The Ninth Ingredient by Leon Mauvais

This short novella undoubtedly could have befitted from a longer length, and less elaboration on certain scene descriptions.

What’s it About? 

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The Renaissance has invaded France! When a Medici princess lands with her army of Italian bakers, the royal kitchens of Fontainebleau erupt into chaos.

The Italians serve up something new, gelato, a dessert so fashionable, so chilled, it captures the tongues of the French court. The French bakers are left scrambling. Henri, a young apprentice, is tasked with discovering the secret recipe.

But when he falls for its maker, things heat up beyond the hearth. Is he willing to betray his new love for a list of ingredients? Espionage has never tasted sweeter!

First Impressions

Henri wasn’t a terribly like-able character in the beginning. Considering how short this novella is at just 98 pages, when you think of the “beginning” of the story we’re essentially dealing with a rather large portion of it. He has a false sense of superiority over his fellow apprentices in the Fontainebleau kitchens. When our novella opens he seems confident that his culinary creations will soon have him rise to the position of personal pâtissier of the king. However, as things progress we see that his culinary prowess is less than spectacular. Let’s just say he wouldn’t last very long in a taping of the Great British Bake Off. He’s quick to criticize and humiliate his fellow apprentices, even giving them derogatory nicknames. However, we soon learn that this criticism has nothing to do with their own lack of skills, but rather speaks more to Henri’s own personal doubts of his abilities, not to mention his desperation to move up in the hierarchy of the kitchens.

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Enter the Italian Gelato Maker

Henri makes one too many faux pas to the point where the continuation of his apprenticeship is on the line. He is given one week to steal the recipe for gelato, the creation of an Italian baker/alchemist. 9 ingredients for this delectable dessert are all that seemingly stand between Henri and achieving his ultimate dreams of rising in the ranks. A romance soon develops between Henri and this Italian baker, and while certainly intriguing, I was ultimately left wanting for more between these two bakers. Firstly, they don’t really talk much. There’s certainly a language barrier between the two, but it seems like they’re quickly smitten with each other in spite of not really knowing anything about the other. In addition, while we eventually discover that our gelato maker was aware of Henri’s attempt at thievery for some time, we never really see them discuss this deceit, nor the fact that it could be brushed aside without issue.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: The foundations for an interesting story of romance were certainly all there in terms of espionage, lustful attraction, and infiltrating an enemy’s kitchen in pursuit of personal gains. However, more attention and editing was needed to bring it all together into a cohesive read. There were several scenes which were excessively poetic and flowery in their description to the point that it was difficult to understand what was actually being discussed in terms of the plot. I would often find myself re-reading paragraphs a few times, and having to continue on with a mere hope that I understood what was happening. Then on the flip-side when it came to the romance developing between Henri and the Italian, there was a lack of description to the point where it’s hard to tell what it was that made these two men fall into each other’s arms beyond just mere attraction. Or perhaps that’s really all there was to their relationship? Hard to tell! I’ll tell ya one thing though, it certainly had me craving gelato and other sweet treats!

Smut Level: This was another area that was kind of bizarre. Some kind of winged contraption is used to restrain Henri and keep him elevated off the ground. The fact that it has birds wings, a mask, and multiple cranks made it kind of hard to follow along with what it actually looked like.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. JMS Books LLC. 98 Pages

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Through the Eyes of a Captive by Angela Christina Archer

From the wide open plains of the wagon train, to the secluded village of the Lakota tribe. See how one captive manages to find freedom in the arms of a warrior.

What’s it About? 

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“It is observed that in any great endeavor, it is not enough for a person to depend solely on himself.” ~ Lakota Proverb

They called it a terrible glory and the last great battle for the American West. While the battle of the Little Bighorn was the last stand by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer against the Lakota tribes, to Lily Sinclair it was the last stand between her old life and her new beginning.

After her in-laws squander away the family fortune, Lily and her husband, Alfred, head out west to the mountains of Montana, the only land available to poor people and far away from the debts haunting them. When a band of Cherokee warriors attacks their wagon train along the way, they kill her husband and take her captive, selling her to a Lakota tribe for the price of several horses.

Widowed Lakota warrior Tahatan has vowed never to take another bride after his wife’s death. However, he soon finds himself forced in a marriage with the outspoken, yellow-haired Yankee who challenges every thought in his head. While his attraction for her grows, so do the tormenting demons of his past.

With Custer’s sights set on the hidden gold in the depths of the Black Hills, the Colonel begins his warpath on the tribe villages. Can Lily overcome the demons of her past and defend Tahatan and his people? Or will she betray them all for the actions against her dead husband, killing someone she never believed she would in the process?

First Impressions

Make no mistake, this is an emotionally heavy read. Our novel opens with Lily traveling west with her somewhat surly husband; the open plains seemingly leading to endless possibilities. It doesn’t take long though before this outlook of hope and possibility drastically changes course to one of violence as a band of Indians attacks this train of innocent travelers. We as the reader knew the attack was coming. It’s outlined right there in the synopsis. What I wasn’t expecting was the ruthlessness of the attack. The author certainly doesn’t shirk away from some gruesome details.

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We start off with the violent death of Lily’s husband, who was unexpectedly shot mid-conversation with a slew of arrows, before being stabbed repeatedly and even scalped. As Lily is captured, we see the brutal ends of her fellow travelers. Men, women, and even children whose throats were slit, or innocent bodies were penetrated by arrows. My initial question as a reader was whether or not the vicious details of such an attack were necessary. Then I realized that while the specifics were undoubtedly painful to read, you must also commend the author for not shying away from the stark authenticity of these kinds of attacks. When these two opposing worlds clashed together, violence like this was a reality. It was a harsh reality, but it was reality nonetheless. Why try to sugarcoat it?

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From Captive to Wife

When Lily is bound and captured, she immediately goes into survival mode. Escape doesn’t cross her mind, as she knows it would be futile. She has no choice but to follow her captors. At this point Lily’s entire life has been thrown into disarray. She just witnessed the slaughter of her husband and the wagon train. She’s been taken captive, traded to another tribe, and forced to marry their strongest warrior, Tahatan. Now, if it were me? I’d be curled up in a ball, shaking back and forth, and wracked by uncontrollable sobbing. For Lily, she learns how to adapt to an entirely new way of life, in a new environment, surrounded by people speaking a language she doesn’t understand. She comes to appreciate the beauty and calm of nature more than she ever felt for the bustling city streets she once knew. Her new husband speaks English, and while he initially admits he never had any intention of marrying again after the death of his first wife, the two eventually come to an understanding of friendship. Which soon blossoms into something more.

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“But that’s all I’ve known here–force. Forced to watch Alfred die. Forced to the ground. Forced to have my wrists tied….Then forced into a marriage. What else would I know?”

You might be asking yourself how it’s possible Lily could come to love another man so soon after the tragic death of her husband. The truth is that by marrying Tahatan she now has the opportunity to reflect on her previous marriage to Alfred. As they traveled the wagon train we saw glimpses that not all was well in their marriage. Lily now starts to question if she every truly loved him, or if it was simply the institution of marriage that she was attracted to. Time passes in this Lakota village she’s come to inhabit with her new husband, and she slowly starts to see the harsh mask of this warrior fade away into one of a gentle and caring person. He teaches her the ways and traditions of his people. They learn to trust each other. To confide in each other. And eventually how to love each other. However, as Lily learns to appreciate this new way of life, and this newfound love with her husband, dangerous forces start to encroach upon her newfound serenity. 

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“I missed having a man around me. I missed having conversations. I missed the assurance someone loved and cared for me, and would do so for as long as he lived. I missed the protection of a warm pair of arms…I missed the comfort of a life shared. I missed marriage.”

Tradition vs. Greed

Enter Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his band of soldiers. When the story opened we witnessed a gruesome attack of Cherokee against a wagon train. Now we see the reverse, as government soldiers heedlessly cut down innocent Lakota tribes-people in their villages. Once again, we see the violent slaughter of men, women and children come full circle, and it begs to question what either side is fighting for where death seems to be the only answer. For the Cherokee, the Lakota, and the other tribes, they are defending their homes, their traditions, and their very way of life from the slew of people invading their lands. For Custer and his men? It’s greed. Gold. The loss of innocent lives on either side is unforgivable, but to see the lengths that some men will go to simply for material wealth…it’s a tragedy that brings tears to my eyes even now. To read this fictional romance is one thing, but then to acknowledge that this story is steeped in the harsh truths of history makes these senseless deaths even more poignant.

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For the first times in their lives, both Lily and Tahatan feel whole. Their love is pure, deep, and all-consuming. This becomes particularly evident when the possibility of Tahatan becoming swept up in the ensuing war between tribes and soldiers grows nearer. While Lily feels whole for the first time in her life, she also feels fear unlike anything she’s felt before over the thought of losing someone close to her. When she and Alfred were traveling along the wagon train she knew the dangers and risks of attacks were lurking, but it never crossed her mind what it would be like to lose Alfred; to have to live a life without him. Now that she’s finally confronted with the possibility of losing Tahatan, she is filled with a crippling fear which makes her question if she’d be able to survive if he were to die.

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“And then someone captured me, like a wild animal now in irons. Only, what I didn’t know was that those shackles would lead me to more freedom than I’d ever known or believed I would feel. The freedom of you.”

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

Series: The Wildflower Women Collection, book 3. Each novel in this series guarantees a strong female lead, and superb writing which will transport you through time into the story.

Final Impressions: This is a heavy, and honestly kind of a depressing read, but it’s an important one. It certainly made me want to immediately research the Lakota, as well as the fates of the various tribes following Custer’s last stand. There was one feature towards the end which blended history with fiction a bit too dramatically for my tastes. We’re also presented with a somewhat open-ended ending that will leave you wanting more. Something I especially appreciated though with this read was the constant juxtaposition between an old way of life versus the new. Just as Lily’s previously urban way of life with her first husband disappeared when she was taken captive, so too is the Lakota’s former way of life disappearing as their lands are increasingly threatened by soldiers. The question becomes, will they too be able to adapt as she did, or will they go down fighting to preserve their traditions?

Smut Level: Definitely some passionate moments between Lily and Tahatan, but nothing overly detailed.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Long Valley Press. 280 Pages.

 

When Hearts Break by D.M. Porters

What started off as childhood animosity eventually developed into an adulthood attraction. Just when Alexa and William start to explore these newfound feelings, tragedy strikes. And then it strikes again. And again. Aaaaand again.

What’s it About? 

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No one can hear a heart breaking…Alexandra Wright waited, prayed in fact, for handsome William Taylor to one day turn his eyes her way. They were thrown together at a young age given their parents’ business association, but nothing ever came of it. William would grow to become a most sought-after bachelor, but had little time working on his father’s estate to notice any woman, let alone Alexa. To him, she would always be the annoying little girl his sister had befriended.

Alexa would herself, develop into a beautiful, strong woman, alas, one with little time to focus on her own happiness. With her home filled with turmoil and upheaval, Alexa spent most of her days protecting her beloved mother from her selfish and uncaring father. An opportune meeting with William in London changes everything. He quickly discovered she is not the little girl he once knew.

Despite fighting his attraction to her, William cannot stop thinking of Alexa. When he relents and allows his heart to be opened to her, deep painful losses and cruel deceptions tear them apart. Alexa is thrown into unfathomable misery; a nightmare from which, she cannot wake. With her world torn to pieces, she distances herself from William, and is forced to marry another man.

Can Alexa and William find their way back to each other and to the happiness they so deserve? Can Alexa allow herself to love and live the life she was meant to, knowing hearts can only break so much, before they crumble?

First Impressions

This book essentially takes place in three phases. Phase one reintroduces us to the characters from the first novel, and highlights how their love is just as strong now as it was all those years ago. We also see an introduction to this couple’s son, William, and the initial animosity between him and his sister’s best childhood friend, Alexa. Flash forward a few years and we see these two brush aside their childhood annoyances to instead timidly lay the groundwork for a possible relationship. The real focus though of this first phase surrounded Alexa’s mother, Celia. As you can see, there are quite a number of different characters presented here. Celia has always been a devoted wife and mother, but a mystery illness has plagued her for years. Just as Alexa and William start their own flirtations, we simultaneously see Celia in pursuit of her own happiness after being trapped in a loveless marriage for so long.

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Now, I always try to keep my reviews free of spoilers, but in my humble opinion the synopsis of the book should have come with a spoiler alert warning! It’s not hard to guess how Celia’s illness coming to the forefront might play into the synopsis’ reference to “painful losses” and Alexa being “thrown into unfathomable misery.” It made it so much easier to see where the story was going before we even got there. There were also numerous insinuations and hints that tragedy loomed closer with every turn of the page. And this brings us to phase two of the book, which is definitely an emotional downer. Gone are the seemingly carefree days of buying dresses and spontaneous flirtations with William. We see Alexa fall into a dark depression, and we feel every painful moment and heartache right along with her. Finally we arrive at phase three, where we hope and pray that Alexa and William will finally find their way back to each other. Which they kind of do before conniving characters and calamitous circumstances rip them apart. This final phase is full of suspense, as well as the feeling that nothing is ever going to go right for our characters. This is when you’ll start to bite your nails wondering if Alexa and William will ever manage to find a happily ever after.

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The Property of Men

The precarious position of women in English society is definitely highlighted prominently in this second book. In the first novel, we saw a woman from the present day travel through time to 19th century England. While she definitely encountered difficulties as a woman that she hadn’t experienced in her own time, she also managed to push the boundaries when she knew it was an area where she could excel, even if it was one typically reserved for men. Thankfully she was able to find a man who appreciated her expertise in a “man’s world”. In this novel though, we see more of a focus on two women who were actually born and raised in this time.

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Alexa is a young woman whose mobility and fate is heavily determined by her father. As for her mother, Celia, we see a woman whose very life is literally held in the hands of her husband. Her frequent bouts of chest pain and shortness of breath have been brushed aside as “women’s nonsense” by her husband for years, and we can’t help but feel that a terrible fate lies in wait around the corner. We see how these women can be trapped in life due to the very fact they are women. And yet, we also see how they reach a breaking point where they are determined to break free and take their lives into their own hands. They understand that life is short, and they’re no longer willing to push aside their wants, desires, and passions merely because of their gender. It might start off as a somewhat crushing read, but as time goes on we see these strong women become empowered to pursue love, life and happiness. Before it all comes tumbling down around them of course.

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A Point of Comparison

Alexa and William are surprisingly separated for a good portion of the book. We get a few scenes of them together as they explore their new feelings of attraction, but there’s seemingly so much more of a focus on Alexa’s mother in part 1, Alexa’s personal melancholy in part 2, and some scheming side characters in part 3. It sort of felt like we only saw a handful of scenes throughout the book with the two of them in the same room. Otherwise it was either a focus on different characters, or we would see Alexa and William reminiscing and daydreaming about each other. When they do eventually come together, and we hope that things might finally be turning in a positive direction for the two of them, calamity upon calamity strikes which pulls them further apart.

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I think it would have been particularly interesting if we saw more of what changed their negative childish opinions of each other. We see them reconnect after years apart, and they seem immediately taken with each other. Their childhood hatred has apparently been thrown by the wayside with a mere glance. There’s an obvious physical attraction that draws them together, but I would have liked if we spent more time with them developing an emotional connection. I couldn’t help but continuously compare Alexa and William to our couple from the first book. What made that couple so intriguing was that it was Beth’s mind, as well as her looks, which drew her and Samuel together. Seeing as Alexa and William spend so much of the book apart from one another, it feels like we don’t get a chance to see the added depth and strong foundation to their relationship. The most touching scene between them by far was the last scene of the novel, as it allowed us a glimpse into how affectionate and caring these two can be. I did appreciate that it was William who managed to pull Alexa out of her misery in phase 2, but I think the addition of just one more scene could have really tied together the entire progression of their relationship.

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

Series: Taylor, book 2. I can’t recommend book 1 enough, but I will say this sequel does an amazing job summarizing the events from the first installment. While you wouldn’t necessarily have to go back to book 1 to follow along with the plot of this story, it’s definitely a great one to pick up. I also can’t wait to see what’s in store for book 3!

Final Impressions: This is an emotionally intense read. Our characters seem to face more trials and tribulations than they do successes, and this is especially true when we see the introduction of two new characters in the final phase of the book. Let’s just say one particular female character manages to make the Evil Queen from Sleeping Beauty look like Oprah. Personally I would have liked to see more scenes involving Alexa and William together, as well as a deeper exploration of how their initial childhood hatred turned to affection. Instead we see their interactions restricted to a small handful of quick scenes which are constantly interrupted by tragedy and deception. They also have the tendency to try and protect the other as much as possible, to the point where they don’t confide in each other as much as they should, which of course results in more calamity. Kind of a vicious circle!

Smut Level: One delightful scene, but nothing too steamy or raunchy.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 365 Pages.

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!

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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.

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.