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? 

51w2v3tPOVL

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?!

Damon-Elena-damon-and-elena-15947160-303-280_large

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.

SOCIAL-DIY-Ice-Cream-Sundae-Bar-Creative-Toppings-for-Summer-Entertaining-Ice-Cream-Social-Recipe-Bourbon-Caramel-Sauce

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.

download

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.

maxresdefault

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.

fdb835e0-5cd3-4554-a49e-0b0d59142241

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.

tumblr_of1hu46xPS1tzs8cco1_500

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.

Advertisements

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

Jumping out of a plane in general doesn’t hold much appeal for me. Doing it with a raging fire burning below? No thank youuuuu!

What’s it About? 

41EXs8XIk7L

Little else in life is as dangerous as fire jumping. But there’s also little else as thrilling—at least to Rowan Tripp. Being a Missoula smoke jumper is in Rowan’s blood: her father is a legend in the field. At this point, returning to the wilds of Montana for the season feels like coming home—even with reminders of the partner she lost last season still lingering in the air.

One of the best of this year’s rookie crop, Gulliver Curry is a walking contradiction, a hotshot firefighter with a big vocabulary and a winter job at a kids’ arcade. And though Rowan, as a rule, doesn’t hook up with other smoke jumpers, Gull is convinced he can change her mind…

But everything is thrown off balance when a dark presence lashes out against Rowan, looking to blame someone for last year’s tragedy. Rowan knows she can’t complicate things with Gull—any distractions in the air or on the ground could be lethal. But if she doesn’t find someone she can lean on when the heat gets intense, her life may go down in flames.

First Impressions

This book has three main areas of focus. 1) The developing romance between Rowan and Gull, 2) the mystery person who seems intent on blaming Rowan for the death of her jump partner the year before, and 3) the logistics and intricacies of jumping fire. While points one and two were entertaining, I must say I felt there was almost too much focus on the details of jumping fire, as well as the process involved to put out a forest fire. Now, I know what you’re thinking. The book is called Chasing Fire, what the hell did you expect the book to be about?!

596908c01b0df.image

I know, I know, I should have expected some background information as to what that involved, but after awhile it just got to be too much. One too many metaphors comparing the fire to a dragon, cutting off the head and tail, flanking it, jumping it, drowning it, cutting down trees with saws, etc, etc. Let’s just say if you wanna know the ins and outs of putting out a forest fire, this is definitely the book for you. I could definitely appreciate the hard work and research which undoubtedly went into making these details as accurate as possible, but it almost overtook the book at times.

fire-fighters-silhouette

Coming Together Through Fire

It might be against Rowan’s personal code to get intimately involved with a fellow fire jumper, but we all knew it was just a matter of time before she and Gull went for a tumble in the sheets. All that heat and adrenaline was all the kindling that was needed to set their loins a burnin’. Ok, ok, enough with the fire+sex puns. While Rowan was insistent in the beginning that nothing could happen between them, as the summer progresses and the dangers of fire and their mystery assailant continue to grow, Rowan and Gull developed a kind of connection and closeness which was deeper than that between mere teammates.

anigif_sub-buzz-32261-1474990816-2.gif

Gull is determined to protect Rowan from whoever is taunting and blaming her for the death of her former teammate the year before. As the threats against her grow in intensity, I must say I appreciated that they didn’t just sit back and wait for the cops to give them information about the case. Although hell, considering how quickly gossip and info spreads in this small Montana town they really didn’t need the cops at all to start contemplating possible suspects and motives! While they didn’t necessarily do their own sleuthing (which would have seemed unrealistic given their strenuous day job), they did plenty of their own hypothesizing. They were very logical with their thought processes, but almost too methodical at times. Whenever they would come together to discuss possible culprits, they almost lacked emotion in their exchanges, as though they were reading from a list of clues from top to bottom. It was a bit too robotic at times.

vyYdwWjBTHmY9B4q3nhjwqNc

From opening bell I identified three main suspects as to who I thought might be behind Rowan’s torment. One is murdered fairly early on, so that narrowed it down a bit. The cops in the novel were so focused on one particular character, and you couldn’t help but feel that the answer can’t be that cut and dry. Once we do finally uncover the identity of the killer, and said killer is subdued (let’s face it we’re dealing with happy endings here), I can’t say it was incredibly satisfying. It was actually kind of a tragic conclusion. We see what can happen when someone is overcome with pain and the loss of a loved one. It can drive them to do crazy things, and commit heinous acts, all in the name of love or justice. Gull manages to show a bit of sympathy towards this villain, which was really quite endearing. As for Rowan though, she always has been and always will be a tough-as-nails woman. The way she sees it, this person put her team in danger, and threatened the lives of her comrades. She’s one to constantly look forward rather than back, so in her mind it’s not something to cry about. I can appreciate her strength in the face of all this danger, but her response was also a tad heartless when all was said and done.

703545636974e9de1f68a0c1d422614a

Tales of Romance

This book was kind of loooong. There was a side story of romance involving Rowan’s father and his new lady love that felt somewhat unnecessary in my opinion. I mean, good on ya buddy for finding a woman to make you happy, both in and outside of the bedroom, but what does this have to do with the overall story? We see how there’s an attempt to link it back to Rowan, and her inability to cope with another woman in her father’s life. I won’t necessarily try to bring Freud into the discussion here…but Gull certainly did! I did find it funny that the romance between Rowan and Gull was, in a way, less romantic than the other one we see playing out with her father. For Gull and Rowan, their relationship definitely starts off as a horny itch that needs scratching. They do respect each other, and there’s a definite admiration for the other’s strength and ability to jump fire. However, at the end of the day there was something lacking in their exchanges that just didn’t make me feel all warm and tingly.

MV5BMTQ1NTY2NzQ4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDMzODYxMTE@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: In a word I’d say it was an ok read. It starts and ends on a suspenseful and fiery note, but some of the central story elements started to feel repetitive after a while. The identity of our mystery villain wasn’t too big of a surprise, although I will say I was surprised at how emotional this read became at the end. If this book were 100 pages shorter I think it could have been a big improvement.

Smut Level: You’d think these two would be too exhausted to get down and dirty after jumping fire, but it seems they can always find a bit of extra strength. They also have the delightful tendency for shower sex. Nothing like washing off the dirt and grime of one blaze merely to start another blaze between them.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 481 pages.

Wicked Ties by Shayla Black

What’s the one thing that every hunting cabin in the middle of a Louisiana swamp needs? A playroom of course!

What’s it About? 

41phjg3v2vl

She didn’t know what she wanted…

Morgan O’Malley has seen a lot of kinky things as the hostess of a cable sex talk show. But she’s never met a man like Jack Cole before. A self-proclaimed dominant, he’s as alpha as a male can get—and good for Morgan to have around when an obsessed stalker ratchets up his attempts to get to her.

Until he made her beg for it.

Though Jack is a bodyguard, Morgan feels anything but safe in his presence because, slowly and seductively, Jack is bringing her deepest fantasies to the surface. And when he bends her to his will, what’s more shocking than her surrender is how much she enjoys it—and starts to crave his masterful touch. A willing player in Jack’s games, Morgan knows that his motives aren’t pure, but she has no idea how personal they are…

First Impressions

How to pass the time when you’re stuck in a cabin deep in the bayou of Louisiana after fleeing a stalker with the propensity for murder? Gee, I don’t know. Play cards? Work on a puzzle? Nope! In this novel our female lead decides that a good way to get her mind off the drama of a stalker drawing ever closer to killing her is to explore a d/s relationship with the dominant bodyguard stuck in the cabin with her. Oh, and did I mention that she just met this guy for the first time one day earlier? Sure…seems like a great distraction.

cabins

An Absent Stalker

The impetus for Morgan and Jack to go off in their cabin of lustful seclusion was a stalker closing in our female lead, even making the bold mood of shooting at her in broad daylight. Thankfully she just happened to be interviewing a professional bodyguard at the time to learn more about the intricacies of BDSM for her sex-talk cable show. This stalker story line definitely provided us with a bang-filled start, but unfortunately after Morgan and Jack hide away in his swamp cabin, stalker drama is essentially absent for a large portion of the book.

landscape-1447086772-11-18

Sure, they keep mentioning it here and there as a reason why Morgan can’t leave the overbearing dominant who seems determined to open her mind to a new kind of sexual experience. After the attempted shooting to eliminate her, we get no further contact between her and her stalker. No phone calls, no letters, no carrier pigeons. Nada. I was so convinced in my mind I knew who the perpetrator was, not to mention I was so determined to be disappointed that the drama was seemingly resolving itself in the background away from our two lovers. However, I will admit I exclaimed aloud in surprise when we eventually see this story line come back at the ultimate end of the novel. I’ll be the first to tip my hat in appreciation at the clever way this resolution sneaks up on you. Much like the stalker himself! Or herself? Mua ha ha ha.

5ajbewb

A Deceptive Meeting

Morgan’s first meeting with Jack the bodyguard initially seemed entirely linked to her cable show, and her attempt to learn more about the world of BDSM to ultimately share with viewers. In addition, this allows her to satisfy her own curiosity about a sexual lifestyle which has intrigued her for years, and was the source of her previous relationship falling apart. When Morgan’s stalker attempts to end her life, Jack is determined to protect her, and hide her away in the middle of a Louisiana swamp where nobody will be able to harm her. The fact he was able to satisfy his own lust by tying her down and having her submit to him initially seemed like a serendipitous added bonus. There’s just one rather major problem with this whole scenario. Jack ensured that he was the dominant Morgan sought out, because he had an ulterior motive of his own which was to get her in his playroom from day one.

b242e85fabf2d7f9ffd32e2f6c78147e--outdoor-cafe-outdoor-areas

Jack’s initial draw to Morgan was actually to use her as a source of revenge against her half-brother, Brandon, who is somehow responsible for wreaking havoc on Jack’s life. We’re not exactly sure what the cause of animosity is between these two men in the beginning, but Morgan is clearly caught between them as Jack mistakenly assumes that Morgan and Brandon are a couple. To quote an inner musing of Jack himself, “He lured her in to fuck her as payback”. That’s just…disturbing. By satiating his own lust for Morgan, he’s essentially killing two birds with one stone by also destroying what he assumed was a romantic relationship between Morgan and Brandon. I think we’re supposed to be placated by the fact that Jack is genuinely attracted to Morgan, but I couldn’t help but feel disconcerted that Jack intended to use Morgan as a pawn in his chess match against Brandon. The fact he even went so far as to send a sex tape of Morgan and himself to Brandon as proof of his conquest was too close to a form of revenge porn for my liking.

cropped-chess-board1.jpg

An Irresponsible Dominant

A crucial aspect of this novel is to look at the d/s relationship between Morgan and Jack. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to BDSM. To be honest, I’m not usually a huge fan of romances which feature it, but I try to read them every once in a while to try and further understand the appeal of a relationship which can initially come across as rather demeaning and abusive. Upon meeting Morgan, Jack quickly realizes that she’s a natural submissive who simply hasn’t had the opportunity to explore her fascination with the BDSM lifestyle, and he is drawn to her so completely that he’s more than willing to show her the…ropes. Yeah, BDSM pun absolutely intended right there.

102362-1532336916

While Morgan is definitely intrigued by and interested in engaging in a d/s sexual relationship, she’s not exactly well-versed in the rules of BDSM. And I must say, Jack is a pretty poor teacher. Just because he knows she’s a natural submissive doesn’t mean he can skip over the instructions related to their new relationship. She’s new to the lifestyle, and obviously has a lot of questions and concerns. Not to mention, a lot of other stressful shit is going on in her life right now! It’s inevitable she’d wonder what the heck he was intending to do when he demanded she kneel naked on the bed, bend forward, and stretch her arms towards the headboard. And yet Jack felt it was within his “right” to dole out punishment to her for questioning what would happen next, and not placing her full trust in him. It’s almost like he was reprimanding her for not feeling 100% safe with him during a scene. DUDE! She’s known you one day, and recently had a crazy stalker shoot at her in broad daylight. Frankly, I’d be concerned if she didn’t ask what the hell you were gonna do with those velvet ropes of yours.

fifty-shades-darker

An “F” for “Effort”

Even though Morgan has always had a secret desire to explore a BDSM relationship, she’s hesitant to fully engage in one seeing as admitting this fantasy of hers was the cause for her ex-fiance to leave her. The time she spends with Jack in the swamp cabin makes her realize just explosive this kind of relationship can be, yet admitting this to herself scares her to death. Therefore, she asks if Jack wouldn’t mind trying to have “traditional” sex with her that doesn’t involve all the spanking, punishment, and bondage.

38031-6719.png

I must say, their attempt at “traditional vanilla” sex was beyond frustrating. When she asks him to accommodate her request he smirks knowingly, having predetermined that he’s going to twist her request against her. Which…come one dude, don’t be a dick. Jack clearly isn’t into it, and really doesn’t forth much of an effort into pleasing Morgan. Just because it’s missionary doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of dirty talk, or maybe grip her hips with passion rather than a soft caress? After this sad display at a “traditional” sex scene, Morgan whole-heartedly admits that he was right, she was wrong, and demands he take her to his playroom. Let’s face it, this is what he wanted all along, and he knew that by putting forth as little effort as possible into her request for vanilla sex that she’d end up in his playroom where she belonged.

a-new-fifty-shades-freed-clip-teases-a-trip-to-the-playroom-for-ana-and-christian-768x384

Compromise, or Incompatibility? 

Later on we see another moment of incompatibility between these two when it comes to Morgan admitting her deepest desire of having a menage with two men. It’s clearly evident to Morgan, to us as the reader, hell to all the creatures hanging out in the swamp, that this is something Jack really doesn’t want to do. He doesn’t want to share her, and is terrified of losing her to another man. And yet, we see that he eventually gives into her desire, saying it’s his job to make all of her sexual fantasies come true. So…he’s willing to put his full effort behind this request of hers, but put a half-assed attempt behind her previous request for “traditional” sex. Why is willing to give in to this request?

source

Personally, I think it’s because at least this is a request which falls in his wheelhouse, and he still has the opportunity to steer the scene with total and absolute control. While I agree that it’s great Jack is able to help Morgan finally explore her deepest desires, I can’t help but question if they’re actually compatible with each other and showing what it means to compromise in a relationship, or if they’re simply settling with each other. Perhaps they are so thrilled to find someone who engages in their kind of lifestyle that they’re willing to overlook the fact they’re both finding themselves in sexual scenarios that they aren’t entirely comfortable with. Jack put up with sharing Morgan with another man, even though it was one of his biggest fears. Morgan puts up with being tied down and denied sexual gratification for lengthy periods even though it frustrates the hell out of her to the point where she stares daggers at Jack…and the other man in the room.

fed50f41ebca72c2afe73ecbd5efbdc4

Series: Wicked Lovers, book 1. I might continue with this series. There are some interesting secondary characters I’m intrigued to learn about.

Final Impressions: While the resolution involving  Morgan’s stalker was a huge surprise, I wish it had been featured more prominently throughout the bulk of the novel. Instead we see more of a focus on Morgan admitting her true desires to herself, and Jack seeking out his revenge against her half-brother. These two definitely have a strong physical connection with each other, but I couldn’t help but wonder at times if they were choosing to ignore key aspects of their relationship which made them uncomfortable. After all, they’ve only known each other for about three days at this point. Maybe they don’t know each other as well as they think they do.

Smut Level: There’s definitely some sensual aspects to this novel, including menage, bondage, dirty talk, and anal play. I will say though compared to other BDSM romances I’ve read it’s not necessarily an outlandish level of sexploration.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 354 Pages.

 

A Shimmer of Heat by Christy Shields

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

What’s it About? 

36253265

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

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

First Impression

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

kiss (3)

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

gerard-butler-to-join-kane-lynch-video-game-adaptation-1

A Diverse Cast of Characters

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

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

tenor.gif

A Widow on the Dating Scene

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

3283d0176bcaa36ec355d8fedb2f327e

From Matt and Alessia to Al and Liv

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

capture

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

cliffhanger

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

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

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

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

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

Seventeen Days by Linda Griffin

What do you do when the man you’ve just started developing a romantic connection with is suspected of a grisly murder? Do you cut your losses, or do you stand by your man?

What’s it About? 

51zGGIjG7pL

Divorcee Jenna Scott moves to a quiet California fishing village during the first Gulf War to make a new life in a house inherited from her grandfather. Her next-door neighbor recommends widowed handyman Rick Alvarez to fix her leaky roof. Jenna is intimidated by his good looks and annoyed by his self-assurance, but disarmed by his affection for his young son. She is still hurting from her ex-husband’s betrayal and resists the attraction between them.

Rick has lived in the village for only three years and is still an outsider, friendly but not sharing his past with anyone. When an attractive vacationer is murdered, local gossip says he is the killer, and rumors spread about his wife’s death as well. Jenna is determined not to believe the gossip, but will she ever be able to trust Rick with her wounded heart?

First Impressions

Surprisingly, the main focus of this novel wasn’t so much about the murder which happened in this sleepy coastal town, but rather the fallout of it. While we see the closeness that can develop between neighbors in a small town, we are also witness to the darker side of town gossip that can overtake a community shocked by tragedy. It was definitely an interesting focus highlighting the prejudice which can be placed towards the supposed “outsiders” in such a close knit community. While it was a fascinating and rather sad glimpse at the dangers of wildfire rumors, I do wish we had focused a bit more on the mystery of the murder. I was expecting it to be more front and center, but instead it’s sort of pushed to the side as an unfortunate incident that we’ll figure out the solution to just when it happens to come about. It’s not like Jenna and Rick team up to find the actual killer in order to clear his name or anything. They just kind of sit by as observers to the drama which unfolds around them.

whisper.0

17 Days of Love and War

The Seventeen Days title of this romance was certainly clever, as it not only tracks the burgeoning romance between Rick and Jenna, but also tracks the first few tumultuous days of the Gulf War. At the start of every chapter we get a count to what day of the war it is, as well as a brief news announcement to how the war is progressing. Now, I must say I was slightly confused as to why the novel was set during that particular time period. It didn’t really play a big enough of a role to truly feel relevant, which made it come across as a rather unnecessary detail. It’s not like either of our lead characters had a military connection, or really any of the characters in the book for that matter. One character expressed an interest in joining up, but again it simply wasn’t a big enough part of the story to really tie everything together. It’s just this event that’s referenced as going on in the background of their lives.

9720229021

I realize this is going to sound slightly weird in hindsight considering the title was in reference to two different things, but you kind of forget about it as the novel progresses. Only at the very end when Jenna makes a reference to it having been 17 days since she first met Rick was I like, ohhhhh, riiiiight. A different approach which could have been an interesting twist would have been to have a 17 day countdown rather than counting up. It would have helped build suspense in reference to the murder story line especially, wondering what might happen when we get to that final day countdown of day 0. And then once it was all over we could have a final chapter entitled day 1, which could symbolize the true beginning of Rick and Jenna starting out on an official relationship with each other once the drama of the novel had concluded. Just a thought!

GrotesqueSimplisticLice-max-1mb

Missed Connection

When all was said and done I feel like we missed a bit of an emotional connection with our lead characters. Rick always remains a bit of a quiet, surly dude who only shows minor glimpses of sensitivity when interacting with his son, and some romantic sentiments towards the end with Jenna. I mean, it’s kind of understandable he’d be in a sour mood with his entire town suspecting him of multiple murders and everything. However, the conversations where Rick and Jenna get to know each other are almost too reminiscent of an interview with rapid fire questions where they want to know as many details about each other in as short amount of time as possible. A few more scenes shining a light on the softer, emotional side of Rick’s personality would have been great.

Eduardo_verastegui

As for Jenna, she was also a bit of a strange duck. Half the time I couldn’t tell if she wanted to go off on a tirade against Rick for having the gall to show up to work on her house when she wasn’t ready for him, or if she wanted to push him up against a wall to ravish him. It was a weird back and forth that continues throughout the story where she’ll ask a very point blank question as though she’s accusing him of something, but then brush it off with a kiss. And then the most bizarre aspect of all is when she does decide to take the next step in their relationship. To quote Rick, “You didn’t like me at all until you thought I killed her.” Seems kind of…bizarre, no? However the more I thought about it the more I read into what I’m hoping is a more romantic way of looking at the situation.

Bedroom (2)

Since meeting Rick, Jenna hasn’t really known what to make of him, but he’s constantly on her mind. And then the unthinkable happens, a gruesome murder in their small town, and Rick is the primary suspect among the town gossips. This is when Jenna is forced to decide whether or not she can place her trust in this man she barely knows. She has no reason to trust him, especially considering everyone around her is convinced of his guilt. And yet, her gut is telling her he’s someone she can trust. I can see the romance there. Right? The only hiccup here is that even after they sleep together it seems like she does still contemplate whether or not he’s guilty. Hmmm, maybe the threat of danger is something she finds titillating?

Capture

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: I think Rick’s son, Danny, was my favorite character of the book, and I wish he’d been featured a bit more prominently. Overall I think we may have had one too many story lines going on here. From the burgeoning romance between Jenna and Rick, to the murder of a visiting tourist, to the Gulf War starting. We needed to either drop the war aspect and have the murder featured more prominently to build suspense, or we should have had more of a military focus on the war, with soldiers going off to war or something. Lastly, a few more revealing emotional moments between our lead characters could have helped us warm up to their characters earlier on.

Smut Level: Rick and Jenna go for a few roles in the bedroom, but the scenes are pretty clean.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 132 Pages.

My African Craving by Audrey Flynn

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

What’s it About?

51N72LMh2YL._SY346_

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

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

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

First Impression

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

pic-sw-cheetah-physical-characteristics-02

Business or Pleasure?

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

03C003C000818522-photo-blood-diamond

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

maxresdefault

Moments of Silence

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

rinoceronte branco macho 1

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

s-6c9a6a581bf2080b47633dd0ecf125da8544576d

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

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

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

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

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

sunset-africa-1431x450

The Artisan Heart by Dean Mayes

Dr. Hayden Lushcombe is a dedicated pediatrician, a loving (albeit preoccupied) husband, and he certainly knows how to handle his wood! For…woodworking…that is. Sorry, was that not clear?

What’s it About?

the artisan heart

Hayden Luschcombe is a brilliant paediatrician living in Adelaide with his wife Bernadette, an ambitious event planner. His life consists of soul-wrenching days at the hospital and tedious evenings attending the lavish parties organized by Bernadette. When an act of betrayal coincides with a traumatic confrontation, Hayden flees Adelaide, his life in ruins. His destination is Walhalla, nestled in Australia’s southern mountains, where he finds his childhood home falling apart. With nothing to return to, he stays, and begins to pick up the pieces of his life by fixing up the house his parents left behind.

A chance encounter with a precocious and deaf young girl introduces Hayden to Isabelle Sampi, a struggling artisan baker. While single-handedly raising her daughter, and trying to resurrect a bakery, Isabelle has no time for matters of the heart. Yet the presence of the handsome doctor challenges her resolve. Likewise, Hayden, protective of his own fractured heart, finds something in Isabelle that awakens dormant feelings of his own. As their attraction grows, and the past threatens their chance at happiness, both Hayden and Isabelle will have to confront long-buried truths if they are ever to embrace a future.

First Impression

For the first few chapters, it was kind of hard to connect with the story as we witness the disintegration of a marriage. It makes it difficult to want to pick it up and read when you know the inevitable split is just around the corner! In the end though, it was definitely a necessary introduction, as all of the seemingly inconspicuous details of the beginning come back full circle in the end. The story truly comes alive though once Hayden travels to his childhood country home in Walhalla. It might be a small town, but it’s brimming with personality and memories from Hayden’s past, both good and tragic. It’s the one place he can escape to, and ultimately he is re-enveloped in its charm.

walhalla_gipp_deals_1150x863

While the town of Walhalla was charming, it’s residents were a pure delight. This is one of those small towns where everybody knows everybody, which also means that it doesn’t take long before they all know Hayden’s business. But rather than sit back and judge, or gossip away in the shadows (which can be common of small town novels), instead we see an incredibly supportive group of townsfolk. I wouldn’t necessarily say they pity him, but rather they are saddened that something traumatic has impacted one of their own. Especially considering they all know about the sad fate which befell his parents, whom they all knew and loved.

539w

Mothers and Fathers

Apart from the romantic aspect of the novel, we see that parental relationships are another key feature of the story. Hayden had always been close with his mother, but when he couldn’t make it home in time to say goodbye before she died of cancer, it ultimately strained his relationship with his father. Just three years later his father died of a broken heart. Hayden has been able to push aside the tragic details of his parent’s deaths by hiding away in Adelaide with his wife. However, upon his return to Walhalla he discovers he must inevitably confront the past, and try to remedy his relationship with his father even though he’s passed away. It’s a sad, yet touching exploration of the last few years between a father and son. Hayden doesn’t come to the eventual realization on his own though that his father loved him until the end. Isabelle and the other townsfolk help him realize it as well.

foxtel-cry-600-28458

The other unique parental interactions we’re presented with in this book revolve around Isabelle and her daughter Genevieve. Whenever we have a romance where one of the lead characters has a kid, I get slightly nervous since the tendency is often to push them to the background. What I loved about this read though was that Genevieve was incorporated perfectly front and center. She’s an adorably curious child who manages to stay upbeat in spite of being deaf. Her mother was her savior, as they escaped from an abusive situation with Isabelle’s husband. They fled to the small town of Walhalla where they were greeted with open arms by the townsfolk who have become their family. When Hayden rolls into town he is wary at first of the headstrong lass playing with stuffed bears in his tool shed, but he eventually takes her under his wing. The fact his own mother was deaf means he is well versed in Auslan, and doesn’t shy away from actually speaking with Genevieve. In a way he becomes a pseudo father figure, which draws him and Isabelle together even more.

maxresdefault

Full Circle

What’s clearly evident in this read is that every detail serves a purpose to the story, and we’re presented with an extremely well thought-out sequence of events. We start with the end of a marriage, then see Hayden become reacquainted with his home town, followed by a romance with Isabelle, a suspenseful encounter with her ex-husband Mitchell, and finally the drama with his wife comes back full circle. There’s a little bit of everything! When the shady characters of Isabelle and Hayden’s pasts come to town, we question if these outside forces will succeed in breaking apart this new family we’ve come to love.

65901851-0_57890d3adbe5d

I will say the culmination of events at the end was slightly predictable, but I appreciated that the suspense was drawn out over a few intense chapters rather than having a quick, two-page glimpse of drama at the end. What’s truly commendable though is that we once again see this community rally together to safeguard one of their own. Rather than it feeling contrived or cheesy, their instinct to protect felt completely natural. As an adult I’ve always striven to live in a big city with a lot of people, but this was definitely the idyllic representation of a small town I’d love to live in!

6794770155_85c25c27ee_b.jpg

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

Series: A fantastic stand-alone!

Final Impression: The novel had a bit of a rocky start as Hayden’s relationship with his wife Bernadette slowly dissolved before ending in a fiery crash and burn situation. Once he escapes to his hometown though this is when the novel truly comes alive and becomes something special. It’s a great read, with a perfect combination of romance, suspense, and starting life over after hitting rock bottom. We see this for both Hayden and Isabelle, and what makes them such strong and lovable characters was their ability to bounce back and rise up in the face of adversity. They’re admirable individuals, but as a family unit with Isabelle’s daughter, Genevieve, they are unbreakable. A great beach read for sure once you push through the somewhat depressing start.

Smut Level: The great thing about a supportive small town? Babysitters at the ready who are willing to keep Genevieve over for a sleepover so that Hayden and Isabelle can have some more intimate time together. Nothing too graphic, but we do get the delectable detail of Isabelle drawing Hayden’s boxers down with her toe. That’s talent right there.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $6.99 Kindle Price. Central Avenue Publishing. 384 Pages.