Full Girlfriend Experience by Dana Ross

This book takes place right in my backyard! Welcome to the seedy world of DC politics and scandal.

What’s it About?

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When DC Madam Faith Crawley receives a call from former client, Senator William Drummond, it’s the answer to her prayers. The money the dirty politician offers her to smear his rival Finn Billings will save Faith’s business, her lifestyle, and her girls. Raised in the shadow of a political magnate, Finn Billings has the credentials to get the job done, but he lacks confidence and wonders if politics is truly the life he desires. Using the façade of her front business, a PR firm, Faith turns Finn into a political powerhouse while obtaining the evidence Drummond needs to destroy Finn’s political chances. But Faith didn’t plan on falling in love with her mark. Now she has the toughest decision ever—give the sleazy senator incriminating photos of Finn to save her business or give up everything for the sake of love.

First Impressions

A novel set in Washington, DC? Don’t mind if I do! There’s something about reading a book set in your own environment which makes it that much more fun and interesting to read. DC is practically a supplemental character in this little tale, and the descriptions of how each neighborhood has it’s own personality, from Georgetown to Chinatown, made me absolutely giddy. I couldn’t help but laugh aloud at the accurateness of Chinatown specifically, because it really is the saddest little Chinatown I’ve ever come across. Nothing like being able to visit Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or Hooters, with Chinese characters across the facade. It comes across as such a crazy place, with a plethora of unique local characters on every street corner. Possibly overwhelming, or intimidating to an outsider, but believe me when I say it’s not too bad 🙂 The author did a fantastic job of capturing both the beauty of this city, as well as its conniving underbelly. It’s a land of politics, and as we see from this novel sometimes the most well-intentioned people can get caught up in the cross-hairs of their ambitious rivals.

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Full Girlfriend Experience

So you’re all probably asking yourselves at this point, what exactly is “the full girlfriend experience” which this title evokes? Well, when it comes to the world of Madams, it entails a client paying for a level of intimacy that is oftentimes lacking with the typical exchange of money for services you’d expect in prostitution. In a way, it’s almost like paying for companionship rather than sex. Dates, talking, and getting to know each other are the hallmark of the full girlfriend experience, and that’s exactly what our lead character, Faith, is providing for Finn. The only problem is he has no idea that’s what he’s getting, and from an experienced professional no less.

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As far as Finn is aware, Faith is merely an old acquaintance of his father’s who has come on board to help him appeal to a wider audience of voters during his upcoming political campaign. In reality, Faith has been hired by Finn’s opponent with the goal of gaining his trust to eventually attain compromising photographic evidence that would force Finn to concede the election. Nothing like being caught tied up and naked with a Madam to ruin your political career. Faith actually does run a well-known PR firm, but it’s used as a cover to hide the true nature of her underlying business, which is prostitution. Normally this isn’t the kind of job Faith would take on. She’s used to either consulting with politicians and rock stars, or identifying prospective clients for her group of girls or herself to take to bed. Political espionage usually isn’t in the cards. At this point in her life though, Faith is desperate to get a large amount of cash as quickly as possible to save her fledgling business which is on the verge of collapse.

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Our Villainous Heroine

Honestly, I didn’t exactly know how I was supposed to feel emotionally about Faith. She is our heroine after all, which implies that we are supposed to sympathize with her plight. However, at times she comes across as somewhat materialistic and almost shallow. After some time we learn about the unfortunate details of her impoverished past, and it allows us to better understand her appreciation and covetousness of beautiful things. That being said, we also have to question why she would continue to run this prostitution business if she also has a legitimate business operation which was actually running smoothly up until recently. The fact that she continued to run both simultaneously, and possibly risk everything she’s built to get out of the poor life she used to lead made me wonder if she was simply greedy.

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If I had to rethink the structure of the plot to possibly lend an additional sentiment of compassion for Faith, I think I almost would have preferred if she had to fall back on prostitution as a last resort to get her out of her current bind. Perhaps it could have been formatted as though she inherited this business from her former Madam, and she used it to transition to a legitimately legal and reputable PR firm, giving up the prostitution side-gig in the process. However, due to a combination of money troubles, bad investments, and someone from the inside setting her up to fail, she found herself having to go back to her old ways of turning tricks as her only recourse to avoid failing. I think it would have been easier to root for her to succeed in this scenario. Instead, when we get to know how innocent her mark truly is, we almost find ourselves rooting for her to fail in her quest to incriminate the unsuspecting Finn.

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Stealing Innocence

“…his shy expression reminded me of the differences between us, specifically, how he was innocent and I stole innocence.”

When I look back on the interactions between Faith and Finn, I can’t help but compare our female lead to a spider, weaving her web to capture our innocent Finn. It seems like such a rarity these days to encounter someone in the political scene who is inherently good, and completely selfless, yet this is exactly what Finn represents. Sure, he’s a little geeky, a poor dresser, and he’s more passionate about rocks and birds than he is about politics, but I loved him all the same. To put it simply, he’s a good guy who hasn’t been tainted yet by the underhanded dealings of DC politics. Enter Faith.

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As Faith gets to know Finn better it becomes clear a life of politics isn’t really something he wants, but he’s doing it anyway to please his parents and hopefully serve others. At first he is simply another job for Faith. One that will help her save her crippling business and the women under her employ. As she spends more time with Finn she can’t deny the unexpected attraction and closeness she feels for him. She doesn’t want to hurt him, but can’t think of any other way to get out from the financial strains of her business. As the deadline approaches for her to bring him down, Faith basically starts to justify her actions by saying that Finn doesn’t really want a life of politics, so by setting him up she’s actually doing him a favor. Unfortunately I can’t say I really agree with that excuse.

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We see through their time together that Faith does have a modicum of influence over Finn. She gets him to update his wardrobe, change his hair, stop his nervous habits, etc. If she had put a bit more of her energy into convincing him to step away from this life of politics I think she just might have been successful. In the end we have to ask what she’s hoping to gain by going through with this plot. If she captures him in a compromising position and ruins his career for money, will she actually feel right taking that money? And if she doesn’t take that money…then what would it all have been for? She tries to convince herself that she’s not a horrible person for plotting Finn’s downfall, and that there are others who were counting on her to succeed. It was meant to be “for some greater good”. However, as she looks around at the lonely life she’s come to lead, and considers the possibility of crushing Finn in order to protect that solitary life, we also see her question, “What was so great about all this?”

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: This book went in a few directions I wasn’t expecting, so it definitely keeps you guessing how Finn and Faith will make it out in one piece. While Faith is our lead character, in a way she’s almost our villain at the same time, which makes it rather hard to like her. Finn was adorable and you can’t help but be drawn in by his innocence. I was hoping to see more street-smarts or conspiring from Faith to overcome the dubious plotting of Finn’s rival, but instead we sort of see her run out of steam towards the end. It’s almost like Faith has run out of faith in herself. When you combine that with Finn as our unsuspecting prey, it’s kind of a melancholy read. It’s not often we find ourselves rooting for a lead character to fail, but you kind of hope she does so that Finn can come away unscathed.

Smut Level: It’s somewhat surprising there wasn’t more smut involved here considering our lead character is a Madam! When you take Finn’s innocence and virginity into consideration though, it makes sense.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 422 Pages

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Cold, Hard, & Heartless by MV Ellis

An insightful look at our rock star’s point of view when it came to the events which played out in Catching London. See how immediate his infatuation with London truly was, as well as how he’d do just about anything to keep her in his life. Even if it involves…a hostile takeover?

What’s it About?

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Cold. Hard. Heartless. If I don’t rise, I can’t fall. If I don’t give, I can’t take. If I don’t love, I can’t lose. If I don’t break, I can’t heal. If I don’t care, I can’t hurt. And if I don’t expose my heart, it can’t get broken.

As a boy, Arlo Jones learned that hearts could literally be broken. His shattered into a thousand tiny pieces when his dad died, and he vowed to never let that happen again. He had to be cold, hard, and heartless. As a man, he has his shtick with chicks. He’s never been in love, or even in lust. He gets horny, fucks, and sends them on their way. Rinse. Repeat. It ain’t broke, so no need to fix it. Until London. Meeting her is the start of something big, like the first bump of coke or hit of the pipe. From day one, the only way forward is deeper in, and there is no easy way out. If this is love, he’s never going to be the same again.

First Impressions

I’m always hesitant to read a sequel or prequel of a novel which focuses on the same story from book one being retold from another character’s point of view. After all, we’ve basically already seen how this story plays out, what more could we possibly stand to gain from seeing it a second time. As it turns out, there are several reasons why this particular retelling came across as insightful rather than repetitive. First of all, we don’t simply get a rehash of the entire first book. Thank goodness!

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Whereas the first book was almost 400 pages, this sequel is a quick read at just 120 pages, providing us a brief snippet if you will into Arlo’s growing need for London. We don’t see the entire span of their relationship play out in this book, but instead focus on what was truly key. That first moment that Arlo looks upon London and realizes she’s provoking feelings in him he’s never felt for another woman before, as well as the progression of how he admits to himself that he’s not willing to give up on her. This sequel ends with the scene where Arlo implores upon London to go on tour with him and his band mates as their behind-the-scenes photographer, whereas in book one we saw how the entire tour carried out and concluded.

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Arlo is Arlo

Another feature of this brief retelling that I particularly appreciated was the fact that while we do get to see a softer side of Arlo, his personality doesn’t undergo some sort of transformation into full-blown romantic simply because we are seeing things from his point of view. I feel like this is a trap that many authors can fall into, as though providing insight into the male psyche will make you forget, or even forgive, any flaws that the female lead focused on in the first book. Not the case here! Let’s be completely honest, at times Arlo can be selfish, kind of a dick, and quite the horn dog. Yes, we do see him admit to himself that what he feels for London is something new and different that he doesn’t quite know how to deal with, but it’s not like we suddenly see him fall in love at first sight.

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Honestly, I think in the beginning Arlo did question what his ultimate endgame was in regards to London. Was it simply to get her into bed and fulfill his lust for her? Or did he want to explore a more meaningful relationship? It was enlightening to see the transition throughout this sequel as the initial need for sexual gratification did eventually turn into the desire for something more, but I think it was true to Arlo’s character that we see him struggle with this admission for the possibility of an emotional connection with London. If we’d suddenly seen him declare right off the bat that he knew he wanted to one day marry London and have a bunch of babies with her, I think I would have questioned who this impostor was from the character we grew to know in book one. Definitely refreshing to see Arlo’s personality and character hold firm, including the good and the bad.

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The Brotherhood

Something we do see more of a focus on in this novel which was pretty absent from book one was the connection which Arlo had with his band mates, as well as his twin brother Luke. In the first book we saw that the majority of their interactions were pretty heated, especially when it came time for them to tour. Arlo’s infatuation with London on tour was something his band mates weren’t familiar with, and at times it was a cause of animosity in terms of how he would abandon them on stage to go search for London in the wings of the concert venue. However, the high point of this book for me was when we saw Arlo’s ability to open up with his band and his brother about these newfound feelings for London, and how he wasn’t quite sure how to deal with them.

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In those moments, we saw how close these men are to each other, and it’s often the few times that Arlo can just be himself. He doesn’t have to be the lead singer of the Heartless Few when he’s with them, he can simply be Arlo, the man seeking advice on how to steal the heart of the girl who has captured his attention. The one area that I think could have benefited from more attention was specifically in Arlo’s relationship with his twin, Luke. We do get a few scenes following his initial meeting with London where Luke basically berates Arlo for being a sex fiend. However, I think it would have been fascinating to see an additional confrontation or two between these twins when Arlo realizes that Luke seems to be making more progress than he is at connecting with London. In my opinion, this was the sole area of the book that was lacking for me.

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

Series: Heartless Few, Book 2. I’m excited to see what’s in store for Arlo and London following the conclusion of their world tour together. Will they manage to stay together considering all the drama and heartache that fame must undoubtedly bring? We’ll just have to see!

Final Impressions: A quick, enlightening read. I enjoyed that this wasn’t a rehash from start to finish of everything we saw go down in book 1. The fact this sequel concludes at basically the halfway point of the first novel was a stroke of genius. I was worried at first if entering the mind of Arlo would soften the bad boy we’d come to know previously to a point where we wouldn’t recognize him anymore. I’m happy to say that Arlo does remain Arlo in every sense, but here we truly get to see all of his personal struggles and frustrations when it comes to pursuing London.

Smut Level: Oh to be inside the male mind. Overall we saw more sex scenes in book one, but I’d say we definitely see more sexual musings in this one.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 120 Pages.

Temptation by Ivy Smoak

Full disclosure. I’ve never been a huge fan when a review begins with the warning, “prepare yourself for a rant”. It always makes me roll my eyes a bit in annoyance, wondering how someone couldn’t possibly find at least one redeeming quality. Well…I hate to say it, but…prepare yourself for a rant.

What’s it About? 

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When Penny Taylor runs into a handsome stranger in a coffee shop, she believes her luck has finally changed. After having her confidence unwound by her ex, she falls hard for a true gentleman. But once she realizes that her crush is her communications professor, her world is turned upside down.

Haunted by dreams of the alluring Professor Hunter, Penny can’t seem to dismiss her fantasies and the temptation to have him grows deeper. Will the excitement, danger, and mystery surrounding Professor Hunter bring her to her knees?

First Impressions

Here’s the thing with this book that made it rather difficult to sympathize or even root for our lead characters to succeed. They were both playing the game, and they both knew they were playing it. You’re telling me this professor really put his number in a student’s phone with the innocent intention of having her call him whenever she ever needed a “ride”? I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s more than willing to give her a “ride”, just not one in his car. Actually…now that I think about it, they do get rather hot and heavy at one point in his automobile.

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Or how about when Penny discloses her obvious forbidden attraction to him during her speeches in class, but veils it in a way where the other students don’t know she’s talking about their professor even though he’s clearly aware of her flirtations? Another indicator that this relationship felt more like a game rather than actual love was that throughout Penny’s personal musings, as well as during her physical encounters with James she constantly referred to him as “Professor Hunter”. The fact she rarely referenced him by his first name made it feel like she was more enthralled with the idea of him as her teacher rather than as a legitimate source of romance. They both were playing the game to get close to the other, intrigued by the inappropriateness of a relationship between them, and poking each other with a proverbial stick to get a lust-filled reaction out of the other. Any excuse of, “oh we couldn’t fight our love” is a bit of BS in my opinion.

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The Married Professor

The contrived drama surrounding James’ previous marriage was beyond infuriating. After one night of lovemaking Penny is utterly wrecked when she discovers a wedding band hidden away in James’ bedroom nightstand. Rather than confront him directly, she flees in distress and chooses to ignore his repeated texts and phone calls asking if she’s alright. If it were up to Penny, she probably would have ignored him forever, but ultimately decides she wants to apologize to him. Not for running away without an explanation, oh no! She wants to apologize for tempting him away from his wife. Good…God! Even if he was actually cheating on his wife, you shouldn’t be the one to apologize!!

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As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, when Penny does ultimately confront him after class it’s merely to walk up and tauntingly say “I knowwwww”, and “I know your secret” without actually stating what it is she thinks she knows. When James stares back at her with utter confusion she berates him for the fact he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and once again runs from him without just going, “Yo, I found your wedding ring, explain yourself”. I couldn’t help but imagine what my response would be if someone I was dating walked up and menacingly said “I know your secret”. There’s just…so much to choose from :).  James is obviously annoyed and hurt, so he starts snapping at students in class, to which Penny’s reaction is that the only time she’s ever seen him angry like that was when it was directed at her in private. For the love of God there are so many things wrong with this scenario I can’t take it!!!

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The Friend-Zone

Another rather disturbing feature of this entire breakdown in communication is that Penny runs right into the arms of a “friend” of hers, Tyler, who she knows is smitten like a kitten when it comes to her. Now, don’t get me wrong, Tyler is far from perfect. He has trouble understanding the meaning of the word “no”, and in spite of Penny’s repeated declarations that she just wants to be friends with him, he’s pretty unrelenting in his pursuit of something more. But it’s still troubling that Penny uses Tyler as a way of trying to get over Professor Hunter, and to make him jealous. Again, she’s playing a game with the emotions of these two men, and it brings her immaturity to the forefront.

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At one point she even admits to herself that the main reason she decided to get together with Tyler even though she still had feelings for Professor Hunter was because she wanted to have a “back-up” in case things with Professor Hunter fell through for good. It’s pretty evident that she never really considered Tyler a serious dating option, and he was basically an epitome of “rebound” and “payback”. You can’t help but feel bad for the guy, even though his constant pursuit of Penny and behavior towards her at the beginning of the book was inappropriate to the n’th degree and rather grating on the nerves. Again, it’s quite a challenge to like any of the characters in this tale.

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A Difference in Age

Another key feature of my dislike for these characters was the entire drama revolving around Penny’s age. James mistakes her age because she was taking his class that is usually full of seniors when in reality she’s just a sophomore. Ok, first of all, sophomore, senior, doesn’t matter. She’s a student, you shouldn’t be touching her thong, or laying her out on your desk until after graduation at the earliest. Second, you…are…a…teacher. Her student information is literally at your fingertips, don’t tell me you didn’t take the time to look it up. Third, Penny is a pot calling the kettle black. She’s so quick to judge James for his faults, and berate him for not being open and honest with her about the details of his marriage, and yet she keeps her true age a secret from him throughout the entirety of the book. Don’t get me wrong, James’ propensity for secrecy is certainly well deserved criticism, but you can’t deny the hypocrisy of her keeping such a big secret herself.

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My Sarcastic Bright Side

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you were headed to your college professor’s office after class one day to ask him a question about something that happened in class, and you opened his office door to find him naked and 69’ing with one of your classmates on his desk. Wouldn’t that be…shocking?! While that doesn’t exactly happen in this novel in terms of the untimely discovery, we do get to witness a professor 69’ing with a student from his class on his work desk. It’s undoubtedly a rather heinous breach of ethics, but you gotta give it to them. That is one hell of an impressive balancing act. And to keep trucking along as the wood of the desk digs into your back, or knees, not to mention the possibility of an errant pencil getting stuck in a rather unsavory orifice? I’m simultaneously judging, yet also carrying out an appreciative golf clap.

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Series: The Hunted, book 1. Unfortunately I don’t really see myself continuing on with this series.

Final Impression: All in all, it’s hard to find anyone to root for in this novel. Any time something bad happened, or if there was a misunderstanding in terms of lack of communication, my gut response always seemed to be “well, you’re getting what you deserve”. Penny’s lack of maturity, and James’ demands for privacy in multiple aspects of his relationship with Penny didn’t result in them being the most like-able of characters. Lastly, because of their lack of communication when it came to age, marriage, etc. it’s clear that the basic foundation of their relationship, the glue keeping them together, revolves entirely around sex. Yet another reason I found it difficult to have an emotional connection to these characters.

Smut Level: My goodness, the easier question might be where did these two not have sex? We’ve got some up against a tree, in the ocean, and a classic elevator locale. The most outlandish though would have to be when she secretly sucked him off from under his desk while he was talking to a colleague in his office.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 353 Pages.

A Shimmer of Heat by Christy Shields

This relationship might start off as a ruse, but it doesn’t take long before our lead characters feel the underlying heat of a connection between them.

What’s it About? 

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When a beautiful young widow catches the attention of a vicious Denver drug lord, her only hope is the tough owner of Resolution Security. Alessia Lowell has no idea what kind of trouble she is getting into when she agrees to a simple dinner. Matt Heynes has no desire to get involved with anyone, let alone a widow with three teenage daughters, but when he sees Alessia on a date with a major Denver drug player, he knows he has to intervene before her life, and that of her daughters, is torn apart.

When Matt insists on acting as a decoy, he hadn’t expected it to be so hard to keep their fake relationship…well…fake. Alessia Lowell is everything he hadn’t wanted in a woman and fighting his growing attraction to her is proving to be the one challenge he can’t overcome. Stefan Dawes might have moved from Alessia, but that doesn’t mean he has gotten over Matt’s role in losing her and it is only a matter of time before he takes his revenge on Matt. But no one expects him to strike where he does…

First Impression

The premise of this novel is 100% spot on. There’s nothing quite like a middle-aged widow finally deciding to get back out there in the dating world, and finding out that one of her initial dates is a key player in the Denver drug scene. And I thought I had some bad first date experiences! Thankfully, Alessia has an ally in her corner. Matt, head of Resolution Security, and a handsome hunk all in his own right. The idea is simple, Alessia and Matt will pretend to be interested in each other, go out on a few dates, and send a clear message to Mr. drug lord that Alessia isn’t interested. However, it doesn’t take long before Alessia and Matt are no longer pretending, and their passion for each other comes to the forefront.

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The drama with this drug lord was especially intriguing and suspenseful at the start of the novel, particularly when we realize the mere presence of Matt won’t be enough to deter this mad man. Matt and Alessia are going to have to up their game, and get a little touchy feely with each other. Then there’s the heart-stopping moment when this criminal chooses to go after Matt’s loved ones as a form of retaliation. It certainly pushes Matt to enter caveman protection mode, and undergo any means necessary to ensure that those closest to him, including Alessia, will forever be safe from this unrelenting foe. Matt isn’t going into battle alone though, and has some backup to help him with his plan. The bad-ass ex-military hotties who make up his security team. Gotta love when a group of sexy alpha males decide they’re not going to put up with anymore bull sh*t from Mr. drug lord.

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A Diverse Cast of Characters

We have an unbelievably unique and lovable group of characters in this novel. The fact that both Matt and Alessia have been married before, and have teenage daughters means that they’re not the usually 20-somethings we see featured in a romance novel. Beyond this though, we see characters representative of different countries, races, and even those with physical imperfections. I’ve certainly come across romantic suspense novels before which feature private security firms full of hunky ex-military men, and more often than not it seems like each member of the team is a muscled clone of the man standing next to him. You can’t help but appreciate the diversity we see represented here, as well as the natural camaraderie which connects them all. None of it seemed forced.

Some get more focus than others, but all are delightfully entertaining, and you can tell that each has their own story to tell. Within this rag-tag group of men you can easily tell that each has his own distinct personality, and hopefully we’ll see a subsequent book for every one of them. We get an introduction of some potential love interests for a few of the characters in this first book, and I must say I am particularly intrigued by Chess, who seems to be Matt’s right-hand man, and a dead ringer for Idriss Elba based on his physical characteristics and sexy-as-hell British accent. There also seems to be an implied infatuation between Chess and one of Matt’s sisters, so if that happens to be the focus of a future novel I am 100% going to be reading it.

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A Widow on the Dating Scene

Matt is the first man that Alessia has been with since the death of her husband. Her attraction and feelings for Matt are clearly evident, but I wish we could have delved deeper into the dichotomy between her previous relationship with her husband and her current dalliance with Matt. It’s merely brushed upon ever so briefly that her feelings for Matt are so much stronger than they ever were for the husband with whom she was simply going through the motions of life, marriage and parenthood. I think we could have explored her mindset over this realization more closely, as well as the influence it might have on her daughters for them to realize she might love Matt more than she loved their father. Instead it’s sort of brushed to the side to focus on another unexpected relationship which was burgeoning on the sidelines of this story.

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From Matt and Alessia to Al and Liv

Towards the middle of the novel things take an unexpected turn when we switch focus to one of Matt’s team members, Al, and his growing infatuation with their new office administrator, Liv, who has a dark and secretive past of her own. This was undoubtedly a fascinating story in it’s own right, but it made it feel as though we were dealing with two separate story lines, essentially two separate books which were rolled into one. It diverts attention away from our primary couple, and at one point they’re absent for a large portion of the story as we witness the complicated start of a friendship between Al and Liv.

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Alessia especially sort of takes a back seat to the plot at this point in the story. Instead we see the focus switch to this secondary relationship, as well as take a closer look at Matt’s relationship with his family and his team of compatriots. In addition, towards the latter half of the novel the drama with the drug lord is resolved rather quickly, almost effortlessly in a way, and then brushed aside to the point where I almost forgot that it was the impetus for our love birds coming together in the first place. While I was intrigued to find out more about this back and forth struggle between Al and Liv, it certainly attributed to a sense of an uneven balance of focus to the overall plot. Also, their story ended on a cliffhanger, which really made me question why we had such a focus on it if we weren’t going to get a cohesive resolution to it.

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

Series: Resolution Security, book 1. I’ll continue with this series for sure! Hopefully going forward we’ll have each book revolve around one specific couple rather than trying to weave two or more tales together into one. I understand how the goal here was to peak our interest into the lives of each of our characters, but sometimes less can be more.

Final Impression: This is definitely a tale of romantic suspense, but it’s also one of family. Not only in regards to our primary couple’s relationship with their daughters, but also Matt’s security teammates who have truly become brothers throughout the years. Yes, the story could have been balanced slightly differently with more of a focus on Alessia and Matt, and just a hint at the complicated relationship between Al and Liv. Instead it seemed like we had two books rolled into one, with neither story receiving the full attention they deserved. I’m still in love with all of these characters though, and can’t wait to see what’s in store for all of them in the future!

Smut Level: We might be dealing with some mature characters, but my goodness do they know how to get down and naughtyyyy! These two certainly haven’t lost their sexual libido over the years.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 433 Pages.

Forgotten Hearts by Sloan Archer

Geez, yet another western romance novel that is making me consider a vacation to a cattle ranch in Montana! Not gonna lie, I’m sort of considering the possibility of building it into a work trip of mine next fall. We’ll just have to see if it all comes together!

What’s it About? 

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In the summer of 1991, young love blossomed between Cash Axton and Vanessa Paul in the vast field of forget-me-nots that separated their family homes in small town Dunblair Ridge, Montana. The two became inseparable best friends, and ten-year-old Cash made a vow to Vanessa that he intended to one day carry out: I’m going to marry you. But with autumn came an unforeseen tragedy, resulting in an event that would tear the two apart and divide them by thousands of miles.

As adults, Cash and Vanessa are living separate lives until fate steps in and brings them back to Dunblair Ridge. Cash, haunted by the events he’d witnessed overseas as a photojournalist, comes home to heal and take over the family’s failing ranch. Vanessa, a workaholic financial planner who suddenly finds herself jobless and single, leaves New York City for Montana to claim the farmhouse she inherited.

Vanessa intends to stay in Dunblair Ridge just long enough to fix up her property and sell it, but then she reunites with Cash and a flood of memories comes rushing back. While the two cannot deny their mutual attraction, they struggle to ignore the ticking clock that counts down the days until Vanessa returns to New York. Will Cash’s vow go unbroken?

First Impressions

Vanessa is having a bit of a rough day. It starts off with her being fired from her job under the accusation of embezzlement, which she didn’t actually commit. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when she runs home to what she assumes will be the comforting arms of her boyfriend, she finds him engaged in some naked loofah washing with a young coffee barista. And for the cherry on top of this hot fudge sundae of mayhem, said barista is pregnant, and is engaged to Vanessa’s now ex-boyfriend. Goodness gracious! I need to remember the next time I experience frustration because Trader Joe’s is out of arugula that things can always get worse. Much, much worse.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

The misfortunes don’t stop there for our young heroine. Her good for nothing mother certainly puts the “itch” in “bitch”, and has been misusing funds which Vanessa’s been sending her for rent. She then discovers that the only relative to ever show her love and affection one summer back when she was 10 has recently died. Her mother never told her of her Aunt Jeanie’s death, and Vanessa has inherited her entire estate in the small Montana town of Dunblair Ridge. Throughout all of these crippling misfortunes I kept asking myself one question…is she ever going to actually meet the sexy cowboy who is now living across the ranch field from her? This is a romance novel after all, yes?

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While the series of unfortunate events at the start of the novel definitely help set the scene for Vanessa’s desperation to move from New York City to Montana, I couldn’t help but feel that it went on for a tad too long. It’s not until over 1/3 of the novel is over that Vanessa and Cash actually have a conversation with each other as adults. The prologue of the novel presents us with the briefest of flashbacks from when the two were 10 years old, and Cash vowed that one day he would marry the young lass who became such a close friend over those summer months before her menacing mother whisked her away. The novel definitely could have benefited from a shortened summary of the downfall to Vanessa’s seemingly perfect New York City life, so that we could have more moments involving Cash and Vanessa rekindling their friendship from years before, and seeing it evolve into something even more.

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A Lost Friendship

Another area where I wish the story had focused a bit more attention was on that summer Vanessa and Cash spent together so many years ago. The initial flashback at the start of the novel is really the only time we see an interaction between Vanessa and Cash as children. Later on we get more information about how Vanessa and her mother ended up staying in Montana all those years ago, how her mother abandoned her to live with her Aunt Jeanie, and how Vanessa and her aunt became remarkably close during those few months together before her cruel mother came to collect her again. Seriously, this mom makes the evil stepmother from Cinderella look like Mother Goose in comparison.

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The scene which describes the crushing moment when Vanessa is literally ripped from the arms of her Aunt was so disturbingly heartbreaking you almost need to take a moment to collect yourself. While I definitely appreciated this glimpse into Vanessa’s past connection to her aunt, the missing component was really her connection with Cash during that time. We get a brief mention of how the two were constantly playing together, but we don’t even see a recap of how it was that the two first met. I feel like if we’d had just one or two additional scenes highlighting their friendship as children, it would have made their eventual meeting again 20 years later so much more special and meaningful.

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Even though I would have liked to see more of a window into Vanessa and Cash’s time together as children, as well as had their meeting occur earlier on in the book, I must say I really did appreciate the moment the two did finally reconnect. The reason I enjoyed this moment so much is because the two had no initial memory of each other from when they were children. I feel like most authors in a similar situation would have had this heartwarming moment where they both glimpse each other again, and all the memories come flooding back right away. Nope, not here! You can’t help but appreciate the reality of the situation, where neither can immediately recall why there’s a sense of familiarity to the hottie staring back at them. Let’s face it, I know I certainly wouldn’t be able to remember many of the details of someone I only knew for about 3 months when I was 10 years old! Eventually they both remember the time they spent together, but it comes about in such a natural way you can’t help but love it.

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Coming Back Full Circle

It’s kind of funny, at the start of the novel I kept asking myself if the two leads of this romance were ever actually going to meet, and by the end I was continually wondering whether we would ever see a resolution to some of the misfortunes presented at the start of the novel. It may seem like Vanessa is doomed to never clear her name from the embezzling accusation which ended her financial advising career, but eventually this story line does come back to the forefront. What followed was definitely an interesting progression of events. At first you experience a kind of frustration at Vanessa’s consideration to leave Cash and Montana behind, even though they’ve both come to hold a prominent place of importance in her life. However, you also have to appreciate that she’s not willing to turn her back on her career in order to be with a man. If she had, I think it would have seemed like a break in character from the determined woman we’ve come to know throughout the book. Instead we see a true internal struggle between what Vanessa thought she always wanted, and what she now realizes she wants.

One aspect that didn’t totally come full circle for me was in regards to Vanessa’s familial struggles. After Vanessa’s mother pulled her away from her loving aunt all those years ago, the two lost touch immediately. Her mother cut off all contact between the two, including throwing away any letters Vanessa tried to write her aunt, and sending back any letters her aunt tried to send Vanessa’s way. When Vanessa shows up in Montana, an old friend of her aunt’s presents her with a stack of the letters which Jeanie tried to send Vanessa all those years ago. The emotions are still too raw for Vanessa to confront these letters right away, so she hides them away in a box underneath her bed. I kept hoping throughout the novel that at some point we would get a glimpse into the love these letters undoubtedly contained, but unfortunately we never hear mention of the letters again at the end of the book.

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Something else which sort of fades to the background is Vanessa’s cold-hearted mother. I kept worrying that one day we’d see her show up on Vanessa’s doorstep in Montana begging for money, or perhaps throwing a wrench into her developing relationship with Cash. However, I was surprised to find that after Vanessa vowed that she was through once and for all with her mother, this vow holds true throughout the rest of the book. Ultimately, I must say I admired Vanessa for finally having the strength to distance herself from such an unloving and unwelcome burden in her life. Again, surprised it never came back into the story, but all in all pretty pleased that this was the case.

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*An ARC of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Dunblair Hearts, book 1. I definitely want to continue with this series. We’re introduced to a slew of beloved townsfolk, and I’m interested to see if some of Vanessa’s newfound friends will find love of their own in a future novel.

Final Impression: This is a story of one woman’s determination in the face of adversity. She might be tempted to give up at times, and even have an emotional breakdown or two (who doesn’t?), but when all is said and done she’s a woman with a plan that she intends to stick to. I would actually say this is more a story of Vanessa breaking free and moving on from her previously hectic life in New York City rather than classifying it as a romance, per se. Something which contributed to this feeling of the romance taking a back seat in the plot is the fact that it took quite a long time before Vanessa and Cash reconnected after so many years apart. In addition, a number of the scenes which involve them developing their relationship from acquaintances to friends to lovers are described more in summary rather than in detail. I almost feel like I got to know them more as individuals rather than as a couple.

Smut Level: A clean read from start to finish. Definitely have some flirtations between Vanessa and Cash, as well as one eventual love scene, but it’s passed over without any erotic detail.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 233 Pages.

Catching London by MV Ellis

There’s getting caught red-handed, and then there’s getting caught completely nude by your employer in his shower.

What’s it About? 

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He’s not looking to change his bad boy ways.

Arlo Jones is a bad boy billionaire rock star with the world at his feet. He lives the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle to the max, and believes in working hard and playing harder. He’s a man who always gets what he wants, especially when it comes to women. Until he meets London.

She’s a damaged dancer not looking to fall.

All London Llwellyn wants is to rebuild her life following the tragic car accident that robbed her of her fiancé, and ended her career as a professional ballet dancer. She’s working two jobs to scrape together the cash to set up her own studio, and reinvent herself as a photographer. The last thing she wants is to get involved. Arlo promises to always be there to catch her, but can London trust him enough to let herself fall?

First Impressions

My goodness are we presented with one hell of a meet cute! Nothing quite like our rock star lead, Arlo, catching London naked in his shower in her attempt to rid herself of a slew of spiders she encountered while cleaning his house. Arlo is the embodiment of an alpha male. He’s used to getting what he wants, and he wants London. At times he does cross the line of being too alpha. There was one scene in particular in which Arlo has publicly poured his heart out to London, and she doesn’t necessarily reciprocate in the way he was hoping for. He’s understandably upset, especially considering he’s never voiced such feelings of love for someone else before, and it results in him throwing a chair against a mirror in anger. While his frustration is clearly evident, it was almost too violent of a scene for my liking. That being said, London also manages to bring out the softer side in this rock star with such a tough exterior.

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Let’s Get Physical

Sex is an important part of their relationship, whether it’s present in bringing them together, or absent entirely. Upon first meeting, there’s an obvious physical connection. They both want each other…badly. However, London is determined to distance herself from this man who has completely overwhelmed her. She hasn’t considered intimacy with anyone since the death of her fiancé, so her sudden feelings of lust and passion for Arlo are entirely overwhelming. She tries to leave him in the dust, but what Arlo wants, Arlo gets. He does everything he can to bring London back into his life, and it’s not long before their chemistry reaches a boiling point. They both admit the best strategy is to give into their passion, and just do the deed already.

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But we all know these two are more than a simple one and done. I mean, does that seriously ever work? After they have a taste for each other, they find it difficult to separate. However, once Arlo proposes that London shadow him to photograph his band’s tour, London insists they need to draw a line in the sand that can’t be crossed. No sex between them on tour. As a matter of fact, she writes it into her contract before taking on the job. Again, we all know this no-sex clause isn’t going to last, but I must say I really appreciated when it was in place. It allows them to focus on a relationship that extends beyond the physical. They actually have a chance to get to know each other, and share some deep and intimate details of their pasts with each other.

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An Expression of Love Through Art

At the start of their physical relationship, neither Arlo nor London are too keen to voice their true feelings for the other. It’s a source of vulnerability for them both. These two are artists who find it easier to proclaim love utilizing their own respective art forms. For Arlo, it’s through song. While we can’t hear the melody, we can see the poetry of his words on the page, and his love for London is more than evident. When it comes to London, she is much more hesitant to give into her feelings of love for Arlo. At first it’s definitely a source of frustration for us as the reader. He demonstrates in multiple ways that he’s serious and wants to commit to just her, even declaring his love in a public forum. And yet, she can’t admit to him even though she can admit to herself that she’s come to love this alpha rock star.

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But then in a moment of clarity, London heart-breakingly admits her fear of loving Arlo in case things don’t eventually work out between them. She’s already lost one love of her life when her fiancé, Danny, tragically died. The thought of losing Arlo is another loss she’s not sure she could survive. It was an admission that gave us a window into London’s hesitancy to move on with someone else in her life. After shadowing Arlo on tour to produce a coffee table book of behind-the-scenes photos, London’s photography is what ultimately highlights her true love for Arlo. The only problem with this is that unlike a song where we can at least view the words, we don’t get enough of a description of her photography to allow us as the reader to truly appreciate her love for him. We see mention from multiple people that her photos clearly demonstrate her love for him, but more detail about what these photos entailed could have let us feel her love more clearly like we could through Arlo’s song.

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A Trapeze Routine and Keeping Distance

Arlo may have started out in this read as a bit of a man-whore who would sleep with any woman on two legs, but in my opinion there were two moments which truly highlighted his love for London that went beyond their sexual relationship. During one of their first chats, London admits that while her focus growing up was constantly on ballet, her true desire as a youngster was to become a trapeze artist. This initially seemed like such a throwaway comment, and I’ll admit even I let this little detail slip from my mind. Yet, in the midst of the craziness of Arlo’s world tour, he manages to set aside time for the two of them in Paris to meet with an actual trapeze artist to teach them both a routine to perform with each other. He literally made one of her childhood dreams come true, and it was such a sweet and vulnerable moment that first made me realize Arlo isn’t just sticking around London for the sex. He truly cares about her, and wasn’t afraid to set aside his bad boy image to fly around on trapeze with the woman he’s come to love.

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The second moment that demonstrates Arlo’s softer side came about at the end of their world tour together. It’s been an intense ride, and both Arlo and London know they’re in love with the other. We hope, as does Arlo, that the end of this tour can signal the start to an actual relationship between them. Unfortunately, the opposite happens. London feels that she and Arlo have been so close during this tour that she ultimately needs some space from him so she can focus on herself, and discover where this relationship can go. When she admits this to our alpha rock star, I was convinced it was either going to be the end of the two of them, or Arlo would ignore her request entirely to convince her they belong together. Imagine my utter shock when Arlo actually agrees to give her the space she asks for. He acknowledges that his instinct is to never let her go, but realizes that if he pushes too hard he could push her right out of his life. He might not be happy about it, but he places his faith in the connection between him and London, praying that eventually she’ll realize they’re meant to be together. The fact Arlo could put aside his inner alpha tendencies demonstrated that his character had truly grown and matured throughout the novel.

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

Series: Heartless Few, book 1. I’m excited to see what’s in store next for Arlo and London, as well as some of the other characters we’re introduced to in this preliminary novel.

Final Impression: There’s an interesting give and take with these characters. In the beginning you can’t decide if you wanna slap Arlo, or push him up against a wall for ravishing. Eventually you see him open up with London, and admit feelings he’s never had for anyone else before. While London is clearly struggling with her feelings for a man other than her deceased fiancé, at times her acts of distancing herself and her emotions from Arlo are somewhat selfish. At the start it’s definitely an understandable defense mechanism where she’s trying to protect herself from hurt, but once Arlo’s true feelings are evident, you feel a sense of sadness that his attempts to wear his heart on his sleeve are brushed aside so abruptly by London. Two imperfect characters for sure, but you’ll definitely root for them to be together.

Smut Level: Arlo is every inch the dirty talking, pushy, alpha rock star you could ever hope for. We get a plethora of delectably delicious erotic scenes, and these two have the act of multiple orgasms down to an art form!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Hot Tree Publishing. 387 Pages.

Upon Your Return by Marie Lavender

This historical read presents us with a strong start, a suspenseful conclusion, and an exciting meet cute involving the rescue of a damsel in distress through a vicious sword fight.

What’s it About? 

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Fara Bellamont has been back in society for a year after leaving Cluny Abbey, where her uncle sent her long ago. When he chooses a suitor for her for marriage, she fears that she will be forced to marry a stranger and live a miserable life. But, Fara finds herself thrust into an adventure of a lifetime when unforeseen circumstances cause her to place her trust in a strange man for protection. His intervention not only saves her, but puts her in an even more compromising position.

Grant Hill, a trading captain, is enchanted by the young heiress not only because of her beauty, but because she is hardly conventional. Underneath her ladylike exterior lies a tigress. Grant cannot help but offer his protection as she is in need and he is far from immune from her charms. Fara just never bargained on the passion that she feels for Grant Hill. As events unfold, she must decide whether her desires and the dictates of her heart should trump the rules of society in this exciting tale.

First Impression

After the untimely death of her parents, Fara was placed under the guardianship of her unloving uncle when she was just a young girl. Every choice in life was not hers to make, which is also the case when her uncle arranges for her to marry a complete stranger. After their surprise engagement is announced, Fara finds herself lured to the harbor by this fiancé she barely knows. At night. Alone. Mkay, not the smartest way to highlight the prowess of our lead character. During this escapade she is happened upon by two men hired to confront and most likely rape her. Alas, a handsome and roguish boat captain comes to her rescue. Seriously, that’s a strong start with an incredible meeting between our lead characters! You can’t wait to see the love story develop between these two, for Grant to rescue her from her cold-hearted uncle, and perhaps whisk her away to travel the world. Unfortunately that doesn’t exactly happen.

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The Quarreling of Lovers

Fara and Grant definitely have passion, but surprisingly they spend the bulk of their time together bickering. I think at times it was supposed to come across as a cute kind of arguing that’s more like foreplay than anything else, but I can’t say it was executed to its full potential. Most of the time they spent arguing I remember feeling confused, and having a tough time following what exactly they were getting so heated over. A main source of malice between them for example, is that neither can fully admit their true feelings to the other. It’s like they want to convince each other it’s just passion and desire between them without love, but then they get upset if such an implication is made. A repeated back and forth of feeling hot and then cold. One such argument occurs after Fara and Grant have given into their physical attraction and had sex. Definitely a big no-no in 19th century French society for an unmarried lady to engage in. Now they have to figure out what to do in terms of their relationship seeing as her uncle especially wouldn’t condone a marriage between them.

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Grant offers to marry her, but Fara declines saying she doesn’t want to marry when it’s not for love…even though she realizes she’s falling in love with him. Kind of a contradiction there! Fara’s life to this point has been filled with tragedy from the death of her parents, followed by living with her uncaring and harsh uncle. It’s almost like she doesn’t think she’s worthy of love or happiness. True, Grant doesn’t come right out and say he loves her, but he calls her “his woman”, constantly comes around to protect her, gets her out of her engagement to the man her uncle set her up with, will often mention how enamored he is of her, and when he’s forced to leave town he asks that she wait for him. He was so clearly trying to demonstrate through his actions how he felt about her. Yet when he repeatedly said that he only wanted her, she internally convinced herself that he was so careful to not say he loved her that it must mean he doesn’t actually care.

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Strength in Sickness

One of the most powerful moments of the novel was when Grant fell ill, and recovery seemed unlikely. His crew members sought out Fara in the hopes that her mere presence would help him find the strength to live. It was in this moment that both characters let fall all the walls they’d been building up in an attempt to deny their feelings for each other. We see Fara’s strength, fortitude and determination to stay by Grant’s side no matter what. As for Grant…he was kind of out of it because of the fever, so he couldn’t technically voice his gratitude in such a hallucinatory state. However, it was during this illness that we saw Grant call out for just one person in the whole world to be by his side, and that was Fara.

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Unfortunately the moment is slightly ruined when Grant awakens after a full recovery. For some reason Fara tries to conceal how worried she actually was during his illness, which of course causes him to get testy because he then assumes she doesn’t care about him at all (couldn’t be further from the truth of course). This immediate reflection of coldness after all her dedication in seeing him through his fever resulted in her becoming incensed at the fact he wasn’t more grateful. Such a vicious circle between these two! You really scream internally that they’ll simply admit how much they both love each other.

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Unanswered Questions

The end of this novel presents us with an interesting bout of suspense when someone from Fara’s past comes back to threaten her happiness with Grant. Overall we see that Fara has encountered numerous obstacles in her life, and Grant is a strong presence who tries to stick by her side whenever possible. That being said, some important questions of the novel were left unanswered, or at least not fully explored. For example, we never really get a full explanation as to why Fara’s fiancé set her up at the start of the novel, which served as the entire impetus for Fara and Grant coming together. It’s sort of implied her ex-fiancé had a gambling problem, but we never see him come to justice for setting her up to be possibly kidnapped and raped.

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As I mentioned earlier, Grant is forced to leave town for a lengthy period of time towards the middle of the novel, which results in him being absent for a good chunk of the story. Years in fact. We really only receive the briefest of explanations as to why he was called away in the first place, as well as what happened to him during his years apart from Fara. While his absence allows Fara to grow as an independent woman, it also means Grant’s character remains more of a mystery to us. We don’t get to know him as well as I would have liked, and his years away from Fara felt like a missed opportunity to delve deeper into his past and personality.

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

Series: Heiress in Love, book 1.

Final Impression: You can’t help but admire Fara’s strength and tenacity in the face of hardship. However, at times I felt she was also quick to push Grant away, or find a reason to close herself off from him. A few moments of bickering would have been ok between them, but it’s so prevalent during the majority of their interactions that it came across as feeling slightly overdone. In addition, Grant’s absence in the second half of the novel made it more of a challenge to connect with his character. Definitely an exciting start and conclusion, but a few tweaks here and there in the middle could have helped us emotionally connect more with our leads.

Smut Level: This is pretty steamy for a historical read! Nothing too dirty or erotic, but there’s a heap of passion in there for sure. Fara and Grant aren’t afraid to roll around on the floor if they need to.

Seasonal Giveaway: Click Here to check out a giveaway on the author’s blog. There are almost 200 prizes from 42 different authors!! This giveaway lasts until Thursday, December 20 at midnight Eastern.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Summer Solstice Publishing. 329 Pages.