A Lord to Love by Sara Dobie Bauer

This is one of those novellas that will be over before you know it, and leave you craving for more!

What’s it About? 51-6F+eseoL

During negotiations for a truce between the feuding Price and Morgan families, Lord John Morgan makes a shocking offer: he will give the Price family their land, in exchange for Harrison Price’s hand in marriage. John has long been enamored with Harrison, the beautiful son of his late rival. Harrison is nineteen, inexperienced, and known for being cold and bitingly brilliant. The union seems impossible, but John is determined to win the affections of his young obsession. Will the frigid Harrison concede, or will the object of John’s adoration leave him alone at the altar?

First Impressions

I didn’t realize before starting this book just how quick of a read it was going to be! One night before bed I figured I’d start on it, maybe finish a few chapters before catching some zzz’s. Next thing I know thirty minutes have passed and I’ve reached “The End”! This would be a great quick read to take to the beach, although truth be told you’ll probably be finished with it by the time your first coat of sunscreen actually sinks in. Technically this reads as a historical regency romance, though we can tell it’s not necessarily set in a true historical time period seeing as John and Harrison can be fully open about their love with everyone around them. It’s simultaneously delightful to feel like you’re set in the time of Pride and Prejudice, yet also rather sad to acknowledge that such an open romance between two men could never take place in society at that time.

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Romantic Blackmail? 

Does John blackmail Harrison into agreeing to marry him? Eehhhh not reaaaaally…but kind of. The long and short of it is that Harrison always had the option to say “no” when John offered to return Harrison’s family land in exchange for his hand in marriage. It’s never called into question that if Harrison had said no, John most likely would have still proceeded with the negotiation to return it sooner or later. After suggesting the exchange, John lets Harrison think on his proposal, and doesn’t even provide a quick timeline or ultimatum which would make it seem like Harrison had no choice in the matter.

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That being said, we can’t deny that John is sort of using Harrison’s recent familial loss as a way to win the man he’s always wanted. For the past several years, John has been in a land dispute with Harrison’s father over the fact that a zoning technicality actually places their family’s cemetery plot within John’s property line. Harrison hasn’t been able to lay flowers on his mother’s grave for three years, and now he must bury his recently deceased father. When John has it written into the negotiated paperwork that he’ll give back the land for free on the condition of receiving Harrison’s hand in marriage? Well, we won’t say he forced him into marriage, or took advantage of his grief, but he may have given him a slight poke in the ribs.

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Learning to Live Again

Harrison has always been known in society as a rather closed-off individual. He’s been surrounded by melancholy for the last three years since his mother’s death, and now his father has passed on as well. He’s been overcome with grief due to so much death that he’s forgotten what it’s like to live. John is the one to remind how. One of the most emotional scenes in the book involves Harrison seeming completely crestfallen at the prospect of spending the rest of his life alone without the two people he’s loved most in this world. John encourages him to realize that while it might be difficult to imagine, things will inevitably get better with time. He just has to remember to live. The fact that Harrison has to ask John, “What is living” is such a heartbreaking reminder that he has forgotten what it feels like to be alive.

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Through John’s loving attention, kisses and embraces, he remembers. He remembers those moments years ago where John would stare transfixed at him from across a ballroom; remembers what it was like to have a far away crush on this man; remembers what it’s like to feel. Towards the end of the novel Harrison declares that “he remembers” in reference to John’s undivided attention all those years before. I like to think it not only signifies he remembers the longing looks that another man bestowed upon him, but that he also remembers back to a time before the death of his parents, before he was overcome by grief, and that he remembers what “living” used to feel like. The fact that John is the one to reawaken this passion for life demonstrates the depth of their connection.

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“You will never again forget to live–and you will never, ever forget you are loved.”

The Beauty of Music

John’s seductive stares might have been powerful all those years ago, but they weren’t what drew this couple together. In a way, music was actually the driving force behind their relationship. John first noticed Harrison’s hands as he played the violin at a dinner party years before, and his clear devotion to music was what made John start paying attention to this young man. Harrison was always too shy to willingly perform his music in public without the urging of his family, so it’s a sight that John hasn’t seen again in all that time.

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Once John grants Harrison access to his family’s cemetery once again we see Harrison play the violin at his parent’s graves before breaking down into sobs, admitting that he only used to willingly play for his mother before she died. It was a gift he only chose to share with her. We know this is probably the most sacred part of himself, and after John and Harrison spend more time together he chooses to share this special gift with John. It’s a beautiful moment between these two lovers, and it’s proof of how much Harrison has come to trust and love this man in such a short amount of time. As a musician myself, I must say that John’s fascination with Harrison’s ability to play, and Harrison expressing his love for John through music was probably my favorite feature of their story.

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“I love music. The way it makes me feel. And I love you. You make me feel like music. If I were a romantic, then I’d say you’ve made my life like a song.” 

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: I wanted this to be a full-length novel. I wanted more of those descriptions from back when John and Harrison first met, the feud between John and Harrison’s father, and those weeks following John’s rather peculiar proposal which detailed the time they spent getting to know and learning to trust each other. Can you understand and still appreciate the story that’s being told without all of that description? Of course, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I’m a greedy reader who wants to see as much from this couple as she can!

Smut Level: John is Harrison’s first kiss, first love, and first lover. He might be new to intimacy, but the man is a student at Cambridge. Let’s just say he’s a quick study of this whole “pleasure” concept.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Carnation Books. 35 Pages.

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The Pretenders by Marti Ziegler

From the city streets of Chicago to the cold wintry landscape of the Rockies, prepare yourself to be entranced by this story of friendship, hardship, and love.

What’s it About? 

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Two crooked hearts have never fit together so perfectly. Orphaned and forsaken, Ivy Porter and Shane McLaughlin band together at the tender ages of eight and ten in order to survive the brutal streets of nineteenth-century Chicago. Years later, displaced by the historic fire that razes the city, the loyal duo migrates to Colorado. The next decade is spent gambling, picking pockets, and scamming rich silver barons, but their hubris pits them against one very determined small-town marshal intent on bringing them to justice.

Throughout, Ivy believes it’s only a matter of time before Shane regards her as someone more than his childhood confidante or partner in crime, but any greater intimacies between them are quelled by Shane’s traumatic past. Feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the life they’ve cobbled together, Ivy posits an ultimatum, but Shane reacts by revealing a betrayal so deep as to tear them apart.

Benchmarked by two of the greatest natural calamities to take place in nineteenth-century America—the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the catastrophic winter of 1886-87—a final act of faith high in the Rocky Mountains seals the interwoven fates of two childhood friends, a marvelous surprise christened Jack, and the unexpectedly sympathetic lawman who brings them all together again.

First Impressions

To put it as simply and succinctly as possible, this is a beautiful story. We are immediately captivated by the connection of these two characters, and we want to follow along with them for as long as we can. The true beauty of their story is that it’s about trust, which ultimately develops into love. It’s a love that isn’t necessarily romantic at first. They’re literally all the other person has in the world, thereby becoming their whole world, in a sense. In the beginning their trust is one of survival. They meet as children in the rough streets of Chicago, and while timid at first they learn how to come together to survive.

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At times it’s difficult for Ivy and Shane to let anybody else into the tight-knit cohort they’ve formed, again even though it really has nothing to do with romance. They almost have a familial bond. When they eventually do reach the point where they start to feel a level of intimacy that signals a romantic relationship, they must learn to trust each other all over again, this time as a couple. They’ve both seen some terrible things in losing their respective families, living on the streets for most of their lives, and making their way from petty crime to petty con. Even though they’ve both relied on each other for years, they are now attempting to go all in and trust the other with their heart.

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A Journey Across the Country

Ivy and Shane’s relationship is truly a journey, and it’s one which crosses the entire country. The author presents us with a fascinating world that starts off in the mean and busy streets of Chicago, which they must ultimately abandon following the tumultuous and suspenseful Great Fire. We can feel their terror leap off the page, and almost feel the heat of the flames in their mad dash across the city. After this amazing historical travesty we see them enter the next stage of their lives as young adults in the Colorado frontier.

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The author paints us the portrait of yet another world, and portrays a seemingly effortless transition from the busy city streets of Chicago to the quiet yet ruthless mountain towns of Colorado. Even though we start off our tale with Ivy and Shane as children, and we proceed into their teens, early and late twenties, and beyond, not to mention a stark change in scenery, somehow it all flows together beautifully. At no point did it feel disjointed or broken. It lent a feeling of excitement to the progression of the tale, as we never really knew what our characters would encounter next, where they’d be, or at what point in their lives it would be happening.

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From Friends to Lovers

Once our characters end up in Colorado we see they’ve upped their survival game slightly to involve small cons, swindling, pick pocketing and the like. This is also when they both admit an underlying desire for the other, but Shane is especially hesitant to act on it. We all knew they couldn’t hold out forever, and throughout the rest of the book we see different momentous occasions at a few different points in their lives which sometimes bring them together, and other times push them apart. I think what truly helps us connect with these characters is the fact that their lives aren’t just rainbows and butterflies.

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They encounter multiple trials and tribulations throughout their time together which can truly test their trust in each other, as well as their hope in the possibility of making it out together to ultimately find their happily ever after. At times, even we question how they might get out of a situation unscathed, and sometimes they don’t necessarily succeed. Ivy and Shane live a hard life, one that most of us would probably tremble at the thought of living through, and yet through it all we see them consistently lean on each other to help with the weight they carry on their shoulders. We see the good with the bad. Again, theirs is a difficult story, but a beautiful one at the same time.

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Happily Ever After?

Another spectacular feature of this novel is that it certainly keeps you on your toes. I’ve read a plethora of romance novels in my time, and plenty of historical romances to boot. It’s not often that I’m surprised by how a story progresses, but I must say this one definitely threw me for a curve ball or two. At roughly the halfway point, things appear to be going rather swimmingly for our main couple. They’ve both gotten over the awkward hurdle of going from friends to lovers, and they’re ready to start out on a new course in life together. We all know it’s inevitable that they’re about to face some sort of impeccable obstacle. Things have never run completely smoothly for Ivy and Shane, and unfortunately that’s not about to change now. However, the subsequent progression of events caught me completely by surprise. My mouth dropped open in shock a time or two, and you can’t help but wonder how, or if, Ivy and Shane will make it through this difficulty together.

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

Series: Stand-Alone. I’d looooove to see a continuation of this story with some characters we are introduced to at the very end. Maybe see what else history might have in store for this lot.

Final Impressions: This was a story I didn’t want to end. In a way, I almost felt honored to be offered a glimpse into their world, and witness their connection. To see their trust in each other transform from the necessity for survival, to a need to be with each other forever. Theirs isn’t a perfect story. It’s filled with trying moments that put their trust to the test, but through it all you see how nothing can keep them apart.

Smut Level: Hot daaaaaamn. This historical romance has some heat to it! These two are each other’s firsts and only’s. It takes several years between their first time together to the point when they really try to make it count. Shane is especially determined to get it right, and talks to a friend of his to take notes on how to bring Ivy to the ultimate pleasure. Gotta love a studious lad who comes prepared 🙂

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 315 Pages.

Upon Your Return by Marie Lavender

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

First Impression

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

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The Quarreling of Lovers

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

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

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Strength in Sickness

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

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

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Unanswered Questions

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

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

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

Series: Heiress in Love, book 1.

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

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

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

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

Burning Fields by Alli Sinclair

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

What’s it About? 

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

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

First Impression

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

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Welcome Home

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

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Light Shining Through the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escaping Exile by Sara Dobie Bauer

Edmund finds himself shipwrecked on an island with an exiled vampire and a group of cannibals for company. And you thought your day wasn’t going so well?

What’s it About? 

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Andrew is a vampire from New Orleans, exiled to a tropical island in the 1800s as punishment for his human bloodlust. During a storm, a ship crashes off shore. After rescuing a sailor from the cannibals native to the land, Andrew becomes fascinated with his brilliant, beautiful new companion, Edmund.

Edmund is a British naturalist who has sailed the world seeking new species. Intrigued by creatures that might kill him, immortal Andrew is this scientist’s dream-but so is making his way back home. Edmund will fight to survive, even while wrapped in the arms of a monster.

As light touches and laughter turn to something much more passionate, the cannibals creep ever closer to Edmund. Can the ancient vampire keep his human alive long enough to escape exile and explore their newfound love, or will Andrew’s bloodlust seal his own doom?

First Impression

When Edmund first washes ashore on this lonely island in the middle of nowhere, Andrew thinks it’s his lucky day. He’s finally managed to capture a potential food source away from the hungry cannibals he’s been sharing this island with during his exile for the last few years. Once Andrew gets a good look at this stranger though he realizes that he desires him in another way beyond food. The brilliance of this read is that we all know it’s simply a matter of time before Andrew gives into his hunger for this man. His desire is so strong it’s an inevitability. What we don’t know though is which hunger he’ll succumb to first. His physical desire for Edmund, or his stomach’s need for sustenance? For a short read of only 83 pages, there’s definitely a building sense of anticipation as Andrew’s hunger grows, which begs to question if Edmund will come out unscathed on the other end. We want them to come together, but you sort of hold your breath in the process as you wonder if Andrew will be able to keep his darker hunger for Edmund in control.

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Exiling a Monster

The bulk of this novella takes place on the island, but we do get a few flashbacks here and there where we get a glimpse of Andrew in New Orleans before his exile. While there was a good balance between island time vs. flashback, I do wish we had more fully explored Andrew’s relationship with Michelle, the leader of his coven. She’s the one who exiled him to this tiny island full of cannibals, yet I can’t say I fully understand the reasons behind his exile. I mean yeah, sure, he killed a lot of blokes back in New Orleans, but…they’re vampires. Isn’t that sort of their modus operandi?

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We even get a very revealing flashback scene wherein we witness Andrew’s camaraderie with another member of his coven who seemed even more heartless and reckless than Andrew. At least Andrew seemed to want to bring his victims to unspeakable pleasure before drinking up every last drop of blood. Gotta look for a bright side, right? Obviously there must have been a building animosity from Michelle towards Andrew, but I would have liked maybe one additional flashback scene where we see why Michelle was so fed up with him that exile was the only option. It’s not only the impetus behind his very presence on this island, but I think it also could have revealed a very interesting and perhaps darker side to Andrew’s nature and character.

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The Cynic in Me

From the minute that Andrew finds Edmund on this beach you want them to end up together. However, a very small and cynical part of me couldn’t help but wonder if this is actually love, or just a convenient answer to Andrew’s last four years of solitude. Don’t get me wrong, I positively love the idea of them together. The naturalist and the vampire? Perfect. Upon discovery of Andrew’s dark creature hiding within, Edmund can’t help but want to study him. He’s spent the better part of his life traveling the world looking for new species, and he’s certainly hit the mother-load on this tiny island. You can’t help but question though if their intense connection is due to Andrew’s admiration of Edmund’s spunky attitude, or if he’s just so thrilled to finally have the presence of an able-bodied male on this island who happens to have the same sexual tastes as himself. I want to believe their love is true. However, considering not only their brief time together, but also the rather short length of the book, I’m not 100% convinced that we were presented with enough scenes demonstrating the depth of their feelings for each other.

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A Saving Grace?

It’s not long before both Andrew and Edmund indulge in their desire for each other. As their love for each other grows, so does their intense wish to escape from this hellish island. I have a feeling though that getting off the island may not eventually prove to be the saving grace they were both hoping for. Sure, they may have had cannibals for neighbors, but who out there doesn’t have at least one neighbor that they’re not a huge fan of? At least on the island they could both be themselves with each other, wrapped up all day long in their passion. We have to wonder if Andrew will be the same loving and in-control vampire he became on the island after he is let loose once again among the numerous temptations of New Orleans. Will his increased access to blood drive him to revert to his old ways, with a different kill and a different man in his arms every night? Or will his love for Edmund hold true once they leave the island behind them? I can’t wait to find out what’s in store next for our unlikely couple!

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

Series: The Escape Trilogy, book 1. There’s a really intriguing concept which is introduced at the end that will leave you wanting more!

Final Impression: I definitely understand why this book was shorter in length, as we are essentially dealing with two men trapped on an island alone together. If it was much longer we could easily run the risk of entering boredom territory. That being said, I think I would have liked to have seen two additional scenes. One which dealt more with Michelle’s reasons for exiling Andrew in the first place, and one more which maybe highlights an even deeper connection between Edmund and Andrew. They definitely open up with each other, and confide some crucial details of their respective pasts, but I think just one more scene could have cemented my belief in their relationship.

Smut Level: Hot daaaaaamn. These two get to be all kinds of sweaty. Edmund asks Andrew to strip out of his clothes so he can conduct a full scientific examination of this unique species. Sure buddy, like that’s your only reason for asking him to shed his breeches 😉 What follows his plenty of kissing, licking, sucking, rutting, thrusting and of course biting that will be sure to make this day at the beach positively sweltering.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. NineStar Press. 83 Pages.

Come Home to Me by Peggy L. Henderson

This book seriously makes me wanna play the Oregon Trail computer game. We’ve got river crossings with wagons and animals, cholera sickness, and warnings not to kill too many bison or else it will spoil. Man, that was always the worst part of the game, rotting meat!

What’s it About?

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Jake Owens is tired of life on his parents’ Montana ranch, catering to city folk who want a taste of old-fashioned country living. He enjoys life in the fast lane, with fast cars and even faster women. When he falls in with the wrong crowd and is accused of murder, a stranger’s bizarre offer at a second chance might be his only hope to clear his name.

Rachel Parker is highly devoted to her family. A tragedy prompts a daring move to the Oregon Territory for a fresh start in a new land. After meeting the wagon train’s scout, the meaning of a fresh start may be more than she ever imagined.

Jake can’t believe he’s been sent back in time to act as scout for a wagon train headed for Oregon, and given the added burden of keeping one emigrant woman safe during the journey. He and Rachel are confused by their attraction to each other. Jake’s ill-mannered, unconventional ways are overshadowed only by his notorious reputation. Rachel’s traditional values and quiet, responsible character are the complete opposite of what attracts Jake to a woman. When their forbidden attraction turns to love, what will happen at the end of the trail?

First Impression

The set up to this second chance romance was superb. Jake Owens is a rancher who fell in with the wrong kind of city girl, and has now been framed for murder. He’s basically given up any hope of ever being free when a mysterious man disguised as his lawyer provides him with an opportunity too good to pass up. If he guides a group of families in a wagon train along the Oregon Trail, all of his misdeeds will be wiped clean. Sounds too good to be true right? Well, this mystery man failed to mention that the wagon train is actually taking place 150 years in the past, so imagine Jake’s surprise when he wakes up in a different time.

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Normally the time travel discovery moment is my favorite in these types of romances, not to mention the difficulties of transitioning to a different way of life in another time. However, I was slightly disappointed that for the most part Jake settles into his frontier life rather quickly and seamlessly after an initial mini freak-out. I guess traveling via horse across great distances out west hasn’t changed much in the last 150 years. It definitely made sense that Jake would be chosen as the scout for this expedition considering his previous background as a rancher. If he’d had no wilderness skills to speak of I probably would have questioned why he was selected in the first place. It was just kind of disappointing that for the rest of the novel I had to remind myself that he was from the future. If anything it’s like he’s now in his natural habitat.

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And You Thought That Was Complicated!

Something which threw me for a bit of a loop with this read was the complexity behind Rachel and Jake’s relationship. Sure, he’s from the future. You could see how that might complicate things slightly, what with being born centuries apart and all that. But hey, we’ve all seen this before with time travel romances! An added complication we get though in this instance is when Jake first sets his sights on Rachel. His loins start to burn, some verbal sparring is exchanged, but he is ultimately made aware of the fact that she is Mrs. Rachel Parker. That’s right, Mrs. She’s not alone in traveling the trail, having a drunk husband and a couple of boys in tow as well. Now for all of you who cringe slightly at the idea of our main romance involving a married woman, let me tell you you’re not alone. I had the same reservations when this little tidbit came to light. However, let me just tell you that all is not necessarily as it seems in this situation. That’s all I’m gonna say!

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Back to the Future

While some aspects of traveling the trail were slightly repetitious, the story really came together for me in the end, and culminated on a high note. Most of us know how time travel romances progress. At the start, our time traveler feels completely lost and shocked at having ended up in a time so different than their own. They usually have one goal in mind throughout the majority of the novel, which is to somehow get back to their own time. There is some kind of end point, some sort of landmark which serves as their window home. Whether it be standing stones in the Highlands, or traversing the Oregon Trail with a wagon train full of emigrants, there is something which our lead character is focused on with the intent of returning to their own time.

What undoubtedly happens at some point in the story is they meet a certain special someone who convinces them to give up their present in order to remain in the past. So romantic. And that is also the case here, although Jake also seems torn between remaining in the past with Rachel, or somehow convincing the man who sent him back in time to transfer Rachel and her children back to the future with him. However, what happens when we realize that end result isn’t possible? How do we resolve a situation where Jake can’t remain in the past, and Rachel is unable to travel to the future? I must admit, it was certainly an interesting twis. Normally the main conflicting feature is when our lead admits to their lover the fact that they are from the future, but in this instance we get the situation where our lead will have no choice but to return to the future without Rachel by his side. Is it possible our lovers won’t find their happily ever after? Seems blasphemous, no?!

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Series: Second Chances Time Travel, book 1. Throughout most of the novel I kept thinking to myself, mkay this is enjoyable, but probably not a series I need to continue with. However, seeing how it all came together at the end, and with the epilogue especially I gotta say I’m pretty intrigued to see what might come next.

Final Impression: I wish there had been more of a history lesson involved throughout the novel. One of my favorite things about historical romances is learning more about the time period being featured. There wasn’t really anything covered I couldn’t have gathered from playing the Oregon Trail game for 20 minutes. There was also a missed opportunity when it came to interacting with the Native Americans along the trail. However, overall it was really a fun start to the series, with a final climactic build-up that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Smut Level: You’d think it would be tricky to find any alone time for intimacy on a wagon train with about 30 other families around you all the time. But you can’t help but love all the stops along a lonely river where Rachel and Jake just happen to find themselves alone and separated from the rest of the group.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 253 Pages.

A Sinner without a Saint by Bliss Bennet

Two men with a past. Will their mutual obsession with art draw them closer together, or drive a wedge between them forever?

What’s it About?

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An honorable artist: Benedict Pennington’s greatest ambition is not to paint a masterpiece, but to make the world’s greatest art accessible to all by establishing England’s first national art museum. Success in persuading a reluctant philanthropist to donate his collection of Old Master paintings brings his dream tantalizingly close to reality. Until Viscount Dulcie, the object of Benedict’s illicit adolescent desire, begins to court the donor’s granddaughter, set on winning the paintings for himself . . .

A hedonistic viscount: Sinclair Milne, Lord Dulcie, far prefers collecting innovative art and dallying with handsome men than burdening himself with a wife. But when rivals imply Dulcie’s refusal to pursue wealthy Miss Adler and her paintings is due to lingering tender feelings for Benedict Pennington, Dulcie vows to prove them wrong. Not only will he woo her away from the holier-than-thou painter, he’ll also placate his matchmaking father in the process.

Sinner and saint–can both win at love? But when Benedict is dragooned into painting his portrait, Dulcie finds himself once again drawn to the intense artist. Can the sinful viscount entice the wary painter into a casual liaison, one that will put neither their reputations, nor their feelings, at risk? Or will the not-so-saintly artist demand something far more vulnerable–his heart?

First Impression

A feature you notice from the very opening page of this book, and which the author should be commended for, is that it truly feels as though we have been transported to the Regency Era. I’m sure some of you are thinking that for a 19th century historical read, we damn well better feel like we’re in the 1800s. Well, hear me out! To write a historical romance is one thing, but to feel as though the novel was actually written in the 1800s? That’s a talent all in itself. From the syntax to the British slang, the work felt reminiscent of something written by Jane Austen or Frances Burney. While it was a noticeably admirable trait of the novel, it did also make for a slightly slower read. What can I say? It took me some time to decipher what the characters were actually trying to say. But I also couldn’t deny that my desire for a pot of tea and tray of cucumber sandwiches grew stronger with every page turned.

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Classic Beauty vs. the Unnatural

In my opinion, the true mastery of this novel lay not necessarily with the romance between Benedict and Dulcie, but instead through their discussions and debates of art. Benedict’s goal in life is to open a national art museum for the British people. All British people, regardless of class, station, or wealth. Dulcie on the other hand is one of the leading art critics of the day, with his sights set on acquiring unique pieces for his own private collection. The heated discussions which erupt between the two, as well as with their fellow high-class art peers, were so insightful and thought-provoking that you couldn’t help but feel moved to take up an opinion on the matter as well. As the novel progresses we see a shift in the conversation from who is worthy of appreciating good art to who decides what good art is in the first place. The scrutiny placed on the artistic system was riveting, as our characters understand that sometimes you have to look beyond the paint to what is hiding underneath.

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What hit me the most though was how this discussion of art and beauty could find direct symmetry in the romance between Benedict and Dulcie. The two are art connoisseurs, yet they can both appreciate the talent in an artistic piece that might not be considered classically beautiful. While some might view tangled limbs and an imperfect male specimen on a canvas as grotesque, they are both enamored with the emotion such a piece can evoke in the viewer, and therefore can’t deny that it deserves praise. Even if the majority of their contemporaries don’t agree with them.

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Do me a favor. Do yourselves a favor. Stop talking, and look. You’re not required to write a paper. You’re not even required to like it. You *are* required to consider it. – Mona Lisa Smile

When we look at Benedict and Dulcie’s relationship, the majority of regency society would also look upon it as something grotesque and unnatural. And sadly, there are many in our own time who would see it in the same context. But what lies underneath the surface? What do you have when you push the physical component to the side. What lies beneath the paint? Simple, it’s love. Love between two consenting adults who want to spend the rest of their lives together. Love is love and romance is for all. While they can see the beauty in this, and a minuscule number of their contemporaries understand it, for the majority it is seen as too far removed from what society deems as “right” or “proper”. Again, the parallels between their love and the discussion of modern art was so subtly clever that I’m still thinking about it.

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Romance vs. Challenge

While I was fully entranced by the discussion of art for the masses, unfortunately there was one aspect of the novel that I’m sorry to say I had a much harder time falling in love with. And that would be Dulcie. Now, let me start off by saying that eventually he does manage to redeem himself by becoming a devoted partner and friend once again to Benedict. The problem is that it took sooooo long to happen. Throughout the novel Benedict is this adorable, wide-eyed puppy dog that I just wanted to pick up and snuggle, even though he definitely has some bark behind his bite. When it came to Dulcie though, he was like a predatory hawk. Constantly circling, searching for who he could mess with next.

Ok, ok, so a hawk might be too harsh a comparison. How about a puppet master who loved to pull the strings of others? He could tease, seduce and manipulate with the best of ’em. It was really a struggle to know whether or not his heart was ever behind his pursuit of Benedict, or if it was simply a challenge to regain Benedict’s childhood affections. Again, eventually we see Dulcie open up with Benedict, and share some of his innermost thoughts, feelings and fears. I just wish it had come a bit earlier on in the novel. Something else which I think could have helped me warm up to Dulcie earlier was if we could have received a prologue to show how the two initially connected at school all those years before. We see the moment where their interaction ends, and towards the end of the novel we realize how both of them suffered following the end of their friendship, but the missing element for me was that initial crucial moment which connected them in the first place.

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Let’s Get Physical…Or Not

Duclie’s pursuit of Benedict throughout the novel is fairly relentless. Both admit to an undeniable attraction that seems to be pulling the two of them together. For Benedict though, he doesn’t want anything to happen between them unless Dulcie is willing to offer up his mind in addition to his body. For Dulcie? He’s basically just looking for a good ole rough and tumble in the back room of a tavern. He employs all the seductive looks, touches, and smirks at his disposal to try and sway Benedict to his line of thinking. Essentially, he’s a classic playboy. What I found to be so fascinating though was what happened when the two finally did get physical.

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There’s some rubbing, some tugging, some “spending”. Anything beyond that though? Shockingly this is where Dulcie becomes more reserved! Throughout the whole novel his attitude and confidence towards getting Benedict in his hands sort of implies that he’d be the expert and dominant when it came to the physical side of their relationship. What debauchery might they get into when the seducer finally captures his prey? Who knew it would be the complete opposite with Benedict being the more experienced one?!?! It was very interesting to hear Dulcie’s rather negative opinion towards the concept of oral sex, not to mention penetration, almost as though it was beneath his high stature to engage in such uncivilized and…unsanitary behavior. I have a feeling Benedict might succeed in changing his opinion on that matter though 😉

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

Series: The Penningtons, book 4. This was the first book I read in this series, and I will admit I had trouble with the links between some of the different characters. It was kind of difficult to understand the relationship and familial webs at times.

Final Impression: Overall I can’t say I was fully connected to Dulcie and Benedict as a couple. I couldn’t help but feel that Dulcie’s eventual transformation into a caring and selfless lover came a bit too late in the game for me, and if anything I wanted more for Benedict. As a social and artistic commentary though it was an enthralling read. There are arguments about classic beauty versus opening the mind to modern interpretations that will keep you thinking for a few days.

Smut Level: Any time a couple can successfully balance on a chaise longue whilst exploring each other’s bodies deserves honorable mention. While we don’t get any scenes involving penetration, we get a few decent kissing scenes, tingling spines, tightening of groins, cock-stands, and “spending” a time or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Bliss Bennet Books. 298 Pages.

Tomorrow’s Extravaganza Post: The Mate by Abigail Owen. Paranormal, Shifters.