The Liar’s Crown by Abigail Owen

Meren has lived her entire life in the shadow of her twin sister, waiting for the moment when she might need to step in front of danger to sacrifice herself. Now the shadows have come for her, and she must sacrifice everything she thought she understood about the world around her. Buckle up folks, you’re in for quite the ride. 

What’s it About? 

Everything about my life is a lie. As a hidden twin princess, born second, I have only one purpose—to sacrifice my life for my sister if death comes for her. I’ve been living under the guise of a poor, obscure girl of no standing, slipping into the palace and into the role of the true princess when danger is present.

Now the queen is dead and the ageless King Eidolon has sent my sister a gift—an eerily familiar gift—and a proposal to wed. I don’t trust him, so I do what I was born to do and secretly take her place on the eve of the coronation. Which is why, when a figure made of shadow kidnaps the new queen, he gets me by mistake.

As I try to escape, all the lies start to unravel. And not just my lies. The Shadowraith who took me has secrets of his own. He struggles to contain the shadows he wields—other faces, identities that threaten my very life.

Winter is at the walls. Darkness is looming. And the only way to save my sister and our dominion is to kill Eidolon…and the Shadowraith who has stolen my heart.

First Impressions

In a word, this teen fantasy romance is simply mind-blowing. I have been a long-time fan of Abigail Owen’s adult dragon romance series, so I was excited to step into another world with her. I’ll admit I had a few hesitations in the beginning, wondering if this young adult novel would skew too young for me, or if the evocative cover art would potentially hold too much promise of what would lie within. I’m happy to say I was proven wrong on both accounts. Readers of all ages can appreciate this story, and the dramatic juxtaposition of flowers against skull on the cover simply hints at the wondrous magic in which you’re about to find yourself entranced. Ms. Owen is a master world-builder, and it’s hard to articulate just how refreshing it was to be immersed in a fantastical land unlike any I’ve ever come across before. 

From the powers of our characters, to the monsters of the various landscapes they traverse, everything was a constant surprise from one page to the next. As the novel progressed I couldn’t help but feel as though I had entered somebody’s dream world where fantasy and nightmare blend together to create something entirely unique. The rules of this world aren’t terribly difficult to understand, but in hindsight I wish I had paid a bit more attention at the beginning when the details were first being discussed. We’re provided with something of an info dump early on in the book, so something I’d recommend is maybe jotting down a few notes for reference later so you fully understand the differences between things like Vexillium, Imperium, hyloraes, enfernaes, etc. Some fantastical elements were explained more fully than others, and I get the sense we’ve been teased with the mention of some things we might not see until later on. 

Shadow and Glass

Meren is the standout lead character of our novel. A second-born twin princess whose identity has been hidden from the world, save for a chosen few who can be trusted, she’s expected to stand in for her sister whenever the possibility of danger arises. It’s on the eve of her sister Tabra’s coronation as Queen when a man composed of shadows mistakenly kidnaps Meren, thinking she’s the highborn princess whose powers can change the fate of their world. The dynamic between Meren and this Shadowraith was electric, with an obvious animosity towards each other slowly developing to respect, and ultimately something even more powerful. While she might be totally out of her element by being kidnapped across lands unknown to her, Meren isn’t afraid to stand up against him. She refuses to go down quietly, and the frustrations evoked by both her and the Shadowraith when they repeatedly throw verbal barbs at each other was positively delicious. It was the perfect blend of comedy, fearlessness, foreplay and even emotional vulnerability. Their combined presence on the page quickly became the foundation of the story going forward, and you never wanted to see the two of them apart. 

Perhaps the most enigmatic feature of the book was witnessing Meren come into her own by stepping out of the shadows she was forced to hide behind. She’s always been something of a rebel. When she was told to never use her powers, Meren would often sneak away to practice transforming sand into glass. Ordered to live hidden away in a small house, she found ways to escape into the wide-open vastness of the desert. And yet, these few instances of rebellion were hidden from her keepers, and she’d always walked the line set before her. It was never out of subservience, but rather out of true love and protection for her sister that she continued to do what was expected. When the Shadowraith takes her away from all she’s known, Meren is rightfully pissed, but in a way it also allows her to finally explore what it means to be her own person. As the Shadowraith shows her how a fight against evil is forming in the distance, Meren once again steps up to protect those she loves. Whereas before she played the role of delicate princess to save her sister, she now realizes she’ll need to up her game by becoming a badass in her own right. Wielding her power over sand to create pretty glass flowers has now evolved into forming waves of glass spears in battle. She no longer blindly listens to the orders others bestow upon her, but rather she becomes part of the conversation to try and find a solution in saving their world against a power-hungry evil King. As her distance from the palace grows, Meren more fully transforms from a girl into a woman, and it’s quite the captivating journey.  

Butterflies at First Sight

In perusing a few other reviews of this work online, an unexpectedly common theme is a few readers mentioning they felt that Meren and the Shadowraith fell for each other too quickly, and that it was a love at first sight scenario. I suppose I can’t 100% agree with this assessment. Meren is clearly confused about how she feels towards this stranger. On the one hand, there is a clear presence of animosity following his kidnapping of her, and he has several instances of eye-roll happening at her consistent back-talk. And yet, Meren can clearly see something good within him that slowly causes her to lower her defenses the more time they spend together. If anything, I would say it was a slow burn rather than a situation of love at first sight. Meren certainly feels an attraction at first sight of the Shadowraith’s distinctively dashing profile in the darkened streets of her hometown, and she’s not sure how to act in front of someone who makes the butterflies take flight within her. However, there also appears to be some other kind of connection simmering between them that I think has only just been teased to us in this first novel. There’s something drawing these two together, and it extends beyond simple attraction or even love, but perhaps there is a fantastical element at play here too. I certainly can’t wait to find out more about what it might be. 

This novel also presents us with the formation of a mini unrequited love triangle. The relationship between Meren and her Shadowraith takes front and center, but we also see instances of Meren’s only childhood friend, Cain, wanting to express intimacy with this unknown princess. I will say this was the only feature of the book which reminded me of another series, as it felt very reminiscent of the love triangle present in the Hunger Games series. Similar to how the heroine of that series always viewed her longtime male friend as something of a brother, Meren too has looked to Cain with brotherly affection that is a special kind of love all it’s own. There may have once been a time when the concept of a future with Cain seemed like a great prospect, but it’s only upon meeting the Shadowraith that she realizes how much more there is to feel towards a potential partner. I’m typically not a fan of love triangles, and thankfully this feature wasn’t a primary focus of the novel. However, we definitely see the hostility level growing between Cain and the man of shadows, and I have a feeling this conflict could possibly become a more prominent discussion point for the next book. That being said, these characters certainly have a few more life-and-death priorities to deal with, including a power hungry king with his focus on the crown, so hopefully they choose to focus their energy on resolving those matters first!

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

Series: Dominions, book 1. This is book one in a three part series. I hope for book two the author will either provide us with a thorough recap of the fantastical dynamics we were presented with in this novel, or maybe even a glossary of important terms we can reference to re-acclimate ourselves to this world. 

Final Impressions: Sometimes the first book in a series is so good you can’t wait to get started on book two. Then there are the premier books that are so fantastically amazing you’re almost angry you don’t have the next book in front of you right now! The Liar’s Crown definitely falls within the latter category. This novel sort of ends on a smidge of a cliffhanger, but the epilogue gives enough of a solid stopping point where you don’t literally feel like you’re dangling off a cliff. Instead you’re just eager to see what our characters will get up to next. It’s very important to know going into this read that this is the start of a series, a fact I didn’t remember when I started. Meren and the Shadowraith take up the majority of the plot focus, so I was initially disappointed that we didn’t see more scenes involving her sister or the evil king. Abigail Owen has always succeeded in creating a dubious villain you hate to hate, and I sort of felt like I was missing out in this one. Now that I know there’s two more books to come, and considering how this first one ended I realize the author was simply laying the groundwork for us to dive deeper into this world of characters going forward.

Smut Level: This is a slow burn of tempting glances, slight brushes against each other, a stolen kiss here and there, and a few instances of intense panting. All of these delicious moments of will-they-won’t-they ultimately intensify into one steamy scene that isn’t too explicit in detail, but it provides enough satisfying description for this first kind of intimate moment between our characters. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Teen Publishing. 448 Pages. 

BFF’ed by Kate Aster

Two BFFs start to wonder if it’s time to explore the desire simmering between them. This is one friends-to-lovers romance you won’t want to put down!

What’s it About? 

Mason Adler: Hot. Cocky. Sugar-coated Bad Boy.

The type of man who knocks the big “O” clear to the front of the alphabet every time.

Wrap up that eight-pack with Navy khakis and top it off with a shiny SEAL Trident, the kind that makes the girls swoon.

That’s Mason. My best friend.

For me, he’s off limits. Now that I’ve finished college, I need to focus on my writing career. And without his help, I don’t stand a chance.

But I need something from him. Something only he can give me.

So I’ll pull the blinds. I’ll toss my inhibitions. I’ll call it “research.” And I won’t let my heart get involved, especially with him leaving at the end of the week. Leaving me … even though my very soul is still in his grasp.

First Impressions

I went into this book with zero expectations, and came out of it with a silly grin on my face and simply smothered in all the warm and fuzzies you could possibly ask for. This might be a short read you can probably finish in one sitting, but it’s chock full of emotional depth, comedy, and plenty of sexy fun times to keep you satisfied. Mason and Freya have been best friends for over two years, ever since she sought out the help from this real-life Navy SEAL to give her military romance novel a bit more realism. While the two could immediately acknowledge an instant attraction to the other, they’ve never taken their relationship further than friendship, with a bit of reading advice and home cooking thrown into the mix as well.

Even if they wanted to take things further, they could never quite get the timing right. When one would break up with their current fling the other was just getting involved with someone else. It’s not until the week that Mason plans to move four hours away to his new SEAL headquarters that they’re both free of other attachments, and the encroaching distance makes them both realize how much they’ve come to rely on each other for companionship in the last two years. The thought of having so much space between them is seemingly more than either of them can bear. But it’s not just the fast approaching moving date, nor their newly single status which finally pushes these two into each other’s arms. Oh no. It’s something inexplicably more delicious. 

A Bit of Help to “See” the Scene

Freya has been working on her premiere military romance novel during all the time they’ve known each other, and Mason often gives her feedback on new drafts she submits to potential agents wanting her to switch up her manuscript with a SEAL shifter, a billionaire SEAL, a cowboy, and the most recent request of a SEAL with a few BDSM proclivities. Her frustrations and difficulties with agents will most likely ring true for many other authors out there, and you’ll find Freya a relatable heroine that you root for immediately. Mason may have been her sounding board and second set of eyes for all things military details and SEAL realism in her book (qualifying grounds for knighthood if you ask me), but this is the first time he’s provided feedback on what her characters get up to in the bedroom. And it’s during one of his reviews that he insists the scene which Freya has written of her heroine and hero going from missionary position to doggie style in one swinging move simply isn’t physically possible. 

Freya insists he help her act out the scene (clothes on of course), but it doesn’t take long during their, what turns out to be lengthy, acrobatic maneuvering that the physical connection they assumed existed between them all this time comes barreling to the forefront as something they can no longer ignore. When Freya asks Mason to help her act out being tied up to her headboard to see what people could possibly find so exhilarating about bondage, things finally reach a boiling point between them. These scenes were both hilarious, yet smoldering in their intensity, and I for one loved this unique way of bringing two friends together into a physical relationship. Something I wasn’t necessarily expecting from this short read was the emotional connection we as readers will feel for our two lead characters as they struggle with the debate of whether or not to take things to the next step in light of Mason’s impending move in two day’s time, the harsh realities of a long distance relationship, and if giving into their physical desires will negatively impact the friendship they’ve built over the last two years. 

Twenty Thousand Sunsets

As with any great romance, we as readers are convinced of not only the sexual chemistry between Mason and Freya, but their emotional connection as well. The fact the author managed to solidify this connection in under 200 pages should be applauded. I’ll admit there were a few moments that tugged at the heartstrings, and had the tears starting to well up a bit. As the novel progresses we begin to see that many of the interactions that Freya has had with Mason throughout the years have been the inspiration for the characters within her book, oftentimes causing her to reach for her phone to take notes on the perfect coupling of lines which would come to her whilst in his presence. The two days they spend wrapped in each other’s arms really cause the words to start flowing, and we see that Mason was not only the inspiration for one of her main characters, but has also become her creative inspiration. He’s the man who makes her want to write, to make her stick to the story she really wants to tell, and ultimately the man she wants to watch twenty thousand sunsets with. Mason and Freya succeed in achieving a happily ever after that we’re convinced is going to last through any hardship, any distance, and any mission he might be called away upon, for their love is steeped in friendship. 

Series: Brothers in Arms, book 1. I am 10,000% going to continue on with this series. You’re telling me that Mason has BROTHERS?! Heck yeah, sign me up! 

Final Impressions: Don’t forget to bring this book on your next beach vacation, cabin getaway, or heck even if you’re looking for something to read on a Sunday morning. It will make you laugh, possibly cry, and definitely blush as the slow build between friends eventually boils over into a cacophony of passion. In a way it does seem surprising that it took so long for these two to take their relationship to the next level, especially considering we find out that Mason was flirtatious as hell upon first meeting. However, in the end it’s the thrill of the ride as they make their way from best friends forever, to lovers and lifelong partners that makes this read a keeper.  

Smut Level: What starts as a hilarious demonstration of the complexities of Freya’s written sex scene quickly escalates into something sinfully more intriguing. These two could never regret taking their friendship to the next level, after all, who could regret sex that good?  

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE Kindle Edition! 198 Pages.

The Wrong/Right Man by Aurora Rose Reynolds

What starts out as a blind date for the record books turns into something a bit more awkward the morning after when Dakota discovers the man lying in bed next to her isn’t the man she was supposed to meet.

What’s it About?

Waking up to a text asking why you stood up your blind date is not the best way to start the day, especially when the man in question is standing half dressed in your kitchen.

Maybe Dakota Newton shouldn’t have assumed the gorgeous man with a devastating smile standing outside the coffee shop was her date. She probably— Okay, she definitely shouldn’t have slept with him, regardless of how hot the chemistry between them was. But how could she know Mr. Right was actually Mr. Wrong?

Braxton Adams has been called a few things in his life, but a liar was never one of them. That all changes when he’s approached by a beautiful woman who thinks he’s there to meet her for a date.

As a businessman, Brax knows to trust his gut and never let an opportunity pass him by, so he pretends to be someone he’s not.

Maybe he shouldn’t have lied. Maybe he should have come clean. But in the end, it doesn’t matter, because now he has to prove he’s not the wrong man but the right one.

So what if he’s not the man she’s expecting? She’s the one he’s been waiting for.

First Impressions

So the synopsis of this book gives away what might be the biggest spoiler alert of the entire read, which is that Braxton wasn’t the intended date match for Dakota to begin with. This lent an almost bizarre air to the start of this read, as we see how Brax cleverly hides details, or even outright lies about his identity in order to continue his date with Dakota. The romance reader in me chuckled along to some of his deceptions, whereas the real woman that I am was screaming that if this happened in real life it would be beyond creepy. As the two proceed with their relationship and Brax’s overly protective/stalkerish tendencies come to the forefront, you’re kind of simultaneously hoping Dakota will file a restraining order, but also maybe throw him up against a wall for a passionate make-out scene following a heated argument. Such a strange juxtaposition!

Danger, Danger?

As discussed, Braxton engages in some super sketchy tracking of Dakota’s movements, texts, and even has her followed at one point by one of his minions. We’re initially led to believe that this is just part of his alpha-male intense infatuation with Dakota. She understandably gets angry and argumentative with him over his invasion of her privacy, not to mention a lack of boundaries. The aspect of this novel that I didn’t really care for was how this inappropriate behavior was shrugged off and ultimately explained away. Firstly, the “point” is made that the fact Dakota is willing to argue so vehemently with Brax over his invasion of her privacy demonstrates how much she must trust him. Her anger is reflected as her feeling comfortable enough with him to let her true emotions out. But like…he was still tracking her whereabouts and communications without her permission!! Not exactly healthy.

And this brings us to how Brax’s behavior is explained away as a knight in shining armor plot point. At the end of the novel it is revealed that Dakota has an actual stalker who is constantly calling her work and sending inappropriate things to her office. Details which Brax chooses not to share with Dakota directly. When her stalker ups his game by breaking into and trashing her apartment when she’s out one evening, Brax must finally admit that he’s been hiding the fact another man is watching her every move. It’s after this confession when Dakota has a moment of realization that the reason Brax was following her so closely all this time was because he wanted to ensure she was safe, and that her stalker didn’t get to her first. But like…then why didn’t you just tell her this from the get go?!

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This was a quick read with a strong beginning that kind of fizzled out at the end. While I could appreciate the blind date fiasco would have been a much bigger issue in real life, it was kind of fun to see the scene play out in romance land. After that though, Brax’s need to control and monitor almost every aspect of Dakota’s life was truly worrisome. The stalker element definitely felt rushed at the end, and also lacking enough background for it to truly feel part of the plot.

Smut Level: Sooooo many sexy times!!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Dreamscape Media, LLC. 170 Pages.

This is Not a Horror Movie by Sara Dobie Bauer

“I‘ve wanted to taste your words for years—and see if they taste as sweet as you make them look.” Not gonna say no to that request!

What’s it About?

Emory Jones loves two things: horror movies and Connor Nichols. For the past four years, Emory, Connor, and their families have vacationed side by side on Longboat Key, Florida. Eighteen-year-old Emory has pined for his neighbor from behind the covers of Stephen King books, but college boy Connor has never noticed him. Probably because Emory looks like Jack Skellington with good hair.

Emory anticipates another predictable summer of sunburn and disappointment. Instead, he ends up with a mystery on his hands when a beloved beach bum goes missing, and Connor volunteers to help with the search. Turns out it’s not just scary movie cops who are worthless, so the boys start an investigation of their own—leading them straight to an abandoned beach resort.

Despite the danger, Emory and Connor grow closer, but as Emory’s gay dreams start coming true, so do the horror movie tropes he so loves. Even though he knows that sex equals death in slasher flicks, Emory can’t keep his hands off the guy of his teenage dreams.

First Impressions

I’ll admit, I initially approached this read with a smidge of hesitancy. While the title might insist this is not a horror movie, the dramatic cover art and synopsis would suggest otherwise. And I…don’t…do…HORROR! What can I say, I blame Freddy Krueger. That bastard gets ya in your dreams, and when my sleep is compromised we’re gonna have problems. However, while there were definitely some scenes in this novel which involved horrific actions and even deaths, I somehow found myself giggling with glee throughout the majority of this read! If I had to sum up the experience in just a few words? Pure delight!!

Perrysburg, Ohio

So what made this such an enjoyable read considering my aversion to all things horror? Simply put: Emory Jones. At first I questioned how much I’d have in common with our main character. After all, he’s an 18-year-old gay male who loves all things horror, and I’m, well…not. I might love a good beach read, but the concept of reading a horror book on the beach is a nightmarish concept to me!! However, I found myself quickly developing an amazing kinship with this fictional character the author has presented to us. Not only are Emory and I from the same small Ohio town, but we also went to the same high school, vacationed a mere 8 miles apart from each other some summers, and while neither of us are into sports we both knew who the primary rival high school was across the river. We both grew up in an environment feeling like there must be something bigger and better out there beyond the borders of this small Ohio town where high school bullies reigned supreme.

Beyond these mere coincidences of geography though, Emory’s close connection with his sister Liz involved some of my favorite banter and hilarity of the entire novel, and also felt reminiscent of the close relationship I have with my own sister. And then there’s Connor. The hunky neighbor boy that Emory has pined after for countless summers, yet can only admire from a distance. Surely Emory is not at the same level as this beautiful man? He is constantly left feeling inferior, something I’m sure many of us can sympathize with. Honestly I think most readers will find something within these down-to-Earth and realistic characters that they can also identify in themselves. The narrative format itself was even something I could relate to, as we constantly have to navigate the rather filter-less and quick-moving inner musings of Emory’s mind. Sure, it took some time to get used to and follow along with his line of thinking, but nevertheless it seemed similar to how my own mind is known to wander whenever I think to myself. The author does such a fantastic job of pulling us into Emory’s world where we can associate with all of his insecurities, fears, joys, embarrassments and even moments of love.

A Romantic Paranormal Horror Comedy?

Considering the number of times I giggled aloud to myself while reading this book, it definitely falls within the categorization of a comedy, but it also touches upon the romance and horror categories. Let’s tackle the more prominent of themes, which would be the lovey-doveyness between Connor and Emory. Yet again, all I can say is it was a pure delight! They’ve been summer buds for years, with Emory always dreaming of more with this hot jock. However, it’s only this summer before college when Connor finally discovers that Emory is gay, and Emory simultaneously discovers that Connor is bisexual. After this jaw-dropping realization Connor lays all his cards out on the table, and the two finally decide to give into the desires they’ve kept hidden from each other for so long. And I must say, the sheer joy and playfulness that these two men share with each other left me with a dopey grin on my face, and more head-tilt “awwwww” exclamations than I care to admit.

Now for the horror. Again, typically this is something I loathe, but in this instance the author somehow managed to present it in a way that was still comedic in its approach. What can I say, this woman is a master!! Several moments reminded me of the movie Scream where our characters, who are essentially experts when it comes to horror tropes, would oftentimes relate the situations happening around them to how a horror film or book would typically play out. Emory would often lament the fact he was no longer a virgin seeing as the virgin is usually the last one standing at the end of a horror movie. People never tell the adults what’s happening? Well let’s be upfront with them from the beginning! Should we involve the cops? Eeesh, that never goes over well in the movies. It helped add a sense of levity to the “horror”. Now, I will say the drama of the story took a rather unexpected turn towards the end that had me going, “huh, mkay so I guess we’re really doing this!!” At times I was left wanting a bit more depth and back-story for some of the more villainous characters, but at the same time I could appreciate that staying on the surface in some respects allowed for more of the comedic underpinnings of the plot to shine through.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: I don’t quite know what I was expecting with this one, but I thought it was so much fun! It’s a great summer read to bring along to the beach. Just consider yourself warned you’ll probably laugh aloud a few times and be smiling to yourself. I could see how some aspects might not be everyone’s cup of tea, including Emory’s penchant for a wandering and fast-paced inner dialogue, as well as the fact that the horror aspect became a bit outlandish towards the end. However, I personally appreciated both of these features, as it helped me relate to Emory on a personal level, and the somewhat ridiculous nature of the horror story was kind of needed for me to feel less scared as I was reading it! Ultimately, it helped the novel lean more towards the comedy category rather than the horror.

Smut Level: The make out scenes in this novel were scorching hot! However, the one sex scene was more of a “fade to black” moment.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. 280 Pages.

Meant to be Family by Amelia Foster

Kelsey left Connor behind months ago with no explanation. When their paths cross once again, we have to wonder if they’ll be able to overcome their tumultuous past to discover that they were always meant to be family.

What’s it About? 

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My dreams constantly haunt me, whether I’m asleep or awake. Six months ago, my life veered off course when my fiancée disappeared with no explanation. The partying lifestyle I’d adopted to cope, ended in an accident that left my body as broken as my heart. To make matters worse, I’ve managed to run off countless physical therapists in charge of the in-home rehabilitation I need to get me back on my feet. My last chance at staying in my own house is gift-wrapped in wavy, auburn hair and startling gray eyes. The woman that shattered my heart. Kelsey is the only one left to help heal my body. And her unexpected arrival brings with it the opportunity to ask the countless questions I thought I’d carry forever. But her answers only create a new mountain to overcome, one I never imagined. Now, more than ever, I need to prove to Kelsey that despite everything, we are meant to be a family…

First Impressions

What can I say about this series?! The author is simply a master at weaving together the love story of our characters into an amazing tapestry which seamlessly incorporates past with present; pure joy with pain. There are moments that will make you laugh out loud, and then those emotional scenes that tug at your heartstrings with each new sentence. The way the story is pieced together by alternating the points of view of our characters, as well as shifting each chapter from past to present and then back again ensures that you’re immediately pulled into the timeline to a point where it becomes near impossible to put down. I actually finished this book in two full sittings! There’s nothing like promising yourself each chapter will be the last, and then finding out you’re 1.5 hours past your weeknight bedtime and eight chapters beyond when you told yourself you’d stop. I feel like an addiction disclaimer is needed before starting each book!

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The Broken Hero

When our story opens on Connor we discover he’s in a dark place. Broken both physically and mentally, we find him still pining over the love of his life who walked out on him six months ago with no explanation. Following Kelsey’s departure he tried desperately to win her back, but in his failure to do so he subsequently lost a part of who he was. After a tragic accident which left him a hero, albeit one temporarily without the use of his legs, he’s now in a constant state of surliness. Physical therapists run away from his house in short order, and before long there’s only one person left who can possibly help him. Kelsey.

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A Questionable Quandary

Kelsey is heartbroken to have to interact with Connor again, especially seeing as she was determined that the last time she saw him would in fact be the last time. However, when she sees the pain he’s in, and how much he needs her to get his life back on track, she’s willing to put the past aside to help him walk again. As we see scenes of these two struggling to be civil to each other, interspersed with scenes from their past showing how they first fell in love, we’re mean to question how things went wrong for these two people who were once so right for each other. What could possibly have caused Kelsey to turn her back on the man who was always destined to be her family? Well, as it turns out, I guessed the root cause of her desertion about 5 pages into the book.

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I don’t thiiiiink it was necessarily an obvious conclusion, but the only reason I immediately realized the source of her melancholia was because while reading this book I was simultaneously listening to an audiobook with the exact same theme! I don’t want to give things away, but essentially what we’re dealing with here is a situation where Kelsey was convinced that the only way for Connor to live the life they’d always dreamed of was for her to leave. She thought that if she’d initially been upfront with him about why she left, he would have stuck with her out of loyalty, but eventually would have come to resent their relationship. However, I couldn’t help but think that the pain of them being apart would have to be a million times worse than the pain of admitting the truth. Kelsey may have been in an emotionally bad place when she made that decision to leave Connor behind with no notice, but once we see the flashbacks of the evolution of their relationship, we can’t help but feel that he at least deserved some kind of explanation. She left him to question what it was that he did to make her run, when in reality it was nothing on his part. That lingering doubt, mixed with the pain of losing the love of his life, was something he didn’t deserve.

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

Series: Meant to Be, book 3. You can’t help but love each new couple!

Final Impressions: Every addition to this series is just as good as the one that came before. I’m constantly floored at how Ms. Foster is able to weave together so many different components of flashbacks and alternating points of view to create one cohesive, beautiful story that will enthrall you from start to finish. While this read did feel slightly predictable for me, I have to blame it on the coincidence of reading another book at the same time with the exact same issue impacting our heroine. I may not be able to condone Kelsey’s choice to leave Connor behind, but seeing the journey of them finding their way back to each other juxtaposed against how they first came together all those years ago? It’s a moving journey, and I’m all aboard!

Smut Level: Phew, this is one steamy read! Connor might be learning to walk again following his accident, but there are some things that come back to him quickly just like riding a bike.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Limitless Publishing, LLC. 219 Pages.

Love From Amanda to Zoey by Ian Mark

An emotionally heavy read which examines life, loss, love, and how interconnected those topics can truly be.

What’s it About?

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Everything comes easy for Zach Johnston. Only 24 years old, he’s got it all– the girl, the high paying tech job, and the rent-controlled apartment in the Village. But when his best friend overdoses and his girlfriend leaves him, his inability to connect with other people overwhelms him.

Desperate to hide his pain from Amanda, the ex who met “11 out of 13 criteria” on his friend’s most important checklist, Zach plasters on a smile as he rejoins his single friends chasing girls at seedy bars and grungy apartments, hoping the emptiness inside him will disappear if he pretends it doesn’t exist. As he descends into a haze of weed, booze, and hallucinogens, Zach recognizes his remaining friendships for what they are— partnerships of convenience, forged long ago simply on the shared desire to get high and get laid, continuing to this day because the effort required to replace them is too great. He also turns his judgmental lens inwards and begins to understand the consequences of his one night stands and shameless flirting, and the perils of assuming everyone he meets is dumber than he is.

At the peak of this crisis of confidence, Zach meets Zoey Mclemore, the beautiful, intelligent woman he has always told himself he could love and marry. Eating caramels sober with her is better than being drunk or high with anyone else. But when Zoey finds Zach drunk and alone with Amanda, he knows he must show Zoey he is ready to be an adult, or face never watching Spongebob with her again.

First Impressions

Zach is at a dark point in his life. After proposing to his girlfriend, Amanda, he’s surprised to find that her rejection of his offer has now resulted in the end of the longest romantic relationship he’s ever been in. He’s now trying everything he can to “come out on top” in their breakup, and demonstrate that he’s not heartbroken over her refusal. He’ll be just fine without her in his life. At least, this is Zach’s initial explanation to himself of why he’s losing himself every night in women, booze, and drugs. We soon come to find that his pain runs much deeper than a surface-level breakup with a long-time girlfriend. As it turns out, Zach is not just losing himself in these activities, but rather numbing himself. His downward spiral into drugs and alcohol is a desperate attempt to forget the tragic death of his best friend, and the confusion and turmoil which has plagued him ever since. His recent breakup with Amanda was just the icing on the cake of his pain.

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The Anti-Hero

Zach isn’t always the most likable of characters. We see that he’s prone to say and do some rather stupid things, and he’s certainly not without his flaws. However, this is also what makes him a realistic character. He’s stumbling through life, just like we all are. Throughout the novel we constantly question whether or not he’ll ever have an epiphany where he’ll wake up to see what truly matters in life. It’s a slow realization which comes as he spends more time with Zoey, a woman his mother was determined to set him up with. Eventually Zach discovers that he’s at risk of losing Zoey completely if he doesn’t clean up his act. I appreciated that he didn’t immediately push aside all the drugs and alcohol after his first meeting with her, or even after the first time they said they loved each other. That would have been too easy, and if Zach’s story teaches us anything it’s that life isn’t easy.

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It’s full of ups and downs, twists and turns, but ultimately it is possible to find someone who can help to lessen the pain. Zoey proves to be that salvation for Zach. It was interesting to see the progression of their relationship, from the first date where he was so nervous at the prospect of making a bad first impression, to an eventual fight that risks signalling the end of their love altogether. Zach reflects how his fear of losing Zoey is so much more terrifying than the fear he had over looking like a fool on that first date. Back then she was simply someone he might like to spend time with, but she eventually comes to represent the person he wants to spend the rest of his life with. She is his future. The question is, will he be able to show Zoey that she means more to him than all the drugs and alcohol that he’s filled his life with up until this point?

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A Second Death

At the start of the novel we see how Zach’s life was consumed with grief and guilt over the passing of his best friend, and as Zoey becomes a more permanent presence in his life we see an almost conflicting process of healing. Zach is slowly moving on from the debilitating grief that has plagued him since the death of Brian, and he’s surprised to notice that some days can eventually pass without him thinking at all about his best friend. His ability to cope is undoubtedly a healthy step in the healing process, yet it also fills him with sadness at the realization that he’s starting to think less of his friend. He’s even struggling to picture Brian’s smiling face clearly in his mind’s eye. Zach has vowed to never forget his friend, to never stop saying his name, as he feels to forget him would almost be like putting Brian through a second death. The death of his memory. It’s a rather poignant look at loss and the various stages of grief.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This book certainly left me teary-eyed a time or two when Zach’s grief over the death of his best friend became all consuming. A good portion of the story focuses on Zach lamenting over Brian’s death, getting lost in drugs and alcohol to numb his pain, as well as pursuing various women to get over his break-up with Amanda. While it’s a gripping progression of events, we also could have spent more time witnessing Zach and Zoey together as a couple. He can sense his feelings for Zoey are different than all those who came before, and they seem to have a similar sense of humor and ability to just be with each other, even in silence. But most of the time we merely see Zach reminiscing on their time together rather than us seeing scenes of them together and connecting emotionally. It could have provided a nice additional layer of depth to the story.

Smut Level: Zach and Zoey definitely connect physically, and can go all night long. Nothing to overly graphic or detailed though.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Omnific Publishing. 188 Pages.

He Belongs to Her by Sunny Chambers

A story of love vs. lust. Nellie thinks her affair with a married man is the real deal, but will her flirtations with a young pool-boy develop into something more consuming?

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What happens when lies are exposed? Nellie is in love, or so she thinks, but is it real? Brent loves her back, doesn’t he? She wonders can he ever be hers. Will Nellie ever find true love and will Paolo be able to declare his true feelings for her? The secrets and twists throughout this story threaten to destroy the path to happiness and the lives of those involved.

First Impressions

Honestly, our first introduction to Nellie isn’t all that positive. We’re presented with a seemingly spoiled little rich girl, still living in her father’s mansion, working in his business, and having an affair with a married man. Nellie muses to feeling no remorse or guilt for her sexual escapades with this man, hoping that Brent will leave his harsh and unloving wife behind so they can be together. As an aside, Nellie also admits to feeling a longtime simmering attraction for Paolo, the pool-boy at her father’s home. And yet, she feels she could never act on these feelings, as she wants to avoid becoming the cliche of a wealthy woman “…becoming involved with a member of their staff.” The fact that her mother left her father for someone below their station also doesn’t help matters. Again, certainly not the best of first impressions.

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An Early Climax

That being said, our opinion of Nellie changes rather quickly when her affair with Brent comes out in the open to none other than his wife, Meg. Surprisingly, the story arch of this novel almost seemed to happen in reverse, or perhaps like we were coming into things at the midway point when Nellie and Brent’s affair was already well underway. We started off with the introduction of our cast of characters, each of them getting their own chapter intro. Nellie, her lover Brent, Brent’s wife Meg, Nellie’s father, Paolo the pool-boy, and even Nellie’s mother (a somewhat unnecessary chapter in my opinion). After this it seems like we get our climactic scene of discovery when Meg catches her husband and Nellie in an intimate embrace.

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While we hold our breath in anticipation wondering what havoc might be in store for our characters, we start to see things vastly improve for most of them. Nellie and Meg take their lives into their own hands by pushing Brent out of it. Even Nellie’s father, Chad, pushes Brent out of his company after discovering his mistreatment of Paolo’s family in an attempt to get them to sell their business to benefit a real estate development venture. Things are on the up-and-up for everyone, with our villainous Brent seeming to get the comeuppance he deserves. I kept waiting around for some kind of secondary climactic moment, but we never really get one which was as crucial to the plot as when the affair was discovered at about the 1/3 mark. Everything else was kind of smooth sailing afterwards!

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We do see Nellie mature as she eventually realizes the extent of Brent’s manipulation, and that her feelings for him were purely lust rather than love. She feels stupid for her naivety, yet also acknowledges it as a learning experience. Nellie also starts to interact with Paolo again more fervently than before. He’s recently become a wealthy man after an inheritance from his grandmother, which has allowed him to invest fully in his uncle’s restaurant. Now that she’s out from under Brent’s manipulation, Nellie finally allows herself to entertain the idea of exploring her feelings for Paolo.

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Now, even though Nellie has undoubtedly matured, I do wish she would have allowed herself to become involved with Paolo back when he was merely a pool boy. The progression of the novel makes it seem like if Paolo hadn’t come into money, he and Nellie may never have crossed paths which would lead them down a road to romance. We can’t help but wonder if Nellie ever would have noticed Paolo following her breakup with Brent if money hadn’t been an influencing factor in bringing them back together.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: I almost wish this novel had started off with us witnessing how Brent and Nellie began their affair in the first place. It could have provided us with a clearer window into Nellie’s emotional state of why she felt this man “belongs to her”, a sentiment which seemingly influenced the title of the work itself. As it stands, it seems as though we’re coming into a story at the halfway point. Following the discovery of the affair by Brent’s wife, we don’t really see any further struggle or climax of the plot. Overall there were some areas that could have used some additional fine-tuning and editing to bring everything full circle. Perhaps even one additional scene involving a heart-to heart between Nellie and her mother, who ran off to have her own affair, could have provided an additional emotional insight to our characters. Instead we would often just see a brief mention of an event/conversation taking place between two characters rather than witnessing a full description of the scene playing out.

Smut Level: Some steamy moments, but nothing overtly descriptive that would make you blush.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.95 Kindle Price. Austin Macauley Publishers LLC. 145 Pages.

Meant to be Different by Amelia Foster

Another home run! Amelia Foster once again succeeds in hitting it out of the park in her sequel of the “Meant to Be” series, Meant to be Different. 

What’s it About?

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Young Wyatt Carlisle fell in love with the rodeo and it became his dream career. It was also the decision that would one day cost him his high school sweetheart. But when thirty rolls around he decides to give his battered body a break, he retires with two goals in mind: open a training facility in his hometown and win back his Gigi.

Teenage Georgia Marsh is not only faced with watching her mother fade from terminal cancer, but also a relocation to North Carolina. It’s only made worse when the one person not scared by her goth girl persona is a rhinestone cowboy with more swagger than brain cells. In a turn of events she never thought possible, Wyatt becomes her first love and a rock through the heartbreak of losing her mother. Only to shatter her months later when he chooses his career and disappears from her world.

After a twelve year separation, Wyatt saunters back into Georgia’s life. Forced to work together on a project for her boss, and one of Wyatt’s sponsors, their sexual chemistry quickly ignites, but Georgia is determined not to fall for Wyatt’s charm a second time around. Especially when she suspects that watching the cowboy ride off into the sunset for a second time might be more than she can handle.

First Impressions

What can I say about this series other than that you should read it? Amelia Foster is a master storyteller who allows us a glimpse into teen love, second chances, and even emotional heartbreak. This sequel in the “Meant to Be” series holds up just as strongly to the premier novel, which is really saying something considering that was also a beautiful roller-coaster of a read that gave me all the feels. Something I’ve appreciated with this series so far is that while we see a continuation of certain themes, such as the brilliant use of flashbacks and alternating points of view between the lead characters, each novel really is distinct.

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It never felt as though this second book was merely a repeat of the one which came before it. Wyatt and Gigi’s story is unique to them in a way that sets them apart from the couple of the first novel, even though that one featured Wyatt’s older brother. It feels as though we are once again witnessing a true romance play out between two very real people that we’ve come to know intimately through the author’s words. Wyatt and Gigi demonstrate that their teenage love which ended 12 years ago may not be entirely over, but simply paused. This rhinestone cowboy may have just found a second chance at love with his dark angel.

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A Journey to the Past

While the consistent use of flashbacks might not have been as mind-blowingly spectacular as their use in book one, they still served a very important and alluring purpose of highlighting the foundation of Wyatt and Gigi’s relationship all those years ago. They seemed like polar opposites when they first met in high school. She was the new goth girl in town, and he was the popular wannabe rodeo stud that all the girls drooled over. Somehow this rhinestone cowboy is able to draw this dark angel out of her shell, and they find love together. But this story is more than just a simple teenage romance. We discover that Gigi’s surly attitude at moving to this small North Carolina town is born of the fact that her mother is in the last stages of cancer, and it’s just a matter of time before she’s gone from this world.

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Heavy stuff, I know. The beauty though of her relationship with Wyatt is that he manages to pull her out of the constant limbo she’s experiencing at home, bouncing constantly between life and the imminent arrival of her mother’s death, to find an escape where she can simply be herself. To find a few days a week where she doesn’t have to be constantly worrying about her mother’s illness, or how her dad is struggling with losing the love of his life. What started as a simple dalliance to take her mind off the harsh realities of life soon turns into an example of true love. Wyatt stands by Gigi in everything, and she too supports him through some of his own life’s struggles. They might experience a few bumps in the road, just like with any new relationship, but they soon discover the key to their love is always being open with each other when life tries to get in the way. Wyatt especially acknowledges that the depth of their love isn’t like every other typical teenage romance. It’s real. They’ll make it through anything life throws at them, and they’ll be together past their teenage years, because their love is meant to be different. Or is it?

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The Hope for Second Chances

We know pretty much from the opening page, actually from the synopsis itself, that Wyatt left Gigi behind all those years ago to pursue his dreams of becoming a rodeo star bull rider. It seems that in spite of all their vows that their love was “meant to be different”, it seems to have succumbed to defeat just like any other teenage romance. Throughout the novel we see a constant switch back and forth of Wyatt trying to win Gigi back in the present, while simultaneously seeing how their love played out in the past. As we see how deep of a connection these two had when they were young, we see that their teenage romance in fact wasn’t merely just a passing fancy. They meant everything to each other. So where did it all go wrong, and more importantly, will Wyatt be able to convince Gigi that he’s worth a second chance? When they first met he had to fight for her to see how good they could be together, and all these years later he’s going through that same fight of trying to win her trust.

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Something that really did surprise me as we saw the love between Wyatt and Gigi play out in both the past and the present, was that we never witnessed that one key moment where Wyatt decided to leave. We hear his explanation to Gigi when they reconnect, but we never actually get a flashback scene where we see him drive off into the sunset. I was kind of confused at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the purpose of these flashbacks was not to build up to the point where he left. Instead, it was to show the development of their love up until that point. To demonstrate how Wyatt was there for Gigi through every hardship, including standing as a pillar when her mother eventually died. He also succeeded in showing her that life was still worth living amidst such pain. His decision to leave was not out of selfishness. As we uncover his reasoning behind the decision we realize it may have been the most selfless decision of his life. What mattered most was not that we saw how or when he left, but rather that he came back. The author manages to convince us through these flashbacks that Wyatt is in fact worthy of a second chance in the present, and we can only hold our breath in anticipation that Gigi remembers why their love is worth fighting for.

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

Series: Meant to Be, book 2. I love, love, love this series, and you can bet your Stetson I’ll be continuing on to see what might be in store for the other Carlisle brothers going forward.

Final Impressions: I pretty much finished this book in two sittings. It made me laugh, sigh, and definitely brought tears to my eyes a time or two. It’s an emotional read for sure, and seeing Gigi and Wyatt’s love play out as teenagers was particularly heartbreaking because you knew going into it that eventually it would end. But then to see them pick things up again in the present, you’re hopeful that all these years later they’ll manage to find the happiness which escaped them back then. As their story played out, I was drawn so much into their world that it started to feel like I was reading about two people I actually knew. When it was over I even wanted to pick up my phone to call Gigi and dish about how Wyatt is such a dreamboat. A girl can dream!

Smut Level: When it comes to the bedroom, Gigi demands one simple thing of her cowboy lover. Clothes off…cowboy hat on. 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Limitless Publishing, LLC. 227 Pages.

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When I Fall by J. Daniels

Reed has a very firm “no kissing” rule when it comes to the women he “dates”. Actually, make that “has one-night stands with”.

What’s it About?

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For the past nine years, I’ve kept my heart as far away from my d*ck as possible. Those two can’t be anywhere near each other. They don’t play nice, and one of them undoubtedly winds up getting hurt. Not my d*ck. My d*ck is good.

The women I take home know exactly what they’re getting from me—a good time. Nothing more. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. The sweet brunette from Kentucky I set my sights on tonight shouldn’t have been any different. I had her right where I wanted her. Where I needed her. But when my past comes walking into McGill’s pub, the woman in my arms decides to take things to a whole new level, putting me into a situation I never saw coming.

My heart is about to get f**ked. My d*ck can sit this one out.

First Impressions 

Of all the novels in this series so far, this one might just be my favorite, and for one very important reason. I liked the characters! After finishing the second book in this series I almost didn’t continue on with it, but I decided to give it one last try. I’m definitely glad I did! Reed and Beth have a chemistry which is undeniably palpable. At first glance in a local pub, Reed has his usual sights set on Beth, thinking that she’ll be his quick and easy source of entertainment for the evening. After all, she’s reading romance smut on her Kindle in a bar. Surely she’s up for a good time? However, it’s not long into his flirtations that a painful memory from his past comes waltzing through the door, and bragging about her upcoming engagement party no less. He’s like a deer caught in headlights when confronted with his ex, and Beth can sense that this flirtatious playboy is hurting. So, she does the only thing she can think of. She grabs his face and kisses him. So much for Reed’s no kissing rule!

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The Playboy and his Fake Girlfriend

Reed is a quintessential playboy, so what is it about this young woman that sets her apart from all the others who have come before? And believe me, there was a hefty plethora which came before. Well, there are a few things which set this lady apart from all of Reed’s former bedfellows. Firstly, she initiated their first kiss, even if it was all pretend as she simultaneously concocted a ruse of her and Reed dating in order to help him confront his cheating former ex. Beth and Reed were strangers, and yet even upon first meeting she was essentially trying to protect him. Her selflessness, not to mention their steamy kiss, practically knocked him on his ass.

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Then there’s the whole matter of the ruse itself. When Beth pretends to be Reed’s girlfriend, and also offers to keep up the charade by accompanying him to his ex’s engagement party, their first key moments together are essentially shrouded in pretend. Reed’s goal is no longer to immediately get Beth into bed, but rather to survive this awkward confrontation with his ex. In order to distract him from the unusual circumstances of their pretend relationship, Beth opens up about herself, and in turn gets Reed to open up about himself as well. It’s the first time in years that he’s simply been able to be himself with another woman, and develop a connection that is beyond sex. Reed and Beth both become smitten with each other throughout the course of the evening, and it’s during this engagement party that they decide to stop pretending.

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Everything in Moderation

While Beth does her best to take Reed’s mind off the awkwardness of the evening, he chooses to find additional solace in alcohol. It doesn’t stop him though from ultimately opening up to Beth, and admitting that he wants to take her home. What follows is a passionate night of multiple orgasms…that we don’t actually get to read about firsthand. You see, there’s one little problem with this entire situation. Come morning, Reed doesn’t remember any of the details of their sexual escapades.

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Imagine for a moment being new to town, offering to be a fake girlfriend for a complete stranger, spending an amazing night together getting up to all kinds of dirty deeds, and then when you wake up hoping to have a continuation of said dirty deeds you realize that your fake boyfriend for the night doesn’t remember any of the sex from the previous evening. Needless to say, Beth bolts out of there in sheer embarrassment. You gotta hand it to Reed though, the man must be one high-functioning black-out drunk. As the days pass, and his calls to Beth go unanswered, he starts to remember snippets of their night together, and hot damn! They made use of every surface of his house, not to mention got creative in the kitchen with various condiment options. Let this be a lesson to you ladies and gents, alcohol in moderation. You don’t want to forget these steamy details!

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Off-Balance

The first half of this novel was an absolute hoot. The entire set-up of their fake relationship which quickly developed into something more was extremely entertaining. You also can’t help but feel slightly bad for Reed in his hungover state. It’s not like he tried to kick Beth out of his bed in the morning or anything. He actually tried his damnedest to convince her to stay and talk things out. He may not have remembered their sexual exploits from the previous night, but he remembered how he felt about her. That he knew she was special, and that he enjoyed the moments they could simply laugh together.

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What follows are some humorous scenes where Reed tries to win her back, but everything takes a more serious turn with the introduction of some drama surrounding the couple from the first novel in this series. It’s in this moment that both Reed and Beth realize how important they are to each other, and Beth decides to stop running. They decide to make a go of an official relationship, and Reed is especially determined to make up for all the lost bedroom time. This results in the second-half of the novel being pretty sex-heavy, to the point where you almost forget how they came together in the first place. Either the events from the first half needed to be spread out more evenly over the course of the novel, or maybe we could have trimmed a sex scene or two from the second half. I know, trimming sexing scenes seems so unlike me, right?!

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Series: Alabama Summer, book 3. My favorite book of the series so far. Still not without its faults, but we seem to be moving in an upward trajectory. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Final Impressions: I definitely enjoyed this one. Beth especially was a unique and intriguing character considering her background of familial loss, homelessness, and even emotional abuse at the hands of another man. As for Reed, it was refreshing to see this playboy learn to find happiness with another woman outside of the bedroom. He even admits that it’s the moments in between their time in the sheets that become his favorite where they can simply have fun laughing together. We do see some additional drama come into play towards the end involving Beth’s dad (which in my opinion was slightly unnecessary), as well as the return of a jerk from Beth’s past, which also wasn’t my favorite as it demonstrated Beth’s vulnerability and lack of confidence in her relationship with Reed. Overall though, the story manages to come full circle, and Reed is able to demonstrate his full devotion to this woman.

Smut Level: Yowza! When you read about using honey in a sexual scenario…well that just seems like a sticky mess with very little appeal.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. JD Publishing, LLC. 372 Pages.

Dominic by L.A. Casey

Pet names can be an adorable feature of any relationship. Honey bunny. Sweetie pie. Snuggle muffin. The list goes on and on. The pet name that Dominic quickly developed for Bronagh was “pretty girl”. Throughout the development of their relationship though he also threw out several references to her being a slut, bitch, and fat ass. Soooooo…yeah. There’s that.

What’s it About?

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After a car accident killed her parents when she was a child, Bronagh Murphy chose to box herself off from people in an effort to keep herself from future hurt. If she doesn’t befriend people, talk to them or acknowledge them in any way they leave her alone just like she wants.

When Dominic Slater enters her life, ignoring him is all she has to do to get his attention. Dominic is used to attention, and when he and his brothers move to Dublin, Ireland for family business, he gets nothing but attention. Attention from everyone except the beautiful brunette with a sharp tongue.

Dominic wants Bronagh and the only way he can get to her, is by dragging her from the boxed off corner she has herself trapped in the only way he knows how…by force. Dominic wants her, and what Dominic wants, Dominic gets.

First Impressions

Alright, let’s kick things off right away by saying that this is an unhealthy relationship filled with both verbal and physical abuse. It’s a high school romance, meaning that it’s full of some pretty eye rolling moments of high school-level petty drama, but we have the added bonus of an underground fighting component built in. The fact this is a new adult romance in a high school setting prompted me many times to hope that no adolescent teen boys decided to pick up this book for a quick perusal. Or any teen girls for that matter.

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It basically highlights that a girl can tell you in as many ways possible that she wants you to leave her alone, from screaming that she hates you, to literally crying and pleading for you to leave her alone, throwing things at you, even slapping you as hard as she can because of your teasing words, and vowing that she’s not interested in you. But! Don’t worry. You keep at it young man. If you persist long enough, weasel your way in slyly enough, and essentially beat to a pulp and threaten death upon any other guy who shows an interest in her, you’ll succeed in winning her over. Honestly, it was a fairly uncomfortable read and progression of a relationship. I kept hoping that at some point in the book these two would realize they’re just not meant for each other and go their separate ways.

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Where No Means Maybe

The entire first half of this novel shows us how Bronagh detests Dominic’s presence in her life with every fiber of her being. She adamantly articulates how she hates and loathes him. They exchange verbal insults, with him calling her a bitch and slut, to her calling him a faggot and an arsehole. She tries to get him out of her mind by going on a date with someone else, which causes him to crash their outing and beat her date to a pulp. While Dominic never physically hurts her (on purpose), Bronagh slaps him on multiple occasions when he says something particularly insulting, and even throws objects at him to the point where they break. And yet, underneath it all we see glimpses of lust and desire between them.

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Sure, he might call her a bitch in one scene, but then he’ll stake his claim by calling her his woman in another. It was such a whiplash of emotion I couldn’t help but wonder “wait…are we supposed to think this is an awwwwww cute moment?” Now, sure, I have reviewed several romances here before where I commend the verbal sparring matches between a couple that eventually result in a passionate kiss or sexual escapade. Those delightful moments when you can tell two people try to push each other away, but are then reduced to two burning forces of need where they have no choice but to end an argument by pushing each other up against a wall and tearing their clothes off. However, this book takes those verbal arguments to the extreme, where it doesn’t seem like foreplay or flirtation anymore, but rather actual animosity.

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Ripping Her Out of the Shell

Bronagh has always kept herself closed off from letting people in. This hearkens back to the death of her parents when she was just a little girl. It made her understand the fragility of life, and that at any point people can be ripped away from you. The only person she’s ever connected with and openly trusts is her sister. But when Dominic comes onto the scene, things change. After so many years of being quiet and reserved, Dominic has managed to spark an emotional reaction from her, and it results in Bronagh finally starting to open up to people. Even her sister recognizes this change, and uses it as a reason to push Dominic and Bronagh together. Here’s the problem with that logic though. The emotional reaction he sparks within her is essentially hatred.

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Yes, she’s finally interacting with someone, but her primary interactions with Dominic involve shouting, taunting, and even some physical slaps and punches from Bronagh.
Once they get all that initial violent and hate-filled…foreplay?….out of the way what’s left is physical yearning and lust. It was kind of worrying to me with one scene in particular where Bronagh allows Dominic to get her off in a public space (even though she told him to stop a few times), and while she internally admits that it was an action that was out of character for her, she equated it as a demonstration of how much she must trust him. That…isn’t trust. That’s just someone who is really convincing at seduction, and instead highlights how lust can be confused with emotional connection. I understand how some would see it as a positive thing that someone has finally managed to get Bronagh to come out of her shell, but it just didn’t seem like the most healthy way to do it. It’s basically like Dominic came along and was determined to crack open that shell under any means necessary, and he wanted to rip her out of it so he could keep her all for himself.

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Series: Slater Brothers, book 1. While the romance depicted in this first book wasn’t my favorite, I won’t be giving up on this series quite yet. There are a number of interesting Slater brothers who will be the focus of future books, and I must say I’m intrigued by some of them.

Final Impressions: The first half or so of this book is all about the dynamic between Bronagh and Dominic, and how they toy with both their dislike yet attraction for each other. Personally I think it pushed the whole idea of foreplay bickering a bit too far, and was indicative of an unhealthy relationship.

Smut Level: Technically they only have sex once, but they do plenty of other experimental things in the interim!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.51 Kindle Price. Self-Published. 343 Pages