Full Girlfriend Experience by Dana Ross

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

What’s it About?

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

First Impressions

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

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Full Girlfriend Experience

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

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

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Our Villainous Heroine

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

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

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Stealing Innocence

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

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

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

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

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

Series: Stand-alone

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

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

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

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Pushing Arlo by MV Ellis

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

First Impressions

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

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Why Sex Tapes are Never a Good Idea

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

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

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

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From New York to Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hearts Abroad by Skye McNeil

This might just be the crème de la crème of nanny gigs. Not only does Londyn get to spend the summer having fun with two precocious girls in a beautiful Colorado mountain town, but she also gets to flirt with their sexy father. Oh, did I mention he has a British accent? Again, best nanny job ever.

What’s it About?

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Taking a break from screenwriting in New York City, Londyn Bellerose takes a nannying job in Colorado to get away from the hubbub. A summer to live without regrets is all she wants. While her boss is British, gorgeous, and a millionaire, he has no clue how to have fun. Determined to mend the relationship between father and daughters, Londyn doesn’t expect to fall for the museum curator.

Londyn is American and everything Callum Archer swore to never fall for again. With her carefree spirit and energetic smile, she’s perfect to nanny Callum’s two daughters. The problem is she’s also perfect for him. She’s sassy, musical, and tends to speak her mind more than she means to. When old history and new dreams threaten her happily ever after, will Londyn and Callum’s love survive?

First Impressions

Londyn needs to get away from New York City. As a struggling playwright she’s tired of encountering nothing but rejection, not to mention the lack of a love-life. What better way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city than to escape to…Iowa. Yeah, that lasts for about a week before Londyn realizes she needs to once again get away, this time from her aunt who just so happens to have a more active love life than Londyn. Lucky for her, she finds a job posting for a nanny to two adorable young girls in Colorado. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Until she meets their sexy father of course. Callum is clearly a loving father, but is often traveling for work, hence the necessity for a nanny. There’s a clear attraction between Callum and Londyn, and both can acknowledge the benefit of having a summer romance fling that has a definite end date. Let off some steam, and all of that. However, they also can’t ignore some definite red flags when it comes to crossing the line of professionalism. In addition, Londyn’s carefree attitude and struggling career choice reminds Callum a bit too much of his ex, who left him and their daughters behind to pursue a modeling career. Will Callum and Londyn give in to the temptation which continuously draws them together, or will their reservations keep them from experiencing what might possibly be the greatest love they’ve ever known?

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Delayed Gratification

It’s almost a cliche when you think about it, the nanny and the single father. However, I must say I sincerely appreciated that Callum and Londyn didn’t rush into anything physical too soon. If anything, they take things pretty slowly considering they’re clearly attracted to each other. Even when Callum decides he wants to see where things might go with Londyn in terms of a relationship, he doesn’t immediately push her up against a wall to ravish her. Not this British gentleman! Instead he’s determined to woo her. Things start off with some flirty suggestions, soft touches, and the briefest of kisses.

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When Londyn returns his affections, again they don’t rush into bed together. They get to know each other, even going so far as to share the details of their past relationships and heartbreaks. I was shocked that towards the 3/4 point of the novel they even confess their love to each other, and yet they still haven’t had sex. It’s honestly quite refreshing to see them focus on developing an emotional connection first, especially when you consider they both acknowledge their time together is limited. You’d think they’d be spending as much time beneath the sheets as possible before their time together ends, but they realize sharing the little moments together, watching a movie with the girls, or simply holding each other in bed, is romance enough. Pardon me whilst I sigh from the sweet and beautiful love story taking place on the page.

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One Minor Reality Check

While I adamantly love the premise we’re presented with by having a carefree nanny fall in love with a rather uptight Brit, I do sort of have to question the reality of the situation. After all, we are dealing with a wealthy family here, and a strict grandmother who seems to be the epitome of British prim and proper in charge of the nanny hiring process. The fact they would hire a nanny for just two brief summer months rather than having one come on full time year-round seemed a bit out of the ordinary for this group. Plus the fact they were fine with Londyn coming on when she didn’t have like, a PhD in early childhood development was kind of odd. An out-of-work playwright just seems like a rather unlikely choice, especially when Londyn seems determined to abandon the structured summer of piano lessons and French tutoring which was initially planned out for the girls, and instead just have a summer filled with fun and play. Umm…how exactly did she get past the first interview?

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An Absent Yet Loving Father

Aside from the sweet romance developing between Callum and Londyn, I must say my absolute favorite feature of this novel was the portrayal of work-life balance, and how Londyn wasn’t afraid to stand up to Callum when he was putting his work above his daughters. Londyn lost both of her parents at a young age, and she’s never stopped missing them. She can’t but feel heartbroken every time she sees Callum depart for yet another work trip, and willingly leave his adorable daughters behind. This is his time to be with them, to see them grow up, and yet Callum spends more time on the road than he does playing with his girls. It’s an absence that Londyn is extremely passionate about resolving, and you have to admire that she essentially puts her job on the line every time she points out that he’s missing out on time with his children.

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What makes this read special though is that Callum isn’t some grumpy ole curmudgeon who doesn’t want to spend time with his kids. When he actually is present in the same time zone as his daughters, it’s evident to everyone that he’s a dedicated and loving father. He’s trying to care for them the only way he knows how, which for Callum translates into working as tirelessly as possible to provide for them. The fact he’s such a loving father makes his numerous absences all the more painful for his daughters, and this is what Londyn draws his attention to. She expends her energy trying to bring this family closer together, rather than complaining that he’s spending so much time away from her specifically. It really demonstrates the selfless nature that is Londyn. As the summer progresses, and Callum makes more of an effort to spend time at home with his daughters, we see how Londyn starts to become a part of their family unit as well. Again, time for me to sigh.

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

Series: Atlas, book 1. I’ll continue with this series for sure.

Final Impressions: This is an adorably sweet read. The connection between Callum and Londyn is immediately palpable, and I admired the fact that the author didn’t make the story solely about them. Callum’s daughters are featured perfectly, where they’re obviously an important feature of the story, yet there’s still some time after hours for Callum and Londyn to spend quality time together. Throughout the second-half of the novel, I was constantly wondering when the other shoe would drop. Surely something is going to put a damper on the growing connection between our lovebirds, especially after they admit to loving each other and wanting to give a long-term relationship a chance. Will Callum’s ex come back into the picture? Will one of Londyn’s plays get picked up by a Broadway big-wig? Turns out, both! Slightly predictable in that regard, but overall still an enjoyable read.

Smut Level: We have to wait quite a while before we get it, but once we do…hot damn! This sexy Brit might be prim and proper for work, but in the bedroom he’s not afraid to let his tie loose.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $1.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 344 Pages.

Gage by Tess Oliver

A down-on-her-luck singer who decides to make a go of running her grandfather’s Montana restaurant, even though she has no experience in the food industry. Somewhere in the world Gordon Ramsay is having a panic attack.

What’s it About?

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After nearly losing his friend in a logging accident, Gage Barringer is convinced now more than ever that he needs to find a different job. But his side business of breaking colts at the small Montana ranch he inherited from his grandfather doesn’t earn him enough money. He has his mind set on running The Raven’s Nest, a popular bar and restaurant near his ranch. The original owner has died and Gage is waiting for it to be put up for sale. But there is a five-foot-four, brown eyed, obstacle in his way, an obstacle with lips made for sin and a voice made for breaking hearts. And Summer Donovan is one road block Gage Barringer won’t be able to find a way around.

First Impressions

A small ranch town in Montana. A local logger with muscles and swagger. A young city-woman attempting to start life anew. A restaurant caught between them as a source for animosity even as they battle their growing attraction for each other? Count…me…in! Just one teeny tiny little problem here though. The synopsis description about Gage being convinced he needs to get out of the logging business, and that he’ll seemingly do anything to gain control of the restaurant that could prove to be his ticket out of a life-threatening job? Pretty misleading. Gage’s interest in the Raven’s Nest seemingly lasts for about 5 minutes as a passing fancy; one which he quickly abandons as soon as Summer comes to town.

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I was kind of looking forward to this restaurant business being a source of tension between the two, especially seeing as it implies that Gage was desperate to remove himself from such a dangerous job as a logger. In the end, we see that Gage really doesn’t put up a fight at all to claim the restaurant, and even turns down an offer from Summer to become part owner of the place. Really makes you wonder if he had gone through with purchasing the Raven’s Nest at the start of the novel how long his interest would have remained. Overall the lust-filled flirtations between Gage and Summer were certainly entertaining, but the story could have benefited from an added layer of depth if this claim to the restaurant had remained as a source of tension throughout more of the plot.

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Breaking in a Wild Stallion

Summer and Gage may have had a rough introduction to each other at the start of the novel, but it doesn’t take long before their open flirtations turn into something more. An interesting dilemma that they both face though is a hesitancy to voice how much they actually care about the other, as both are afraid the other might flee. In regards to Summer’s possible flight, it’s a bit of a more obvious source for concern. Gage fears that this city girl he’s come to care for won’t be able to handle the difficult travails of a Montana winter, not to mention the complications of running her grandfather’s restaurant which has become a staple of this small mountain town. With the lure of a possible recording contract waiting for her back in California, Gage believes it’s just a matter of time before Summer runs back to California before he’s even had a chance to win her heart.

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As for Gage, this small town is his home. It always has been, and always will be, so there’s no potential risk of him fleeing in terms of physical distance. However, Summer worries that based on his many past dalliances with other women she won’t be able to maintain his interest for long. She can admit to herself that she’s falling hard for this man, but she’s worried he might walk away from her just as she’s starting to lose her heart to him. How could a bachelor so seemingly set in his non-commitment lifestyle change everything for her? Both Gage and Summer are worried to put their true feelings on the line, as they assume it won’t be long before the other loses interest and turns a blind eye on their newfound relationship

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Cut Out the Drama

Summer has come to this small Montana town in an attempt to leave behind all the drama from her life in L.A. On the cusp of receiving a major record contract, she was devastated to learn that the record company was only interested in signing her rather than the other members of her band. On top of it, a certain media mogul was more interested in getting in her panties than promoting her vocal abilities. As if that weren’t bad enough, she discovered that her boyfriend (and band-mate) was cheating on her with her supposed best friend. Summer was desperate to get away from it all, including her overbearing mother who was only interested in the potential profits her daughter’s burgeoning music career could bring her.

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When Summer arrives in Montana, she’s desperate to ignore all of the negative forces that are trying to impede on her newfound happiness. You have to admire the fact she’s leaving behind all she knew to break out on her own, as well as cut out the drama of all the people who tried to use her for their own selfish personal gains. The only minor problem with this though is that it left most of the book a bit lacking in drama and excitement, since she was essentially choosing to ignore it all. Summer was determined to not answer any imposing phone calls from her mother, her agent, her ex-boyfriend, and even her mother’s lawyer. Sure, this does eventually come to a boiling point at the very end of the novel, but for the bulk of it we mainly focus on Summer and Gage getting close in the physical sense. A bit more incorporation throughout of Summer’s familial issues back in California, as well as Gage’s supposed dislike of his logging job would have helped lend a bit of struggle to the story.

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Series: The Barringer Brothers, book 1. Technically this is the first book in this series, but it does reference some people and events from the Rainshadow series involving Gage’s brother. You can definitely get by without having read it, as the events from that novel don’t really play into the overall plot of this one. However, just be forewarned that a few times here and there it was tricky to know what people/events the characters were referencing.

Final Impression: An ok read for the beach, or a mountain cabin escape. Summer’s determination to make her life in Montana a success no matter what was both admirable, yet also ignorant at times. Although I agree that Summer’s mother was a sad excuse for a parental figure, I do wish we’d had a bit more insight into their relationship, and maybe one or two additional scenes of them directly confronting each other. As for Gage, he’s definitely passionate about Summer, but we needed to see more passion in regards to what he was doing with his life. He’s clearly not interested in being a logger long-term, even though he’s still involved with it at the end of the novel, and we get just a brief glimpse of his interest in breaking in horses at his ranch. More focus on his endeavors there would have given us more of an idea of what this mountain man truly cares about in life.

Smut Level: Gage isn’t aware of his own brute strength apparently. At the start of the novel he’s getting down and dirty with a woman in the bathroom of Summer’s restaurant, and the two of them manage to break the sink from the wall.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Sugartree Press. 284 Pages.

Forgotten Hearts by Sloan Archer

Geez, yet another western romance novel that is making me consider a vacation to a cattle ranch in Montana! Not gonna lie, I’m sort of considering the possibility of building it into a work trip of mine next fall. We’ll just have to see if it all comes together!

What’s it About? 

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In the summer of 1991, young love blossomed between Cash Axton and Vanessa Paul in the vast field of forget-me-nots that separated their family homes in small town Dunblair Ridge, Montana. The two became inseparable best friends, and ten-year-old Cash made a vow to Vanessa that he intended to one day carry out: I’m going to marry you. But with autumn came an unforeseen tragedy, resulting in an event that would tear the two apart and divide them by thousands of miles.

As adults, Cash and Vanessa are living separate lives until fate steps in and brings them back to Dunblair Ridge. Cash, haunted by the events he’d witnessed overseas as a photojournalist, comes home to heal and take over the family’s failing ranch. Vanessa, a workaholic financial planner who suddenly finds herself jobless and single, leaves New York City for Montana to claim the farmhouse she inherited.

Vanessa intends to stay in Dunblair Ridge just long enough to fix up her property and sell it, but then she reunites with Cash and a flood of memories comes rushing back. While the two cannot deny their mutual attraction, they struggle to ignore the ticking clock that counts down the days until Vanessa returns to New York. Will Cash’s vow go unbroken?

First Impressions

Vanessa is having a bit of a rough day. It starts off with her being fired from her job under the accusation of embezzlement, which she didn’t actually commit. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when she runs home to what she assumes will be the comforting arms of her boyfriend, she finds him engaged in some naked loofah washing with a young coffee barista. And for the cherry on top of this hot fudge sundae of mayhem, said barista is pregnant, and is engaged to Vanessa’s now ex-boyfriend. Goodness gracious! I need to remember the next time I experience frustration because Trader Joe’s is out of arugula that things can always get worse. Much, much worse.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

The misfortunes don’t stop there for our young heroine. Her good for nothing mother certainly puts the “itch” in “bitch”, and has been misusing funds which Vanessa’s been sending her for rent. She then discovers that the only relative to ever show her love and affection one summer back when she was 10 has recently died. Her mother never told her of her Aunt Jeanie’s death, and Vanessa has inherited her entire estate in the small Montana town of Dunblair Ridge. Throughout all of these crippling misfortunes I kept asking myself one question…is she ever going to actually meet the sexy cowboy who is now living across the ranch field from her? This is a romance novel after all, yes?

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While the series of unfortunate events at the start of the novel definitely help set the scene for Vanessa’s desperation to move from New York City to Montana, I couldn’t help but feel that it went on for a tad too long. It’s not until over 1/3 of the novel is over that Vanessa and Cash actually have a conversation with each other as adults. The prologue of the novel presents us with the briefest of flashbacks from when the two were 10 years old, and Cash vowed that one day he would marry the young lass who became such a close friend over those summer months before her menacing mother whisked her away. The novel definitely could have benefited from a shortened summary of the downfall to Vanessa’s seemingly perfect New York City life, so that we could have more moments involving Cash and Vanessa rekindling their friendship from years before, and seeing it evolve into something even more.

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A Lost Friendship

Another area where I wish the story had focused a bit more attention was on that summer Vanessa and Cash spent together so many years ago. The initial flashback at the start of the novel is really the only time we see an interaction between Vanessa and Cash as children. Later on we get more information about how Vanessa and her mother ended up staying in Montana all those years ago, how her mother abandoned her to live with her Aunt Jeanie, and how Vanessa and her aunt became remarkably close during those few months together before her cruel mother came to collect her again. Seriously, this mom makes the evil stepmother from Cinderella look like Mother Goose in comparison.

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The scene which describes the crushing moment when Vanessa is literally ripped from the arms of her Aunt was so disturbingly heartbreaking you almost need to take a moment to collect yourself. While I definitely appreciated this glimpse into Vanessa’s past connection to her aunt, the missing component was really her connection with Cash during that time. We get a brief mention of how the two were constantly playing together, but we don’t even see a recap of how it was that the two first met. I feel like if we’d had just one or two additional scenes highlighting their friendship as children, it would have made their eventual meeting again 20 years later so much more special and meaningful.

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Even though I would have liked to see more of a window into Vanessa and Cash’s time together as children, as well as had their meeting occur earlier on in the book, I must say I really did appreciate the moment the two did finally reconnect. The reason I enjoyed this moment so much is because the two had no initial memory of each other from when they were children. I feel like most authors in a similar situation would have had this heartwarming moment where they both glimpse each other again, and all the memories come flooding back right away. Nope, not here! You can’t help but appreciate the reality of the situation, where neither can immediately recall why there’s a sense of familiarity to the hottie staring back at them. Let’s face it, I know I certainly wouldn’t be able to remember many of the details of someone I only knew for about 3 months when I was 10 years old! Eventually they both remember the time they spent together, but it comes about in such a natural way you can’t help but love it.

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Coming Back Full Circle

It’s kind of funny, at the start of the novel I kept asking myself if the two leads of this romance were ever actually going to meet, and by the end I was continually wondering whether we would ever see a resolution to some of the misfortunes presented at the start of the novel. It may seem like Vanessa is doomed to never clear her name from the embezzling accusation which ended her financial advising career, but eventually this story line does come back to the forefront. What followed was definitely an interesting progression of events. At first you experience a kind of frustration at Vanessa’s consideration to leave Cash and Montana behind, even though they’ve both come to hold a prominent place of importance in her life. However, you also have to appreciate that she’s not willing to turn her back on her career in order to be with a man. If she had, I think it would have seemed like a break in character from the determined woman we’ve come to know throughout the book. Instead we see a true internal struggle between what Vanessa thought she always wanted, and what she now realizes she wants.

One aspect that didn’t totally come full circle for me was in regards to Vanessa’s familial struggles. After Vanessa’s mother pulled her away from her loving aunt all those years ago, the two lost touch immediately. Her mother cut off all contact between the two, including throwing away any letters Vanessa tried to write her aunt, and sending back any letters her aunt tried to send Vanessa’s way. When Vanessa shows up in Montana, an old friend of her aunt’s presents her with a stack of the letters which Jeanie tried to send Vanessa all those years ago. The emotions are still too raw for Vanessa to confront these letters right away, so she hides them away in a box underneath her bed. I kept hoping throughout the novel that at some point we would get a glimpse into the love these letters undoubtedly contained, but unfortunately we never hear mention of the letters again at the end of the book.

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Something else which sort of fades to the background is Vanessa’s cold-hearted mother. I kept worrying that one day we’d see her show up on Vanessa’s doorstep in Montana begging for money, or perhaps throwing a wrench into her developing relationship with Cash. However, I was surprised to find that after Vanessa vowed that she was through once and for all with her mother, this vow holds true throughout the rest of the book. Ultimately, I must say I admired Vanessa for finally having the strength to distance herself from such an unloving and unwelcome burden in her life. Again, surprised it never came back into the story, but all in all pretty pleased that this was the case.

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*An ARC of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Dunblair Hearts, book 1. I definitely want to continue with this series. We’re introduced to a slew of beloved townsfolk, and I’m interested to see if some of Vanessa’s newfound friends will find love of their own in a future novel.

Final Impression: This is a story of one woman’s determination in the face of adversity. She might be tempted to give up at times, and even have an emotional breakdown or two (who doesn’t?), but when all is said and done she’s a woman with a plan that she intends to stick to. I would actually say this is more a story of Vanessa breaking free and moving on from her previously hectic life in New York City rather than classifying it as a romance, per se. Something which contributed to this feeling of the romance taking a back seat in the plot is the fact that it took quite a long time before Vanessa and Cash reconnected after so many years apart. In addition, a number of the scenes which involve them developing their relationship from acquaintances to friends to lovers are described more in summary rather than in detail. I almost feel like I got to know them more as individuals rather than as a couple.

Smut Level: A clean read from start to finish. Definitely have some flirtations between Vanessa and Cash, as well as one eventual love scene, but it’s passed over without any erotic detail.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 233 Pages.

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.

Connected by Kim Karr

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

What’s it About?

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

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

First Impressions

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

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Another Flash Forward

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

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

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Quick Switch

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

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

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Multiple Meanings

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

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

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

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

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