Playing to Win by Ashlie Knapp

Our male lead’s name is Kyle Kelly. He has four sisters. All of them and their parents have names starting with the letter “K”. Nicknamed the “K-clan”. Ummmm…probably not the best nickname ever? Too many “K’s” and “clan” kind of bring something else to mind. Just sayin’. Anywho, onward to the actual story!

What’s it About? 

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Spunky, quick-witted twenty-one year old Callie Thompson is a University of Oklahoma journalism student by day and Oklahoma City Thunder dancer by night. Callie hopes her connections with the franchise might get her foot in the door for a sports broadcasting job when she graduates. She just has one rule: never date the players. Kyle Kelly is the deadly handsome and charmingly Southern Thunder man of the hour. All the twenty-six year old is looking for is an NBA championship to call his own. An unexpected meeting with an opinionated, feisty Callie, however, who is very unimpressed with his celebrity status, sets his sights toward winning two things: her heart AND the championship.

First Impressions

If I had to describe this book in a word it would be cute. Or maybe adorable. You know, sweet really works too. Oh hell you get my point! This book will definitely make you smirk and have you curling your toes in delight. In a way, it was almost Hallmark-esque with how cute it was, but definitely not as annoying as a Hallmark movie can be. Believe me, I should know. My dad plays them on repeat throughout the whole month of December. And July. This book has a level of cheesiness to it that is enjoyable without being over-the-top. I mean, at one point Kyle jokes about how his and Callie’s lips want to get to know each other, that their lips are best friends, etc. Admit it! That’s just adorable.

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A Horsey Meet Cute

This novel has a meet cute as classic as can be: our two lovebirds literally bump into each other. But rather than stare up at the famous Kyle Kelly with stars in her eyes, Callie has pretty much the same reaction that I would. She yells at him! After all, she knows his type as a professional athlete. Arrogant. Full of himself. So to prove her wrong Kyle challenges Callie to a game of horse. Ummm…ok? Don’t really see the connection here, or how it’ll prove he’s humble. He’s a pro basketball player for crying out loud! Pretty sure his confidence level in winning a game of horse was pretty high. Could we even say…arrogantly high?

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While I didn’t necessarily understand the reasoning behind their game of horse, the resulting challenge just made me smile. If Kyle wins they have to “hang out” five times. Callie refuses to call them “dates”, but she’s only kidding herself. We all know it’s just a matter of time before their friendship develops into something a bit more steamy. I also gotta hand it to Kyle, this guy is charming as hell. I’d definitely play him in a game of horse. Sure, I’d lose immediately because my hand-eye coordination is absolute shit, but still. Sign me up!!

The Voices of Reason

In addition to hearing input from her best friends (who will undoubtedly be the focus of future novels), Callie also has an inner voice rattling around in her mind who always tries to giver her words of wisdom. Needless to say, it pisses Callie off something fierce because that voice is constantly pushing her towards Kyle! She’s determined not to date him because her recent ex-boyfriend was also an athlete, and things did not end well. Will Callie be able to overcome her hesitancy in exploring something more romantic with Kyle? If her inner voice has anything to say about it, hell yeah!

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I found Callie’s battle with the voice in her head to be hilarious. Another delightfully fun component was Kyle’s rapport with his teammates, who were just as big of gossips as Callie and her friends. It was kind of sweet actually, as these supposed tough guys are asking Kyle all about his new love interest in the locker room after a game. His teammates definitely like to razz him for spending so much time thinking about and hanging out with Callie, but he never lets it faze him. He’s honest about his feelings for her, and isn’t ashamed to admit it to his buddies Definitely an acceptable form of locker room talk!

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Here it Comes

Callie and Kyle’s close friendship eventually develops into the most adorable of relationships, but after a while you just know that sooner or later the other shoe is going to drop. Their relationship has been going too smoothly, with very little drama for far too long. They even hit it off with each other’s family members! Surely we can’t go the whole novel without a little drama thrown in there? And sure enough, it comes about right at the end of the third quarter.

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Not gonna lie, this was probably the most disappointing feature of the novel for me. While I was definitely happy this dramatic plot point didn’t drag on for too long, you could really see it coming from a mile away. It was just too obvious of a climactic twist. And the fact that it was almost a complete and total shot for shot replica of the scenario which ended Callie’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend was a bit far-fetched for me. I guess all in all I would have liked to have seen a bit more creativity when it came to the drama. Perhaps a secondary issue surrounding his basketball commitment or her schooling could have spiced things up a smidge.

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

Series: Playing series, book 1. I’ll be continuing with this series, for sure. I just can’t wait to see the pairings between Kyle’s teammates and Callie’s friends.

Should you read it? Simply put, this is a fun and cute read. Definitely a good beach read when you just wanna relax and take your mind off things. It’s also a quick read! Kyle is adorable, and the man loves his cat, so what’s not to like here?! His flirtations with Callie were definitely cheesy, but some moments were also remarkably heartfelt. Both features added to his overall charm.

Smut Level: A pretty clean read. We have some kisses, but only one sex scene that comes pretty late in the game (no pun intended) and is glossed over as far as sensual details. No problem reading this one in public.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 225 Pages.

 

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Sweet Sacrifice by L.D. Rose

YES!!!! God is female b*tches!!!!!!! Ahem, pardon me. Some slight excitement there. Moving on.

What’s it About? 

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Former Navy SEAL Sebastian “Bash” Lockard died in Afghanistan after leaping on a grenade to save his comrades. Little did he know his act of heroism would grant him a ticket into Heaven’s elite army as one of the few and powerful Archangels. Struggling with his new existence, Bash still retains his human memories, leaving behind a wife he loves with all of his heart. Although he’s forbidden to see her, he can’t resist her lure, or the mortal desires he harbors for her.

As a young widow and nurse, Irene Lockard still mourns her husband two years after his untimely death. His absence is everywhere, and when her best friend weds, she hits an emotional rock bottom. As if summoned from the skies above, Sebastian appears before her, and they share an unforgettable night. But when he once again vanishes, she wonders if she’s truly gone made with grief. The only way Sebastian can remain with Irene is if he makes the ultimate sacrifice. But will she overcome her fear of losing him again to another war?

First Impressions

This is an enchanting read that draws you in with the emotional drama of the characters. These two go beyond “till death do us part”, and have a love that is stronger than and expands beyond death. Consider yourself warned, this read will tug at your heart strings, and can be a bit too hard to bear at times. We open to see Irene stuck in a dark depression years after her husband sacrificed himself to save his SEAL brothers. The fact I just happened to be reading this book over Veteran’s Day made the whole situation even more poignant and emotional for me. Totally unplanned, by the way. Irene is wandering through life in a fog, on the brink of giving up entirely when something incredible happens. Perhaps her husband isn’t actually gone forever after all.

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An Archangel Warrior

Due to his cunning bravery as a mortal, Sebastian has been recruited in death to be an Archangel, spending the rest of eternity fighting demons and pure evil. Something that I enjoyed about this novel thematically was that while it contained religious components, and spent quite a lot of time discussing angels and the afterlife, it never really felt overly religious to me. Not that there’s anything wrong with novels which do tend to sway more towards the religious side of faith of course, but I think the way this novel was structured means that it can be enjoyed by a wider audience. You also don’t really need a heavy religious background to understand the story.

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However, the one aspect that I wish had been developed just a bit more was the evil side of things. I know…that sounds weird, but hear me out. While our novel opens with Sebastian and his fellow Archangels pursuing a demon, we never get a whole lot of description surrounding this demon, his motives, or end game. I guess I would have liked if there had been more of an obvious villain with a backstory. That being said, I can also appreciate the fact that the main point of the story is meant to highlight the relationship between Sebastian and Irene rather than it being a monster fighting book per se. Not to mention the fact that Sebastian’s Archangel teammates have been combating evil since the beginning of time means that this demon was probably just one more drop in the bucket for them. Still though, I think maybe just a bit more focus on the dark side of the afterlife would have been interesting.

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A Painting of the Afterlife

Something this novel does phenomenally well was the description of Sebastian’s new world, as well as his journey getting there through death and Purgatory. In addition, the scenes involving Irene’s encounters with the Soul Mate Tree are painted so clearly, and even creepily at times to the point where I felt like I could succinctly picture everything in my mind’s eye. In my opinion, this skill is always what distinguishes whether or not I like a particular fantasy novel. This is a different world we are dealing with here that is so different from our own, and yet it almost felt like I was there. Well done!

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Everlasting Love

Again, the main focus of this book is on Sebastian and Irene reuniting after two years of him being dead. It’s emotional, yet I feel like there was one missed opportunity to truly tug on the heartstrings. You see, we get quite a few scenes of Sebastian internally reminiscing about the moment leading up to his death, his last thought and vision of his beloved wife, his struggles through Purgatory, and his eventual salvation at the hands of the Archangel Michael. On the flip side, we also see Irene think back on her pain and depression over the last two years, and the darkness which has seemingly enveloped her soul.

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However, after these two finally reunite (and get the bulk of their delicious sexual musings out of the way!) we get one scene in which they bare their souls to each other about everything that’s transpired over the last few years, and unfortunately it is sort of glossed over. We basically get a sentence of how “Sebastian told her everything and she cried”. Aaaaand then we move along. Darn! If we as the audience could have held off on learning some of those dark details until they could share them with each other for the first time? And they shared some of those particulars about how lost they felt? How the last vision he saw before dying was her face? Phew I definitely would have been reaching for the tissues!

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

Series: The Soul Mate Tree, book 9. Although this was the 9th book in the series it could have easily been the first. I didn’t feel as though I was missing out on anything, yet I’m now also curious about what the other novels have focused on.

Should you read it? An emotionally gripping read. Maybe not the best beach read, but I think a mountain cabin would be perfection. We see how desolate and bleak the future seems for these two when the other isn’t in it. And then when they do ultimately reunite it’s passion filled, and also has a feeling of desperation to it. They both want to make the most of this moment in case it truly is the last they have together. I wasn’t sure where this book was heading, but I will say the ending had me on the edge of my seat, and was rather poetic.

Smut Level: Dude! He literally tears the dress from her body! Such a delightful scene to read in a packed Tim Horton’s in Vancouver. Held my Kindle rather close to the chest if you catch my drift. Overall though, some amazingly steamy and descriptive scenes.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Soul Mate Publishing, LLC. 153 Pages.

Weary of Running by Adrienne Morris

The summer was off to such a good start for Buck Crenshaw. Unfortunately, all of that falls apart with the arrival of Milford Streeter to the West Point Military Academy.

What’s it About? 

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When West Point Military Academy opens its doors to black candidate Milford Streeter in 1884, Cadet Buck Crenshaw’s moral ambivalence is tested. Will Buck keep his place in the yearling pecking order or throw it away on a stand for Streeter? After Cadet Streeter sacrifices Buck’s reputation to safeguard his own, Buck escapes to his sister Thankful at Fort Grant, Arizona and meets an old rival, William Weldon. Buck must make a decision about the sort of man he wants to become while witnessing the downward spiral of his favorite sister’s romance with a dashing army lieutenant. Weary of Running is about the dangers of moral ambivalence and the redeeming power of love and friendship in an imperfect world of mixed emotions and foolish decisions.

First Impressions

This book held so much promise in the beginning, but unfortunately things quickly got out of control to the point where it was no longer my cup of tea. I was excited to read about what I thought would be an ensuing friendship between Buck and West Point’s first ever black candidate, perhaps standing up against prejudice in a military establishment so soon after the end of the Civil War. Unfortunately, while Buck is initially open to the idea of a black cadet at West Point, it doesn’t take long before the influence of his brother, fellow cadets, and Streeter’s own actions to turn Buck into, well, a racist. And this sort of brings me to my main issue with this novel; I really could not find any one main character that I liked. Every single character presented in this novel is extremely flawed, and that makes it almost impossible to root for any of them to succeed.

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The Disappearance of Buck

According to Goodreads, this novel is referred to as “A Buck Crenshaw Novel”. Therefore, I assumed that the majority of the novel would be about…Buck Crenshaw. Shockingly enough though, after about 10% of the novel he completely disappears from the story, and doesn’t return until the book is almost finished. Umm, what? I thought this was mainly going to be all about him and Streeter. And while Buck comes back into the tale much later on, we never hear about Streeter again, or even really get a resolution to that part of the story. Definitely a let down.

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The Arrival of Thankful and William

So I would say Buck disappears for a good 60-65% of the book. Not gonna lie though, I wasn’t really sad to see him go. We see how others mistakenly assume he’s being soft on Streeter, and everything just spirals down from there to the point where Buck himself comes to despise Streeter. Buck and his brother, Fred, even go so far as to beat up Streeter and leave him for dead. Yikes! The novel then switches gears to follow Thankful out West, as she’s pursuing a childhood crush, William, who recently moved out there.

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Alright, maybe this is where some romance will come into the story? Unfortunately…not so much. William is a raging alcoholic, which was spurred on by an accident from his childhood that left him with memory problems, headaches, and a crooked leg. But that doesn’t stop people from showing him zero sympathy, and constantly making fun of him for being a cripple. Thankful also turns away from him in the pursuit of another army officer who is good looking and showers her with compliments and trinkets. Man, this is just getting depressing!

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Although these two characters barely spend any time together in the pages of this novel, their situations are quite similar. Basically, we see how they are ostracized from their comrades, supposed friends, and even their family due to a long string of misunderstandings, and a ridiculous amount of over-reacting from others. They become social pariahs, and while you’d think this would garner some sympathy from us as the reader, it’s also pretty hard to do.

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I’ll admit, there were times that I felt somewhat bad for both Buck and William as their lives totally spiraled out of control into dark depression. This was probably more true in my opinion of William rather than Buck though, who at least had some legitimate medical reasons behind his behavior oftentimes getting out of control. The problem though is that as soon as I’d kind of feel bad for them, it wasn’t long before they’d proceed to say something racist, sexist, or just downright rude. Heck, at one point William even hits a woman! While these may have been common actions and opinions in the 1880s, it’s just not something I want my main characters to indulge in.

Supplemental Characters

If I had to pinpoint the main characters of this novel, it would be Buck, William and Thankful. The majority of the supplemental characters are the familial relations of all of these characters, and my God are they a handful. It was almost comical, yet also annoying, how quickly and constantly they would rush to the most outlandish of conclusions, and over-react to every possible scenario without hearing out what would actually be a very simple explanation. It’s like nobody wanted to listen to reason. At one point Buck’s family even wants to put him in an asylum because he keeps getting into trouble. Buck and Thankful’s brother, Fred, is particularly deceitful by always blaming his own crimes on others, and the whole lot is pretty shockingly rude.

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Whether it be children berating their parents, or parents being openly hurtful to their children, we are dealing with some characters that I had a really tough time liking. There were definitely some complicated family dynamics at play. To give you just a glimpse of some of the hurtful things these characters would say, one mother yells at her daughter, “I tell you all the time that there’s a great deal of difference between plump and downright fat and you have long since crossed that line.” When speaking of Indians a character states, “The savages should be sent from this earth-every last one of them.” Eventually I realized that practically every female in this novel reminded me of the mother in Pride and Prejudice. We’re talking Colin Firth movie version here; very over-the-top emotional, eccentric, etc.

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

Series: The Tenafly Road Series, book…? This is listed as book 1 and book 2 in a few different places.

Should you read it? I hate to say it, but I had a tough time finishing this one. It was just one unfortunate event after another, with no real light at the end of the tunnel. Look, I get it. We are dealing with a novel set in the 1880s. It was a different time. But the historical novels that I like are the ones that rise above social prejudice, and highlight characters that go against the social norm to come out on top. Is that perhaps an unrealistic and fairy-tale like hope? Sure! But when I’m reading something in my spare time I’d like at least one happy thing to happen to a character I somewhat like, and unfortunately I found that lacking in this read.

Smut Level: There’s one quick jaunt behind a pile of wood, and another scene or two involving a…lady of the night.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 327 Pages.

The Weekend by Alan Winnikoff

A short novel about two people who take a weekend to get to know each other better. And the best part? You can easily finish this read in the span of a real weekend, no problem.

What’s it About? 

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One autumn Friday in New York in 1995, two people come together in a luxury apartment for a glass of wine. They already know each other, not well, but well enough to have shared a couple of kisses. They wind up spending this particular weekend together. Over the course of two days, we learn much about them – they are alternately petty and generous, brave and fearful, self-absorbed and giving. At the end of the weekend they go their separate ways. Was this a one time thing or will they find each other again?

First Impressions

Well, I had the absolute wrong first impression whilst reading this entire short novel. Just taking a first glimpse at the cover art, and then hearing that our male lead, Jeff, works in the World Trade Center? My immediate thought was…well, I hope you get the most out of your weekend because unfortunately things are about to go downhill very quickly. You see, I made the mistake of reading the Goodreads synopsis instead of the Amazon one, which fails to specify that this takes place in the mid-90s rather than 2001!

I was needlessly on pins and needles the whole time, looking for clues in all of the scenes which might imply whether or not the story was taking place in September. What’s the weather like? There’s a mention of autumn. She’s wearing a scarf. He’s watching the baseball finals. For the love of God when the hell do the finals of baseball normally take place?!?! Damn my lack of sports knowledge!! We get to the end of the weekend and I just think, oh God here it comes! And then…nothing. No reference at all to 9/11. And that’s when I made the genius decision to check out the synopsis on Amazon. Well, I almost feel like I need to re-read this now.

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Friday to Sunday

Now for the actual story rather than my crazy imagination. Honestly, I loved this format for a novel. It’s quick, concise, and the format itself also tells a story. This short novel is all about two people who want to see if it’s worth exploring a relationship beyond friendship with each other, and they do it in the span of a weekend. Literally. The novel starts on a Friday after work and ends on a Sunday afternoon. In that time, we see our lead characters question if they want something more than what they have, and explore what is most important to them in a partner.

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Flaws and Flirtations

Not gonna lie, all things considered I can’t say I’m entirely pleased with how things develop, and how they chose to test their compatibility. But that’s what’s so brilliant about this short format. I don’t think it’s really set up for us to necessarily like or dislike these characters. Instead, it’s almost like we are looking through a window at their interactions with each other. We see how they are imperfect beings, as both are currently in relationships with other people. The fact that either is even considering the pursuit of something new with the other should reflect that neither is exactly happy with what they currently have. But are they willing to make the leap to something official, or will they settle for what they already have? The ending isn’t necessarily 100% concrete with an answer to that question, in a way feeling sort of unfinished, but I think we can guess at what will happen with these two.

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An Apartment for Two

In addition to a more firm ending I think another change I would have liked to see was in regards to the setting. Carolyn is cat/house sitting for some family friends of hers (something I can personally connect with), and invites Jeff over so they can explore their feelings for each other. On Saturday though, there’s a time where they leave the apartment to eat and go shopping. Personally, I would have preferred if the entire book had taken place within the apartment.

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I think it could have given off a vibe of a stage play, while also heightening their actions and emotions when confined to a single apartment in such a large city. Then to end the weekend with them both emerging from the apartment could have been such a symbolic gesture of them taking the next steps in their relationship to either go off in the same direction arm-in-arm, or part ways. Emerging into reality as it were. Just a thought!

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

Series: Nope. In a perfect world I would love to see what comes next, but I think what also makes this work unique is the fact that we are offered just a brief glimpse.

Should you read it? It’s a quick read. I think it could have come together a bit more concisely towards the end. Also, I really wish they had stayed within the apartment for the whole weekend. It would have eliminated any possible distractions from the outside world, and allowed them to truly focus on the other.

Smut Level: We have about 1.5 scenes with some detail. It’s hard to revel in them though considering both are in relationships with other people.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Publisher: Books to Go Now. 131 Pages.

Way Too Deep by Andrea K. Stein, Sawyer Stone

The flirtations between our lead couple are sometimes too hot to handle! I had a ridiculous laughing smirk on my face throughout most of this read.

What’s it About? 

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Captain Lindsay Fisher has committed the unthinkable in the tight little world of super yachting. She takes chances, she’s a little too abrasive, and oh yeah, she’s taken swearing like a sailor to a whole new level. Celebrity Chef Alton Maura earned the acclaimed “Kitchen God” title and basked in the international limelight for years until his affairs with his kitchen staff landed him in a poisonous stew. When Lindsay and Alton are thrown together on an uneasy cruise through the Grenadines, sparks fly. She doesn’t like his shoes, or his attitude. He can’t believe a woman who looks that good in a captain’s uniform can be such a hard ass. This is their last chance to prove themselves, but the worst thing you can do when trying to save your career is to fall in love…WAY TOO DEEP.

First Impressions

Good God this novel blasts off with a suspenseful start! We have a storm at sea, a sinking yacht, and a couple of sailors flung overboard. This is why we mere humans don’t belong out on the open ocean people! Phew, ok mini rant over. Lindsay and Alton are both at the ultimate low points in their careers. She has now lost two ships at sea, and he gave an entire room full of uppity socialites food poisoning. They see this next cruise as their one last chance to prove themselves. Problem is, they pretty much hate each other at the start. Lindsay is a strict captain who expects everyone to follow her every word, and Alton is the artistic chef who’s not used to living on a boat and working in a galley kitchen. He’s used to giving orders, not taking them. While initially at odds, they quickly come to realize they’ll need to rely on each other to make this trip a success. As well as an outlet to let off some…sexual tension.

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From One to the Next

If I had to summarize this book in one word it would be: fun! I was expecting the relationship between captain and chef to be the main focus of this book, but something I didn’t see coming was the plethora of supporting characters who really made this story such a comedic and fun read. With the introduction of every new character we get another crazy personality, and I just loved it. In particular I adored Lindsay’s uncle, Tommy, who starts off so rough and gruff, but also has such a sweet side to him. He provides the words of wisdom to both Lindsay and Alton regarding how they should approach a relationship with each other. He has read pretty much every issue of Cosmopolitan magazine in the Caribbean after all.

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In addition to our captain, chef and first mate, we have a smarmy Russian, a music mogul and his vegan-organic-gluten free girlfriend who is enthralled with herbal medical remedies. There’s the spoiled wife of the yacht owner who always has a wine glass in her hand, not to mention Alton in her sights. Lastly, the trip simply wouldn’t be complete without also having the mistress of the yacht owner on board, as well as his business partner who is a James Bond uber spy wannabe. And that’s just everyone staying on the yacht! It doesn’t include some of the other delightful people we meet on various islands and other vessels. While this motley crew of characters is slightly over-the-top, it never got to the point of being just plain ridiculous. It was just the right blend for me of silliness, sexiness, and even some suspense thrown in as well. There’s eventually an inkling of intrigue and espionage, seeing as our yacht owner is the one noticeable key player missing on this crazy cruise. The ending does sort of cross over into outlandish territory, yet considering this blend of characters and build-up of suspense it also does feel like an inevitable climactic end.

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Crullers and Eclairs

As I alluded to earlier, Lindsay and Alton don’t have the best first impression of each other. He thinks she’s a hard-ass bitch, and she sees him as a goody-two shoes chef who’s clearly in love with himself. That being said, they are both clearly attracted to the other, but they’re adamant that they shouldn’t make a move. For one, there’s too much at stake with this entire trip. In order for their careers to rebound, there can’t be any distractions. In addition, it’s funny how long it takes before they realize the other isn’t gay. To quote one of Alton’s thoughts, “…he had the feeling she might be more interested in thick-lipped crullers than cream-filled éclairs.” Not gonna lie, I chuckled like an idiot with every culinary sexual innuendo that Alton could think of, and believe me there were many to enjoy. As their trip through the Caribbean progresses, their sexual chemistry becomes more and more difficult to ignore. With so many small and cramped places on this yacht to get down and dirty, it’s not long before they can’t say no anymore.

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

Series: Love Overboard, book 1. I definitely want to continue with this series!

Should you read it? This pretty much checks off every point of a good beach read. It’s fun, kind of silly, but full of unique characters. The flirtatiousness of Lindsay and Alton had me giggling, yet their scenes in the bedroom had me fanning myself from all the heat. The intrigue surrounding the yacht owner was a bit much, and I wish he had been featured more throughout the novel. Also, be sure to have some appetizers on hand while you read this one, as the descriptions of Alton’s culinary creations will keep you hungry!

Smut Level: Romantic comedies aren’t always the sexiest of reads, but this one definitely stands out! We don’t just have a handful of passionate kisses which fade to black. Oh no, we get every delectable sexy detail!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Muirgen Publishing, LLC. 219 Pages.

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A Model Engagement by Charlotte O’Shay

Alright, after reading this book I have one very important question that must be answered immediately. Is Maryland actually considered to be part of the South?? Our female lead apparently has a southern accent that comes out when she lets her guard down, and she hails from Maryland. The reason I need this question answered is because as someone who lives in Washington, DC, right on the border with Maryland, I need to know if I should start implementing more “y’alls” into my daily vocabulary.

What’s It About? 

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Lacey Reed jumps at the chance for independence with a career in the big city. But her naivety and ambition blind her to the lure of a blackmailer. With her savings gone, she has nowhere to turn when she literally runs into financier Connor Devlin. Though dazzled by Lacey, Connor sees the desperation she tries to hide. His gut tells him to help, and he hires her as his fake fiancée. Now Lacey has a job, and Connor has put a bandage on a family crisis. When the blackmailer ups the ante, Lacey resolves to face him down—no matter what the consequences. Does that mean Lacey will lose the only man who’s ever seen who she truly is?

First Impressions

A passionate romance at a beach house in Montauk? Count me in! This is the second novel in the City of Dreams series, and something I really do appreciate about these tales of fake fiancées is how the author presents us with characters who truly seem to have no other option. I think it’s safe to assume that not many of us could imagine a scenario in which we would enter into a fake engagement with someone who is a near stranger. Surely there must be some other way to get over whatever hurdle is presented, right? However, I was surprised to find that in both of these novels the female leads clearly had no other choice, and in order to look out for themselves and those that they love they have to do something kind of crazy. Heck, I even found myself wanting to yell at them, “What is there to think over? The solution is right in front of you, just take it already!” Who knew I’d be so supportive of fake engagements?!

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A One Day Fiancée 

In this novel, Lacey agrees to become Connor’s fake fiancée in order to help him care for his mother who would otherwise refuse the help of someone hired to be there. She’s willing to enter into such an absurd arrangement because she’s desperate to pay off a blackmailer who has a video tape of her in a rather compromising situation. As I mentioned earlier, I definitely understand how Lacey’s desperation to prevent this tape from ever being released could push her into accepting this completely unorthodox position. Connor on the other hand?

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Connor has known Lacey for basically just one day. In that short amount of time he can clearly identify she’s desperate for money. But to have him trust her enough to take care of his ailing mother, and also suggest they pretend to be engaged? After just one day? I guess I found it easier to believe her motivations rather than his. I did like that later on Connor admits his suggestion that they enter into this ruse so quickly was one of the dumbest ideas he’d ever had, but in that moment where he first tells Lacey she’ll be his fake fiancée I couldn’t help but think, “Woah, that was fast”.

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Past Deeds Impact the Present

Shockingly, I found myself more enthralled with the story of Lacey’s blackmail rather than her romance with Connor. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved ALL the sexual tension going on with her and the hunky gentleman, but it seemed that Lacey’s growth as a character was more linked to this other story going on with her ass of a blackmailer. To summarize, Lacey used to be a model, and when she started coordinating on a new ad campaign with a man who was highly regarded in the industry, he drugged her and filmed the two of them in some non-consensual sexual scenarios. This man then proceeds to blackmail her, demanding payment which reduces all of her life savings to nothing.

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The absolute best part of this book was seeing Lacey transform herself from a victim into a survivor. She was able to stand up for herself on her own two feet, and face the piece of shit who abused and blackmailed her. Lacey had the courage to say, “no more”. What was even better was that she came to this decision completely on her own. Nobody had to convince her of it, or push her into it. I think her budding relationship with Connor did act as a sort of catalyst, showing her how good her life could be if she just gets rid of the dead weight dragging her down. To see a woman who was at the end of her rope decide to rely on herself to escape the torment of her past was truly admirable.

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Mamma Devlin and Communication

There were two aspects of this novel that I felt could have been more fully accentuated. The first was the character of Connor’s mother. In a way, she is one of the primary factors that brings our main characters together. She is slowly going blind, and Connor wants to find someone who can help her through her day-to-day activities. Enter Lacey and the start of their fake engagement. While it is clear that she and Lacey get along, I simply wanted more scenes of the two of them spending time together. Towards the end of the novel we do get a glimpse of how sassy Connor’s mother can be, and if we had seen more of that side of her throughout the novel it might have added an extra layer of depth to Lacey’s interactions with Connor’s family. I think what I enjoyed so much about the first novel was the incorporation of our female lead’s younger brother into the dynamics between her and our male lead to truly cement their relationship. Connor’s mother could have acted as a similarly crucial supplemental character in this second novel, yet in the end it seemed like we never really got to know her.

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The second aspect revolves around the communication between Lacey and Connor. Throughout the book, we are privy to a lot of inner monologues of these two characters which reveal so much about their personalities. With Lacey, we learn all about how she branched out from her small home town in Maryland, and became a model in the big city as a way to rebel against her parents. We also see how she’s going through so much mental anguish over the issue of being blackmailed. With Connor, we uncover how the discovery of his father’s secret gambling life after his death influenced Connor’s relationship with his family. He had to become the protector and the provider. I just wish that Lacey and Connor had shared more of this with each other, rather than having it seemingly reserved for us to know as the audience. So many of these stories are glimpses into the thought processes of our characters. By having more heart-to-heart conversations throughout the novel rather than saving it all for the end could have acted as a real emotional bonding experience for our main couple, and strengthened their link beyond a basic physical connection.

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

Series: City of Dreams, book 2. I have a hunch over who the male lead of book 3 will be, and if I’m right then I just can’t wait!!!

Should you read it? Overall, I think I preferred book 1, mainly due to the more cohesive link between our main couple and supplemental characters. The story arch involving Lacey’s blackmailer was heartbreaking, yet also captivating. I wish there had been more of a resolution to how Lacey’s family responded to the blackmail. Not gonna lie, I kind of want to give her mom a good talking-to. Or maybe a slap. The ending of this novel was so freakin’ adorable though! After how quick their relationship started I really appreciated the patience Connor employed to go at Lacey’s own pace, so that she didn’t feel pressured into doing anything she wasn’t comfortable with.

Smut Level: These two have some intense make-out scenes that will have you fanning yourself! The one in the barn?! Phew!! My oh me oh my!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 210 Pages.

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Watermark by Marti Ziegler

A journey down the Mississippi River is fraught with perils: alligators, pirates, and a debonair flatboat captain with his sight set on revenge. Sign me up!

What’s it About?

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Whom could you trust if you were stranded fifteen hundred miles from home? Misfortune has plagued Juno Brock for months. Recently widowed, a chance encounter with a dangerous criminal in St. Louis exposes her to information that can see her branded. Or worse, hanged. When a pirate attack on the Mississippi River maroons her in the wilds of Michigan Territory, she has but one choice: use her wits to secure passage on a boat traveling downriver and reunite with her family fifteen hundred miles away.

An arrogant mistake in his youth has set flatboat pilot Malcolm Moreau on a forked path of redemption and revenge. His successful livelihood transporting goods to New Orleans revolves around cargo, not passengers, but Juno’s recent encounter with his longtime enemy makes her the exception. A bargain is struck: safe passage to Natchez, Mississippi, in exchange for the information she unwittingly discovered.

What follows is a month-long journey where mistrust and resentment unfolds into an unexpected friendship filled with secret confidences and before long, attraction. Sometimes dangerous, often humorous, their voyage down America’s most infamous river and the outlandish characters they meet along the way will ultimately inspire a destination neither expected: love.

First Impressions

This is only the second Marti Ziegler book I’ve ever read, but I think it’s fair to say that one of my favorite things about her work is seeing the characters evolve. I’m now convinced she is an absolute master at creating a rough male lead who you can’t help but love. At first introduction, Malcolm is kind of a jerk. He is hell bent on revenge, and is more than willing to just leave Juno on the side of the Mississippi River to fend for herself. But then we slowly start to unravel his story, and see what can almost be described as a charmingly boyish side to this rough man. I found myself smitten within a matter of pages even though you also kind of get the urge to slap him a few times throughout the book.

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There’s a similar unraveling to Juno’s character as well. When the novel beings she sort of seems like a momma’s girl, always clinging to her family’s side. Someone who is afraid to be out on their own. Very quickly though we discover that this strong woman knows how to survive. She’s clever, stubborn in only the best of ways, and just a downright fun heroine to read. All in all, I’m always mesmerized by the lead characters Ziegler introduces me to in her work.

A Motley Crew

It’s not just the main characters who are an absolute delight in this river tale. We literally have a whole crew of Malcolm’s boat mates to provide us with thorough entertainment. From his hard-lined cook, to a few flirtatious scallywags, you never want this trip down the Mississippi to end. That brings us to the setting, which is basically another character in and of itself. ‘Tis a journey filled with a plethora of perils, some of which were mentioned above. Alligators, exploding riverboats, pirates and religious zealots.

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This motley crew is constantly facing challenges as they make their way to return Juno to her family, and for Malcolm to finally achieve revenge against his sworn enemy who was the most devious of villains. I do sort of wish we had seen more of this enemy rather than just a few scenes at the very beginning and end of the book. He is described at length throughout from Malcolm’s point of view, so we do learn about their complicated history. That being said, I think it would have been more interesting and suspenseful to have more scenes between the two in person.

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From Nuisance to Lover

What I particularly enjoyed about this novel, aside from learning the historical aspect of 19th century riverboat life, was seeing the evolution of Juno and Malcolm’s relationship. At the start they are both severely annoyed by each other, and see the other as a deterrent and nuisance to reaching their final goal. However, they quickly realize they must rely on each other in their journey.

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Slowly, Juno and Malcolm start to open up and trust each other. This is perfectly reflected in their nightly pastime where Malcolm reads to Juno, who doesn’t know how to read for herself. She’s still fascinated by the written word, and though she initially kind of harasses Malcolm into reading for her, it soon becomes their nightly thing. Malcolm begrudgingly puts up with it every night, but then when he eventually buys her a small pocket reader to teach her to read? Girl, I damn near had tears in my eyes it was so beautiful.

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Let’s Rock the Boat

For a historical romance these two have some sizzling hot sex scenes! And in some pretty unique locations on top of everything. They tussle about in a small bed on a flatboat, against a tree trunk, and even on the floor of a cave. For those last two, they definitely aren’t the most comfortable of locales, but that’s what I positively loved about it all. Juno acknowledges right away that a bed probably would have been more convenient.

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She has twigs in her hair, a few scrapes and bruises, but when you’re overcome by passion? You do it wherever you can apparently. When the two realize their time together is soon coming to an end their lovemaking becomes even more desperate and passionate. However, they still manage to keep things grounded. For example, at one point they also have a drunkenly frank conversation about how they can’t have sex because she’s on her courses. It provides a comforting sense of realism and domesticity to their relationship that I just loved.

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

Series: Stand-alone. Can’t wait to see what comes next from this author!

Should you read it? Well, I’m a fan! I love that with each Ziegler novel I get to learn about a different period of history, and in a new unique setting. All the characters also have such great chemistry together. I could see how some might not particularly warm to the somewhat schoolyard antics of Malcolm and Juno’s relationship at the start, but just stick with it to see it develop! I do wish we had seen more of the villain, who was so creepily written you just want to see a bit more from him. Overall though, a fun historical read.

Smut Level: These two get busy in some unique locations, and I loved how they both commented soon after that it might not have been the most comfortable experience. There was one sex scene that seemed somewhat ill-timed following a near death experience, but I guess that simply increases the passion level!!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 351 Pages.

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