The Promise by R.L. Mathewson

This has always been one of my go-to contemporary romance series when I’m looking for a good laugh, lovable characters, and a steamy read that’s guaranteed to knock your socks off. 

What’s it About? 

How far would you go to keep a promise?

Reed Bradford never should have made that promise.

He’d barely survived the first time around, but now she was back, his best friend’s little sister, his one-time neighbor, and the woman that he never should have promised to protect. He never should have done a lot of things, like cross that line, but once he did…

There was no turning back.

Joey Lawson always had a plan, but unfortunately, mostly for her, sometimes those plans backfired. On her. This time would be no different. After the unfortunate incident that she felt was better not to think about, she found herself doing the one thing that she’d never survive.

Falling in love with a Bradford.

First Impressions

It’s been a number of years since I’ve engaged with this series, and I was absolutely thrilled to dive right back in again. This read pulls you in from page one with a cast of characters you can’t help but love. After all, who doesn’t adore a romance featuring neighbors who can’t stand each other in the beginning, but slowly start to fall in love the more time they spend together? I made my way through most of this read with a smirky grin on my face due to the hijinks of our main couple, not to mention the accident prone tendencies of our brilliant leading lady. Reed and Joey have known each other since childhood, when Reed constantly found himself having to get Joey out of the multiple predicaments she found herself in, including running from angry mobs of fellow high school classmates who couldn’t stand the twelve-year-old girl genius sharing their classroom. Joey couldn’t leave town fast enough after high school, but when she’s forced to take a sabbatical from her university teaching job due to her continued ability to rub people the wrong way, she finds herself back in her childhood home with her overbearing protector living next door. 

Although this is a Neighbor From Hell book, it doesn’t take long at all for Reed and Joey to transition from neighbors to roommates, as her childhood home proves to be unlivable due to years of abandonment. Reed can’t believe the tormentor of his youth has come back in full swing, and though he might grumble at her reappearance in his life he knows he can’t turn his back on her. Years before he made a promise to Joey’s grandmother that he would always watch over her vivacious granddaughter. Joey’s goal is to focus on fixing her grandparent’s house back up during her year off work, but when Reed insists she live with him to keep a roof over her head, the two spend a few weeks as insufferable housemates before finally giving into the sexual chemistry that’s been building between them. The fact they had to share a bed those first few weeks certainly helped advance things between them. While their sex scenes were positively delicious, their interactions outside of the bedroom (and broom closets and truck beds and office desks) presented the humor that I’ve always loved about this series. Joey is definitely book smart, but she oftentimes finds herself in awkward situations due to her inability to “read the room”, and Reed’s simultaneous frustration yet infatuation with this tornado of mayhem is what made it difficult to put the book down at the end of the night, and kept me coming back for more the next day. 

An Issue Here, There, and Possibly Everywhere

Overall I enjoyed and appreciated the place this novel fell within the series, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t without some flaws. The first half of this book was a pure delight, but after the halfway point certain elements in the romantic story line between Reed and Joey started to become repetitive, and things felt rushed and even unfinished towards the end. It became increasingly difficult at times to follow along with the dialogue as our lead couple would constantly interrupt each other as though to jokingly imply, “hey don’t go there”, but I had trouble determining where “there” even was, so some conversations were left feeling nonsensically unfinished. There were also several anecdotes which were introduced well and good in the beginning, but then we were never privy to the finer details or their conclusion, which left us wanting more. Even the concept of Joey renovating her grandparent’s house was abandoned almost immediately.

The other primary example of this was a reference to some kind of major embarrassing frat house snafu that Joey filmed of Reed in college, and then put on YouTube for all to see. It was identified many times as the thing that Reed had trouble forgetting and forgiving when it came to Joey coming back into his life, and yet shockingly we never actually find out what exactly happened! It’s just mentioned in hushed tones and pushed aside as though we’ll eventually see some big reveal or confrontation between the two later on, but it was dropped entirely from the story. This was also true for other seemingly crucial backstory elements, including a tragic accident that claimed the life of Joey’s mother, as well as the fact Joey has apparently suffered from debilitating panic attacks ever since. These events seemed to have an essential impact on the woman Joey is today, and it’s not that we just received a surface level glimpse of what these factors were, but rather it felt like we only got bits here and there with major pieces missing from the telling entirely. 

Finally, we were introduced fairly early on to two students in Reed’s school who I fell in love with almost immediately, Jen and Shawn. Jen is a definite troublemaker who looks forward to the idea of suspension, scoffs at the concept of detention, and has no problem wreaking havoc and pulling pranks on authority figures. Shawn is an autistic young boy who keeps to himself, but latches onto Joey when she comes to substitute teach at their school. I was so excited to see how these characters would be further incorporated into Reed and Joey’s story, but again while we see a strong start to their introduction, both of their stories flatline at the halfway point where there’s ultimately no development in their stories. This was especially true for Jen, as I was hoping that after Joey started substitute teaching at the school these two eccentric ladies would be able to connect over the fact nobody else seems to understand them. Maybe Joey could have succeeded in getting Jen to open up in a way Reed couldn’t in the past, and serve as an inspiration for this teenager to set goals for herself. Instead it would appear that Jen remains just as troublesome and lacking drive as she was when we first met her. It was also slightly troubling to see how closely Jen and Joey’s personalities, mannerisms and even troublemaking ways mirrored each other. I couldn’t help but have a feeling of ickiness as Reed became increasingly infatuated with Joey considering he has a teenage student who is essentially a carbon copy of the woman he’s falling in love with. 

Series: Neighbor from Hell, book 10. Even though this installment was not without it’s flaws, I still enjoyed the ride overall, and will continue on with this series. 

Final Impressions: This book had a very strong and entertaining start, though things tapered off towards the end. I almost think the author was possibly trying too hard to keep things light and funny, that it resulted in some of the more serious elements which were introduced in the beginning to be pushed aside or abandoned completely by the end. Once Reed and Joey start exploring a sexual relationship together their interactions both within and outside of the bedroom start to become rather repetitive. Speaking of repetition, be prepared for Reed to constantly refer to Joey and his annoying brother, Matt, as the little brat/bastard to a point where it gets slightly annoying. I’m definitely starting to nitpick here, as overall this was still a fun read, but there were definitely certain elements which could have been tweaked to make this a truly stellar read. 

Smut Level: Early on in their roommate relationship Joey and Reed find themselves sleeping in the same bed, and let’s just say Joey has a tendency to flip and flop about where she would end up snuggling up and wrapped around Reed like a barnacle. I also lost track of the number of times Joey ended up in a position straddling Reed’s lap. Yes please!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Add audible narration to purchase for $1.99. Rerum Carta Industries, Inc. 278 Pages. 

Swaying the Opposition by D.M. Porters

What better way to start off the new year than with a captivating historical romance featuring two headstrong lead characters on opposing sides of a societal battle? We can’t help but wonder who will succeed first, the innocent beauty trying to sway this man to see her point of view, or the devilish rake hoping to sway said beauty into his bed. Crack this one open to find out for yourself!

What’s it About? 

Lady Aeryn Dunning believes love is fiction, a clever myth designed to control the weak. It was why marriage had never been an option for her growing up. But time changes that. Aeryn starts to feel like a burden on her family and yields to their wishes, accepting the hand of her father’s friend, the Honorable Lord Dunning. Kenneth is much older than her, but the politician is kind and compassionate, making him as good a choice as any. The two become more friends than lovers, but sadly, the marriage would be short-lived. Aeryn is left a wealthy widow, free to pursue a cause dear to her and her husband – saving children from factories and giving them the gift of learning.

Handsome Royce Garrington is a member of Parliament whose tragic past made him cold and uncaring. His arrogance is well-known, and his patience razor-thin. The young lord hates wasting time on inconsequential matters and sees the Factory Act as one of these. He believes the alleged abuses in factories exaggerated and urges the House to move on to more pressing issues.

Aeryn and Royce meet under the most extreme circumstances, and immediately he is drawn to the ravishing redhead. Aeryn knows of Lord Garrington; he is a scoundrel, and she should have nothing to do with him. But when the cad threatens her father’s reputation, Aeryn is forced to agree to a most scandalous arrangement with him. Neither is prepared for the torrent of emotions that would overwhelm them during their time together. Perhaps love does exist, and its power can sway the opposition.

First Impressions

Swaying the Opposition proves to be the kind of historical romance where you not only have the opportunity to witness the development of a young couples’ relationship from enemies to lovers, but you also learn something about the time period in question. At first I was a tad concerned that the rather heavy subject matter of child labor and corresponding injuries/fatalities in the midst of the Industrial Revolution would put a damper on the romance evolving between Lady Dunning and Lord Garrington, but the author actually does a phenomenal job of weaving the details of the Factory Act as a key feature into the romantic story line of the book. The two elements go hand-in-hand, and while you might need a tissue (I know I certainly did) a time or two as we witness the harsh realities of factory work in this era, there are plenty of other moments where you’ll want to stand up and cheer for the bravery and resilience of those who fought to bring about an end to these injustices. What better backdrop for two people on seemingly opposite sides of the aisle to find their way into each other’s arms?   

A Blackmail Scheme that Leads to Love

Aeryn proves to be the perfect boss lady of a heroine. She’s the kind of female lead you love to love. Not afraid to go after what she wants, she also does whatever is necessary for the betterment of those less fortunate than her, even if it means throwing societal pressures and expectations to the wayside. Does she ultimately succumb to the blackmail scheme devised by Lord Garrington to get her into his bed in return for his silence over her actions of trespassing to free a young girl from a harmful factory? Sure, but this really shouldn’t be construed as a matter of weakness, but almost as one of empowerment. I couldn’t help but applaud the author for her ability to highlight this scenario as a way for Aeryn to finally explore her sexuality for the first time in her life, and with a partner she actually wanted to say yes to. In a way, it felt as though this moment of blackmail was the excuse Aeryn needed to convince herself it was ok to give into the desire that Royce had awoken within her. You never for a moment think that Aeyrn was forced into a situation that she didn’t want to wholeheartedly explore herself. 

And that brings us to good ole Lord Garrington. Oh yeah, he’s the perfect cad you love to hate, but then grow to love. The story arch of Royce’s character from an unfeeling politician at the start of the novel to a loving partner by the end was probably my favorite aspect of the entire book. Lady Aeryn proves to be the catalyst for him to start looking at what his life has become, and not only question where things went wrong in the past, but also wonder how he might want to change things for the future. In spite of his wealth and stature in society, he doesn’t feel good enough for a woman of Aeryn’s integrity. For this very reason Royce goes through most of the novel believing he’ll never succeed in winning her over into his life permanently, and yet this surprisingly doesn’t stop him from ultimately succeeding (with some supplemental help from a lovable friendly butler) to change his ways for the better. His continued self-deprecation was in fact a crucial feature of his growth as a character, as we are convinced by the end that Royce wasn’t merely trying to change on the surface in the hopes of getting Aeryn back in his bed, but rather she inspired him to do some soul-searching of his own to see how he could become the man, friend and brother he once was. 

The Game of Politics

Politics play a critical role throughout this entire novel, not only in the logistics of the Factory Act itself, but also for the development of Royce’s character, his evolving romance with Aeryn, as well as the transition of a former friend to villainous foe. I remember at the very start of this novel thinking to myself, “it’s simply not believable that there would be such intense opposition, and from our lead male character no less, to the passing of a resolution which would safeguard women and children” to then having this eye-opening realization of “oh yeah…politics…that definitely tracks”. It was almost comically horrific to see how applicable some of the same debates and futile misunderstandings which permeated the political landscape of the era still ring true today. From Royce thinking the tales of abuse and disfigurement were merely overblown exaggerations not to be believed in the newspapers, to other politicians insisting previous legislation already dealt with the topic, and finally to wealthy businessmen arguing a change in regulations would cripple advancement and economic prosperity. Same arguments, different era. 

While these political debates were crucial to capturing our interest in the story as a whole, they also presented two problematic features for our characters that I wish had been addressed or altered in some way. Firstly, as previously discussed, Royce is initially presented to us as…well a bit of an ass. He staunchly opposes the Factory Act, and seemingly delights in arguing with members of the opposition in a way that makes their blood boil. Even though we ultimately see a change in character for Royce later on that makes us (and Aeryn) fall in love with him, the fact he could be so blasé and dismissive of child endangerment at the start of the novel was quite a turn off. We do see a brief mention that Royce believes there are more pressing issues at hand to discuss in Parliament, but we never really get a full insight into what he thinks those topics are. If we could have been privy to one or two other key pieces of legislature that he felt truly passionate about, and perhaps had even put a lot of time and energy into, he could possibly have been a more redeemable character to us, and Aeryn, earlier on. And this brings me to the second, and perhaps more pressing issue that this political opposition presents, which is that it’s a bit hard to understand why Aeryn was so smitten with Royce considering he essentially stood for everything she despised.

Don’t get me wrong, I was 100% rooting for them to come together by the end of the story, but I couldn’t help but feel as though the initial connection on Aeryn’s part for Royce was almost too steeped in sexual attraction at the start. This is a woman who has devoted most of her life to rescuing women and children from oppressive working conditions, and yet after a few tumbles between the sheets with Royce as part of his blackmail scheme she continues to think upon him fondly after he sends her back home. At this point in the story all she knows of his character is that he voraciously opposes the Factory Act every chance he gets, and that he’s an amazingly attentive lover. We as the readers get a few glimpses early on that there is more lying beneath the surface for this complicated man, as we are privy to his inner musings and changing ways, but Aeryn doesn’t necessarily see the same revelations at that point in time. Later on she learns more in conversations with his butler and adopted brother that Royce came from a complicated past that impacted who he became later in life, but during those early days of their interactions she simply knows him as the ruggedly handsome blackmailer who fights her father on the Parliament floor. This is another reason I had hoped we could have seen one other thing early on that Royce was passionate in arguing for, not against, as it could have been something for Aeryn to hold onto beyond their sexual connection as a reason she couldn’t push him out of her mind. 

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This read captured my interest from opening bell, and it was rather difficult to put down at times, as evidenced by the fact I finished reading it in just 3 days. We have a strong female lead, a troubling male lead in want of reform, and a slew of supplementary characters that bring the story to life. Sure, I would have enjoyed one or two more scenes involving Aeryn and Royce engaging together outside of the bedroom, but they were also so focused on each other when they weren’t together that you almost didn’t notice the physical distance. Almost 😉 The time period setting was truly fascinating, and the political arguments presented were surprisingly reminiscent of those we still see made today across the aisles. This novel does present us with hope though. Hope that true love can not only be found, but that there are people who won’t stand down in standing up for what’s right. 

Smut Level: Me oh my is it getting hot in here! There are plenty of instances of bodice ripping and being pushed up against closed doors/walls to make you swoon. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. 284 Pages

My Christmas Fiancé by Serenity Woods

A fake engagement proves the perfect means to not only get two overbearing exes of their backs, but also allows Meg and Stratton to finally acknowledge what’s been in front of them all along. Each other!

What’s it About? 

If you write an email to a friend about a fantasy involving your gorgeous boss, don’t send it to All Staff…

Meg
It’s not easy to reinvent yourself, but my thirteen-year-old son and I are ready for a new start. Old Maggie was a magnet for disaster, but New Meg is going to be elegant, sophisticated… and blonde. I’ve landed a dream job at the other end of New Zealand as PA to three rich directors who spoil me rotten, I’ve found a beautiful new apartment, and I feel reborn. Then I write an email to a friend describing in vivid detail what I want to do to the sexiest of the directors—involving melted chocolate and/or whipped cream—and mistakenly send it to All Staff. It turns out that New Meg is pretty much just Old Maggie with different packaging. Some things never change.

Stratton
I’ve wanted Meg since she first walked into my office with her soft lips and sexy curves, but she wears another man’s ring, so I’ve steered well clear… until now. My mind’s been occupied anyway since I broke up with my ex, Natalie. She’s desperate to have me back and won’t take no for an answer—so I’ve come up with a brilliant plan, to hire a fake fiancée for Christmas to prove to her that we’re done. After sending her hot-as-hell email, Meg confesses the truth about her past, and it gives me an idea. She can pretend to be my fiancée, and I can protect her from the guy she’s running from. Sounds like the perfect plan, right? Her teenage son’s no problem because we get on great. Sharing her room? That’s more of a challenge, but I’ve always had excellent self-control. Yeah, I know. I keep forgetting about the melted chocolate. What an idiot.

First Impressions

A debonair billionaire game developer who doesn’t want children. A single mom with a teenage son. These two might not initially appear to be the likeliest of bedfellows, but literally from opening bell we are rooting for Stratton and Meg to find happiness together as they exchange witty retorts and beguiling smirks that leave our toes curling in delight. Sure, there’s the added complication of the fact Meg is Stratton’s employee, and he’s under the impression she’s happily married, but…we all know it’s just a matter of time before the electricity buzzing between them becomes too much to keep hidden. While it did take longer than I thought it would for all of the chess pieces to fall into place for this game of romance to get well underway, the author does a brilliant job of laying the foundation for us to believe our main characters aren’t just in this for the sex. 

An Office Romance with a Twist

Meg and Stratton are undeniably attracted to each other, with both having a feverish desire to make use of Stratton’s desk for something other than typing out business memos. However, there’s also mutual admiration and respect at play. Stratton isn’t just all good looks and money. He’s devoted to both his sister and best friend, and he got to where he is today because of his intelligence and tech savviness. As for Meg, she’s the epitome of poise, as well as a pillar of strength for her young son, yet Stratton comes to learn there is a sexually curious and adventurous side to his seemingly delicate PA. One of the things that drew me to this novel in the first place was the synopsis description of Meg’s disastrous mistake of sending an All Staff email outlining her darkest desires when it came to what she’d like to do to her boss. 

I waited in suspense and anticipation for what the fallout might entail, and wondered how soon that chocolate sauce and whipped cream fantasy would come into the mix of things. Surprisingly, even though this email is the impetus for Stratton’s realization that Meg actually isn’t married as she had previously let on, and that she harbors an intense attraction to him, this rather embarrassing email gaffe almost immediately disappears from the story line entirely. It’s referenced a few times here and there as something that made them openly acknowledge their desire for each other, but there wasn’t as much of an awkward aftermath as I was expecting. In fact, we sadly never even see this culinarily influenced daydream play out. Instead of focusing on this comedic mistake, the novel chooses instead to focus significantly more attention to a more serious and even troubling story line involving the exes of both Meg and Stratton. 

A Mutually Beneficial Fake Engagement

I’ll admit that a good ole fake engagement plot point is one of my favorite romance novel tropes. Delightful hijinks typically ensue, whether it be to claim an inheritance, get nosy parents to stop their meddling, or even to make an ex jealous. In this instance though the need for a fake engagement, while initially humorous in its presentation, ultimately becomes necessary for more dire circumstances. Both Meg and Stratton are trying to convince their exes that it’s over once and for all. Stratton is the one to initially cook up the fake fiancée idea as a way to get his ex, Natalie, off his back. It’s only after Meg’s All Staff email fiasco that she admits to Stratton that she actually isn’t married, and after fleeing her abusive ex with son in tow he has now found them again. Upon hearing her story, and intervening in a suspenseful confrontation between Meg and her ex at their place of work, Stratton believes his fake engagement idea could also prove beneficial in convincing Meg’s ex that she’s off limits. 

The relationship between Meg and Stratton might have a light and flirtatious air to it at times, but I was surprised by the rather serious tone we see throughout this entire novel as it related to their stalkerish exes. We might be rooting for these two as their relationship evolves from employer/employee to friends, confidants to lovers, but always lurking in the background there’s this underlying sense of apprehension as we question if this engagement ruse could possibly spur their unhinged exes to take things to a threatening level. Thankfully, things never go so far as to be treacherous for our main characters, but it did make it hard to relax at times and fully lose ourselves in our young lovebirds. It’s possible that was the author’s intent all along, as it was a rather successful explanation for why Stratton and Meg would have had to go so far as to initiate a fake engagement to finally cut the cord with their exes. We can all admit that a simple sit-down conversation wouldn’t have sufficed in either Meg or Stratton’s situation. However, I guess it was just a bit heavy for what I thought would be a light-hearted Christmas romance 🙂  

Series: Love Comes Later, book 1. I might continue on with this series. If this first book is anything to gauge by, we’ll be privy to comedy, heat, yet also depth of characters as they overcome intense personal situations.

Final Impressions: I absolutely adored Meg and Stratton, from their playful yet admirable personalities, to the fact Meg finally found someone with whom she was comfortable discussing and exploring her sensual fantasies. More importantly however, you get the sense these two really understood the other person from an emotional perspective. The integration of Meg’s son into the story, as well as into Stratton’s life, was done to perfection. That being said, this novel did deal with some heavier subjects that I wasn’t prepared for upon reading the synopsis, from abusive and stalkerish exes, to intense discussions of Stratton’s hesitancy to have children of his own. All in all these topics were definitely covered with care and credibility, it’s just something I didn’t expect! I will say I think more attention was placed on dealing with Stratton’s ex, which left the final confrontation with Meg’s ex feeling imbalanced and almost unfinished. Overall though, an entertaining, engaging and sexy read!

Smut Level: This read is steamier than New Zealand at Christmas time!! Which…is actually in summer, so you know…it’s hot!!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 256 Pages. 

The Viscount’s Christmas Temptation by Erica Ridley

Well that went quickly! Here I thought this would be a nice historical read to last me through the holiday season, and it surprisingly just lasted me through my morning coffee. If you’re looking for a quick, fun read during the holidays to kill time as your turkey bastes, if you need a few minutes away from family, or are looking for a break from wrapping presents, this one might do the trick.

What’s it About?

Certain individuals might consider Lady Amelia Pembroke a managing sort of female, but truly, most people would be lost without her help. Why, the latest on-dit is that rakish Viscount Sheffield is canceling the fête of the year because he hasn’t time for silly soirees. He doesn’t need time—he needs her! When a flash of lightning destroys the venue for his family’s annual Christmas ball, Lord Benedict Sheffield intends to enjoy a relaxing holiday for once. But after twelve days of beguiling Lady Amelia’s guerrilla tactics, he’s up to his cravat with tinsel . . . and tumbling head over heels in love.

First Impressions

Throughout the first chapter I honestly wasn’t too sure if I was going to be a fan of our female protagonist, Lady Amelia. She’s responsible for managing her brother’s household and is almost annoyingly efficient at it, foreseeing and anticipating a solution for every possible hiccup that could possibly arise. It would appear as though nothing can ruffle the feathers of this stoically put together lady! When Amelia realizes her single status might be preventing her beloved brother from seeking out a wife of his own, she takes it upon herself to finally find herself a respectable husband before she turns 30, the day after Christmas. Which is only a mere fortnight away! Attending an annual Christmas ball with the highest echelons of society seems like the perfect venue to pick a suitor, but when Amelia discovers an unfortunate stroke of lightning has ruined the traditional choice of venue for the ball she decides to step in with her practical planning and management skills to ensure the party proceeds as planned. And cue the fortuitous meet cute with the devilishly handsome Viscount Sheffield.

The meeting of these two characters is when I became more endeared to our leading lady, and when the fun truly begins! The viscount is a studious man who devotes himself to work from 8am to 8pm, and frivolous fun from 8pm to 8am. He’s immediately taken with the spitfire who bursts into his life, determined to set his annual Christmas ball to right. While he’s been attracted to countless actresses and courtesans throughout the years, he’s never been intrigued by such a bold and outspoken woman before, and it doesn’t take long before she inserts herself into his every waking thought. Viscount Sheffield becomes determined to show Lady Amelia how to have fun in life, and let her hair down so to speak, a truly impractical concept from her viewpoint. She in turn tries to get him to break his insistence on dividing his life into these twelve hour blocks with no possibility of mixing things up every once in a while. Their focused determination to impact each other’s idea of normal makes them the perfect match!

A Tease of Something More

As previously mentioned, I had no idea going into this read that it was going to be so brief in terms of word count. The short length felt like a tease or preview of what this book could have been. I almost wish there was an option to purchase a more full-length version of their romantic tale, as it would have been fun to dive deeper into what we only scratched the surface of viewing. Seeing as their entire romance evolves in the twelve days leading up to Christmas, an entire chapter devoted to each day would have been an intriguing way to organize a longer book.

It also would have been fun to see Viscount Sheffield throwing Lady Amelia a bit more off balance from her perfectly planned ideas, but it’s only hinted at briefly though a sweeping kiss under some holly and whisking her away to a masquerade for some unexpected dancing before another lip-lock. Just one more instance of him successfully surprising her would have been a treat, but for the most part she manages to have the upper hand of staying calm, cool and collected through most of their interactions. It ultimately felt like she had more of an impact on uprooting his way of life than he did for her in return. A few more appearances of traditional Christmas elements beyond just a sprinkling of holly balls throughout a ballroom also would have been a joyful delight. The fact we don’t even see a small gift exchange between our main characters, or the decorating of a Christmas tree seems almost blasphemous for a holiday romance!

Series: Dukes of War, book 1.

Final Impressions: This was certainly a fun, cute, quick read, but I think I would have loved it even more as a full-fledged novel. It seems like a good introduction to the writing style of the author, as well as a jump start to the series, which I wouldn’t be opposed to exploring further!

Smut Level: We do get a delightfully passionate kiss below some mistletoe! No tumbles between the sheets for this holiday read.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.75 Paperback Price. Intrepid Reads. 146 Pages.

Rubble by Skye McNeil

Sexy fun times with an alpha male biker on top of a bakery display? This might be a new fantasy I didn’t realize I needed! 

What’s it About? 

She’s sworn off relationships. He has no desire to fall at all. They can only fight their attraction for so long.

Jupiter Quinn is on the run from an abusive relationship. Finding shelter in Macha MC, her goal is to keep her head down until the divorce is finalized. What Jupiter doesn’t expect is to fall for the club’s toughest man who also happens to be a former MMA fighter.

Rubble Hardy is Macha’s sergeant at arms and enforcer for the club. He doesn’t date. Never has and never will. Women are trouble and he’s not about to let down his guard. But when Jupiter Quinn walks through the club doors, his heart shifts, and the powerful desire to protect her only outweighs his feelings.

When Jupiter’s past collides with her newfound future, she’s forced to either flee or face the danger.

Can Rubble keep her safe, or will they tap out?

First Impressions

I hadn’t read the first two novels in this series before taking a peek at this third book, so I wasn’t quite sure what cast of characters or motley motorcycle crew we might be dealing with here. However, it quickly became apparent that this is the kind of MC you love to love. They might appear tough and rough on the outside, but it doesn’t take long for their moral principles to shine through. From a deeply admirable respect for their women, to a sincere devotion to community service and protection, it’s no surprise that when Jupiter finds herself on the run from her psychotically controlling ex she feels nothing but comfort and safety within the walls of this Colorado club.

I did reach a point fairly early on with this read where past events and characters were referenced from the first two books in the series, so I decided to read over the synopses of those novels to get a quick overview of what drama befell the club before this third installment. This is a tactic I highly recommend if you find yourself in a similar position, as it really helped close a few gaps so I could confidently proceed with the rest of the story. Every once in a while we see a reference to a previous betrayal by one of the club’s brothers, and while I did feel slightly out of the loop with that particular story line, overall it wasn’t difficult to piece together the overall picture, and I was left with Jupiter and Rubble’s tale of romance, suspense, super sensual sexy fun times, and even some baking thrown in as well! Talk about a tried and true recipe to win me over!

Homemade peppermint mocha cookies and cheesecake cookie bites!

When the Past Catches Up with You

Pretty much from the moment Jupiter walks into the compound of the Macha motorcycle club, there is a mutual fascination and infatuation between her and the MC Sergeant at Arms, Rubble. He might be hesitant to allow another woman with a troubled history to once again infiltrate their walls, especially considering all the hassle (not to mention bullets) the ladies from the first two books brought into their close knit community. However, one look at Jupiter’s soft and bashful demeanor, and his alpha male need to protect comes surging to the forefront. When he learns the details of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex, who is encroaching closer upon her exact location every day, Rubble can’t help but see red at the prospect of anyone harming this woman who has come to mean so much to him in such a short amount of time.

I absolutely love me an alpha male protector, but also appreciated that this read simultaneously focuses on the growth of Jupiter as she finds the strength and courage within herself to finally stand up and face her past head on. It’s not entirely a tale of damsel in distress, though at one point it was kind of headed that way with Rubble assembling his Macha brothers as knights in shining armor to ride in and save the day by confronting Jupiter’s ex on their own. In the end though we see that it was because of her evolving relationship with Rubble that Jupiter was able to finally find something she wanted to fight for. His strength became her strength, and she ultimately decided that her love for Rubble and this newfound family was something she wasn’t afraid to stand up for.

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

Series: Macha MC, book 3. If this book is anything to go by I’d say this is a passion-filled and suspenseful series that is worth giving a try! If you don’t start from the beginning, just be sure to read the synopses of any previous books so you’re all caught up before cracking this one open.

Final Impressions: This was an entertaining romance with a good blend of different themes. We have a woman on the run, a tough motorcycle club that is guided by their fealty to the community and respect for their women. The build of drama with Jupiter’s approaching ex was a slow burn that lent itself well to the progression of the plot, even if the sexual chemistry between Jupiter and Rubble was more of a blasting inferno than a slow burn. Throw in some baked goods, a dramatic shootout and a toothachingly sweet ending and you’ve got yourself a keeper. There’s nothing better than when bad-ass bikers have a soft side amidst their uber protective ways.

Smut Level: Hot daaaaang. There’s enough explosive chemistry between these two to melt the iciest of snow-capped mountains. It might be the middle of winter, but you’ll need some ice water to cool yourself off with this read!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 257 Pages. 

Futures Entwined by Ayla Asher

This might be the final book in the Ardor Creek series, but I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I visit this town and its special characters. This is the kind of series you’ll want to reread again and again.

What’s it About? 

Does a former mean girl deserve a happy ever after?

Heather Combs grew up in Ardor Creek, stuck in a home with zero love or emotional support. In response, she lashed out, becoming a popular but cold ice-queen. Hoping to escape her unstable home, she married her high school boyfriend, only to realize she’d entered into another emotionally unfulfilling relationship. Convinced she didn’t possess the capacity to love, she divorced her ex and left Ardor Creek.

Years later, Jeremy Kramer, a successful author and single dad to twin girls, moves to Ardor Creek and instantly falls for the small-town charm. His busy life leaves little room for love, even if newly-returned former bad girl Heather Combs continually catches his eye.

When Heather and Jeremy become neighbors, they quickly realize their chemistry is off the charts. But he’s a dad who prefers serious relationships and she detests feelings. After all, love has never been her forte, but in the hidden corners of her soul, she can’t deny her yearning for her handsome neighbor and his sweet, precocious girls…

First Impressions

When I found out this was going to be the last book in the Ardor Creek series, I told myself I was going to take my time with it. It’s been such an amazing journey that the last thing I wanted was for this final installment to end too fast. However, I was quickly reminded by the end of the first chapter that what I’ve loved about this series so much from day one is that the author is an expert at pulling you into her world of characters, and the last thing you want to do is put down any of her reads once you’ve picked them up. Ardor Creek has become one of my favorite literary places to visit, so I ultimately had to admit that I’d rather indulge in several hours of reading at once rather than prolonging the inevitable. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised then that I finished this sixth book in just three sittings! Seeing as I would usually tear through the first few books in one or two sittings, I suppose I did “take my time” with this one. As with every other read in the series so far, the primary reason it’s so easy to fall in love with these books is because we are presented with characters with whom we can’t help but fall in love. Their personalities make them relatable to us in a way where we keep coming back for more, and there was no exception this time around for our two lead characters. 

Jeremy is a single dad that I would kill to live next-door to. He adores his twin girls, is a best-selling writer, and he’ll do anything to take care of those he loves. As for Heather, I personally felt her personality mirrored my own in a lot of ways, which of course meant she’s been one of my favorite leading ladies of the entire series! However, I could also see how, just like with the residents of Ardor Creek, Heather might not be for everyone upon first meeting. She’s not afraid to say what she thinks, but also has the tendency to waffle between brutal honesty and multiple layers of sarcasm. Since we can’t necessarily hear her intended tone while reading, it’s important to remember that you often have to view her comments through a particular comedic lens. For example, there are a few times when she’d call Jeremy’s kids “heathens”, or remind him that boarding school is always an option, and I’d tense for a moment thinking that Jeremy might angrily blow up in response to her joking banter. That being said, I think what made Jeremy and Heather the perfect pair was that he could always master differentiating between her honesty and sarcasm, and this brashness is actually what endears her to him most. She’s unlike anyone he’s ever met before, and she too is enamored by his ability to see through her cheekiness and find the heartfelt woman she is on the inside. They might seem like polar opposites at first, but this is also what makes them the perfect fit for each other!

That’s Why They Call it Falling in Love

Jeremy and Heather can both recognize the sexual attraction they feel towards each other almost immediately, yet both are hesitant to give into that desire at the start. Neither is hesitant though to vocalize what they’re looking for in a relationship. For Heather, she’s not looking for anything serious. She’s hoping a good ole role in the hay with her sexy neighbor will meet the craving she feels towards him, and then they can both be on their merry way. As a recently divorced woman who is childless by choice, the last thing she’s looking for is a serious relationship headed towards marriage with a single dad with two daughters. As for Jeremy, while he can admit some sexy fun times with Heather would probably rock his world, he’s not just in this for a physical itch to be scratched. He recognizes something true and beautiful when it comes to this spitfire living next door, and he hopes she’ll take a chance on dating him before bringing any physical component into their relationship. And of course, this also means spending time with his daughters along the way. 

There were several components of this burgeoning relationship between Jeremy and Heather which positively tickled me pink. First, they are both open and honest with each other about what they do and don’t want in a relationship. Sure, what they initially think they want appears to be at odds with each other, but as they spend more time giving into the pull that’s bringing them together, their interests slowly start to coalesce as well. Secondly, this romance is the perfect example of what it means to fall in love. Neither is actively looking for love at this point in their lives. They’re both just living each day as it comes, but then when the right someone comes along they both start to fall into each other. Jeremy is quicker to admit to himself that something serious is on the table, but for the most part he does an amazing job of allowing Heather to explore and discover her feelings for him in her own time. There is only one instance towards the end of the book where Jeremy tries to rush her into taking the next step with him and his girls, and it definitely backfires on him. Eventually they come to be on the same page with what they want the future to look like, but the novel highlights how important it is for Heather to come to that realization on her own and in her own time. Love couldn’t be forced between them, but instead it was found. 

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

Series: Ardor Creek, book 6. A big part of me is so so so sad that this series has concluded, but at the same time I’m excited to see what other worlds this author might create for us going forward. Not to mention, we’re told there’s a chance that down the road we might have the opportunity to revisit Ardor Creek to focus on the children of the couples from these first six novels. 

Final Impressions: Another delightfully fantastic read. I appreciated the fact that we were presented with a female lead who is childless by choice, and how it’s portrayed as a completely normal thing rather than something to be scoffed at or psychoanalyzed. Jeremy can also appreciate her choice, as he too isn’t looking to have any more children beyond the two he already has. Something I would have appreciated to see a bit more of with this read was a focus on the development of Heather’s relationship with Jeremy’s daughters. We’re provided with a handful of adorable scenes of them together, as well as one climactic moment that surly solidified their connection. By the end of the read you don’t doubt that Heather has come to love these precocious twins. However, to go from never wanting children to accepting these two girls into her life was a big shift, and perhaps one more emotional heart-to-heart conversation between these ladies would have been the cherry on top!

Smut Level: The fact our leading man is a best selling author means we have a wordsmith on our hands. This single dad might seem easy going and kind of nerdy on the outside, but we have a dirty talker at work here ladies and gentlemen!!!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. 260 Pages. 

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

Consider yourself warned that you shouldn’t try to read this book on an empty stomach. The countless descriptions of fresh bread, as well as Indian and Tanzanian delights will leave you salivating. 

What’s it About? 

When it comes to bread, Reena Manji knows exactly what she’s doing. She treats her sourdough starters like (somewhat unruly) children. But when it comes to Reena’s actual family—and their constant meddling in her life—well, that recipe always ends in disaster.

Now Reena’s parents have found her yet another potential Good Muslim Husband. This one has the body of Captain America, a delicious British accent, and lives right across the hall. He’s the perfect, mouthwatering temptation . . . and completely ruined by the unwelcome side dish of parental interference.

Reena refuses to marry anyone who works for her father. She won’t be attracted to Nadim’s sweet charm or gorgeous lopsided smile. That is, until the baking opportunity of a lifetime presents itself: a couples’ cooking competition with the prize of her dreams. Reena will do anything to win—even asking Nadim to pretend they’re engaged. But when it comes to love, baking your bread doesn’t always mean you get to eat it too.

First Impressions

As soon as my best friend failed with her covid sourdough starter bread-baking attempt, I knew it was time to give this audiobook a listen. This romantic comedy has an unbelievably strong start filled to bursting with flirtatious banter, sexy accents, a curry dish or two, not to mention a fake engagement. I’ll freely admit that I’m a huge fan of a fake fiancé story line, and upon discovering that the premise for entering into this phony relationship was due to a love of baking I was fully on board. That being said, I’m usually not a huge fan of romances revolving around reality TV, but seeing as this reality show centered on cooking rather than a bachelor-type dating show, I was willing to give it a try. Surprisingly, I quickly found myself wishing that the TV show filming could have been featured a bit more prominently than it was! Most of Reena and Nadim’s cooking show antics were filmed at home by friends rather than on a studio set, throwing a twist into the typical reality show trope we may have come to expect in Romancelandia. 

Even though I found myself wanting more focus on the cooking competition aspect of the plot line, one must admit that the nature of these two being able to film privately away from the prying eyes of a studio audience or full camera crew granted them the freedom to be more natural and at-ease with each other. The seamless chemistry and friendship that Reena and Nadim were able to develop was as delectable as any egg curry or bhajia recipe you might come across. It was such an entertaining transformation seeing Reena initially wanting to keep her distance from Nadim seeing as he was someone her parents wanted to set her up with, to slowly discovering that she was always either having a blast cooking or chatting with him, or constantly thinking about the next time they might be able to spend time together. What started out as a neighborly friendship and fake engagement begins to evolve into something that isn’t so fake anymore, and the fact their connection so strongly revolved around food meant I was hooked! Any time we got to spend with Reena and Nadim in their cooking bubble was an absolute blast, but unfortunately the external forces of family drama and misunderstandings threatened to tear them apart in a way that was somewhat frustrating to behold.  

The Joys of Social Media

Family plays a crucial role in Reena and Nadim’s relationship, even if they try to keep their private life separate from the prying eyes of their intrusive relatives. At the start of the novel, the silly antics and kooky personalities of Reena’s many family members were a bit of a hoot, as she tries to balance her frustrations over their meddling with a strong sense of family duty which permeates their conversations. The fact that Reena might ultimately have to admit the benefit that their interference brought into her life through Nadim is a struggle she tries to avoid at every turn. This causes Reena to try and keep her relationship with Nadim a secret for as long as possible, as she not only doesn’t want to admit they were right, but she knows with absolute certainty that as soon as the truth comes to light her family will try to insert themselves into their lives even more than they already do. After some time, their constant insistence on honesty within the family, even though each and every one of them is trying to keep something secret from the others, became exhausting. The most frustrating aspect of the read though was the inevitable twist that almost tore Reena and Nadim apart. 

In the midst of Reena’s growing infatuation with her neighbor, we find that she is almost desperately searching for any minor slight which could bring an end to their relationship. It all starts with her discovery of a photo of Nadim on a fancy yacht with friends. She latches onto his chic hairstyle, clothing, and rather over-the-top surroundings as a way to convince herself that he is somehow obsessed with status, wealth and outward appearance, even though there hasn’t been any indication during all of their time together that this was in any way true. The heaviest nail in the coffin though is when Reena tries to piece different social media posts together by people she’s never met before as proof that Nadim has been secretly engaged to another woman throughout their entire relationship, even going so far as to declare that a post by the patriarch of a family rival is “the truth” without ever bothering to confront or ask Nadim directly about what she was seeing. Let me put it this way, when you try to rely on Facebook and Instagram posts to reveal the true nature of the man you’re falling in love with…it’s probably not the best idea. All in all, this was the one major fault in the entire read, as there were a slew of other avenues which could have been utilized to put a wedge between Nadim and Reena. The path chosen seemed an unnecessarily immature choice for our characters. 

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This read presents us with a fantastic beginning and progression of Reena and Nadim’s relationship before an unfortunate blip towards the end puts a damper on the plot as a whole, before ultimately pulling everything back together for a smile-inducing conclusion. In addition, it’s possible this book tried to be too many things at once by introducing an overwhelming plethora of romance novel tropes, including neighbors, a fake engagement, reality TV, a secret relationship and finally a big misunderstanding that could tear our lovebirds apart. Most of these themes were enjoyable in their own right (aside from the one), but having so many present in one read, not to mention the revelation of Reena’s struggles with mental health, as well as her somewhat contemptuous relationship with her parents and one sister in particular, was a tad too much to squeeze into one read. I probably would have preferred more focus and attention on Reena’s lack of self-confidence and battle with anxiety as the primary hindrance to her happiness with Nadim rather than a social media post. I realize the one was influencing the other, but the discussion of mental health really didn’t seem to receive the amount of attention it truly deserved. Overall though this was a fun read that had me giggling throughout, and seriously craving some delicious curry dishes every time I picked it up!

Smut Level: For a romantic comedy I definitely wasn’t expecting our male lead to have a foot fetish! While we never encounter any scenes with too much explicit detail, there are definitely some passionate moments thrown in to keep you coming back for more.  

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $9.99 Kindle Price. Forever Publishing. 369 Pages. 

Untouched Heroes Vol 1: A Men’s Health Charity Anthology

What’s better than an anthology featuring romantic tales of virginal male heroes finding their happily ever after? How about the fact that all proceeds go to Movember! Help join the cause of raising awareness about men’s health issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide.

What’s it About?

Sweet and sexy, funny and fierce, Untouched Heroes brings together eighteen new and established voices in two books. One heck of a Manthology. Turning the Virgin Trope on its head, these sassy, steamy novellas include tales of pure, divine rods and men going to great lengths just to lose that V Card. Get ready to giggle, gasp, and cry as you carouse this one-of-a-kind collection. Best of all, it’s for a great cause – All proceeds from these anthologies will go to Movember, raising awareness about men’s health issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide.

Immortal Beginnings by Rebecca Hefner: Can a Deamon who has never felt a lover’s touch win the affection of a beautiful but wary Vampyre widow?

Authors included in Volume 1 are: Daphne Elliot; Klaudia Miel; Rebecca Hefner; Kate Seger; Linda Marie Pankow; Thomas Van Boening; Michaela Cole; Trissy Lee; Christopher Stanfield

Authors included in Volume 2 are: Mary Morano; Natalie Parker & Lizzie Stanley; Paula Dombrowiak; CJ Ferrell; JLynn Autumn; Brandi Lane; Linda Marie Pankow; Shauna Jared; Reese Jett

First Impressions

When I found out one of my absolute favorite authors had written a secret novella for the Etherya’s Earth series that was going to be featured in an anthology which would benefit Movember I simply had three words to say: sign…me…up! That, and a lot of incessant squealing and hand flapping in excitement. Even though I only had enough time to read Ms. Rebecca Hefner’s work before the release date, I wanted to be sure and get a review up in time so that as many of my readers as possible could take advantage of this opportunity to support such an amazing cause. For those of you who are also a fan of the Etherya’s Earth paranormal series, you won’t want to miss this beautiful short story, Immortal Beginnings. While it doesn’t feature any of the primary characters from the series we’ve come to know and love, you’ll quickly become enamored with the romance between deamon Dragos and vampyre Raina. You’ll have no problem finishing this novella in one sitting, and yet there is so much story to unpack between these two characters. Fangs down, of all the short stories featured in the Etherya’ Earth series so far, this was undoubtedly my favorite. I can only hope we’ll get a glimpse of this couple again in a future full-length novel.

Letting Go of the Past

Yes, this novella does feature a virginal male hero which I was fully on board for, but beyond this amazing trope of a more experienced female lead guiding her man in the ways of pleasure, we were also presented with two complex characters who are trying to find their way in a new world unlike anything they’ve known before. Etherya’s Earth has been plagued by war for centuries, but its inhabitants are finally living in a time of peace, when vampyres, deamons and slayers can coexist rather than fight against each other. This is the setting upon which our novella opens, as deamon Dragos is trying to live a “normal” life away from the world of deamon caves and constant fighting which he’s only known up until this point. As for Raina, she is now a single mother trying to adapt to life following the death of her “bonded” in the final battle against the evil deamon Crimeous. These two unlikely neighbors are able to push aside their troubled pasts to find happiness and pleasure with each other in the present, and the promising hope of something even more permanent going forward.

Upon first reading this novella, I was so worried we’d ultimately discover that Dragos was responsible for killing Raina’s husband in battle, but thankfully we focus instead on what it means for these two to explore a relationship together at this particular point in their lives. For Dragos, he has only known the horrors of war. At one point in the story, Raina offers to bring him salve for a burn on his arm, and he reveals that it is the first time he’s been voluntarily touched by another in all of his centuries on this Earth. The glimpses of vulnerability we witness for this weathered soldier are almost enough to bring a tear to your eye, as you realize that beneath the tough exterior lies a man who simply craves the soft touch of another. He has craved Raina since she first moved in next door, and when she finally offers herself to him, he can’t help but fall hard and fast for this loving woman and caring mother.

For Raina, she initially worries that Dragos will feel more for him than she could ever reciprocate, especially considering she’s the one to touch and physically please him for the first time ever. Even though a letter from her belated husband clearly states he hopes she can move on to find happiness with another during her immortal life, she can’t help but keep a part of herself back from Dragos in a foolhardy attempt to prevent herself from falling for this deamon. Dragos is willing to accept any part of her she’s willing to give, but can Raina acknowledge that there’s room in her heart for both Dragos and her former bonded? That giving her heart to this man doesn’t mean she’s replacing the memory of her husband, but rather she’s allowing herself the opportunity to move on and make new memories that can co-exist with rather than take over those of the man she loved before. Again, there’s definitely a lot of emotional baggage to unpack in such a short novella!

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

Series: Etherya’s Earth, book 4.5. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat it here for posterity: I will read anything and everything this author ever releases.

Final Impressions: Loved it, adored it, consider myself officially smitten. It’s not simply the tale of a male losing his v-card, but also an observation of how two people can put aside their traumatic pasts, and convince themselves they are worthy of love. How it’s possible to open up one’s heart again after having found and lost true love before. We not only fall in love with Dragos and Raina, but also Raina’s two adorable sons, Galen and Ekon. There is so much to love about this novella, and I’m excited to see what else this anthology has in store!

Smut Level: The first time this series presented us with a deamon falling for a vampyre we were privy to the most alpha of males who was well-versed in the ways of pleasure. This time around, Dragos might not have the experience, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a quick study in the ways of pleasure, or dirty talk for that matter. As a former soldier, he is more than capable of following all the sultry orders that Raina has to give in the bedroom.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tarina Anthologies. 668 Pages.

Madly Inn Love by Amelia Foster

Some couples like to refer to each other by cute names such as “sweetie” or “honey”. The terms of endearment chosen by the leads of this book include the Greek goddess of the Underworld and “slimy weasel”. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. 

What’s it About?

Blake Alden’s sister made the proposition to return to Willow Falls at the perfect time, when Blake needed a fresh start. But the path to a new beginning was littered with bumps, the biggest being the County Program Manager who repeatedly stalled granting the business license they needed to reopen. After the third letter requesting yet more information, Blake makes a trip to the courthouse, ready to fight the man bent on driving her insane.

Keeping his name free of any black marks or scandals is at the top of Mason Richmond’s to-do list. Right below climbing the small political ladder he’d envisioned for himself. Even if that means being stricter with his best friend’s girlfriend and her family to avoid any hint of favoritism. However his overzealous caution results in a fiery goddess showing up in his office and turning his carefully ordered world into chaos.

Blake sees Mason’s fledgling campaign for Maine state representative as an ideal chance to not only show him why the inn would benefit his public persona, but also give herself a much needed shot of excitement she missed since being back in the small, sleepy town.

First Impressions

Madly Inn Love is one of those rare and special books where the sequel may have surpassed the fun of the first novel in the series. Where Truly Inn Love set the stage and the scene of this world we’d been given a glimpse into, this second novel lets us dive deep to truly get to know and fall in love with the characters and this small town they call home. The author was getting her feet wet building the foundation in book one, but it felt as though from page one of this sequel she was fully prepared to take us along on this journey of ambition and love between Blake and Mason, and I for one was completely on board to go along for the journey! Twists, turns, bumps and all. We were first introduced to our love birds in the first novel as secondary supporting characters to the main couple, but even then I think we could see their personalities shining through, desperate to take center stage.

While I definitely enjoyed the couple from book one, it felt more like we were observers to their story, watching the events pass along all the while knowing their happily ever after was just around the corner. When it came to Black and Mason though, we quickly become fully invested in their story to the point where it feels as though they are friends we know beyond the page. They may have started off, not quite enemies per se, but definitely rivals who were wary of each other. As they spend more time together throughout the length of Mason’s campaign, we see how their volleys of witty banter, and even flirtatious insults, slowly start to break down the walls they’ve built up to protect themselves from anyone who might try to get too close. As these walls fall down piece by piece, the fun and vulnerable sides to their personalities start to shine through, and they slowly start to recognize a kindred spirit in the other.

 Bitter Pasts and Family Chaos

Blake and Mason start things off on a rather rough foot when our story opens, as Mason is causing continuous delays in issuing a business license to Blake and her sisters for the most seemingly innocuous of technicalities. After storming into his office ready for a fight, she leaves with not only the license they need to reopen their late aunt and uncle’s inn, but an offer to be his campaign manager during his run for state representative. Mason certainly wasn’t expecting this woman to waltz into his office one day, but her determination and ambition for success endeared her to him. Both of these headstrong characters were stuck in a rut in their lives, going along day by day through the motions. However, the more time they spend together the more they awaken in each other the drive for something more. The fact they eventually develop a romantic and physical relationship honestly seemed like the most natural evolution of their connection from foes to quasi colleagues, friends to lovers. Even though they might try to keep things light and casual at the start, the discovery and confrontation of their past familial pains result in their connection growing deeper each and every day. 

In book one we discovered the sad past involving Blake’s parents, who were more invested in living their own lives than taking care of or showing any affection towards their three daughters. One day they were dropped off to live with their aunt and uncle, and when their parents died in a tragic accident, Blake and her older sister came together to care for their youngest sibling. The lack of parental love followed by death took a toll on the Alden sisters, with Blake especially feeling the need to close off her emotions to reflect an aura of strength and dependability that her sisters so desperately needed at the time. Now that they are all grown, Blake is almost trying to find her place and purpose in life seeing as its become increasingly clear that her sisters can take care of themselves. When she discovers that Mason was also “raised” by an unloving mother who only found disappointment with every choice he made in life, she finds yet another thing to admire about this man. He refuses to crumble to the pressures of his powerful mother, and also wants to make a political name for himself without relying on the influence of his family name. His true family stems from the friends who have chosen to be part of his life rather than the family he was simply born into. The difficult pasts these two characters had to overcome made them the strong people they are today, willing to stand up and fight when faced with any kind of adversity. It’s yet another reason these two couldn’t help but fall in love. 

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

Series: Inn Love, book 2. When I saw who the lead characters of this novel were, I couldn’t wait to get started. Knowing that book 3 will focus on the youngest Alden sister, I’m practically giddy with anticipation. 

Final Impressions: One of my very mild, minimal critiques of book one was that it didn’t really have all that much conflict or drama at the end of the day. That theme continues in this second book, where we’re sort of constantly waiting for the second shoe to drop, but it never does. Surprisingly though, I couldn’t have been more thrilled that this was the way the story played out! I fell in love with these characters so deeply, that if anything had threatened the possibility of their happily ever after I think I may have thrown my Kindle at the wall. The fact that Blake and Mason could always remain fairly level-headed when confronted with a challenge in life was admirable, especially when you recognize the strength they drew upon from each other to stand up tall rather than crumble under pressure. This delightful romance had me smiling, giggling, and cheering for our couple literally from page one until the final word of the novel. I was almost upset to see this story end, but I can’t wait to see where book three will take us!

Smut Level: Blake and Mason were positively delicious. They try as long as possible to tamper down the chemistry simmering between them seeing as they develop a kind of professional relationship when Blake becomes his campaign manager. Let’s just say though that their attempts are futile, and it doesn’t take long before they’re getting all hot, sweaty and bothered. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Sweet Heat Books. 205 Pages. 

The Cursed King by Abigail Owen

The battle of the dragon clans has been building to this final moment. When the smoke and ashes clear, we can’t help but wonder who will emerge victorious to rule over them all. Let the battle commence!

What’s it About?

He will burn. She will rise.

Airk Azdajah, the rightful King of the White Clan, spent half a millennium being tortured by the false High King Pytheios. The only reason he’s alive is a curse— the man to kill Airk will be consumed in his own fire. Which is why Pytheios kept Airk alive, barely, unable to shift in his prison cage, driving the creature half of him into madness. Airk escaped, but he’ll never be truly free. What good is a king who can never let his feral dragon loose, never fly, and never lead his people? He’s better off dead.

Angelika Amon is the last unmated phoenix. The problem? She has no powers. Zip. Zilch. Angelika hates being dormant, especially now that her three sisters are blissfully mated to powerful dragon shifter kings and are very much part of the fight to take down the rotting king Pytheios, their parents’ killer. What good is a useless runt of a phoenix in a battle to save the dragon kingdom?

Desperate to find some way to help, she offers herself to Airk as a mate — just for political leverage. But a dormant phoenix is no damn use to him just like a dragon who can’t shift is no use to her. Until Pytheios sets his sights on Angelika for himself…

First Impressions

I think a very real part of me is still in disbelief that this incredible series is finally over. We have been enveloped in this story of dragon shifters, phoenixes, kings vs. king and good against evil for not only four books in this Inferno Rising series, but also an additional five primary works in the companion Fire’s Edge series. It’s definitely possible I’ll be going through an intense period of withdrawal over the next few months. However, I’m also thrilled that we could close out this series with two leading characters who once again manage to capture our hearts in the midst of perhaps more crushing adversity than any other dragon or phoenix has experienced so far in either series. Honestly, I didn’t even know that was still possible at this point! Every novel has presented us with two destined mates who somehow face debilitating challenges head-on, all in the hopes of saving their clans from the centuries of manipulative rule at the hands of a mad-king drunk from power. We’ve always seen two strong lead characters who are stronger together as a pair than apart, and while that is also true in many ways of Angelika and Airk, this is really the first time that we’ve examined a couple who are seen by both themselves and others as a liability.

They are determined to join in the fight against King Pytheios, but before they can do that they must first prove their worth to those who constantly try to push them to observe from the sidelines. Angelika might be a phoenix like her powerful sisters, but unlike them any power she may have been willed by her dying mother lies dormant within her. Instead, her primary strength involves convincing other dragons to join in their fight against evil. Airk on the other hand has almost too much power within him. After centuries of imprisonment by King Pytheios, and his dragon trapped within his mind with no ability to fly free, this beast has become a feral creature within him rather than a seamless part of him. To release his dragon now would run the risk of never being able to rein him back in again. Something Airk fears even more though than his dragon overtaking his very existence is the possibility of his creature harming Angelika in the process through her determination to have them mated. He can try to fight their connection as much as he wants, but if this series has taught us anything, it’s that two destined mates with this amount of scorching natural chemistry will never be able to stay apart for long.

The Culmination of Kings and Queens

Even though I didn’t want to see this series come to an end, I must say it was one of the more perfect examples of how to bring a long-running series to a close. We saw all of the key players from the previous novels, the companion series, and even a surprise appearance from those in another series by this author that I didn’t even realize was going to play a role in the events of this final book! The beauty of how all of our characters came together in this ultimate battle wasn’t just that we see how willing they were to support each other, or that we were granted one final opportunity to be in their presence before having to say goodbye. Instead, it highlights that no one character, or even one couple from this series, would have been able to face King Pytheios alone. It literally takes every single one of them joining together as an ultimate source of power to even stand a chance in the face of such evil.

Another feature of this series which is highlighted particularly well in this last book is the political struggle for power over the dragon clans. Up until this point, we’ve always known that King Pytheios is the premier representation of evil, unwilling to give up his reign. We are also privy to the extremes he’s gone to up to now in order to not only assume power, but to keep it. He betrayed his rulers, his people, and even his family to stay on the throne. And while part of this can be explained away as someone consumed with power, this final book reveals how much he believed his actions were in fact for the betterment of dragons everywhere. In a way, he too thought he was on the side of right, battling against those who were trying to take their society backwards to the way things used to be living under the rule of phoenixes rather than dragons. It finally provides a window into why King Pytheios fought with such ferocity. It wasn’t simply that he didn’t want to give up power, it’s that he also believed in what he was fighting for, however misguided and based in misconceptions he may have been in the end.

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

Series: Inferno Rising, book 4. I may have secretly wished this series could last forever, but I’m also happy with how everything finally came together for a satisfying conclusion. If anything, it makes me even more excited to see what Abigail Owen will have in store for us next!

Final Impressions: There are two critical details to keep in mind before starting this read, which can also apply to any final book in your favorite series. 1) Treasure each and every turn of the page that you get to spend with these characters for the last time. I can only keep my fingers crossed that maybe one day in the future we’ll see a light-hearted follow up novella which details what our characters are up to following the concluding events in this book. 2) Seeing as this is the final novel, all bets are off. You never know which characters might survive or ultimately fall to the forces of evil. It adds a thrilling level of suspense as you constantly wonder how or if our heroes will succeed. While the progression of some events were a bit tricky to follow along with logistically, overall this was a breathtaking and electrifying climax to the series.

Smut Level: Airk may be a virgin seeing as he’s spent centuries trapped alone in an isolated mountain prison, but that doesn’t mean he’s uneducated in the ways of pleasure. When a secret friend brings him a copy of the Kama Sutra, his years of study benefits Angelika in every way possible.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Amara. 419 Pages.