My African Craving by Audrey Flynn

Erica has gone from hailing cabs and dodging traffic in New York City to dodging fires and poachers in the African safari. Not sure I’d be up to the task honestly!

What’s it About?

51N72LMh2YL._SY346_

When Erica Knight arrives in Lebombo Game Reserve for her first African safari she has no idea that her life is about to be changed forever. As an executive for a mining company she believes that negotiating the mining rights for the Lebombo Reserve will be a slam-dunk, but she didn’t count on locking horns with the reserve’s enigmatic owner, Jean-Luc de Graaf.

In the heart of a wild African landscape full of beauty and danger, Erica and Jean-Luc both stubborn and passionate find themselves on opposite sides of an escalating conflict. With the Reserve threatened by vicious poachers and runaway fires, they are thrown together unable to contain the scorching attraction between them.

Far away from the rat race of New York Erica feels the stirring of a different drum, ancient and irresistible. But surrendering to the wild would mean she would have to submit to the powerful attraction to Jean-Luc and she isn’t ready to give up control just yet…

First Impression

Full disclosure here folks. The concept of going on an African safari has never really been very high up on my bucket list. I tried to think of why that is, and honestly it was kind of difficult to pinpoint the exact reason. I love animals, and ever since watching the Lion King as a kid my adoration for lions, giraffes, and most other African safari mammals was cemented. Maybe it’s because deep down I like to think of myself as a city girl through and through, so a real-life safari seems a bit too hot and sweaty for my tastes? However, this short novel does a rather fantastic job of demonstrating the almost transcendental experience an African safari can be for some people. I think the fact that our heroine is also a city girl (and one who loves Cabernet Sauvignon on top of it!) made it easier for me to connect with her appreciation for this beautiful landscape brimming with life. The scenes where we see Erica stare straight into the black depths of these big cats’ eyes provides us with just a small glimpse at how special and ethereal that connection with nature is. Maybe I’ll have to move an African safari just a bit higher up on my bucket list after all 😉

pic-sw-cheetah-physical-characteristics-02

Business or Pleasure?

Erica’s purpose in traveling to Africa isn’t solely to go on safari. She’s actually there in an attempt to establish a mining venture in the heart of this magical Game Reserve. This brings her up close and personal with the dedicated owner, Jean-Luc. These two are seemingly enemies on opposite sides of the table. He insists that eco-tourism and maintaining the beauty of this landscape will bring more stability to the region than a big mining company ever could. Not to mention his insistence that preserving the Reserve is crucial to ensuring the safety of the animals. She on the other hand won’t give up on the argument that big business means lots of money and success for the people of the land. There is one crucial feature though which connects these two, even if it seems like it divides them on the surface.

03C003C000818522-photo-blood-diamond

Erica and Jean-Luc are fighters. They fight for what they believe in. They fight to protect those they care about. She grew up in the city, while he grew up in the plains of Africa. She worked two jobs to support her family and herself through college. He came from wealth and a family of privilege. So different on the outside, but they’ve both been taught to take care of themselves. Jean-Luc’s father was supportive, yet always taught him to work hard, and that in the bush you have to take care of yourself. You won’t always have someone to come to your rescue. As for Erica, her father abandoned her mother, sister and herself when she was young. While she didn’t have the constant support of a father-figure, his departure was perhaps the greatest life lesson she’d ever received. She learned to take care of her family through her own hard work and dedication. She couldn’t wait around hoping he’d come back. This inner determination makes it hard for either Erica or Jean-Luc to back down on what they’re fighting for, but they both recognize and appreciate that fight in the other.

maxresdefault

Moments of Silence

This novel certainly packs a punch in just 138 short pages. We have the arguments over the mining establishment, the constant threat of poachers to the tranquility of the Reserve, not to mention an approaching bush fire that might just destroy the entire region. And in the midst of it all there’s a budding romance between these supposed enemies. There’s a lot going on, but each subplot really does play an important role to the overall story. The drama involving the mines establishes the initial animosity and distrust between our two lead characters, but the hazards of hunters and flames demonstrate a crucial softer-side to both Erica and Jean-Luc.

rinoceronte branco macho 1

Ironically enough, the most exciting moments for me were not the ones involving a dramatic retreat from a bush fire, or a showdown with poachers. No, instead it was the few scenes where we find Erica and Jean-Luc finding a moment of peace and alone time together. It’s almost like the whole world stands still, and they’re able to connect in their own solitary bubble, even if they both know that they only have limited moments together before that tranquility is interrupted. Whether it be a quiet picnic next to a secluded lake, or a passionate embrace in the shower, Erica and Jean-Luc can find a few precious moments where they don’t just put their differences aside, but their differences practically disappear completely. Hands down, my favorite scenes of the book.

s-6c9a6a581bf2080b47633dd0ecf125da8544576d

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

Series: Stand-alone. I’d really love to see a continuation where different characters might find their own serenity and romance in the midst of the Lebombo Reserve.

Final Impression: There’s definitely a lot going on in this short novel, and while you can’t really remove any subplot without the overall story feeling slightly broken, I do think adding just a few more chapters could have provided us with more depth to these side dramas. I did sort of guess one part of the big final reveal in regards to the poachers, but honestly I was expecting more sabotage than what we got. Ultimately I’m happy my inkling was incorrect as it would have been pretty heartbreaking, but the actual climax was still slightly predictable. I did enjoy seeing Erica and Jean-Luc find their few moments of tenderness and solitude in the midst of all the difficulties they’re dealing with in life. They’ve both put up walls in an attempt to protect themselves from the hurt of Erica’s eventual return to the US, but as they get through these dangers together their walls start to fall down, and in the end they’re left with each other.

Smut Level: These two slowly explore each other in a shower. But not just any shower. An outdoor shower!!! Definitely upping the details of this sexcapade locale.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Inkspell Publishing LLC. 138 Pages.

sunset-africa-1431x450

Advertisements

Up Too Close by Andrea K. Stein & Sawyer Stone

“A life without adventure. Or a life with too much adventure?” Which would you choose?

What’s it About?

up too close

CeCe Ahlstrom, massage therapist to the rich and famous, is done with men. Her last rich boyfriend tried to kill her on an ill-fated cruise through the Grenadines. Now she’s determined to get on with her life but can’t find the funds to get to her next spa gig in Portugal. Then along comes notorious womanizer Captain René Baudoin. He’s hell on the hearts of women, he can handle any storm at sea, yet he might have met his match in a leaky old boat. He needs a first mate crazy enough to help crew the wreck known as the Tourbillon across the Atlantic. Destiny draws CeCe and René together, but things are not what they seem. He struggles with a family secret that could destroy his future and CeCe will have to face a truth not even she knows yet. Out on the open sea, René and CeCe soon find themselves…UP TOO CLOSE.

First Impression

CeCe and René are determined to cross the Atlantic without any sexual funny business popping up between them. In order to entertain the idea of such an undertaking, René has to constantly remind himself to view CeCe as though she were a six-foot-four hairy Turk. Yeah…we’ll see how long that little mental trick works out 🙂 One of the seemingly principal features of René’s personality is that he is a hell of a flirtatious Frenchman. It’s an aspect that was strikingly clear in the first book, and we see it carry over into this second book as well. His attempts to reign in his flirtatiousness when in CeCe’s presence sometimes proves too difficult to maintain.

french actor

However, as CeCe and René develop a more deep and meaningful relationship on their trek throughout the Caribbean we see that René’s flirtatious personality almost disappears entirely. Not gonna lie, I was kind of torn with how I felt about this! I’m not saying I wanted him to flirt with others, but the cute sexual suggestions that he and CeCe would throw back and forth at each other during the start of their journey were really the cornerstone to the comedic aspect of the novel. It’s nice that René matures to realize how important CeCe is to him, and that he no longer has the desire to be the playboy French captain he’s developed a reputation for. I just wish there had been a continuation of his flirty side so that it didn’t feel as though we lost a fun part of what made René, well, René!

boat

A Dog Named “Dog”

Before CeCe and René get too far along in their journey we see them pick up another unexpected passenger, and that would be René’s grandmother’s Portuguese water dog named Chienne. Aka dog. Aka…bitch. While I would identify myself as a cat person, even I would be the first to admit that this dog is freakin’ adorable. Hands down, the standout feature of the book for me. Chienne forms the final piece of this mismatched family in the middle of the ocean. The fact that the dog hates René, yet loves CeCe makes the dynamics between all three characters all the more fun. Of course by the end of the book we see Chienne open up to René, and it just breaks your heart a bit. In a good way though!

portuguese-water-dog

The Supplemental Joys of Life

One of the key features of the first book that I absolutely loved was all of the delightful secondary characters. However, it seemed like this element was sort of missing in this novel. Sure, we get an introduction to Rene’s grandmother towards the beginning, and CeCe’s family towards the end, but throughout the majority of the novel we just see this rag tag group of three sailors out on the open ocean. Yes, I’m including Chienne in that sailor count! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved Chienne, and could probably just read a book about all of his canine adventures, but I think seeing a few more supporting characters throughout the middle of the book could have helped balance out the fun of the novel.

nemeau-swimming_med

We do get another peek of one of the more elusive and crazy characters from book one, which is Devin Manning. He’s funding this little expedition to Portugal, and is the most intriguing of wannabe James Bond spy characters. Unfortunately we didn’t see as much of him in this novel as I would have liked. The few glimpses we caught of him in book one seemed appropriate, but I felt like as we move along in this series it would be fun to learn just a bit more about him and his background. Instead, he’s probably even more of a mystery now than he was in book one. Hopefully in book three we’ll finally discover some kind of method to his madness. Although I could also see him being a continuous mystery character who pops up whenever he feels like it.

007

An Unexpected Journey

It was kind of tricky to track how far along our couple was in their journey. True, we are provided with the longitude and latitude of their location at the start of every chapter, but maybe a map image would have helped a bit more to visualize their progress…or lack thereof. There was such build-up to this strenuous journey, and yet the bulk of the novel seemed to involve CeCe and René traipsing throughout the Caribbean. Then all of a sudden they’re in Portugal. With the turn of every page I kept wondering, ok, when are we gonna start the crossing to Portugal? Once we got to the half-way point I actually became convinced that we’d never get there. Imagine my surprise when lo and behold we finally get to the last few chapters and we’re basically transported there in the span of a chapter or two. Is it really that quick? Do I need to take a week off work for a fabulous sailing adventure across the Atlantic? Yeaaaaah…no. Let’s face it, a storm at sea is basically a guarantee.

storm-boat

Unbalanced

There are some humorous features to this novel which will definitely make you chuckle aloud. CeCe’s crazy family reunion in the city of Horta is sort of the climactic event for silliness. We even get a confrontational argument between CeCe and René in the midst of the reunion wherein they both have microphones to confess some of their biggest secrets in a crowded room full of CeCe’s friends and family. Kind of a cheesy scene, and ultimately I wish that more of these silly comedic elements could have been spread out more evenly across the breadth of the book. They’re all sort of reserved towards the end, which lends an unbalanced feeling to the book.

horta.jpg

We are introduced to René’s outspoken grandmother near the start of the book, and then we get a mad glimpse of CeCe’s crazy family at the end. The heart and soul of the book involves René and CeCe connecting both physically and emotionally alone in the middle of the ocean. The fact that their moments of romance are book-ended by some rather over-the-top, almost cartoonish characters means that you go through a bit of whiplash in regards to what tone is being set for the novel. I felt like either the other supplemental characters should have been toned down ever so slightly, or maybe we needed one or two additional comedic scenes towards the middle of the book to help with the overall flow of the story.

Love (2)

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

Series: Love Overboard, book 2. Just one more book left in this series, and I’m curious to see how it will come together.

Final Impression: Overall I’d have to say I probably enjoyed the first book in the series a bit more than this one. We saw a more well-rounded arch to the story line, and it was a funny read without being too silly. I definitely found myself chuckling with this read, but by the end it sort of crossed the line into being too silly. The premise and set up for this sequel was definitely still a hoot, and the moments where René and CeCe could truly escape from the pressures of their reality by spending alone time together in their romantic bubble on the sea were rather special. Chienne’s boisterous personality might just be the best feature of the series so far.

Smut Level: Sex on a deck in the middle of the ocean. Nothing around but the ocean breeze, lap of water against the hull, and what must be a ton of blisters in the ass. CeCe and René also somehow manage to 69 whilst on this boat. Is it just me, or does that seem like a rather dizzying activity. Probably opens a portal to the Bermuda Triangle or something.

Get it on AmazonClick Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Muirgen Publishing, LLC. 235 Pages.

Come Home to Me by Peggy L. Henderson

This book seriously makes me wanna play the Oregon Trail computer game. We’ve got river crossings with wagons and animals, cholera sickness, and warnings not to kill too many bison or else it will spoil. Man, that was always the worst part of the game, rotting meat!

What’s it About?

come home to me

Jake Owens is tired of life on his parents’ Montana ranch, catering to city folk who want a taste of old-fashioned country living. He enjoys life in the fast lane, with fast cars and even faster women. When he falls in with the wrong crowd and is accused of murder, a stranger’s bizarre offer at a second chance might be his only hope to clear his name.

Rachel Parker is highly devoted to her family. A tragedy prompts a daring move to the Oregon Territory for a fresh start in a new land. After meeting the wagon train’s scout, the meaning of a fresh start may be more than she ever imagined.

Jake can’t believe he’s been sent back in time to act as scout for a wagon train headed for Oregon, and given the added burden of keeping one emigrant woman safe during the journey. He and Rachel are confused by their attraction to each other. Jake’s ill-mannered, unconventional ways are overshadowed only by his notorious reputation. Rachel’s traditional values and quiet, responsible character are the complete opposite of what attracts Jake to a woman. When their forbidden attraction turns to love, what will happen at the end of the trail?

First Impression

The set up to this second chance romance was superb. Jake Owens is a rancher who fell in with the wrong kind of city girl, and has now been framed for murder. He’s basically given up any hope of ever being free when a mysterious man disguised as his lawyer provides him with an opportunity too good to pass up. If he guides a group of families in a wagon train along the Oregon Trail, all of his misdeeds will be wiped clean. Sounds too good to be true right? Well, this mystery man failed to mention that the wagon train is actually taking place 150 years in the past, so imagine Jake’s surprise when he wakes up in a different time.

oregon trail

Normally the time travel discovery moment is my favorite in these types of romances, not to mention the difficulties of transitioning to a different way of life in another time. However, I was slightly disappointed that for the most part Jake settles into his frontier life rather quickly and seamlessly after an initial mini freak-out. I guess traveling via horse across great distances out west hasn’t changed much in the last 150 years. It definitely made sense that Jake would be chosen as the scout for this expedition considering his previous background as a rancher. If he’d had no wilderness skills to speak of I probably would have questioned why he was selected in the first place. It was just kind of disappointing that for the rest of the novel I had to remind myself that he was from the future. If anything it’s like he’s now in his natural habitat.

Cowboy 2

And You Thought That Was Complicated!

Something which threw me for a bit of a loop with this read was the complexity behind Rachel and Jake’s relationship. Sure, he’s from the future. You could see how that might complicate things slightly, what with being born centuries apart and all that. But hey, we’ve all seen this before with time travel romances! An added complication we get though in this instance is when Jake first sets his sights on Rachel. His loins start to burn, some verbal sparring is exchanged, but he is ultimately made aware of the fact that she is Mrs. Rachel Parker. That’s right, Mrs. She’s not alone in traveling the trail, having a drunk husband and a couple of boys in tow as well. Now for all of you who cringe slightly at the idea of our main romance involving a married woman, let me tell you you’re not alone. I had the same reservations when this little tidbit came to light. However, let me just tell you that all is not necessarily as it seems in this situation. That’s all I’m gonna say!

Passion

Back to the Future

While some aspects of traveling the trail were slightly repetitious, the story really came together for me in the end, and culminated on a high note. Most of us know how time travel romances progress. At the start, our time traveler feels completely lost and shocked at having ended up in a time so different than their own. They usually have one goal in mind throughout the majority of the novel, which is to somehow get back to their own time. There is some kind of end point, some sort of landmark which serves as their window home. Whether it be standing stones in the Highlands, or traversing the Oregon Trail with a wagon train full of emigrants, there is something which our lead character is focused on with the intent of returning to their own time.

What undoubtedly happens at some point in the story is they meet a certain special someone who convinces them to give up their present in order to remain in the past. So romantic. And that is also the case here, although Jake also seems torn between remaining in the past with Rachel, or somehow convincing the man who sent him back in time to transfer Rachel and her children back to the future with him. However, what happens when we realize that end result isn’t possible? How do we resolve a situation where Jake can’t remain in the past, and Rachel is unable to travel to the future? I must admit, it was certainly an interesting twis. Normally the main conflicting feature is when our lead admits to their lover the fact that they are from the future, but in this instance we get the situation where our lead will have no choice but to return to the future without Rachel by his side. Is it possible our lovers won’t find their happily ever after? Seems blasphemous, no?!

no way

Series: Second Chances Time Travel, book 1. Throughout most of the novel I kept thinking to myself, mkay this is enjoyable, but probably not a series I need to continue with. However, seeing how it all came together at the end, and with the epilogue especially I gotta say I’m pretty intrigued to see what might come next.

Final Impression: I wish there had been more of a history lesson involved throughout the novel. One of my favorite things about historical romances is learning more about the time period being featured. There wasn’t really anything covered I couldn’t have gathered from playing the Oregon Trail game for 20 minutes. There was also a missed opportunity when it came to interacting with the Native Americans along the trail. However, overall it was really a fun start to the series, with a final climactic build-up that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Smut Level: You’d think it would be tricky to find any alone time for intimacy on a wagon train with about 30 other families around you all the time. But you can’t help but love all the stops along a lonely river where Rachel and Jake just happen to find themselves alone and separated from the rest of the group.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 253 Pages.

The Mate by Abigail Owen

Finding a mate as a dragon shifter isn’t easy, and if you just happen to pick the wrong one you might die in the process. Jeez…and I thought my dating life had its complications. Maybe they just need some kind of app to bring them together. Dragonsonly.com, unlock the fiery passion within, and hopefully you won’t burn to ash.

What’s it About?

the mate

Maddie Thompson’s life just fell down a rabbit hole. Finding out she’s a dragon shifter was one thing—she never quite fit into the human world, and this new reality feels…strangely right. However, discovering the next step is to choose a mate, and if she chooses wrong she’ll die, is the other side of crazy. Especially when she already left a piece of her heart with someone who didn’t want it.

To say dragon enforcer Fallon Conleth was shocked when the Mating Council summoned him as a potential mate for a newly found dragon doesn’t quite cover it. A mate is rare and precious and many dragons never find theirs. Fallon isn’t sure he’s worthy of the honor, not when so many deserve it more. He’ll just go through the motions and return home alone…until he sees Maddie. The human woman he reluctantly let walk away. Fallon already broke Maddie’s heart once, but if he can’t convince her that they’re meant to be, she’ll die… and he won’t be far behind.

First Impression

I’d have to say this short prequel certainly does it’s job. First of all, it’s a fantastically quick, yet exciting read. I was able to finish it in one sitting during the time it takes to fly from DC to Columbia, South Carolina. I know because, well…I did it. We’re provided with a brief, and interesting introduction into this world of dragon shifters and enforcers. It doesn’t get too bogged down with unnecessary details, but instead lays the groundwork of what, why, how, and who wants to kill who. Whom? The simmering passion between Maddie and Fallon is palpable to the point where you’ll want to start fanning yourself to relieve some of the heat. A sexy and possessive dragon shifter who loves to tease, use sexual innuendo, has scorching blue dragon eyes when he gets riled up, and likes to refer to our female lead as “luv”? Seriously, somebody crank up the air conditioner in here, because these fiery dragons are setting my Kindle on fire!

ian-sod

From the Mate to the Boss

This prequel also does a great job of piquing your interest for what will come in the next book, The Boss, which just so happens to come out on Monday! We are briefly introduced to Fallon’s troubled brother, Finn, who is the main focus of the next book. We are provided with a glimpse into Finn’s tragic back-story in which he tried to mate with a woman who wasn’t actually his mate. Turns out when you do that the woman goes poof into ashes. That’ll certainly put a damper on your evening. Although our time with Finn is brief in this novel, we can already tell he’s wise, endearing, and slightly broken. Gotta love a troubled male lead! I just can’t wait to find out what might be in store for Finn, and hopefully learn even more about this tragic event which has so greatly impacted his outlook on life.

3287562900000578-3508521-image-a-4_1458854729917

However, I have a pretty good feeling we’ll see him find his true mate after all. Something I’m assuming we’ll see more of, or at least I’m sincerely hoping, is more of an in-depth description and explanation of the dragon world dynamics. We are introduced to a fair number of key players in this novel, including a few kings with names I certainly can’t pronounce correctly, a variety of clans, families, blue dragons, red dragons, etc. I can’t say I fully understand how everything fits together, especially the dragon and human interaction, but I also don’t think we necessarily need to know all of that detail at this point. Again, I imagine this prequel is really laying the foundation for the next piece in the series where hopefully we’ll dig into things a little deeper.

ice-dragon

A Missing Meet Cute

Now, an important thing to keep in mind with this read is that while it’s definitely an entertaining prequel, it’s not necessarily a stereotypical one. I feel like in most instances when we have a prequel we are either presented with an introduction to how our lead couple met or will meet in the premiere novel, or we see just one side of the couple present their story. That doesn’t really happen here. As a matter of fact, we sort of get the opposite in that we basically walk into the middle of Maddie and Fallon’s relationship. We never really witness their initial meet cute first-hand, and the details of the first few months they spent together before eventually going separate ways is discussed sort of piecemeal.

arson

Apparently they investigated some arson cases together, and had already developed a cute rapport and physical interest. But our opening scene presents them to us months after they’ve split because Fallon thought she was a human that he could never claim. It’s almost like we’re missing the prequel to our prequel! Do I feel like we need a whole separate book showing us how Maddie and Fallon first met and what exactly happened during their time together before splitting? No. Do we need an extra 100 pages of set up to provide a more chronological view of their relationship from the start? Not really. A prologue may have been nice though. Something to establish right off the bat why their meeting in this castle is so profound.

hug-2

Breaking the Prequel Mold

Another way this differs from your typical prequel is that from what I understand of the synopsis of the next book, Maddie and Fallon really won’t be the main focus. Instead Fallon’s brother is. I imagine we’ll see mention of Fallon and Maddie somewhere in The Boss, but for the most part it appears as though that is a full Finn focus. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m excited as hell to read Finn’s story. Normally with a short prequel like this though, it’s meant to provide us with a brief introduction to what the main focus of the next book will be.

the-vampire-diaries-recap-022417-ftr

In a way, it almost seems like your standard series progression would be a prequel showing how Maddie and Fallon first met, fell for each other, but then split because they didn’t truly understand who or what the other was. The premier novel would then be what we saw here, where Maddie and Fallon meet months later to pick up where they left off and go through the mate selection process. Then maybe we’d see a sequel with Finn as the lead. I’m not saying it’s required to follow this progression, and honestly it’s pretty refreshing to mix things up a bit! However, I think one initial scene which either showed Maddie and Fallon meeting, or splitting would have helped to create a fully comprehensive story arch.

how-to-walk-away-from-a-guy

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

Series: Fire’s Edge, book 0.5. This prequel has definitely sparked my interest to see what might happen next for our blue dragon clan, and thankfully we don’t have long to wait! The Boss releases Monday, September 24, and hopefully I’ll have a review up and ready to go.

Final Impression: This novel might be short, but I think what draws you in and holds you tight is how we witness the progression of Fallon’s desire for Maddie. When he first arrives at this luxurious castle to meet a potential mate, he brushes it off as an impossibility. But then when he sets his sights on Maddie, and discovers it’s the “human” he fell for months before, his jaw hits the floor. We see an almost alpha desire and need for possession take hold of him. As we move along, and the possibility of Maddie choosing someone else as her mate comes to the forefront, we see Fallon’s initial desire turn to desperation. He knows with every fiber of his being that he and Maddie belong together. This teasing, confident man is suddenly overcome by the need to mate with this woman, and he’s even willing to go so far as to get down on his knees and beg for it to come about. To see this mating process surrounded by a growing tension of clan disputes and questions of loyalty, not to mention a final dragon battle, provides us with a delightful mix of lust, romance and action.

Smut Level: In order for two dragons to complete the mating process, the male dragon must fill the female with his fire. I’m sorry…but if that’s not a hint, hint, wink, wink moment then I don’t know what is.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE. Entangled: Amara. 114. Pages.

Extravaganza Conclusion: This is the final review this week as part of my marathon post extravaganza! Thanks everyone for playing along 🙂

 

A Sinner without a Saint by Bliss Bennet

Two men with a past. Will their mutual obsession with art draw them closer together, or drive a wedge between them forever?

What’s it About?

34267403

An honorable artist: Benedict Pennington’s greatest ambition is not to paint a masterpiece, but to make the world’s greatest art accessible to all by establishing England’s first national art museum. Success in persuading a reluctant philanthropist to donate his collection of Old Master paintings brings his dream tantalizingly close to reality. Until Viscount Dulcie, the object of Benedict’s illicit adolescent desire, begins to court the donor’s granddaughter, set on winning the paintings for himself . . .

A hedonistic viscount: Sinclair Milne, Lord Dulcie, far prefers collecting innovative art and dallying with handsome men than burdening himself with a wife. But when rivals imply Dulcie’s refusal to pursue wealthy Miss Adler and her paintings is due to lingering tender feelings for Benedict Pennington, Dulcie vows to prove them wrong. Not only will he woo her away from the holier-than-thou painter, he’ll also placate his matchmaking father in the process.

Sinner and saint–can both win at love? But when Benedict is dragooned into painting his portrait, Dulcie finds himself once again drawn to the intense artist. Can the sinful viscount entice the wary painter into a casual liaison, one that will put neither their reputations, nor their feelings, at risk? Or will the not-so-saintly artist demand something far more vulnerable–his heart?

First Impression

A feature you notice from the very opening page of this book, and which the author should be commended for, is that it truly feels as though we have been transported to the Regency Era. I’m sure some of you are thinking that for a 19th century historical read, we damn well better feel like we’re in the 1800s. Well, hear me out! To write a historical romance is one thing, but to feel as though the novel was actually written in the 1800s? That’s a talent all in itself. From the syntax to the British slang, the work felt reminiscent of something written by Jane Austen or Frances Burney. While it was a noticeably admirable trait of the novel, it did also make for a slightly slower read. What can I say? It took me some time to decipher what the characters were actually trying to say. But I also couldn’t deny that my desire for a pot of tea and tray of cucumber sandwiches grew stronger with every page turned.

granducaafternoontea_bdcfe7b6-bbb1-4486-a56e-ddcf1d6610cb

Classic Beauty vs. the Unnatural

In my opinion, the true mastery of this novel lay not necessarily with the romance between Benedict and Dulcie, but instead through their discussions and debates of art. Benedict’s goal in life is to open a national art museum for the British people. All British people, regardless of class, station, or wealth. Dulcie on the other hand is one of the leading art critics of the day, with his sights set on acquiring unique pieces for his own private collection. The heated discussions which erupt between the two, as well as with their fellow high-class art peers, were so insightful and thought-provoking that you couldn’t help but feel moved to take up an opinion on the matter as well. As the novel progresses we see a shift in the conversation from who is worthy of appreciating good art to who decides what good art is in the first place. The scrutiny placed on the artistic system was riveting, as our characters understand that sometimes you have to look beyond the paint to what is hiding underneath.

Ophelia_Gallery-29_02

What hit me the most though was how this discussion of art and beauty could find direct symmetry in the romance between Benedict and Dulcie. The two are art connoisseurs, yet they can both appreciate the talent in an artistic piece that might not be considered classically beautiful. While some might view tangled limbs and an imperfect male specimen on a canvas as grotesque, they are both enamored with the emotion such a piece can evoke in the viewer, and therefore can’t deny that it deserves praise. Even if the majority of their contemporaries don’t agree with them.

1264

Do me a favor. Do yourselves a favor. Stop talking, and look. You’re not required to write a paper. You’re not even required to like it. You *are* required to consider it. – Mona Lisa Smile

When we look at Benedict and Dulcie’s relationship, the majority of regency society would also look upon it as something grotesque and unnatural. And sadly, there are many in our own time who would see it in the same context. But what lies underneath the surface? What do you have when you push the physical component to the side. What lies beneath the paint? Simple, it’s love. Love between two consenting adults who want to spend the rest of their lives together. Love is love and romance is for all. While they can see the beauty in this, and a minuscule number of their contemporaries understand it, for the majority it is seen as too far removed from what society deems as “right” or “proper”. Again, the parallels between their love and the discussion of modern art was so subtly clever that I’m still thinking about it.

wallpaper2you_67866

Romance vs. Challenge

While I was fully entranced by the discussion of art for the masses, unfortunately there was one aspect of the novel that I’m sorry to say I had a much harder time falling in love with. And that would be Dulcie. Now, let me start off by saying that eventually he does manage to redeem himself by becoming a devoted partner and friend once again to Benedict. The problem is that it took sooooo long to happen. Throughout the novel Benedict is this adorable, wide-eyed puppy dog that I just wanted to pick up and snuggle, even though he definitely has some bark behind his bite. When it came to Dulcie though, he was like a predatory hawk. Constantly circling, searching for who he could mess with next.

Ok, ok, so a hawk might be too harsh a comparison. How about a puppet master who loved to pull the strings of others? He could tease, seduce and manipulate with the best of ’em. It was really a struggle to know whether or not his heart was ever behind his pursuit of Benedict, or if it was simply a challenge to regain Benedict’s childhood affections. Again, eventually we see Dulcie open up with Benedict, and share some of his innermost thoughts, feelings and fears. I just wish it had come a bit earlier on in the novel. Something else which I think could have helped me warm up to Dulcie earlier was if we could have received a prologue to show how the two initially connected at school all those years before. We see the moment where their interaction ends, and towards the end of the novel we realize how both of them suffered following the end of their friendship, but the missing element for me was that initial crucial moment which connected them in the first place.

4256314020_4c07d8450e_z

Let’s Get Physical…Or Not

Duclie’s pursuit of Benedict throughout the novel is fairly relentless. Both admit to an undeniable attraction that seems to be pulling the two of them together. For Benedict though, he doesn’t want anything to happen between them unless Dulcie is willing to offer up his mind in addition to his body. For Dulcie? He’s basically just looking for a good ole rough and tumble in the back room of a tavern. He employs all the seductive looks, touches, and smirks at his disposal to try and sway Benedict to his line of thinking. Essentially, he’s a classic playboy. What I found to be so fascinating though was what happened when the two finally did get physical.

Gay Lovers in the Victorian Era (1)

There’s some rubbing, some tugging, some “spending”. Anything beyond that though? Shockingly this is where Dulcie becomes more reserved! Throughout the whole novel his attitude and confidence towards getting Benedict in his hands sort of implies that he’d be the expert and dominant when it came to the physical side of their relationship. What debauchery might they get into when the seducer finally captures his prey? Who knew it would be the complete opposite with Benedict being the more experienced one?!?! It was very interesting to hear Dulcie’s rather negative opinion towards the concept of oral sex, not to mention penetration, almost as though it was beneath his high stature to engage in such uncivilized and…unsanitary behavior. I have a feeling Benedict might succeed in changing his opinion on that matter though 😉

Drummond_and_Paget

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

Series: The Penningtons, book 4. This was the first book I read in this series, and I will admit I had trouble with the links between some of the different characters. It was kind of difficult to understand the relationship and familial webs at times.

Final Impression: Overall I can’t say I was fully connected to Dulcie and Benedict as a couple. I couldn’t help but feel that Dulcie’s eventual transformation into a caring and selfless lover came a bit too late in the game for me, and if anything I wanted more for Benedict. As a social and artistic commentary though it was an enthralling read. There are arguments about classic beauty versus opening the mind to modern interpretations that will keep you thinking for a few days.

Smut Level: Any time a couple can successfully balance on a chaise longue whilst exploring each other’s bodies deserves honorable mention. While we don’t get any scenes involving penetration, we get a few decent kissing scenes, tingling spines, tightening of groins, cock-stands, and “spending” a time or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Bliss Bennet Books. 298 Pages.

Tomorrow’s Extravaganza Post: The Mate by Abigail Owen. Paranormal, Shifters.

Between the Shadows by Casi McLean

I think I can definitively say this was my favorite book of the whole series. It’s like everything finally clicks into place, and the story which has been building for the past three novels comes full circle.

What’s it About?

515TdQlU40L

She never expected to confront deadly villains…let alone fall in love with one…After her friend, York, encounters the ghostly image of a young woman, Mackenzie Reynolds seizes the opportunity to initiate a time jump, thrusting them back to 1865 Georgia. Resolved to thwart the girl’s untimely fate, Kenzi stumbles into a deadly conflict over a stockpile of stolen Confederate gold.

An injured Civil War survivor, James Adams departs for home with a war-fatigued companion he’s determined to help. After pilfering a horse and kidnapping a woman, he never dreamed his hostage would steal his heart. Kenzi and James must unravel a deadly plot, while helping York save his ghost woman from a brutal death. But can she leave York in a violent past to save James’s life?

First Impressions

Alright, so let’s get this party started! Our novel once again focuses on the mysterious happenings around the fantastical Lake Lanier in the hills of North Georgia. Near Dahlonega. Well I’ll be a son of a b*tch if I’m not sitting in a hotel room in that very city typing out this review. Small…world! Here’s to work travel bringing you to the edge of the fantasy realm. Now I just need to be sure and avoid any and all lakes. Oh…my…goodness. My drive later this afternoon literally has me going right by Lake Lanier!!! Alright everyone, if you don’t hear from me by the end of the day tomorrow, let’s just assume that I’ve been sucked into a time portal which has thrust me back in time.

golf-aerial-1-1080x675

When Past and Future Meet Present

Based on the synopsis you sort of get the sense that Kenzi and James would be the main leads of the novel, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth! In my mind, this story revolves around York and Izzy, and they were an undoubtedly intriguing duo with a unique allure that sets them apart from any of the other characters we’ve seen so far throughout the entire series. York is from the future. Izzy is from the past. And yet we see them connect in what we know as the present. It was such a smart way of storytelling that distinguishes it from practically any other time travel romance. And my goodness have I read a few of those. They may meet in the present, and feel an undeniable link to each other, but both can sense that the present is not where they belong.

tumblr_oruw60jMfn1wpetlvo1_1280

Discovering she’s in 2018 rather than the 1800s induces no fear for Izzy, and instead she attempts to see the entire episode as an adventure. She’s definitely braver than myself, lemme tell ya! York is set on saving this woman from whatever fate befell her in the past. She knows she was attacked by a black-bearded man in an abandoned stone cellar in the wilderness of North Georgia at the end of the Civil War. Since her blackout she’s been stuck in the area around Lake Lanier, and can’t move beyond it’s perimeter. When York and his dog come along, she’s shocked that this man can hear her, touch her, feel her. For York, he too is surprised at the immediate connection with this woman from the past, and also by the fact that he feels they’ve met before in his future. That’s all it takes for him to become convinced their destinies are linked, and that he was meant to travel back in time to save her.

tumblr_mgkefbv3ef1rp6pkao1_250

Kenzi and Tess Enter the Mix

York is set and determined to risk his life to save Izzy from her sad, wandering fate. He can’t do it alone though, and relies heavily on Kenzi’s help. She knows how to activate Tess, her grandmother’s time travel device which can help them pinpoint a destination in time by channeling the fantastical energy surrounding Lake Lanier. Not only that, Kenzi also has medical training, which just might be the most useful time travel knowledge to have. Although the synopsis sort of sets Kenzi up as the main focus of the story, in my opinion she took on more of a supporting role.

S02E08-still1

The importance of her character was undeniable, as well as her romantic link with a soldier from the past, James. However, I just didn’t feel the same connection with them  as I did with York and Izzy as a lead couple. Kenzi and James’ attraction came across as a bit more surface level, whereas with York and Izzy I felt their fear, their sadness, their desire for each other so much more. There was depth to their connection that was the beating pulse of the whole story. Again, this isn’t to say I didn’t like this other story with James and Kenzi, but it wasn’t the shining feature for me.

x720-Tfe

A Time Travel Balance

What made this novel stand out for me when compared to the others in the series is that we see a perfect balance of time eras. We start things off in the present. Izzy is from the Civil War era and somehow infiltrates the solitude of York’s existence after he traveled back in time from the future. York then decides to travel back to Izzy’s time with Kenzi in the hopes that they can save her from whatever tragic fate apparently trapped her to wander the shores of Lake Lanier for centuries. And then we see the ideal culmination of events where Kenzi returns to the future with a companion in tow, while York remains in the past in an attempt to save Izzy. It’s a beautiful story arch of going from the present to the past, and then having the final scenes alternate back and forth between the two. Almost like a song or dance where we have two separate performances which finally blend into a cohesive duet. It made sense, it flowed, and you constantly questioned when and where our characters might end up.

babysharks-minority-report-time-travel1

Fate, Fantasy, and Science

It may have taken me the entire series to finally comprehend, but I’ve ultimately come to the realization that this tale can’t be explained by just science or fantasy alone. Rather, it’s a melding of the two. We have the mysterious time travel element of Lake Lanier which really can’t be explained. This fantastical element can also influence some of our characters to have premonitions of future events, as well as communicate with people in the past. However, the power of the Lake can be harnessed and focused with scientific precision into Tess, which thereby becomes the entrance to the time travel portal. The mystery of Lake Lanier is sprinkled with magic, yet also built upon with science. You sort of need to allow your mind to open up to these possibilities, and realize that it’s not a case of just one or the other. The melding of these two characteristics is so much clearer in this final book that I finally feel like I understand how it all works.

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

Series: Lake Lanier Mysteries, book 3. A great end to the series in my opinion. Definitely my favorite of the three, but I think it’s imperative you read these in order. Book 1 especially lays the groundwork for all of the time travel elements going forward.

Final Impression: We’re presented with a nice conclusion that combines fate, fantasy, and science. York and Izzy were the standout characters for me, as well as his dog, Prince. Kenzi was sort of the tool to bring them all together, but I couldn’t really connect with her story as much. While interesting, it was definitely overshadowed by the connection of the other two characters, and the suspense of everything they’re dealing with to save Izzy. Everything from the previous books finally clicked into place for me. There’s no question left unanswered, or a set up for some other breakaway story. It’s a touching conclusion to a mysterious series.

Smut Level: We see a number of chin raises, open mouthed kisses, neck nuzzles, and a few mentions here and there of burning loins and rigid members. But no final climactic burst of ecstasy!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Self-Published. 320 Pages.

Tomorrow’s Extravaganza Post: A Sinner without a Saint by Bliss Bennet. Regency, Historical, LGBT

Within the Skin by Zara West

She’s hidden her true identity from everyone for years. Dressing like a man on the outside, on the inside she’s a princess longing for her prince.

What’s it About?

40914574

Known as El Toro, street artist Alba Vargas is on the cusp of fame and fortune. Winner of a prestigious award, she is the toast of the New York City art scene. Or at least she will be, once she figures out how to act like a woman after living disguised as a boy for six years. If she is lucky, she might even attract the attention of the tattoo artist she has long loved from afar.

Tattoo artist Fernando Pharaoh has betrayed everyone who ever cared about him, including El Toro, the street-wise graffiti artist who saved his life when all looked bleak. Depressed, he turns from his friends and becomes ensnared in a criminal enterprise run by a former enemy.

Then the crime boss kidnaps Toro’s younger brother, Hanger. Blaming himself, Pharaoh sets out to rescue him, resolving to do one good thing in his life. But Toro has her own desperate plan to save her brother—one that will not only break Pharaoh’s heart—but will also destroy every hope and dream she has ever had.

First Impression

First things first, I must say I really appreciated the synopsis that we’re presented with at the start of the novel. One of my main complaints from book two was that we were thrust right back into the story from book one without much of  recap. We’re dealing with a story which spans over the entire series, even though we focus on a different lead couple every time. Everything weaves together, and it’s crucial to know the dynamics of the characters and the intricacies of what has come before. We get a nice little summary at the start of this book which goes over most of the main themes and events from the last novel, which made it much easier to hit the ground running and jump right in with El Toro, aka Alba, and Pharaoh, aka Fur Tree. Man, I really need to up my nickname game. Totally slacking.

Believing in Fairy Tales

You know, this might very well be my favorite book in the series so far. The main reason being I was entranced by the complexity of Alba’s identity as El Toro. She’s worn the facade of being a boy for years to survive on the streets. To help her brother survive. And yet underneath the baggy clothes is a talented artist and young girl who once loved fairy tales and princesses. Her El Toro persona might be as the King of the group, but on the inside hides Alba, a little girl who once dreamed of being a princess. To have two identities within the same person, and witnessing her attempt to try and break free from her El Toro persona for the first time in years was a deeply emotional journey that I loved to travel along with her.

The Juxtaposition of Desire

Another fascinating aspect of this tale was the juxtaposition of El Toro and Pharaoh’s desire and need for each other. She’s secretly craved him for years, but has had to hide her identity behind the notion of brotherly camaraderie. When she finally gets her hands on him, it’s fulfilling a dream she’s wanted to come true for years. For Pharaoh, it’s seemingly love at first sight when he spots this beautiful “stranger”. An inexplicable draw when he first catches a glimpse of her as a woman. His desire is immediate, but if anything he tries to stay away because of his assumption that she must belong to his best friend, El Toro, not knowing that they are one and the same. When he finally gets his hands on her, it’s a sense of the forbidden, yet there’s also a link which was undoubtedly born of their friendship which he isn’t even aware of at this point. You can’t help but wonder what will happen when he undoubtedly discovers that the woman he’s lusting after is actually his best friend.

ThirstyTestyIsabellinewheatear-max-1mb

Jumping from Building to Building

Overall this novel feels very fast-paced. Everyone is always on their feet, chasing around the city, leaping from rooftop to rooftop. In addition, we’re constantly wondering how, or even if, they’ll ever escape from our villain Kiro’s clutches. You also lose count of the number of times El Toro’s brother, Hanger, escapes from Kiro only to be snatched up again pages later. But throughout all the running, chasing and threats of evil there are just a handful of moments where time stands still, and that is when Toro and Pharaoh come together in each other’s arms. They explore each other as thoroughly as possible, and make the other see the stars.

12127113904_45f5cd9788_b

What’s Missing?

Throughout the whole novel I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing, but I could never quite place my finger on it. Only when we get to the final climactic scene where Pharaoh is chasing after El Toro and Kiro did it come to me. I thought, “Oh maybe now he’ll finally find her and they can just have a hug already!” That’s when I realized, these two spend a vast majority of the novel separated from each other. They’re both sort of off doing their own things in the beginning. She’s trying to make it in the art world, and he’s becoming ensnared in a criminal enterprise against his will. Eventually both are dedicated to finding out what happened to Hanger and rescuing him from Kiro’s clutches, but it’s pretty rare to actually find them in a scene together. It does make those few scenes where they come together all the more precious, but I think one or two additional scenes towards the beginning with the two of them interacting, whether for her as El Toro or Alba, would have helped with the balance of the novel.

130608571_1e7529b7f6

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

Series: The Skin Quartet, book 3. As I mentioned, this might be my favorite book of the series so far. El Toro and Pharaoh were such complicated, yet captivating characters. Be sure to read these books in order though so that you know who all the key players are.

Final Impressions: You really do wonder how they’ll ever manage to get out of this mess with Kiro. I felt like for a good portion of the book I was holding my breath, waiting for a calm in the midst of all the suspense. Those few peaceful moments are also the handful of scenes where we see El Toro and Pharaoh come together in the physical sense, but it doesn’t take long before the pressures of their world start to impede on their small bubble of serenity.

Smut Level: El Toro has been too busy disguising herself as a man, and protecting her brother on the streets to ever get physically intimate with a man herself. She’s desired Pharaoh for years, and when they finally come together she refuses to lay back and let him do all the work. She takes an active role in getting her hands allllll over him. You get some girlfriend!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 245 Pages.

Tomorrow’s Extravaganza Post: Between the Shadows by Casi McLean. Time Travel, Fantasy.