Island Charm by Audrey Wick

Consider yourself warned that upon reading this book you’ll probably become overwhelmed with the desire to walk barefoot along the beach while eating a slice of key lime pie.

What’s it About?

 When Anna Worthington’s twin sister gets jilted by her fiancé, Anna steps in with a plan for a girls’ Key West getaway instead of a honeymoon trip. Yet when her twin has her own crisis of commitment and doesn’t board the plane, Anna finds herself on a romantic getaway that she’s forced to navigate alone.

Gunnar Lockhart, whose specialty is island tourism, is the perfect match for helping Anna complete her vacation bucket list, but time together forges a connection more personal than either anticipate. As they make island memories, Anna has to untangle her mixed emotions. Are her feelings toward Gunnar real? Or like her sister’s wedding day, has this connection been doomed from the start?

First Impressions

This is a notice to all authors out there that if you want a 100% guarantee that I’ll read your book, be sure it includes a recipe for a delectable dessert or tasty treat at the end of it. To be honest, there’s a good chance I’ll read it anyway, but this is essentially a foolproof assurance. And while I haven’t had the chance to prepare the key lime pie dessert presented at the conclusion of this read at the time of writing this review, you better believe that pie will be in my future very soon.

Hand-in-hand with key lime pie is the island of Key West, Florida which features prominently in this read almost as a character in its own right. It’s no surprise that our male lead, Gunnar, works for the island’s Chamber of Commerce, as the book makes you want to book a trip there immediately. I was lucky enough to spend a day in Key West in December 2019 as a stop on a family cruise vacation before all things pandemic ravaged the world. While the island didn’t have quite the same spiritual impact for me as it did for our two leads, this book succeeded in reminding me of the hidden charm you can find once you remove yourself from its more boisterously touristy streets. And again…pie!

A Touch of Romance in the Air

While Anna has a rather rocky start to this unplanned vacation following her twin sister, Brie, being left at the altar, things start to look brighter upon meeting hunky and courteous “local”, Gunnar. He offers to show her around about town and help her cross a few items off her sister’s vacation bucket list. It was quite refreshing how realistically their connection was formed, as it wasn’t steeped in lust or purely from a sexual attraction. You really get the sense that these two people have laid the foundation for a healthy and potentially long-lasting relationship. However, always lurking in the shadows of their burgeoning romance was the fast-approaching end date to Anna’s time on this island. Not to mention, her entire reason for being there was the result of a man being a total douche rocket to her sister, so her trust in men isn’t exactly at a high point.

From Self-Discovery to a Selfless Connection

There is definitely a romantic component to this read, but in my opinion it sort of took a back seat to two other important plot points which permeated the story. First and foremost was the journey of self-discovery which Anna finds herself on. She uses this time in Key West to look inward, and reflect on what she wants her life and business to look like going forward. While Gunnar certainly comes to play a role in this vision, he wasn’t necessarily the primary driving force behind her future considerations, which was refreshing. As for Gunnar, he was unexpectedly faced with a life-changing decision in his connection with an elderly local who comes to rely on him in the most important of ways. Gunnar’s care and devotion to this man demonstrates the unconditional selflessness to his nature and personality. He might slip up at one point in his week with Anna, but overall this man is an absolute winner.

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

Series: Stand-alone, though I would be interested in a sequel involving Anna’s twin sister, Brie.

Final Impressions: This was a pleasant read that will leave you craving a beach vacation, a slice of pie, and a stroll along the sand with a dreamy man at your side. The romance presented didn’t necessarily have a lot of heat behind it, but it was based in reality and respect.

Smut Level: A few kisses here and there, but nothing explicit or overly sexual.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. White Rose Publishing. 288 Pages. 

This is Not a Horror Movie by Sara Dobie Bauer

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

What’s it About?

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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

A Romantic Paranormal Horror Comedy?

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

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

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

Series: Stand-Alone

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

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

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

In the Shadow of the Hawthorn by D.M. Porters

A tale of childhood crushes, friendship, romance, greed and murder. In the Shadow of the Hawthorn takes us on a journey of discovery, and the realization that love can be one of the most powerful things of all.

What’s it About? 

“I am only a man, Emma.”

“Then be a man with me.”

Beautiful Emma Mason was an illegitimate child who should have landed on the streets of London. A twist of fate would spare the girl from having to sell her body or beg for her next meal. Instead, Emma grew up in Lord and Lady Drake’s lavish home, working happily in their kitchen with her ever-grateful mother, Julia.

Through the years, Emma would never want for anything – that is until she met Theo Barnett, the son of a wealthy landowner. Friends of the Drakes, Lord Elliott Barnett, and his wife Sylvia had high expectations for their only child. A good match was vital, but they knew their handsome son would have no problems attracting the right woman one day. A chance encounter between Theo and Emma would change everything.

Though wrong, Theo could not stop his attraction to the young baker. Desires burned, and their love was pure, but Emma knew it could not be. They would never be allowed to be together. Refusing to have Theo lose everything for her, Emma would push away the man she loves. Their lives apart would be filled with tragedy, deception, and pain, all fueled by insatiable greed. Can Emma and Theo look beyond the misery and find their way back to each other? Could they go on after losing so much?

First Impressions

When I first started reading this novel, it almost felt like I was coming in at the end of a story. A young woman left alone and pregnant, Julia is a talented baker of delicious confections in an upscale London eatery. She’s about to be forced out because of her delicate condition when she’s discovered and brought into the home of a loving older woman and her devoted husband. They treat her like the daughter they never had, and dote upon her and her newborn child as though finally realizing the happily ever after this woman has been waiting for her entire life. However, we soon discover that this isn’t Julia’s story. Instead it will revolve around her daughter, Emma, who follows in her mother’s culinary talents. But what will society permit when this lowly kitchen servant and a wealthy gentleman fall in love? And more importantly, how will one man’s greed come to shatter the perfect world this happy family has created for themselves?

Wait For It…

Not only does this novel seemingly commence with a happily ever after montage, but it takes some time for us to work our way through Emma’s youth into adulthood before we ultimately get to the crux of the story. I constantly felt as though I was waiting around for the other shoe to drop! Although we have to wait a bit before we come across the real turning point of the novel with a tragic crime, something I really appreciated as we proceeded along this journey was that the author manages to avoid some of the more common trappings and tropes you might initially expect to encounter with this kind of read.

For example, Emma and Theo are initially hesitant to give into their obvious feelings for each other. Especially Emma! While they engage in one steamy moment of indulgence, she tries to shut it down almost immediately following their afternoon tryst. After this seemingly final declaration, there was still quite a bit of novel remaining, so I assumed we’d encounter some kind of continual back and forth of we should…no wait we shouldn’t. Rinse and repeat. Or perhaps a misunderstanding where one of them might be tempted to give up on the other as they wait for the perfect timing of when they can finally be together. Instead we are granted with some interesting twists and turns to the plot that result in tragedy, surprise decisions and unexpected discoveries, but thankfully we never really encounter sheer frustration at the choices or actions of our protagonists. It was utterly refreshing!

Beyond the Romance

While this might be a tale of romance, there are two additional complementary themes which play major roles in how the events of this tale evolve: greed and class status. Our primary villain, as well as a few other minor supporting characters, carry out some shockingly dastardly deeds as a result of these motivations. Initially I found it hard to believe what depths some people would go to simply because of money. From denying a son true happiness, to a case of murder and abuse, all due to greed. At one point I thought, well this seems a tad outlandish and over-the-top in terms of a response. As the conclusion of the novel approached however, I had this moment of epiphany where I simply had to remind myself, “well of course this is plausible!!” Countless moments throughout history have been impacted because of these exact trivial impulses, and we still see cases of it to this very day. Honestly, it was a rather sobering realization. And yet, when you see the love and devotion this family and this couple feels for each other it seemingly allows for a ray of sunshine to break through the shadows.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: This was sort of a deceptive read at the beginning in that it presents itself as a seemingly happy familial tale that manages to hide away from the rules and cruelties of the outside world. However, eventually we see the shadows of tragedy encroach upon these selfless and caring people. While initially hesitant to pursue a relationship, it was refreshing and inspiring to see Emma and Theo stand by each other through it all, never giving up hope that one day they’d be able to come together in a loving embrace. There are a slew of entertaining characters presented in this read, and honestly I’d love if we had the chance to explore their individual stories further in subsequent novels. At times this fabulous supporting cast did detract too much attention away from our lead couple, but overall we have a unique historical romance which proves family is what you make it.

Smut Level: This was surprisingly steamy for a historical read!! Not only do we get a romantic hotel getaway, but we also have a mouth-watering scene in a rustic shed on Theo’s property.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Denise Portugaise. 220 Pages. 

A Sense of Belonging by Laura Branchflower

This book practically takes place in my backyard. It would have been a crime not to read it!

What’s it About? 

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Casey Jansen is celebrating her twenty-first birthday when she catches a glimpse of the older man she’s been secretly obsessing over since passing him on a running trail. When her sister identifies him as Tony Prossi, a well-known Washington, D.C. attorney, Casey instantly wishes she was older. There is no way he is going to be interested in a college student. At least that’s what she believes until their eyes meet. As a partner in a top D.C. law firm and son of a powerful U.S. senator, Tony Prossi understands the importance of image. There is certainly no place in his life for a woman as young as Casey Jansen, especially not when he’s considering running for his father’s Senate seat. But one night with the Georgetown University student ignites a hunger he can’t seem to quench. And Tony will have to decide whether being with Casey is worth the risk to his reputation and family.

First Impressions

I visit Georgetown at least two times a week. My best friend lives there, and it’s about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Now, on the whole, I must admit it’s probably my least favorite part of DC. The sidewalks are too narrow, it’s too crowded, and everyone walks at a snail’s pace. It tries my patience which then explodes in a ball of fury. That being said, it was fun to read a novel that is set so close to home, and for the most part has a pretty accurate description of DC and Georgetown living! From the running paths through Rock Creek Park, to the high-priced homes of the wealthy. However, I must say there was one aspect of this story which made me pause. Our female lead, who is also a college senior, owns a car? Seriously?! In gtown?!?! Where the hell does she park it? How can she afford parking? Why doesn’t she walk, take the bus, or metro?! Ok granted Georgetown doesn’t have a metro, but I don’t even own a car in this town and I’ve lived here for 6 years. You wanna get rid of an unnecessary expense, don’t have a car in DC. Believe me!! Sorry, silly and unnecessary thing to get riled up about 🙂

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Prince Charming? 

So this was an interesting romance, because for about the first 50% of the novel I honestly didn’t know if our lead couple was going to end up together. Scratch that, I didn’t even know if I wanted them to end up together! At times I felt like Tony was just a closed off guy who would be a tough nut to crack before admitting his true feelings of love and affection for Casey. But then there were other times where I couldn’t help but wonder, wait is this guy going to end up being a villainous douche-bag or something? Casey is so unbelievably smitten with him from the get-go, but he remains entirely closed off to entertaining the idea of anything but physical with her. He doesn’t even want to introduce her to his son. Combine this with the fact that she’s a graduating senior and he’s about 15 years older than her and I wondered, is this guy really just in it for the sex, and eventually Casey will end up heartbroken yet also having learned a valuable life lesson of some kind????

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Ok so the answer to that is no. Eventually Tony does come around, and they’re all happy lovey dovey couple. But I almost wonder if it came “too late” to the story. Not necessarily “too little” too late, as you really do get the sense by the end that Tony is all in when it comes to their relationship, but it definitely made it harder to trust him in the beginning. Or maybe Casey’s full love and devotion for this guy was just too fast and intense up front. The fact that their first date consists of them exchanging about two sentences of pleasantries before she leads him to her room and she gives him her virginity, followed by Casey admitting her love for him about a week later? Ummm…yeah it kind of made me wonder if Casey was a bit too young and naive to enter into this relationship.

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From Questionable to Happily Ever After
 
There were times when Casey’s best friend would try to warn her that her feelings for Tony were so strong simply because he was the first man she ever slept with, and that he was just interested in her because she was a hot and sexy young co-ed. I feel like normally when we’re presented with this kind of outside friendly advice in a romance novel we usually push back on behalf of our loving couple and insist, “no you just don’t understand their love!!! Leave them alone.” However, in this book I was kind of like, girl I get where you’re coming from, there’s just something that doesn’t feel right about this guy. Honestly it was like a mind game!! It seemed like we either could have had a nice and sweet romantic ending (like we did), but I also wouldn’t have been too surprised if we’d gone full out in the other direction with a stalker-suspense tale where Casey goes crazy over Tony’s lack of affection and insist he love her after breaking into his house, or something.

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I know…my mind is a scary place. Imagine having to live with it every day. The last 1/3 or so of this novel really came together for me though. This is when we finally see Tony admit his true feelings for Casey, and while he initially wanted to hide her away we now see him fight for their relationship. This is also when Casey finally graduates from college, and I don’t know why but it just sort of made the age difference seem less apparent. As though she were finally a woman of the world once she had the diploma in hand! We also see some intrigue surrounding Tony’s relationship with his parents, and there were a few twists and turns I didn’t necessarily see coming. A strong finish for sure!

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

Series: Stand-alone

Should you read it? While the start of the novel and development of Casey and Tony’s relationship wasn’t my favorite, the book definitely ended strong. I eventually found myself rooting for their love to succeed, but it took a while. Unfortunately I can’t say that Casey was my favorite character. She came across as rather immature at times, and some of her actions and decisions relating to Tony made me cringe. Like when she sits in her car waiting outside his house. However, you can’t help but feel sorry for her family’s treatment of her, and in the end you’re glad she manages to find a happily ever after. I also would have preferred if Tony had showed a bit more warmth towards her in the beginning, rather than it just being a physical connection which brought them together.

Smut Level: Things start off rather slow seeing as this is Casey’s first sexual experience, but after a bit of persuading she manages to convince Tony that she’s more than willing to learn what comes next. And he’s quite the teacher. Wink wink 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services, LLC. 365 Pages.

Captured Memories by Katherine McIntyre

A second chance at love. Can Liv and Zane overcome their troubled pasts to find love with each other, or will it be too heavy a burden to bear?

What’s it About?

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After the incident that caused Liv Morozov to drop out of college, years later she’s still trying to pick up the pieces of her life. She’s managed to carve out a career for herself as a photographer, but when it comes to guys? Her issues send them running for the hills, every damn time. Zane Parata has declared himself off-limits for relationships. Between trying to maintain sobriety and the long hours he works as a chef, no one wants to deal with his brand of damage, and he wouldn’t want to burden them in the first place.

When Liv shows up at Cupid’s Café, she never expected to find Zane, her brother’s former best friend who had vanished one day and never returned. The sparks that surged when they were both teens rekindle stronger than ever, and all too fast, Liv and Zane entangle in each other’s lives, breaking their own rules. Except with both struggling with the demons from their past, the love that’s begun to grow is one lapse away from shattering the two of them beyond repair.

First Impressions

I feel like there is one quote from this novel which perfectly encapsulate the power of the love story being told: “I’m never going to be an easy choice.” Here’s why this sentiment, and the tale love presented to us in this book is absolute perfection. Their love is intense, it’s raw, and most importantly, it…is…real. This story shows us how life is full of unexpected challenges, and to be quite frank, it can be an absolute bitch at times. However, while these external forces can sometimes test the relationship of our lead couple, they never break it. This isn’t one of those romance novels where a simple misunderstanding causes an unnecessary amount of drama, and results in our lovers spending time apart. Oh no. These characters fight for each other, and hold the other up if they’re ever at risk of falling down.

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These two have also been through hell and back. They are scarred lead characters who have experienced emotional and physical turmoil in their pasts. But they don’t just love each other in spite of these troubled pasts, they love who the other person is because of how these experiences have shaped them into who they are today. “I’m never going to be an easy choice” shows that their lives might be complicated, they might be thrown a couple of curve balls along the way, but in the end they will always choose the other. I’ve got all the goosebumps here people!

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An Unbreakable Bond

I think the reason I enjoyed this tale of love between Liv and Zane so much is that the novel primarily just focuses on them. Sure, we are introduced to a few supplemental characters along the way, but for the most part we are encapsulated in a little Liv/Zane bubble that you never want to see burst. They are aware pretty early on in the book when they meet again after so many years that a LOT has happened during that time apart. Liv was raped in college, which impacts the physical relationship these two start up pretty quickly. Zane is a recovering alcoholic who still feels the constant pull of the bottle.

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While some would run away from getting romantically involved with another person with such deep-rooted issues, these two refuse to be scared off. Zane does remain convinced for a large portion of the novel that it’s just a matter of time before Liv realizes how messed up he truly is and hightails it out of there, but he’s going to embrace every possible moment he can between now and when that day might come. In addition, he vows to take things at her own pace, refusing to rush her into a physical relationship before she’s ready.

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A Tough Road Ahead

I also loved that this novel demonstrates how past experiences such as theirs won’t simply be forgotten and magically healed forever by the power of love. Even after they build up to the point where Liv is ready to have sex with Zane, she asks him to realize that there might be a moment down the road where she could be triggered to flinch or push away from his touch.

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At the same time, Zane’s reality is that while he might attend AA meetings multiple times a week, and go for long periods of time without drinking, there will be times where the allure of the alcohol could force him to take a step back from socializing. And they both get it!! They understand when others won’t. They realize that life can be a constant struggle for some people, but they’re there to help and support each other. LOOOVE!

A Step Away From Perfection

At this point I think you can tell I really enjoyed this novel, and while I think the love story described is damn near perfection, I must admit there were a few flaws. The first I consider to be the main flaw, and the one I found to be the most perplexing. The impetus for Live and Zane to reconnect after so many years is that they both receive a cryptic invitation to visit Cupid’s Café where, “an admirer looks forward to meeting you”. Zane is humorously intrigued, and decides why the hell not? Liv is convinced she’s being taunted by her former rapist, and goes to confront him. When they both show up and their eyes lock through the crowded café the rest, as they say, is history.

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But that my friends is the flaw. The rest is history. Who the hell sent them these letters?!?! We never find out. There’s no clue or suggestion if it’s one of their friends, a matchmaking café proprietor, or just the cosmos being all funky. I was absolutely shocked that our lead characters never even bother to discuss it with each other. Now, I will say that this is the third book in this Cupid’s Café series, so maybe the one sending invitations is presented in a previous novel? Maybe it will finally be a big reveal when the series comes to a close? I don’t know but give me something!!!!

Waiting for No One

The one other flaw was relatively minor all things considered, and in the end sort of turned into a positive. Our novel opens with Liv on a date from hell, which abruptly ends when she hears the trill of her date’s phone and it immediately reminds her of the night she was raped. When she returns home to find a mystery envelope inviting her to meet someone from her past she’s immediately convinced it can be only one man, her rapist. Her reason for going was decidedly to finally find justice after so many years. Instead, she finds Zane waiting for her.

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Throughout the whole novel I kept waiting for the inevitable scene where Liv and Zane would be confronted with this man from her past. So imagine my surprise when it never comes! No glimpse from across the street, or even a more intense confrontation, nothing! Now, in hindsight I’m actually happy we were never presented with a threatening scene between Liv and her rapist. I think that scenario, combined with Zane confronting his own struggle with alcoholism, would have made the whole plot seem too artificially orchestrated. I guess I just would have preferred that it wasn’t implied at the outset that it could have been a possibility. I sort of felt like I was anticipating something I had no need to worry about for the whole book!

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

Series: Cupid’s Café, book 3. I kind of want to go back and read the first few novels from this series to see if I missed out on our mystery letter writer inviting our lovebirds to Cupid’s Café.

Should you read it? This is an emotional roller coaster of a read that shows you just how powerful, yet difficult love can be. While I definitely loved both of these characters, I personally found Liv to be truly inspirational. She survived a trying ordeal, and was brave enough to share what happened with Zane even though she thought it would put distance between them. Then when Zane experiences a relapse with his alcoholism she chooses to stand by him and refuses to give up even when Zane tries to convince her that she’d be better off without him. It’s such a refreshing contrast to your typical romance novel drama.

Smut Level: Liv and Zane recognize that after all these years their bodies still crave each other, though this sparked attraction is put slightly on hold after Liv experiences a trigger from her rape. But Zane sticks by her side and is willing to take things slow. Just because it’s slow, don’t think it isn’t delectable!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.03 Kindle Price. After Glows Publishing. 200 Pages.

 

As the Liquor Flows by Angela Christina Archer

Who knew that being in the wrong place so many different times could lead Evelyn to the love of her life?

What’s it About? 

as the liquor flows

Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed, and the day Evelyn Ford will never forget. With the untimely death of her parents and the loss of their only income, Evelyn, and her brother, Frank flee to a make-shift hovel built in Central Park. After Frank mysteriously goes missing, bare cupboards force Evelyn to seek employment anywhere she can find work, even if that means working at a burlesque theater.

Catching the attention of Don Vincent Giovanni, a Kingpin in the New York mafia, Evelyn discovers that Frank is serving time in prison for running hooch and he owes Vincent a lot of money. In order to pay off her brother’s debt, Evelyn is thrown into the world of mobsters and bootlegging. Between running hooch all over the city of New York and trying to save her brother, Evelyn finds herself drawn to Max Catalano, Vincent’s Consigliere. Even with secrets of his own, he’s the only one she can trust when she entangles herself in the middle of the New York mafia crime wars.

First Impressions

This book was a tough one for me to put down! I mean, seriously it has everything you could possibly ask for in a romance set during the early 30s. We’ve got the ramifications and desperation of the Great Depression, prohibition, running hooch, mob bosses, burlesque theaters, and hell we even get an Al Capone mention thrown in there! And in the midst of all this chaos is Evelyn, a young woman who is just trying to survive, and save her brother at the same time. Slightly naive at times, she nevertheless learns that in order to survive in this world she must play along and go with the flow of the liquor, or risk consequences of angering the mob boss who has taken a shine to her.

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She’s not alone though in this crazy world of bootlegging, as the right-hand man of the mob kingpin, Max Catalano, has vowed to protect her at all costs. The simmering attraction between these two is electrifying, but it can never be brought to light or else risk the anger and retribution of the man in charge. As their paths continue to intertwine however, and the dangers of this world close in on our lead characters, we start to question if not only will they ever get to declare their love for each other, but if they’ll make it out in one piece. Do you see why it was so hard for me to put this book down?

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Shaken Not Stirred

I think what truly draws you in from the first page is the sheer desperation of our heroine. The author successfully paints such a sad and desolate picture which encapsulates the tragedy and hopelessness of the Great Depression. Evelyn is running out of options in life, and although she has the air of a proper lady, she’s at her wits end, and decides to audition for a job in a burlesque theater. Just as she thinks her chances are completely lost of getting a job, in walks Vincent Giovanni, the kingpin of New York. At first I almost wondered if we’d see a developing love story between Evelyn and Vincent, but it’s not long before we discover the true relationship lay between Evelyn and Max. And lemme tell you, I was allllll for it.

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Their immediate connection was entirely believable, and the fact they can’t really act on their feelings for each other makes this read all the more intriguing. To do so could put both of their lives in danger, not to mention Evelyn’s brother, Frank, who we discover owes a massive debt to Vincent. And this draws together the idea of being in the wrong place so many times over. By auditioning for a burlesque show Evelyn encounters Vincent, and when it’s revealed her brother owes him money she offers to bootleg on his behalf to help work off his debt. This pulls good girl Evelyn even further into this dark web from which there seems no escape. When a turf war begins between Vincent and a rival family, the stakes are raised even higher.

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An Extra Shot or Two Required

Now I’ve always been a huge fan of this era of history and storytelling. I mean, Boardwalk Empire was my freakin’ jam! And while overall I really did enjoy Evelyn and Max’s story, there were a few areas where I wanted more, and they all actually revolved around the character of Mr. Vincent Giovanni. First of all, I found it remarkably unbelievable that he never tried to sexually take advantage of Evelyn. Don’t get me wrong, that would have been utterly devastating, but considering his character as a mob kingpin and how the story develops, it shocked me that sex was never really a major point he pushed with her.

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When they meet in the club, he is immediately drawn to her, and it’s not long before he’s taking her back to his home to live with him, and throwing thousands of dollars of jewelry and clothing at her. And yet, the subject of sex isn’t even suggested at this point. It’s only when Evelyn offers to take on the role her brother had in Vincent’s employ of running hooch does Vincent broach the topic saying that should she fail, he’ll demand payment from her in physical ways. But even then he makes it sound like more of a nuisance than anything, and I never got the sense it was something he was really looking forward to with her. And again, the fact he never really tries anything with her before that time just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me considering the lengths he was going to to seemingly set her up as his mistress.

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And lastly, I’d have to say I simply wanted more of a focus on Vincent as a character. The majority of the novel is spent developing this relationship between Max and Evelyn, and while it was undoubtedly extremely compelling you can’t help but admit that Vincent is an intriguing villain in his own right. There’s a suggested ensuing battle between Vincent and a rival mob family which is never fully explored, and is seemingly dropped from the story line. In addition, at the end of the novel we get a hint that Vincent is more of a puppet master pulling the strings of our characters than we ever realized, and I so would have liked perhaps just one more chapter which provided us a glimpse into his mad psyche. What can I say? Whenever I encounter an enthralling villain I simply want more!!

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

Series: I doubt this is a series, but if we could get some kind of short story about Evelyn’s brother, Frank, I’d be first in line.

Should you read it? This story pulled me in and wouldn’t let go. We have a major plot twist later on in the novel that even I didn’t see coming (a rarity indeed), and it made me love it all the more. The whole thing comes together for one exciting climactic conclusion with guns blazing! I will say at times I think parts of the story could have been more fully fleshed out, and there were certain points that crossed the line of convenience over reality, but all in all a fun historical read.

Smut Level: So many longing looks, brushed hands, and captured elbows. Eventually we get a love scene, but the details aren’t excessively raunchy in any way. Pretty clean read altogether.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Long Valley Press. 272 Pages.

 

 

Beta by Jasinda Wilder

Book 1 in this series featured a budding relationship between an alpha male and a reserved female exploring non-vanilla sex for the first time. This second book completely switches gears into something like a Jason Bourne movie. Such a stark and jarring contrast!

What’s it About? 

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Roth and I are on an open-ended tour of the world. Roth being Roth, this means missionary in Morocco, reverse cowgirl in Calcutta, bent over the bow of a houseboat in Hanoi, slow and sleepy on St. John. Anywhere and everywhere, in every conceivable position, and some I didn’t know were possible. Life was pretty incredible. Until I woke up in his chateau in France, alone. On the bed next to me was a note. There were only four words: He belongs to me. ***This book contains sexual scenes and situations that may make some readers uncomfortable.***

First Impressions

Now, full disclosure here people, normally when I include the synopses of books I feature on this here blog of mine, I tend to cut out the little disclaimer that is often found at the bottom which basically says “Warning: Sex Ahead”. Let’s face it people, we all know that sex is mostly likely involved in every novel I choose to review. Heck, sometimes I’ll complain if there’s a lack of it. However, I usually always leave the disclaimer in if rape is involved, and when it came to this novel I just couldn’t remove it. There are a lot of scenes of male rape and torture that seemingly go on forever. From water boarding to a Viagra pill from hell, consider yourself warned that this novel is uncomfortably graphic. Additionally, I think that the characters almost try to minimize the trauma of this extended rape scenario seeing as we are dealing with a male victim who was being abused by a female.

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If You Have an Erection Lasting Longer than Four Hours…

This second novel initially starts off with a lot of boozing and f*cking. At the end of the first chapter though we discover that not all is right in paradise, as Roth has been abducted by an unknown kidnapper. As Kyrie explores their French villa in search of him she reminisces on all of the different places throughout the house that they’ve had sex, and in all of the different ways. Come on now woman, focus!! There are more important things for you to focus your attention on right now.

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We eventually discover that Roth’s ex-girlfriend, Gina, from 10 years ago is behind the kidnapping, and she wants to use his body sexually before killing him. Ummm, I’m sorry but what’s the motivation here? Why did she wait so long before eventually going after him? Why now? Surely there are easier ways to get good sex than having to drug, kidnap, rape and abuse your ex? We come to learn that even back in the day when they were a couple Gina used to abuse Roth sexually, and use sex as a weapon to get him to do her bidding. After getting her hands on him yet again she proceeds to tie him down, and drug him with what is basically an advanced version of Viagra that turns Roth into a sex-crazed maniac. The scenes that follow are utterly disturbing in how graphic they are.

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Kyrie to the Rescue! And then Roth! With Harris Tagging Along!

Rather than getting the police involved, Kyrie and Roth’s butler/chauffeur, Harris, decide to infiltrate Gina’s fortress to rescue Roth on their own. I have to say, it was ridiculous how useless Gina’s henchmen were. We basically have the equivalent of Star Wars storm troopers with absolutely zero aim. Not only are Kyrie and Harris successful in breaking into the fortress and retrieving Roth, but when Gina eventually kidnaps Kyrie as revenge she is also rescued rather easily due to the sub-par guarding skills of these hired guns. Seriously, someone needs to invest in a security system update.

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Facing Your Fears

One of my main issues with this novel was what happened when Roth was first rescued. He is understandably extremely hesitant to engage in any sexual activity with Kyrie. The guy was literally just sexually tortured and raped for days on end after ingesting what can best be described as the Energizer Bunny’s nightmare version of Viagra. He’s simply not ready to do anything physical with Kyrie. However, it’s decided pretty quickly that the only way he could possibly get over this trauma is to just face his fears and start screwing like a wild animal.

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I’m sorry, but I just can’t get on board with this. Kyrie and Roth barely talk at all about what he just went through at the hands of Gina, and don’t seek out any external help either. If ever there was a need for a therapy session or two, now would be a good time! Roth has barely had any time to recover (we’re talking like a day or two here), and now he’s being pressured into having sex when he openly admits it’s not the right time. It doesn’t seem like the best way to get over an emotional sexual trauma, and I feel like it also demonstrates how their relationship is purely sexual if that’s their way only to connect after a kidnapping. And oh yeah, Gina is still after them!! Maybe they should take a break from their continual orgasm-fest to form a plan on how they’re going to permanently escape from this crazy psycho who’s chasing them.

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Final Considerations

There were two other aspects to this novel that weren’t my cup of tea. Firstly, the narration. I listened to this as an audiobook, and I’m sorry to sound harsh or inconsiderate, but the narration was laughable. Neither the male or female narrator could voice the passion of the sexy scenes. Seeing as this book has a ridiculous amount of sex scenes and dirty talk, it was kind of a problem when both sounded like robots reading from the phone book. The accents between the characters were also totally off. The male narrator makes Gina sound Greek, whereas the female reader made her sound slightly British. It was the little details like that which interrupted the flow of the novel.

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Another aspect of this novel I didn’t particularly care for was the financial one. Roth has a seemingly endless amount of money. Even when he and Kyrie are on the run at the end of the novel to escape the wrath of Gina’s father, he still seems to have pretty easy access to all of his bank accounts. Roth even buys a super yacht for them to sail away on. I’m sorry, but it just seemed almost too easy, not to mention a terrible way to cover your tracks. I think if Mr. Billionaire Valentine Roth suddenly found himself on the run with a lack of money it would have added another layer of suspense to the tale.

Series: Alpha, book 2. Honestly, not really looking forward to the third book in this trilogy, but I’m sure I’ll get around to finishing it at some point.

Should you read it? I was already kind of on the fence with book 1, and this second book just rubbed me the wrong way in so many different places. I couldn’t help but feel that the issue of rape was resolved almost too quickly with very little time for Roth to heal. Again, it sort of came across as though because he’s an alpha male he should just push past it and jump into the deep end. There was definitely a disconnect between these first two books, as this sequel feels like an action movie with a crap ton of sex thrown in. As for the motivation of our villain Gina, we never really discover why after ten years of ignoring Roth she suddenly had the desire to go to the ultimate extreme by capturing and raping him.

Smut Level: Roth and Kyrie certainly don’t need a magical Viagra drug to screw at all hours of the day and night.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. Self-Published. 406 Pages.

Falling for the Enemy by Samanthe Beck

The author of this novel manages to make a gas station bathroom seem like one of the steamiest and most sensual of places to have sex. I don’t care what you say, that’s talent right there.

What’s it About?

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Salon owner Virginia Boca has declared herself celibate…at least until she wins the election for mayor of Bluelick, Kentucky. No hot men. No sex. And her plan to play the good girl might have worked—if the mysterious, hard-bodied stranger she’s seen around town hadn’t pulled her from the street and saved her life. The least Ginny can do is offer her savior a free haircut. But when an innocent haircut turns into hours of wickedly hot sex, former Navy SEAL Shaun Buchanan knows his plan to keep a low profile is shot. Especially once Ginny finds out he’s the current mayor’s son. With her reputation and the election on the line, Ginny seems determined to keep their nightly sexcapades a secret, but Shaun’s not willing to stay in the shadows forever…

First Impressions

These two can’t keep their hands off each other!!! Their undeniable desire is most evident in the rather unique locales they find themselves in for sex. Basically, they don’t have the patience to wait for a bedroom. In addition to the gas station mentioned above, they also explore pretty much every available work surface in her hair salon, and go skinny dipping in a pond where anyone could walk by. The fact that they must keep their relationship a secret as Ginny is running for mayor, and Shaun is the son of her opponent, simply adds an extra sense of urgency and the forbidden to their coupling.

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Beyond the Physical

In addition to their obvious physical attraction for one another, as well as Shaun’s proclivity to tie Ginny up during sex, they are also able to open up on an emotional level. That being said, they mainly reveal some important aspects about their pasts during just one deep conversation on her couch. I think perhaps one more scene of them connecting through talking in place of another unique sex locale could have really added to the overall story line. Although, damn that’s really a tough choice right there. Ok, maybe don’t take away a sex location, but a few more scenes of emotional connection would have been good.

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Series: Private Pleasures, book 3.

Should you read it? Personally, I loved the secrecy behind their relationship, as well as the added drama of the mayoral debate. Ginny is definitely a sharp leading lady who can hold her own in any argument. Nothing like a little political scandal in the small town of Bluelick!!

Smut Level: These two really like to go at it on sinks. Think of the talent involved! Not only can he bend her into pretty much any position due to her flexibility, but she has the balance necessary to refrain from falling into the sink from such a precarious position.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Brazen. 220 Pages

Light Her Fire by Samanthe Beck

Holy hot fire chief!! He has a dirty little mouth to go along with his dirty imagination. And little Ms. Bluelick who is really happy to be the focus of his attentions.

What’s it About? 

Good girl Melody Merritt is ready to be bad. Fresh out of an unsatisfying ten-year engagement to the town golden boy, she’s determined to make up for lost time. And who better to burn her sterling reputation to the ground than Bluelick’s sinfully sexy new fire chief whose wicked gaze promises complete and utter domination? Yes, please. Corrupting the prim and proper Little Miss Bluelick is the most action Josh Bradley’s seen since he transferred from Cincinnati to fast-track his career. He won’t let anything or anyone—not even the delectable Melody Merritt—trap him in this Kentucky-fried Mayberry, but when their searing chemistry yields an unexpected result, he realizes he’s started a blaze that’s completely beyond his control…

First Impressions

Josh is looking for some action. He’s practically desperate for it. The town of Bluelick initially attracted him because he finally had the opportunity to become Chief of a fire department. He just didn’t realize that moving to such a small town would result in boring days with very little excitement. Basically, Josh has his dream job title, but without the perks of putting out blazes on a regular basis. Then you have Melody. She’s looking for some action herself after her 10 year long engagement just came to an end. We’ve got two beautiful people in a small town, out on the prowl with very little to do. Oh, how will they pass the time I wonder?

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Let’s Get Creative

Melody is known as the good girl in town. She is Little Ms. Bluelick after all. And yes, that’s an official title. However, she is fully intent on throwing that good girl image out the window. These two might take a while to have actual intercourse, but they do pretty much everything else in between as Melody seeks to dirty things up. To top it all off, they get sexy in some rather interesting locations. From her office exam table to her front porch, the kitchen counter to the front seat of his truck. No matter the location one thing is guaranteed: Josh likes to throw her legs over his shoulders for maximum efficiency. Boom baby!!

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Series: Private Pleasures, book 2. I’ll keep going with this series. They’re fun and sexy reads.

Should you read it? In addition to all the sexy times there is some drama thrown in on multiple fronts. We’ve got arson, a broken condom, Josh’s conviction to move to another town with more opportunity, and Melody’s insistence on keeping their relationship casual. Although everything does come together rather nicely in the end, I wasn’t thrilled with how it did. I couldn’t help but question if he was really ready to spend the rest of his life with Melody, or if he merely saw her as a means to an end. Overall though? Cute as hell.

Smut Level: When it comes to all the sex scenes, dirty talk and spankings, you are bound to burst into flames. Or at least…some of your undergarments will.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Brazen. 266 Pages.

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Rush too Far by Abbi Glines

I travel a LOT for work, and I meet a multitude of different people all over the world. However, I must say that in all of my travels I have never encountered a man or woman named “Rush”. Am I alone in this?! Is it more common than I think? This book is set in the South, so maybe it’s a Southern thing?

What’s it About?

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Fallen Too Far was Blaire’s story. Now it’s time for Rush to share his side. Everyone in Rosemary Beach thinks they know how Rush Finlay and Blaire Wynn fell in love. But Rush is back to tell his side of the story…Rush has earned every bit of his bad-boy reputation. The three-story beach house, luxury car, and line of girls begging for time between his sheets are the envy of every guy in Rosemary Beach, and Rush handles it all with the laid-back cool of a rock star’s son. All he needs are his best friend, Grant, and his sister, Nan.

Until Blaire Wynn drives into town in her beat-up pickup truck with a pistol under her seat. The Alabama farm girl instantly captures Rush’s attention once he discovers that the angelic beauty is his new stepsister, but he vows to keep his distance. Even if she needs his help. Even if he craves her. Because Rush knows why Blaire is all alone in the world, forced to ask for help from the father who abandoned her three years ago. And he knows if he gets too close it will destroy Nan, who has a secret connection to Blaire. He has every reason in the world to stay away from her. Find out why he doesn’t.

First Impressions

As you all know by this point, I’m not a huge fan of a novel which comes later on in a series that simply retells an earlier novel from the man’s point of view. It’s usually extremely repetitive, and we don’t necessarily learn a whole lot of new information. I’m sure you’re wondering why the hell I keep bothering with them. I can’t help it! I have an obsessive need to read every single novel in a series, assuming I like the series of course. Otherwise my Goodreads list will mock me by having every other novel labeled as “read”, and the one male POV book with nothing! Ohhh, the mockery!! Man…I’m a total weirdo.

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Not Too Bad

So even though these male point of view stories aren’t usually my favorite, I actually didn’t mind this one so much. I think the primary reason was because it’s been years since I read the first three novels in this series, so the details of the story weren’t as fresh in my mind. If anything, it was kind of nice to get an abbreviated version of events from a slightly different perspective. I will say though, as the story progressed I did start remembering how the plot comes together. Therefore, if you were to tackle this closely behind the others I could see it being quite repetitive.

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Too Many Secrets

As for seeing things play out from Rush’s point of view, it was interesting to see how much he truly cared for Blaire, and how protective/possessive he was of her. One thing I really didn’t care for though was that he was keeping this huge secret from her which linked their pasts together. Rush feels that as long as he can make Blaire fall in love with him, she’ll simply have to forgive him for his past transgressions. It just seemed kind of deceptive to me, like he was trying to trap her into loving him.

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Series: Rosemary Beach, Book 4.

Should you read it? It ends the same way as book one, meaning on an incredible low note. Not a must read, but overall a good one. If you choose to skip it you really don’t miss out on anything for future books in the series.

Smut Level: Oh Rush, what a dirty little mouth you have.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Atria Books. 256 Pages.