Playing for Keeps by Ashlie Knapp

A man with six-pack abs who loves watching the Food Network and cooking Bobby Flay recipes? Oh yeah, I can get behind that!

What’s it About?

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To her friends and family, Aria Cook is a sassy, foul-mouthed, not-a-care-in-the-world woman. She dances for the Oklahoma City Thunder and tends bar at her father’s trendy downtown bar, A Shot of Whiskey. What her friends and family don’t know, however, is Aria’s running from a past she can’t escape no matter how hard she tries.

Trevin Anderson is a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy. He knows most women only want the fame associated with dating an NBA athlete. He doesn’t get attached. He has a job he loves, a sister and mother he adores and friends who have his back. He doesn’t need anything else.

After a failed first date, Trevin can’t walk away. Maybe it’s the thrill of the chase; perhaps it’s something more. She calls him her stalker. He calls her his girlfriend. Which one will be right in the end?

First Impressions

Aria and Trevin both put on an air of something they’re not. Her more-so than him, but essentially they’re both hiding the sensitive side of their nature from the rest of the world. He has the reputation as the ultimate man whore of the Thunder basketball team, always with a different woman on his arm, and never making promises about forever. However, when it comes to his time with Aria he becomes 100% dedicated to her. He’s not afraid to be sweet and affectionate with her, whether it’s renting out an entire animal park to give her an amazing experience with the animals, or constantly asking if he can change his relationship status on Facebook so everyone knows they’re dating.

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Trevin is smitten like a kitten, and he doesn’t care who knows it. As for Aria, she puts on a front of being a sassy, carefree chica who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and doesn’t let anything phase her. In reality, she’s experienced an intense trauma in her past that she keeps hidden from those closest to her. She doesn’t want others to know her weakness, so she’s essentially overcompensating in an attempt to show strength. Most people accept her facade as truth, but Trevin is the only one who recognizes she’s putting on a mask, and he’s determined to dig deeper than anyone else in an attempt to uncover who the real Aria is. She’s terrified her past will cause him to leave, no matter how much he declares he’s in it for the long haul. You can’t help but fall in love with his determination in the face of her hesitancy.

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“She put on a brave, smartass and carefree facade, but the closer he’d gotten to her the more he’d seen her vulnerability.”

A Long Wait

The development of Trevin and Aria’s relationship is a comedic delight to watch, while also interspersed with moments of emotional connection between the two of them. Throughout it all, we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop that will ultimately test the foundation of their relationship. It’s an inevitability we know is bound to happen! Most of the book involves Trevin convincing Aria to let down her guard, and to trust in them as a couple. Once she finally does, and admits how much she loves him, things are almost going too well for them. Especially after they meet each other’s parents and aren’t fully scared off. We constantly wonder what will cause their perfect bubble to pop.

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Will Aria get scared off by his intimate affections and desire to take their relationship to the next level? Will Trevin’s man-whore reputation come back to bite him in the bum? We’re waiting, and waiting….and waiting. It’s not until about the last 10% of the book that we finally witness the drama that threatens to break up their relationship, and I must say I did not see it coming! Definitely a surprise, although it took a bit too long for us to finally get to this climactic moment, and then it was resolved fairly quickly. It was an interesting twist for sure, but it probably could have been fleshed out more fully to take the conclusion to a whole other level.

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

Series: Playing, book 3. This was probably my favorite book in the series, if not a close tie with book one.

Final Impressions: This was a fantastic addition to the series. Overall it was a funny and cute read with some adorably likable characters. From Tristan’s mother who fully encourages him and Aria to have sex even if she’s staying just down the hall, to the whole cast of female characters from the previous two books. Aria and Tristan both had depth to their personalities that they didn’t always choose to share with others, yet as their love for each other grows they let their shields drop to reveal the softer side hiding just below the surface. The final drama at the end did seem a bit rushed, and could have been incorporated more fully into Aria and Tristan’s story, but nevertheless it was a fun read.

Smut Level: Some intimate make-out sessions, touches and caresses, but normally the sex scenes themselves were ones which faded to black before we witnessed anything too sensual.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 280 Pages.

All of Me by Rose Grey

Charlotte and Jock never thought love was in the cards for them. But when they’re thrown together amidst life-changing surprises, they come to realize that love just might be right in front of them.

What’s it About?

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Jock Durrell hopes the surprise baby his ex-girlfriend left behind at his office isn’t his. Still, someone has to care for it. So while he waits for DNA test results, he advertises for temporary help. Preferably Mary Poppins. By the time Charlotte Aubin arrives to interview, Jock’s too tired to be choosy. True, Charlotte dresses like a Goth and throws things when she loses her temper. On the other hand, as far as he knows, she’s not an ax murderer. So he gives her a chance. Because at this point he would sell his soul for just one night of unbroken sleep. But Jock isn’t the only one with a complicated life. Charlotte’s past is closing in fast. When danger looms, Jock will have to choose between protecting the safe life he has crafted or risking it all for a woman who has stolen his heart.

First Impressions

When our novel opens I wasn’t even sure if Charlotte and Jock were meant to be the romantic focus of the book. The authors does a great job of presenting us with two people who aren’t looking for love. They’re both so focused on treading their way through life that upon first meeting they seem more determined to be annoyed with each other than to see the possibility of romance. However, it would seem fate had more in store for these two after their initial meet cute, and no matter how much they tried to steer clear of each other, they both eventually acknowledged that they could help one another by sticking together.

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The set up of this story was everything. Charlotte and Jock are both dealing with their own problems in life, and yet somehow these distinct issues they’re both confronting prove to be the impetus in bringing them together. Jock is struggling with the fact his ex-girlfriend just dropped off a baby on his doorstep, claiming he’s the father. Charlotte has her own problems in life, from unloving parents to a somewhat sadistic step brother who seems determined to see her fall apart. They were both such independent, selfless characters who never really had the opportunity to enjoy life for themselves. They were always living one day to the next, and yet after fate throws them together both Charlotte and Jock are finally able to live in the moment, and learn how to laugh with each other.

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From Baby Jane to Brother Dearest

Jock has always pushed aside his own wants and desires in order to care for his brothers following the death of their parents. No woman has ever really tempted him to put his own wishes first, until he meets Charlotte of course. While his younger brother, Ronan, proves to be a source of humor at certain moments throughout the novel, I would have liked to see his brothers play a larger role in the overall story. We really don’t see much from them in terms of helping him cope with the emotional impact of suddenly having a daughter, and his brother from book one is almost absent entirely.

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“He had spent ten years creating a stable environment for his brothers. Ignoring his own desires had been a crucial part of that and a measure of his self discipline. But he couldn’t seem to summon the same vigor now.”

The drama that Charlotte experienced throughout the book in terms of her unloving parents and creepy step-brother was definitely the most compelling aspect of the story. Her troubled relationship with her family meant she never had a reason to trust others, especially considering those who were meant to love her most in this world continually brushed her aside. Charlotte has never deigned to try loving someone. Jock is the first one to cause her to hope for something better. While her relationship with her step-brother was a fascinating element that held your interest, and overall was carried out very well, I felt it could have been pushed one step further. The ending was fantastic in that it allowed for Charlotte to finally stand up for herself, but I wanted us to see more about the motives and thoughts behind her family in order to more fully understand their actions. This would have provided one more additional push to the book that would have been near perfect in execution.

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“She hadn’t ever fought for what she wanted…What if the reason she didn’t fight for what she loved was because she was afraid of what losing might do to her? She didn’t like thinking of herself as a coward, but it seemed the inescapable conclusion.”

Afraid of Love

Our love story ultimately culminates with some rather big misunderstandings that result in Charlotte running away from her feelings. Both she and Jock were hesitant to voice how they truly felt about each other throughout the entirety of the novel. We see that it wasn’t just their employer/employee relationship that caused them to pause, but also their inability to believe they could devote themselves to someone wholeheartedly. I’ll admit it was kind of frustrating to see them both internalize their anger towards the other for closing themselves off from love, while simultaneously acknowledging their own inability to dive deep into the relationship.

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I was pretty worried this inability to confess their feelings would negatively impact my appreciation for the book up until that point. However, I’m happy to say we do eventually see redemption with how they both are willing to fight and stand up for what they want in life, and their refusal to have others walk all over them. It’s almost as though they both reach a breaking point where they’re fed up with being alone, and even though they’re terrified of being rejected, they’d rather face the music than risk not knowing how the other person feels.

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“…one way or the other, she was done running.”

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

Series: Durrell Brothers Trilogy, Book 2. I may have liked this second book even more than the first book in the series!

Final Impressions: It was interesting to see two such independent characters learn how to finally allow someone else into their lives. It’s a difficult journey full of ups and downs, but they eventually realize that the mere presence of the other person brings joy to their day. Charlotte and Jock have a relationship that isn’t built upon lust or sex, but instead almost a mutual respect for how hardworking and selfless the other is. Incorporating more depth to Jock’s relationship with his brothers, as well as Charlotte’s background with her parents and step-brother could have elevated the emotional side of the plot, but overall it was a compelling read.

Smut Level: We never see anything too sensual in description, but you’ve gotta love the circumstance of being trapped together in a house during a snow storm. I can certainly think of a few ways for them to keep warm.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Simply Romance Press. 272 Pages.

Out Too Far by Andrea K. Stein & Sawyer Stone

An exciting and humorous conclusion to the Love Overboard series!

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Rania Elsaeid is the brilliant engineer aboard the 115-foot yacht, the Bonnie Blue. She’s also a deadly, well-trained security guard. She keeps her cool when everything around her heats up. Morris “Moj” Johnston, internationally famous music producer, is on a much-needed vacation cruise through the islands of the Indian Ocean. He’s not looking for love but trying to heal a broken heart. When Moj meets Rania, everything changes. Suddenly, they find themselves on the run from pirates, lost on a deserted island, and dangerously close to going…OUT TOO FAR!

First Impressions

It’s always sad to see the end of a series, but this final installment in the Love Overboard trilogy manages to keep you giggling as Rania and Moj navigate their love in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Both characters are dealing with the stresses of life. She’s lying low, trying to keep off the radar so her crazy ex doesn’t find her. As for Moj, he’s keeping busy as a famous music producer, trying to keep his mind off the recent and untimely death of his wife. Neither is looking for love, but once their eyes lock during a crowded music festival, there’s no going back. The connection between them is immediate. While they’re initially hesitant to explore anything physical between them seeing as she’s working on the yacht he’s chartered, it’s not long before fate pushes them to take things to the next level.

Stranded

Funnily enough, the moment when they decide to finally give into the desire which has enveloped them since they first met is not the moment I would have guessed would be the most opportune for sexy fun times. Moj and Rania find themselves stranded on a seemingly deserted island with kidnappers, albeit hilariously incompetent ones, hot on their tail. This is the moment where I’d be freaking out, convinced that starvation and dehydration would soon portend the end of it all. However, Moj and Rania take an entirely different approach, seeing this deserted island as an opportunity to finally get some privacy from all of Moj’s fame. Sure, they need to explore the island for water, food, discover whether or not it actually is deserted, but they first choose to look at the silver lining of the situation. Beautiful beach, just survived an adrenaline inducing escape from kidnappers…seems like the perfect time to get naked, no? Priorities people!

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“There is maybe one chance in hell we’re going to survive this ordeal. I say we make the most of the time we have left…”

The Need to Stand Aside

Something I really loved about this read, and the series as a whole for that matter, was that we were presented with a strong female lead character. Oftentimes throughout the books we find it is the ladies who are stepping up to protect the gents, or help them out of a sticky situation. This holds true in the character of Rania, a strong woman who can take care of herself, and has been trained by the very best to do so. Moj on the other hand, is a man who was determined to take care of his first wife who died from cancer. Caring wholeheartedly for others is part of his very nature, and the concept of stepping aside to let Rania take care of herself is one he’s struggling with. Where his first wife needed him, Rania doesn’t really need him at all. Even though their time together has been brief, it’s not long before Moj can’t imagine what life would be like to have Rania pulled away from him so suddenly.

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By the end of the novel, Moj finally accepts that when it comes to attempted kidnappers and matters of international espionage, his interference would probably cause more harm than good. He succeeds in stepping aside to allow Rania to shine in all her bad-assery. The final scene is quite funny even though it’s the climax of everything coming together, and it’s described in such perfect detail I could practically see it playing out in my head like a movie. Moj still worries for Rania’s safety, that’s something that will never go away completely, but he can learn to let her take care of herself when necessary. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t need him at all. She needs his presence in her life, she needs his love and support, but she doesn’t need him to treat her as a damsel in distress. If anything, Moj is the one who needs her protection and strength in certain moments. There are many times where they learn to place their full trust in the other person in order to make it out of a sticky situation, and acknowledge that there are some things they can’t do all by themselves. Sometimes they need a shoulder to lean on.

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

Series: Love Overboard, book 3. It’s always fun to see the earlier characters from the series come back in the end, although it was kind of disappointing that the couple from book 2 never made a surprise guest appearance.

Final Impressions: This was a sexy, funny read, and a great conclusion to the series. Some scenes were a bit over the top, and other areas could have been explained more fully, such as Rania’s past with her ex. However, it’s still a fun and silly read that’ll have you giggling along. Aside from the delight of having a strong female lead character, my other favorite part would have to be our would-be kidnappers. At the start you worry about how they might cause trouble for Moj and Rania, but as the story progresses you see they are hilariously inept at being criminals, and I was shocked to find myself liking them more and more with each new scene.

Smut Level: The first time Moj and Rania do the deed it’s on the beach of a deserted island they’ve been stranded on. I can’t imagine how much sand must have gotten into some extremely uncomfortable places.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Muirgen Publishing, LLC. 211 Pages.

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Delectable by R.L. Mathewson

When Kasey first sets her sights on Reese Bradford, one perfect nickname comes to mind. Yummy. Sooooo yummy.

What’s it About? 

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Reese Bradford is a typical Bradford, he enjoys his food, is easy on the eyes, and has a killer smile, but there’s one thing about him that he doesn’t want anyone to know about, which of course is the first thing that his ex-fiance makes sure that everyone finds out about after she leaves him for his best friend. Out of options, he reluctantly heads out of town to spend the summer in the cottage that he’d rented for his honeymoon only to find himself tormented by a woman that never should have crossed his mind twice.

More intrigued than he’d ever thought possible, he can’t help but wonder about the woman that made him smile.

First Impressions

This is another classic addition to the Neighbor From Hell series. It’ll put a smile on your face, make you giggle in delight, and even blush a time or two with the sexual escapades of our lead couple. There usually isn’t a ton of drama to a book in this series, but there are some lovable themes which connect them all. First and foremost is the infamous Bradford stomach. An endless gut that doesn’t seem to get full no matter how much food is consumed. The fact that this novel features a Bradford male falling for a woman who runs a cooking website? Stand back ladies and gentlemen, you’re about to see something reaaaaally special.

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Another feature that each novel in this series shares is also something which sets them all apart. Distinct lead characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. R.L. Mathewson isn’t afraid to provide us with delightful characters who break the mold when it comes to typical romance novel leads. Throughout this series we’ve seen full-figured female leads, adorable nerds, and even virgins. The leads of this ninth novel pull our hearts in once again, and include a single mother who had her daughter when she was just a teenager, as well as a sexy male virgin police officer. That’s right folks, we have a 29-year-old male virgin here. That’s the ultimate white whale, the sparkliest of unicorns, the needle in the haystack of Romancelandia.

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Bedding the Virgin

Kasey and Reese are both hesitant to take their physical relationship to the next level, and for good reason. She hasn’t been with anyone since the death of her husband over seven years ago. The few times she’s dated since his untimely death from cancer have left her feeling guilty, as though she’s betraying his memory. She simply feels she’s not ready to take that next step yet, but Reese is the first man to make her consider the notion. As for Reese, he’s a 29 year old virgin. He’s never wanted to take that next step with a woman unless he was convinced he could take care of her in every way possible. The fact that Reese is still trying to navigate his own life, and figure out what he truly wants to do, means he’s never felt like he was in the right place to take care of someone else wholeheartedly. I must say, while I completely understand why they were both hesitant to become physically intimate with each other, I was quite disappointed at Kasey’s initial reaction to his admission of virginity.

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Simply put, she doesn’t believe him. Now, I get it’s a concept which seems completely foreign in today’s day and age. Here we have a gorgeously sexy and caring police officer who’s also handy with a tool belt. How could a man so flirtatious and good looking possibly be a virgin?! However, he’s also never given her a reason to think that he’d make something like that up. She’s convinced he’s lying in order to show her his sensitive side, and trick her into going to bed with him. Perhaps if he had been pushing her repeatedly to jump into bed with him before this moment, I may have understood her point of view. The thing is, he’s always taken things slow with her. When he discovered her hesitancy to go out on a date with him due to the grief she still feels over the death of her husband, he didn’t goad or pressure her into moving on. He chose to keep things friendly between them. So why would he be going to such lengths now to get her into bed by creating a false back story of virginity? It just seemed like an insensitive assumption, not to mention it would have been a complete break with the caring personality which Reese had shown her up until this point.

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Series: A Neighbor From Hell, book 9. One of my favorite romance series of all time.

Final Impressions: While this definitely wasn’t the strongest addition to the Neighbor From Hell series, it’s still a fun, cute read. You can’t help but fall in love with all of the characters, and feel as though we’ve been granted permission to enter their world. There were certain aspects of the story which didn’t come full circle for me, and could have been fleshed out in more detail. While the reasons for Reese’s virginity are discussed quite clearly between him and Kasey, as well as the breakdown of his most recent relationship, something I felt we didn’t receive as much information about was Kasey’s background with her former husband and his family. Overall though, it’s still a great beach read that you won’t want to put down.

Smut Level: Our male lead is an officer of the law. You just know handcuffs are mandatory at some point.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Rerum Industries, Inc. 315 Pages.

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Nailed Down by Chelle Bliss

Kane is a rather intimidating hunk of a man who likes to refer to himself as the “Storm”. Sometimes he even has to threaten to give people a weather lesson should they annoy him too much. Oooooookay then.

What’s it About? 

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He’s the hottest handyman on TV, but he only has eyes for his best friend.

Kit Carlyle isn’t just some woman. Beautiful? Yep. Seductive? Damn straight. She’s also my best friend and my co-worker. But, hell, I’m a guy with a pulse. Every once in a while, I look at her and think filthy things.

But when her cousin dies and leaves her with a long as hell and sexy bucket list, Kit turns to me for a helping hand. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a woman in need. Besides, I’m not about to let another man steal away my girl, occupy her bed, or fill my shoes.

But as the stakes get higher and the items become hotter, I’ll have to face the toughest challenge of all: admitting I want more than Kit’s friendship. I want to make her mine.

First Impressions

A sexy bucket list? Yes please. A friends to lovers romance? Sign me up! The synopsis of this book has everything, and definitely seemed like it’d be right up my alley. It’s definitely a cute read, with some highlight moments, but I must say they summary of what we’d be in store for did ultimately leave me wanting. Particularly when we take a look at that bucket list which is described as being “long and sexy”, and increasing in heat as Kane and Kit start to cross things off that list. My mind definitely ran wild with erotic possibilities. Perhaps some elevator sex? Toys? Alas, in the end the list came across as rather tame in terms of sexiness. Adventurous, or adrenaline inducing may have been a more apt descriptor. Below is a slightly abbreviated version of the 10 items Kit’s cousin designated for the list.

  1. Go zip-lining
  2. Buy something frivolous
  3. Go whale watching
  4. Find someone to give you a mind-numbing, toe-curling, can’t breathe, moan-worthy kiss that ruins you for all other men
  5. Run a half marathon
  6. Shake hands with the president
  7. Camp out in the mountains
  8. Sing in front of a crowd of more than twenty people
  9. Have sex with someone other than yourself
  10. Fall in love

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See what I mean? Not quite the sauciest of lists. While Kane agrees to assist Kit in crossing as many items off the list as possible, only three of them would directly have an impact on their friendship crossing over into something more intimate. We soon discover that while these two have been friends for years, there’s also been an underlying yearning that neither has wanted to act upon. Until now of course. Both are hesitant to act on their desires for the fear that it might interfere with their friendship. However, with the first touch of their lips, the sizzling electricity which ignites between them ensures there’s no going back to mere friendship.

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The Games We Play

As Kit and Kane continue to check items off her bucket list, they soon come to the conclusion that there are deeper emotions developing between them. While they can both admit to themselves that they’re in love, they simply can’t voice it to each other. It’s even evident to their close friends and colleagues what’s going on. Towards the end even our lovebirds themselves can sense that something bordering on love is building in the other person, yet they both remain tight lipped about how they feel! Therefore, in order to try and nudge him into making a move, Kit tries to make Kane jealous by flirting with another man she knows is a sleazy playboy. Kit admits to feeling like a juvenile brat for playing games with Kane, but that still doesn’t prevent her from playing said games.

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Juvenile is correct. She’s so insistent on setting up this scenario to get him to declare how he feels, that you can’t help but question why she felt the need for him to act first. Seems to me like it would have saved them both a lot of time and energy, not to mention sped up their physical escapades, if she’d been the first to simply voice what she was feeling. At one point Kit even declares that Kane was “emotionally stunted” for not being able to admit how he felt and needed to “man up”. I’d have to counter and ask why she doesn’t “woman up”? Hell, I’m not even asking for her to say she’s fallen deeply in love with him. Merely admitting she’s starting to feel something more than friendship would have been enough to at least test the waters.

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Series: Nailed Down, book 1. I think I’ll continue on with book 2 which features Kane’s brother.

Final Impressions: There are definitely some sweet moments between Kane and Kit, but I felt like there were some important areas which only received a surface-level kind of introduction. It was as though there was a missing layer of depth which could have contributed to a fully fleshed out story. For example, we never learn how Kit’s cousin died. We were also never given the chance to see how Kit and Kane interacted as friends before the death of her cousin. Our book opens with Kit’s return from the funeral, and the introduction of the bucket list. We just sort of dove right into these feelings of lust simmering between them, without ever seeing their previous normal, everyday interactions as buddies. This contrast of a before and after could have helped us connect even more with our characters to see how things have truly changed between them.

Smut Level: Kane is described as a generous, but not a gentle lover. The first time Kit and Kane ever fool around beyond just a kiss is in his truck. Then the first time they actually do the deed is up against a wall. They certainly like to take things up a notch, even if their ultimate consummation doesn’t happen for quite some time.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE Kindle Price. Bliss Ink LLC. 250 Pages

Run Away, Lizzy by Elizabeth J. Sparrow

Sometimes when you’re not sure how to deal with your feelings for someone, the only option left is to run away. 

What’s it About? 

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With knife-like precision, Reilly asked, “Lizzy, what are you going to do when I’m no longer around for you to run away from? Have you thought about that?”
Her mouth puckered in a catch of surprise. He realized that the little girl in her had assumed the game would go on until she said it was over.

1968: During one of her father’s raucous Hollywood parties, ten-year-old Elizabeth Jane (E.J.) Hatton meets twenty-two-year old Texan heartthrob, Reilly Donner while swinging from a fourteen-foot ladder and hoping for a soft landing. She falls hard…for him.

1982: E.J is drowning in sadness after the death of her adored father. Reilly swaggers back into her life (“arrogant, patronizing and in love with the sound of his voice”) as the director of her Uncle Wade’s latest project: a prime time soap opera. As the associate producer, she’s not about to swoon over her childhood crush who riles her up by renaming her “Lizzy”, and who teases and bullies her as if she’s a child in need of a firm hand. She does her damn best to avoid him while trying to ignore those little fluttering sensations in her stomach whenever he gets too close.

Reilly is mystified, frustrated and eventually, smitten with E.J’s elusive and at times, downright perplexing behavior. He pursues her with the stealthy determination of a bobcat stalking its next meal.

Conflict arises when the soap’s leading lady, an old flame of Reilly’s, sees his budding infatuation as a threat to her plans for a rekindled affair. She’s harboring a secret about Lizzy’s father – waiting for the opportune moment to reveal it.

First Impressions

This is a fun, quick read that will have you giggling along to the shenanigans of our female lead in one scene, yet also tugging at your emotional heart strings in the next. It’s set in the 1980’s, and in hindsight I can’t really say I understand why? I mean, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the 80’s. Far from it. I am an 80’s baby after all. It just seemed like a somewhat peculiar time setting considering the era never really had a big impact on the story. They do make one reference which compares the budding TV drama they’re working on to Dallas, but other than that there aren’t many aspects of the 80’s which are highlighted front and center. In a way, our story could have been set in any decade, as long as it was one with television. Further incorporation of the time period probably could have added a fun nostalgic twist for many of us readers!

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The Passing of Time

It’s been many years since Reilly and Lizzy last set sights on each other. Back then she was just a precociously curious young girl with a crush, and he was a young stud cowboy making his way in Hollywood. Fast-forward 14 years and quite a lot has changed for these two. Lizzy just recently lost her father to a fast-acting illness, and she’s now trying to make a name for herself as a producer. Reilly still remains quite the stud, but he’s already made a name for himself as the next big thing in directing, and has been hired to take on the new TV soap opera that Lizzy is also working on. What will Lizzy do when she’s finally reunited with her childhood crush?

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As it turns out, she runs from him every chance she gets. She’s definitely still attracted to him, but she never thought her previously unrequited infatuation would suddenly be…requited. Reilly is stunned to discover that the girl he once knew is all grown up, and she intrigues him in a way he never expected. Why does she run and hide from his approach? It’s a predicament he’s determined to get to the bottom of. I must say we do get some pretty funny moments of Lizzy hiding behind doors and in secret cubby-holes to try and get away from this man. Especially considering other people on set have no problem leading him right to her secret hiding places in the hopes of getting them together. You can’t help but chuckle a time or two at her silly antics, but underneath it all there’s actually a deep grief impacting this young woman.

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“What are you so scared of?”

Running From Grief

As it turns out, Lizzy isn’t just running away from Reilly, or from finally confronting her feelings for him. She’s also trying to outrun the grief of her father’s death which chases her throughout the day, as well as every night when she closes her eyes to sleep. After his untimely passing, she’s even taken to wearing her father’s clothes as a way to feel closer to him. It’s a regressive reaction to his death, as she attempts to avoid growing up and moving on in life without her father. “Her behavior seesaws between young woman and little girl.” This overwhelming grief which impacts Lizzy’s life definitely packs a strong emotional punch to the reader, and we wonder if she’ll ever be able to escape from this dark cloud of sadness following her everywhere she goes.

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Thankfully, a saving grace has entered Lizzy’s life, and that would be Reilly. Up until this point, the majority of Lizzy’s friends and family have walked on egg shells around her, treating her as though she were a fragile object on the verge of breaking. But when Reilly arrives on set? He’s determined to finagle his way into her life any chance he gets. She might run, but he’ll make sure she doesn’t succeed in hiding. He sort of has a “tear off the band-aid approach” in how he deals with Lizzy, as he forces her to confront the feelings she has for him which she doesn’t really know how to deal with. However, I can’t say as much attention was focused on Lizzy confronting the grief over her dad’s death. Reilly is meant to act as a guiding light for her to finally move on, but we don’t get a full exploration into the heart of the issue so that Lizzy can ultimately begin the healing process in a healthy way.

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“Your body’s wanting one thing. Your head’s telling you to run away. But your heart knows what it needs and wants…me.”

The Villain-ess

In the midst of Reilly constantly chasing after Lizzy in her attempts to run from him, not to mention Lizzy’s inability to move on from her father’s death, we also see a minor side-plot involving the leading lady of the TV soap. She also happens to be an old flame of Reilly’s, and is aware of some former escapades involving Lizzy’s father. All in all, I must say this bit of drama seemed rather unnecessary. We have a short novel here at just around 100 pages, and we needed to focus as much attention on Lizzy and Reilly’s blossoming relationship as possible. This side distraction of a demanding aging actress just came across as a mild nuisance rather than anything that had a major impact on our lovebirds. The fact that this drama sort of fizzled out by the end of the story made it seem like a road we didn’t necessarily need to go down in the grand scheme of things.

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

Series: Stand-alone.

Final Impressions: A quick read that will make you laugh, possibly cry, and definitely fan yourself from all the steam these two emit once they finally come together. If you happen to find yourself on a sunny beach you can probably finish it in one sitting! While Reilly definitely succeeds in getting Lizzy to stop running away from her feelings for him, I can’t say that we delved deep enough into Lizzy overcoming the grief of her father’s death. Reilly is starting to help her move past the pain, but I wish we had been able to focus more attention on her accepting her father’s passing rather than introducing the additional story of Reilly’s former bed-fellow. Keeping all of these components probably would have benefited from an additional 100 pages or so to fully flesh out and explore each story line.

Smut Level: This might be a romantic comedy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have any steamy moments! You do sort of have to wait a bit until they’re featured, but you won’t be disappointed once they are!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. The Waxing Gibbous Press. 106 Pages

To the Max by Elle Aycart

What do you get when you have a pregnant thirty-something living with a devilishly handsome stuntman in the same house? As it turns out, a damn good time! Oh, and don’t forget to throw a couple of guinea pigs in there too.

What’s it About? 

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Forensic accountant Annie Griffin has always suspected she’s a bit jinxed, so when she finds herself 35, single, temporarily homeless, and pregnant on a technicality by a gigolo, her fears are confirmed.

Adrenaline junkie and professional stuntman Max Bowen needs a house-sitter to watch after his pets while he’s out of town. Annie needs a place to stay. Standard quid pro quo. No biggie. She can handle that, whatever hellhounds he owns. Until Max, the most sought-after bachelor in the county, comes back ahead of schedule and suddenly she’s roommates with a 27-year old sex God who turns out to be so much more than what she expected.

Max might have had the attention span of a humming bird on crack when it comes to women, but that was before Annie. Her quirkiness and sweet contradictions soon captivate him, not that she’s inclined to give him the time of the day. With his reputation preceding him, he knows the odds are badly stacked against him, but he will do his best to prove her that he’s what she needs, stuck-up socialite grandmothers, doomsday preppers, groupies, pregnancy hormones, and repentant biological dads be damned.

First Impressions

Right from the get go, you can’t help but feel that our two main characters are polar opposites. Annie is 8 years older than Max. She’s a rule follower, and a straight-laced accountant. She also happens to be pregnant following an uncharacteristic one-night stand with a gigolo. Max is the handsome playboy about town. The daredevil. The stuntman. A bit cocky, but not in an annoying way. When Annie’s apartment undergoes renovations, she agrees to pet-sit for Max when he’s called out of town for a film shoot. When said shoot is unexpectedly put on hold he has no choice but to return home, and the two opposites suddenly find themselves as roommates. How could this possibly end well?!

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However, as it turns out there’s an easiness to their relationship that you can’t help but adore. These two simply enjoy being in each other’s company, which neither would have guessed at the start. What begins as an unlikely friendship eventually develops into something more the longer they live together. In my mind there’s nothing better than a romance involving two friends who learn there’s a deeper emotional connection between them. The fact Max and Annie can have fun with each other by simply hanging out and watching TV is an added bonus, like whipped topping on a sundae. And her pregnancy hormones ratcheting up their sexual need for each other is the cherry on top.

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Mommy and Me

Surprisingly, Annie’s pregnancy doesn’t turn Max away, but instead actually draws him closer. Don’t worry, it’s not like he has a creepy pregnancy fetish or anything. He’s just happy to take care of her, every part of her, in whatever way he can. Once their relationship starts to become something intimate, he’s sure to specify that the fact she’s pregnant and alone isn’t the only reason he pursues a relationship with her. It’s not some outdated sense of obligation, since it was actually Annie’s personality which drew him in from the beginning. Max simply realizes that she and the baby are a package deal, and it thrills him to think he can take care of them both. One back rub leads to another…and next thing you know this friendship has evolved into full on sexual delights.

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Blood isn’t Always Thicker than Water

This novel isn’t all rainbows and guinea pigs, as we actually dive deep into a discussion of wealth, and the importance of family. Throughout this series we have seen the strength of the Bowen brothers, and this familial bond is just as strong in this novel as it was in the previous two. However, we come to the shocking realization that the Bowen patriarch isn’t Max’s actual father. His biological father was actually a mean drunk who Max had only met twice in his whole life. For all intents and purposes, Nate Bowen has always been and always will be his father. To summarize a very compelling quote of Max’s, any guy has the ability to make a baby, but that doesn’t necessarily make the man a father. Sometimes a family you choose can be stronger than the one you’re born into. The parallels of how Max sees himself playing a role in the life of Annie’s baby, even if it isn’t biologically his, couldn’t be more distinct. He might not technically be the child’s father, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be the best dad possible.

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Money also plays a rather pivotal role in Max and Annie’s relationship. The eventual discovery of Annie’s immense familial wealth makes Max start to question whether or not he’s worthy of her. She’s an heiress, even though to him she’s always been down to earth. While she’s never been one to flaunt her wealth, it doesn’t negate the fact that Max and Annie seemingly come from two very separate worlds. He can’t help but wonder if Annie would still want to be with him had he grown up in the trailer park with his true biological drunken father. It’s a rather emotional moment to see our somewhat cocky and surefire Max suddenly question whether or not he’s good enough for a woman who has quickly become the most important thing in his life. I might not have been expecting this intimate look at what truly makes a person who they are; money, blood lines, the people you surround yourself with; but it ended up being an important feature of Annie and Max’s relationship.

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Pahk the Cah in Hahvahd Yahd! 

I love an accent. I always say I have an ear for them, and can usually tell in a movie or TV show when a primary character is attempting to mask their true accent. With this audiobook I must say the accent employed by the narrator was a bit much. This novel takes place in a suburb of Boston, so our male lead has a stereotypical Boston accent. Now, none of the female characters receive this similar New England treatment! Oh no, it’s a privilege reserved for the sexy Bowen boys alone. And I gotta say, every time I heard the narrator’s thick Boston accent used for Max, I was immediately reminded of Ben Affleck’s character in Good Will Hunting, but it was exaggerated to the n’th degree, as though he was trying to sell me a hot dog at Fenway Park. It seemed unnecessarily over-the-top, especially considering at no point in the novel does the text mention that these men have a thick Boston accent.

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Series: Bowen Boys, book 3.

Final Impressions: This is a surprisingly funny read at the start. Annie and Max make for some entertaining roommates. From her pregnancy cravings, to his love of his two adorable pet guinea pigs, this book isn’t short of laughs. Or steaminess! My goodness do these two get down and dirty. No way will they let her belly come between them. The development of their friendship into something more felt incredibly natural and heartfelt. The whole thing comes together with an unexpectedly suspenseful finish that I did not see coming. All in all, a fun beach read!

Smut Level: Holy sex swing do these two get creative. It takes some time for them to start something sexual, but once they do? You’ve got some erotically charged, dirty talking, squirty sex scenes.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 334 Pages.