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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Finding Marnie by MV Ellis

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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A Different Point of View

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

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

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Who is Marnie? 

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

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

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Love Unattainable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pushing Arlo by MV Ellis

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

First Impressions

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

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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.

Wicked Ties by Shayla Black

What’s the one thing that every hunting cabin in the middle of a Louisiana swamp needs? A playroom of course!

What’s it About? 

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She didn’t know what she wanted…

Morgan O’Malley has seen a lot of kinky things as the hostess of a cable sex talk show. But she’s never met a man like Jack Cole before. A self-proclaimed dominant, he’s as alpha as a male can get—and good for Morgan to have around when an obsessed stalker ratchets up his attempts to get to her.

Until he made her beg for it.

Though Jack is a bodyguard, Morgan feels anything but safe in his presence because, slowly and seductively, Jack is bringing her deepest fantasies to the surface. And when he bends her to his will, what’s more shocking than her surrender is how much she enjoys it—and starts to crave his masterful touch. A willing player in Jack’s games, Morgan knows that his motives aren’t pure, but she has no idea how personal they are…

First Impressions

How to pass the time when you’re stuck in a cabin deep in the bayou of Louisiana after fleeing a stalker with the propensity for murder? Gee, I don’t know. Play cards? Work on a puzzle? Nope! In this novel our female lead decides that a good way to get her mind off the drama of a stalker drawing ever closer to killing her is to explore a d/s relationship with the dominant bodyguard stuck in the cabin with her. Oh, and did I mention that she just met this guy for the first time one day earlier? Sure…seems like a great distraction.

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An Absent Stalker

The impetus for Morgan and Jack to go off in their cabin of lustful seclusion was a stalker closing in our female lead, even making the bold mood of shooting at her in broad daylight. Thankfully she just happened to be interviewing a professional bodyguard at the time to learn more about the intricacies of BDSM for her sex-talk cable show. This stalker story line definitely provided us with a bang-filled start, but unfortunately after Morgan and Jack hide away in his swamp cabin, stalker drama is essentially absent for a large portion of the book.

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Sure, they keep mentioning it here and there as a reason why Morgan can’t leave the overbearing dominant who seems determined to open her mind to a new kind of sexual experience. After the attempted shooting to eliminate her, we get no further contact between her and her stalker. No phone calls, no letters, no carrier pigeons. Nada. I was so convinced in my mind I knew who the perpetrator was, not to mention I was so determined to be disappointed that the drama was seemingly resolving itself in the background away from our two lovers. However, I will admit I exclaimed aloud in surprise when we eventually see this story line come back at the ultimate end of the novel. I’ll be the first to tip my hat in appreciation at the clever way this resolution sneaks up on you. Much like the stalker himself! Or herself? Mua ha ha ha.

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A Deceptive Meeting

Morgan’s first meeting with Jack the bodyguard initially seemed entirely linked to her cable show, and her attempt to learn more about the world of BDSM to ultimately share with viewers. In addition, this allows her to satisfy her own curiosity about a sexual lifestyle which has intrigued her for years, and was the source of her previous relationship falling apart. When Morgan’s stalker attempts to end her life, Jack is determined to protect her, and hide her away in the middle of a Louisiana swamp where nobody will be able to harm her. The fact he was able to satisfy his own lust by tying her down and having her submit to him initially seemed like a serendipitous added bonus. There’s just one rather major problem with this whole scenario. Jack ensured that he was the dominant Morgan sought out, because he had an ulterior motive of his own which was to get her in his playroom from day one.

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Jack’s initial draw to Morgan was actually to use her as a source of revenge against her half-brother, Brandon, who is somehow responsible for wreaking havoc on Jack’s life. We’re not exactly sure what the cause of animosity is between these two men in the beginning, but Morgan is clearly caught between them as Jack mistakenly assumes that Morgan and Brandon are a couple. To quote an inner musing of Jack himself, “He lured her in to fuck her as payback”. That’s just…disturbing. By satiating his own lust for Morgan, he’s essentially killing two birds with one stone by also destroying what he assumed was a romantic relationship between Morgan and Brandon. I think we’re supposed to be placated by the fact that Jack is genuinely attracted to Morgan, but I couldn’t help but feel disconcerted that Jack intended to use Morgan as a pawn in his chess match against Brandon. The fact he even went so far as to send a sex tape of Morgan and himself to Brandon as proof of his conquest was too close to a form of revenge porn for my liking.

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An Irresponsible Dominant

A crucial aspect of this novel is to look at the d/s relationship between Morgan and Jack. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to BDSM. To be honest, I’m not usually a huge fan of romances which feature it, but I try to read them every once in a while to try and further understand the appeal of a relationship which can initially come across as rather demeaning and abusive. Upon meeting Morgan, Jack quickly realizes that she’s a natural submissive who simply hasn’t had the opportunity to explore her fascination with the BDSM lifestyle, and he is drawn to her so completely that he’s more than willing to show her the…ropes. Yeah, BDSM pun absolutely intended right there.

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While Morgan is definitely intrigued by and interested in engaging in a d/s sexual relationship, she’s not exactly well-versed in the rules of BDSM. And I must say, Jack is a pretty poor teacher. Just because he knows she’s a natural submissive doesn’t mean he can skip over the instructions related to their new relationship. She’s new to the lifestyle, and obviously has a lot of questions and concerns. Not to mention, a lot of other stressful shit is going on in her life right now! It’s inevitable she’d wonder what the heck he was intending to do when he demanded she kneel naked on the bed, bend forward, and stretch her arms towards the headboard. And yet Jack felt it was within his “right” to dole out punishment to her for questioning what would happen next, and not placing her full trust in him. It’s almost like he was reprimanding her for not feeling 100% safe with him during a scene. DUDE! She’s known you one day, and recently had a crazy stalker shoot at her in broad daylight. Frankly, I’d be concerned if she didn’t ask what the hell you were gonna do with those velvet ropes of yours.

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An “F” for “Effort”

Even though Morgan has always had a secret desire to explore a BDSM relationship, she’s hesitant to fully engage in one seeing as admitting this fantasy of hers was the cause for her ex-fiance to leave her. The time she spends with Jack in the swamp cabin makes her realize just explosive this kind of relationship can be, yet admitting this to herself scares her to death. Therefore, she asks if Jack wouldn’t mind trying to have “traditional” sex with her that doesn’t involve all the spanking, punishment, and bondage.

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I must say, their attempt at “traditional vanilla” sex was beyond frustrating. When she asks him to accommodate her request he smirks knowingly, having predetermined that he’s going to twist her request against her. Which…come one dude, don’t be a dick. Jack clearly isn’t into it, and really doesn’t forth much of an effort into pleasing Morgan. Just because it’s missionary doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of dirty talk, or maybe grip her hips with passion rather than a soft caress? After this sad display at a “traditional” sex scene, Morgan whole-heartedly admits that he was right, she was wrong, and demands he take her to his playroom. Let’s face it, this is what he wanted all along, and he knew that by putting forth as little effort as possible into her request for vanilla sex that she’d end up in his playroom where she belonged.

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Compromise, or Incompatibility? 

Later on we see another moment of incompatibility between these two when it comes to Morgan admitting her deepest desire of having a menage with two men. It’s clearly evident to Morgan, to us as the reader, hell to all the creatures hanging out in the swamp, that this is something Jack really doesn’t want to do. He doesn’t want to share her, and is terrified of losing her to another man. And yet, we see that he eventually gives into her desire, saying it’s his job to make all of her sexual fantasies come true. So…he’s willing to put his full effort behind this request of hers, but put a half-assed attempt behind her previous request for “traditional” sex. Why is willing to give in to this request?

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Personally, I think it’s because at least this is a request which falls in his wheelhouse, and he still has the opportunity to steer the scene with total and absolute control. While I agree that it’s great Jack is able to help Morgan finally explore her deepest desires, I can’t help but question if they’re actually compatible with each other and showing what it means to compromise in a relationship, or if they’re simply settling with each other. Perhaps they are so thrilled to find someone who engages in their kind of lifestyle that they’re willing to overlook the fact they’re both finding themselves in sexual scenarios that they aren’t entirely comfortable with. Jack put up with sharing Morgan with another man, even though it was one of his biggest fears. Morgan puts up with being tied down and denied sexual gratification for lengthy periods even though it frustrates the hell out of her to the point where she stares daggers at Jack…and the other man in the room.

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Series: Wicked Lovers, book 1. I might continue with this series. There are some interesting secondary characters I’m intrigued to learn about.

Final Impressions: While the resolution involving  Morgan’s stalker was a huge surprise, I wish it had been featured more prominently throughout the bulk of the novel. Instead we see more of a focus on Morgan admitting her true desires to herself, and Jack seeking out his revenge against her half-brother. These two definitely have a strong physical connection with each other, but I couldn’t help but wonder at times if they were choosing to ignore key aspects of their relationship which made them uncomfortable. After all, they’ve only known each other for about three days at this point. Maybe they don’t know each other as well as they think they do.

Smut Level: There’s definitely some sensual aspects to this novel, including menage, bondage, dirty talk, and anal play. I will say though compared to other BDSM romances I’ve read it’s not necessarily an outlandish level of sexploration.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 354 Pages.

 

Meant to be Kept by Amelia Foster

The story of how one man tries to rectify a mistake to keep the most important woman in his life: his wife.

What’s it About? 

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One night. One too many drinks. One mistake. That’s all it took to derail my marriage. Now, all I can do is beg for a second chance. To try and redeem myself in a bid not to lose the love of my life. I’m determined to use every second, every moment I have to show my wife how much she means to me—to rebuild the trust I shattered. But the harder I try, the more I start to realize our marriage had fallen into a routine of complacency and misplaced priorities long before my indiscretion. Isabelle is a strong, passionate, beautiful woman—a wife who has sacrificed so much for me. I just hope it’s not too late for us, and that I’ll be able to convince her that our love is meant to be kept.

First Impressions

I’m not going to sugar coat this one folks, this romance blew me away in the best way possible. It’s a beautiful, smart read which is focused around the concept of fighting for love. One of the main ways this book stopped me in my tracks was that it tackled all of the preconceived notions I thought I’d have, and twisted them on their head. Prime example: our male lead, Tanner. Based on the synopsis and the first few pages, I was determined that I was not going to like this guy. We discover in the opening scene that during a guy’s weekend away with his brother, he gets borderline black-out drunk and starts making out with a woman who isn’t his wife. Gee, alcohol and cheating? What an absolute gem. I thought the author would have a hell of time trying to convince me that this guy was worth giving a second chance to. Lo and behold, simply by the end of the first chapter I found myself rooting for Tanner to succeed in winning back the trust of his wife, Isabelle. That’s no easy feat ladies and gents, and yet it was done so effortlessly that it draws in your attention where you can’t turn away until we get to “The End”.

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Totally Upfront

While we don’t necessarily get the very best first impression of Tanner, it barely takes any time at all before we sympathize with the man, and hope against hope that Isabelle will be able to forgive him for a seemingly unforgivable transgression. There are a few key features that the author weaves in to get us to love Tanner. First and foremost, we must look at the transgression itself. Yes, in a drunken stupor he kissed another woman. Downright stupid. And yet, our opening scene presents us with a broken man who is fully aware of the error of his ways, and is filled with nothing but regret. At no point do we see him try to hide this from his wife, or lessen the gravity of his mistake. Instead we see him come home right away to admit to her what he did, and he vows that he’ll do whatever he can to make it up to her. He even sets a deadline, begging that she find the strength within her to forgive him, allow him to prove how much he still wants her and only her by their next anniversary which is just 43 days away.

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The second clever move on the part of the author was the use of flashbacks throughout the entirety of the novel. On the one hand these flashbacks help demonstrate that Tanner has always been a romantic, and that Isabelle was always meant to be his one and only. Even though this first chapter starts off with a rather negative portrayal of Tanner getting up close and personal with another woman, by the end we feel like we’ve seen who the true Tanner is through a flashback, and it’s far from a womanizing cheater. He has a soft and romantic side which has revolved around Isabelle since the first moment the two met. I for one was shocked that within this first chapter alone I could so quickly go from an initial determination of wanting to hate this guy, to recognizing by the end of it that he simply made a stupid mistake that he is fully willing to atone for.

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Forgiveness

When Isabelle first hears the confession of how Tanner kissed someone else, she is understandably distraught. Even though we’re rooting for Tanner to succeed in all of his various romantic attempts to win back his wife, we can also sympathize with the difficulty she faces in letting him back into her life. At times you almost want to scream at her, “He obviously didn’t mean to do it! He clearly loves you! Just forgive him already!”. But, let’s be honest, that would simply be too easy, not to mention rather unrealistic.

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Something that the author captures so brilliantly when it comes to Isabelle contemplating her relationship with Tanner is that it was never a question of love. Isabelle will always love him. He’s been her best friend and partner for 12 years, not to mention the father of her children. It’s not possible for her to fall out of love with him that quickly. No, instead we see that it’s actually a question of trust. If she agrees to let him back into her life, she’ll obviously still love him, but will she ever be able to trust him as fully as she did before that disastrous weekend? If she can’t, then is it really worth bringing him back into her life at all?

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An Imperfect Marriage

In addition to utilizing flashbacks to show us the sweet side of Tanner’s character, these flashbacks also serve a few other key purposes. First, they demonstrate that for the past three years or so Tanner and Isabelle’s marriage hasn’t been as idyllic as we the audience, or even Tanner himself, thought it to be. We see through so many flashbacks how Isabelle was always the light of Tanner’s life, and he was devoted and committed to her in every way possible. We just assumed that this kiss with the other woman was the first and only indicator of how Tanner failed in an aspect of his marriage.

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However, as the anniversary deadline approaches, and Tanner tries to think up various romantic dates to go on with Isabelle, he simultaneously realizes how his focus on work these last few years has created a certain distance between him and his family. The little things he used to do with them, such as movie nights, weekend breakfasts, etc. had fallen by the wayside. He was still a loving father and husband throughout that time, and his affection for Isabelle never wavered, but he can’t help but acknowledge that he wasn’t putting as much of an effort into his family as he did in the beginning. It’s a realization that I think would speak true to many couples out there. Just because you’ve finally found your one true love doesn’t mean you can stop demonstrating how much you love them.

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Where Past Meets Present

Another important purpose of the continual use of flashbacks was that it brought Tanner and Isabelle’s entire relationship full circle. By this point you might be getting tired of my repeated mention of these flashback scenes, but I think I can say with 100% confidence that never before have I seen a more brilliant and polished inclusion of flashbacks to tell a story in my life. And I’ve read a crap ton of books. Each and every chapter within the book is divided into two parts: past and present. The present always details the various ways that Tanner is attempting to win back the trust of his wife, and we then see how those attempts correspond to a certain moment from their past through the flashback scene.

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At the start of the novel, the present scene involves Tanner admitting to Isabelle how he kissed another woman, while the scene in the past shows the initial moment when Tanner and Isabelle first met in college. Throughout the rest of the book the flashback moments move in a linear progression throughout Tanner and Isabelle’s relationship from their first meeting to their first date, kiss, sexual encounter, meeting with the parents, living together, marriage, kids, etc. By the last chapter we see in the present that we’re at the final deadline of Tanner and Isabelle’s anniversary, the moment when Isabelle must decide if she’s ready and willing to accept Tanner back into her life. And as for our flashback scene? By the end the flashbacks have taken us right up to the very moment when Tanner went away with his brother for the guy’s weekend where the initial transgression first occurred at the beginning of the book. I mean…WOW! The beauty of how everything came together full circle so seamlessly from start to finish cannot be overstated.

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*An advanced reader copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: I want this to be a series soooooo bad. I would 100% read a sequel involving one of Tanner’s brothers.

Final Impressions: Simply put, this is a beautiful book. It’s not every day you come across a second chance romance that involves a husband and wife, but it’s definitely one worth reading. It highlights the power of family, and the importance of still putting forth an effort in your relationship, even after you’ve said “I do”. You can’t get lazy in regards to demonstrating affection to your partner. I’m sure my love for the use of flashbacks throughout this novel is clearly evident at this point, so I won’t go into even more detail about it! Again though…they’re pretty amazing!

Smut Level: Nothing dirty, but we do get a few scenes, both past and present, which demonstrate the physical connection these two have always shared.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Limitless Publishing, LLC. 228 Pages.

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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.