him. She appears to him in his mind, and he’ll do anything to have her as his mate in real life. The added problem is that we learn he’s one of Aidan’s fellow dragon shifter enforcers. Duh duh duhhhhh.

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The Risk of Mating

Sera has always been wary of the connections she’s felt to Aidan, which is stronger than any she’s ever felt before. Even when compared with her late husband, and the father of her son. However, she and Aidan have an undeniable chemistry, and when she’s told that one of the dragon brands on her neck is the blue color of Aidan’s clan, she starts to wonder if they’ve been destined to end up together all along. The fellow enforcers inform her that she’ll feel the link with her one true mate in her gut, and her thought immediately goes to Aidan. The fact that he’s always treated her son Blake as a treasure rather than a nuisance makes her realize the importance of her mate accepting her and her son as a package deal. And yet, there’s still a sense of doubt.

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She’s fully aware of the dangers of what could happen if Aidan isn’t her mate, and the two attempt to come together. She’ll burst into flames, die a painful death, and Aidan would be able to do nothing but watch on as she turns to Ash in his arms. Not the prettiest picture here! When Sera realizes the distinct possibility of death should she choose the wrong mate, she really doesn’t express any immediate concern over her own life. Instead she immediately thinks of Aidan. The pain it would cause him to watch her die in his arms, and the loss of half his soul should it turn out that they aren’t actually mates. She worries about how he’d survive after something like that. Who would comfort him? The fact she was more concerned with his well being rather than her own demonstrates how truly selfless she is. She can’t help but notice though that Aidan doesn’t seem too excited at the thought of seeing his clan’s blue color on the back of her neck.

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From Dreams to Reality

As for Aidan, you’d think that the frequency of sex dreams he’s had recently featuring Sera would have been a sure indicator to him that this human was his mate. However, he just assumes she’s the star of his wet dreams because of his physical desire for her. He never allowed himself to hope that it signified she belonged to him. After all, he’s an orphan. A nobody. He’s had to fight his way up to become an enforcer and earn the trust of his teammates. The death of his parents when he was a youngster turned him into an outsider within his former community. Never in his wildest dreams, even though they featured Sera, did he every think he’d be worthy to be selected as someone’s mate. That must be an honor reserved for those who are leaders in their community. Especially when he discovers that one of the three clan brands she carries on her neck belongs to the High King who is near death for lack of a mate. Surely an outcast orphan like himself could never stand a chance compared to the king of kings.

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A Broken System

The broken system of the mating process really comes to the forefront in this book. It was hinted at previously in books one and two, but really wasn’t as much of a focus as we see here. We’re starting to understand a bit more regarding the inner workings of this world, and the political aspirations of the Alliance Council which brings possible dragon mates together for the official mating process. In addition, we see how the sheer desperation of these male dragons to find a mate is so strong that it even has the ability to pit teammates again each other. This Huracán team consists of dragon shifters that have fought and flown together for years. They are brothers in every sense of the word. And yet, when Sera appears with the brands of three different dragon clans on the back of her neck, each team member of the relevant clan is overcome with an intense feeling of jealousy and possession over the right to mate with her.

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They’re desperate to finally feel that pure emotional and physical connection with another, and the fact it stops them from aging is an added bonus. We can understand how this desperation which has been built into their society could impact one’s ability to determine if someone was actually their true mate, or if their hope at finding her would turn into an unhealthy desire to mate with anyone who might give them that link. The repercussions of mating with someone who isn’t your true mate brings disastrous and traumatic consequences to the extreme. Seeing someone you were convinced was your one true mate burn to ash in agonizing pain in front of you. To live through that, and then be presented with the possibility of another mate? It’s clear how that might make someone go crazy with need.

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The Hidden Villain

This brings us to our “villain”. I must say the constant hinting as to the hidden identity of this person was brilliant!! We don’t know who it might be, but then we see the list of possibilities narrowed down to being just one of the other two men whose brand she wears on her neck. While we see things from his point of view, and hear his delusional inner musings about how Sera must be his destined mate, his identity is kept a secret until the very end of the book. Just when you think that maybe a chapter or scene will end with a big reveal of who is thinking these thoughts, we switch to focus on something else. It ramps up the suspense to an amazing level!

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I was constantly switching back and forth from thinking it was one dragon, and then in the next scene you start to wonder if it might be the other one. Talk about suspicion whiplash!!! Throughout so much of the book we see this “villain” as someone who has lost grip with reality. You want Aidan and Sera to figure out who it is, and for them to succeed in realizing that they are destined mates. But by the end you see how easy it could be in this world to be overcome with the hope of finding a mate that you could go slightly crazy in the search for it. That desire ultimately pitted this man against his brothers, and it was such a heart breaking realization for him to make in the heat of battle. It’s eventually a surprisingly emotional and touching reveal, I definitely had tears in my eyes.

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

Series: Fire’s Edge, book 3. Why isn’t book 4 in my hands right now? I have a feeling the next one is going to be an emotional roller coaster from start to finish.

Final Impressions: I really appreciated the fact that this book started to tear away at the intrigue and political deviousness of the Alliance Council. It’s something that’s been hinted at and touched upon quite briefly in the previous books, which were much more focused on the process of a dragon finding his human mate, the shifting process, etc. We also finally uncover the identity of the spy within this group of enforcers. In spite of all the espionage and political discussions at play here, I was shocked at how emotional of a read this book ended up being. I was NOT expecting that at all, and it knocked my socks off.

Smut Level: It might take a while for Sera and Aidan to come together in the waking world, but these two engage in some dream sex that is guaranteed to set the sheets on fire!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Amara. 298 Pages

Crash Into Me by K.M. Scott

This novel teaches us a very important lesson. If you’re about to sign a 6 month contract to work for a mysterious billionaire, make sure you read the thing in full!

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What would you give up for everything? Tristan Stone was powerful, commanding, sex incarnate. And he wore it all so well. From the moment his mesmerizing gaze met mine, I had no choice but surrender to everything he was. His power. His decadence. His passion. He was all I never knew I needed. He wanted to possess me, and I wanted to be his everything. All I had to do was accept what he offered. But everything has a price. The world he gave me fulfilled my wildest dreams, but would that be enough when the past crashed into the present?

First Impressions

This novel definitely has an intriguing start. Nina is a young artist, putting in some grunt work at a small art gallery in the big city. She’s paying her dues in the hopes that sooner or later she’ll make the connections necessary to open her own gallery or become a professional curator. One night a handsome billionaire approaches her after a gallery showing, and it appears he’s willing to offer her everything she’s ever hoped for. There’s a hint of secrecy around his intentions, and we know that he’s not telling the whole story when it comes to his pursuit of her skills. When Tristan offers her a 6 month contract to select art for his high-end hotels, as well as an impressive salary on top of it, Nina can’t refuse this supposedly amazing opportunity. Only after putting pen to paper does she discover there were some aspects of that contract she glossed over a bit too quickly, such as the fact that she must spend the entire six months living with Tristan in his country home. It makes us wonder what else Tristan might have sneaked into that massive contract of his.

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An Interesting Start 

While we are definitely presented with an intriguing premise of how these two characters came together, I must say things do fall flat rather quickly after that contract is signed. It doesn’t take long for Tristan and Nina to begin a sexual relationship, declare their love for each other, and vow to spend the rest of their lives together. I was surprised that Nina was so quick to push aside the mystery surrounding why Tristan singled her out in the beginning. Instead she focuses more attention on trying to hold his interest as a lover, constantly worried that eventually he’ll come to realize she’s not quite at the same level as he is in terms of sophistication or financial security.

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Throughout the whole thing I kept thinking, ummm there’s probably something else you need to be worried about here. Nina was never really one to go back and question what Tristan’s motives were in pursuing her to begin with. In my opinion, the basic reason for his pursuit was rather evident, as it’s hinted at multiple times throughout the book before being pushed aside to instead focus on their developing relationship. Eventually this feature does come back into play at the very end of the novel, and it does reintroduce that element of intrigue and surprise from the beginning, but it took a bit too long for the story to get back on track and come around full circle. The fact that the signs were rather clear to us as the readers, but Nina chose to ignore or push aside those signs to instead put all of her attention on keeping Tristan in her life was rather frustrating.

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The Deadline Looms

There are two rather fascinating aspects of Tristan and Nina’s relationship which remain prevalent from start to finish. The first revolves around time. The contract that Nina signed is for six months. Practically from the moment she writes her name on the dotted line she immediately starts to question what will happen when those six months are up. It’s a looming deadline, and we really have no idea what it might portend. They both want their relationship to succeed, but they’re both fearful to be too open in admitting that to each other. For Nina, she’s drawn in by Tristan’s charismatic and protective nature. She wants their relationship to succeed, but fears that if she appears too eager, or pries too much into why he sought her out in the first place, it will break whatever it is they’re building together. Perhaps there’s a limit of six months because Tristan intends to toss her out at the end of it. Eventually we see that the opposite is true.

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If anything, Tristan fears the end of those 6 months even more than Nina. He wants her forever, but doesn’t want to scare her away with his devotion, which is why he suggested six months to begin with. He didn’t want her to feel too overwhelmed. So far everyone he’s ever loved throughout his life has left him, and his greatest fear is that Nina will leave him as well. This six month timeline also adds another interesting element to their relationship in that they are both trying to cram in as much of a relationship as they can within those six months. Everything is sped up, and it’s not long before they’re both stating how much they love each other. However, with this escalation to their relationship, we simultaneously realize that it doesn’t allow them to develop a level of trust which is truly necessary for success. They have a mutual jealousy whenever someone of the opposite sex seems to get too close to the other, even if it’s a completely innocent situation in which resentment really wasn’t necessary. In my opinion their intense jealousy didn’t really signify the depth of their admiration for each other, but instead highlighted the infancy and rush of their relationship.

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He’s Got Money Honey

In addition to time, money was also a very important aspect of Tristan and Nina’s relationship. While Nina wasn’t necessarily broke at the start of the novel, Tristan’s offer of a position with a generous salary was definitely something she couldn’t pass up. In a way, we see that money was sort of the underlying linchpin which signaled the start to their relationship. It’s also an aspect which causes Nina to look upon Tristan more favorably in certain situations. If Nina or one of her friends is ever in a bind, Tristan’s instinct is to resolve the matter in some way that requires money. While it would have been easy for Nina to assume that Tristan could only throw money at a problem to make it go away, instead she viewed it as his attempt to take care of her and her loved ones.

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As Nina does more work for Tristan in his hotels, she also starts to realize that more money is being put in her bank account than what they initially agreed upon. When considered in combination with the quickly approaching end to her six month contract, she assumes that he must be trying to placate her financially so that when the six months are up she has no reason to complain. As it turns out, Tristan’s motives were much more heartfelt. He was actually trying to demonstrate that he thinks she’s worth more than the amount which had been set out in her initial contract. Money is all that Tristan has ever had to give anyone that’s meant anything to him, and it’s what he constantly falls back on as a solution. His vulnerability, and almost adolescent response to the prospect of Nina leaving him behind was incredibly captivating. It made me want to learn even more about him. In the epilogue of the novel we finally switch to Tristan’s point of view, and honestly it was probably the strongest point of the book!

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Series: Heart of Stone, book 1. The epilogue of the novel definitely provides a set up for the continuation of Tristan and Nina’s story in the next book. While this first novel had some hits and misses, the ending was intriguing enough that my interest is peaked to continue on with the series. I hope going forward we’ll get to see some of the second book told from Tristan’s point of view, as it was such a strong feature of the epilogue of this novel.

Final Impressions: We definitely see a strong start and finish to the story, but it fell sort of flat after the signing of the contract. Nina was so concerned that Tristan would tire of her and throw her by the wayside that it resulted in her keeping quiet about why Tristan specifically sought her out in the beginning to work for him. It was a frustrating oversight, and when it is reintroduced at the end of the novel, by that point you sort of want to say, well…duh! All in all I think the story could have been pushed one step further.

Smut Level: Tristan and Nina’s sexual relationship sort of straddled the line between over-the-top, and your pretty standard romance novel sexual scenario. We get a bit of dirty talk, some bubble bath time, going down on each other. You know, the usual. But at one point near the start of the novel Tristan brings another couple back to his country home to have sex as he and Nina watch on from behind a one-way glass viewing room so she can paint what their coupling makes them feel. It just felt sort of out of place when we look at their other sexual scenes, and again provided the sense that things either should have been pushed one step further, or the scene should have been eliminated entirely.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Copper Key Media, LLC. 326 Pages

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Wicked Ties by Shayla Black

What’s the one thing that every hunting cabin in the middle of a Louisiana swamp needs? A playroom of course!

What’s it About? 

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She didn’t know what she wanted…

Morgan O’Malley has seen a lot of kinky things as the hostess of a cable sex talk show. But she’s never met a man like Jack Cole before. A self-proclaimed dominant, he’s as alpha as a male can get—and good for Morgan to have around when an obsessed stalker ratchets up his attempts to get to her.

Until he made her beg for it.

Though Jack is a bodyguard, Morgan feels anything but safe in his presence because, slowly and seductively, Jack is bringing her deepest fantasies to the surface. And when he bends her to his will, what’s more shocking than her surrender is how much she enjoys it—and starts to crave his masterful touch. A willing player in Jack’s games, Morgan knows that his motives aren’t pure, but she has no idea how personal they are…

First Impressions

How to pass the time when you’re stuck in a cabin deep in the bayou of Louisiana after fleeing a stalker with the propensity for murder? Gee, I don’t know. Play cards? Work on a puzzle? Nope! In this novel our female lead decides that a good way to get her mind off the drama of a stalker drawing ever closer to killing her is to explore a d/s relationship with the dominant bodyguard stuck in the cabin with her. Oh, and did I mention that she just met this guy for the first time one day earlier? Sure…seems like a great distraction.

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An Absent Stalker

The impetus for Morgan and Jack to go off in their cabin of lustful seclusion was a stalker closing in our female lead, even making the bold mood of shooting at her in broad daylight. Thankfully she just happened to be interviewing a professional bodyguard at the time to learn more about the intricacies of BDSM for her sex-talk cable show. This stalker story line definitely provided us with a bang-filled start, but unfortunately after Morgan and Jack hide away in his swamp cabin, stalker drama is essentially absent for a large portion of the book.

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Sure, they keep mentioning it here and there as a reason why Morgan can’t leave the overbearing dominant who seems determined to open her mind to a new kind of sexual experience. After the attempted shooting to eliminate her, we get no further contact between her and her stalker. No phone calls, no letters, no carrier pigeons. Nada. I was so convinced in my mind I knew who the perpetrator was, not to mention I was so determined to be disappointed that the drama was seemingly resolving itself in the background away from our two lovers. However, I will admit I exclaimed aloud in surprise when we eventually see this story line come back at the ultimate end of the novel. I’ll be the first to tip my hat in appreciation at the clever way this resolution sneaks up on you. Much like the stalker himself! Or herself? Mua ha ha ha.

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A Deceptive Meeting

Morgan’s first meeting with Jack the bodyguard initially seemed entirely linked to her cable show, and her attempt to learn more about the world of BDSM to ultimately share with viewers. In addition, this allows her to satisfy her own curiosity about a sexual lifestyle which has intrigued her for years, and was the source of her previous relationship falling apart. When Morgan’s stalker attempts to end her life, Jack is determined to protect her, and hide her away in the middle of a Louisiana swamp where nobody will be able to harm her. The fact he was able to satisfy his own lust by tying her down and having her submit to him initially seemed like a serendipitous added bonus. There’s just one rather major problem with this whole scenario. Jack ensured that he was the dominant Morgan sought out, because he had an ulterior motive of his own which was to get her in his playroom from day one.

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Jack’s initial draw to Morgan was actually to use her as a source of revenge against her half-brother, Brandon, who is somehow responsible for wreaking havoc on Jack’s life. We’re not exactly sure what the cause of animosity is between these two men in the beginning, but Morgan is clearly caught between them as Jack mistakenly assumes that Morgan and Brandon are a couple. To quote an inner musing of Jack himself, “He lured her in to fuck her as payback”. That’s just…disturbing. By satiating his own lust for Morgan, he’s essentially killing two birds with one stone by also destroying what he assumed was a romantic relationship between Morgan and Brandon. I think we’re supposed to be placated by the fact that Jack is genuinely attracted to Morgan, but I couldn’t help but feel disconcerted that Jack intended to use Morgan as a pawn in his chess match against Brandon. The fact he even went so far as to send a sex tape of Morgan and himself to Brandon as proof of his conquest was too close to a form of revenge porn for my liking.

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An Irresponsible Dominant

A crucial aspect of this novel is to look at the d/s relationship between Morgan and Jack. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to BDSM. To be honest, I’m not usually a huge fan of romances which feature it, but I try to read them every once in a while to try and further understand the appeal of a relationship which can initially come across as rather demeaning and abusive. Upon meeting Morgan, Jack quickly realizes that she’s a natural submissive who simply hasn’t had the opportunity to explore her fascination with the BDSM lifestyle, and he is drawn to her so completely that he’s more than willing to show her the…ropes. Yeah, BDSM pun absolutely intended right there.

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While Morgan is definitely intrigued by and interested in engaging in a d/s sexual relationship, she’s not exactly well-versed in the rules of BDSM. And I must say, Jack is a pretty poor teacher. Just because he knows she’s a natural submissive doesn’t mean he can skip over the instructions related to their new relationship. She’s new to the lifestyle, and obviously has a lot of questions and concerns. Not to mention, a lot of other stressful shit is going on in her life right now! It’s inevitable she’d wonder what the heck he was intending to do when he demanded she kneel naked on the bed, bend forward, and stretch her arms towards the headboard. And yet Jack felt it was within his “right” to dole out punishment to her for questioning what would happen next, and not placing her full trust in him. It’s almost like he was reprimanding her for not feeling 100% safe with him during a scene. DUDE! She’s known you one day, and recently had a crazy stalker shoot at her in broad daylight. Frankly, I’d be concerned if she didn’t ask what the hell you were gonna do with those velvet ropes of yours.

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An “F” for “Effort”

Even though Morgan has always had a secret desire to explore a BDSM relationship, she’s hesitant to fully engage in one seeing as admitting this fantasy of hers was the cause for her ex-fiance to leave her. The time she spends with Jack in the swamp cabin makes her realize just explosive this kind of relationship can be, yet admitting this to herself scares her to death. Therefore, she asks if Jack wouldn’t mind trying to have “traditional” sex with her that doesn’t involve all the spanking, punishment, and bondage.

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I must say, their attempt at “traditional vanilla” sex was beyond frustrating. When she asks him to accommodate her request he smirks knowingly, having predetermined that he’s going to twist her request against her. Which…come one dude, don’t be a dick. Jack clearly isn’t into it, and really doesn’t forth much of an effort into pleasing Morgan. Just because it’s missionary doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of dirty talk, or maybe grip her hips with passion rather than a soft caress? After this sad display at a “traditional” sex scene, Morgan whole-heartedly admits that he was right, she was wrong, and demands he take her to his playroom. Let’s face it, this is what he wanted all along, and he knew that by putting forth as little effort as possible into her request for vanilla sex that she’d end up in his playroom where she belonged.

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Compromise, or Incompatibility? 

Later on we see another moment of incompatibility between these two when it comes to Morgan admitting her deepest desire of having a menage with two men. It’s clearly evident to Morgan, to us as the reader, hell to all the creatures hanging out in the swamp, that this is something Jack really doesn’t want to do. He doesn’t want to share her, and is terrified of losing her to another man. And yet, we see that he eventually gives into her desire, saying it’s his job to make all of her sexual fantasies come true. So…he’s willing to put his full effort behind this request of hers, but put a half-assed attempt behind her previous request for “traditional” sex. Why is willing to give in to this request?

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Personally, I think it’s because at least this is a request which falls in his wheelhouse, and he still has the opportunity to steer the scene with total and absolute control. While I agree that it’s great Jack is able to help Morgan finally explore her deepest desires, I can’t help but question if they’re actually compatible with each other and showing what it means to compromise in a relationship, or if they’re simply settling with each other. Perhaps they are so thrilled to find someone who engages in their kind of lifestyle that they’re willing to overlook the fact they’re both finding themselves in sexual scenarios that they aren’t entirely comfortable with. Jack put up with sharing Morgan with another man, even though it was one of his biggest fears. Morgan puts up with being tied down and denied sexual gratification for lengthy periods even though it frustrates the hell out of her to the point where she stares daggers at Jack…and the other man in the room.

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Series: Wicked Lovers, book 1. I might continue with this series. There are some interesting secondary characters I’m intrigued to learn about.

Final Impressions: While the resolution involving  Morgan’s stalker was a huge surprise, I wish it had been featured more prominently throughout the bulk of the novel. Instead we see more of a focus on Morgan admitting her true desires to herself, and Jack seeking out his revenge against her half-brother. These two definitely have a strong physical connection with each other, but I couldn’t help but wonder at times if they were choosing to ignore key aspects of their relationship which made them uncomfortable. After all, they’ve only known each other for about three days at this point. Maybe they don’t know each other as well as they think they do.

Smut Level: There’s definitely some sensual aspects to this novel, including menage, bondage, dirty talk, and anal play. I will say though compared to other BDSM romances I’ve read it’s not necessarily an outlandish level of sexploration.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 354 Pages.