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.

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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.

Hooking Up by Elsie Young

A female lead who is a fan of Five Guys burgers? Finally, someone I can relate to!! Although…she also seems to have a rather unhealthy obsession with blue cheese. Just when I thought we could be friends, girl!

What’s it About? 

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I’m Eiley Murphy and my life is spiraling out of control. I’ve renamed the male lead in my ballet company “Bitcherina,” yes, I’m the principal female dancer, but right now, that’s not going so pretty good. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I’ll have a job next week. And, the gorgeous distraction to end all distractions has finally noticed me after a year of drooling over him from afar. You’d think that would be a good thing, but Trey, William Cuthbert Layton III – for real – gets around a bit too much, if you know what I mean, and I see nothing but heartbreak in my future. So I obsess, and confess all to my sisters and my BFs, Brett and Valerie. Frankly, everyone’s pretty sick of me right now, so Trey better get himself together since I’m about ten minutes away from doing something even more stupid than usual.

First Impressions

You know, upon first reading the synopsis for this little romance, I mistakenly assumed that we’d be seeing a romance play out between Eiley and her “bitcherina” dance partner in the ballet. As it turns out, this male dancer simply remains a thorn in her side for the majority of the novel as she attempts to find a way to melt his tough exterior. The romantic part of the story involves a guitarist that Eiley has a mildly stalker-like obsession with. While Eiley has obsessed over this musician for the past year, their first one-on-one interaction involves him apologizing before kissing her in front of his band mates. Eiley is rather shocked that all of her dreams are apparently coming true at such an unexpected moment, and is even more surprised after the fact when this guitarist, Trey, asks if she would pretend to be his girlfriend to get an unwanted admirer off his back. As we contemplate whether or not this “fake” romance between Trey and Eiley will develop into something more, I must say I found myself even more entranced by the relationship between Eiley and her “bitcherina”, whose actual name is Basil.

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It was such a compelling story to see Basil’s initial animosity towards Eiley eventually transform into a kind of friendship. If we compare the two relationships which were developing side-by-side, we see that in Eiley’s romantic relationship with Trey she does some pretty crazy things at times to try and win his affection. However, when it comes to the friendship which is forming between her and Basil, she discovers that to win his respect she needs to push herself to become a better dancer, and demonstrate her dedication to their art-form. As they slowly become friends, Eiley seems to draw out the softer side of Basil to the point where he’s able to loosen up a bit and enjoy life more. In a way, they both bring out the best in each other. In my opinion, this was where the heart of the story lay, and I found myself perking up a bit in excitement every time we’d encounter a scene involving Eiley and Basil together. If anything, I wanted more of this story line, and the romance involving Trey almost seemed like an interruption! Definitely not what I was expecting at all!

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Reading Through Your Fingers

I feel like there are a few different situations we encounter when reading that will make us want to peek through our fingers as the words flow across the page. Sometimes a scene might be particularly scary, sexy, or maybe we just really want to make sure we don’t skim ahead to reveal a major plot twist before we get to it. And then there are the situations that this novel presents us with in abundance…embarrassing ones. Poor Eiley! There are so many scenarios where everything that possibly could go wrong does go wrong for our ballerina, and you can’t help but feel embarrassment on her behalf. Sometimes you sympathize with her blunders and awkward social moments when she apparently can’t get anything right, even though she’s trying her darnedest. And there are those other times when the absurdity of the situation is so unrealistic you can’t help but roll your eyes at her over-the-top antics. I think the problem here was that overall Eiley felt like an extremely relatable character, but during some of these crazy scenes our ability to relate to her on a personal level is almost broken.

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One such example involves Eiley crashing a restaurant where she thinks Trey is having dinner with another woman. She gets into an argument with this woman who seems insistent on having Trey all for herself, so Eiley understandably boasts about all the orgasms Trey has given her. Unfortunately she sort of forgot about her surroundings and caught the attention of the other diners. And Trey. And his grandmother. A humorously awkward moment to be sure. But then when Eiley gets so embarrassed she grabs a live lobster from the arms of a passing waiter, holds it out in front of her to make some kind of point with this woman, and then makes an embarrassing exit with said lobster and takes it to a bar before heading home with it still clutched in her hands? You can’t help but wonder when the hell this would ever happen in real life. It was an attempt at humor that sort of takes you out of the scene because it’s so over-the-top.

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There was another moment when Eiley and Trey were making out in a car during the middle of the day in a fairly busy parking lot, and some police officers interrupt them thinking that Trey is taking advantage of a teenager due to Eiley’s small stature. Sure, had me giggling for a bit and blushing on behalf of the embarrassment both characters were undoubtedly experiencing. But then to find out the whole situation was recorded by the On-Star setting in her car, and the technician then put it on YouTube, which resulted in it going viral and ending up on a radio show? Um…what? A bit of restraint would have been beneficial. Instead we see that the line from humor to absurdity is constantly being straddled.

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A Quirky Family for a Quirky Lady

Family is an important element of this story, and while there were definitely some good moments which highlighted this feature, I felt some aspects could have been tightened up just a bit to really make those familial scenes pop. The weekly dinners involving Eiley and her many sisters at a local diner were quite a hoot. They all have a mutual obsession with bacon, and they play a game each week called “I Hate My Life”, where they go around the table sharing their most embarrassing moment from the past week. The winner doesn’t have to pay for their dinner, and ever since Eiley and Trey started their fake romance she’s been treated to a fair number of free meals. It was a lot of fun to see the sisters go around the table to share their embarrassing tales of woe, and the only issue I had with these many rounds of “I Hate My Life” was that the dinner scenes became somewhat repetitive as the novel progressed. It was also tricky at times to differentiate between all the sisters and their respective lives considering our only interactions with them were during these round table confessionals. I think a few more scenes involving Eiley and her sisters outside of the grease-filled diner world would have helped us get to know them even more.

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There are some other familial elements which are introduced fairly late in the book. While some of these were very interesting, it seemed like we didn’t get enough time to explore them all fully, which made it seem as though there were just too many things going on at once. Similar to the shenanigans Eiley constantly finds herself in, some restraint upon introducing so many elements pretty late in the game could have benefited the overall flow of the story. For example, we hear mention throughout the story of Eiley’s crazy aunt Psyche, and while she definitely seems like a neurotically fun character, we don’t actually meet her “in person” until the tale is well under way.

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She also introduces some family mystery regarding a long dead Uncle Seamus who hid some kind of family treasure. Upon the urging of her aunt, Eiley sort of takes up the case of finally trying to find out what this treasure might be by referencing old family letters and photographs. Now, I’m not gonna lie, it was probably one of my most favorite side stories that we saw presented in the novel, and one of the most heartbreaking as we hear through one of Seamus’s letters how he lamented over the death of his one true love. However, at the same time I sort of had to question how it fit into the rest of the story involving our ballerina falling for her rock star. In the end Eiley and her sisters have an assumption as to what this hidden treasure might be, but we don’t even see them locate it. If this had been an element which was introduced to strengthen the relationship between Eiley and her sisters I might have understood its presence in the book, but they already had a strong bond. Again, while enjoyable, you can’t help but question what the purpose was.

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

Series: Stand-alone for the time being? I could see some future novels involving Eiley’s sisters being fun reads.

Final Impressions: Personally, I wish the setting of Washington, DC had played a somewhat larger role in the story, but…what can I say? As a DC resident I’m slightly biased. There were a lot of different events at play in this novel, and while many were definitely fun and enjoyable, I think some areas could have been fine-tuned to really pull the whole novel together into one cohesive story. The scenes involving Eiley and her temperamental dance partner were probably my favorite. It’s where we witnessed an emotionally honest progression of a relationship, and if anything I would have liked to see more between Eiley and the “bitcherina”. Her evolving relationship with Trey started strong, but it sort of fizzled at the end, which is ironic considering this is when their connection is supposed to be at its highest point. Eiley is quite the quirky character, and she’s definitely over-the-top from time to time, but she’s still a warm-hearted and well-intentioned chica.

Smut Level: Five orgasms in one night? Not too shabby. Unfortunately it also resulted in a few broken bathroom fixtures 🙂

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Boroughs Publishing Group. 271 Pages.

If You Knew by Barbara Meyers

Where are your kids? Turns out they’re at school, but they have a former porn star as a teacher’s aide, and a reformed junkie as a guidance counselor. The beauty of this novel is it will show you why there’s no problem with that situation.

What’s it About? 

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In a town filled with lies, is there room for one more? When widow Devonny Campbell arrives in tiny Red Bud, Iowa, she is determined to make a new life for herself and the child she carries. But when her former career in adult films is uncovered, she becomes the catalyst for a nasty political campaign which creates a tornado of controversy. High school coach and guidance counselor Luke Bradshaw knows one strong wind will collapse the house of cards he’s built to contain his demons. He’s falling hard for Devonny in spite of her past. And she might be what trips him up and exposes everything he’s kept hidden. But Devonny and Luke aren’t the only citizens of Red Bud forced to face the judgment of their peers. As the campaign turns vicious, deeply-buried truths are revealed and lifelong relationships are shattered. Can Devonny and Luke stick together? Or will too much truth tear them apart?

First Impressions

There’s nothing better than a romance novel that shatters any of your preconceived expectations, and this novel succeeds in doing that in abundance. The author does a fantastic job at introducing us to these characters in a somewhat slow and natural way. Devonny is a newcomer to the city of Red Bud, trying to find a peaceful haven after losing the love of her life, and locate a place to raise the child she’s just recently found out she’s going to have. Then you have Luke, a friendly local who is more than happy to welcome Devonny to this small Iowa town. He also can’t deny the attraction he feels for this quiet woman who also has a spark about her. At first, they seem completely “normal”, and silly me I thought this book would primarily tell a story of Devonny learning how to move on from her former love to find a romance with someone new. In a way, that’s true. However, we also slowly start to discover that these two characters have some unexpected surprises to share about their respective pasts. Little did I know this book would make me confront my own biases and prejudices, and learn the importance of acknowledging that who a person is now is often more important than who they once were.

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The Porn Star and the Junkie

As I previously eluded to, the author gives us a somewhat slow introduction to Devonny and Luke. It doesn’t open up right away with the description of a former porn actress moving to Iowa from LA, soon thereafter meeting a dashing man who also just so happens to be a reformed junkie. Instead, we start off seeing how they are both very friendly, caring people who just want to live a happy life. We’re rooting for them to find happiness with each other, and you can’t help but describe their burgeoning romance as “cute”. Devonny is obviously moving on from the tragic loss of her husband, Jack, to a quick illness, but she realizes that he wouldn’t have wanted her to wallow away in sadness. Especially with a baby on the way. Sure, her romance with Luke might seem a bit quick considering the recent death of her husband, but their chemistry feels so natural you sincerely believe they’re a perfect fit for each other. Luke must learn that Jack will always remain a part of Devonny’s life through their child, and Devonny has some of her own introspection to deal with in order to no longer see her feelings for Luke as a betrayal of the love she felt for her husband.

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Only after we see the base of their relationship, as well as the true nature of their characters, do we peel away at some of the details of their past. Devonny appeared in a number of adult films with her husband, and Luke has struggled with a history of alcohol and drugs. I’ll admit, when we first uncover the details of their pasts the irony was not lost on me over the fact that they both work in a high school with children. Doesn’t seem like the most thorough of background checks, amiright? But here is where I truly appreciated this novel. Why should we pass judgement on them for something they’d done in the past? It’s not like Devonny is teaching these kids how to give a good blow job for crying out loud, she’s tutoring them in math! As for Luke, why can’t he use the story of his triumph over drugs as something for these kids to admire? They’ve both been on a journey in life, and they’ve each had a few unexpected bumps and curves along the way. When we look at who they are today we find that they’re stronger because of the difficulties they’ve traversed in the past. Not to mention…we also learn they aren’t the only ones in this wholesome little town with secrets.

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The Lie of Middle America? 

A seemingly perfect town full of good-natured, respectable citizens. Sure, on the surface. But what happens when we look beneath the polite smiles, and look at the truth of what’s hiding underneath. As it turns out, it’s really a town full of secrets and lies. Let’s face it, we all have certain aspects of ourselves or our pasts which we’d prefer to keep hidden from others. Nobody’s perfect, and the citizens of this small Iowa town might like to think they live in an oasis that espouses family values, but it’s all an illusion. In a way, it was an illusion for Devonny as well when she chose to settle here, hoping that her previous career as an adult film actress wouldn’t become widely known to her neighbors, and she could find the perfect place to set up a home. Some secrets are more potent than others, including cheating spouses and hidden sexualities, but what’s most surprising is the fact that some of these people with their hidden lies are the same ones to judge Devonny when her past comes to light.

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We’ve all heard a variation of some quote or another about why this is the epitome of hypocrisy. Don’t judge others lest ye be judged. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Well, the people in this town basically live in a glass dome, and they’re apparently in the mood to chuck a few boulders in Devonny’s direction. We question if Devonny will be able to remain strong in the face of so much hatred, or if she’ll choose the easy way out and simply escape to another town where nobody knows her past. Let’s just say she’s not one to give up. She’s a fighter, but she’s also poised, friendly, and not one to lose her cool when being accused of corrupting the youth of Red Bud. Eventually Devonny realizes she has a number of allies on her side, and all of them take it upon themselves to show this town that it can be easy to judge someone for what they may have done in the past, but it’s more about how that past influenced who they are today.

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The Root of the Problem

“We all have a journey…And everyone has mountains and valleys and stumbling blocks. But there’s a purpose in everything. It isn’t always good versus bad. Everything isn’t white and black.” This is where the author shocked me yet again by applying this logic to our supposed “villains”. There are a number of key characters who seem determined to run Devonny out of town. They are characterized as the bad guys you hate to hate, who seemingly have no redeeming qualities. While we root for Devonny and Luke to succeed, we simultaneously root for these characters to fail. However, if we apply the same moral of the story to our villainous characters as well, we learn to acknowledge that their determination to see Devonny ruined “isn’t always good versus bad.” Just like Devonny and Luke, our hateful characters have pasts and motives of their own. By the end of the novel I wouldn’t say we necessarily come to love these characters who wanted to ruin Devonny’s chance of happiness in Red Bud, but we come to understand that everyone has a history of their own which influences the decisions they make in life. Sometimes they go down the wrong road, but that doesn’t mean they can never find their way back.

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

Series: Red Bud, Iowa, Book 1. I’m intrigued to continue on with this series. This first novel was full of engaging characters, and it’d be interesting to see what story each of them might have to tell.

Final Impressions: This book will really make you rethink how you look at other people, and cause you to pause before you pass judgement on others. The beauty of the moral lesson presented in this romance is that it never feels like you’re being preached to, or made to feel guilty for having those judgments. At times it’s simply our first reaction, but the true test is whether or not we can look beyond those first impressions to see the true nature of a person. It also makes us look at ourselves, and in a way admit our own faults when we try to find faults in others. This was definitely more than the simple “moving on from tragedy” romance I was expecting. We really saw a social message built in as well that I wasn’t expecting, but in the end appreciated.

Smut Level: Two words folks. Pregnancy hormones. Nothing too over-the-top erotic, but you’ll fan yourself a time or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Sandalstring Productions. 327 Pages

A Lord to Love by Sara Dobie Bauer

This is one of those novellas that will be over before you know it, and leave you craving for more!

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During negotiations for a truce between the feuding Price and Morgan families, Lord John Morgan makes a shocking offer: he will give the Price family their land, in exchange for Harrison Price’s hand in marriage. John has long been enamored with Harrison, the beautiful son of his late rival. Harrison is nineteen, inexperienced, and known for being cold and bitingly brilliant. The union seems impossible, but John is determined to win the affections of his young obsession. Will the frigid Harrison concede, or will the object of John’s adoration leave him alone at the altar?

First Impressions

I didn’t realize before starting this book just how quick of a read it was going to be! One night before bed I figured I’d start on it, maybe finish a few chapters before catching some zzz’s. Next thing I know thirty minutes have passed and I’ve reached “The End”! This would be a great quick read to take to the beach, although truth be told you’ll probably be finished with it by the time your first coat of sunscreen actually sinks in. Technically this reads as a historical regency romance, though we can tell it’s not necessarily set in a true historical time period seeing as John and Harrison can be fully open about their love with everyone around them. It’s simultaneously delightful to feel like you’re set in the time of Pride and Prejudice, yet also rather sad to acknowledge that such an open romance between two men could never take place in society at that time.

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Romantic Blackmail? 

Does John blackmail Harrison into agreeing to marry him? Eehhhh not reaaaaally…but kind of. The long and short of it is that Harrison always had the option to say “no” when John offered to return Harrison’s family land in exchange for his hand in marriage. It’s never called into question that if Harrison had said no, John most likely would have still proceeded with the negotiation to return it sooner or later. After suggesting the exchange, John lets Harrison think on his proposal, and doesn’t even provide a quick timeline or ultimatum which would make it seem like Harrison had no choice in the matter.

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That being said, we can’t deny that John is sort of using Harrison’s recent familial loss as a way to win the man he’s always wanted. For the past several years, John has been in a land dispute with Harrison’s father over the fact that a zoning technicality actually places their family’s cemetery plot within John’s property line. Harrison hasn’t been able to lay flowers on his mother’s grave for three years, and now he must bury his recently deceased father. When John has it written into the negotiated paperwork that he’ll give back the land for free on the condition of receiving Harrison’s hand in marriage? Well, we won’t say he forced him into marriage, or took advantage of his grief, but he may have given him a slight poke in the ribs.

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Learning to Live Again

Harrison has always been known in society as a rather closed-off individual. He’s been surrounded by melancholy for the last three years since his mother’s death, and now his father has passed on as well. He’s been overcome with grief due to so much death that he’s forgotten what it’s like to live. John is the one to remind how. One of the most emotional scenes in the book involves Harrison seeming completely crestfallen at the prospect of spending the rest of his life alone without the two people he’s loved most in this world. John encourages him to realize that while it might be difficult to imagine, things will inevitably get better with time. He just has to remember to live. The fact that Harrison has to ask John, “What is living” is such a heartbreaking reminder that he has forgotten what it feels like to be alive.

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Through John’s loving attention, kisses and embraces, he remembers. He remembers those moments years ago where John would stare transfixed at him from across a ballroom; remembers what it was like to have a far away crush on this man; remembers what it’s like to feel. Towards the end of the novel Harrison declares that “he remembers” in reference to John’s undivided attention all those years before. I like to think it not only signifies he remembers the longing looks that another man bestowed upon him, but that he also remembers back to a time before the death of his parents, before he was overcome by grief, and that he remembers what “living” used to feel like. The fact that John is the one to reawaken this passion for life demonstrates the depth of their connection.

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“You will never again forget to live–and you will never, ever forget you are loved.”

The Beauty of Music

John’s seductive stares might have been powerful all those years ago, but they weren’t what drew this couple together. In a way, music was actually the driving force behind their relationship. John first noticed Harrison’s hands as he played the violin at a dinner party years before, and his clear devotion to music was what made John start paying attention to this young man. Harrison was always too shy to willingly perform his music in public without the urging of his family, so it’s a sight that John hasn’t seen again in all that time.

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Once John grants Harrison access to his family’s cemetery once again we see Harrison play the violin at his parent’s graves before breaking down into sobs, admitting that he only used to willingly play for his mother before she died. It was a gift he only chose to share with her. We know this is probably the most sacred part of himself, and after John and Harrison spend more time together he chooses to share this special gift with John. It’s a beautiful moment between these two lovers, and it’s proof of how much Harrison has come to trust and love this man in such a short amount of time. As a musician myself, I must say that John’s fascination with Harrison’s ability to play, and Harrison expressing his love for John through music was probably my favorite feature of their story.

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“I love music. The way it makes me feel. And I love you. You make me feel like music. If I were a romantic, then I’d say you’ve made my life like a song.” 

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: I wanted this to be a full-length novel. I wanted more of those descriptions from back when John and Harrison first met, the feud between John and Harrison’s father, and those weeks following John’s rather peculiar proposal which detailed the time they spent getting to know and learning to trust each other. Can you understand and still appreciate the story that’s being told without all of that description? Of course, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I’m a greedy reader who wants to see as much from this couple as she can!

Smut Level: John is Harrison’s first kiss, first love, and first lover. He might be new to intimacy, but the man is a student at Cambridge. Let’s just say he’s a quick study of this whole “pleasure” concept.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Carnation Books. 35 Pages.

Meant to be Kept by Amelia Foster

The story of how one man tries to rectify a mistake to keep the most important woman in his life: his wife.

What’s it About? 

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One night. One too many drinks. One mistake. That’s all it took to derail my marriage. Now, all I can do is beg for a second chance. To try and redeem myself in a bid not to lose the love of my life. I’m determined to use every second, every moment I have to show my wife how much she means to me—to rebuild the trust I shattered. But the harder I try, the more I start to realize our marriage had fallen into a routine of complacency and misplaced priorities long before my indiscretion. Isabelle is a strong, passionate, beautiful woman—a wife who has sacrificed so much for me. I just hope it’s not too late for us, and that I’ll be able to convince her that our love is meant to be kept.

First Impressions

I’m not going to sugar coat this one folks, this romance blew me away in the best way possible. It’s a beautiful, smart read which is focused around the concept of fighting for love. One of the main ways this book stopped me in my tracks was that it tackled all of the preconceived notions I thought I’d have, and twisted them on their head. Prime example: our male lead, Tanner. Based on the synopsis and the first few pages, I was determined that I was not going to like this guy. We discover in the opening scene that during a guy’s weekend away with his brother, he gets borderline black-out drunk and starts making out with a woman who isn’t his wife. Gee, alcohol and cheating? What an absolute gem. I thought the author would have a hell of time trying to convince me that this guy was worth giving a second chance to. Lo and behold, simply by the end of the first chapter I found myself rooting for Tanner to succeed in winning back the trust of his wife, Isabelle. That’s no easy feat ladies and gents, and yet it was done so effortlessly that it draws in your attention where you can’t turn away until we get to “The End”.

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Totally Upfront

While we don’t necessarily get the very best first impression of Tanner, it barely takes any time at all before we sympathize with the man, and hope against hope that Isabelle will be able to forgive him for a seemingly unforgivable transgression. There are a few key features that the author weaves in to get us to love Tanner. First and foremost, we must look at the transgression itself. Yes, in a drunken stupor he kissed another woman. Downright stupid. And yet, our opening scene presents us with a broken man who is fully aware of the error of his ways, and is filled with nothing but regret. At no point do we see him try to hide this from his wife, or lessen the gravity of his mistake. Instead we see him come home right away to admit to her what he did, and he vows that he’ll do whatever he can to make it up to her. He even sets a deadline, begging that she find the strength within her to forgive him, allow him to prove how much he still wants her and only her by their next anniversary which is just 43 days away.

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The second clever move on the part of the author was the use of flashbacks throughout the entirety of the novel. On the one hand these flashbacks help demonstrate that Tanner has always been a romantic, and that Isabelle was always meant to be his one and only. Even though this first chapter starts off with a rather negative portrayal of Tanner getting up close and personal with another woman, by the end we feel like we’ve seen who the true Tanner is through a flashback, and it’s far from a womanizing cheater. He has a soft and romantic side which has revolved around Isabelle since the first moment the two met. I for one was shocked that within this first chapter alone I could so quickly go from an initial determination of wanting to hate this guy, to recognizing by the end of it that he simply made a stupid mistake that he is fully willing to atone for.

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Forgiveness

When Isabelle first hears the confession of how Tanner kissed someone else, she is understandably distraught. Even though we’re rooting for Tanner to succeed in all of his various romantic attempts to win back his wife, we can also sympathize with the difficulty she faces in letting him back into her life. At times you almost want to scream at her, “He obviously didn’t mean to do it! He clearly loves you! Just forgive him already!”. But, let’s be honest, that would simply be too easy, not to mention rather unrealistic.

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Something that the author captures so brilliantly when it comes to Isabelle contemplating her relationship with Tanner is that it was never a question of love. Isabelle will always love him. He’s been her best friend and partner for 12 years, not to mention the father of her children. It’s not possible for her to fall out of love with him that quickly. No, instead we see that it’s actually a question of trust. If she agrees to let him back into her life, she’ll obviously still love him, but will she ever be able to trust him as fully as she did before that disastrous weekend? If she can’t, then is it really worth bringing him back into her life at all?

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An Imperfect Marriage

In addition to utilizing flashbacks to show us the sweet side of Tanner’s character, these flashbacks also serve a few other key purposes. First, they demonstrate that for the past three years or so Tanner and Isabelle’s marriage hasn’t been as idyllic as we the audience, or even Tanner himself, thought it to be. We see through so many flashbacks how Isabelle was always the light of Tanner’s life, and he was devoted and committed to her in every way possible. We just assumed that this kiss with the other woman was the first and only indicator of how Tanner failed in an aspect of his marriage.

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However, as the anniversary deadline approaches, and Tanner tries to think up various romantic dates to go on with Isabelle, he simultaneously realizes how his focus on work these last few years has created a certain distance between him and his family. The little things he used to do with them, such as movie nights, weekend breakfasts, etc. had fallen by the wayside. He was still a loving father and husband throughout that time, and his affection for Isabelle never wavered, but he can’t help but acknowledge that he wasn’t putting as much of an effort into his family as he did in the beginning. It’s a realization that I think would speak true to many couples out there. Just because you’ve finally found your one true love doesn’t mean you can stop demonstrating how much you love them.

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Where Past Meets Present

Another important purpose of the continual use of flashbacks was that it brought Tanner and Isabelle’s entire relationship full circle. By this point you might be getting tired of my repeated mention of these flashback scenes, but I think I can say with 100% confidence that never before have I seen a more brilliant and polished inclusion of flashbacks to tell a story in my life. And I’ve read a crap ton of books. Each and every chapter within the book is divided into two parts: past and present. The present always details the various ways that Tanner is attempting to win back the trust of his wife, and we then see how those attempts correspond to a certain moment from their past through the flashback scene.

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At the start of the novel, the present scene involves Tanner admitting to Isabelle how he kissed another woman, while the scene in the past shows the initial moment when Tanner and Isabelle first met in college. Throughout the rest of the book the flashback moments move in a linear progression throughout Tanner and Isabelle’s relationship from their first meeting to their first date, kiss, sexual encounter, meeting with the parents, living together, marriage, kids, etc. By the last chapter we see in the present that we’re at the final deadline of Tanner and Isabelle’s anniversary, the moment when Isabelle must decide if she’s ready and willing to accept Tanner back into her life. And as for our flashback scene? By the end the flashbacks have taken us right up to the very moment when Tanner went away with his brother for the guy’s weekend where the initial transgression first occurred at the beginning of the book. I mean…WOW! The beauty of how everything came together full circle so seamlessly from start to finish cannot be overstated.

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*An advanced reader copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: I want this to be a series soooooo bad. I would 100% read a sequel involving one of Tanner’s brothers.

Final Impressions: Simply put, this is a beautiful book. It’s not every day you come across a second chance romance that involves a husband and wife, but it’s definitely one worth reading. It highlights the power of family, and the importance of still putting forth an effort in your relationship, even after you’ve said “I do”. You can’t get lazy in regards to demonstrating affection to your partner. I’m sure my love for the use of flashbacks throughout this novel is clearly evident at this point, so I won’t go into even more detail about it! Again though…they’re pretty amazing!

Smut Level: Nothing dirty, but we do get a few scenes, both past and present, which demonstrate the physical connection these two have always shared.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Limitless Publishing, LLC. 228 Pages.

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