Mister McHottie by Pippa Grant

This is the epitome of an enemies-to-lovers romance, with an abundance of hate screwing thrown into the mix. Toss in a propensity for our lead characters to prank each other every chance they get, and what’s not to like?

What’s it About?

The best enemies make the best lovers….

There are three things I hate: 

Bratwurst in any form, my neighbors boinking like farm animals at 3 AM, and Chase Jett.

Mostly I hate Chase Jett. It’s been 10 years since he took my virginity – I’d make a bratwurst joke, but the unfortunate truth is that it would have to be a brat-best joke, and yes, it kills me to admit that – and now he’s not only a billionaire, he’s also my new boss.

Turns out our hate is mutual. And this kind of hate is horrifically twisted, filthy, and banging hot. I just might have to hate him forever.

First Impressions

Pretty much from page one you can tell this is going to be a fun, silly ride filled with down-to-Earth and sarcastic lead characters. Various chapters are told from alternating points of view between our somewhat hyper female lead and our smirkingly delicious male lead. The narration of the novel definitely plays out in a way that makes us feel part of the inner circle of friends for our characters. At times with Ambrosia’s chapters especially, we almost see her stream of consciousness as she gets especially frustrated when confronted with the tormentor of her childhood, Chase. They haven’t seen each other in years, having pulled endless pranks throughout their younger years which eventually culminated in an explosive argument (and sex) in the back of a bratwurst wagon. Upon reconnecting years later when billionaire Chase buys out the company Ambrosia works for, it takes mere seconds for all of their old frustrations and prankful ways to immediately resurface. And with all that supposed hatred comes another kind of frustration…sexual frustration.

A Sultry Romantic Comedy

As the first few chapters of this novel played out, I merely expected this to be a light-hearted, fun-filled romantic comedy with plenty of pranks and sarcastic comments hurled back and forth between Chase and Ambrosia. And while that was certainly true, the element I wasn’t expecting was the explosive heat and dirty-talk-filled sex scenes which permeate this entire read. Even though I can’t say the transition from spewing insults to sticking their tongues down each other’s throats was a seamless one, it was certainly an enjoyable one. I remember listening to this audiobook as I cleaned my dishes, and when Chase and Ambrosia were arguing in an elevator together I though, “oh, this should be fun,” and the next thing I know Chase has her bent over with her clothes ripped off, and he’s slapping her bum. That was definitely an unexpected escalation for their first sexual foray in adulthood. As the book progresses we see these two characters constantly trying to either avoid or one-up each other before their frustration ultimately builds into them tearing their clothes off, and continuing to exchange insults as a humorous form of foreplay.

Series: Girl Band, book 1. I think I’ll continue with this series. It’s full of crazy antics and even crazier characters you can’t help but love.

Final Impressions: If you’re looking for a fun read that will leave you giggling, yet also sweating from the steam burning between these two, then this might be a read you’ll want to try. The sarcastic dialogue of Ambrosia reminded me of my own personality at times, though it was also a challenge to follow her fast-paced stream of disconnected thoughts, even if it lent an air of fun casualness to the read. Overall it was a cute, silly, passionate read with a few flaws littered throughout, but it came together in the end for an awwwww-filled conclusion.

Smut Level: Elevator sexy fun tiiiiiimes!! The tone of this book might read light-hearted comedy, but my goodness do the sex scenes escalate into something fully charged with heat and eroticism.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Bang Laugh Love LLC. 184 Pages.

Sinful Surrender by Erika Wilde

You can’t help but say “sign me up” when a billionaire beast wants to tie you up to his bed with the sole intent of doing things to your body that apparently Batman wouldn’t even do to Catwoman.

What’s it About?

A debt repaid . . . in the form of her surrender. Rich and powerful, Maddux Wilder has built his empire with one thought in mind . . . exacting revenge against the man who killed his parents. But he never planned for his enemy’s daughter, Arabella Cole, to offer herself in exchange for her father’s debt. Innocent and captivating, Maddux can’t resist her allure, or the lust she stirs within him.

When Arabella sacrifices her life to save her father’s, she does so with the intention of hating the man who now owns her. But beneath Maddux’s gruff, boorish exterior she discovers a compelling man. One who makes her burn with need and awakens deep, forbidden desires she can’t deny. Soon she’s surrendering more than just her body to Maddux.

What starts as an act of vengeance becomes something far more consuming. Can this beauty tame the beast, or will revenge cost them both everything that matters most?

First Impressions

Overall I’d have to say this is a delightful beach read. It has a good amount of heat, a bit of drama involving the mafia to hold your interest, and references to one of the best fairy-tales of all time: Beauty and the Beast. I appreciated that while this modern adaptation had a bookish beauty falling for a tough and grumbly beast, it wasn’t simply a scene-by-scene retelling of the story we all know and love. There was enough personality to distinguish this from the standard story-line. For example, while Arabella stands in to pay off her father’s debt to this beast, it’s because he has a criminal history of which she is totally unaware. Her father is certainly a far cry from the bumbling and lovable father figure we may have been expecting. Although some details are unique to this version, two things clearly remained the same: we have a surly male lead who manages to ooze sex appeal in spite of his beastly demeanor, and we have a feisty female lead who is far from a wallflower when it comes to interacting with this alpha billionaire.

She Knows What She Wants

Arabella’s admirable independence was clearly evident when she chose to stand up for her father, but it was even more visible in her sexual relationship with Maddux. At first, it almost seemed like Arabella would be a timid and delicate princess when it came to her sexual appetites. When we first met her she seemed like a bit of a loner living under the oppressive thumb of her overbearing father and his villainous sidekick, Gavin. Even though we see she’s initially quiet upon first meeting, it doesn’t take long before her voice is heard in every sense.

This is true not only in her declaration that she’ll do anything Maddux asks of her while living under his roof to pay off her father’s debt to him, but also when she makes it clear how much she wants Maddux to introduce her to all manner of erotic sexcapades. I was worried at first if this read would present us with a situation where Arabella was beholden and trapped to obey any sexual whim that entered Maddux’s head. Instead, what we see is Arabella is the one demanding that Maddux not treat her like a fragile ornament that might break at the slightest touch. She might be a virgin, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have some downright sultry desires that she’ll beg Maddux to help her fulfill. It definitely makes you wonder who is wearing the pants, or more willing to rip them off, in this relationship.

Series: The Sinful Series, book 1. I’ll be continuing with this series, as we see a hint of a Cinderella story involving Maddux’s brother.

Final Impressions: Again, this is a fun beach read to explore this summer. I probably would have appreciated a bit more exploration of the dynamic between Arabella and her father, but it also wasn’t 100% necessary to the plot. The interactions of Maddux with his siblings and their seeking of vengeance for the death of their parents more than fulfilled the required familial dynamic for the plot to move forward.

Smut Level: It takes some time before we get to the ultimate climax, but we get plenty of teasing dirty talk before then to keep us satisfied.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 286 Pages.

Betting on Cinderella by Petie McCarty

A modern twist on a classic fairy-tale. From a devastatingly handsome Prince Charming to an enchanting, down-on-her-luck heroine. The only missing detail was a delicate glass slipper!

What’s it About?

Garrett Tucker inherits his grandfather’s casino empire and steps into the reclusive billionaire’s shoes as the “Prince of Vegas.” His first act is to buy a bankrupt casino in Biloxi. When he discovers embezzling in his new operation, Garrett goes undercover. His prime suspect is the new finance supervisor–the spitfire brunette who stole his heart at first sight.

Andi Ryan moves to Biloxi to care for her godmother and takes a job as finance supervisor for the renovated Bayou Princess casino. She discovers someone is skimming from the till and starts her own investigation, worried she will be blamed for the theft when the new owner discovers her godmother has a gambling addiction.

A rival Vegas competitor has sent a spy in to ruin the Bayou Princess, and Garrett and Andi are forced to work together to prove her innocence and discover the identity of their casino spy.

First Impressions

This sequel in the Cinderella Romances series had all of the classic fairy-tale details which were only hinted at in book one. From evil step-mother and step-sisters, to a cheery godmother, and everything culminating in a fancy gala with our female lead draped in a gorgeous sparkly blue gown. However, this isn’t simply a rehash of the story we all know and love, but rather those details are sprinkled into the bigger story being told of embezzlement and corporate espionage. I did appreciate that all of the Cinderella elements weren’t solely reserved to our heroine, Andi, but also shared equally with her Prince Charming, Garrett. While she may have been the one cursed with the villainous step-relations, Garrett was the one who was hiding the nature of his true identity from the woman with whom he was quickly falling in love. I always felt like the Prince was a secondary character at best in this particular fairy-tale, and it was refreshing to see Garrett as a primary character in his own right.

Screeching Villainesses

Once we immerse ourselves into the plot of this sequel, there were aspects that weren’t quite as successful as book one. First and foremost, it was a bit overly-complicated at times, especially in terms of some secretive behind-the-scenes plotting, and probably could have been about 100 pages shorter. In addition, while I appreciated seeing more of the classic Cinderella details, some of them were almost too over-the-top for reality. This was especially true for Andi’s step-mother and one of her step-sisters who took the roles of wicked villainess to the extreme. They acted as Andi’s boss and supervisor at the casino where they all worked, and while many of us have dealt with overbearing and demanding bosses, these two acted in ways that were clearly an HR nightmare. Their propensity to literally shriek at the top of their lungs in front of everyone about their disappointment in Andi’s work performance and personal life was especially cartoonish. Having villains who could have been more sly and cunning in their deceptions would have been scarier in my opinion than the surface-level crazy these two characters constantly emitted.

Another rather frustrating detail of this read was that almost every chapter would end on a cliffhanger scene or comment, and then the subsequent chapter would change gears to focus on another issue entirely. It was literary whiplash! It seems this technique was employed in an attempt to build a sense of tension to the read which all culminated in what was probably supposed to be an unexpected climactic twist. Unfortunately, the surprise we were presented with was fairly obvious early on in the book, so all of that build-up eventually led to a final reveal that wasn’t as rewarding as I was hoping for.

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

Series: The Cinderella Romances, book 2.

Final Impressions: While this sequel certainly had more Cinderella elements than book one, not all of the wider plot points necessarily came together in a cohesive way. The ending focused more on resolving the romantic story-line between Garrett and Andi rather than tying up all the loose ends of some of the more dramatic embezzlement plot points. We may have gotten our happily ever after, but not everything felt entirely finished.

Smut Level: These two shared some passionate kisses that left Garrett desperate for more and Andi’s eyes rolling into the back of her head. They never take things into the bedroom though.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Soul Mate Publishing LLC. 434 Pages.

Mine by Angela Christina Archer

This historical romance will have you turn to any friends, family or loved ones nearby to gather up into your arms, and hold them tightly for as long as you can.

What’s it About? 

War continues to rage in Europe, with no end in sight, people in the occupied countries are suffering and starving. One of those places is one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France. A part of the United Kingdom, the residents of Guernsey are the only British citizens facing occupation by the Deutsches Heer.

The promise of love.

Deep in the middle of the German occupation, life for Evelyn and Henry is nothing but a perilous journey, as though walking a tightrope, between survival and starvation. Through the trials of every day, they also find joy, marriage, and the notion of starting a family. But having children during war and while under German rule can be complicated, and Evelyn must face a few hard choices when it comes to keeping those she loves safe and alive.

The promise of beginning again.

Newly wed, and still working on Halifax Farms as a land girl, Amelia comes face to face with a loss of her own. With her husband off to war and the discovery she’s carrying a child, she follows the tugging feeling to continue her education and dreams of becoming a journalist. When tragedy strikes, not once, but twice, however, Amelia must head down a path she never thought she’d take, and one she doesn’t know if she’s ready for or truly desires.
Two sisters. Two promises. One bloody war that changes their lives forever.

First Impressions

This was another emotional addition to The Promises Between Us series. In my review of book one I mentioned how nobody was off limits when it came to the travesties of war. This second novel certainly underscores the truth of that reality, but we just have to wait around a bit longer for the tragedies to hit. For so much of the book I was just waiting around in agonized anticipation for the other shoe to drop, and sure enough! We see a domino effect of people being impacted and torn apart by war, and one scene in particular left me a bubbling mess of tears. Here’s to hoping the other folks lounging around my apartment’s pool simply thought I had sunscreen in my eyes.

From Guernsey to Halifax Farms

Once again, the principle pathway of this book presents us with alternating scenes of life for the Ashton sisters as they try to find love in the midst of war. An interesting break with book one is that where Amelia once provided a sense of movement and changing scenery compared to her sister trapped on Guernsey, Amelia instead spends most of this second book in one location. Her travel from Guernsey across the English Channel, and multiple train rides to different places in England has now landed her working as a land girl at a country farm. Most of this read involves long stints regaling us with Amelia’s daily chores on the farm compared to Evelyn’s daily life in occupied Guernsey. The fact both sisters are essentially stuck in one place with such limited opportunities for movement left this sequel feeling somewhat linear in terms of plot.

That is of course until we reach the latter half of the book when developments once again start impacting our characters. These sisters are finally successful in sending word to each other about how their lives have changed so much since they last said farewell years before at the Guernsey port, and how love has brought a small glimmer of happiness to their existence. It’s also the first definitive confirmation for Henry to realize that Amelia moved on with someone else after leaving him, and Amelia discovers that her sister and former beau have fallen in love. I don’t want to spoil what comes of these discoveries, but let’s just say their reactions couldn’t have been more different. We can’t help but question if these two sisters and their husbands will survive this terrible war, and if they do what kind of greeting will they have upon seeing each other again?

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

Series: The Promises Between Us, book 2. I’m eager to see how everything will come together for the third and final book.

Final Impressions: While this series certainly highlights the fragility of life, it also does a fantastic job of demonstrating why it’s important to take chances to live every day to the fullest. What struck me most was seeing how true this was for our characters, as they had no idea how much longer this war would last. We as the readers certainly have the end date constantly in the forefront of our minds, but our characters don’t know if the war will end in a month, or if German occupation will be their new reality forever. Some choose to give up amidst such uncertainty, but others live by the mantra to seize the day.

Smut Level: These young ladies have become married women, and enjoy moments of passion with their respective husbands. However, we only see a few kisses before the scenes fade to black, and never witness their bedroom antics in full detail.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. 269 Pages. 

Island Charm by Audrey Wick

Consider yourself warned that upon reading this book you’ll probably become overwhelmed with the desire to walk barefoot along the beach while eating a slice of key lime pie.

What’s it About?

 When Anna Worthington’s twin sister gets jilted by her fiancé, Anna steps in with a plan for a girls’ Key West getaway instead of a honeymoon trip. Yet when her twin has her own crisis of commitment and doesn’t board the plane, Anna finds herself on a romantic getaway that she’s forced to navigate alone.

Gunnar Lockhart, whose specialty is island tourism, is the perfect match for helping Anna complete her vacation bucket list, but time together forges a connection more personal than either anticipate. As they make island memories, Anna has to untangle her mixed emotions. Are her feelings toward Gunnar real? Or like her sister’s wedding day, has this connection been doomed from the start?

First Impressions

This is a notice to all authors out there that if you want a 100% guarantee that I’ll read your book, be sure it includes a recipe for a delectable dessert or tasty treat at the end of it. To be honest, there’s a good chance I’ll read it anyway, but this is essentially a foolproof assurance. And while I haven’t had the chance to prepare the key lime pie dessert presented at the conclusion of this read at the time of writing this review, you better believe that pie will be in my future very soon.

Hand-in-hand with key lime pie is the island of Key West, Florida which features prominently in this read almost as a character in its own right. It’s no surprise that our male lead, Gunnar, works for the island’s Chamber of Commerce, as the book makes you want to book a trip there immediately. I was lucky enough to spend a day in Key West in December 2019 as a stop on a family cruise vacation before all things pandemic ravaged the world. While the island didn’t have quite the same spiritual impact for me as it did for our two leads, this book succeeded in reminding me of the hidden charm you can find once you remove yourself from its more boisterously touristy streets. And again…pie!

A Touch of Romance in the Air

While Anna has a rather rocky start to this unplanned vacation following her twin sister, Brie, being left at the altar, things start to look brighter upon meeting hunky and courteous “local”, Gunnar. He offers to show her around about town and help her cross a few items off her sister’s vacation bucket list. It was quite refreshing how realistically their connection was formed, as it wasn’t steeped in lust or purely from a sexual attraction. You really get the sense that these two people have laid the foundation for a healthy and potentially long-lasting relationship. However, always lurking in the shadows of their burgeoning romance was the fast-approaching end date to Anna’s time on this island. Not to mention, her entire reason for being there was the result of a man being a total douche rocket to her sister, so her trust in men isn’t exactly at a high point.

From Self-Discovery to a Selfless Connection

There is definitely a romantic component to this read, but in my opinion it sort of took a back seat to two other important plot points which permeated the story. First and foremost was the journey of self-discovery which Anna finds herself on. She uses this time in Key West to look inward, and reflect on what she wants her life and business to look like going forward. While Gunnar certainly comes to play a role in this vision, he wasn’t necessarily the primary driving force behind her future considerations, which was refreshing. As for Gunnar, he was unexpectedly faced with a life-changing decision in his connection with an elderly local who comes to rely on him in the most important of ways. Gunnar’s care and devotion to this man demonstrates the unconditional selflessness to his nature and personality. He might slip up at one point in his week with Anna, but overall this man is an absolute winner.

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

Series: Stand-alone, though I would be interested in a sequel involving Anna’s twin sister, Brie.

Final Impressions: This was a pleasant read that will leave you craving a beach vacation, a slice of pie, and a stroll along the sand with a dreamy man at your side. The romance presented didn’t necessarily have a lot of heat behind it, but it was based in reality and respect.

Smut Level: A few kisses here and there, but nothing explicit or overly sexual.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. White Rose Publishing. 288 Pages. 

This is Not a Horror Movie by Sara Dobie Bauer

“I‘ve wanted to taste your words for years—and see if they taste as sweet as you make them look.” Not gonna say no to that request!

What’s it About?

Emory Jones loves two things: horror movies and Connor Nichols. For the past four years, Emory, Connor, and their families have vacationed side by side on Longboat Key, Florida. Eighteen-year-old Emory has pined for his neighbor from behind the covers of Stephen King books, but college boy Connor has never noticed him. Probably because Emory looks like Jack Skellington with good hair.

Emory anticipates another predictable summer of sunburn and disappointment. Instead, he ends up with a mystery on his hands when a beloved beach bum goes missing, and Connor volunteers to help with the search. Turns out it’s not just scary movie cops who are worthless, so the boys start an investigation of their own—leading them straight to an abandoned beach resort.

Despite the danger, Emory and Connor grow closer, but as Emory’s gay dreams start coming true, so do the horror movie tropes he so loves. Even though he knows that sex equals death in slasher flicks, Emory can’t keep his hands off the guy of his teenage dreams.

First Impressions

I’ll admit, I initially approached this read with a smidge of hesitancy. While the title might insist this is not a horror movie, the dramatic cover art and synopsis would suggest otherwise. And I…don’t…do…HORROR! What can I say, I blame Freddy Krueger. That bastard gets ya in your dreams, and when my sleep is compromised we’re gonna have problems. However, while there were definitely some scenes in this novel which involved horrific actions and even deaths, I somehow found myself giggling with glee throughout the majority of this read! If I had to sum up the experience in just a few words? Pure delight!!

Perrysburg, Ohio

So what made this such an enjoyable read considering my aversion to all things horror? Simply put: Emory Jones. At first I questioned how much I’d have in common with our main character. After all, he’s an 18-year-old gay male who loves all things horror, and I’m, well…not. I might love a good beach read, but the concept of reading a horror book on the beach is a nightmarish concept to me!! However, I found myself quickly developing an amazing kinship with this fictional character the author has presented to us. Not only are Emory and I from the same small Ohio town, but we also went to the same high school, vacationed a mere 8 miles apart from each other some summers, and while neither of us are into sports we both knew who the primary rival high school was across the river. We both grew up in an environment feeling like there must be something bigger and better out there beyond the borders of this small Ohio town where high school bullies reigned supreme.

Beyond these mere coincidences of geography though, Emory’s close connection with his sister Liz involved some of my favorite banter and hilarity of the entire novel, and also felt reminiscent of the close relationship I have with my own sister. And then there’s Connor. The hunky neighbor boy that Emory has pined after for countless summers, yet can only admire from a distance. Surely Emory is not at the same level as this beautiful man? He is constantly left feeling inferior, something I’m sure many of us can sympathize with. Honestly I think most readers will find something within these down-to-Earth and realistic characters that they can also identify in themselves. The narrative format itself was even something I could relate to, as we constantly have to navigate the rather filter-less and quick-moving inner musings of Emory’s mind. Sure, it took some time to get used to and follow along with his line of thinking, but nevertheless it seemed similar to how my own mind is known to wander whenever I think to myself. The author does such a fantastic job of pulling us into Emory’s world where we can associate with all of his insecurities, fears, joys, embarrassments and even moments of love.

A Romantic Paranormal Horror Comedy?

Considering the number of times I giggled aloud to myself while reading this book, it definitely falls within the categorization of a comedy, but it also touches upon the romance and horror categories. Let’s tackle the more prominent of themes, which would be the lovey-doveyness between Connor and Emory. Yet again, all I can say is it was a pure delight! They’ve been summer buds for years, with Emory always dreaming of more with this hot jock. However, it’s only this summer before college when Connor finally discovers that Emory is gay, and Emory simultaneously discovers that Connor is bisexual. After this jaw-dropping realization Connor lays all his cards out on the table, and the two finally decide to give into the desires they’ve kept hidden from each other for so long. And I must say, the sheer joy and playfulness that these two men share with each other left me with a dopey grin on my face, and more head-tilt “awwwww” exclamations than I care to admit.

Now for the horror. Again, typically this is something I loathe, but in this instance the author somehow managed to present it in a way that was still comedic in its approach. What can I say, this woman is a master!! Several moments reminded me of the movie Scream where our characters, who are essentially experts when it comes to horror tropes, would oftentimes relate the situations happening around them to how a horror film or book would typically play out. Emory would often lament the fact he was no longer a virgin seeing as the virgin is usually the last one standing at the end of a horror movie. People never tell the adults what’s happening? Well let’s be upfront with them from the beginning! Should we involve the cops? Eeesh, that never goes over well in the movies. It helped add a sense of levity to the “horror”. Now, I will say the drama of the story took a rather unexpected turn towards the end that had me going, “huh, mkay so I guess we’re really doing this!!” At times I was left wanting a bit more depth and back-story for some of the more villainous characters, but at the same time I could appreciate that staying on the surface in some respects allowed for more of the comedic underpinnings of the plot to shine through.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: I don’t quite know what I was expecting with this one, but I thought it was so much fun! It’s a great summer read to bring along to the beach. Just consider yourself warned you’ll probably laugh aloud a few times and be smiling to yourself. I could see how some aspects might not be everyone’s cup of tea, including Emory’s penchant for a wandering and fast-paced inner dialogue, as well as the fact that the horror aspect became a bit outlandish towards the end. However, I personally appreciated both of these features, as it helped me relate to Emory on a personal level, and the somewhat ridiculous nature of the horror story was kind of needed for me to feel less scared as I was reading it! Ultimately, it helped the novel lean more towards the comedy category rather than the horror.

Smut Level: The make out scenes in this novel were scorching hot! However, the one sex scene was more of a “fade to black” moment.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. 280 Pages.

In the Shadow of the Hawthorn by D.M. Porters

A tale of childhood crushes, friendship, romance, greed and murder. In the Shadow of the Hawthorn takes us on a journey of discovery, and the realization that love can be one of the most powerful things of all.

What’s it About? 

“I am only a man, Emma.”

“Then be a man with me.”

Beautiful Emma Mason was an illegitimate child who should have landed on the streets of London. A twist of fate would spare the girl from having to sell her body or beg for her next meal. Instead, Emma grew up in Lord and Lady Drake’s lavish home, working happily in their kitchen with her ever-grateful mother, Julia.

Through the years, Emma would never want for anything – that is until she met Theo Barnett, the son of a wealthy landowner. Friends of the Drakes, Lord Elliott Barnett, and his wife Sylvia had high expectations for their only child. A good match was vital, but they knew their handsome son would have no problems attracting the right woman one day. A chance encounter between Theo and Emma would change everything.

Though wrong, Theo could not stop his attraction to the young baker. Desires burned, and their love was pure, but Emma knew it could not be. They would never be allowed to be together. Refusing to have Theo lose everything for her, Emma would push away the man she loves. Their lives apart would be filled with tragedy, deception, and pain, all fueled by insatiable greed. Can Emma and Theo look beyond the misery and find their way back to each other? Could they go on after losing so much?

First Impressions

When I first started reading this novel, it almost felt like I was coming in at the end of a story. A young woman left alone and pregnant, Julia is a talented baker of delicious confections in an upscale London eatery. She’s about to be forced out because of her delicate condition when she’s discovered and brought into the home of a loving older woman and her devoted husband. They treat her like the daughter they never had, and dote upon her and her newborn child as though finally realizing the happily ever after this woman has been waiting for her entire life. However, we soon discover that this isn’t Julia’s story. Instead it will revolve around her daughter, Emma, who follows in her mother’s culinary talents. But what will society permit when this lowly kitchen servant and a wealthy gentleman fall in love? And more importantly, how will one man’s greed come to shatter the perfect world this happy family has created for themselves?

Wait For It…

Not only does this novel seemingly commence with a happily ever after montage, but it takes some time for us to work our way through Emma’s youth into adulthood before we ultimately get to the crux of the story. I constantly felt as though I was waiting around for the other shoe to drop! Although we have to wait a bit before we come across the real turning point of the novel with a tragic crime, something I really appreciated as we proceeded along this journey was that the author manages to avoid some of the more common trappings and tropes you might initially expect to encounter with this kind of read.

For example, Emma and Theo are initially hesitant to give into their obvious feelings for each other. Especially Emma! While they engage in one steamy moment of indulgence, she tries to shut it down almost immediately following their afternoon tryst. After this seemingly final declaration, there was still quite a bit of novel remaining, so I assumed we’d encounter some kind of continual back and forth of we should…no wait we shouldn’t. Rinse and repeat. Or perhaps a misunderstanding where one of them might be tempted to give up on the other as they wait for the perfect timing of when they can finally be together. Instead we are granted with some interesting twists and turns to the plot that result in tragedy, surprise decisions and unexpected discoveries, but thankfully we never really encounter sheer frustration at the choices or actions of our protagonists. It was utterly refreshing!

Beyond the Romance

While this might be a tale of romance, there are two additional complementary themes which play major roles in how the events of this tale evolve: greed and class status. Our primary villain, as well as a few other minor supporting characters, carry out some shockingly dastardly deeds as a result of these motivations. Initially I found it hard to believe what depths some people would go to simply because of money. From denying a son true happiness, to a case of murder and abuse, all due to greed. At one point I thought, well this seems a tad outlandish and over-the-top in terms of a response. As the conclusion of the novel approached however, I had this moment of epiphany where I simply had to remind myself, “well of course this is plausible!!” Countless moments throughout history have been impacted because of these exact trivial impulses, and we still see cases of it to this very day. Honestly, it was a rather sobering realization. And yet, when you see the love and devotion this family and this couple feels for each other it seemingly allows for a ray of sunshine to break through the shadows.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: This was sort of a deceptive read at the beginning in that it presents itself as a seemingly happy familial tale that manages to hide away from the rules and cruelties of the outside world. However, eventually we see the shadows of tragedy encroach upon these selfless and caring people. While initially hesitant to pursue a relationship, it was refreshing and inspiring to see Emma and Theo stand by each other through it all, never giving up hope that one day they’d be able to come together in a loving embrace. There are a slew of entertaining characters presented in this read, and honestly I’d love if we had the chance to explore their individual stories further in subsequent novels. At times this fabulous supporting cast did detract too much attention away from our lead couple, but overall we have a unique historical romance which proves family is what you make it.

Smut Level: This was surprisingly steamy for a historical read!! Not only do we get a romantic hotel getaway, but we also have a mouth-watering scene in a rustic shed on Theo’s property.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Denise Portugaise. 220 Pages. 

Always on My Mind by Andrea Downing

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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To Be or Not to Be? 

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

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

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

Series: Stand-alone

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

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

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

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Sophia’s Secret by Julie Ryan

Sometimes the most seemingly idyllic of small towns are the ones that hide the most tantalizing secrets.

What’s it About?

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This is the second book in the Greek Island Mystery series. Although each book is intended to be read as a standalone, some of the characters from the first book, ‘Jenna’s Journey’, do make an appearance.

Kat has never understood why she was sent at the age of seven from Greece to live in England with her Aunt Tigi. When she receives an email from her grandmother, the first contact in over twenty years, informing her of her mother’s death, she knows this could be her last chance to find out the truth. Little by little she finds out the shocking facts as her grandmother opens her heart. It seems everyone has a secret to tell, not only her grandmother, as Manoli, her school friend, also harbours a guilty secret. Then there’s a twenty year old mystery to solve as well as a murder and what happened to the missing Church treasure?

First Impressions

Sophia isn’t the only one with a secret on this small Greek Island! There’s a lot going on in this novel, with multiple mysteries and dramatic plot points taking place over several decades. The book itself is divided into four parts, which definitely helped to keep a sense of order to how the story was told. We start off with Kat traveling back to her childhood home after the death of her mother, who she hasn’t seen since she was just a little girl. As a matter of fact, she hasn’t seen her father or grandmother since then either, as she was sent off to live in another country with her Aunt when she was only seven. Since then she’s received no word from the rest of her family. Now that she’s back on the island, her grandmother, Sophia, is prepared to reveal the true and troubled history of why Kat was sent away so many years before. This is when we enter part 2 of the novel.

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A Blast to the Past

Little did I know that in order to figure out the events of twenty years ago, we’d actually be traveling back even further in time, going all the way back to when Sophia herself was just a teenager. This time jump definitely holds your interest, as you’re constantly wondering how the story will evolve to ultimately explain the reason why Kat was sent away. However, you also sort of have to force your way through a large chunk of the novel, as it’s a rather depressing read. Through Sophia’s eyes we see her tale of woe, forced marriage, rape, pining for a lost love, jealousy, and even murder. Quite a bit of murder actually. As if that wasn’t enough of a downer, throughout the read we’re constantly getting moments which foreshadow even more doom and gloom to come, such as “little did I know how much worse things were about to get.” At times it felt like I needed a shot of tequila before I could proceed to the next chapter!

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Back to the Future

Sophia’s memories in part 2 take up a rather significant portion of the book, and by the time we’ve made our way back up to the present in part 3, I must admit it took me a while to remember what all was going on and who the key players were. Not only have we just reviewed all of Sophia’s secrets revolving around her forced marriage, forbidden love, and the mystery of her husband’s death, but now we have a lost Church treasure, a missing boy from years ago, a dead Jane Doe, Kat’s husband and step daughter having their own problems, a kidnapping, a dead antiques smuggler, and Kat trying to deal with the new information she’s learned about her parents. Again, there’s a lot going on here!

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Bringing it All Together

On the one hand, it definitely seemed like there was too much going on. Some of these mysterious story lines held more prominence in the overall telling of the book, while others seemed to get just a little bit of attention before being quickly put to rest. I was particularly surprised to find that at the very end of the book we even get a link back to an unsolved mystery from the first book that is finally resolved. That being said, I must say it was truly commendable that the author managed to bring every single mystery full circle by the end of the book.

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No stone is left unturned, and every loose end is tied up perfectly. Quite a feat worth mentioning considering there were so many moving pieces at work here. Personally I do think the book as a whole would have benefited from removing some of the more minor side plot distractions, and instead have the drama surrounding Kat’s relationships with her mother, father and grandmother be the sole focus. It just would have pulled the story together more tightly into one cohesive thread.

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

Series: A Greek Island Mystery, book 2. I did enjoy this sequel better than the first novel in the series! With book one I was kind of disappointed that some elements surrounding the downfall of our main villain were left unresolved. Imagine my surprise to discover that we finally get a resolution to that plot point at the very end of this second book!

Final Impressions: While this mystery certainly kept me guessing, and managed to hold my interest throughout, it was also kind of hard to want to pick it up and read sometimes considering the subject matter. Sophia had a tough life, and it was disheartening to read about her trials and tribulations in such detail. That being said, it was nice to see that she was eventually rewarded for her hardships later in life. As far as the mystery of why Kat was sent away all those years before, it was definitely an interesting and surprising reason, but I can’t say I ever fully understood why all communication was cut off from her until now. A bit more explanation as to why Sophia in particular, as well as Kat’s father, never chose to visit her throughout the years would have been nice.

Smut Level: None really.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.25 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 331 Pages.

Capture

Escaping Solitude by Sara Dobie Bauer

His exile has ended. Vampire Andrew is finally back in society with his shipwrecked sailor, Edmund. The temptations of New Orleans await them both!

What’s it About?

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Ancient vampire Andrew escaped his tropical island exile with his beloved human sailor, Edmund. They’ve now returned to Andrew’s home in nineteenth-century New Orleans and must navigate not only their developing relationship—and equally haunted pasts—but also a hungry coven of vampires Andrew used to call friends.

Desperate to stay by Andrew’s side forever, Edmund examines the impressive coven library in search of an Elder, the only creature capable of turning Edmund. Although missing for centuries, Andrew believes an Elder must still survive somewhere; they just have to find him.

The search is put on hold when Edmund receives word that his mother is ill in London, and the lovers set off on an oceanic journey surrounded by new friends and old enemies. When things go terribly wrong, Edmund’s fragile human life hangs in the balance, and an Elder must be found or Andrew will be alone forever.

First Impressions

At the end of book one I wondered if dry land would prove to be the salvation Andrew and Edmund thought it would be. They’re both thrilled to be on dry land and in society once again, but now they find themselves having to check their behavior when out on the town. They simply can’t be openly affectionate in public like they were on the seclusion of the island. Sure, they may have only had blood thirsty cannibals as companions on the island of exile, but apparently they didn’t discriminate.

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While Andrew and Edmund both lament not being able to show affection in public, they’re certainly able to locate a few places all over the city for them to indulge in their passions behind closed doors! I also questioned at the end of book one if Andrew’s blood lust would prove too great to handle once he’s back in the midst of society. While his hunger for blood does grow, we see that his tastes are for Edmund alone, and he can’t bring himself to feed on anyone but his sailor. The question is, will Edmund bare his neck to Andrew’s fangs, or will he run away in fear? Spoiler, he bares it allllllllll.

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Vanishing Cynicism

I’ll admit I was a partial cynic in book one, wondering if the love between Andrew and Edmund was authentic, or simply a matter of convenience at being the only two men alone on a deserted island together. Not including the cannibals of course. I’m happy to say that this book really did put aside those critical views of mine. At the start of this novel you can see that their sexual connection is obviously very strong. There are many scenes which focus on their physical desire for each other, as well as with other people at times. And yet, as the novel progresses we see their emotional link come to the forefront. Whereas they start off by taking advantage of all the sexual delights and brothels that New Orleans has to offer, it doesn’t take long before they admit to each other that they only want to spend the rest of their lives in each other’s arms.

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There were two moments in particular for me which highlighted that this sailor and vampire are actually in love. The first is when Andrew realizes how comfortable he is spending time with Edmund simply doing nothing. Do they enjoy exploring the city together and indulging in their sexual passions? Absofreakinlutely. But they’re also happy to just lounge around in their room for a few hours reading. They can be comfortable in silence with each other, and that in my opinion is a sign of true love. And then there is Andrew’s fear over Edmund’s safety. Sure, that might seem like a given, but we see this augmented even more for Andrew as they begin their search for a vampire Elder to turn Edmund into a vampire as well. Andrew is so afraid that something will happen to take Edmund away from him just when they’re on the brink of spending a lifetime together. It was such a humbling show of desperation and vulnerability in his love for Edmund, you can’t help but feel moved.

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

Series: Escape Trilogy, book 2. The ending of this book? Wow, just wow!! It was everything I wanted it to be and more. I can’t wait to dive into the continuation and conclusion that book 3 has in store.

Final Impression: This book was a delightful look at uncovering who Edmund and Andrew truly are when they’re off the island. At times their indulgence in all the sins that New Orleans had to offer were a bit too over the top sex heavy for me. Not something I usually say, I know. However, I did appreciate that underneath it all we could really sense the growing love and devotion these two share for each other. I also liked that we got to see more of a focus on some supplementary characters from Andrew’s vampire coven. They provide an interesting complement to our loving couple. I think I would have liked a few more moments focusing on Edmund’s research into locating an Elder, with some additional details of this unique vampire world we’re getting to know.

Smut Level: My goodness, somebody get me an ice cold hurricane punch to cool off from all this New Orleans heat! Andrew and Edmund spend a lot of time in bed together, and sometimes they even have a few guests present as well. I feel like New Orleans humidity + 4 men in one brothel room= a literal bucket of sweat.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. NineStar Press. 111 Pages.

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