Shooter by Dahlia West

This book definitely proved one of life’s most common sayings: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

What’s it About? 

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Chris “Shooter” Sullivan has returned to his home town of Rapid City, South Dakota to pick up the pieces of his life shattered by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He only wants to focus on holding what’s left of his old unit together, running his garage where he builds custom bikes and cars, and pretending that his murdered father’s motorcycle gang doesn’t exist. Hayley Turner is a young woman with her own traumatic past. Fresh off the bus from Nowhere, USA, all she wants is a job and a place to live, until it’s time for her to leave again. She doesn’t want to make friends, or enemies, least of all the ex-Army Ranger who obviously doesn’t like her. She bristles under his watchful eye. He’s even got her convinced she’s bad news. But circumstances force two people who don’t need anyone to need each other more and more. The more Chris gets to know Hayley, the harder it is to stay detached. And the more Hayley gets to know Chris, the more she realizes she’s been alone for so long she might never recover from it.

First Impressions

I seriously wanted this book to have a recipe section!! Consider this a friendly warning, don’t read this book on an empty stomach. You’ll definitely want some appetizers or cookies on hand to ensure you don’t salivate whilst reading it. We’ve got descriptions of succulent ribs, decadent chocolate cake, flaming baked Alaska and sweet peach cobbler.

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Upon first meeting, Chris is understandably wary of Hayley. She’s new to town, and he can easily tell she’s hiding details about herself and her troubled past. Hayley isn’t necessarily looking for friends when she arrives in Rapid City, but she doesn’t want Chris and his Army buddies to be suspicious of her either. So let the cooking begin! I will say after a while it did seem a bit over the top, what with Chris and his boys playing poker as Hayley is cooking away in the kitchen. Or this pack of alpha males working on bikes and Hayley bringing them all some home cooked lunches as they refer to her as “honey” or “darlin'”. It was nice at first, but after a while it became almost too Donna Reed for me.

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A Slowly Built Inferno

I really did enjoy the development of a friendship between Hayley and Chris, as well as with his other Army buddies. Having a friendship first means it does take a while before they enter into a sexual relationship. You definitely have to wait until after the half-way point before you get any juicy details. However, I think I preferred this scenario to them rushing into anything too quickly, especially considering Hayley’s own traumatic past. This is the first relationship Hayley has been in since going on the run five years ago.

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She’s kept her past a secret from everyone, including Chris, and we as the readers don’t discover what happened until the rest of the characters do pretty late into the story. At first, Hayley and Chris are strictly friends, but eventually they realize it’s time to take things to the next level. She’s hesitant considering how long she’s been on the run, but Chris convinces her he’ll protect her from any evil, and it’s finally time to stop running and take a chance. They start things off slowly with some kissing, rubbing, zero penetration whatsoever. But it doesn’t take long before he’s going full on dirty talk and demanding she sit on his face. Ohhh boy!

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The Life of a Biker

For the most part I liked Chris. He’s nice to Hayley, doesn’t push her to do anything before she’s ready, vows to protect her from her past, and even gets her a kitten for crying out loud! Something I didn’t appreciate though was when we ultimately discover he’s got a strained relationship with a neighboring biker gang, and that all of Hayley’s actions now reflect on him. If she makes a supposed mistake he could be the one to pay for it. Probably would have been something o share with her when you were convincing her to take a chance on you there buddy!! Then there’s a dramatic plot point with this motorcycle gang that didn’t really come full circle, and sort of fell flat for me.

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Series: Burnout, book 1. I did really enjoy the introduction of each of Chris’s Army Ranger buddies, and am excited to see each one’s eventual story.

Should you read it? It’s a sweet romance that has a strong foundation of friendship. There’s an intense climax at the end where Hayley’s past comes back to interfere with her present. I do think it could have been shortened slightly so that we not only get to the lovemaking earlier on, but also the drama of her past. Perhaps one less scene involving a mouthwatering culinary creation would have been conducive to the overall story.

Smut Level: Daaaaaamn. You have to wait about 60% until anything physical happens, but Chris has got a mouth on him, and he’s more than willing to show Hayley everything she’s been missing out on the last few years.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Self-Published. 472 Pages.

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The Dark Side by DB Kennison

Farm life on a cattle ranch can be such an interesting thing. I mean, it seems like one of the only legitimate businesses where one can honestly say they had to take a day trip on the weekend to go buy some cow semen.

What’s it About?

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Addiction, greed, envy…They say every person has a dark side. All it takes to set it off is the right trigger. With the woman who tried to kill her behind bars, private investigator Randi Lassiter is still suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress nearly a year later. And just as she and her cop boyfriend, Jon Bricksen, have finally settled into the routine of a happy couple, someone in town is murdered and the news threatens to send her down the rabbit hole again. What Randi needs now is a case to focus on. When a missing person case waltzes into her office, Randi embraces the chance like the lone life preserver on a sinking ship.

Unfortunately, the client is her ex-husband, Stuart, and the missing person is the woman he’s now married to—her former best friend. Randi’s decision to help the man she’s sworn to loathe for all eternity is so out of character that Jon questions not only her judgment, but her mental health as well. To make matters worse, Randi begins to keep secrets from him, the kind that could ruin a relationship. When Stuart is suddenly arrested for murder, Randi stubbornly stands by her ex and tries to clear his name, despite the evidence Jon has against him. Now pitted against one another, not only is the couple’s love tested, but their survival against the dark side of a killer.

First Impressions

Phew, I think…yes I believe I can finally take a full breath and stop clutching my Kindle in a death grip. To say this book is a suspenseful read that’ll keep you guessing from start to finish is an understatement, just like book 1 in the series! This one probably has even more moving pieces than the first, and at times I was really wondering how it was all going to fit into place, but it was almost surprising when it did all come together like one perfect jigsaw puzzle. Looking back, there wasn’t one piece that was left out, and in the end you could tell how well orchestrated the entire plot was. Everything comes full circle, and you’ve gotta hand it to the author for being able to reign everything in at the last moment.

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Who Dunnit? 

Unlike book 1 where we had to wait until the very last moment to discover who our villain was, we actually find out earlier on in this book who is pulling the puppet strings. Granted, we don’t find out right away, so you do still have the fun of suspecting basically every character in the novel of ill-doing at some point. The true brilliance with this book is that once we finally discover who that villain is, if anything the suspense level heightens even more as our main characters are still left in the dark. We also don’t necessarily understand the full motive or end game of our evil doer, but with every turn of the page I found myself starting to rock back and forth a little more in agitation just wanting to yell to our detectives, “you’re so close!”, or “no, don’t discount that theory, it’s right there!!”. And of course, my personal favorite, “Just answer your damn phone!!!”.

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A Bump in the Road

In book one we saw how Randi and Jon had to work together to solve a string of murders that arrived in this small Wisconsin town. With the start of this second book we see how their relationship has lasted through Randi surviving an attempt on her life by the killer from the first book, and you can’t help but smile at their fun-loving relationship. But when murder pops up again in this small town we see their relationship put to the test on multiple fronts. Will this chief of police be able to cooperate with this private detective looking into his crime scene? Or will he push her away in the hopes of saving her from the details of death once again? And when Randi’s cheating ex-husband comes into the picture, well let’s just say the dynamics of their relationship are pushed to the breaking point.

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Cell Phones and Breaking Bad

I will say at times there were certain aspects of this novel that seemed slightly far-fetched. First and foremost, the cell phones. My goodness this must have been the most frustrating part of the book for me. Not only would Randi and Jon continually ignore the most important phone calls at the most important times (repeatedly!!!), but of course we have the joys of cell phones losing their charge right at the climax. Now I get it, stuff like that happens, but after a while it did start to feel almost like a cop-out to show it’s the only possible way these characters could get into these kinds of situations. Honestly, I’d probably prefer a lost cell phone to characters constantly ignoring calls from their significant other during a time of crisis. Just saying. In the grand scheme of things though, that’s really just me searching for something to nitpick. Maybe I just didn’t like that it simply ratcheted up the intensity of the story!

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As for the criminal activities in the book, I will say they felt a bit too Breaking Bad at times, which is funny considering the show is mentioned at least once in the book. One of those big-time crime issues in such a small, tight-knit community definitely isn’t impossible, far from it, but again it was one of those aspects I’d have to say was slightly over-the-top. Overall though, still a really interesting plot point! Again, throughout the whole thing you’re wondering how everything’s gonna come together, and who will survive. Just keep in mind that there are dark sides to this book, as hinted in the title. People die, and normally in violent or disturbing ways. Nothing too egregious, but just something to keep in mind if murder isn’t your cup of tea.

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

Series: Randi Lassiter, book 2. Another good addition to the series, and just as suspenseful as book 1.

Should you read it? This one might be too dark and suspenseful for the beach, but would be great on a cold and rainy/snowy day. This one will probably knock up the blood pressure a bit with the intensity level. Even though we know the identity of our villain earlier on in the novel, that doesn’t detract from the mystery of it all. Overall, a good murder mystery that definitely kept me on the edge of my seat.

Smut Level: The steamy scenes in this book are few and far between as more attention is placed on the murder investigation at hand, not to mention the fact that our lovebirds have some rocky moments in the book that test the strength of their relationship That being said, the few moments we do get are rather saucy.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. W.R. Publishing. 371 Pages

Lachlan by Hazel Hunter

This book is like Gladiator meets Outlander meets…Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Shockingly, it works!

What’s it About? 

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When Kinley Chandler abruptly lands in medieval Scotland, there isn’t much she’s leaving behind. With her body shattered and her military career over, Kinley has resigned herself to death. But in the past, all that changes. Lachlan McDonnel, the laird of a clan of immortal highlanders, can hardly believe his good fortune. Not only does the mysterious lass save his life, she awakens his heart in a way he’d thought no longer possible. But the druid spells that allow Lachlan’s clan to live forever have a dark side as well. He and his men know all too well that the magic folk never give without taking. Though he is sworn to protect them, the price of his loyalty may finally be too high.

First Impressions

We open on our heroine, Kinley, who has been gravely wounded as a soldier fighting in Afghanistan. She’s experiencing intense PTSD, has no family or friends for support, and has given up to the point where she’s ready to end it all. On a day trip away from the VA hospital in California, she’s prepared to roll her wheelchair off the edge of a cliff when she is suddenly transported to 14th century Scotland where her body is magically healed. As if that wasn’t shocking enough, a clan of immortal highlanders are battling against a legion of Roman vampires, and Kinley is able to assist the Scotsmen by shooting fire out of her hands. So…yeah. Believe it or not, the highlanders and Romans actually make a lot of sense story wise! Now, why a magical portal would transport someone from California to Scotland? Not sure.

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A Fantastical Blend

I was actually pleasantly surprised with how much this story pulled me in and wouldn’t let go! I finished reading it in a day as I traveled from Denver to Salt Lake City for work. We have history, fantasy, time travel, fierce warriors, magic, betrayal, revenge, and some unbelievably steamy sex scenes between Kinley and our highlander laird, Lachlan. Altogether I would say there are three main components at play here: the developing relationship between Kinley and Lachlan, the battle against the Roman legion, and the mystical element concerning Kinley’s travel through time and newfound fire powers. Shockingly, I think my favorite component was actually the fighting, and for one very important reason. Kinley is a freakin’ badass!

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You Go Girl!

As you all know, I love a strong female lead character, and Kinley represents this to the max! She’s not afraid to stand up for herself, and show the men a thing or two about fighting, strategy and hand-to-hand combat. Her persona is the perfect combination of sass, physical and mental strength. This is a woman who is taking advantage of her body’s sudden healing and will live her life to the fullest, even if it’s in another time and place than she’s used to. Kinley knows she’s in a historical era and land where women are inferior to men. But you know what? She doesn’t…give…a f*ck!

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Kinley isn’t afraid to speak up until she’s heard, even if it’s not necessarily what others want to hear. You go girl! And you go all day long! In addition to Kinley’s overall badassery, we also have this larger never-ending battle at hand between highlander and Roman that’s been raging for centuries. It’s a dark and violent battle, and these Roman vampires are merciless and pretty disgusting. Be prepared for some nasty descriptions of battle and blood-sucking murder/mayhem. ‘Twas interesting though!

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Druid Magic and Wonder

The mystical aspects of the novel, while interesting, also left me slightly confused at times. As I mentioned earlier, the reason Kinley is transported from present day California to 14th century Scotland isn’t fully explained. There is Druid magic at play which has made these highlanders immortal, and Romans become vampires. However, the interactions with the local mortals left me a bit befuddled, as these are small villages and the highlanders have been interacting with and protecting them from the Roman vampires for centuries. Yet their immortality is supposedly a secret?

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Then there’s Kinley’s fire power, which is so honed at one point and then completely vanishes the next. Huh? Lastly, the passion between Kinley and Lachlan is off the charts amazing, with so much detail and dirty talk, but at one point Lachlan’s snake tattoo gets involved in the bedroom activities in a rather…disturbing way. At least in my humble opinion! Can’t say it was a feature that was absolutely necessary. Their link is already undeniably intense, so I’m not sure we had to bring the tattoo into the grand scheme of things too?

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

Series: Immortal Highlander, book 1. Oh yeah, I’ll definitely be continuing with this series. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for our other highlander warriors.

Should you read it? This is an entertaining and action-packed read! It’s definitely dark at times, but the strength truly lies in the personalities of the characters. From Kinley’s strength to Lachlan’s soft side, his highlander brothers’ loyalty and even the evil of the Romans. It’s all just very believable even though we’re dealing with so many fantastical elements. It’s a uniquely compelling story, and while I can see how it might be too dark a read for some, I’m excited to see where this story is headed!!

Smut Level: Holy sh*t here people! Just because this is a historical read, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s tame!! We’ve got extensive detail, and dirty talk galore. Which I must say whenever we have dirty talk mixed in with old time 14th century speak it kind of makes me giggle. Such a stark juxtaposition.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Allure Press. 382 Pages.

Axel by Harper Sloan

When Isabelle seeks to escape from her abusive husband, she has to turn to a man from her past who she thought was gone forever. Translation? Sexual tension is all up in the house!

What’s it About?

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Fate hasn’t always been friends with Isabelle West. In fact, fate has been a downright bitch. Isabelle has learned the hard way how hard life can be when fate isn’t by your side. It can hand you dreams on silver platters, but it can snatch them right back and hand you nightmares. One thing Isabelle knew for sure fate was consistent with was taking away everything she ever loved. For the last two years Isabelle has been slowly clearing the clouds of her past. Happiness is finally on the horizon. She has a thriving business, great friends, and her life back. All she has to do is jump over the last hurdle…her ex-husband.

When problems start causing her to fear her new life, and memories that are better left forgotten start rushing to the surface the last thing she needs is a ghost from her past to come knocking on her door. Axel never thought he would look into the eyes of Isabelle West again, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to now. He’s carried his anger for so long he isn’t sure he can just turn it off, but when he is faced with protecting her and an unexpected desire to have her again, life gets a little more complicated. How will Axel and Isabelle deal when all their cards are put on the table and everything they thought was true blows up in their faces?

First Impressions

When it comes to my first impression of Axel, I’m not gonna lie he was kind of a scary dick! Axel and Isabelle used to be a couple of teenagers in love, but after he went away to join the armed forces, a handful of misunderstandings and lack of communication forced them to split. She thought he was dead, he thought she moved on to love someone else right after he left. But more on that later. Years pass, and eventually Isabelle is on the run from her abusive ex-husband and trying to get a divorce. Her close friend who works for a security firm decides to put his best man on the case: enter Axel. When these two lovebirds reunite after so many years apart their first inclination is to hate each other. Yeah, I was kind of confused too.

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Axel just assumes that Isabelle is seeking a divorce from her husband because she was bored at being a lonely housewife, as though there could be no other reason for a woman to want to leave her husband. He treats her with a shocking amount of hostility and intimidation. Only when he discovers that her husband abused her does he show any amount of sympathy. You’d think the fact that she needs a security firm to act as a buffer with her ex would have been enough of a freakin’ clue. To be fair though, it’s not all Axel’s fault. He continually asks Isabelle what drew them apart so many years before, as well as what happened with her ex, but she consistently remains close lipped and in a state of annoyance for Axel coming into her life again. Jeez people, can’t you just open up and communicate already?!?!

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Foster Mamma June

Aside from Izzy’s abusive asshole of an ex-husband, we do have another ultimate villain in this novel, and that would be Axel’s bitch of a foster mother, June. Although we never actually encounter a scene with her firsthand, she is essentially the puppet master who pulled the strings that brought an end to Axel and Izzy’s former relationship. When Axel rode off to join the military, he and Izzy initially had every intention of spending the rest of their lives together. But all of Izzy’s letters to Axel are returned undelivered, and Axel never gets in touch with Izzy. When she eventually seeks out his unloving foster mother to find out what’s what, June brushes her off by basically telling her to take a hike. When she returns again later on in sheer desperation, June snarkily tells Izzy that Axel is never coming back because he’s dead.

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Um, I’m sorry, but did this book unknowingly take place in the 80s? Why the hell was it so hard for them to stay in touch, or even locate each other? I feel like one simple text message could have resolved any and all issues here. Or hey, maybe ask around to find out if he’s actually dead. However, there was one thing that bothered me above all else. When Izzy and Axel eventually reunite after so many years apart, she doesn’t express any joy to discover he’s actually alive. No, she’s pissed at him. And why? Because although June told her Axel was dead, she assumes that when Axel did return from the military June must have told him Izzy was still looking for him. He simply must have decided not to find her. Are…you…kidding me??? This woman gave you the brush off and told you the love of your life was dead, and yet when you ultimately discover that wasn’t the case you still choose to give her the benefit of the doubt over him? Whyyyyy? This woman was clearly being deceitful, yet you gave her more credit than you gave him.

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Mutual Animosity

So the blessed reunion between Axel and Izzy is tainted by animosity. She assumed he never tried to find her after returning from military training, even though she initially thought he was dead. As for Axel, he basically assumes that right after he left for training Izzy moved on, and ran off to be with another man. They really don’t like each other. But that initial animosity dissolves pretty quickly as far as actual days, although it does take up a large portion of the novel itself. Then they are all lovey dovey again and planning a future together.

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This was the part of the book that I could actually start to enjoy. While their switch from hatred to love does seem pretty quick, we do have to remember that they have a history together; a romantic past that is an interesting technique to get around what initially seems like a quick romance between them. The problem is that I felt like we never truly got to know them when they were younger together, or at least as a couple anyway. We really only get a glimpse of them at the moment they are separated, rather than finding out what it was that initially brought them together. This does sort of make you question what the foundation of their relationship, whether past or present, really is.

When All is Said and Done

Looking back on this novel you sort of have the impression that these two had an inordinate amount of sex with each other. While true, and believe me ’twas rather graphic, it’s also surprising to remember that they don’t actually do the deed until well over halfway into the book. They spent so much of the first half of the book needlessly mad at each other, before spending the second half constantly intertwined…naked. It almost seemed like two separate stories were pushed into one. A little more cohesion would have gone a long way.

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One of the most satisfying moments of this book, aside from the moment Axel and Izzy finally decide to put their convoluted pasts behind them and jump into bed already, was the ending. Izzy finally stands up to her abusive ex in the biggest of ways. When all is said and done you can’t help but feel the asshole finally got what he deserved. Although Axel was instrumental in helping Izzy end things with her ex once and for all, it was really Izzy who had the last word. You go girl!

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Series: Corps Security, book 1. I could see myself giving the second book in this series a try.

Should you read it? I really wish the section of them being pissy at each other had just been completely removed. It seemed totally unrealistic that after believing he was dead for so many years, his reappearance in her life would make Izzy’s first reaction be something akin to, “I can’t believe you didn’t call me.” And the fact Axel could be so cold and harsh when he knew she was going through something difficult with her husband made him come across as an uber dick. It was only when they started opening up to each other about their time apart that I could truly connect with their story. Before that? You just wanna give em both a good slap in the face.

Smut Level: Good God Axel and Isabelle have a sexual magnetism that is intense, and full of the dirtiest of talk you can imagine. We’ve got licking, pulling, pounding, and enough moaning to satisfy the most alpha of males.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 260 Pages.

Dangerous Secrets by Allie Zanders

Does anyone else out there find it kind of weird when a romance novel either features or mentions a threesome scenario involving a female lead and two male siblings? I can’t help but go noooooooooo thank you. This wasn’t the first time I’ve encountered it, and I have a feeling it won’t be the last.

What’s it About?

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Two secret pasts… one passionate love story. Taryn Malone is stranded, broke, and desperate for help. But even if the sexy bartender she’s been eyeing offers her a job for the evening… even if he seduces her with his impossibly intense blue eyes… even if every fiber of her heart tells her to stay with him… she can’t. Because Taryn Malone doesn’t exist.

Jake Callaghan has been running the family’s Irish pub for years now. When he sees Taryn standing out alone in the rain, he does what he’s been trained to do as a SEAL – he rescues her. It has nothing to do with her full, firm curves, or her loose, golden-blonde hair, or the way she brushes against him that sends lightning bolts through his body. It’s just the right thing to do. Really. But both Taryn and Jake are hiding secrets from each other. Dangerous secrets. And neither one of them knows just how dangerous it can be to fall in love…

First Impressions

During the opening scene of this novel, my first gut impression was, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?!” Definitely an interesting and action packed start. We have a young woman chained to a bed, and a creepy man watching her sleep who has obviously abused her physically, mentally, and sexually. Unfortunately, I chose to start listening to this as I got ready for bed one night. So much for a good night’s sleep!! Eventually the story evolves into this young woman being on the continual run from her captor, and finding solace in the arms of a rugged stranger. There’s also a smidge of political espionage thrown in there as well.

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Sexual Chemistry in the Family

While a threesome with Taryn, Jake and one of his siblings doesn’t actually occur, it seems to be considered at some point by multiple parties. Taryn thinks about, as does Jake before he is quickly overcome with an alpha protective sense of “mine and no one else’s”. In addition to the obvious sexual tension between Taryn and Jake, it seems as though there are some sparks flying between her and almost every single one of Jake’s brothers. And there’s a decent handful of them!

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Jake is clearly supposed to be Taryn’s main love interest. However, strange as it may seem, every time another brother arrives on the scene you kind of question if a love triangle is about to happen. Or perhaps an awkward familial threesome. A foursome perhaps? With this many single, muscled and burly brothers on the premises, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

Some Time Apart

This novel follows a different arch than what you’d expect. It begins with a crazy intense intro, then a time jump to years later with Taryn on the run. She meets the devilishly handsome and flirtatious Jake, and it’s not too long before they’re rolling around in the sheets. That being said, about half-way through the book Taryn runs away from Jake over fear of discovery from her former captor, and ultimately spends the majority of the second half of the book with one of Jake’s brothers in a secluded mountain cabin. She has no idea he’s related to Jake though. I just found it interesting that such a large portion of the novel was spent apart from the male lead and love interest.

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Who Do You Root For?

When all was said and done, I can’t say I was 100% convinced that Taryn was actually in love with Jake as a person. I think she idolized his lifestyle more than anything else. A strong, independent figure who had a loving relationship with his large and supportive family. I don’t think she and Jake really got to know each other well enough to call it love, especially considering they both kept pretty massive secrets form each other for the limited time they did spend together. She was hiding her true identity and history of being on the run, whereas he was hiding the fact he was onto her secret past.

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While the two had chemistry, I was actually a bit shocked to find that I almost preferred Taryn with Jake’s brother, Kane. They are both two troubled souls who are able to find comfort in each other. There is one moment in particular where they are able to take a moment in the midst of all the hiding and drama to let loose and be silly. It was just so freakin’ adorable, especially considering Kane is supposed to be the ultimate hard-ass. Maybe I just want to see him have a happy ever after, no matter who it’s with!

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Series: Callaghan Brothers, book 1. With every entrance of another Callaghan brother you can easily envision another additional book in the series. I’d be very interested to read Kane’s tale of romance.

Should you read it? Things all come together in the end, but it almost felt too quick and convenient. I guess when you have a family of private operatives on your side though, things will probably end in your favor. The political side of the story never felt fully explained to me, but it’s definitely an intense and suspenseful read.

Smut Level: If I remember correctly, we are really only privy to one full sex scene. Definitely hot, but not my favorite, as they aren’t…facing each other. They also have a pretty big argument about 5.7 seconds after finishing.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Self-Published. 356 Pages.

Close to the Skin by Zara West

A hardened criminal? Or a loving protector? Bella debates whether she should turn to the intimidating Vernon for help considering his past, but she can’t deny how he looks at her with love in his eyes.

What’s it About?

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Never back down, never turn your back, and never fall in love. Head of a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise, Vernon Newell doesn’t let family ties or misplaced sympathy get in his way. But there is one chink in his armor—Sirena Patras, the beautiful young Greek girl he seduced and deserted eight years ago. When Vernon discovers that Bella Bell, a prospering tattoo artist in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is actually Sirena, he sets out to woo and to win her. Despite her attraction to the fabulously sexy man, Bella wants nothing to do with a hard-headed, ruthless criminal. But when threatening messages start arriving, and Vernon disappears, Bella must choose to abandon the man she loves, as he did her, or risk her life to save him.

First Impressions

This novel presents us with a fascinating debate of whether or not to love a “former” hardened criminal. I think a quote from this book which perfectly encapsulates our heroine’s struggle is “Could a man who touched her with such love, kill over and over again in cold blood, and still have a heart left in him?” It’s basically a question of whether a killer can transform into a passionate lover. However, as the novel progresses we also question if the two personas can coexist at the same time. Such an intriguing dichotomy that doesn’t necessarily have a nice answer.

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Falling for the Criminal

First of all, Vernon is charming as hell. He and Bella have a ton of chemistry, not to mention a passionate past, and he draws on it every chance he gets. He’s intent to marry her, constantly trying to convince her of his worth, and how amazing their lives will be together. On the one hand, you really do want them to be together, as they seem like kindred spirits. At the same time though, you completely understand her hesitancy to get involved with him. It almost reminded me of a mob movie, like Goodfellas, where you almost scream to the woman on the screen, “Why are you risking your life to get involved with this man?”

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The last thing Bella wants is to get mixed up in Vernon’s criminal world. You just never know when his former enemies might come looking for him, or possibly torture her to get to him. Vernon insists he’s given up that world. That he’s gone straight. The fact that he constantly has a bodyguard with him reflects that danger still lurks behind every corner. I will say, he’s so charming and convincing that even I believed him. Unfortunately, we quickly find out that he wasn’t necessarily telling the whole truth.

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Stretching the Truth

Sooooo, Vernon basically straight out lies to Bella regarding his criminal activities. While he’s not necessarily his father’s heinous henchman anymore, he still hasn’t removed himself entirely from that world. Definitely an interesting set up for a main character. When Bella initially pushes Vernon away we want her to overcome her hesitations, and realize he’s the only one for her. However, when we see how he lies to her we also question if she deserves someone better. Probably the most intense up and down of an emotional roller-coaster regarding my opinion towards a main character ever! I didn’t really know as the novel progressed what my final opinion of him would be, or if he could redeem himself in Bella’s eyes. Or mine for that matter! Fascinating progression to be sure.

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Burning Fire

Bella has a fiery personality, which also equates into a burning temper. She’s often quick to pounce on Vernon, and jump to conclusions with those closest to her. We also see how this “quick to assume the worst” attitude carries over into her business life. When she has the opportunity to design tattoos for a new TV show, she’s convinced she doesn’t have the time to draw them all and still maintain her tattoo parlor. But, she does. When she loses those designs she laments over the fact she could never possibly recreate all that hard work in such a short amount of time. All is seemingly lost. But, she does.

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It shows that when she sets her mind to something she can accomplish the most seemingly impossible of tasks. At the same time though, when it occurs repeatedly throughout the novel it also makes us wanna tell her to “calm down girl, have some tea and take a deeeeeep breath”. When Bella also insists that she could never possibly love Vernon because of his violent past, and determinedly swears they’re over it’s easy to question how steadfast she’ll really be.

Some Additional Minor Points

Vernon has a pretty strange relationship with his younger brother. He’s tried to keep him out of the criminal world, but to no avail. Their relationship is almost in limbo as Vernon struggles to acknowledge that his little brother isn’t necessarily sweet and innocent. I don’t want to give away too much of this story line, but I will say it didn’t seem 100% resolved to me by the end of the novel. It does however allow for Vernon to make a choice of what is more important to him: Bella, or his family and extravagant lifestyle.

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Lastly, I’m sorry to admit that I did have some trouble remembering all of the details surrounding Bella and Vernon’s relationship from the previous novel. I read a lot of books, okay?! 87 books to be precise since I read the first one. I think a brief summary at the start of the novel would have been extremely beneficial, especially concerning the dynamic with Vernon’s deceased brother who kidnapped Bella. While the story does eventually come full circle, answering a lot of the question marks from book one, it came together a bit too piece meal for my liking. At one point I even found myself rereading some of the end of the last book to try and remember some of the details.

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

Series: The Skin Quartet, book 2. I am absolutely in love with the supporting characters in this series, specifically our band of graffiti artists. If a future novel features one of them as the lead character I am sooooo reading it.

Should you read it? I did prefer this over book one, even though we do see some of the same themes carry over into this novel as well. Most significantly, our main characters aren’t always 100% likable. They have flaws, just like we all do. However, whereas this feature in book 1 made it difficult for me to relate to said characters, I felt it was developed so much more prominently in book 2. It demonstrates our feelings towards the characters are fluid. One minute you want Bella and Vernon to have a happily ever after. The next you wonder if Bella is right to keep her distance. So interesting that as Bella contemplates her feelings for Vernon, we too can sympathize with her debate.

Smut Level: Nothing like a little hanky panky on the kitchen floor!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 264 Pages.

Vengeance by Shana Figueroa

What makes this female private investigator different than any other? Well…her magical vagina for one.

What’s it About? 

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Corruption. Greed. Illicit sex. Murder. Private investigator Valentine Shepherd thinks she’s seen it all, and her strange ability to glimpse the future gives her an edge no one else in the world has. But when her fiancé is killed trying to exonerate his client, billionaire Max Carressa, Val makes it her personal mission to bring the people responsible to justice, no matter the cost. Convinced the two men are linked by more than attorney-client privilege, she enlists Max’s help in her investigation and gets more than she bargained for. On the run, Val and Max must uncover who wants them dead and why. The answer leads them to a conspiracy that has Val herself at its center. She doesn’t understand how or why, but time is running out to expose the truth and escape the danger she knows is coming . . .

First Impressions

Mkay, you just know that when a book starts off with a magical vagina it’s gonna be unique. And when we find out that Val isn’t the only with supernatural genitals? Well, stand back ladies and gentlemen. How exactly are Val’s lady bits special? She has visions of the future whilst getting it on. Definitely a party trick you don’t see very often. The one downside to this “gift” is that Val never really gets to experience the pleasure of an orgasm. She gets the build up, and the aftermath, but the boom moment causes her to pass out in a vision. Not sure how I’d feel about that to be honest. Especially considering her visions usually involve seeing someone’s death.

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On the Run

While Val’s visions can sometimes prove useful, she discovers they aren’t always accurate. Case in point, when she envisions her lawyer fiancé question a possible witness who could help with one of his cases, she never saw him get run down and killed by an unknown assailant. In an effort to uncover the truth about his death, she eventually crosses paths with Max Carressa, a mysterious billionaire accused of murdering his own father.

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Needless to say, it’s been a rather stressful week for Val Shepherd! Not only is she witness to her fiancé’s murder, but she’s trying to avoid being killed herself as she attempts to solve his murder. All of this is further complicated by the fact that, in a way, Max is someone she’s been searching for for a large portion of her life. Or someone like him anyway. He’s the first person she’s ever met who has the same abilities that she does. Val does put up a valiant effort to fight her growing attraction to Max, but when they discover they both share the same sexual gift, we know it’s just a matter of time before they get busy seeing visions together. With an ability grounded in sex, it seems meeting someone else with the same gift heightens their feelings of arousal. Poor girl didn’t stand a chance!

Magical Genitals Collide

As the novel progresses I was curious to find out if Max and Val’s eventual first time together would be out of necessity to find out key information in a vision, or from a development of real feelings for each other. Interestingly enough, it’s sort of a combination of both. Val senses a growing attraction to Max that can no longer be ignored, so she kind of uses her gift as an excuse to finally get physically close to him.

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Something I did find particularly interesting about their supernatural power is how it influenced their sexual dynamic. In most romance novels, we often see a male lead who wants to make himself last as long as possible, while giving his woman as many orgasms as possible. However, for Max and Val they both try to delay the inevitable in order to prolong their pleasure. The fact is, they each only have one shot before they literally pass out in a vision. In their efforts to make it last, they often talk about other topics to keep their mind off it. In addition, they can’t necessarily come together, or else risk passing out on top of each other and squishing some rather important bits and pieces. Like a true gentleman, Max lets Val come first before taking his own pleasure with a desperate attempt to try and pass out beside her.

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One benefit to their strong libido is that although they can only come once at a time, they can quickly regroup after their visions and go at it again. Seeing as Val often foresees death of some kind you’d think it would kind of spoil the mood, but nope! They are ready and raring to go pretty quickly.

Building Suspense and Leading Characters

While Val and Max explore their visions together we also have the underlying story line of her fiancé’s murder, and uncovering a conspiracy rooted in politics and greed. There’s quite a lot of suspense towards the end which lasts for a good chunk of the novel. Definitely nice that it wasn’t a wam, bam, thank you ma’am kind of deal. I was also initially worried that their ability to see the future might make the end of the book less exciting, but that wasn’t the case either as both Val and Max desperately try to alter the course of events which could lead to their deaths.

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I will say there are a LOT of moving pieces in this novel, including a plethora of different characters, motives, and a seemingly endless number of interconnecting story lines. At times it was tricky to keep everything straight, and you can tell some aspects weren’t fully explored so that they can be featured more prominently in a future novel. While I definitely understand the appeal of this for certain plot points, I felt it sort of detracted from us getting to know our main leading lady on a deeper level.

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Considering Val was a former sergeant in the army it means she’s literally a bad ass, and one woman I would never want to cross. Unfortunately, it was also a smidge difficult to like her at times, or connect with her on an emotional level. After mourning the loss of her fiancé it seemed like Val sort of shut off her emotions in order to move on and focus on finding his killer. In a way this also closes herself off to us as the audience. Honestly, I couldn’t help but see Max as a more compelling character due to the fact that we uncover a significant portion of his back story, and get a good glimpse of his hardships and inner turmoil. I wish we had been offered the same for Val, specifically in relation to the impact of her sister’s untimely death, and her developing relationship with Max. It’s definitely possible we’ll see more of this in future novels, but I think a brief window into her personality would have helped us connect with her.

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

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Series: Valentine Shepherd, book 1. There’s an unexpected twist at the end which sets things up for a sequel. Not a cliffhanger per se, but it will leave you wondering what happens next.

Should you read it? The ending of the novel was definitely my favorite, as we see all the various plot points come together for one climactic finish. It does take a while for the story to develop, and with there being so many different characters and interwoven plots it sort of feels like you’re being unwillingly pulled in a multitude of different directions. In addition to the magical genitals, there is also a larger supernatural connection which is briefly touched upon towards the end of the novel. Not really sure how I feel about it at this point.

Smut Level: This book has pretty much every combination you can imagine under the sun. We’ve got m/f, f/f, m/m and m/m/f. I guess the only version missing is f/f/m?

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Forever Yours Publishing. 336 Pages.