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? 

the pretenders

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.

070ec10215804e8bc78c4dc9f4cb1e54

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.

Almost Kiss- Western (2)

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.

chicago-fire-H

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.

long-lake-indian-peaks-cc-bombaci-01

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.

tenor (3)

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.

coldmountainpic

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.

Dwight+++Santara+_+Destination+Elopement+Photography+Los+Angeles+Wedding+Photographer+Souther+California+Bride+Coast-21

*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.

Advertisements

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?

43548773

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.

GettyImages-836454122-1

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.

young-couple-walking-hand-to-hand-in-the-park-close-up-dolly-shot_hrl02txr__F0000 (1).png

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.

stressed-700x467

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.

Anne_02

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.

54c618fda6c167887701bb845b8c4ba8

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.

tumblr_lmvwy6zpGg1qim7jao1_500

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.

bucket

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?”

tenor (2)

*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

Finding Marnie by MV Ellis

Just when I thought I had Marnie all figured out, this book comes along and turns my opinion completely on its head.

What’s it About? 

51BsCkK4GTL._SY346_

He is everything I want but know I can never have. Every fiber of my being has ached for Luke from the very first moment we met. However, with my parents’ legacy of toxic obsession woven into my DNA, I know love is pain and should be avoided at all costs. I’m unloved and unlovable. Still, in moments of weakness, I allow myself to imagine what it would be like if I was the kind of woman who deserved the love of a man like him.

She is hiding in plain sight, waiting for me to find her. Marnie has had my heart from day one, and always will. It’s just a shame I couldn’t muster the words to tell her so when we first locked eyes. It’s a failing I will live to regret for years to come. However, I’m determined to make things right, even if it takes me a lifetime. I need her to know she is enough. In fact, she is more than that. She is everything.

First Impressions

There are two surefire ways to win me over to a story. First, it must evoke some kind of emotion, whether it be sympathy, happiness, or even anger as it relates to our main characters. Second, if it can manage to change my opinion, or presuppositions surrounding a certain character, then we’ve really got something to talk about. This book manages to succeed in both endeavors. After reading the first three novels in this series, I was under the assumption that I knew everything there was to know about Marnie. A woman who I thought was in love with our rock star Arlo, yet was willing to settle for a f*ck buddy relationship with him.

original.gif

When he called off this physical connection with her in favor of pursuing a meaningful relationship with London, it seemed like Marnie spiraled into a drunken depression. And then there’s Arlo’s twin, Luke, who is obviously in love with his brother’s long time lover, but whose sentiments have never been, and possibly never will be reciprocated. Imagine my surprise to discover within the first chapter of this fourth book that the only assumption I had correct in this drama was that Luke was desperately in love with Marnie. You know what they say happens when you assume! As we go along throughout the rest of this post, I’ll be highlighting the assumptions I had about both Marnie and Luke which were presented throughout the series, and then discuss how this fourth installment successfully manages to twist those assumptions on their head.

tenor (1)

A Different Point of View

When it comes to any novel, we must always ask ourselves one important question. Who is telling the story? Up until this point in the Heartless Few series, we’ve seen events play out through two key characters: Arlo and London. Their viewpoints and opinions have influenced how we’ve seen the events of the story carry out, and have also had a profound impact on our assumptions when it comes to certain characters. This has especially been true for how we’ve viewed Marnie, which has primarily been negative. We’ve taken what Arlo and London have thought about her as pure fact, for the simple reason that we’ve never had any reason to doubt their version of things. London has always seen Marnie as competition vying for the attention of Arlo. She’s always been portrayed as a jilted lover who’s constantly wanted more from her relationship with Arlo, and goes into a jealous rage when Arlo’s dedication to London becomes public knowledge. Little did we know that Arlo and London’s interpretation of Marnie’s actions and affections have been completely wrong.

redsparrow-1132x670

In this fourth installment, we finally get to see the story play out from the points of view of our supplementary characters: Marnie and Luke. For the first time, Arlo and London have been reduced to the role of background characters, and the entire novel is told from Marnie and Luke’s alternating viewpoints. This allows us to finally see the truth in regards to how Marnie saw her relationship with Arlo, and that there’s actually another Jones brother she’s desired since the beginning. Another unique feature of seeing things told from different characters is that we move away from Arlo being the center of all the drama. Even Marnie and Luke discover that for the longest time they have allowed Arlo to dictate certain aspects of their lives. This is especially true for Luke, who has been living and performing in Arlo’s shadow for years. You can’t help but appreciate the ironic symmetry of what can happen when our secondary characters, and even we as the reader, don’t see Arlo as the center of the story.

james-franco-main-01-480x270

Who is Marnie? 

Every character has a backstory that influences who they are on the page, and this novel finally allows us to discover how the events of Marnie’s past have influenced who she is today. The story opens with Marnie as a teenager, and the tragedy that brought her into Luke and Arlo’s lives. One sad day, Marnie discovered that her parents committed suicide by drug overdose. They were fed up with life, and their love for each other was stronger to go out at the same time than it was to stay alive and care for Marnie. After the death of her parents, Marnie went to live with her grandmother, who happened to live in the same neighborhood where Luke and Arlo grew up. We then see how Luke became her one an only true friend in this new environment.

large

So how did Arlo come to be her f*ck buddy? Well, after witnessing the tragic downfall of her parents, and how their love was so over the top, Marnie vowed that she would never put herself in a position where she’d have such strong feelings for another person. When Arlo came on the scene, she recognized a similar soul, someone who didn’t want an emotional connection with someone else, but was more than happy to share a physical one. He was a “safe” choice. She knew that Arlo would never be someone who wanted to cuddle after sex, or who would ask what she was thinking/feeling at any given moment. London, Luke, and everyone else in their lives assumed that Arlo and Marnie had such a longstanding sexual relationship because one or both of them felt some kind of love for the other. They refused to believe Arlo and Marnie’s insistence that it was a matter of convenience rather than one of emotion. For Marnie, her parent’s downfall made her seek out a relationship that would forever protect her heart from being broken, and Arlo fulfilled that need. An even bigger surprise than discovering that Marnie never felt true love for Arlo was that she actually felt something stronger for Luke all along.

Almost Kiss (6)

Love Unattainable

For the first three novels in the series, we knew without a doubt that Luke was in love with Marnie. We just assumed that Marnie actually had her sights set on Arlo, and that perhaps we’d need some big event to help Marnie open her eyes to the Jones brother that has been in love with her from the start. Imagine my surprise to discover fairly early on in this fourth story that Marnie’s feelings for Luke were just as strong from the first moment they met all those years ago. I thought Luke would have a major struggle on his hands to win over Marnie’s affections, and while he does have his work cut out for him in convincing Marnie to give a chance to their relationship, there has always been an underlying desire and love which Marnie has felt for Luke. Which begs to question, if Marnie has always desired Luke, and for Luke it was love at first sight, what exactly was preventing them from getting together?

Cute-Romantic-Couples-Photos-pics-images-pictures-10-600x338-600x338

Simple, Marnie’s past. As we’ve already discussed, Marnie wanted to protect her heart from ever feeling the same kind of hurt and tragedy which befell her parents. When she first meets Luke after moving in with her grandmother, she immediately recognizes that he’s someone she could fall head over heels in love with. Rather than having this draw them together, Marnie uses it as a reason to pull away. She refuses to end up like her parents, so in her mind she must distance herself from the one man who evokes any kind of feeling behind the walls she’s trying to erect. In addition, the suicide of her parents left some additional emotional and physical scars to Marnie which she believes are indicators that Luke deserves someone better. When Luke tries to convince her that they’re meant to be together, Marnie attempts to use the horrors of her past as a deterrent for Luke to continue pursuing her. Little does she realize that Luke sees these trials that she’s managed to overcome as strengths to her character. They’ve made her the strong person she is today. She might be trying to push him away, but it’s actually drawing him closer to her.

tenor

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

Series: Heartless Few, Book 4. I must say, there’s a few other members of this band that I’d love to get to know.

Final Impressions: I really enjoyed this read! While I initially questioned if this book would succeed in making me warm up to Marnie, I was shocked that from the opening chapter you’re rooting for her to find happiness. It was fascinating to see some of the same events from the first few books retold in a different light now that they’re shown from Marnie and Luke’s viewpoint. The love story between Arlo and London captured our hearts, but dare I say I might have fallen in love with Marnie and Luke even more. Arlo and London struggled for a few months to find their happily ever after, but these two have been secretly desiring each other for years. We finally understand the full depth of their feelings, and hope that Marnie will realize she’s worthy of a life filled with all the happiness and love that Luke wants to provide her with.

Smut Level: Even though we’re dealing with the other Jones twin, there is one common theme that gets their blood pumping, and that would be a heated argument. There’s something about a verbal argument with the love of their life that sparks within them a desire to copulate on the nearest available flat surface.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $1.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 342 Pages.

 

Pushing Arlo by MV Ellis

Well, we all knew Arlo and London’s time together in the sun couldn’t last forever. I just didn’t expect the inevitable fallout to come so soon!

What’s it About? 

pushing arloHe thought he had it all, until he met her. They say you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, but for notorious womanizer Arlo Jones, it’s a case of not knowing what you want ’til it’s standing in front of you. The moment he meets London, he realizes she’s the piece of the puzzle he never knew was missing, but can’t live without. He does everything he can to get her, but just as he thinks she’s finally ready to give in to her feelings, he’s reminded how empty his life was without her in it.

She thought she had a plan, until she met him. They say the best-laid plans often go awry, and for aspiring photographer London Llwellyn, that’s definitely the case when she falls for Arlo. That was never part of her plan. She tries her best to avoid being pulled into his vortex, but he manages to turn her head upside down and her heart inside out. Just as she thinks she’s ready to commit to forever, she’s reminded of the reasons she resisted him for so long. He’s pulling her closer. How long can she keep pushing him away?

First Impressions

This book pretty much picks up right where book one left off, with a gallery premier of the coffee table book which London photographed of Arlo and his band’s most recent world tour. Things are seemingly off to a good start, with a decent shag before the premier, an awkward introduction to Arlo’s family afterwards, and an agreement for London to move in with Arlo. Such big steps in their relationship which all immediately come down the morning after when there’s a bit of scandal in the tabloids surrounding Arlo. And what else could it be when it comes to a former man-whoring reckless rock star like Arlo, but a sex tape? And who knew that it would cause a complete and total halt to Arlo and London’s relationship, not to mention her fleeing to the other side of the world to get away from him? Well, there’s some method to her madness which actually requires a closer look. Come along and let’s observe!

greatest-showman-zac-efron-zendaya

Why Sex Tapes are Never a Good Idea

Just when Arlo and London’s relationship appears to be at it’s peak, a crushing blow comes in the form of a sex tape that tears our two lovebirds apart. It also serves to sever the long-term friendship and f*ck-buddy status between Arlo and his childhood friend, Marnie. She appears to have filmed the two of them having sex almost six months prior, and allegedly leaked it to the press after Arlo publicly dismissed Marnie’s advances at the recent gallery showing. For Arlo, it’s a stab in the back from a supposed friend, but one that he’s initially not too concerned about. After all, he’s used to being in the public spotlight for his sexual exploits. What’s one more? Especially when he has London in his bed. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy for London to push aside. When an unknown person sends the sex video directly to London’s phone, it’s an invasion of privacy that she’s simply not used to, and it sparks within her an intense desire to flee. Which is just what she does.

tumblr_ounmxq7h9C1sdv23jo2_400

Arlo is shocked that the leaking of this sexual encounter, an affair which occurred before he even met London, could signal an end to their relationship. He thought London trusted him, and yet she now seems to question when exactly this tape was recorded. How could a sexual act which held such little meaning to him have such a profound influence on his relationship with London? Eventually, after a lot of discussions with his fellow band-mates, he has a eureka moment which helps him understand what was going through London’s mind at the time. Arlo and his band have been in the spotlight of fame and paparazzi scandal for years. To quote Arlo’s insight, “This shit has been our ‘normal’ for so long that it can be easy to forget how overwhelming it can all be if you’re not used it.”

paparazzi-berlin-terry-r

Ironically, I think it has almost become a ‘normal’ for us romance readers as well. Following London’s desertion of Arlo after the release of the sex tape, I too questioned if she was overreacting just a bit. But let’s face it, any rock star romance is basically guaranteed to feature some kind of misunderstanding with a paparazzi scandal. We as readers, just like Arlo, become almost numb to it. But to see it through London’s eyes, to see the invasion of privacy by having a stranger send such a shocking video to her own phone, signals that the likelihood of she and Arlo ever having a peaceful relationship with no intrusion is unlikely to the extreme. When we consider it in this regard, London’s instinct to flee makes more sense.

b_99676

From New York to Australia

Following London’s flight to Australia, we see what I identify as both a major strength and weakness to the story. Let’s start with the strength. Firstly, the entire novel is told from Arlo’s point of view, which is an interesting departure from book one. The short sequel of this series was also told from Arlo’s point of view, but to have an entire full-length novel told through the eyes of the rock star was rather enlightening. Hands down my favorite aspect of this book was that it allowed us to see Arlo’s growing maturity during London’s absence. He realizes that if he has any chance of winning her back, he has to change his ways to the point where London will never have reason to question his actions.

b1ecd05b6b6964697e9a5d32cda98f02

This means no more partying, drugs, copious amounts of alcohol, etc., and instead taking a more active role in his business ventures and music production. He’s determined to clean up his act to prove himself worthy of London’s love, and the band mates who have become like brothers to him are there every step of the way. The connection that Arlo has with these men was a primary feature of the book, and one that draws you in from the get-go. You also see how far one man is willing to go for love. Before London, music was always his escape, and something which saved him from the possibility of going down a violent road as a youngster. And now that he’s an adult, London is saving him yet again, but this time from himself and his rock star lifestyle of excessive partying. London has a profound impact on Arlo’s life, even when she’s on the other side of the world.

tumblr_penektiz521rjc98wo4_500

But alas, this brings us to the noticeable downside of the story. Ummm…where the heck is London? She’s missing for over fifty percent of the story. While having the novel told from Arlo’s point of view was a benefit in seeing him grow as a person and develop an even stronger connection with his band, it was also a detriment in that during this entire time we never know what is going through London’s mind. It results in a one-sided story which could have benefited greatly from an additional scene or two where we see what’s happening with London on the other side of the world. We get the briefest of recaps upon London’s return to New York of conversations she had with her parents, but I wanted a closer look at what was going through her mind during that time away from Arlo.

636041093996888860-1484374833_The-Girl-staring-at-the-City

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

Series: Heartless Few, book 3. I’m excited to proceed with book 4 in the series, which will revolve around Arlo’s brother, Luke, and his long-time infatuation with Marnie. Can’t wait to see what might happen between those two.

Final Impressions: Similar to the sequel, this novel really highlights the transformation of the infamous Arlo Jones from a partying rock star into a caring lover who recognizes when it’s time to grow up. I especially loved any scene which highlighted the strong camaraderie between Arlo and his fellow musicians. The main downside to the story was that London was absent for such a large portion of it. While you can’t deny the importance of seeing Arlo take the necessary steps to clean up his life, as well as see his devotion to London cemented in her absence, I would have liked to see how London’s feelings towards Arlo may have changed during their time apart.

Smut Level: Considering that London is in another country for over half of the novel, this read isn’t quite as steamy as the first book in the series. That being said, Arlo and London do still have their sexy moments together upon her return. She continues to question whether or not she wants to let Arlo fully back into her life, but she can’t deny their physical chemistry.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 280 Pages.

Catching London by MV Ellis

There’s getting caught red-handed, and then there’s getting caught completely nude by your employer in his shower.

What’s it About? 

catching london

He’s not looking to change his bad boy ways.

Arlo Jones is a bad boy billionaire rock star with the world at his feet. He lives the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle to the max, and believes in working hard and playing harder. He’s a man who always gets what he wants, especially when it comes to women. Until he meets London.

She’s a damaged dancer not looking to fall.

All London Llwellyn wants is to rebuild her life following the tragic car accident that robbed her of her fiancé, and ended her career as a professional ballet dancer. She’s working two jobs to scrape together the cash to set up her own studio, and reinvent herself as a photographer. The last thing she wants is to get involved. Arlo promises to always be there to catch her, but can London trust him enough to let herself fall?

First Impressions

My goodness are we presented with one hell of a meet cute! Nothing quite like our rock star lead, Arlo, catching London naked in his shower in her attempt to rid herself of a slew of spiders she encountered while cleaning his house. Arlo is the embodiment of an alpha male. He’s used to getting what he wants, and he wants London. At times he does cross the line of being too alpha. There was one scene in particular in which Arlo has publicly poured his heart out to London, and she doesn’t necessarily reciprocate in the way he was hoping for. He’s understandably upset, especially considering he’s never voiced such feelings of love for someone else before, and it results in him throwing a chair against a mirror in anger. While his frustration is clearly evident, it was almost too violent of a scene for my liking. That being said, London also manages to bring out the softer side in this rock star with such a tough exterior.

the_leftovers_wallpaper_1920x120140820011822

Let’s Get Physical

Sex is an important part of their relationship, whether it’s present in bringing them together, or absent entirely. Upon first meeting, there’s an obvious physical connection. They both want each other…badly. However, London is determined to distance herself from this man who has completely overwhelmed her. She hasn’t considered intimacy with anyone since the death of her fiancé, so her sudden feelings of lust and passion for Arlo are entirely overwhelming. She tries to leave him in the dust, but what Arlo wants, Arlo gets. He does everything he can to bring London back into his life, and it’s not long before their chemistry reaches a boiling point. They both admit the best strategy is to give into their passion, and just do the deed already.

Passionate Stare

But we all know these two are more than a simple one and done. I mean, does that seriously ever work? After they have a taste for each other, they find it difficult to separate. However, once Arlo proposes that London shadow him to photograph his band’s tour, London insists they need to draw a line in the sand that can’t be crossed. No sex between them on tour. As a matter of fact, she writes it into her contract before taking on the job. Again, we all know this no-sex clause isn’t going to last, but I must say I really appreciated when it was in place. It allows them to focus on a relationship that extends beyond the physical. They actually have a chance to get to know each other, and share some deep and intimate details of their pasts with each other.

couple holding hands at arch du triomphe

An Expression of Love Through Art

At the start of their physical relationship, neither Arlo nor London are too keen to voice their true feelings for the other. It’s a source of vulnerability for them both. These two are artists who find it easier to proclaim love utilizing their own respective art forms. For Arlo, it’s through song. While we can’t hear the melody, we can see the poetry of his words on the page, and his love for London is more than evident. When it comes to London, she is much more hesitant to give into her feelings of love for Arlo. At first it’s definitely a source of frustration for us as the reader. He demonstrates in multiple ways that he’s serious and wants to commit to just her, even declaring his love in a public forum. And yet, she can’t admit to him even though she can admit to herself that she’s come to love this alpha rock star.

original

But then in a moment of clarity, London heart-breakingly admits her fear of loving Arlo in case things don’t eventually work out between them. She’s already lost one love of her life when her fiancé, Danny, tragically died. The thought of losing Arlo is another loss she’s not sure she could survive. It was an admission that gave us a window into London’s hesitancy to move on with someone else in her life. After shadowing Arlo on tour to produce a coffee table book of behind-the-scenes photos, London’s photography is what ultimately highlights her true love for Arlo. The only problem with this is that unlike a song where we can at least view the words, we don’t get enough of a description of her photography to allow us as the reader to truly appreciate her love for him. We see mention from multiple people that her photos clearly demonstrate her love for him, but more detail about what these photos entailed could have let us feel her love more clearly like we could through Arlo’s song.

Ne-Yo Performing at Jingle Ball at the Nokia Theater in Los Ange

A Trapeze Routine and Keeping Distance

Arlo may have started out in this read as a bit of a man-whore who would sleep with any woman on two legs, but in my opinion there were two moments which truly highlighted his love for London that went beyond their sexual relationship. During one of their first chats, London admits that while her focus growing up was constantly on ballet, her true desire as a youngster was to become a trapeze artist. This initially seemed like such a throwaway comment, and I’ll admit even I let this little detail slip from my mind. Yet, in the midst of the craziness of Arlo’s world tour, he manages to set aside time for the two of them in Paris to meet with an actual trapeze artist to teach them both a routine to perform with each other. He literally made one of her childhood dreams come true, and it was such a sweet and vulnerable moment that first made me realize Arlo isn’t just sticking around London for the sex. He truly cares about her, and wasn’t afraid to set aside his bad boy image to fly around on trapeze with the woman he’s come to love.

tumblr_ozvfo3nQwq1rvnyg1o4_r1_250

The second moment that demonstrates Arlo’s softer side came about at the end of their world tour together. It’s been an intense ride, and both Arlo and London know they’re in love with the other. We hope, as does Arlo, that the end of this tour can signal the start to an actual relationship between them. Unfortunately, the opposite happens. London feels that she and Arlo have been so close during this tour that she ultimately needs some space from him so she can focus on herself, and discover where this relationship can go. When she admits this to our alpha rock star, I was convinced it was either going to be the end of the two of them, or Arlo would ignore her request entirely to convince her they belong together. Imagine my utter shock when Arlo actually agrees to give her the space she asks for. He acknowledges that his instinct is to never let her go, but realizes that if he pushes too hard he could push her right out of his life. He might not be happy about it, but he places his faith in the connection between him and London, praying that eventually she’ll realize they’re meant to be together. The fact Arlo could put aside his inner alpha tendencies demonstrated that his character had truly grown and matured throughout the novel.

83717ba1df7195ad911f087e0dd630fd

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

Series: Heartless Few, book 1. I’m excited to see what’s in store next for Arlo and London, as well as some of the other characters we’re introduced to in this preliminary novel.

Final Impression: There’s an interesting give and take with these characters. In the beginning you can’t decide if you wanna slap Arlo, or push him up against a wall for ravishing. Eventually you see him open up with London, and admit feelings he’s never had for anyone else before. While London is clearly struggling with her feelings for a man other than her deceased fiancé, at times her acts of distancing herself and her emotions from Arlo are somewhat selfish. At the start it’s definitely an understandable defense mechanism where she’s trying to protect herself from hurt, but once Arlo’s true feelings are evident, you feel a sense of sadness that his attempts to wear his heart on his sleeve are brushed aside so abruptly by London. Two imperfect characters for sure, but you’ll definitely root for them to be together.

Smut Level: Arlo is every inch the dirty talking, pushy, alpha rock star you could ever hope for. We get a plethora of delectably delicious erotic scenes, and these two have the act of multiple orgasms down to an art form!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 387 Pages.

Upon Your Return by Marie Lavender

This historical read presents us with a strong start, a suspenseful conclusion, and an exciting meet cute involving the rescue of a damsel in distress through a vicious sword fight.

What’s it About? 

518MvYuk9SL._SY346_

Fara Bellamont has been back in society for a year after leaving Cluny Abbey, where her uncle sent her long ago. When he chooses a suitor for her for marriage, she fears that she will be forced to marry a stranger and live a miserable life. But, Fara finds herself thrust into an adventure of a lifetime when unforeseen circumstances cause her to place her trust in a strange man for protection. His intervention not only saves her, but puts her in an even more compromising position.

Grant Hill, a trading captain, is enchanted by the young heiress not only because of her beauty, but because she is hardly conventional. Underneath her ladylike exterior lies a tigress. Grant cannot help but offer his protection as she is in need and he is far from immune from her charms. Fara just never bargained on the passion that she feels for Grant Hill. As events unfold, she must decide whether her desires and the dictates of her heart should trump the rules of society in this exciting tale.

First Impression

After the untimely death of her parents, Fara was placed under the guardianship of her unloving uncle when she was just a young girl. Every choice in life was not hers to make, which is also the case when her uncle arranges for her to marry a complete stranger. After their surprise engagement is announced, Fara finds herself lured to the harbor by this fiancé she barely knows. At night. Alone. Mkay, not the smartest way to highlight the prowess of our lead character. During this escapade she is happened upon by two men hired to confront and most likely rape her. Alas, a handsome and roguish boat captain comes to her rescue. Seriously, that’s a strong start with an incredible meeting between our lead characters! You can’t wait to see the love story develop between these two, for Grant to rescue her from her cold-hearted uncle, and perhaps whisk her away to travel the world. Unfortunately that doesn’t exactly happen.

maxresdefault

The Quarreling of Lovers

Fara and Grant definitely have passion, but surprisingly they spend the bulk of their time together bickering. I think at times it was supposed to come across as a cute kind of arguing that’s more like foreplay than anything else, but I can’t say it was executed to its full potential. Most of the time they spent arguing I remember feeling confused, and having a tough time following what exactly they were getting so heated over. A main source of malice between them for example, is that neither can fully admit their true feelings to the other. It’s like they want to convince each other it’s just passion and desire between them without love, but then they get upset if such an implication is made. A repeated back and forth of feeling hot and then cold. One such argument occurs after Fara and Grant have given into their physical attraction and had sex. Definitely a big no-no in 19th century French society for an unmarried lady to engage in. Now they have to figure out what to do in terms of their relationship seeing as her uncle especially wouldn’t condone a marriage between them.

large

Grant offers to marry her, but Fara declines saying she doesn’t want to marry when it’s not for love…even though she realizes she’s falling in love with him. Kind of a contradiction there! Fara’s life to this point has been filled with tragedy from the death of her parents, followed by living with her uncaring and harsh uncle. It’s almost like she doesn’t think she’s worthy of love or happiness. True, Grant doesn’t come right out and say he loves her, but he calls her “his woman”, constantly comes around to protect her, gets her out of her engagement to the man her uncle set her up with, will often mention how enamored he is of her, and when he’s forced to leave town he asks that she wait for him. He was so clearly trying to demonstrate through his actions how he felt about her. Yet when he repeatedly said that he only wanted her, she internally convinced herself that he was so careful to not say he loved her that it must mean he doesn’t actually care.

outlander_s2e7_claire

Strength in Sickness

One of the most powerful moments of the novel was when Grant fell ill, and recovery seemed unlikely. His crew members sought out Fara in the hopes that her mere presence would help him find the strength to live. It was in this moment that both characters let fall all the walls they’d been building up in an attempt to deny their feelings for each other. We see Fara’s strength, fortitude and determination to stay by Grant’s side no matter what. As for Grant…he was kind of out of it because of the fever, so he couldn’t technically voice his gratitude in such a hallucinatory state. However, it was during this illness that we saw Grant call out for just one person in the whole world to be by his side, and that was Fara.

https___blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com_uploads_card_image_655199_15d05769-962e-427a-b82d-9660c0ec8063

Unfortunately the moment is slightly ruined when Grant awakens after a full recovery. For some reason Fara tries to conceal how worried she actually was during his illness, which of course causes him to get testy because he then assumes she doesn’t care about him at all (couldn’t be further from the truth of course). This immediate reflection of coldness after all her dedication in seeing him through his fever resulted in her becoming incensed at the fact he wasn’t more grateful. Such a vicious circle between these two! You really scream internally that they’ll simply admit how much they both love each other.

Love You More

Unanswered Questions

The end of this novel presents us with an interesting bout of suspense when someone from Fara’s past comes back to threaten her happiness with Grant. Overall we see that Fara has encountered numerous obstacles in her life, and Grant is a strong presence who tries to stick by her side whenever possible. That being said, some important questions of the novel were left unanswered, or at least not fully explored. For example, we never really get a full explanation as to why Fara’s fiancé set her up at the start of the novel, which served as the entire impetus for Fara and Grant coming together. It’s sort of implied her ex-fiancé had a gambling problem, but we never see him come to justice for setting her up to be possibly kidnapped and raped.

BN-ON230_blade_J_20160616154048

As I mentioned earlier, Grant is forced to leave town for a lengthy period of time towards the middle of the novel, which results in him being absent for a good chunk of the story. Years in fact. We really only receive the briefest of explanations as to why he was called away in the first place, as well as what happened to him during his years apart from Fara. While his absence allows Fara to grow as an independent woman, it also means Grant’s character remains more of a mystery to us. We don’t get to know him as well as I would have liked, and his years away from Fara felt like a missed opportunity to delve deeper into his past and personality.

Outlander Season 3 2017

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

Series: Heiress in Love, book 1.

Final Impression: You can’t help but admire Fara’s strength and tenacity in the face of hardship. However, at times I felt she was also quick to push Grant away, or find a reason to close herself off from him. A few moments of bickering would have been ok between them, but it’s so prevalent during the majority of their interactions that it came across as feeling slightly overdone. In addition, Grant’s absence in the second half of the novel made it more of a challenge to connect with his character. Definitely an exciting start and conclusion, but a few tweaks here and there in the middle could have helped us emotionally connect more with our leads.

Smut Level: This is pretty steamy for a historical read! Nothing too dirty or erotic, but there’s a heap of passion in there for sure. Fara and Grant aren’t afraid to roll around on the floor if they need to.

Seasonal Giveaway: Click Here to check out a giveaway on the author’s blog. There are almost 200 prizes from 42 different authors!! This giveaway lasts until Thursday, December 20 at midnight Eastern.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Summer Solstice Publishing. 329 Pages.

Connected by Kim Karr

Well…isn’t this a depressing start to a novel?!

What’s it About?

17902302

What if a ‘Once in a Lifetime’ could happen twice? Suffering from a past full of tragedy, Dahlia London’s soul has been left completely shattered. Happily ever after is a far cry from reality in her world. But, when she is reconnected with her past, the bonds that form are irrefutable.

When River Wilde, lead singer of The Wilde Ones, comes back into Dahlia’s life, the intensity that fires their relationship combined with underlying feelings that have never died lead her to believe she has met her soulmate. Struggling with confusion as old connections fade and new ones begin, Dahlia’s grief begins to lift–but guilt remains. River wants to be the one to mend all that is torn within her. But with a past that is never really gone, can their future survive?

First Impressions

We start things off with a touching memory involving Dahlia going to a concert with her father, but then we find out in the next scene that her parents both died soon afterwards in a plane crash. Flash-forward a couple years and Dahlia is dating a guy named Ben, but has an unexpectedly passionate eye-connection and quick convo with a mysterious musician in a bar. I figured we’d proceed with a love triangle college romance. Not always my favorite, but I can deal. Well, hold your horses because we’re not done with the tragic set-up of the novel quite yet. We flash forward another 5 years to find that Dahlia and Ben are engaged, and while on the way to a party they’re approached by a gunman who shoots and kills Ben in cold blood. Good God can I get a shot of tequila or something before I attempt to read another chapter here?!

giphy

Another Flash Forward

The first part of this novel focuses on Dahlia overcoming the death of so many loved ones before she happens to reconnect with River, the handsome musician she locked eyes with when she was back in college. After so many years apart, not to mention the multiple tragedies which she has encountered, when she reconnects with River she’s surprised there is still the same spark of connection, lust, and desire. Something which surprised me though during this reunion with River was how often Ben came back into her mind. True, this is the first man she’s thought about in a physical sense since the death of her fiancé. However, I guess I just figured that seeing as she’s been mourning him so deeply for so long, that maybe her time with River would cause the memory of her fiancé to slip ever so slightly from her mind. If anything, we see that the opposite happens.

How-to-Process-Grief-Six-Steps-of-Mourning-800x565

Instead of having River replace the memory of her dead fiancé, if anything she thinks about him more than she ever has in recent months. Their conversations are full of fun and laughter, yet they constantly make her think back on happy memories or connections with Ben. While I may not have been expecting this reaction, I must say I loved how realistic it felt. Ben was such an important figure in her lift since she was 5 years old, and I think it would have been so simple for the author to have River’s very presence push the tragedy of Ben to the sidelines. But instead we see the reality of someone moving on from tragedy, and the inner conflict Dahlia feels as she spends more time with River. Inevitably she starts to compare the two, and feels guilty as she contemplates whether or not Ben ever made her feel the way River does. Ultimately she’s able to start having happy memories again with someone new, but for a good portion of the book it’s almost as though the ghost of Ben is there as the third wheel in her re-connection with River.

9b7af17b216bfd01b45f39111e6161c7

Quick Switch

The majority of the book is told from Dahlia’s point of view, from her tumultuous experience with grief, to her growing love for River, and even her arguments with River’s brother. I need to take a moment to say my God the disagreement and animosity between River’s brother and Dahlia was so unbelievably contrived and arbitrary with misplaced blame it was pretty ridiculous. Listening to it on my walks to work I’m sure other people probably thought I was having a seizure from all the eyebrow scrunches and crazy looks I was putting out there. Anyway, I digress.

giphy

Even though Dahlia is our main storyteller for about 3/4 of the novel, I was surprised at a point of view switch so late in the game. At first I thought, well this will be a total waste to have waited so long to suddenly hear things from River’s viewpoint. Well, I couldn’t be more wrong! It was actually rather fascinating to see that underneath River’s seductive and confident exterior lies vulnerability and doubt over whether or not Dahlia will ever love him as much as she loved Ben. Sure, she says she loves him, but is he actually just an emotional rebound? He loves her so much, but is worried that he’ll constantly have to battle Ben’s ghost for her affections. In this instance, it was an unexpected yet surprisingly useful POV switch.

giphy

Multiple Meanings

Mkay, the title. Connected. As the novel progresses it wants you to think that the connection that’s being referred to deals with the emotional link between Dahlia and River. And yes, I realize I just referred to the book as a free thinking entity. Their connection over music is especially strong, and this is definitely one of those books where an accompanying playlist would be particularly helpful to figure out who the heck they’re talking about. However, once River’s point of view takes over the narration we realize that there’s a different kind of connection going on, and it’s one related to all of our characters being connected in a way we never thought possible! Except it was actually slightly predictable 🙂 But!! The freakin’ epilogue leaves us with a holy shit Batman surprise that will knock your socks off. Ok, so I kiiiind of predicted this surprise too, but to have it confirmed was definitely a slap in the face, and it ends the book on a rather huge and intense climax.

mind-blown

Series: Connections, book 1. Honestly, I’m kind of hesitant to proceed with this series, mainly because the cliffhanger ending implies that book two is gonna be one hell of a heartbreaking continuation that will involve some really difficult and depressing decisions on the part of Dahlia. Good luck girlfriend. I do not envy you this decision.

Final Impression: We have an unbelievably emotional and depressing start, and kind of a mind f*ck of an ending, with a middle section that kind of dragged a bit with all of Dahlia and River’s lovey dovey ooey gooeyness love connection. That’s one roller coaster of a sandwich cookie right there. Definitely double stuffed. In my opinion though we definitely could have used less filling.

Smut Level: The emotional connection between Dahlia and River isn’t the only thing that’s off the charts between them. River has been waiting to unleash his sexual prowess on Dahlia for years, and he’s not holding back this time around.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 370 Pages.