Beyond Farwin Wood by Drea Damara

Wickrits, stroomphblutels, and skithers oh my!

What’s it About? 

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Agatha Blinney’s curse is unleashed when Franci Doltman dresses up as her favorite movie star. Now the storeowners on Blinney Lane must rally together to save Franci before the possession claims her forever.

Valerie Millville is tired of her controlling mother, disappointing men, and being misunderstood. Determined to escape her life on Blinney Lane, she and troublemaker Ricky Allister volunteer to find a cure by venturing inside one of the cursed weeping books.

From mythical lands to peculiar allies to other worldly creatures, Valerie learns not all stories are written in stone—or even in one dimension. Can she and Ricky save Franci in time or will their friend become another casualty of the curse that binds Blinney Lane? Will Farwin Wood show them secrets undiscovered or are mysteries merely in the eye of the beholder? Get ready for an adventure that will transport you into the pages of a fantasy world beyond reality.

First Impressions

This book was almost like if Dr. Seuss had an influence in creating the world from the NeverEnding Story. Needless to say, there’s some interesting lands and creatures to discover here! The residents of Blinney Lane exist in what we would identify as the present day, albeit with some intense supernatural elements at work, as they are impacted by an old witch’s curse that restricts them to living within a 3 block radius of this small Salem town. However, some of the residents have successfully traveled to a faraway place: the land of Farwin Wood. This world is more fantastical yet also historical in nature, and it doesn’t exist in this dimension. Rather, one must fall asleep on top of a magical weeping book which describes this fictional world in order to go there.

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At first, I wondered where the heck this story was going! We have so many characters introduced rather quickly that exist in two different worlds linked together through magic and the written word. I wasn’t sure who or where the focus would lie. However, it’s when we see these two worlds collide that the story truly comes alive. Farwin Wood ended up being a delightfully intriguing world that I couldn’t get enough of! We didn’t know what might lie around the corner in wait for our characters with every turn of the page. We feel like we’re going on the adventure right along with them discovering new lands, new creatures, new maladies, and even new passions.

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Setting the Scene

So let’s do a crash course in the plot of this book. We begin with Franci, who is a bit of a misunderstood wall flower on Blinney Lane. She’s just lost her mother, and is desperate to break out of her shell. Franci decides to dress up as her favorite movie star from the golden years of Hollywood in the hopes of acquiring just a bit of her moxie. But because this is Blinney Lane, where the curse of a witch from hundreds of years before haunts its residents, Franci becomes literally possessed by the personality of this long lost Hollywood starlet, and her friends on Blinney Lane fear the real Franci might be lost to them forever. They have only one option. Some of them must travel to the mystical book world of Farwin Wood in the hopes of finding a magical remedy to Franci’s possession.

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Enter Valerie and Ricky. Valerie ends up being our primary female lead character. She has a background in potions, lotions and herbal remedies, so she feels she’s the best person to travel to Farwin Wood in search of a cure. She’s also looking for an escape from her overbearing mother, as well as the monotonous day-to-day of being trapped on Blinney Lane. She’ll need a guide to get her through the book, which is where Ricky comes into play. He’s the younger nephew of the lead character from book one, and has been to Farwin Wood before. I initially assumed we’d see a romance develop between Ricky and Valerie, but there’s actually a man of Farwin Wood whose path she’s about to cross. This is when the adventure truly begins!

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Ranthrop is one of the rulers of Farwin Wood, looking for adventure following the end of a war which had been waged throughout the land for over 20 years. This violent war ended at the end of book one, and peace now reigns supreme. He’s restless, and desperate for something to capture his attention. Who should come along but two visitors from the mysterious faraway land of Blinney, looking for a cure to help their friend back home. Ranthrop knows where this cure might be found, but it’s a several day’s journey to another land which the residents of Farwin Wood fear above all else. He’s determined to accompany Valerie on her quest, not just because it will provide him with some action following the end of the war, but also because he can’t deny his immediate attraction to the young and outspoken woman who has ventured into his world.

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Where Worlds Collide

This was such a fun adventure, and I can’t deny that I wore a stupid smirk on my face for a large portion of this read. The chemistry between Ranthrop and Valerie was enchanting, and you can’t help but be seduced by their verbal sparring matches. She’s convinced upon first meeting that he’s a brute, seeings as he initially mistook her for a new wench in his castle keep. However, throughout their journey she starts to discover the caring and selfless side to his character. Valerie also sees how Ranthrop must confront the errors and guilts of his war-filled past with each passing day. Their journey may have started off with Ranthrop acting as Valerie’s protector, but by the end their roles have almost been reversed. She must step in to comfort him as he faces all the pain he’s caused others through years of war. Valerie questions if she can really be falling for a man in a story book. Surely he’s pure fiction, but then why do the feelings she’s starting to develop for this soldier seem so real?

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I must say I was personally enamored with Ranthrop. He’s obviously a very masculine and physically strong character, yet he also has this kind of sweet innocence and genuine curiosity about his nature. You can tell he’s eager to learn everything about something new he happens upon, so when Valerie makes her way into his world he’s immediately enthralled. As for Valerie, she’s outspoken and full of spunk. Far from the demure and soft-spoken ladies that you’d expect to find in Farwin Wood. She’s not afraid to speak her mind in front of Ranthrop, and let him know when he’s being an ass. For his part, Ranthrop can’t quite understand what it is about her that intrigues him so, but by the end of their journey he’s come to realize that he’s finally met his match in a woman. His other half. You couldn’t ask for a more entertaining couple.

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Back on Blinney Lane

At the same time that Valerie and Ranthrop are roaming the world of Farwin Wood, we have another side romance happening between Franci and another character back in the real world of Blinney Lane. At first I was worried how these multiple story lines would blend together, especially considering we have the couple from the first novel coming back into play as well. I wondered if it would be too many story lines going on at once. I will admit, at the beginning it was kind of tricky to keep all the plots and various characters straight, but over time you really do get to know everyone, and know them well.

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We become fully invested in every story, and you really don’t want any of them to end. Throughout the book we would focus on Valerie and Ranthrop in one scene as their journey through Farwin Wood progressed, and then we’d switch back to see the progression of Franci’s madness on Blinney Lane, as well as how a young man becomes fully invested in helping her survive. To see how this man starts to develop deeper feelings for Franci, a woman whose friendship he’d always taken for granted, was just as entertaining as the journey through Farwin Wood. It was a fun dynamic back and forth between these two worlds that never felt forced or unnecessary.

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

Series: Blinney Lane, book 2. I would probably recommend reading book 1 before starting with this one. It helped that I received a crash course of the events from book 1, but even then I felt like I missed out on some of the background details for our character’s personalities. That being said, I’m fully in love with Farwin Wood, and can’t wait to visit again in the future.

Final Impressions: It takes a bit of time to set up our story and learn how to distinguish all of our characters, but once we see Valerie fall through the book into Farwin Wood it really does become a fun adventure. Farwin Wood was such a unique world full of fun and entertaining characters, I really didn’t want to leave it! Although, if I actually happened to find myself within this mystical world full of wickrits and skithers, I’d probably want to get the heck out of there as fast as possible!

Smut Level: Very tasteful. Nothing overly smutty.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. BHC Press/Indigo. 288 Pages.

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Dirty English by Ilsa Madden-Mills

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

What’s it About?

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

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

First Impressions 

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

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The Sentimental Fighter

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

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

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Needless Repetition

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

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

Coming Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

Jumping out of a plane in general doesn’t hold much appeal for me. Doing it with a raging fire burning below? No thank youuuuu!

What’s it About? 

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Little else in life is as dangerous as fire jumping. But there’s also little else as thrilling—at least to Rowan Tripp. Being a Missoula smoke jumper is in Rowan’s blood: her father is a legend in the field. At this point, returning to the wilds of Montana for the season feels like coming home—even with reminders of the partner she lost last season still lingering in the air.

One of the best of this year’s rookie crop, Gulliver Curry is a walking contradiction, a hotshot firefighter with a big vocabulary and a winter job at a kids’ arcade. And though Rowan, as a rule, doesn’t hook up with other smoke jumpers, Gull is convinced he can change her mind…

But everything is thrown off balance when a dark presence lashes out against Rowan, looking to blame someone for last year’s tragedy. Rowan knows she can’t complicate things with Gull—any distractions in the air or on the ground could be lethal. But if she doesn’t find someone she can lean on when the heat gets intense, her life may go down in flames.

First Impressions

This book has three main areas of focus. 1) The developing romance between Rowan and Gull, 2) the mystery person who seems intent on blaming Rowan for the death of her jump partner the year before, and 3) the logistics and intricacies of jumping fire. While points one and two were entertaining, I must say I felt there was almost too much focus on the details of jumping fire, as well as the process involved to put out a forest fire. Now, I know what you’re thinking. The book is called Chasing Fire, what the hell did you expect the book to be about?!

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I know, I know, I should have expected some background information as to what that involved, but after awhile it just got to be too much. One too many metaphors comparing the fire to a dragon, cutting off the head and tail, flanking it, jumping it, drowning it, cutting down trees with saws, etc, etc. Let’s just say if you wanna know the ins and outs of putting out a forest fire, this is definitely the book for you. I could definitely appreciate the hard work and research which undoubtedly went into making these details as accurate as possible, but it almost overtook the book at times.

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Coming Together Through Fire

It might be against Rowan’s personal code to get intimately involved with a fellow fire jumper, but we all knew it was just a matter of time before she and Gull went for a tumble in the sheets. All that heat and adrenaline was all the kindling that was needed to set their loins a burnin’. Ok, ok, enough with the fire+sex puns. While Rowan was insistent in the beginning that nothing could happen between them, as the summer progresses and the dangers of fire and their mystery assailant continue to grow, Rowan and Gull developed a kind of connection and closeness which was deeper than that between mere teammates.

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Gull is determined to protect Rowan from whoever is taunting and blaming her for the death of her former teammate the year before. As the threats against her grow in intensity, I must say I appreciated that they didn’t just sit back and wait for the cops to give them information about the case. Although hell, considering how quickly gossip and info spreads in this small Montana town they really didn’t need the cops at all to start contemplating possible suspects and motives! While they didn’t necessarily do their own sleuthing (which would have seemed unrealistic given their strenuous day job), they did plenty of their own hypothesizing. They were very logical with their thought processes, but almost too methodical at times. Whenever they would come together to discuss possible culprits, they almost lacked emotion in their exchanges, as though they were reading from a list of clues from top to bottom. It was a bit too robotic at times.

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From opening bell I identified three main suspects as to who I thought might be behind Rowan’s torment. One is murdered fairly early on, so that narrowed it down a bit. The cops in the novel were so focused on one particular character, and you couldn’t help but feel that the answer can’t be that cut and dry. Once we do finally uncover the identity of the killer, and said killer is subdued (let’s face it we’re dealing with happy endings here), I can’t say it was incredibly satisfying. It was actually kind of a tragic conclusion. We see what can happen when someone is overcome with pain and the loss of a loved one. It can drive them to do crazy things, and commit heinous acts, all in the name of love or justice. Gull manages to show a bit of sympathy towards this villain, which was really quite endearing. As for Rowan though, she always has been and always will be a tough-as-nails woman. The way she sees it, this person put her team in danger, and threatened the lives of her comrades. She’s one to constantly look forward rather than back, so in her mind it’s not something to cry about. I can appreciate her strength in the face of all this danger, but her response was also a tad heartless when all was said and done.

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Tales of Romance

This book was kind of loooong. There was a side story of romance involving Rowan’s father and his new lady love that felt somewhat unnecessary in my opinion. I mean, good on ya buddy for finding a woman to make you happy, both in and outside of the bedroom, but what does this have to do with the overall story? We see how there’s an attempt to link it back to Rowan, and her inability to cope with another woman in her father’s life. I won’t necessarily try to bring Freud into the discussion here…but Gull certainly did! I did find it funny that the romance between Rowan and Gull was, in a way, less romantic than the other one we see playing out with her father. For Gull and Rowan, their relationship definitely starts off as a horny itch that needs scratching. They do respect each other, and there’s a definite admiration for the other’s strength and ability to jump fire. However, at the end of the day there was something lacking in their exchanges that just didn’t make me feel all warm and tingly.

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Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: In a word I’d say it was an ok read. It starts and ends on a suspenseful and fiery note, but some of the central story elements started to feel repetitive after a while. The identity of our mystery villain wasn’t too big of a surprise, although I will say I was surprised at how emotional this read became at the end. If this book were 100 pages shorter I think it could have been a big improvement.

Smut Level: You’d think these two would be too exhausted to get down and dirty after jumping fire, but it seems they can always find a bit of extra strength. They also have the delightful tendency for shower sex. Nothing like washing off the dirt and grime of one blaze merely to start another blaze between them.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 481 pages.

The Rookie by Abigail Owen

Aidan has convinced himself that he’s not worthy of ever finding a mate. And yet the need he feels for Sera is undeniable. When he discovers she carries the sign of being a dragon mate, he starts to hope that Sera could be his.

What’s it About? 

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To escape exile, Aidan Paytah has had to prove himself worthy. Every second of every damn day. He fought with everything he had to earn his precarious place on the Huracán team of dragon shifter enforcers. He can’t fail or afford distractions, no matter how temptingly sweet. Total loyalty to the clans and dedication to his team is the only way.

Sera Morrison lost her parents and her husband in short order, leaving her a single mother running her family winery alone. Nothing could ever have prepared her for the discovery that she’s a destined dragon mate. But once she finds out, there’s only one man she wants—the one who walks away.

However, the Alliance Council has its own agenda. They want to use her as a political pawn and force a mating that could ultimately kill her to save the High King. Aidan has no choice but to kidnap her, even if it means their close proximity reinforces their own mating bond. And mating with him could end up being a far worse fate for Sera….

First Impressions

It’s pretty clear to us readers that Sera isn’t just your average widow looking to protect her young son, Blake. She’s a dragon mate, and her mate is Aidan. Bada boom bada bing. No mystery there. That being said, it’s still a fun ride to see the process of Sera and the rest of the Huracán enforcers discover the truth of what she really is. Something I really appreciated about this book was that it added some surprise elements which truly distinguished it from the previous two novels in the series. We aren’t just dealing with another woman who discovers she has a significant role to play within the world of dragons.

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The sign of being a dragon mate is that the brand of the dragon clan the mate is destined for suddenly appears on the woman’s neck. The fact that Sera has not just one dragon clan brand on her neck, but three, throws everyone for a loop! What could it mean? Could she pick and choose anyone from among those three clans? Could she possibly have three mates instead of one? Not to mention we all question what her sign as a dragon mate might mean for her young son, who is a mere mortal. The truly brilliant aspect of this novel though was that we didn’t just see these events carry out from Sera and Aidan’s perspectives. There’s a third villainous character whose identity remains a mystery, but he’s convinced that Sera is meant for him. She appears to him in his mind, and he’ll do anything to have her as his mate in real life. The added problem is that we learn he’s one of Aidan’s fellow dragon shifter enforcers. Duh duh duhhhhh.

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The Risk of Mating

Sera has always been wary of the connections she’s felt to Aidan, which is stronger than any she’s ever felt before. Even when compared with her late husband, and the father of her son. However, she and Aidan have an undeniable chemistry, and when she’s told that one of the dragon brands on her neck is the blue color of Aidan’s clan, she starts to wonder if they’ve been destined to end up together all along. The fellow enforcers inform her that she’ll feel the link with her one true mate in her gut, and her thought immediately goes to Aidan. The fact that he’s always treated her son Blake as a treasure rather than a nuisance makes her realize the importance of her mate accepting her and her son as a package deal. And yet, there’s still a sense of doubt.

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She’s fully aware of the dangers of what could happen if Aidan isn’t her mate, and the two attempt to come together. She’ll burst into flames, die a painful death, and Aidan would be able to do nothing but watch on as she turns to Ash in his arms. Not the prettiest picture here! When Sera realizes the distinct possibility of death should she choose the wrong mate, she really doesn’t express any immediate concern over her own life. Instead she immediately thinks of Aidan. The pain it would cause him to watch her die in his arms, and the loss of half his soul should it turn out that they aren’t actually mates. She worries about how he’d survive after something like that. Who would comfort him? The fact she was more concerned with his well being rather than her own demonstrates how truly selfless she is. She can’t help but notice though that Aidan doesn’t seem too excited at the thought of seeing his clan’s blue color on the back of her neck.

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From Dreams to Reality

As for Aidan, you’d think that the frequency of sex dreams he’s had recently featuring Sera would have been a sure indicator to him that this human was his mate. However, he just assumes she’s the star of his wet dreams because of his physical desire for her. He never allowed himself to hope that it signified she belonged to him. After all, he’s an orphan. A nobody. He’s had to fight his way up to become an enforcer and earn the trust of his teammates. The death of his parents when he was a youngster turned him into an outsider within his former community. Never in his wildest dreams, even though they featured Sera, did he every think he’d be worthy to be selected as someone’s mate. That must be an honor reserved for those who are leaders in their community. Especially when he discovers that one of the three clan brands she carries on her neck belongs to the High King who is near death for lack of a mate. Surely an outcast orphan like himself could never stand a chance compared to the king of kings.

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A Broken System

The broken system of the mating process really comes to the forefront in this book. It was hinted at previously in books one and two, but really wasn’t as much of a focus as we see here. We’re starting to understand a bit more regarding the inner workings of this world, and the political aspirations of the Alliance Council which brings possible dragon mates together for the official mating process. In addition, we see how the sheer desperation of these male dragons to find a mate is so strong that it even has the ability to pit teammates again each other. This Huracán team consists of dragon shifters that have fought and flown together for years. They are brothers in every sense of the word. And yet, when Sera appears with the brands of three different dragon clans on the back of her neck, each team member of the relevant clan is overcome with an intense feeling of jealousy and possession over the right to mate with her.

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They’re desperate to finally feel that pure emotional and physical connection with another, and the fact it stops them from aging is an added bonus. We can understand how this desperation which has been built into their society could impact one’s ability to determine if someone was actually their true mate, or if their hope at finding her would turn into an unhealthy desire to mate with anyone who might give them that link. The repercussions of mating with someone who isn’t your true mate brings disastrous and traumatic consequences to the extreme. Seeing someone you were convinced was your one true mate burn to ash in agonizing pain in front of you. To live through that, and then be presented with the possibility of another mate? It’s clear how that might make someone go crazy with need.

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The Hidden Villain

This brings us to our “villain”. I must say the constant hinting as to the hidden identity of this person was brilliant!! We don’t know who it might be, but then we see the list of possibilities narrowed down to being just one of the other two men whose brand she wears on her neck. While we see things from his point of view, and hear his delusional inner musings about how Sera must be his destined mate, his identity is kept a secret until the very end of the book. Just when you think that maybe a chapter or scene will end with a big reveal of who is thinking these thoughts, we switch to focus on something else. It ramps up the suspense to an amazing level!

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I was constantly switching back and forth from thinking it was one dragon, and then in the next scene you start to wonder if it might be the other one. Talk about suspicion whiplash!!! Throughout so much of the book we see this “villain” as someone who has lost grip with reality. You want Aidan and Sera to figure out who it is, and for them to succeed in realizing that they are destined mates. But by the end you see how easy it could be in this world to be overcome with the hope of finding a mate that you could go slightly crazy in the search for it. That desire ultimately pitted this man against his brothers, and it was such a heart breaking realization for him to make in the heat of battle. It’s eventually a surprisingly emotional and touching reveal, I definitely had tears in my eyes.

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

Series: Fire’s Edge, book 3. Why isn’t book 4 in my hands right now? I have a feeling the next one is going to be an emotional roller coaster from start to finish.

Final Impressions: I really appreciated the fact that this book started to tear away at the intrigue and political deviousness of the Alliance Council. It’s something that’s been hinted at and touched upon quite briefly in the previous books, which were much more focused on the process of a dragon finding his human mate, the shifting process, etc. We also finally uncover the identity of the spy within this group of enforcers. In spite of all the espionage and political discussions at play here, I was shocked at how emotional of a read this book ended up being. I was NOT expecting that at all, and it knocked my socks off.

Smut Level: It might take a while for Sera and Aidan to come together in the waking world, but these two engage in some dream sex that is guaranteed to set the sheets on fire!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Amara. 298 Pages

All I Want by J. Daniels

This is a slightly bizarre romance in that you’re almost rooting for our lead couple to not end up together.

What’s it About?

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Luke Evans is a heartbreaker.
I didn’t want to give mine to him. Not when he kept me out.
He gave me enough, just enough to make me fall in love with him. I say this to convince myself. But I know the truth.
I would’ve fallen in love with him at a distance.
Handing my heart over to Luke was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I was naive when I wished for more, when I hoped he wanted the same things I did.
I try to hate him. I try to forget him.
But it’s not that easy.
Love is a ruthless bitch, and I’m her latest victim.
~*~
Tessa Kelly is a man-eater.
When she sets her sights on you, she doesn’t just consume your heart, she goes for your soul.
What we had was perfect, real, and all I would ever want.
But she destroyed it.
She destroyed us.
I try to hate her. I try to forget her.
But it’s not that easy.
Love is for people who have hope, and I have none.

First Impressions

Tessa and Luke have a bit of a topsy-turvy relationship. They dated for a brief period of three months before Tessa broke it off for two primary reasons that unfortunately she never really bothered to tell Luke about directly. 1) Luke never opened up with her about anything personal. During all of the time they spent together he would always change the subject whenever she asked him anything personal about his own life, especially when asked about his parents. The most personal thing she ever learned about him in three months was probably the fact that he had a slight obsession with raw cookie dough. And that’s not even because he told her outright. It was just an easy observation. 2) Tessa had a false pregnancy scare, and when she tried to feel out whether or not Luke ever wanted a wife and family he answered with a firm and resounding “no”. Who would have thought that the one time he admitted something personal about himself it would signal the end of their relationship? Now, I’ll admit it was pretty shitty of her to end their relationship so abruptly, with no explanation to Luke as to why she was ending things. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they had a rather toxic relationship in many other respects.

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An Attempt to Move On

In the opening scene of this book we learn it’s been almost a year since Tessa broke off her relationship with Luke, and since then they’ve been awkwardly trying to avoid each other. Whenever they do happen to find themselves in close proximity, they snap at each other before eventually blowing things out of proportion into a massive argument. Tessa has finally decided she’s had enough wallowing over her failed relationship with Luke, and that it’s time to move on. Watch out online dating, here comes Tessa! Poor girl. Little does she how many weirdos and creeps are waiting out there to connect with her. Now, while it seems like Tessa isn’t fully over her break up with Luke, she realizes that the best way to move on is to start interacting with other men. Not to mention they might be able to help her scratch the horny itch that has been plaguing her since things ended with Luke.

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Granted, having an adult conversation with Luke about why their relationship wasn’t working for her, and that it was time to move on probably would have helped her in getting over him more fully. However, online dating seemed like an easier option. As for Luke, he has been cursing Tessa’s name ever since she ended things between them. Sure, he still desires her body, but he’ll admit to anyone willing to listen that she’s a man-eater, and that he hates her. So the fact that Tessa’s decision to start dating again sparked a jealous rage within Luke that made him want to get her back underneath him in bed didn’t really scream romance to me, but rather it sort of screamed immaturity. Especially because, again, he doesn’t choose to have a conversation with her about how seeing her flirt with other men makes him realize he still desires her. Instead he gets all territorial on her whenever she brings another man into their friend group. He might as well have just lifted his leg and peed all around her.

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Wait, Seriously? 

Another aspect of their relationship which didn’t sit right with me was that their bickering over their past, and Tessa’s new foray into the dating world, would oftentimes lead to angry sex. Sometimes angry sex can be sexy, but with this read it left a bad taste in my mouth. There is one scene in particular where Luke and Tessa are about to have sex again for the first time since they broke up the previous year. They both seem pissed off about their continued desire for each other, but Luke seems determined to stake his claim, while Tessa seems like she just wants to have some mind-blowing orgasms before they both go their separate ways again. Right before they do the deed, Tessa realizes that Luke isn’t wearing a condom.

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Seeing that she had a pregnancy scare last year, not to mention the fact that it’s a PERFECTLY REASONABLE REQUEST, she asks Luke to grab a condom before they go further. Luke throws a bit of a hissy fit, asking why he needs to wear one if they’ve done it before without one, and she knows how much he doesn’t like the feel of wearing a condom while having sex. Tessa stands firm and asks that he wear one, and his childish response is that if she wants him to wear one so bad she can go grab it herself and put it on for him. Ummm…what…the…fiddleberries?!?! I’m sorry, that’s just a ridiculous and demeaning demand. The fact that Tessa went and did his bidding sort of made it impossible for me to fully support either of these characters going forward. I mean, good for her for not giving into his bullying and proceeding without a condom, but you can’t help but feel that these two should probably just call a spade a spade, and move on.

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Overcoming the Past

Luke has certainly had a troubled upbringing. His father is an alcoholic who went off the deep-end following the death of Luke’s mother. At the age of 15 Luke not only lost his mother, but in a way he also lost his father to the bottle. When Tessa first came into his life last year, it was the first time in years that he felt a sense of hope for the future, and her mere presence calmed him in a way he’d never felt before. Here’s the problem. He NEVER shared that with Tessa. I understand that they weren’t dating for very long, simply a matter of three months, and that’s pretty early to look back on the darkness from his childhood. Here’s my problem though. Tessa may not have explained to him back then why she was ending things, but in the span of this book she clearly states on multiple occasions that his inability to share certain personal details of his life with her is the primary reason why a relationship didn’t work between them back then, and won’t work now. Luke seems determined to have Tessa back in his life, and yet he still seems completely unwilling to open up with her about anything. Honestly, this was one of the main reasons why I felt they simply didn’t belong with each other.

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Tessa made it clear what she needed from him in a relationship, and he refused to give that to her. At one point Luke actually does share with Tessa the details of how his mother died when he was young. Tessa is fully present to comfort him in any way possible, but when she starts to ask about his dad he completely closes up and decides to move out of town without telling her that he’s going, or where he’s going. Dude! A bit dramatic are we? He refuses to answer any of her phone calls, and tells all his friends not to tell her his whereabouts. Again, this isn’t how adults deal with drama! Sit down and have an honest conversation already!! When Luke finally does come back into town we see that Tessa is the one apologizing to him for “pushing him” too hard, and we never really see him say he’s sorry for leaving her with no explanation. She says she’s fine with going back to the perfect relationship they used to have the year before, and I couldn’t help but feel like she was giving up some of her convictions to be with him. We never really see Luke open up fully with Tessa, and he even declares that if his father should fall off the wagon again he’s going to keep her out of it. Tessa basically says oh hell no, and they move on, but it seems like Tessa is giving up an awful lot to keep Luke happy, when he hasn’t really made any significant compromises to be with her.

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Series: Alabama Summer, Book 2. While book one in this series wasn’t my favorite book ever, I have to say I liked the relationship of those characters much better than the one we see presented here between Luke and Tessa.

Final Impressions: I’m not gonna lie, this book did hold my attention pretty steadily from start to finish. However, it wasn’t so much because I was rooting for Luke and Tessa to succeed in getting back together, but rather because I was genuinely wondering if this book would end with them going their separate ways. Compromise seems like a standard feature to most relationships, but when it comes to these two it appears as though Tessa was willing to compromise her own beliefs to win over Luke’s affection, whereas he was much more closed off to the prospect of change. He’s determined to make Tessa his again, and knows what it will take to make that happen, yet he stubbornly refuses to open up to her. I feel like we as the audience end up knowing more about Luke and his past demons than he ever confesses to Tessa.

Smut Level: There’s quite a big of angry sex in this book. Tessa and Luke are determined to hate each other, but they also can’t deny the underlying frissons of lust which keep drawing them back to each other.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. JD Publishing, LLC. 318 Pages.

Beautiful Entourage by E.L. Todd

Why would a successful, beautiful woman feel the need to employ a male escort? This contemporary romance explores the reasons.

What’s it About? 

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Being a professional escort comes with its vices. To keep women from getting too clingy, stop them from dropping their panties, and silence them before they can blurt the L word, Rhett has made certain rules. He never breaks them. Ever.

1. No Kissing.
2. No Feelings.
3. And definitely, absolutely, no sex.

But when Aspen, a beautiful brunette, hires him to help repair her image to her family, things get complicated. Rhett’s never had a problem separating work from pleasure. But now work and pleasure seem to be one and the same.

First Impressions

This book has everything I could possibly want when it comes to having a male escort as one of the lead characters. How did he ever make his way into such a career, and how is the exchange of funds managed to reduce the awkwardness? In this little diddy we get the full back story on how Rhett started his own escort service, as well as the typical day-to-day operations involved. In addition, throughout his dates with various women, and even a few men, I felt we could identify two primary reasons why someone who could obviously find a date on their own would go to such lengths as to hire a male escort. Sure, there are a few exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority seemed to fall within one of two categories.

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First and foremost, a woman is trying to get her family off her back for being single. My goodness can I sympathize with this. Maybe I should look into hiring an escort for my next trip home. I know it can be hard for some people to understand, but not everyone feels an immediate or intense need for companionship. It doesn’t make us bizarre weirdos, it just means we’re comfortable enough with ourselves to be alone with ourselves in our free time. The second apparent reason for the success of the male escort business is more about jealousy, specifically in order to make an ex jealous after a break up. As for our female lead in this book? She falls into the more popular first category: family pressure. Her father gives her an ultimatum. Either she finds a suitable man to appear with her at corporate functions, or she forfeits the possibility of ever being made head of the company she and her father work for. In a word, her dad is quite the ass.

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The Supportive Escort

You’d kind of expect that the mere fact Rhett is an escort would bring a kind of undeniable sensuality to their relationship. Something that pleasantly surprised me with this read was that while Rhett and Aspen are certainly drawn together, they succeed in building the foundations of a friendship first. They’re able to laugh and play with each other, whether it’s over a bowl of ice cream, or while engaged in a competitive game of Battleship. If anything, his job as an escort prevented things from moving too fast between them, or having their relationship be built solely around sex. Through the contract Rhett has devised for all of his employees, escorts are limited in their physical interaction with their clients, and can only go so far as holding hands, light caresses, and perhaps a kiss on the cheek. If they take their physical contact to the next level, or if either voices their true feelings for each other, their contract is immediately void.

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Rhett is determined to help Aspen succeed in obtaining her father’s business. Nothing like having a male escort as your primary cheerleader in life. In addition to his desire to see Aspen succeed, both Aspen and Rhett have come to appreciate the emotional connection they’ve developed through their friendship, and neither wants to lose the presence of the other in their life. Therefore, in order to ensure there is no breach of contract, they both keep quiet over the fact that they’re starting to feel something more. Considering there’s basically a “no sex” addendum to their budding relationship, I wondered if this simmering lust they couldn’t act upon would feel like the only reason they were inclined to pursue an actual relationship with each other. Thankfully, that was never the case here. Aspen wasn’t a conquest to be won. She started off the same as any other client, one Rhett couldn’t become romantically involved with. Only by spending more time together, having fun together do they establish a solid friendship which eventually ignites into a romance. It was truly a beautiful development.

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The Family From Hell

The main impetus behind Aspen’s father giving her this dating ultimatum was over the fact that her ex fiancé recently broke up with her in order to have sex, and eventually become engaged to, her cousin. When we look at the response of Aspen’s family and social circle of acquaintances to her break up, I must say it crossed the line into downright unbelievable. Now, I can kind of understand her dad’s initial response, even though it’s completely unforgivable and signifies an unloving father. He essentially sees her inability to keep a man, and the subsequent gossip surrounding the break up, as a stain on his own character. Losing face and what not. Again, not saying it’s justified, but I can kind of get why he’s upset his daughter, and therefore his family, are the talk of the town.

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The rest of the family though? Cheese and monkeys were they over the top. They seem to revile Aspen’s very existence, even though she was the one who was cheated on. Her cousin, Isabella, constantly mocks her, bragging about how she stole away her fiancé, and unlike Aspen she can keep him sexually satisfied. It’d be one thing if Isabella talked about how they couldn’t keep their feelings of love a secret any longer, or that they were destined to be together. But for her to brag over the fact that she was the one he chose to cheat with? Yeah, that’s the grounds for a really successful relationship (cue eye roll). She also goes out of her way to torment Aspen, which I guess can be a realistic situation, but for the rest of Aspen’s family to treat her as though she were trash? It just seemed like an entirely baseless kind of resentment. At one point Isabella practically forms a high school clique to make fun of Aspen, and in one scene declared “let’s go get her” before going out of their way to find and ridicule Aspen at a party. Her villainy was so cartoonish that we can practically picture her with devil horns and a tail. Again, a bit too over-the-top in my opinion.

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Series: Beautiful Entourage, book 1. I’ll be continuing with the series to hopefully enjoy the romances of Rhett’s other escort buddies.

Final Impressions: Overall I really enjoyed this one. It was entertaining, and I appreciated the development of Rhett and Aspen’s relationship from one that was kind of professional, to one of friendship, and eventually love. The only negative thing to point out in terms of the plot was that many of the dramatic elements were resolved almost too easily at the end. At one point I even remember thinking, “mkay are we gonna find out at the very last moment that this last chapter has all been a dream?” It was almost too perfect of a conclusion. That being said, this is still a fun read. Rhett and Aspen are an adorable couple, they both support each other wholeheartedly, and they’re close friends above all else.

Smut Level: I must say I was kind of disappointed we weren’t treated to a round of strip Battleship considering how often these two played it. Due to their professional contract, it does take a while for them to fall into bed together, but once they do it’s full of steamy passion.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Fallen Publishing. 313 Pages.

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Craving-Heart Christmas by Mariah J. Roberts

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

What’s it About? 51+HXim4RGL

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

First Impressions

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

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

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A Slow Burn

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

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From the Hospital to the Bedroom

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

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

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On the Road

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

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

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

Series: Stand-alone

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

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

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