To the Max by Elle Aycart

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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Mommy and Me

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

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Blood isn’t Always Thicker than Water

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

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

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Pahk the Cah in Hahvahd Yahd! 

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

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Series: Bowen Boys, book 3.

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

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

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

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When Hearts Break by D.M. Porters

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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The Property of Men

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

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

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A Point of Comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Farwin Wood by Drea Damara

Wickrits, stroomphblutels, and skithers oh my!

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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Setting the Scene

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

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

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

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Where Worlds Collide

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

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

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Back on Blinney Lane

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

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

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

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

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

Smut Level: Very tasteful. Nothing overly smutty.

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

Dirty English by Ilsa Madden-Mills

A man who can analyze the themes and characters of Pride and Prejudice? Hell yeah!

What’s it About?

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A scarred fighter.
A girl with rules.
One night of unbridled passion.
There are three things you need to know about Elizabeth Bennett: she’s smart as a whip, always in control, and lives by a set of carefully crafted rules. She’s learned the hard way that people you love the most always hurt you in the end. But then she meets Declan Blay, the new neighbor at her apartment complex.

A tattooed British street fighter, he’s the campus bad boy she’s supposed to avoid, but when he saves her from a frat party gone bad, all her rules about sex and love fly out the window. She gives him one night of unbridled passion, but he longs for more. With only a cardboard-thin wall separating their bedrooms, he dreams of possessing the vulnerable girl next door forever. One night. Two damaged hearts. The passion of a lifetime.

First Impressions 

Our opening scene presents us with waking up the morning after a night of sex. Unfortunately it’s not the post orgasmic bliss we’d hope to see at the start of a romance novel. Instead we see Elizabeth wake up the night after prom to the realization she’s been assaulted and raped by her boyfriend, Colby. She blames herself for the events of that night, for being drunk and not saying no to whatever drugs and alcohol Colby pushed on her. Fast-forward two years, and we find Elizabeth in college. She admits to herself that the events of that night didn’t ruin her sexuality, but rather impacted her trust of men. She’s established rules since then involving how she interacts with men. Elizabeth isn’t afraid to hook up with men for a one-night stand, but she vows to never hook up with popular, rich, or hot guys. She has to make the first move, and she has to be on top. Essentially we see that she’s built walls around her heart to keep it from breaking again, and has established rules to keep most men at a distance. But rules, as they say, are meant to be broken. Will a bad boy Brit convince her to throw her rule book out the window?

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The Sentimental Fighter

At first glance, Declan is entirely wrong for Elizabeth. He’s smolderingly sexy, he’s a fighter, and he’s well-known on campus. The two are neighbors, and also happen to be in a Pride and Prejudice class together, which means try as she might Elizabeth can’t ignore him for long. There’s a link drawing them together, and as she gets to know him more than the fighter he is on the outside, Elizabeth discovers there’s a sentimental and kind-hearted man lying beneath the surface. Declan might be a fighter, but he can’t fight the pull that’s continually putting him and Elizabeth in the same path. He knows she has her rules, and he slowly starts to put the pieces of her past together to realize someone hurt her emotionally and physically to be so distrustful of others. Maybe he can convince her that he’s worth taking a chance on.

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I definitely enjoyed the initial back and forth between Elizabeth and Declan as they warred with their mutual desire for each other. In the beginning they both try to fight their attraction, and this is more so on Elizabeth’s side since she worries about how much Declan could hurt her if she opens her hear to him. As a fighter Declan insists he doesn’t need a distraction to his focus like Elizabeth. Eventually they can resist no longer, and after having sex (on the mats of his gym no less!) there’s further debate between them over whether or not their relationship will continue beyond that one night. Personally, I think this is when their back and forth started to feel too repetitive, and the story dragged on for a bit too long.

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Needless Repetition

Declan is seemingly dead set on making things work between them, whereas Elizabeth insists on keeping to her rules of one and done. This is compounded by the fact that Declan’s ex keeps sniffing around trying to insert herself back into his life. It raises all of Elizabeth’s insecurities, and she tries to convince Declan that she doesn’t feel anything for him other than lust. This understandably makes him a bit…moody. But then the back and forth begins where Elizabeth tries to make amends, Declan tries to show that he’s moved on, and then when he realizes she was making an effort he tries to get her back. But then she remembers how he said no so she turns away from him, which makes him get all snippy again. I mean my God people just rip off your clothes and have sex with each other already. Play time is over, you both like each other, let’s move on from all this petty high school drama.

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You can definitely understand each person’s hesitancies. Elizabeth is overcoming a lot of shit in her life, from a crappy mom with a slew of endless boyfriends, to the tragic events in high school at the hands of someone she thought she loved and trusted. We can’t fault her for putting up walls around her heart. As for Declan, he’s putting himself out there as much as he can, but in the constant face of rejection from Elizabeth he wonders if she’ll ever be able to overcome her past, or if she truly feels nothing on an emotional level for him. Look, I get it! But having this constant back and forth where neither was on the same page at the same time turned it into a repetitive circle of misunderstandings and snippy comments like, “well what do you care anyway?”Again, too high school for me.

Coming Forward

“Why had I let a mere boy destroy me?” One of our main goals with this read, other than to see Declan and Elizabeth find a happily ever after together, is for Elizabeth to bring her ex, Colby, to justice for what he did to her all those years ago after prom. This little douche monkey can’t possibly get away with what he did to her. At several points in the story it seems like the decision to open up about Colby’s past transgressions might be taken out of Elizabeth’s hands entirely. Her deadbeat mother and her mother’s boyfriend of the month are desperate for money, so they come up with a plot to blackmail Colby’s senator father.

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They’re convinced that he’ll be willing to pay big bucks to prevent them from revealing to the press what his son did all those years ago. In this moment we are presented with such an interesting dichotomy because while he want Colby to pay for his crimes, we don’t want it to happen in this way. It has to be on Elizabeth’s terms. It has to be her story to tell. Not theirs. However, Elizabeth seems so determined to keep the events from that night buried deep in her past. Surely the sick weasel won’t get off scot-free? Eventually Elizabeth can’t ignore that night anymore, especially when she realizes Colby is transferring to her school.

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Series: British Bad Boys, book 1. Declan’s brother Max was probably my favorite character in the whole book. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for him next!

Final Impressions: A sad initial start, but this story definitely had a strong overall beginning. The connection between Declan and Elizabeth is undeniable, and you’re rooting for Elizabeth to overcome her past trauma to let love back into her life. Towards the halfway point though the book started to fizzle and drag for a bit as our couple constantly danced around their feelings for each other.

Smut Level: Dirty English indeed. He’s quite adamant about…licking her up clean.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Little Dove Publishing. 272 Pages.

The Rookie by Abigail Owen

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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The Risk of Mating

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

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

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From Dreams to Reality

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

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A Broken System

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

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

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The Hidden Villain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pretenders by Marti Ziegler

From the city streets of Chicago to the cold wintry landscape of the Rockies, prepare yourself to be entranced by this story of friendship, hardship, and love.

What’s it About? 

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Two crooked hearts have never fit together so perfectly. Orphaned and forsaken, Ivy Porter and Shane McLaughlin band together at the tender ages of eight and ten in order to survive the brutal streets of nineteenth-century Chicago. Years later, displaced by the historic fire that razes the city, the loyal duo migrates to Colorado. The next decade is spent gambling, picking pockets, and scamming rich silver barons, but their hubris pits them against one very determined small-town marshal intent on bringing them to justice.

Throughout, Ivy believes it’s only a matter of time before Shane regards her as someone more than his childhood confidante or partner in crime, but any greater intimacies between them are quelled by Shane’s traumatic past. Feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the life they’ve cobbled together, Ivy posits an ultimatum, but Shane reacts by revealing a betrayal so deep as to tear them apart.

Benchmarked by two of the greatest natural calamities to take place in nineteenth-century America—the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the catastrophic winter of 1886-87—a final act of faith high in the Rocky Mountains seals the interwoven fates of two childhood friends, a marvelous surprise christened Jack, and the unexpectedly sympathetic lawman who brings them all together again.

First Impressions

To put it as simply and succinctly as possible, this is a beautiful story. We are immediately captivated by the connection of these two characters, and we want to follow along with them for as long as we can. The true beauty of their story is that it’s about trust, which ultimately develops into love. It’s a love that isn’t necessarily romantic at first. They’re literally all the other person has in the world, thereby becoming their whole world, in a sense. In the beginning their trust is one of survival. They meet as children in the rough streets of Chicago, and while timid at first they learn how to come together to survive.

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At times it’s difficult for Ivy and Shane to let anybody else into the tight-knit cohort they’ve formed, again even though it really has nothing to do with romance. They almost have a familial bond. When they eventually do reach the point where they start to feel a level of intimacy that signals a romantic relationship, they must learn to trust each other all over again, this time as a couple. They’ve both seen some terrible things in losing their respective families, living on the streets for most of their lives, and making their way from petty crime to petty con. Even though they’ve both relied on each other for years, they are now attempting to go all in and trust the other with their heart.

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A Journey Across the Country

Ivy and Shane’s relationship is truly a journey, and it’s one which crosses the entire country. The author presents us with a fascinating world that starts off in the mean and busy streets of Chicago, which they must ultimately abandon following the tumultuous and suspenseful Great Fire. We can feel their terror leap off the page, and almost feel the heat of the flames in their mad dash across the city. After this amazing historical travesty we see them enter the next stage of their lives as young adults in the Colorado frontier.

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The author paints us the portrait of yet another world, and portrays a seemingly effortless transition from the busy city streets of Chicago to the quiet yet ruthless mountain towns of Colorado. Even though we start off our tale with Ivy and Shane as children, and we proceed into their teens, early and late twenties, and beyond, not to mention a stark change in scenery, somehow it all flows together beautifully. At no point did it feel disjointed or broken. It lent a feeling of excitement to the progression of the tale, as we never really knew what our characters would encounter next, where they’d be, or at what point in their lives it would be happening.

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From Friends to Lovers

Once our characters end up in Colorado we see they’ve upped their survival game slightly to involve small cons, swindling, pick pocketing and the like. This is also when they both admit an underlying desire for the other, but Shane is especially hesitant to act on it. We all knew they couldn’t hold out forever, and throughout the rest of the book we see different momentous occasions at a few different points in their lives which sometimes bring them together, and other times push them apart. I think what truly helps us connect with these characters is the fact that their lives aren’t just rainbows and butterflies.

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They encounter multiple trials and tribulations throughout their time together which can truly test their trust in each other, as well as their hope in the possibility of making it out together to ultimately find their happily ever after. At times, even we question how they might get out of a situation unscathed, and sometimes they don’t necessarily succeed. Ivy and Shane live a hard life, one that most of us would probably tremble at the thought of living through, and yet through it all we see them consistently lean on each other to help with the weight they carry on their shoulders. We see the good with the bad. Again, theirs is a difficult story, but a beautiful one at the same time.

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Happily Ever After?

Another spectacular feature of this novel is that it certainly keeps you on your toes. I’ve read a plethora of romance novels in my time, and plenty of historical romances to boot. It’s not often that I’m surprised by how a story progresses, but I must say this one definitely threw me for a curve ball or two. At roughly the halfway point, things appear to be going rather swimmingly for our main couple. They’ve both gotten over the awkward hurdle of going from friends to lovers, and they’re ready to start out on a new course in life together. We all know it’s inevitable that they’re about to face some sort of impeccable obstacle. Things have never run completely smoothly for Ivy and Shane, and unfortunately that’s not about to change now. However, the subsequent progression of events caught me completely by surprise. My mouth dropped open in shock a time or two, and you can’t help but wonder how, or if, Ivy and Shane will make it through this difficulty together.

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

Series: Stand-Alone. I’d looooove to see a continuation of this story with some characters we are introduced to at the very end. Maybe see what else history might have in store for this lot.

Final Impressions: This was a story I didn’t want to end. In a way, I almost felt honored to be offered a glimpse into their world, and witness their connection. To see their trust in each other transform from the necessity for survival, to a need to be with each other forever. Theirs isn’t a perfect story. It’s filled with trying moments that put their trust to the test, but through it all you see how nothing can keep them apart.

Smut Level: Hot daaaaaamn. This historical romance has some heat to it! These two are each other’s firsts and only’s. It takes several years between their first time together to the point when they really try to make it count. Shane is especially determined to get it right, and talks to a friend of his to take notes on how to bring Ivy to the ultimate pleasure. Gotta love a studious lad who comes prepared 🙂

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 315 Pages.

Full Girlfriend Experience by Dana Ross

This book takes place right in my backyard! Welcome to the seedy world of DC politics and scandal.

What’s it About?

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When DC Madam Faith Crawley receives a call from former client, Senator William Drummond, it’s the answer to her prayers. The money the dirty politician offers her to smear his rival Finn Billings will save Faith’s business, her lifestyle, and her girls. Raised in the shadow of a political magnate, Finn Billings has the credentials to get the job done, but he lacks confidence and wonders if politics is truly the life he desires. Using the façade of her front business, a PR firm, Faith turns Finn into a political powerhouse while obtaining the evidence Drummond needs to destroy Finn’s political chances. But Faith didn’t plan on falling in love with her mark. Now she has the toughest decision ever—give the sleazy senator incriminating photos of Finn to save her business or give up everything for the sake of love.

First Impressions

A novel set in Washington, DC? Don’t mind if I do! There’s something about reading a book set in your own environment which makes it that much more fun and interesting to read. DC is practically a supplemental character in this little tale, and the descriptions of how each neighborhood has it’s own personality, from Georgetown to Chinatown, made me absolutely giddy. I couldn’t help but laugh aloud at the accurateness of Chinatown specifically, because it really is the saddest little Chinatown I’ve ever come across. Nothing like being able to visit Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or Hooters, with Chinese characters across the facade. It comes across as such a crazy place, with a plethora of unique local characters on every street corner. Possibly overwhelming, or intimidating to an outsider, but believe me when I say it’s not too bad 🙂 The author did a fantastic job of capturing both the beauty of this city, as well as its conniving underbelly. It’s a land of politics, and as we see from this novel sometimes the most well-intentioned people can get caught up in the cross-hairs of their ambitious rivals.

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Full Girlfriend Experience

So you’re all probably asking yourselves at this point, what exactly is “the full girlfriend experience” which this title evokes? Well, when it comes to the world of Madams, it entails a client paying for a level of intimacy that is oftentimes lacking with the typical exchange of money for services you’d expect in prostitution. In a way, it’s almost like paying for companionship rather than sex. Dates, talking, and getting to know each other are the hallmark of the full girlfriend experience, and that’s exactly what our lead character, Faith, is providing for Finn. The only problem is he has no idea that’s what he’s getting, and from an experienced professional no less.

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As far as Finn is aware, Faith is merely an old acquaintance of his father’s who has come on board to help him appeal to a wider audience of voters during his upcoming political campaign. In reality, Faith has been hired by Finn’s opponent with the goal of gaining his trust to eventually attain compromising photographic evidence that would force Finn to concede the election. Nothing like being caught tied up and naked with a Madam to ruin your political career. Faith actually does run a well-known PR firm, but it’s used as a cover to hide the true nature of her underlying business, which is prostitution. Normally this isn’t the kind of job Faith would take on. She’s used to either consulting with politicians and rock stars, or identifying prospective clients for her group of girls or herself to take to bed. Political espionage usually isn’t in the cards. At this point in her life though, Faith is desperate to get a large amount of cash as quickly as possible to save her fledgling business which is on the verge of collapse.

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Our Villainous Heroine

Honestly, I didn’t exactly know how I was supposed to feel emotionally about Faith. She is our heroine after all, which implies that we are supposed to sympathize with her plight. However, at times she comes across as somewhat materialistic and almost shallow. After some time we learn about the unfortunate details of her impoverished past, and it allows us to better understand her appreciation and covetousness of beautiful things. That being said, we also have to question why she would continue to run this prostitution business if she also has a legitimate business operation which was actually running smoothly up until recently. The fact that she continued to run both simultaneously, and possibly risk everything she’s built to get out of the poor life she used to lead made me wonder if she was simply greedy.

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If I had to rethink the structure of the plot to possibly lend an additional sentiment of compassion for Faith, I think I almost would have preferred if she had to fall back on prostitution as a last resort to get her out of her current bind. Perhaps it could have been formatted as though she inherited this business from her former Madam, and she used it to transition to a legitimately legal and reputable PR firm, giving up the prostitution side-gig in the process. However, due to a combination of money troubles, bad investments, and someone from the inside setting her up to fail, she found herself having to go back to her old ways of turning tricks as her only recourse to avoid failing. I think it would have been easier to root for her to succeed in this scenario. Instead, when we get to know how innocent her mark truly is, we almost find ourselves rooting for her to fail in her quest to incriminate the unsuspecting Finn.

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Stealing Innocence

“…his shy expression reminded me of the differences between us, specifically, how he was innocent and I stole innocence.”

When I look back on the interactions between Faith and Finn, I can’t help but compare our female lead to a spider, weaving her web to capture our innocent Finn. It seems like such a rarity these days to encounter someone in the political scene who is inherently good, and completely selfless, yet this is exactly what Finn represents. Sure, he’s a little geeky, a poor dresser, and he’s more passionate about rocks and birds than he is about politics, but I loved him all the same. To put it simply, he’s a good guy who hasn’t been tainted yet by the underhanded dealings of DC politics. Enter Faith.

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As Faith gets to know Finn better it becomes clear a life of politics isn’t really something he wants, but he’s doing it anyway to please his parents and hopefully serve others. At first he is simply another job for Faith. One that will help her save her crippling business and the women under her employ. As she spends more time with Finn she can’t deny the unexpected attraction and closeness she feels for him. She doesn’t want to hurt him, but can’t think of any other way to get out from the financial strains of her business. As the deadline approaches for her to bring him down, Faith basically starts to justify her actions by saying that Finn doesn’t really want a life of politics, so by setting him up she’s actually doing him a favor. Unfortunately I can’t say I really agree with that excuse.

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We see through their time together that Faith does have a modicum of influence over Finn. She gets him to update his wardrobe, change his hair, stop his nervous habits, etc. If she had put a bit more of her energy into convincing him to step away from this life of politics I think she just might have been successful. In the end we have to ask what she’s hoping to gain by going through with this plot. If she captures him in a compromising position and ruins his career for money, will she actually feel right taking that money? And if she doesn’t take that money…then what would it all have been for? She tries to convince herself that she’s not a horrible person for plotting Finn’s downfall, and that there are others who were counting on her to succeed. It was meant to be “for some greater good”. However, as she looks around at the lonely life she’s come to lead, and considers the possibility of crushing Finn in order to protect that solitary life, we also see her question, “What was so great about all this?”

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This book went in a few directions I wasn’t expecting, so it definitely keeps you guessing how Finn and Faith will make it out in one piece. While Faith is our lead character, in a way she’s almost our villain at the same time, which makes it rather hard to like her. Finn was adorable and you can’t help but be drawn in by his innocence. I was hoping to see more street-smarts or conspiring from Faith to overcome the dubious plotting of Finn’s rival, but instead we sort of see her run out of steam towards the end. It’s almost like Faith has run out of faith in herself. When you combine that with Finn as our unsuspecting prey, it’s kind of a melancholy read. It’s not often we find ourselves rooting for a lead character to fail, but you kind of hope she does so that Finn can come away unscathed.

Smut Level: It’s somewhat surprising there wasn’t more smut involved here considering our lead character is a Madam! When you take Finn’s innocence and virginity into consideration though, it makes sense.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 422 Pages