Beyond Farwin Wood by Drea Damara

Wickrits, stroomphblutels, and skithers oh my!

What’s it About? 

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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Setting the Scene

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

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

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

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Where Worlds Collide

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

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

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Back on Blinney Lane

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

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

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

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

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

Smut Level: Very tasteful. Nothing overly smutty.

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

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Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

Jumping out of a plane in general doesn’t hold much appeal for me. Doing it with a raging fire burning below? No thank youuuuu!

What’s it About? 

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Little else in life is as dangerous as fire jumping. But there’s also little else as thrilling—at least to Rowan Tripp. Being a Missoula smoke jumper is in Rowan’s blood: her father is a legend in the field. At this point, returning to the wilds of Montana for the season feels like coming home—even with reminders of the partner she lost last season still lingering in the air.

One of the best of this year’s rookie crop, Gulliver Curry is a walking contradiction, a hotshot firefighter with a big vocabulary and a winter job at a kids’ arcade. And though Rowan, as a rule, doesn’t hook up with other smoke jumpers, Gull is convinced he can change her mind…

But everything is thrown off balance when a dark presence lashes out against Rowan, looking to blame someone for last year’s tragedy. Rowan knows she can’t complicate things with Gull—any distractions in the air or on the ground could be lethal. But if she doesn’t find someone she can lean on when the heat gets intense, her life may go down in flames.

First Impressions

This book has three main areas of focus. 1) The developing romance between Rowan and Gull, 2) the mystery person who seems intent on blaming Rowan for the death of her jump partner the year before, and 3) the logistics and intricacies of jumping fire. While points one and two were entertaining, I must say I felt there was almost too much focus on the details of jumping fire, as well as the process involved to put out a forest fire. Now, I know what you’re thinking. The book is called Chasing Fire, what the hell did you expect the book to be about?!

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I know, I know, I should have expected some background information as to what that involved, but after awhile it just got to be too much. One too many metaphors comparing the fire to a dragon, cutting off the head and tail, flanking it, jumping it, drowning it, cutting down trees with saws, etc, etc. Let’s just say if you wanna know the ins and outs of putting out a forest fire, this is definitely the book for you. I could definitely appreciate the hard work and research which undoubtedly went into making these details as accurate as possible, but it almost overtook the book at times.

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Coming Together Through Fire

It might be against Rowan’s personal code to get intimately involved with a fellow fire jumper, but we all knew it was just a matter of time before she and Gull went for a tumble in the sheets. All that heat and adrenaline was all the kindling that was needed to set their loins a burnin’. Ok, ok, enough with the fire+sex puns. While Rowan was insistent in the beginning that nothing could happen between them, as the summer progresses and the dangers of fire and their mystery assailant continue to grow, Rowan and Gull developed a kind of connection and closeness which was deeper than that between mere teammates.

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Gull is determined to protect Rowan from whoever is taunting and blaming her for the death of her former teammate the year before. As the threats against her grow in intensity, I must say I appreciated that they didn’t just sit back and wait for the cops to give them information about the case. Although hell, considering how quickly gossip and info spreads in this small Montana town they really didn’t need the cops at all to start contemplating possible suspects and motives! While they didn’t necessarily do their own sleuthing (which would have seemed unrealistic given their strenuous day job), they did plenty of their own hypothesizing. They were very logical with their thought processes, but almost too methodical at times. Whenever they would come together to discuss possible culprits, they almost lacked emotion in their exchanges, as though they were reading from a list of clues from top to bottom. It was a bit too robotic at times.

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From opening bell I identified three main suspects as to who I thought might be behind Rowan’s torment. One is murdered fairly early on, so that narrowed it down a bit. The cops in the novel were so focused on one particular character, and you couldn’t help but feel that the answer can’t be that cut and dry. Once we do finally uncover the identity of the killer, and said killer is subdued (let’s face it we’re dealing with happy endings here), I can’t say it was incredibly satisfying. It was actually kind of a tragic conclusion. We see what can happen when someone is overcome with pain and the loss of a loved one. It can drive them to do crazy things, and commit heinous acts, all in the name of love or justice. Gull manages to show a bit of sympathy towards this villain, which was really quite endearing. As for Rowan though, she always has been and always will be a tough-as-nails woman. The way she sees it, this person put her team in danger, and threatened the lives of her comrades. She’s one to constantly look forward rather than back, so in her mind it’s not something to cry about. I can appreciate her strength in the face of all this danger, but her response was also a tad heartless when all was said and done.

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Tales of Romance

This book was kind of loooong. There was a side story of romance involving Rowan’s father and his new lady love that felt somewhat unnecessary in my opinion. I mean, good on ya buddy for finding a woman to make you happy, both in and outside of the bedroom, but what does this have to do with the overall story? We see how there’s an attempt to link it back to Rowan, and her inability to cope with another woman in her father’s life. I won’t necessarily try to bring Freud into the discussion here…but Gull certainly did! I did find it funny that the romance between Rowan and Gull was, in a way, less romantic than the other one we see playing out with her father. For Gull and Rowan, their relationship definitely starts off as a horny itch that needs scratching. They do respect each other, and there’s a definite admiration for the other’s strength and ability to jump fire. However, at the end of the day there was something lacking in their exchanges that just didn’t make me feel all warm and tingly.

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Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: In a word I’d say it was an ok read. It starts and ends on a suspenseful and fiery note, but some of the central story elements started to feel repetitive after a while. The identity of our mystery villain wasn’t too big of a surprise, although I will say I was surprised at how emotional this read became at the end. If this book were 100 pages shorter I think it could have been a big improvement.

Smut Level: You’d think these two would be too exhausted to get down and dirty after jumping fire, but it seems they can always find a bit of extra strength. They also have the delightful tendency for shower sex. Nothing like washing off the dirt and grime of one blaze merely to start another blaze between them.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 481 pages.

All I Want by J. Daniels

This is a slightly bizarre romance in that you’re almost rooting for our lead couple to not end up together.

What’s it About?

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Luke Evans is a heartbreaker.
I didn’t want to give mine to him. Not when he kept me out.
He gave me enough, just enough to make me fall in love with him. I say this to convince myself. But I know the truth.
I would’ve fallen in love with him at a distance.
Handing my heart over to Luke was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I was naive when I wished for more, when I hoped he wanted the same things I did.
I try to hate him. I try to forget him.
But it’s not that easy.
Love is a ruthless bitch, and I’m her latest victim.
~*~
Tessa Kelly is a man-eater.
When she sets her sights on you, she doesn’t just consume your heart, she goes for your soul.
What we had was perfect, real, and all I would ever want.
But she destroyed it.
She destroyed us.
I try to hate her. I try to forget her.
But it’s not that easy.
Love is for people who have hope, and I have none.

First Impressions

Tessa and Luke have a bit of a topsy-turvy relationship. They dated for a brief period of three months before Tessa broke it off for two primary reasons that unfortunately she never really bothered to tell Luke about directly. 1) Luke never opened up with her about anything personal. During all of the time they spent together he would always change the subject whenever she asked him anything personal about his own life, especially when asked about his parents. The most personal thing she ever learned about him in three months was probably the fact that he had a slight obsession with raw cookie dough. And that’s not even because he told her outright. It was just an easy observation. 2) Tessa had a false pregnancy scare, and when she tried to feel out whether or not Luke ever wanted a wife and family he answered with a firm and resounding “no”. Who would have thought that the one time he admitted something personal about himself it would signal the end of their relationship? Now, I’ll admit it was pretty shitty of her to end their relationship so abruptly, with no explanation to Luke as to why she was ending things. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they had a rather toxic relationship in many other respects.

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An Attempt to Move On

In the opening scene of this book we learn it’s been almost a year since Tessa broke off her relationship with Luke, and since then they’ve been awkwardly trying to avoid each other. Whenever they do happen to find themselves in close proximity, they snap at each other before eventually blowing things out of proportion into a massive argument. Tessa has finally decided she’s had enough wallowing over her failed relationship with Luke, and that it’s time to move on. Watch out online dating, here comes Tessa! Poor girl. Little does she how many weirdos and creeps are waiting out there to connect with her. Now, while it seems like Tessa isn’t fully over her break up with Luke, she realizes that the best way to move on is to start interacting with other men. Not to mention they might be able to help her scratch the horny itch that has been plaguing her since things ended with Luke.

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Granted, having an adult conversation with Luke about why their relationship wasn’t working for her, and that it was time to move on probably would have helped her in getting over him more fully. However, online dating seemed like an easier option. As for Luke, he has been cursing Tessa’s name ever since she ended things between them. Sure, he still desires her body, but he’ll admit to anyone willing to listen that she’s a man-eater, and that he hates her. So the fact that Tessa’s decision to start dating again sparked a jealous rage within Luke that made him want to get her back underneath him in bed didn’t really scream romance to me, but rather it sort of screamed immaturity. Especially because, again, he doesn’t choose to have a conversation with her about how seeing her flirt with other men makes him realize he still desires her. Instead he gets all territorial on her whenever she brings another man into their friend group. He might as well have just lifted his leg and peed all around her.

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Wait, Seriously? 

Another aspect of their relationship which didn’t sit right with me was that their bickering over their past, and Tessa’s new foray into the dating world, would oftentimes lead to angry sex. Sometimes angry sex can be sexy, but with this read it left a bad taste in my mouth. There is one scene in particular where Luke and Tessa are about to have sex again for the first time since they broke up the previous year. They both seem pissed off about their continued desire for each other, but Luke seems determined to stake his claim, while Tessa seems like she just wants to have some mind-blowing orgasms before they both go their separate ways again. Right before they do the deed, Tessa realizes that Luke isn’t wearing a condom.

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Seeing that she had a pregnancy scare last year, not to mention the fact that it’s a PERFECTLY REASONABLE REQUEST, she asks Luke to grab a condom before they go further. Luke throws a bit of a hissy fit, asking why he needs to wear one if they’ve done it before without one, and she knows how much he doesn’t like the feel of wearing a condom while having sex. Tessa stands firm and asks that he wear one, and his childish response is that if she wants him to wear one so bad she can go grab it herself and put it on for him. Ummm…what…the…fiddleberries?!?! I’m sorry, that’s just a ridiculous and demeaning demand. The fact that Tessa went and did his bidding sort of made it impossible for me to fully support either of these characters going forward. I mean, good for her for not giving into his bullying and proceeding without a condom, but you can’t help but feel that these two should probably just call a spade a spade, and move on.

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Overcoming the Past

Luke has certainly had a troubled upbringing. His father is an alcoholic who went off the deep-end following the death of Luke’s mother. At the age of 15 Luke not only lost his mother, but in a way he also lost his father to the bottle. When Tessa first came into his life last year, it was the first time in years that he felt a sense of hope for the future, and her mere presence calmed him in a way he’d never felt before. Here’s the problem. He NEVER shared that with Tessa. I understand that they weren’t dating for very long, simply a matter of three months, and that’s pretty early to look back on the darkness from his childhood. Here’s my problem though. Tessa may not have explained to him back then why she was ending things, but in the span of this book she clearly states on multiple occasions that his inability to share certain personal details of his life with her is the primary reason why a relationship didn’t work between them back then, and won’t work now. Luke seems determined to have Tessa back in his life, and yet he still seems completely unwilling to open up with her about anything. Honestly, this was one of the main reasons why I felt they simply didn’t belong with each other.

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Tessa made it clear what she needed from him in a relationship, and he refused to give that to her. At one point Luke actually does share with Tessa the details of how his mother died when he was young. Tessa is fully present to comfort him in any way possible, but when she starts to ask about his dad he completely closes up and decides to move out of town without telling her that he’s going, or where he’s going. Dude! A bit dramatic are we? He refuses to answer any of her phone calls, and tells all his friends not to tell her his whereabouts. Again, this isn’t how adults deal with drama! Sit down and have an honest conversation already!! When Luke finally does come back into town we see that Tessa is the one apologizing to him for “pushing him” too hard, and we never really see him say he’s sorry for leaving her with no explanation. She says she’s fine with going back to the perfect relationship they used to have the year before, and I couldn’t help but feel like she was giving up some of her convictions to be with him. We never really see Luke open up fully with Tessa, and he even declares that if his father should fall off the wagon again he’s going to keep her out of it. Tessa basically says oh hell no, and they move on, but it seems like Tessa is giving up an awful lot to keep Luke happy, when he hasn’t really made any significant compromises to be with her.

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Series: Alabama Summer, Book 2. While book one in this series wasn’t my favorite book ever, I have to say I liked the relationship of those characters much better than the one we see presented here between Luke and Tessa.

Final Impressions: I’m not gonna lie, this book did hold my attention pretty steadily from start to finish. However, it wasn’t so much because I was rooting for Luke and Tessa to succeed in getting back together, but rather because I was genuinely wondering if this book would end with them going their separate ways. Compromise seems like a standard feature to most relationships, but when it comes to these two it appears as though Tessa was willing to compromise her own beliefs to win over Luke’s affection, whereas he was much more closed off to the prospect of change. He’s determined to make Tessa his again, and knows what it will take to make that happen, yet he stubbornly refuses to open up to her. I feel like we as the audience end up knowing more about Luke and his past demons than he ever confesses to Tessa.

Smut Level: There’s quite a big of angry sex in this book. Tessa and Luke are determined to hate each other, but they also can’t deny the underlying frissons of lust which keep drawing them back to each other.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. JD Publishing, LLC. 318 Pages.

If You Knew by Barbara Meyers

Where are your kids? Turns out they’re at school, but they have a former porn star as a teacher’s aide, and a reformed junkie as a guidance counselor. The beauty of this novel is it will show you why there’s no problem with that situation.

What’s it About? 

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In a town filled with lies, is there room for one more? When widow Devonny Campbell arrives in tiny Red Bud, Iowa, she is determined to make a new life for herself and the child she carries. But when her former career in adult films is uncovered, she becomes the catalyst for a nasty political campaign which creates a tornado of controversy. High school coach and guidance counselor Luke Bradshaw knows one strong wind will collapse the house of cards he’s built to contain his demons. He’s falling hard for Devonny in spite of her past. And she might be what trips him up and exposes everything he’s kept hidden. But Devonny and Luke aren’t the only citizens of Red Bud forced to face the judgment of their peers. As the campaign turns vicious, deeply-buried truths are revealed and lifelong relationships are shattered. Can Devonny and Luke stick together? Or will too much truth tear them apart?

First Impressions

There’s nothing better than a romance novel that shatters any of your preconceived expectations, and this novel succeeds in doing that in abundance. The author does a fantastic job at introducing us to these characters in a somewhat slow and natural way. Devonny is a newcomer to the city of Red Bud, trying to find a peaceful haven after losing the love of her life, and locate a place to raise the child she’s just recently found out she’s going to have. Then you have Luke, a friendly local who is more than happy to welcome Devonny to this small Iowa town. He also can’t deny the attraction he feels for this quiet woman who also has a spark about her. At first, they seem completely “normal”, and silly me I thought this book would primarily tell a story of Devonny learning how to move on from her former love to find a romance with someone new. In a way, that’s true. However, we also slowly start to discover that these two characters have some unexpected surprises to share about their respective pasts. Little did I know this book would make me confront my own biases and prejudices, and learn the importance of acknowledging that who a person is now is often more important than who they once were.

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The Porn Star and the Junkie

As I previously eluded to, the author gives us a somewhat slow introduction to Devonny and Luke. It doesn’t open up right away with the description of a former porn actress moving to Iowa from LA, soon thereafter meeting a dashing man who also just so happens to be a reformed junkie. Instead, we start off seeing how they are both very friendly, caring people who just want to live a happy life. We’re rooting for them to find happiness with each other, and you can’t help but describe their burgeoning romance as “cute”. Devonny is obviously moving on from the tragic loss of her husband, Jack, to a quick illness, but she realizes that he wouldn’t have wanted her to wallow away in sadness. Especially with a baby on the way. Sure, her romance with Luke might seem a bit quick considering the recent death of her husband, but their chemistry feels so natural you sincerely believe they’re a perfect fit for each other. Luke must learn that Jack will always remain a part of Devonny’s life through their child, and Devonny has some of her own introspection to deal with in order to no longer see her feelings for Luke as a betrayal of the love she felt for her husband.

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Only after we see the base of their relationship, as well as the true nature of their characters, do we peel away at some of the details of their past. Devonny appeared in a number of adult films with her husband, and Luke has struggled with a history of alcohol and drugs. I’ll admit, when we first uncover the details of their pasts the irony was not lost on me over the fact that they both work in a high school with children. Doesn’t seem like the most thorough of background checks, amiright? But here is where I truly appreciated this novel. Why should we pass judgement on them for something they’d done in the past? It’s not like Devonny is teaching these kids how to give a good blow job for crying out loud, she’s tutoring them in math! As for Luke, why can’t he use the story of his triumph over drugs as something for these kids to admire? They’ve both been on a journey in life, and they’ve each had a few unexpected bumps and curves along the way. When we look at who they are today we find that they’re stronger because of the difficulties they’ve traversed in the past. Not to mention…we also learn they aren’t the only ones in this wholesome little town with secrets.

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The Lie of Middle America? 

A seemingly perfect town full of good-natured, respectable citizens. Sure, on the surface. But what happens when we look beneath the polite smiles, and look at the truth of what’s hiding underneath. As it turns out, it’s really a town full of secrets and lies. Let’s face it, we all have certain aspects of ourselves or our pasts which we’d prefer to keep hidden from others. Nobody’s perfect, and the citizens of this small Iowa town might like to think they live in an oasis that espouses family values, but it’s all an illusion. In a way, it was an illusion for Devonny as well when she chose to settle here, hoping that her previous career as an adult film actress wouldn’t become widely known to her neighbors, and she could find the perfect place to set up a home. Some secrets are more potent than others, including cheating spouses and hidden sexualities, but what’s most surprising is the fact that some of these people with their hidden lies are the same ones to judge Devonny when her past comes to light.

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We’ve all heard a variation of some quote or another about why this is the epitome of hypocrisy. Don’t judge others lest ye be judged. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Well, the people in this town basically live in a glass dome, and they’re apparently in the mood to chuck a few boulders in Devonny’s direction. We question if Devonny will be able to remain strong in the face of so much hatred, or if she’ll choose the easy way out and simply escape to another town where nobody knows her past. Let’s just say she’s not one to give up. She’s a fighter, but she’s also poised, friendly, and not one to lose her cool when being accused of corrupting the youth of Red Bud. Eventually Devonny realizes she has a number of allies on her side, and all of them take it upon themselves to show this town that it can be easy to judge someone for what they may have done in the past, but it’s more about how that past influenced who they are today.

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The Root of the Problem

“We all have a journey…And everyone has mountains and valleys and stumbling blocks. But there’s a purpose in everything. It isn’t always good versus bad. Everything isn’t white and black.” This is where the author shocked me yet again by applying this logic to our supposed “villains”. There are a number of key characters who seem determined to run Devonny out of town. They are characterized as the bad guys you hate to hate, who seemingly have no redeeming qualities. While we root for Devonny and Luke to succeed, we simultaneously root for these characters to fail. However, if we apply the same moral of the story to our villainous characters as well, we learn to acknowledge that their determination to see Devonny ruined “isn’t always good versus bad.” Just like Devonny and Luke, our hateful characters have pasts and motives of their own. By the end of the novel I wouldn’t say we necessarily come to love these characters who wanted to ruin Devonny’s chance of happiness in Red Bud, but we come to understand that everyone has a history of their own which influences the decisions they make in life. Sometimes they go down the wrong road, but that doesn’t mean they can never find their way back.

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

Series: Red Bud, Iowa, Book 1. I’m intrigued to continue on with this series. This first novel was full of engaging characters, and it’d be interesting to see what story each of them might have to tell.

Final Impressions: This book will really make you rethink how you look at other people, and cause you to pause before you pass judgement on others. The beauty of the moral lesson presented in this romance is that it never feels like you’re being preached to, or made to feel guilty for having those judgments. At times it’s simply our first reaction, but the true test is whether or not we can look beyond those first impressions to see the true nature of a person. It also makes us look at ourselves, and in a way admit our own faults when we try to find faults in others. This was definitely more than the simple “moving on from tragedy” romance I was expecting. We really saw a social message built in as well that I wasn’t expecting, but in the end appreciated.

Smut Level: Two words folks. Pregnancy hormones. Nothing too over-the-top erotic, but you’ll fan yourself a time or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Sandalstring Productions. 327 Pages

Crash Into Me by K.M. Scott

This novel teaches us a very important lesson. If you’re about to sign a 6 month contract to work for a mysterious billionaire, make sure you read the thing in full!

What’s it About? 51+VRHCWTvL

What would you give up for everything? Tristan Stone was powerful, commanding, sex incarnate. And he wore it all so well. From the moment his mesmerizing gaze met mine, I had no choice but surrender to everything he was. His power. His decadence. His passion. He was all I never knew I needed. He wanted to possess me, and I wanted to be his everything. All I had to do was accept what he offered. But everything has a price. The world he gave me fulfilled my wildest dreams, but would that be enough when the past crashed into the present?

First Impressions

This novel definitely has an intriguing start. Nina is a young artist, putting in some grunt work at a small art gallery in the big city. She’s paying her dues in the hopes that sooner or later she’ll make the connections necessary to open her own gallery or become a professional curator. One night a handsome billionaire approaches her after a gallery showing, and it appears he’s willing to offer her everything she’s ever hoped for. There’s a hint of secrecy around his intentions, and we know that he’s not telling the whole story when it comes to his pursuit of her skills. When Tristan offers her a 6 month contract to select art for his high-end hotels, as well as an impressive salary on top of it, Nina can’t refuse this supposedly amazing opportunity. Only after putting pen to paper does she discover there were some aspects of that contract she glossed over a bit too quickly, such as the fact that she must spend the entire six months living with Tristan in his country home. It makes us wonder what else Tristan might have sneaked into that massive contract of his.

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An Interesting Start 

While we are definitely presented with an intriguing premise of how these two characters came together, I must say things do fall flat rather quickly after that contract is signed. It doesn’t take long for Tristan and Nina to begin a sexual relationship, declare their love for each other, and vow to spend the rest of their lives together. I was surprised that Nina was so quick to push aside the mystery surrounding why Tristan singled her out in the beginning. Instead she focuses more attention on trying to hold his interest as a lover, constantly worried that eventually he’ll come to realize she’s not quite at the same level as he is in terms of sophistication or financial security.

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Throughout the whole thing I kept thinking, ummm there’s probably something else you need to be worried about here. Nina was never really one to go back and question what Tristan’s motives were in pursuing her to begin with. In my opinion, the basic reason for his pursuit was rather evident, as it’s hinted at multiple times throughout the book before being pushed aside to instead focus on their developing relationship. Eventually this feature does come back into play at the very end of the novel, and it does reintroduce that element of intrigue and surprise from the beginning, but it took a bit too long for the story to get back on track and come around full circle. The fact that the signs were rather clear to us as the readers, but Nina chose to ignore or push aside those signs to instead put all of her attention on keeping Tristan in her life was rather frustrating.

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The Deadline Looms

There are two rather fascinating aspects of Tristan and Nina’s relationship which remain prevalent from start to finish. The first revolves around time. The contract that Nina signed is for six months. Practically from the moment she writes her name on the dotted line she immediately starts to question what will happen when those six months are up. It’s a looming deadline, and we really have no idea what it might portend. They both want their relationship to succeed, but they’re both fearful to be too open in admitting that to each other. For Nina, she’s drawn in by Tristan’s charismatic and protective nature. She wants their relationship to succeed, but fears that if she appears too eager, or pries too much into why he sought her out in the first place, it will break whatever it is they’re building together. Perhaps there’s a limit of six months because Tristan intends to toss her out at the end of it. Eventually we see that the opposite is true.

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If anything, Tristan fears the end of those 6 months even more than Nina. He wants her forever, but doesn’t want to scare her away with his devotion, which is why he suggested six months to begin with. He didn’t want her to feel too overwhelmed. So far everyone he’s ever loved throughout his life has left him, and his greatest fear is that Nina will leave him as well. This six month timeline also adds another interesting element to their relationship in that they are both trying to cram in as much of a relationship as they can within those six months. Everything is sped up, and it’s not long before they’re both stating how much they love each other. However, with this escalation to their relationship, we simultaneously realize that it doesn’t allow them to develop a level of trust which is truly necessary for success. They have a mutual jealousy whenever someone of the opposite sex seems to get too close to the other, even if it’s a completely innocent situation in which resentment really wasn’t necessary. In my opinion their intense jealousy didn’t really signify the depth of their admiration for each other, but instead highlighted the infancy and rush of their relationship.

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He’s Got Money Honey

In addition to time, money was also a very important aspect of Tristan and Nina’s relationship. While Nina wasn’t necessarily broke at the start of the novel, Tristan’s offer of a position with a generous salary was definitely something she couldn’t pass up. In a way, we see that money was sort of the underlying linchpin which signaled the start to their relationship. It’s also an aspect which causes Nina to look upon Tristan more favorably in certain situations. If Nina or one of her friends is ever in a bind, Tristan’s instinct is to resolve the matter in some way that requires money. While it would have been easy for Nina to assume that Tristan could only throw money at a problem to make it go away, instead she viewed it as his attempt to take care of her and her loved ones.

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As Nina does more work for Tristan in his hotels, she also starts to realize that more money is being put in her bank account than what they initially agreed upon. When considered in combination with the quickly approaching end to her six month contract, she assumes that he must be trying to placate her financially so that when the six months are up she has no reason to complain. As it turns out, Tristan’s motives were much more heartfelt. He was actually trying to demonstrate that he thinks she’s worth more than the amount which had been set out in her initial contract. Money is all that Tristan has ever had to give anyone that’s meant anything to him, and it’s what he constantly falls back on as a solution. His vulnerability, and almost adolescent response to the prospect of Nina leaving him behind was incredibly captivating. It made me want to learn even more about him. In the epilogue of the novel we finally switch to Tristan’s point of view, and honestly it was probably the strongest point of the book!

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Series: Heart of Stone, book 1. The epilogue of the novel definitely provides a set up for the continuation of Tristan and Nina’s story in the next book. While this first novel had some hits and misses, the ending was intriguing enough that my interest is peaked to continue on with the series. I hope going forward we’ll get to see some of the second book told from Tristan’s point of view, as it was such a strong feature of the epilogue of this novel.

Final Impressions: We definitely see a strong start and finish to the story, but it fell sort of flat after the signing of the contract. Nina was so concerned that Tristan would tire of her and throw her by the wayside that it resulted in her keeping quiet about why Tristan specifically sought her out in the beginning to work for him. It was a frustrating oversight, and when it is reintroduced at the end of the novel, by that point you sort of want to say, well…duh! All in all I think the story could have been pushed one step further.

Smut Level: Tristan and Nina’s sexual relationship sort of straddled the line between over-the-top, and your pretty standard romance novel sexual scenario. We get a bit of dirty talk, some bubble bath time, going down on each other. You know, the usual. But at one point near the start of the novel Tristan brings another couple back to his country home to have sex as he and Nina watch on from behind a one-way glass viewing room so she can paint what their coupling makes them feel. It just felt sort of out of place when we look at their other sexual scenes, and again provided the sense that things either should have been pushed one step further, or the scene should have been eliminated entirely.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Copper Key Media, LLC. 326 Pages

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Teaching the Boss by Mallory Crowe

You gotta love an office romance. There are just so many desks, stairwells and elevators where two lovers can find passion!

What’s it About?

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Business-school student April Morgan is ready to graduate–from school, from the secretary pool, and from never-gonna-happen fantasies involving Sam Hunt, her hunky billionaire boss. But when Sam’s girlfriend of the week pushes her too far, April finds herself quitting on the spot with only a mountain of student loan debt to keep her company. In steps Sam’s worst enemy, his father, with a job offer she can’t refuse.

Sam was born into privilege, but refused to live life with a silver spoon in his mouth. After a decade of hard work, he’s on the verge of taking his business public and proving to his tyrannical family that he can make it without their help. When he finds out that April is working for his father, he knows she’s been turned into a pawn in his father’s twisted games.

Despite Sam’s warnings, April is determined to prove she doesn’t need him to make in New York City. But when she finds documents that could lead to Sam losing everything he’s worked for, April realizes that she and Sam have to work together to save the empire they’ve both worked to build.

First Impression

This book certainly started strong, but sort of fizzled for me as it went along. I did love that the first kiss between Sam and April was in an elevator. The only way it could have gotten better was if they’d gotten stuck in said elevator, but we can’t always get what we want! What I didn’t particularly care for though with their first foray into tonsil hockey was that April was on the verge of quitting after hearing Sam discuss transferring her to appease his current jealous girlfriend, and when April was ripping him a new one he basically just kissed her because he knew it would shock her into silence. And then they both realized how much they liked it.

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Really? That’s the impetus for them taking things to the next level, he essentially wanted to shut her up? At least April had a rather longstanding crush on the guy. For Sam he acknowledges that he checked out her curves pretty soon after she started working for him, and that he came to rely on her professionally as his administrative assistant. Only when she decides to quit does he realize what he’s about to lose. Here’s the thing, I know their connection goes deeper than that. I knowwwww it. They just do a pretty poor job of verbalizing it to each other, to the point where it seems like she’s just happy to finally get him in bed and he doesn’t want to lose her as an employee. Not as romantic as I’d hoped.

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Welcome to Family Feud

The other primary feature of this novel was the feud between Sam and his father, Donald. In my opinion it went on for way…too…long. Sam has always had a troubled relationship with his father, who he insists is determined to make sure Sam fails in the business world, as well as in his personal life. This animosity is heightened even more when Donald buys the majority shares in Sam’s company just as he plans to take it public. Here’s the problem. It is unbelievably evident that Donald is actually a loving father who just doesn’t always go about communicating this to his son in the best way. Gee, another issue with verbalizing emotions. Sounds familiar, no? While Sam insists that Donald has underhanded intentions throughout the entirety of the novel, I personally thought it was obvious that Donald was just looking out for Sam.

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This made Sam’s resolve to hate his father seem rather immature and close-minded, especially towards the end of the novel when we see he’s willing to set his father up to spend time behind bars to pay for stealing his company out from under him. What bothered me even more though was that they both sort of used April as a pawn in their interactions with each other. Neither man seems capable of stepping up to lay all their cards out on the table. Instead they relay just a bit of information to April to disclose to the other, without ever revealing the whole story. This frustrates April to the ultimate breaking point where she eventually just confronts Donald to speak the truth. Unfortunately we have to wait around until the last couple chapters of the book for that to come about. For the rest of the novel I was tempted to start banging my head against a wall, or maybe force Sam and Donald to remain in a locked room with each other until they hug it out in a mess of filial tears.

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Series: Billionaires in the City, book 1. I’m not sure I’ll continue with this one. We are introduced to a rather intriguing character towards the end of the novel who will be the primary focus of our sequel, but it’s nothing I’ll rush out to pick up.

Final Impression: I’ve definitely read better, and I’ve also read worse. It wasn’t a terrible read by any means, but for a rather major part of it I was just kind of thinking to myself, “mkay…boop dee boop”. The story just didn’t grab me. There was one scene towards the end that was the most emotional moment in the entire novel for me, and almost brought me to tears. Funnily enough though it wasn’t because of the words or actions of either of our main characters, but rather a supplemental character. I guess it shows there’s potential for an added depth to the emotional connection of a future story, but it just wasn’t here for me in this one.

Smut Level: While I didn’t get the trapped in an elevator steamy make out scene that would have been fantabulous, we did get a rather delightful romp on Sam’s office desk.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Sprinters Press. 203 Pages.

Burning Fields by Alli Sinclair

I had a feeling in just the first chapter alone this was gonna be one emotional journey!

What’s it About? 

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1948: Change has come to every corner of the globe—and Rosie Stanton, returning home to northern Queensland after serving the war effort in Brisbane, plans to rescue her family’s foundering sugarcane farm with her unstoppable can-do spirit. Coming up against her father’s old-world views, a farm worker undermining her success, and constant reminders of Rosie’s brothers lost in the war, Rosie realizes she wants more from life and love—but at what cost?

Italian immigrant Tomas Conti arrives at a neighboring farm, and sparks fly as Rosie draws close to this enigmatic newcomer. When an enemy appears with evidence of Tomas’s shocking past, long-held wartime hatreds rekindle . . . and an astounding family secret sets Rosie’s world ablaze. At the dawn of a new era, Rosie must make her own destiny amid the ashes of yesterday—by following her heart.

First Impression

Rosie might be a young Australian woman returning home to her small town after the end of WWII, but I was surprised to find how much I could identify with this lady. Sure, I might be from a small town in the Midwest of the United States, but I could relate to the reverse culture clash involved of returning home after living in a big city for so long. Rosie encounters this friction of facing nostalgia and the happy memories of childhood with the reality of looking at her home from an adult’s perspective. It’s such a bizarre juxtaposition to have to face as an adult. Home is supposed to wrap you up in warmth and comfort, but sometimes you get cold moments instead, with a wall being put up in place of a welcoming embrace. This book tackles some serious issues and discussions revolving around racism, women’s rights, and the status of immigrants. It makes us realize that in some respects we’ve come a long way, and yet at the same time it’s so sad to see how much has remained the same. Honestly, this book could have been set in the present day based on some of the conversations which took place. I had to keep reminding myself that we were dealing with a post-WWII setting. Such an eye-opening comparison!

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Welcome Home

A main discussion point of this novel revolved around the topic of war, specifically the effects of men returning home after risking their lives to protect the safety of their country. PTSD of the returning soldiers isn’t the only issue highlighted though. We also see the impact of women having to return to their “proper place” in the home after getting a glimpse of independence. There’s also a spotlight shone on societal issues involving all of the different migrant communities who fled their homeland to escape the terrors of war, and in some instances had to leave a home behind which no longer existed because of the mighty wrath of war. In my opinion, all of these sensitive topics were described and detailed to perfection. You feel for these characters, and understand their frustrations in life, as well as the difficulties they face in moving on from such a tumultuous and unforgiving war.

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Light Shining Through the Darkness

There are some heavy subjects which are discussed in this book, and yet a guiding light through it all is the blossoming romance between our home girl Rosie, and a mysterious Italian immigrant named Tomas. To be frank, it was sort of the one component of the story which was somewhat lacking for me. There’s definitely a coy flirtation going on between them, but Tomas is obviously a troubled man dealing with the atrocities he’s witnessed in war. Sometimes this difficult past causes him to lash out at Rosie when she tries to learn more about what happened to him back in Italy. Now, it’s 100% understandable that he would want to try and forget the past rather than dredge up the painful memories of all the tragedy he’s seen firsthand. But then he has the tendency to push Rosie away, only to pursue her again, or she’ll come after him to make some headway, but then he’ll push her away again.

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It’s kind of a grueling back and forth that, while undeniably realistic of many post-war relationships of the time, made me feel kind of bad for Rosie. They also both have the somewhat annoying tendency to start sentences or thoughts without finishing them. It happens a LOT. I lost track of the number of times they would be in the middle of a deep discussion, and just when we’re about to make some headway in their connection one or both of them would utter, “Never mind, it doesn’t matter”. Yes it bloody well does!! Tomas comes across as a rather moody man with a short fuse, and you can never really tell when he’s willing to open up about his past to lay all his cards on the table, versus when he’ll get testy and stalk off in a huff. It speaks to Rosie’s headstrong and persistent nature to not give up on him, but I wish we could have seen just a few more sparks of lightness and tenderness from Tomas.

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

Series: Personally I’d love to see a sequel to this novel which shows us what Rosie and Tomas are up to a few years down the line.

Final Impressions: A must read for your next book club. Definitely some interesting discussion points on society which still resonate today. While it’s kind of sad to see that some of these issues are still present, it shows us a light at the end of the tunnel, and how people can overcome their differences if they’re just willing to open up their eyes to see the good in other people. For me the standout feature of this book was really the societal issues discussed in terms of PTSD, racism, sexism, and the stigma of migrant communities. Tomas and Rosie’s romance was nice, but in my opinion it took a back seat to these other topics.

Smut Level: Some light touches, kisses, and one fade-away sex scene that we don’t get any detail to. Overall I’d say it’s a clean read!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Lyrical Press. 275 Pages.