The Darkness Within by Rebecca Hefner

If you’re looking for a romance novel featuring a conflicted hero and a tough-as-nails heroine, then look no further. This paranormal read has everything you could possibly want and more!

What’s it About? 

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Arderin, princess of the illustrious Vampyre kingdom, has always marched to the beat of her own drum. Motivated by a calling to heal others, frustration consumes her since her brother, King Sathan, doesn’t understand her desire to study medicine in the human world. Moreover, the son of the Dark Lord Crimeous has moved onto their compound and he seems obsessed with driving her absolutely insane. Hating him for his sharp tongue and dark nature, she tries to squelch her unwelcome attraction to him.

Darkrip has been enthralled by Arderin since the night he knocked her unconscious and sent her down the river, prompting the end of the War of the Species. Never has he met a woman more beautiful and passionate. Frustrated by her dramatics and consumed by his desire for her, he vows to stay away. For the son of Crimeous, with his malevolent blood, could never have children or a normal life.

When Crimeous threatens both their lives, forcing them into a shared captivity, they do everything they can to escape and survive. As their connection grows, so does their attraction. Knowing they have no future together, and the consequences of furthering their relationship would be disastrous, they forge ahead in the conflict against the Dark Lord. But the Universe is fickle and can muddle with even the best laid intentions…

First Impressions

I have been impatiently waiting for the book which would highlight this stubborn couple since the first novel in the series! At last, said book has been delivered and does not disappoint. Arderin and Darkrip are delightfully strong-willed, and at first glance appear to have an intense animosity towards each other which impacts their ability to even be in the same room. But when they’re forced to spend time together through either mission or complication, we finally see them having to confront the deep emotion and attraction which is constantly pulling them together no matter how hard they try to push each other away. I mean, what’s not to love with that set-up!

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Beyond the Romance

If we push the intense and sometimes controversial romance between Darkrip and Arderin aside, there are a few other key features presented in this novel that I really appreciated. First and foremost, the importance of family is highlighted through a variety of different relationship pairings. From Arderin and her over-protective brothers, to Darkrip’s complicated interactions with his sister and half-sister, to the couple from the first novel finally welcoming a child into their lives. Each pairing has it’s own complexities, yet throughout it all we see this group of slayers, vampyres and deamons come together to form the most unlikely of families.

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The other theme that this series has continuously grappled with is the concept of time for our Immortals. In the last book, we saw how time was explored in a way where our characters felt they had all the time in the world to eventually admit their feelings for each other, yet simultaneously discovered how fraught and limited time can be in this violent world. In this third book, time is once again featured as a focal point which can impact the relationships of our characters. When you live forever, you can’t help but question what is your true purpose in life? For Darkrip, he looks at his life as being divided into two parts: a time before and after Arderin. Before her, he simply floated along. He lived in an endless, mindless world of killing and raping. After her, he finally feels as though he has a purpose, even if it’s something as simple as making her laugh. It is because of her that he remembers the small pleasures that life has to offer, and this troubled deamon finally starts to live again. It was such a complex and beautiful point to examine that never felt too “in your face” with its scrutiny.

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The Cave of Wonders

There is a point in this novel where Arderin and Darkrip find themselves trapped in a cave by his evil father, Crimeous. This Deamon King is intent on forcing our two leads to mate, resulting in a child with both deamon and vampyre blood running through its veins that he can then manipulate and train to become his ultimate weapon. Hands down, these scenes involving Arderin and Darkrip’s imprisonment were the most revealing and poignant moments of the entire book. For it is during this time that they have nowhere to run or hide from confronting how much they actually care about the other. All their cards are laid out, face up on the table, whether they want to or not. And it’s during this time where we discover how vulnerable these two characters truly are. They may put on a facade of toughness to those around them, yet underneath all the stubbornness and sass are two sensitive souls who can no longer deny their feelings.

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It’s also during this time in the cave that we see how strong and inspiring they are. For her part, Arderin refuses to give up hope that they’ll make it out of this seemingly hopeless situation alive. For Darkrip, we see his desperation to do whatever is necessary to keep Arderin alive. Even if it means she’ll see a window into his entire past, and every dark deed he’s ever committed. The only way to save his vampyre is to give her his blood, which will thereby link her to him by viewing snapshots of his entire life. To ensure the survival of the love of his life, he must allow her to see how much evil has coursed through him, and risk her never wanting anything to do with him. Again, such a beautifully revealing moment to see this cocky, strong deamon crumble under the fear of being alone, and of possibly losing Arderin forever. Either he’ll lose her through death, or through his attempt to save with his blood. He sees it as a lose-lose decision, but one he can’t ran away from.

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The Troubled Hero

Darkrip is a troubled soul in every sense of the word. He refuses to see the good in himself, and also refuses to hope for a future with Arderin. He’s spent so long living in the shadow of his evil and cruel father, that it’s difficult for him to envision a future of peace. Growing up, whenever Darkrip allowed himself to feel or love it would always result in pain. His father would repeatedly rape and abuse his mother and sister as Darkrip was forced to watch on. He’s scared that if he allows himself to acknowledge his love for Arderin, she’ll become a target for his father to focus his wrath upon. He’s not willing to risk that.

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Darkrip was so convinced that by providing Arderin with his blood in the cave that it would result in her pulling away from him. However, we see the opposite come true in that it actually causes her to pull him closer. Yes, there was evil in Darkrip which controlled his every action for the first 200 years of his life. But through the love and influence of his mother he successfully changed his ways to fight against that inner darkness, and refused to let it overtake him again over the last 800 years. That strength, that willpower, is what draws Arderin to him even more. He might be convinced she deserves better, and try to push her away with all his might, but she’s just as stubborn and strong-willed to keep him in her life.

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

Series: Etherya’s Earth, book 3. Three books down, just one final installment to go. I can’t wait to see how everything will come together in what is bound to be a climactic and exciting conclusion!

Final Impressions: Looking back at the entire series up until this point I would say this is probably the one which featured the least amount of direct confrontation with our primary villain, Crimeous. This is kind of interesting when you consider the fact he’s Darkrip’s father, and the two definitely have a long and troubled history. That being said, the emotional and psychological impact of this toxic father/son relationship is still featured prominently in this third book. In a way this is really Darkrip’s tale of learning how to see the good in himself, and acknowledging that he is worthy of Arderin’s love. These two have a commanding presence that will captivate you right from the get-go, whether they’re in a scene together or solo.

Smut Level: This is by far the steamiest book of the series so far. As a deamon, Darkrip experiences pleasure from pain, and while we don’t get any scenes that are overly kinky, that sort of speaks to the fact that this deamon isn’t a slow and gentle lover. There’s plenty of dirty talk and alpha male direction in the bedroom to keep you blushing and satisfied!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Reading Goddess Press, LLC. 232 Pages.

 

All of Me by Rose Grey

Charlotte and Jock never thought love was in the cards for them. But when they’re thrown together amidst life-changing surprises, they come to realize that love just might be right in front of them.

What’s it About?

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Jock Durrell hopes the surprise baby his ex-girlfriend left behind at his office isn’t his. Still, someone has to care for it. So while he waits for DNA test results, he advertises for temporary help. Preferably Mary Poppins. By the time Charlotte Aubin arrives to interview, Jock’s too tired to be choosy. True, Charlotte dresses like a Goth and throws things when she loses her temper. On the other hand, as far as he knows, she’s not an ax murderer. So he gives her a chance. Because at this point he would sell his soul for just one night of unbroken sleep. But Jock isn’t the only one with a complicated life. Charlotte’s past is closing in fast. When danger looms, Jock will have to choose between protecting the safe life he has crafted or risking it all for a woman who has stolen his heart.

First Impressions

When our novel opens I wasn’t even sure if Charlotte and Jock were meant to be the romantic focus of the book. The authors does a great job of presenting us with two people who aren’t looking for love. They’re both so focused on treading their way through life that upon first meeting they seem more determined to be annoyed with each other than to see the possibility of romance. However, it would seem fate had more in store for these two after their initial meet cute, and no matter how much they tried to steer clear of each other, they both eventually acknowledged that they could help one another by sticking together.

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The set up of this story was everything. Charlotte and Jock are both dealing with their own problems in life, and yet somehow these distinct issues they’re both confronting prove to be the impetus in bringing them together. Jock is struggling with the fact his ex-girlfriend just dropped off a baby on his doorstep, claiming he’s the father. Charlotte has her own problems in life, from unloving parents to a somewhat sadistic step brother who seems determined to see her fall apart. They were both such independent, selfless characters who never really had the opportunity to enjoy life for themselves. They were always living one day to the next, and yet after fate throws them together both Charlotte and Jock are finally able to live in the moment, and learn how to laugh with each other.

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From Baby Jane to Brother Dearest

Jock has always pushed aside his own wants and desires in order to care for his brothers following the death of their parents. No woman has ever really tempted him to put his own wishes first, until he meets Charlotte of course. While his younger brother, Ronan, proves to be a source of humor at certain moments throughout the novel, I would have liked to see his brothers play a larger role in the overall story. We really don’t see much from them in terms of helping him cope with the emotional impact of suddenly having a daughter, and his brother from book one is almost absent entirely.

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“He had spent ten years creating a stable environment for his brothers. Ignoring his own desires had been a crucial part of that and a measure of his self discipline. But he couldn’t seem to summon the same vigor now.”

The drama that Charlotte experienced throughout the book in terms of her unloving parents and creepy step-brother was definitely the most compelling aspect of the story. Her troubled relationship with her family meant she never had a reason to trust others, especially considering those who were meant to love her most in this world continually brushed her aside. Charlotte has never deigned to try loving someone. Jock is the first one to cause her to hope for something better. While her relationship with her step-brother was a fascinating element that held your interest, and overall was carried out very well, I felt it could have been pushed one step further. The ending was fantastic in that it allowed for Charlotte to finally stand up for herself, but I wanted us to see more about the motives and thoughts behind her family in order to more fully understand their actions. This would have provided one more additional push to the book that would have been near perfect in execution.

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“She hadn’t ever fought for what she wanted…What if the reason she didn’t fight for what she loved was because she was afraid of what losing might do to her? She didn’t like thinking of herself as a coward, but it seemed the inescapable conclusion.”

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Our love story ultimately culminates with some rather big misunderstandings that result in Charlotte running away from her feelings. Both she and Jock were hesitant to voice how they truly felt about each other throughout the entirety of the novel. We see that it wasn’t just their employer/employee relationship that caused them to pause, but also their inability to believe they could devote themselves to someone wholeheartedly. I’ll admit it was kind of frustrating to see them both internalize their anger towards the other for closing themselves off from love, while simultaneously acknowledging their own inability to dive deep into the relationship.

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I was pretty worried this inability to confess their feelings would negatively impact my appreciation for the book up until that point. However, I’m happy to say we do eventually see redemption with how they both are willing to fight and stand up for what they want in life, and their refusal to have others walk all over them. It’s almost as though they both reach a breaking point where they’re fed up with being alone, and even though they’re terrified of being rejected, they’d rather face the music than risk not knowing how the other person feels.

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“…one way or the other, she was done running.”

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

Series: Durrell Brothers Trilogy, Book 2. I may have liked this second book even more than the first book in the series!

Final Impressions: It was interesting to see two such independent characters learn how to finally allow someone else into their lives. It’s a difficult journey full of ups and downs, but they eventually realize that the mere presence of the other person brings joy to their day. Charlotte and Jock have a relationship that isn’t built upon lust or sex, but instead almost a mutual respect for how hardworking and selfless the other is. Incorporating more depth to Jock’s relationship with his brothers, as well as Charlotte’s background with her parents and step-brother could have elevated the emotional side of the plot, but overall it was a compelling read.

Smut Level: We never see anything too sensual in description, but you’ve gotta love the circumstance of being trapped together in a house during a snow storm. I can certainly think of a few ways for them to keep warm.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Simply Romance Press. 272 Pages.

He Belongs to Her by Sunny Chambers

A story of love vs. lust. Nellie thinks her affair with a married man is the real deal, but will her flirtations with a young pool-boy develop into something more consuming?

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What happens when lies are exposed? Nellie is in love, or so she thinks, but is it real? Brent loves her back, doesn’t he? She wonders can he ever be hers. Will Nellie ever find true love and will Paolo be able to declare his true feelings for her? The secrets and twists throughout this story threaten to destroy the path to happiness and the lives of those involved.

First Impressions

Honestly, our first introduction to Nellie isn’t all that positive. We’re presented with a seemingly spoiled little rich girl, still living in her father’s mansion, working in his business, and having an affair with a married man. Nellie muses to feeling no remorse or guilt for her sexual escapades with this man, hoping that Brent will leave his harsh and unloving wife behind so they can be together. As an aside, Nellie also admits to feeling a longtime simmering attraction for Paolo, the pool-boy at her father’s home. And yet, she feels she could never act on these feelings, as she wants to avoid becoming the cliche of a wealthy woman “…becoming involved with a member of their staff.” The fact that her mother left her father for someone below their station also doesn’t help matters. Again, certainly not the best of first impressions.

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An Early Climax

That being said, our opinion of Nellie changes rather quickly when her affair with Brent comes out in the open to none other than his wife, Meg. Surprisingly, the story arch of this novel almost seemed to happen in reverse, or perhaps like we were coming into things at the midway point when Nellie and Brent’s affair was already well underway. We started off with the introduction of our cast of characters, each of them getting their own chapter intro. Nellie, her lover Brent, Brent’s wife Meg, Nellie’s father, Paolo the pool-boy, and even Nellie’s mother (a somewhat unnecessary chapter in my opinion). After this it seems like we get our climactic scene of discovery when Meg catches her husband and Nellie in an intimate embrace.

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While we hold our breath in anticipation wondering what havoc might be in store for our characters, we start to see things vastly improve for most of them. Nellie and Meg take their lives into their own hands by pushing Brent out of it. Even Nellie’s father, Chad, pushes Brent out of his company after discovering his mistreatment of Paolo’s family in an attempt to get them to sell their business to benefit a real estate development venture. Things are on the up-and-up for everyone, with our villainous Brent seeming to get the comeuppance he deserves. I kept waiting around for some kind of secondary climactic moment, but we never really get one which was as crucial to the plot as when the affair was discovered at about the 1/3 mark. Everything else was kind of smooth sailing afterwards!

The Question of Money

We do see Nellie mature as she eventually realizes the extent of Brent’s manipulation, and that her feelings for him were purely lust rather than love. She feels stupid for her naivety, yet also acknowledges it as a learning experience. Nellie also starts to interact with Paolo again more fervently than before. He’s recently become a wealthy man after an inheritance from his grandmother, which has allowed him to invest fully in his uncle’s restaurant. Now that she’s out from under Brent’s manipulation, Nellie finally allows herself to entertain the idea of exploring her feelings for Paolo.

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Now, even though Nellie has undoubtedly matured, I do wish she would have allowed herself to become involved with Paolo back when he was merely a pool boy. The progression of the novel makes it seem like if Paolo hadn’t come into money, he and Nellie may never have crossed paths which would lead them down a road to romance. We can’t help but wonder if Nellie ever would have noticed Paolo following her breakup with Brent if money hadn’t been an influencing factor in bringing them back together.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: I almost wish this novel had started off with us witnessing how Brent and Nellie began their affair in the first place. It could have provided us with a clearer window into Nellie’s emotional state of why she felt this man “belongs to her”, a sentiment which seemingly influenced the title of the work itself. As it stands, it seems as though we’re coming into a story at the halfway point. Following the discovery of the affair by Brent’s wife, we don’t really see any further struggle or climax of the plot. Overall there were some areas that could have used some additional fine-tuning and editing to bring everything full circle. Perhaps even one additional scene involving a heart-to heart between Nellie and her mother, who ran off to have her own affair, could have provided an additional emotional insight to our characters. Instead we would often just see a brief mention of an event/conversation taking place between two characters rather than witnessing a full description of the scene playing out.

Smut Level: Some steamy moments, but nothing overtly descriptive that would make you blush.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.95 Kindle Price. Austin Macauley Publishers LLC. 145 Pages.

Oceans Away by Skye McNeil

Goodness gracious do the men on this Iowa farm know how to handle their wood! For chopping that is!

What’s it About? 

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Adopted as an infant, Ireland Leighton grew up in the heart of the Midwest. After inheriting millions from her biological parents, she is determined to help others any way she can. The only string is a business engagement with another millionaire. Ireland returns to Iowa years later to plan her brother’s tropical wedding. The festivities would be easier if her sexy ex-boyfriend stayed out of reach and her future wasn’t already planned.

Time suppressed his feelings for the girl next door, but Gideon Taggart isn’t about to let Ireland escape again. Farmer by day, veterinarian by choice, his second chance with his first love is far from easy. He soon discovers that no matter how much he loves Ireland, she’ll always choose her family over a future with him.

First Impressions

What struck me most with this novel was Ireland’s constant struggle between who she is now, and who she was six years ago when she first set out from her small Iowa hometown. Adopted at a young age, she grew up in a rather humble home, but was surrounded by a family who loved her. The sexy farm boy next door, Gideon, also showed her all the love in the world. But when Ireland becomes an adult she discovers the wealthy lineage of her deceased birth-parents, as well as a grandmother who is still alive and ready to show her the ropes of the family business. Ireland is drawn to the allure of this new millionaire lifestyle, and ultimately decides to pursue it by leaving Gideon behind, in spite of his pleas for her to remain. Fast-forward six years, and she’s finally coming back home for the first time since she left at the news that her brother is about to get married. What will it be like for this multi-millionaire businesswoman to return to her humble roots, not to mention see her sexy farm boy again after six years apart?

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Resentment

Needless to say, Gideon is rather resentful that she abandoned him in the dust all those years ago in pursuit of wealth. Surprisingly though, her family also makes a few jabs about her new lifestyle, specifically in regards to the paparazzi who are in constant pursuit of her. Now, it’s true, when Ireland traveled off to faraway places six years ago, she did lose touch with those she left behind, but I couldn’t help but feel that some of their resentment was misplaced. After all, this is a girl who went for years without knowing anything about her birth parents. Can they really fault her for wanting to discover more of herself, and take advantage of opportunities that weren’t available to her before? Yes, she lost touch with them, but in a way they also lost touch with her. We never really hear mention of them trying to reach out to her during that time, or help her adjust to what must have been a very emotional and confusing time.

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With this first foray into travel, freedom, indulgences and massive wealth, it seems Ireland engaged in some questionable acts that got her plastered across the tabloids. When Ireland returns home, this spoiled party girl image is the one Gideon and her family call to mind. Never mind the fact that she has since adjusted into a responsible adult, taking the reigns of her family business and growing her wealth and success to incredible heights. She’s obviously matured into her role as a businesswoman, as well as philanthropist helping those less fortunate, and yet surprisingly her friends and family still seem to view her as a rather spoiled princess. It’s as though they judge her for those few initial mistakes she made upon the discovery of wealth rather than who she was her entire life up until that point, as well as the successful person she’s become since then.

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Iowa vs. the World

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. A romance novel set in a small mid-western Iowa farm town. How exactly is this a beach read? Well don’t worry, our story takes place about half the time down on the farm, and the other half down in Barbados. This change of scenery is a crucial feature, as it hearkens back to the moment when Ireland and Gideon first called it quits. Upon discovery of her birth-family’s wealth, the endless possibilities of the world called to Ireland in a way they never had before, probably because now they could become a reality rather than just a pipe-dream.

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For Gideon, the responsibilities of his family’s farm keep him grounded to the land. She pleads with him to go with her, he pleads with her to stay. Compromise never seemed to be part of the picture, and we see this struggle hold true even after Ireland returns home. The question of Iowa vs. the world was always a question of one over the other. You can’t help but be surprised that with Ireland’s immense wealth, not to mention access to a private plane, that the possibility of her splitting time between Iowa and Barbados never really entered the equation. Again, considering how much of this novel is split between her traveling back and forth from Iowa to Barbados, you’d think she’s demonstrating rather effectively how things could have been a compromise rather than a competition. Although…if you ask me there’s certainly no competition between the two!!

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Jealousy Rears It’s Ugly Head

When Ireland comes back home, Gideon can’t keep away from her, or prevent himself from teasing flirting with her any chance he gets. When her soon-to-be business partner, Mason, arrives on the farm to get to know and see Ireland in her home environment, Gideon’s jealousy kicks into overdrive. A few growls ensue, as well as some make out sessions thrown up against a barn stall door. He tries to show her that the chemistry between them is stronger than anything she might have for Mason, and that despite the last six years apart their feelings for each other are just as strong as ever. Just when Ireland starts to warm up to the idea of a future with Gideon, of working out the limitations of distance to their relationship, what does Gideon do? He pushes her away. Harrrrrd.

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Gideon is convinced that Ireland has her sights set on Mason, and that his immense wealth will draw her to him more than Gideon’s wholesome Iowa ways ever could. He believes Mason would provide Ireland with all the things she could ever want in life, whereas his lack of money would be a disservice to her. Interestingly, this not only highlights Gideon’s own self-deprecating view of himself, but once more a rather negative view of Ireland that money would mean more to her than love. As though his love and her own massive amounts of wealth would never be enough for her, but that she’d turn her back on love in favor of even more wealth than she’s already built for herself. True, she turned her back on him all those years ago, but when she comes back to him, declaring her love, demonstrating through both words and actions how she feels, he turns his back on her. It seemed rather unfair and hurtful to her emotions for him to initially reel her in towards him through his initial bouts of jealousy, then just when she’s ready to fall into his arms he pushes her away.

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

Series: The Atlas Series, book 2.

Final Impressions: I think one key aspect we were missing here was the goodbye scene of six years ago. What exactly was said at the moment when Gideon and Ireland were on the cusp of ending their relationship? Perhaps a prologue featuring their goodbye would have provided an added window into the hurt that Ireland’s actions had on Gideon. The fact of the matter is all we really see firsthand is Ireland’s devotion to those less fortunate, to her family, and to continuing a successful career as a businesswoman. This made it difficult to understand the “spoiled princess” title that others placed on her. I think we also needed to see some additional scenes of Ireland interacting with her grandmother who she didn’t even know existed for the majority of her life, and more of an explanation on why it took so long for her grandmother to reach out to her. It’s briefly covered at the end, but we never see a conversation play out between these two women. Maybe even a moment showing her grandmother interacting with her adoptive family would have been enlightening!

Smut Level: Hot daaaaang!! Ireland loves to get her hands on Gideon’s many tattoos, and he knows just how to make her moan aloud in ecstasy.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 300 Pages.

On the Market by Audrey Wick

She’s a vegetarian. He owns a barbecue joint dedicated to all things meat. They say opposites attract! Let’s put that saying to the test.

What’s it About? 

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Valerie Perry has just inherited her grandmother’s home in Last Stand, Texas, a far cry in the country from her city life as an organic grocery buyer in San Antonio. Her methodical daily routine suits her just fine, so she aims to freshen up the property, sell it, and take her funds back to the city. She’s only got two weeks during her vacation to make this happen. Now is the time to cash in and get out.

The oldest Hutchinson son, who people around town know as “Hutch,” is a third generation local who is poised to take over the family business with his brother, Cole. The barbeque brothers have very different ideas about the future of their restaurant, “The Hut.” Just when he thought his biggest headache was his job, Hutch meets Valerie and both their worlds are upended. He’s drawn to this fish out of water, but Valerie’s time in Last Stand has an expiration date.

Their sweet and saucy styles don’t mix, but can they both find the recipe to a happy future?

First Impressions

This is a sweet romance that will put a smile on your face, and is the perfect beach read. The progression of Valerie and Hutch’s relationship seemed so cute and natural that it almost felt like we were witnessing the romance of two friends rather than two fictional characters. At first they engage in some light verbal sparring after Hutch fells a tree into Valerie’s yard. It’s definitely some good-natured sparring, and never crosses the line into rude or demeaning. Valerie’s “…ability to dish right back what Hutch was serving was a trait he probably wasn’t used to in women”, and this unique feature of her personality draws him in and won’t let go.

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As Hutch attempts to fix her yard after the damage he caused, Valerie sees a sweet side to this barbecue boy, and it doesn’t take long before they both can’t stop thinking about each other. They slowly get to know each other, and open up about personal details of their lives. We never see anything over-the-top sexual, and there are no instances of being pushed up against a wall in a fiery moment of passion. Instead we see delicate kisses in the warm Texas countryside with fireflies flitting about. Soft touches and intimate caresses. We’ve really been provided with a window into the developing relationship between this couple.

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Brotherly Love

The relationship we see between these barbecue brothers was just as interesting as the relationship forming between Valerie and Hutch. They may be brothers, but they’re at odds over the future course of their family’s restaurant. One is steeped in tradition, the other is dedicated to changing with the times. Both have the best interests of their family’s legacy at heart, and yet it causes a rift to form between them in regards to which avenue they should pursue. The combative nature of these two brothers was quite entertaining, and perhaps a bit more focus on them having open and honest conversations about their wishes for the restaurant would have been a delightful addition. We see them have heated arguments, which perhaps highlights the true nature of their relationship rather than one of sweet brotherly affection. Towards the end of the novel they do find a kind of compromise, but just one more scene of them conversing one-on-one in a non-argumentative manner would have been great.

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What is a Home?

One feature that this novel focuses on at length is the question of what is a home. For Valerie, home is merely a place. It’s wherever you hang your hat for any period of time, and while she’s putting the finishing touches on her grandmother’s house she sees herself as biding her time before she can return back “home” to San Antonio. For Hutch, home is much more significant than the four walls that might surround you. It’s about the community that surrounds you. It’s about the people as much as it is about the place, and this small town of Last Stand is and always will be his home. When he discovers how vastly different Valerie’s concept of home is to his own, he questions if their differences might be more serious than simply the hurdle of physical distance which separates Last Stand from San Antonio. Perhaps their values in life pose more of an issue. However, as Valerie starts to transform her grandmother’s home into one of her own, and this small community also starts to envelop her as one of their own, perhaps her values might be changing to a point where she could envision a future in this small Hill Country town.

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

Series: The Texas BBQ Brothers, book 1. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next for Hutch’s brother, Cole!

Final Impressions: This is a quick read that’s ideal for the beach. It never gets too steamy, but instead there’s a sweet side to the natural romance developing between Valerie and Hutch. The community of Last Stand is an integral part of this relationship, and the additional aspect of Hutch and his brother fighting over the future of their family’s business was just as intriguing. Overall it’s a cute read that will leave you hungry for barbecue and sweet tea!

Smut Level: No sex, but we get some pleasant kisses between our vegetarian and our carnivore.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tule Publishing. 180 Pages.

Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

Emma is a picky dater who seeks the “spark”. When one of her closest friends breaks her spark-o-meter with their first kiss, she knows he’s someone to hold onto.

What’s it About? 

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Wedding florist Emma Grant gets to play with flowers every day and work with her three best friends in the process. She couldn’t ask for a better job. And her love life seems to be thriving. Though men swarm around her, she still hasn’t found Mr. Right. And the last place she’s looking is right under her nose.

But that’s just where Jack Cooke is. He’s so close to the women of Vows that he’s practically family. Now though, the architect has begun to admit to himself that his feelings for Emma have developed into much more than friendship. And when Emma returns his passion—kiss for blistering kiss, they must trust in their history—and in their hearts…

First Impressions

Whenever we have a romance featuring friends who become something more intimate, the most enchanting feature is uncovering that one moment where things change. Perhaps one finally sees an alluring physical quality they hadn’t noticed before; maybe it’s a moment of comfort following a difficult situation, or hell, maybe it’s just copious amounts of alcohol and a good rain storm. Unfortunately we don’t really see any of that here. Emma and Jack have been mutually attracted to each other for some time now, though neither has voiced their inner desires aloud due to the close nature of their immediate friend group. I was wondering what key moment would have sparked these two into action after so many years of silent yearning.

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However, we really don’t get a sudden light-bulb moment of attraction. There’s no surprising burst of passion that draws them both up in the moment where they can’t keep their hands off each other. Instead we see them slowly start to flirt more than they had before, with no one clear reason coming to the forefront to explain why now was suddenly different than before. They have logical discussions about what it would mean to start dating…and then they do. Don’t get me wrong, there are some steamy moments built in there, but it wasn’t quite the startling unexpected switch from friends to lovers I was expecting. We never really get an answer to the question of, “why now”?

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There’s Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

While Jack and Emma’s years of friendship allow them to settle quite naturally into a physical relationship, they both have some crippling fears which prevent them from opening up whole-heartedly. Jack has never been one for serious relationships, so his fear of commitment has quietly seeped into his interactions with Emma. He definitely cares for her (that is never part of the issue), but rather his inner struggle of where he sees this relationship leading to in the future. As for our heroine, she’s afraid to admit how much she truly loves Jack in case he should see it as a reason to put their developing relationship on hold. Beyond this though there’s also the insinuation that Emma fears that which doesn’t live up to her ideal. She works in a high-demand industry which requires perfection. It seems when her personal life has an aspect that isn’t perfect, she cuts it out of her life. If a kiss or a date didn’t score high on her “spark-o-meter” she knew it was a done deal, and she’d do whatever she could to set the guy up with another woman.

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We also see this play out in her relationship with Jack towards the end of the book. When he doesn’t welcome her presence into his home after a long and trying day, it sparks an argument that finally reveals how much she loves him, yet also doesn’t feel welcome in his home. It doesn’t just stop at an argument, but rather escalates to the point where she breaks off their relationship, demanding that he not speak to or seek her out to resolve things. He wasn’t meeting her expectations of feeling fully incorporated into his life, so rather than discuss how they might move to remedy that situation, she takes the fast approach to just ending things completely. While her frustrations were warranted, it seemed like a rather rash decision to try and remove him from her life. The question then becomes if Jack will be able to move past his fear of commitment to acknowledge what she truly means to him, and find the strength to win her back.

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Series: Bride Quartet, book 2. This sequel has started laying the groundwork for our final 2 romances. While one seems like it will be somewhat of a repeat of this story line where longtime friends become something more, I can’t wait to see what fun might ensue when meticulous planner Parker falls for a local mechanic.

Final Impressions: Overall I’d say I liked this second novel much more than the first one. It still focused on the wedding planning details a bit too much for my taste, but was a significant reduction compared to book one. This is probably a good series for soon-to-be brides to read in order to see how much care and attention goes into the behind-the-scenes support of a wedding. Not to mention things to keep in mind to avoid being labeled MB (monster bride), or heaven forbid upgraded to MBB status (monster bitch bride). Ultimately the bond of friendship between the four ladies of this wedding planning business is really coming to the forefront as the most endearing and entertaining characteristic of the series.

Smut Level: We get some passionate moments mixed in that will make you clap your hands in delight, but nothing over the top erotic that will make you fan yourself off from the heat.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 370 Pages

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When I Fall by J. Daniels

Reed has a very firm “no kissing” rule when it comes to the women he “dates”. Actually, make that “has one-night stands with”.

What’s it About?

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For the past nine years, I’ve kept my heart as far away from my d*ck as possible. Those two can’t be anywhere near each other. They don’t play nice, and one of them undoubtedly winds up getting hurt. Not my d*ck. My d*ck is good.

The women I take home know exactly what they’re getting from me—a good time. Nothing more. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. The sweet brunette from Kentucky I set my sights on tonight shouldn’t have been any different. I had her right where I wanted her. Where I needed her. But when my past comes walking into McGill’s pub, the woman in my arms decides to take things to a whole new level, putting me into a situation I never saw coming.

My heart is about to get f**ked. My d*ck can sit this one out.

First Impressions 

Of all the novels in this series so far, this one might just be my favorite, and for one very important reason. I liked the characters! After finishing the second book in this series I almost didn’t continue on with it, but I decided to give it one last try. I’m definitely glad I did! Reed and Beth have a chemistry which is undeniably palpable. At first glance in a local pub, Reed has his usual sights set on Beth, thinking that she’ll be his quick and easy source of entertainment for the evening. After all, she’s reading romance smut on her Kindle in a bar. Surely she’s up for a good time? However, it’s not long into his flirtations that a painful memory from his past comes waltzing through the door, and bragging about her upcoming engagement party no less. He’s like a deer caught in headlights when confronted with his ex, and Beth can sense that this flirtatious playboy is hurting. So, she does the only thing she can think of. She grabs his face and kisses him. So much for Reed’s no kissing rule!

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The Playboy and his Fake Girlfriend

Reed is a quintessential playboy, so what is it about this young woman that sets her apart from all the others who have come before? And believe me, there was a hefty plethora which came before. Well, there are a few things which set this lady apart from all of Reed’s former bedfellows. Firstly, she initiated their first kiss, even if it was all pretend as she simultaneously concocted a ruse of her and Reed dating in order to help him confront his cheating former ex. Beth and Reed were strangers, and yet even upon first meeting she was essentially trying to protect him. Her selflessness, not to mention their steamy kiss, practically knocked him on his ass.

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Then there’s the whole matter of the ruse itself. When Beth pretends to be Reed’s girlfriend, and also offers to keep up the charade by accompanying him to his ex’s engagement party, their first key moments together are essentially shrouded in pretend. Reed’s goal is no longer to immediately get Beth into bed, but rather to survive this awkward confrontation with his ex. In order to distract him from the unusual circumstances of their pretend relationship, Beth opens up about herself, and in turn gets Reed to open up about himself as well. It’s the first time in years that he’s simply been able to be himself with another woman, and develop a connection that is beyond sex. Reed and Beth both become smitten with each other throughout the course of the evening, and it’s during this engagement party that they decide to stop pretending.

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Everything in Moderation

While Beth does her best to take Reed’s mind off the awkwardness of the evening, he chooses to find additional solace in alcohol. It doesn’t stop him though from ultimately opening up to Beth, and admitting that he wants to take her home. What follows is a passionate night of multiple orgasms…that we don’t actually get to read about firsthand. You see, there’s one little problem with this entire situation. Come morning, Reed doesn’t remember any of the details of their sexual escapades.

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Imagine for a moment being new to town, offering to be a fake girlfriend for a complete stranger, spending an amazing night together getting up to all kinds of dirty deeds, and then when you wake up hoping to have a continuation of said dirty deeds you realize that your fake boyfriend for the night doesn’t remember any of the sex from the previous evening. Needless to say, Beth bolts out of there in sheer embarrassment. You gotta hand it to Reed though, the man must be one high-functioning black-out drunk. As the days pass, and his calls to Beth go unanswered, he starts to remember snippets of their night together, and hot damn! They made use of every surface of his house, not to mention got creative in the kitchen with various condiment options. Let this be a lesson to you ladies and gents, alcohol in moderation. You don’t want to forget these steamy details!

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Off-Balance

The first half of this novel was an absolute hoot. The entire set-up of their fake relationship which quickly developed into something more was extremely entertaining. You also can’t help but feel slightly bad for Reed in his hungover state. It’s not like he tried to kick Beth out of his bed in the morning or anything. He actually tried his damnedest to convince her to stay and talk things out. He may not have remembered their sexual exploits from the previous night, but he remembered how he felt about her. That he knew she was special, and that he enjoyed the moments they could simply laugh together.

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What follows are some humorous scenes where Reed tries to win her back, but everything takes a more serious turn with the introduction of some drama surrounding the couple from the first novel in this series. It’s in this moment that both Reed and Beth realize how important they are to each other, and Beth decides to stop running. They decide to make a go of an official relationship, and Reed is especially determined to make up for all the lost bedroom time. This results in the second-half of the novel being pretty sex-heavy, to the point where you almost forget how they came together in the first place. Either the events from the first half needed to be spread out more evenly over the course of the novel, or maybe we could have trimmed a sex scene or two from the second half. I know, trimming sexing scenes seems so unlike me, right?!

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Series: Alabama Summer, book 3. My favorite book of the series so far. Still not without its faults, but we seem to be moving in an upward trajectory. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Final Impressions: I definitely enjoyed this one. Beth especially was a unique and intriguing character considering her background of familial loss, homelessness, and even emotional abuse at the hands of another man. As for Reed, it was refreshing to see this playboy learn to find happiness with another woman outside of the bedroom. He even admits that it’s the moments in between their time in the sheets that become his favorite where they can simply have fun laughing together. We do see some additional drama come into play towards the end involving Beth’s dad (which in my opinion was slightly unnecessary), as well as the return of a jerk from Beth’s past, which also wasn’t my favorite as it demonstrated Beth’s vulnerability and lack of confidence in her relationship with Reed. Overall though, the story manages to come full circle, and Reed is able to demonstrate his full devotion to this woman.

Smut Level: Yowza! When you read about using honey in a sexual scenario…well that just seems like a sticky mess with very little appeal.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. JD Publishing, LLC. 372 Pages.