A Drop of Paradise by Alex L. Michaels

Ahoy ladies and gents! In this steamy romance we have white sand beaches, crystal clear blue water, a city girl outside her comfort zone, a ruggedly handsome boat captain willing to show her a good time, and a few bullets flying past their heads. I mean, pretty much everything you need for a beach read!

What’s it About? 

She needs peace and quiet. He’s a distraction.

She wants to be left alone. He’s inevitable.

She has a writer’s block. He might be the cure.

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The only thing Jessica Slade wanted was some peace and quiet, and to finally finish her book. So, a place called A Drop of Paradise was supposed to do the trick. With its stunning sandy beaches, crystal clear, aquamarine waters and tropical sunsets, it was supposed to cure more than a writer’s block. But, when an unfortunate series of events leaves her stranded on a remote island with an overbearing, arrogant, roguish, but ruggedly handsome stranger, her life starts to seem much more like the romance novels that she writes about. Broad-shouldered Mike Stone is irresistible, sexy and cooler than a mojito in your hand, and maybe even a perfect, muscled ideal for the cover of her next novel, but not all the imagination in the world could prepare her for what can happen between two strangers on a spit of sand, when sparks start to fly and anger turns to lust.

First Impressions

Within the first few chapters of this novel I couldn’t help but compare it to a combination of Romancing the Stone and Six Days, Seven Nights. Our heroine is a successful romance novelist who’s seeking some peace and quiet on a beach far removed from the stresses of her life, both professionally and personally. She quickly encounters a ruggedly dashing boat captain named Mike who is determined to show her a good time, both socially and sexually.

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The two proceed to get lost and stranded on a few different islands in the Caribbean. Nothing too overly dire, but definitely some adventures that put a wrench in Jessica’s plans to relax. Throughout this time our leads run into a variety of oftentimes kooky characters with their own personalities, not to mention some elements of danger as storms approach and bullets fly. Quite the engaging read!

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Let’s Talk About Sex…ual Tension

For the love of all that is holy these two have a sexual attraction that is hotter than the Caribbean sun. Practically from the moment they meet Mike turns on his flirtatious charms, and while Jessica tries her best to keep him away from her enticing lips, well, let’s just say she fails miserably. It’s not long before these two engage in some powerful make out sessions. I seriously lost count of the number of times Mike either stomped up to Jessica to grab her face in his hands and crush their lips together, or she would try to turn away from him only to have him grasp her arm and spin her around into his chest for a heady lip-lock.

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However, something that initially adds to the overall comedic aspect of the novel is the fact that these two are always interrupted from taking things further. Oh don’t get me wrong, they definitely have their moments of grinding on each other, nipple brushes, and legs being lifted up higher for the optimal rubbing angle. Unfortunately, whether it be flying bullets, an old island man seeking help with his rusty boat, or friends walking in on them, the two never seem to have the chance to get each other completely naked. After a while I actually questioned if it would ever happen, and if it did I assumed we’d be privy to one quick scene and that’d be it. Boy was I wrong! Towards the very end of the novel we sort of switch gears from adventurous comedic romance to full on erotica. Somewhat disjointed, but I for one won’t complain.

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Let’s Take a Look at Them Bullets!

As I’ve mentioned a few times now, there are moments when Jessica and Mike will be locked in an intimate embrace, or perhaps even arguing with each other, when a bullet will fly overhead. There are a few other minor suspicious things that take place, but all in all I’d have to say this dramatic side to the story never really came full circle for me. I think it was introduced well enough, as we wonder why anyone would possibly have something against this well-known romance novelist.

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But then this element disappears from the story for a pretty large portion of the novel, and is then quickly resolved with very little explanation at the last moment. I feel like we never truly get to understand the motive behind this hidden gunman before it’s simply brushed aside. If it had been more fully incorporated into the overall story I think this really would have had a huge, positive impact to the arch of the plot.

A Hesitant Heroine

Outside factors are often the primary inhibitors to our lead characters reaching sexual fulfillment. That being said, there were also a few moments when Jessica herself would put a stop to things. To say that this would cause Mike an exorbitant amount of frustration is quite the understatement. She had the tendency to go from burning up fever hot to frigid cold in .05 seconds with no explanation whatsoever. She’d usually just run away from him if she could. At the end of the novel Jessica sort of explains that she was just scared to feel anything too much for him after being alone for so long. I gotta say though I wasn’t really buying her explanation. It lacked any real momentum behind it to the point where, similar to our hidden gunman, I feel like we never really learned her motivation/reasoning behind constantly pushing Mike away.

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

Series: I don’t think so, but there are a few secondary characters that I would just love to see featured in their own novel.

Should you read it? This is a quick, fun read. Certain details could have been expanded on a bit more, specifically why Jessica was so hesitant to pursue an intimate relationship with Mike, as well as the motivations of our villain. There are also a few grammar mistakes that are repeated throughout, such as the misuse of “than” instead of “then, hangover/hungover, and desert/dessert. Overall though, a fun read to take to the beach. Just be sure you have a few Mai Tai’s on hand to cool off!

Smut Level: At first I questioned if we would ever get around to the good stuff. Then before you know it, BAM! We’ve got sensual scenes on beaches, dining room tables, and in showers with plenty of dirty talking description. Definitely worth the wait.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services, LLC. 285 Pages.

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Esmeralda and the Second-Hand Suitor by Hebby Roman

This novel taught me a very valuable lesson. Apparently, I have been misspelling the name “Esmeralda” ever since I first saw the Hunchback of Notre Dame cartoon over 20 years ago. 20 years of thinking it was “Esmerelda” instead of “Esmeralda”. Oh, it also teaches that it’s never too late to fall in love, but still. The whole name thing really left me shook.

What’s it About? 

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What’s a forty-year-old virgin doing in a predicament like this? Looking for a husband because her late father’s will decrees she must marry or forfeit her orchard, her only means of support. Hank McCall, as a perspective husband, leaves a great deal to be desired—he’s twice divorced and older than Esmeralda. Scarred by their pasts and challenged by the gap in their ages, Esmeralda and Hank struggle with their new-found relationship. But when Hank is faced with losing Esmeralda or surrendering to her yearning to have a real family, their fates hang in the balance.

First Impressions

Personally, I could really identify with Esmeralda’s rather cynical approach to dating. It was almost like I’d found a kindred spirit in her pessimism! Upon first meeting Hank she immediately focuses in on the negative things about him. He’s older than she would have liked; he’s twice-divorced; he jokes about how he’s bad with the stock market, etc. Why does he seem so interested in her? It must be because he’s after something. Perhaps he’s enamored with her money. He must be a fortune hunter! Phew!! That’s a lot of cynicism to cram into a first impression.

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I think for many people their default assumption in regards to Esme would be that she must be bitchy or catty to not even give him a chance. But that’s so far from the truth here people! Her obsession with pointing out his every supposed flaw says so much more about her own character than his. It reveals her insecurity with herself. It makes her think, hey this guy is showing me attention, but why would anyone want to show me attention? I’m so plain and boring there must be something wrong with him if he wants to spend so much time with me. Girl, I feel you. A lot of us feel you. And I love it soooooo much!

The Real Hank

Esme’s first impression of Hank obviously isn’t all that positive, and she almost doesn’t give him a chance. However, it doesn’t take long for us to discover what an amazing guy Hank is, with such a loving, sensitive side to his personality. In addition, you can’t help but feel bad for the poor guy! He’s like a little puppy dog, and so patient when Esme is unsure of herself, especially in regards to their sexual relationship. Eventually Esme is able to overcome her own insecurities, and comes to trust Hank for who he truly is. But our tale of romance can’t just end there!

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When Esme starts to feel like she can take a leap with Hank the fortunes of fate turn the tables, and Hank starts to question if he can trust Esme considering she kept the terms of her father’s will a secret from him. When he discovers she must marry someone within the next week or risk losing half of her orchard to her cousin, Hank wonders whether or not Esme truly loves him for him, or for the fact that he could be the answer to her financial woes. I will say at times their constant back and forth of should they or shouldn’t they started to get a bit tiring, but it also goes to show that new romances can be full of questions and second-guessing.

An Exploration of Intimacy

Technically we never actually have a scene where these two have intercourse. That being said, holy Toledo are they smokin’ hot. Esme is basically exploring her sexuality for the first time ever, as Hank is finally someone she feels a modicum of comfort with in regards to intimacy. Yes, this means she is a virgin. Yes, she is 40 years old. Yes, they both make reference to the fact that this counters the film 40 year old virgin. And yes, I did giggle with that delightful little quip.

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In my mind, this aspect is what actually cemented my positive opinion of Hank. It wasn’t just that he didn’t want to pressure a woman into entering a sexual relationship with him before she felt ready. Instead, it was that he didn’t feel the need to either pressure her to give up her virginity, or on the flip side feel the need to bolt in the other direction when faced with the pressure of deflowering a 40 year old virgin. He chose to stand by her, and go at her own pace. Hank never made her feel guilty for taking things slow, or weird over the fact she’s never had sex at her age. You a good dude Hank. Cue the slow approving head nod.

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The Villainous Hector

One aspect of the novel that I wish had been explored a bit further was Esme’s relationship with her cousin, Hector. This is the man who will inherit half of her orchard if she fails to marry someone three years after the death of her father. All things considered, Hector’s a pretty important character, yet we really only get 2 short scenes featuring him. I would have liked to further explore his relationship not only with Esme’s father, but with Esme herself. What is it that brought such animosity between them, and why could they not come together and overcome it as family? Was it solely tied to Hector’s greed? His drinking? It could have added an extra layer of depth to the story if we’d been given more of a chance to explore Hector and Esme’s past together.

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

Series: Snowbirds, book 2. It was nice to get a continued glimpse of the couple from book 1, as well as an introduction to our heroine for book 3.

Should you read it? This is a tale of a quick romance. Hank and Esme really don’t know each other that long, but they are quite open with each other in regards to their pasts. At times, there was almost too much detail about setting up IRAs, investments, and Esme’s natural gas deposits. Definitely informative, but also kind of distracting from the “A” story. It’s still a sweet romance though showing that it’s never too late for people to find each other, and have their dreams come true.

Smut Level: Goodness gracious! These two have some passion!! They kiss, pant, rub, grab, moan, and suckle some things too. Quite nice.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Estrella Publishing. 189 Pages.

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The Weekend by Alan Winnikoff

A short novel about two people who take a weekend to get to know each other better. And the best part? You can easily finish this read in the span of a real weekend, no problem.

What’s it About? 

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One autumn Friday in New York in 1995, two people come together in a luxury apartment for a glass of wine. They already know each other, not well, but well enough to have shared a couple of kisses. They wind up spending this particular weekend together. Over the course of two days, we learn much about them – they are alternately petty and generous, brave and fearful, self-absorbed and giving. At the end of the weekend they go their separate ways. Was this a one time thing or will they find each other again?

First Impressions

Well, I had the absolute wrong first impression whilst reading this entire short novel. Just taking a first glimpse at the cover art, and then hearing that our male lead, Jeff, works in the World Trade Center? My immediate thought was…well, I hope you get the most out of your weekend because unfortunately things are about to go downhill very quickly. You see, I made the mistake of reading the Goodreads synopsis instead of the Amazon one, which fails to specify that this takes place in the mid-90s rather than 2001!

I was needlessly on pins and needles the whole time, looking for clues in all of the scenes which might imply whether or not the story was taking place in September. What’s the weather like? There’s a mention of autumn. She’s wearing a scarf. He’s watching the baseball finals. For the love of God when the hell do the finals of baseball normally take place?!?! Damn my lack of sports knowledge!! We get to the end of the weekend and I just think, oh God here it comes! And then…nothing. No reference at all to 9/11. And that’s when I made the genius decision to check out the synopsis on Amazon. Well, I almost feel like I need to re-read this now.

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Friday to Sunday

Now for the actual story rather than my crazy imagination. Honestly, I loved this format for a novel. It’s quick, concise, and the format itself also tells a story. This short novel is all about two people who want to see if it’s worth exploring a relationship beyond friendship with each other, and they do it in the span of a weekend. Literally. The novel starts on a Friday after work and ends on a Sunday afternoon. In that time, we see our lead characters question if they want something more than what they have, and explore what is most important to them in a partner.

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Flaws and Flirtations

Not gonna lie, all things considered I can’t say I’m entirely pleased with how things develop, and how they chose to test their compatibility. But that’s what’s so brilliant about this short format. I don’t think it’s really set up for us to necessarily like or dislike these characters. Instead, it’s almost like we are looking through a window at their interactions with each other. We see how they are imperfect beings, as both are currently in relationships with other people. The fact that either is even considering the pursuit of something new with the other should reflect that neither is exactly happy with what they currently have. But are they willing to make the leap to something official, or will they settle for what they already have? The ending isn’t necessarily 100% concrete with an answer to that question, in a way feeling sort of unfinished, but I think we can guess at what will happen with these two.

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An Apartment for Two

In addition to a more firm ending I think another change I would have liked to see was in regards to the setting. Carolyn is cat/house sitting for some family friends of hers (something I can personally connect with), and invites Jeff over so they can explore their feelings for each other. On Saturday though, there’s a time where they leave the apartment to eat and go shopping. Personally, I would have preferred if the entire book had taken place within the apartment.

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I think it could have given off a vibe of a stage play, while also heightening their actions and emotions when confined to a single apartment in such a large city. Then to end the weekend with them both emerging from the apartment could have been such a symbolic gesture of them taking the next steps in their relationship to either go off in the same direction arm-in-arm, or part ways. Emerging into reality as it were. Just a thought!

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

Series: Nope. In a perfect world I would love to see what comes next, but I think what also makes this work unique is the fact that we are offered just a brief glimpse.

Should you read it? It’s a quick read. I think it could have come together a bit more concisely towards the end. Also, I really wish they had stayed within the apartment for the whole weekend. It would have eliminated any possible distractions from the outside world, and allowed them to truly focus on the other.

Smut Level: We have about 1.5 scenes with some detail. It’s hard to revel in them though considering both are in relationships with other people.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Publisher: Books to Go Now. 131 Pages.

Way Too Deep by Andrea K. Stein, Sawyer Stone

The flirtations between our lead couple are sometimes too hot to handle! I had a ridiculous laughing smirk on my face throughout most of this read.

What’s it About? 

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Captain Lindsay Fisher has committed the unthinkable in the tight little world of super yachting. She takes chances, she’s a little too abrasive, and oh yeah, she’s taken swearing like a sailor to a whole new level. Celebrity Chef Alton Maura earned the acclaimed “Kitchen God” title and basked in the international limelight for years until his affairs with his kitchen staff landed him in a poisonous stew. When Lindsay and Alton are thrown together on an uneasy cruise through the Grenadines, sparks fly. She doesn’t like his shoes, or his attitude. He can’t believe a woman who looks that good in a captain’s uniform can be such a hard ass. This is their last chance to prove themselves, but the worst thing you can do when trying to save your career is to fall in love…WAY TOO DEEP.

First Impressions

Good God this novel blasts off with a suspenseful start! We have a storm at sea, a sinking yacht, and a couple of sailors flung overboard. This is why we mere humans don’t belong out on the open ocean people! Phew, ok mini rant over. Lindsay and Alton are both at the ultimate low points in their careers. She has now lost two ships at sea, and he gave an entire room full of uppity socialites food poisoning. They see this next cruise as their one last chance to prove themselves. Problem is, they pretty much hate each other at the start. Lindsay is a strict captain who expects everyone to follow her every word, and Alton is the artistic chef who’s not used to living on a boat and working in a galley kitchen. He’s used to giving orders, not taking them. While initially at odds, they quickly come to realize they’ll need to rely on each other to make this trip a success. As well as an outlet to let off some…sexual tension.

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From One to the Next

If I had to summarize this book in one word it would be: fun! I was expecting the relationship between captain and chef to be the main focus of this book, but something I didn’t see coming was the plethora of supporting characters who really made this story such a comedic and fun read. With the introduction of every new character we get another crazy personality, and I just loved it. In particular I adored Lindsay’s uncle, Tommy, who starts off so rough and gruff, but also has such a sweet side to him. He provides the words of wisdom to both Lindsay and Alton regarding how they should approach a relationship with each other. He has read pretty much every issue of Cosmopolitan magazine in the Caribbean after all.

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In addition to our captain, chef and first mate, we have a smarmy Russian, a music mogul and his vegan-organic-gluten free girlfriend who is enthralled with herbal medical remedies. There’s the spoiled wife of the yacht owner who always has a wine glass in her hand, not to mention Alton in her sights. Lastly, the trip simply wouldn’t be complete without also having the mistress of the yacht owner on board, as well as his business partner who is a James Bond uber spy wannabe. And that’s just everyone staying on the yacht! It doesn’t include some of the other delightful people we meet on various islands and other vessels. While this motley crew of characters is slightly over-the-top, it never got to the point of being just plain ridiculous. It was just the right blend for me of silliness, sexiness, and even some suspense thrown in as well. There’s eventually an inkling of intrigue and espionage, seeing as our yacht owner is the one noticeable key player missing on this crazy cruise. The ending does sort of cross over into outlandish territory, yet considering this blend of characters and build-up of suspense it also does feel like an inevitable climactic end.

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Crullers and Eclairs

As I alluded to earlier, Lindsay and Alton don’t have the best first impression of each other. He thinks she’s a hard-ass bitch, and she sees him as a goody-two shoes chef who’s clearly in love with himself. That being said, they are both clearly attracted to the other, but they’re adamant that they shouldn’t make a move. For one, there’s too much at stake with this entire trip. In order for their careers to rebound, there can’t be any distractions. In addition, it’s funny how long it takes before they realize the other isn’t gay. To quote one of Alton’s thoughts, “…he had the feeling she might be more interested in thick-lipped crullers than cream-filled éclairs.” Not gonna lie, I chuckled like an idiot with every culinary sexual innuendo that Alton could think of, and believe me there were many to enjoy. As their trip through the Caribbean progresses, their sexual chemistry becomes more and more difficult to ignore. With so many small and cramped places on this yacht to get down and dirty, it’s not long before they can’t say no anymore.

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

Series: Love Overboard, book 1. I definitely want to continue with this series!

Should you read it? This pretty much checks off every point of a good beach read. It’s fun, kind of silly, but full of unique characters. The flirtatiousness of Lindsay and Alton had me giggling, yet their scenes in the bedroom had me fanning myself from all the heat. The intrigue surrounding the yacht owner was a bit much, and I wish he had been featured more throughout the novel. Also, be sure to have some appetizers on hand while you read this one, as the descriptions of Alton’s culinary creations will keep you hungry!

Smut Level: Romantic comedies aren’t always the sexiest of reads, but this one definitely stands out! We don’t just have a handful of passionate kisses which fade to black. Oh no, we get every delectable sexy detail!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Muirgen Publishing, LLC. 219 Pages.

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A Model Engagement by Charlotte O’Shay

Alright, after reading this book I have one very important question that must be answered immediately. Is Maryland actually considered to be part of the South?? Our female lead apparently has a southern accent that comes out when she lets her guard down, and she hails from Maryland. The reason I need this question answered is because as someone who lives in Washington, DC, right on the border with Maryland, I need to know if I should start implementing more “y’alls” into my daily vocabulary.

What’s It About? 

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Lacey Reed jumps at the chance for independence with a career in the big city. But her naivety and ambition blind her to the lure of a blackmailer. With her savings gone, she has nowhere to turn when she literally runs into financier Connor Devlin. Though dazzled by Lacey, Connor sees the desperation she tries to hide. His gut tells him to help, and he hires her as his fake fiancée. Now Lacey has a job, and Connor has put a bandage on a family crisis. When the blackmailer ups the ante, Lacey resolves to face him down—no matter what the consequences. Does that mean Lacey will lose the only man who’s ever seen who she truly is?

First Impressions

A passionate romance at a beach house in Montauk? Count me in! This is the second novel in the City of Dreams series, and something I really do appreciate about these tales of fake fiancées is how the author presents us with characters who truly seem to have no other option. I think it’s safe to assume that not many of us could imagine a scenario in which we would enter into a fake engagement with someone who is a near stranger. Surely there must be some other way to get over whatever hurdle is presented, right? However, I was surprised to find that in both of these novels the female leads clearly had no other choice, and in order to look out for themselves and those that they love they have to do something kind of crazy. Heck, I even found myself wanting to yell at them, “What is there to think over? The solution is right in front of you, just take it already!” Who knew I’d be so supportive of fake engagements?!

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A One Day Fiancée 

In this novel, Lacey agrees to become Connor’s fake fiancée in order to help him care for his mother who would otherwise refuse the help of someone hired to be there. She’s willing to enter into such an absurd arrangement because she’s desperate to pay off a blackmailer who has a video tape of her in a rather compromising situation. As I mentioned earlier, I definitely understand how Lacey’s desperation to prevent this tape from ever being released could push her into accepting this completely unorthodox position. Connor on the other hand?

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Connor has known Lacey for basically just one day. In that short amount of time he can clearly identify she’s desperate for money. But to have him trust her enough to take care of his ailing mother, and also suggest they pretend to be engaged? After just one day? I guess I found it easier to believe her motivations rather than his. I did like that later on Connor admits his suggestion that they enter into this ruse so quickly was one of the dumbest ideas he’d ever had, but in that moment where he first tells Lacey she’ll be his fake fiancée I couldn’t help but think, “Woah, that was fast”.

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Past Deeds Impact the Present

Shockingly, I found myself more enthralled with the story of Lacey’s blackmail rather than her romance with Connor. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved ALL the sexual tension going on with her and the hunky gentleman, but it seemed that Lacey’s growth as a character was more linked to this other story going on with her ass of a blackmailer. To summarize, Lacey used to be a model, and when she started coordinating on a new ad campaign with a man who was highly regarded in the industry, he drugged her and filmed the two of them in some non-consensual sexual scenarios. This man then proceeds to blackmail her, demanding payment which reduces all of her life savings to nothing.

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The absolute best part of this book was seeing Lacey transform herself from a victim into a survivor. She was able to stand up for herself on her own two feet, and face the piece of shit who abused and blackmailed her. Lacey had the courage to say, “no more”. What was even better was that she came to this decision completely on her own. Nobody had to convince her of it, or push her into it. I think her budding relationship with Connor did act as a sort of catalyst, showing her how good her life could be if she just gets rid of the dead weight dragging her down. To see a woman who was at the end of her rope decide to rely on herself to escape the torment of her past was truly admirable.

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Mamma Devlin and Communication

There were two aspects of this novel that I felt could have been more fully accentuated. The first was the character of Connor’s mother. In a way, she is one of the primary factors that brings our main characters together. She is slowly going blind, and Connor wants to find someone who can help her through her day-to-day activities. Enter Lacey and the start of their fake engagement. While it is clear that she and Lacey get along, I simply wanted more scenes of the two of them spending time together. Towards the end of the novel we do get a glimpse of how sassy Connor’s mother can be, and if we had seen more of that side of her throughout the novel it might have added an extra layer of depth to Lacey’s interactions with Connor’s family. I think what I enjoyed so much about the first novel was the incorporation of our female lead’s younger brother into the dynamics between her and our male lead to truly cement their relationship. Connor’s mother could have acted as a similarly crucial supplemental character in this second novel, yet in the end it seemed like we never really got to know her.

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The second aspect revolves around the communication between Lacey and Connor. Throughout the book, we are privy to a lot of inner monologues of these two characters which reveal so much about their personalities. With Lacey, we learn all about how she branched out from her small home town in Maryland, and became a model in the big city as a way to rebel against her parents. We also see how she’s going through so much mental anguish over the issue of being blackmailed. With Connor, we uncover how the discovery of his father’s secret gambling life after his death influenced Connor’s relationship with his family. He had to become the protector and the provider. I just wish that Lacey and Connor had shared more of this with each other, rather than having it seemingly reserved for us to know as the audience. So many of these stories are glimpses into the thought processes of our characters. By having more heart-to-heart conversations throughout the novel rather than saving it all for the end could have acted as a real emotional bonding experience for our main couple, and strengthened their link beyond a basic physical connection.

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

Series: City of Dreams, book 2. I have a hunch over who the male lead of book 3 will be, and if I’m right then I just can’t wait!!!

Should you read it? Overall, I think I preferred book 1, mainly due to the more cohesive link between our main couple and supplemental characters. The story arch involving Lacey’s blackmailer was heartbreaking, yet also captivating. I wish there had been more of a resolution to how Lacey’s family responded to the blackmail. Not gonna lie, I kind of want to give her mom a good talking-to. Or maybe a slap. The ending of this novel was so freakin’ adorable though! After how quick their relationship started I really appreciated the patience Connor employed to go at Lacey’s own pace, so that she didn’t feel pressured into doing anything she wasn’t comfortable with.

Smut Level: These two have some intense make-out scenes that will have you fanning yourself! The one in the barn?! Phew!! My oh me oh my!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 210 Pages.

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Watermark by Marti Ziegler

A journey down the Mississippi River is fraught with perils: alligators, pirates, and a debonair flatboat captain with his sight set on revenge. Sign me up!

What’s it About?

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Whom could you trust if you were stranded fifteen hundred miles from home? Misfortune has plagued Juno Brock for months. Recently widowed, a chance encounter with a dangerous criminal in St. Louis exposes her to information that can see her branded. Or worse, hanged. When a pirate attack on the Mississippi River maroons her in the wilds of Michigan Territory, she has but one choice: use her wits to secure passage on a boat traveling downriver and reunite with her family fifteen hundred miles away.

An arrogant mistake in his youth has set flatboat pilot Malcolm Moreau on a forked path of redemption and revenge. His successful livelihood transporting goods to New Orleans revolves around cargo, not passengers, but Juno’s recent encounter with his longtime enemy makes her the exception. A bargain is struck: safe passage to Natchez, Mississippi, in exchange for the information she unwittingly discovered.

What follows is a month-long journey where mistrust and resentment unfolds into an unexpected friendship filled with secret confidences and before long, attraction. Sometimes dangerous, often humorous, their voyage down America’s most infamous river and the outlandish characters they meet along the way will ultimately inspire a destination neither expected: love.

First Impressions

This is only the second Marti Ziegler book I’ve ever read, but I think it’s fair to say that one of my favorite things about her work is seeing the characters evolve. I’m now convinced she is an absolute master at creating a rough male lead who you can’t help but love. At first introduction, Malcolm is kind of a jerk. He is hell bent on revenge, and is more than willing to just leave Juno on the side of the Mississippi River to fend for herself. But then we slowly start to unravel his story, and see what can almost be described as a charmingly boyish side to this rough man. I found myself smitten within a matter of pages even though you also kind of get the urge to slap him a few times throughout the book.

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There’s a similar unraveling to Juno’s character as well. When the novel beings she sort of seems like a momma’s girl, always clinging to her family’s side. Someone who is afraid to be out on their own. Very quickly though we discover that this strong woman knows how to survive. She’s clever, stubborn in only the best of ways, and just a downright fun heroine to read. All in all, I’m always mesmerized by the lead characters Ziegler introduces me to in her work.

A Motley Crew

It’s not just the main characters who are an absolute delight in this river tale. We literally have a whole crew of Malcolm’s boat mates to provide us with thorough entertainment. From his hard-lined cook, to a few flirtatious scallywags, you never want this trip down the Mississippi to end. That brings us to the setting, which is basically another character in and of itself. ‘Tis a journey filled with a plethora of perils, some of which were mentioned above. Alligators, exploding riverboats, pirates and religious zealots.

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This motley crew is constantly facing challenges as they make their way to return Juno to her family, and for Malcolm to finally achieve revenge against his sworn enemy who was the most devious of villains. I do sort of wish we had seen more of this enemy rather than just a few scenes at the very beginning and end of the book. He is described at length throughout from Malcolm’s point of view, so we do learn about their complicated history. That being said, I think it would have been more interesting and suspenseful to have more scenes between the two in person.

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From Nuisance to Lover

What I particularly enjoyed about this novel, aside from learning the historical aspect of 19th century riverboat life, was seeing the evolution of Juno and Malcolm’s relationship. At the start they are both severely annoyed by each other, and see the other as a deterrent and nuisance to reaching their final goal. However, they quickly realize they must rely on each other in their journey.

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Slowly, Juno and Malcolm start to open up and trust each other. This is perfectly reflected in their nightly pastime where Malcolm reads to Juno, who doesn’t know how to read for herself. She’s still fascinated by the written word, and though she initially kind of harasses Malcolm into reading for her, it soon becomes their nightly thing. Malcolm begrudgingly puts up with it every night, but then when he eventually buys her a small pocket reader to teach her to read? Girl, I damn near had tears in my eyes it was so beautiful.

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Let’s Rock the Boat

For a historical romance these two have some sizzling hot sex scenes! And in some pretty unique locations on top of everything. They tussle about in a small bed on a flatboat, against a tree trunk, and even on the floor of a cave. For those last two, they definitely aren’t the most comfortable of locales, but that’s what I positively loved about it all. Juno acknowledges right away that a bed probably would have been more convenient.

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She has twigs in her hair, a few scrapes and bruises, but when you’re overcome by passion? You do it wherever you can apparently. When the two realize their time together is soon coming to an end their lovemaking becomes even more desperate and passionate. However, they still manage to keep things grounded. For example, at one point they also have a drunkenly frank conversation about how they can’t have sex because she’s on her courses. It provides a comforting sense of realism and domesticity to their relationship that I just loved.

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

Series: Stand-alone. Can’t wait to see what comes next from this author!

Should you read it? Well, I’m a fan! I love that with each Ziegler novel I get to learn about a different period of history, and in a new unique setting. All the characters also have such great chemistry together. I could see how some might not particularly warm to the somewhat schoolyard antics of Malcolm and Juno’s relationship at the start, but just stick with it to see it develop! I do wish we had seen more of the villain, who was so creepily written you just want to see a bit more from him. Overall though, a fun historical read.

Smut Level: These two get busy in some unique locations, and I loved how they both commented soon after that it might not have been the most comfortable experience. There was one sex scene that seemed somewhat ill-timed following a near death experience, but I guess that simply increases the passion level!!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 351 Pages.

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Tattered Love by Lola Stark

“Then I went and followed him out to the car like some kind of…Some kind of girl! I was starting to dislike myself. Something needed to change. Soon.” Well…that’s kind of disheartening.

What’s it About?

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When ex-Special Ops bad-ass Mace walks into Needle’s Kiss tattoo parlour, he never expected to find the girl who would turn his life upside down. Hard as nails Scarlett has been unlucky in love: she’s been burnt, chewed up and spat out. Reluctant to have another relationship, can she keep her wits about her when hot-as-sin Mace walks into her tattoo parlor? Or will he break her down and leave his mark within her ink? What starts out as a little fun, turns into something so much more. Can Scarlett look beyond Mace’s devastating past or will his demons come back to haunt them both?

First Impressions

Scarlett is our main female lead in this novel, and she is supposed to be this tough-as-nails, badass tattoo artist. She doesn’t take any sh*t from anybody. I’m also 100% convinced she has no idea what she wants in life. Case in point: her relationship with Mace. Ok, sidenote real quick, Mace? Mace?! I can honestly say I’ve never met a “Mace” in my entire life. Ok, sidenote over. So Scarlett is initially drawn to Mace because he is the ultimate manly-man alpha male. He doesn’t ask her on a first date, but instead basically orders her on one. And she openly admits she likes his take-charge alpha attitude. To each her own, no judgement.

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But then when they actually do go out he has the nerve, nay the audacity!, to go get her a drink without asking her what she wants. Never mind the fact it actually is the type of beer she would have ordered because, you know, he’s been watching her (creep factor of 10), but she was damn near ready to get up and leave at that move alone. Scarlett my dear, I hate to tell you this, but when it comes to alphas you can’t simply date “some” of an alpha. They are alpha in all things, whether it’s telling you he’ll pick you up on Friday, whispering dirty talk in your ear, or getting you a drink. You want an alpha? You’re gonna get one.

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Getting all Good Will Hunting Up in Here

When it comes to this novel, “It’s not your fault” is the clear, prevalent theme. I’ll admit, I did like Mace’s character significantly more than Scarlett’s. He has heart, passion, and unfortunately the tendency to blame himself for every possible bump in the road he’s every encountered in life. From getting his former girlfriend knocked up, to the dissolution of their relationship, and the most significant of which is the fact he blames himself for the tragic death of his daughter (none of which were actually his wrongdoing). One of the saddest story accounts I’ve ever listened to! I was practically crying on my walk to work. I seriously need to rethink my tendency to listen to audio books in public.

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Communication is Key

That being said, Mace isn’t exactly Mr. Goody Two Shoes perfect either. As a matter of fact, there were times where I found both characters to be a tad…childish? This novel features one of the most ridiculous jump to conclusions I’ve ever heard. Towards the mid-way point of the novel, Mace has already told Scarlett about his crappy and exploitative ex-girlfriend, as well as how his daughter died years before. Then he mentions how he’s going out of town for a few days.

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Lo and behold Scarlett comes across him having dinner with said sadistic ex-girlfriend, and she immediately jumps the gun thinking he’s cheating on her. In her mind, there is no other explanation, and she won’t even bother to hear what Mace has to say. When he finally does get the chance to explain the situation away, Mace gets pissed at Scarlett when she asks why he couldn’t have been honest with her. He proceeds to turn things around on Scarlett saying she hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about her own past, so why should he have to share everything with her. Uggggh, seriously? Not ok you guys. When did this turn into an episode of Jerry Springer?!?

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Love is Girly

To harken back to the quote at the top of this post, one of the things I didn’t particularly like about Scarlett was that she didn’t really seem to like herself when she was with Mace. Sure, she enjoyed the sexy fun times they had together, and cheese and monkeys were there a lot of them. However, she’s always been tough, and when she’s with Mace she finds herself sort of bending to his will with his alpha tendencies. In spite of this, Scarlett loves him.

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At one point she even says it’s sickening how much she loves him. The reason it’s so sickening? Because it makes her act like such a girl. Sooo…being in love with someone is girly? Wanting to spend time with someone is girly? Now, I get the sentiment that is trying to be conveyed here: she’s a badass and she’s suddenly experiencing moments of intimacy with someone else. I just didn’t really enjoy how it almost paints the concept of being in love as a negative thing. Almost like, love?, pff, who needs it? That’s just for squares. Aaaaaand, cue eye roll.

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Bette Midler in the Making

As I mentioned earlier, I listened to this as an audio book. I always enjoy when romance novels present us with the dual points of view of both the male and female leads. I will say the male narrator did a fabulous job, especially when relating his sad tale of how his daughter passed. As for the female narrator, she could come off a bit too obnoxious at times. Seeing as how Scarlett is already a rather hot headed character, this additional feature of a somewhat obnoxious voice bordered a fine line of annoyance. This line was even crossed at times, especially whenever Scarlett lamented over acting too “girly”, and the word was said with what can only be described as pure disgust. Also, no joke, this narrator sounded surprisingly similar to Bette Midler. Although I love her to pieces (Hocus Pocus anyone?), it was almost too mature of a voice for a character who is supposed to be a 26 year old tattoo artist.

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Series: Needle’s Kiss, book 1. There’s an interesting side story with Scarlett’s best friend who is the feature of book 2. I might consider it.

Should you read it? Personally, I prefer romance novels where our two leads truly bring out the best in each other as they fall in love. I…can’t really say that happens in this novel. Eventually they are able to open up and communicate, but they are also wont to point fingers and place blame when they’re in a snippy mood. At times I really did enjoy how Scarlett refused to take any sh*t from anyone, but there were also quite a number of times where she wasn’t my favorite character to follow. Considering she’s the female lead? Somewhat problematic.

Smut Level: Scarlett and Mace do it in practically every classic sex locale: alleyway, hood of a car, shower, kitchen table…tattoo chair? Meh, why not?!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 293 Pages.