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

Dirty English by Ilsa Madden-Mills

A man who can analyze the themes and characters of Pride and Prejudice? Hell yeah!

What’s it About?

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A scarred fighter.
A girl with rules.
One night of unbridled passion.
There are three things you need to know about Elizabeth Bennett: she’s smart as a whip, always in control, and lives by a set of carefully crafted rules. She’s learned the hard way that people you love the most always hurt you in the end. But then she meets Declan Blay, the new neighbor at her apartment complex.

A tattooed British street fighter, he’s the campus bad boy she’s supposed to avoid, but when he saves her from a frat party gone bad, all her rules about sex and love fly out the window. She gives him one night of unbridled passion, but he longs for more. With only a cardboard-thin wall separating their bedrooms, he dreams of possessing the vulnerable girl next door forever. One night. Two damaged hearts. The passion of a lifetime.

First Impressions 

Our opening scene presents us with waking up the morning after a night of sex. Unfortunately it’s not the post orgasmic bliss we’d hope to see at the start of a romance novel. Instead we see Elizabeth wake up the night after prom to the realization she’s been assaulted and raped by her boyfriend, Colby. She blames herself for the events of that night, for being drunk and not saying no to whatever drugs and alcohol Colby pushed on her. Fast-forward two years, and we find Elizabeth in college. She admits to herself that the events of that night didn’t ruin her sexuality, but rather impacted her trust of men. She’s established rules since then involving how she interacts with men. Elizabeth isn’t afraid to hook up with men for a one-night stand, but she vows to never hook up with popular, rich, or hot guys. She has to make the first move, and she has to be on top. Essentially we see that she’s built walls around her heart to keep it from breaking again, and has established rules to keep most men at a distance. But rules, as they say, are meant to be broken. Will a bad boy Brit convince her to throw her rule book out the window?

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The Sentimental Fighter

At first glance, Declan is entirely wrong for Elizabeth. He’s smolderingly sexy, he’s a fighter, and he’s well-known on campus. The two are neighbors, and also happen to be in a Pride and Prejudice class together, which means try as she might Elizabeth can’t ignore him for long. There’s a link drawing them together, and as she gets to know him more than the fighter he is on the outside, Elizabeth discovers there’s a sentimental and kind-hearted man lying beneath the surface. Declan might be a fighter, but he can’t fight the pull that’s continually putting him and Elizabeth in the same path. He knows she has her rules, and he slowly starts to put the pieces of her past together to realize someone hurt her emotionally and physically to be so distrustful of others. Maybe he can convince her that he’s worth taking a chance on.

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I definitely enjoyed the initial back and forth between Elizabeth and Declan as they warred with their mutual desire for each other. In the beginning they both try to fight their attraction, and this is more so on Elizabeth’s side since she worries about how much Declan could hurt her if she opens her hear to him. As a fighter Declan insists he doesn’t need a distraction to his focus like Elizabeth. Eventually they can resist no longer, and after having sex (on the mats of his gym no less!) there’s further debate between them over whether or not their relationship will continue beyond that one night. Personally, I think this is when their back and forth started to feel too repetitive, and the story dragged on for a bit too long.

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Needless Repetition

Declan is seemingly dead set on making things work between them, whereas Elizabeth insists on keeping to her rules of one and done. This is compounded by the fact that Declan’s ex keeps sniffing around trying to insert herself back into his life. It raises all of Elizabeth’s insecurities, and she tries to convince Declan that she doesn’t feel anything for him other than lust. This understandably makes him a bit…moody. But then the back and forth begins where Elizabeth tries to make amends, Declan tries to show that he’s moved on, and then when he realizes she was making an effort he tries to get her back. But then she remembers how he said no so she turns away from him, which makes him get all snippy again. I mean my God people just rip off your clothes and have sex with each other already. Play time is over, you both like each other, let’s move on from all this petty high school drama.

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You can definitely understand each person’s hesitancies. Elizabeth is overcoming a lot of shit in her life, from a crappy mom with a slew of endless boyfriends, to the tragic events in high school at the hands of someone she thought she loved and trusted. We can’t fault her for putting up walls around her heart. As for Declan, he’s putting himself out there as much as he can, but in the constant face of rejection from Elizabeth he wonders if she’ll ever be able to overcome her past, or if she truly feels nothing on an emotional level for him. Look, I get it! But having this constant back and forth where neither was on the same page at the same time turned it into a repetitive circle of misunderstandings and snippy comments like, “well what do you care anyway?”Again, too high school for me.

Coming Forward

“Why had I let a mere boy destroy me?” One of our main goals with this read, other than to see Declan and Elizabeth find a happily ever after together, is for Elizabeth to bring her ex, Colby, to justice for what he did to her all those years ago after prom. This little douche monkey can’t possibly get away with what he did to her. At several points in the story it seems like the decision to open up about Colby’s past transgressions might be taken out of Elizabeth’s hands entirely. Her deadbeat mother and her mother’s boyfriend of the month are desperate for money, so they come up with a plot to blackmail Colby’s senator father.

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They’re convinced that he’ll be willing to pay big bucks to prevent them from revealing to the press what his son did all those years ago. In this moment we are presented with such an interesting dichotomy because while he want Colby to pay for his crimes, we don’t want it to happen in this way. It has to be on Elizabeth’s terms. It has to be her story to tell. Not theirs. However, Elizabeth seems so determined to keep the events from that night buried deep in her past. Surely the sick weasel won’t get off scot-free? Eventually Elizabeth can’t ignore that night anymore, especially when she realizes Colby is transferring to her school.

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Series: British Bad Boys, book 1. Declan’s brother Max was probably my favorite character in the whole book. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for him next!

Final Impressions: A sad initial start, but this story definitely had a strong overall beginning. The connection between Declan and Elizabeth is undeniable, and you’re rooting for Elizabeth to overcome her past trauma to let love back into her life. Towards the halfway point though the book started to fizzle and drag for a bit as our couple constantly danced around their feelings for each other.

Smut Level: Dirty English indeed. He’s quite adamant about…licking her up clean.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Little Dove Publishing. 272 Pages.

Craving-Heart Christmas by Mariah J. Roberts

An untimely homecoming brings back painful memories for Mariah, but a chance meeting with her high school hero changes everything.

What’s it About? 51+HXim4RGL

James rescued Mariah from the worst moment of her life, but that night still affects her life ten years later. After what happened to Mariah that night she’ll never be whole again, and she has to keep moving. Then the hero who saved her walks back into her life and she agrees to couch surf at his place during the holidays. Sparks ignite, winter heats up, lust roars and cravings bloom but both her career and her past demons drive her to keep moving; if she’s never still, she’ll never get hurt… so how can she stay?

First Impressions

Mariah has returned to Indiana to care for her sick father, and shortly after arriving back into town she runs into a man who she hasn’t seen in years. A man who changed her life. A man she’s never had the chance to thank…until now. Years before, James rescued Mariah from a traumatic rape at the end of their high school careers. After that fateful night she fled this small town for the wide open roads of the country where nobody knew the troubles of her past. She’s avoided coming home for years. There’s simply too many painful memories of that night, not to mention an unloving father who doesn’t seem to give a damn about her.

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She’s always remembered James as the man who rescued her, and he’s always thought of her in the back of his mind as well. Seeing each other again after so many years, James has some initial difficulty placing this young woman who seems so familiar to him for some reason, and then the event comes flooding back into his memory. His instinct to protect and care for Mariah comes back full force, especially when he discovers she’s only in town for a short time, and living out of the van she travels around the country in. Will he be able to convince her to spend the rest of her visit in the safety of his home, and will he have enough time to show her that she really belongs in his bed?

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A Slow Burn

The connection between Mariah and James is strong and immediate, but they are surprisingly slow to cross the line into a physical relationship. You’d think that James’ invitation for Mariah to stay with him in his apartment for the rest of her visit would have quickly resulted in a tumble under the sheets. James can’t deny that he’s drawn to her, but he’s insistent that they not take things too far too quickly to a point where she’s no longer comfortable with him. After all, Mariah has never been intimate with another man before, and the only physical experience she’s encountered in her past was an extremely traumatic one. That last thing he wants to do is scare her off. That being said, the prospect of taking that next step with Mariah fills James with excitement, and he desires to teach her all there is to know about pleasure. He’s also determined to show her how he likes to be touched, stroked…and even sucked.

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From the Hospital to the Bedroom

Surprisingly, the thing that sort of kick-starts their physical relationship into high gear was the continuously failing health of Mariah’s father. The two have never had a strong or loving relationship, and it’s in those moments when he is so near death that Mariah wants to find a way to celebrate life. In her mind, the best way to do that is to develop a physical bond with James. I will admit it was kind of shocking to see a sad hospital scene followed so closely by a sex scene filled with some rather explicit dirty talk. It’s sort of an emotional whiplash to go from crazy sad to crazy sexy so quickly, but in a bizarre way you can kind of understand it in the same vein.

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While neither necessarily admits to themselves that this is just a passing fancy or one-week fling, in the beginning they both sort of agree to just live in the moment. To be with each other and have fun. Yet again, we see that Mariah’s father has an unexpected influence on changing the outlook of their relationship. It’s in the moment when James is first introduced to this gruff and unloving father of hers that he realizes how important Mariah is to him, and that he wants to be her protector from now on. He’s falling for her, and he wants to keep her in his life from here on out. There’s just one major problem with his plan of a happily ever after. Mariah is a traveling musician. Her life is one on the road, and her time in Indiana is limited, which means that her time in his life has a fast-approaching expiration date.

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On the Road

I do wish we had learned more about Mariah’s pursuit of a musical career. Apparently back in high school she was more artistically driven in terms of drawing. She always carried around a sketchbook that she’d constantly pull in and out of her backpack. The night when James rescued her she left her backpack and drawings behind after fleeing the pain of that night. When James sees her again all these years later she’s suddenly a musician, and has apparently given up drawing. That’s pretty much the end of the discussion, and I just wish we could have brought things back around to that switch from drawing to singing. Especially considering that James had found and kept her backpack of sketches from that sad night. If we could have seen him reunite her with that sketchbook again? My goodness I would have died!! This area, and a few others as well, could have used an added layer of depth and exploration to bring the story fully to life.

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When James ultimately discovers that Mariah intends to leave town right after the New Year he is desperate to try and change her mind into staying with him. In his mind the best way to do that is to give her as many orgasms as possible. He assumes that by keeping her pleasantly satiated she won’t want to leave him. As his best friend so intelligently tells him though, women don’t think like that. James doesn’t want her to leave, but the last thing he wants is to prevent her from following her dreams to be a musician. How can he support her career aspirations, yet also convince her to stay with him at the same time? A puzzling conundrum to be sure, and you can’t help but admire that he simultaneously wants to keep Mariah in his life, but still encourage her to follow her dreams.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This is a quick holiday romance between two lovers who come together years after a traumatic event. I appreciated how James never pressured Mariah to move their physical intimacy at a speed she was uncomfortable with. Normally I love when a book alternates between the male and female points of view, but surprisingly enough I think I almost would have preferred if we’d only had James as our storyteller. His scenes often provided more of a struggle between his inner desires and how he wanted to act in front of Mariah. He was a captivating narrator, and at times I even wondered if his physical urges would override his common sense. I do wish we could have brought certain elements from their high school interaction back full circle into their time together as adults. Perhaps we could have seen an added exploration into the immediate aftermath of how they dealt with such a jarring and frightening experience. It could have helped to add one more layer of depth to their relationship.

Smut Level: They may have taken their sweet time before finally deciding to engage in a physical relationship, but once they do? Holy crap, let’s just say Mariah is a fast learner, and James is an avid teacher. He also has a dirty little mouth on him 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price or $6.95 Audible Price. Eminent Press. 140 Pages or 2hr 20mins Audiobook.