Under the Skin by Zara West

Well folks, the time has come to bid a fond farewell to the The Skin Quartet series, as we’ve arrived at the fourth and final installment of the bunch. This time it’s Hanger’s turn to find romance in the tough city streets of New York. It’s been ten years since we last saw this spunky street kid graffiti artist, and he’s now grown into a wealthy and sophisticated architect. Or has he?

What’s it About? 

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Born poor and raised on the streets, celebrated bridge builder and billionaire, Mic Vargas is knee-deep in the construction of a trouble-plagued bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey. He really can’t afford to take in a stray thief and fall in love with her. But when a beautiful, snappy-tongued, illegal immigrant literally drops at his feet, he becomes consumed with saving her and her family from poverty.

Cat burglar, Lena Correr stopped trusting anyone long ago. Not even a rich, handsome billionaire with good intentions can break through her defenses. At least, not until an East Coast crime boss threatens her family and forces her to steal for him. Mic vows to help her and her family escape the hell they are in. But will the man Lena is coming to love succeed, or will he end up dead at the hands of an old enemy?

First Impressions

Of all the books contained within this series, this final novel proves to have the most poignant, thought-provoking, and perhaps relatable observation of them all. Up until this point, we have seen a focus on characters who were wealthy billionaires, tattoo artists, and some who lived on the streets. In this final novel we see a focus on Mic, a man who just ten years before was a kid living on the streets, putting up graffiti tags all over the city with his protective sister. He’s now a successful architect, richest beyond his wildest imagination. He lives in an expensive townhouse with fancy clothes, a soft bed, warmth, and plenty of food. And yet, who is he really when you peel away all the outer layers of perceived wealth? Who is he under the skin?

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We’ve all heard the phrase “money can’t buy happiness”, and in this novel we see an examination of how true that statement can be. For even though Mic now seemingly has everything he ever dreamed of and more, underneath it all he misses his former life living on the streets. It may not have been glamorous or safe. He may have gone to bed cold and hungry, but he lived his life the way he wanted, unbound by rules and people dictating where he could and couldn’t go. This observation that Mic carries out throughout the novel in regards to how his life has turned out grounds us as the reader. It encourages self-reflection, and for each of us to consider who we might be when we remove the facade of what others might expect of us.

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Two Peas in a Pod

This deep introspection of who a person truly is on the inside carries over into Mic’s interactions and eventual relationship with Lena. Upon first meeting, Mic has a basic surface-level impression of this young woman. She’s a thief. A child of the streets, just like he used to be. But by having come from that world, Mic understands that there is often more beneath the surface that can drive a person to sometimes do terrible things. Mic becomes transfixed to discover how this beautiful young woman resulted to thievery in order to solve her problems in life.

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As we learn who Lena is under her own skin, we discover that Mic’s initial inkling that there was more to her than meets the eye was entirely accurate. Lena steals, not for herself, but for her family. As undocumented immigrants in a big city, her mother and little brothers have few options, and she’s taken it upon herself to ensure they make it through each day in one piece. Her fall into thievery was not done because of greed, but rather survival and caring for her family. Lena was initially on the path to becoming a nurse, but when her father was deported, and the scumbag lawyer who defended him demands an exorbitant fee, Lena has no choice but to result to a life of crime. We soon see that her life is much like Alice’s, in that once she makes that first fall through the rabbit hole, things start spiraling out of control very quickly.

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The Spiral

Another successful point of this story is that it manages to keep you on your toes from start to finish. Every time you think there might be a lull in the suspense, another dramatic element will be introduced just at the right time to ensure you’re still paying attention. On the one hand, we see some shady and questionable issues surrounding Mic’s latest bridge project. On the other, things start to spiral out of control as Lena’s success as a thief draws the attention of one very seedy character who becomes intent on drawing her into his world of crime. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her over to his side, even if he has to threaten the safety of her mother and brothers to do so.

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Mic is intent on helping Lena and her family escape whatever trouble it is they’ve found themselves in, to the point where he’s willing to brush aside the turmoil of his own life in order to focus all his attention on saving this woman who has quickly come to mean so much to him. Lena constantly struggles with the question of  whether or not she should put her trust in Mic, or if she should instead do whatever she can to push him out of her life to spare him any hurt. These inner debates were successful in building up the intensity and unpredictability of a scene, yet also incredibly frustrating at times. We see her logic in the fact that she barely knows this man, and that by asking him for help she might be placing him in extreme danger that he might not be able to get them out of. At the same time though, you just want to scream at her to take the helping hand that’s being offered, to hold on with all her might and never let go.

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

Series: The Skin Quartet, book 4. It was an absolute delight to reconnect with old friends from throughout the entire series, as well as thrilling to see a few familiar foes come back into the mix as well.

Final Impressions: Even though Lena and Mic have a dramatic initial meeting, you can’t help but notice that for a good portion of the first third or so of the novel, they don’t really spend any time in each other’s immediate presence. However, that first impression was all it took for them to spend practically ever waking moment contemplating the other. It adds to the intense need of their relationship, yet also helps contribute to those moments where they can’t seem to fully trust each other seeing as they barely know each other. While there was a constant roller coaster of suspenseful moments throughout the novel, the final conclusion did seem a bit rushed over, and possibly with some loose ends still left unfinished. When all was said and done there was a lot of havoc wreaked upon our primary characters, seemingly without end for a decent amount of time, and it was rather jarring to discover that the reason behind a good portion of this pain was quite trivial in the grand scheme of things.

Smut Level: Glow-in-the-dark condom…with black light. Need I say more?

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 217 Pages.

 

Their No-Strings Affair by Charlotte O’Shay

Just when you think life is throwing you nothing but curve balls, it might just throw a sexy Italian former SEAL turned security expert in your line of sight. Over and over and over again.

What’s it About? 

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Honey packs everything she owns and heads to NYC to jumpstart her art career. Her cheating boyfriend is history, and she finally acknowledges the truth of her mother’s mantra: Careers are forever and happily ever after isn’t in their DNA.

All she needs is a job and a place to live. What she doesn’t need is a taciturn, sexy, ballbuster but she’s woman enough to know the difference between need and want. Isn’t she?

Jake’s childhood was marred by tragedy and his future hijacked to a promise born of guilt. His failure drove him to a career as a SEAL and a security expert.

But it’s not enough. Now he’ll give up his freedom in reparation for the life he lost. Honey may be the last sweet stop on the road to a joyless future. If it’s what they both want, where’s the harm in a no-strings affair?

First Impressions

There are meet-cutes, and then there are meet-cuuuuuuuutes! There’s nothing better than a romantic meet-cute that puts a smirk on your face and makes your toes curl. The beauty of this novel is we essentially get three distinct meet-cute moments rolled into one relationship, and each scenario is just as smirk inducing as the next. Honey and Jake’s first meeting concludes rather quickly, but Jake can’t deny a moment of attraction to the little spitfire who wasn’t afraid to stand up and push back against his intimidating stature. As it would turn out, fate had more in store for these two. They’re drawn together rather serendipitously two more times, and it’s delightful how after each of these meetings they assume they’ll never see the other again. You can’t help but love the subsequent moments of shock, mixed with delight, when they reconnect again and again. Eventually they both determine enough is enough, and they decide to give into this attraction simmering between them. However, even though their affair might not have any strings attached, it does have a time limit.

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The Looming Deadline

We’ve all come across romances where the lead couple mutually decides to engage a no-strings-attached sexual relationship. No expectations, no heavy emotions, just sex. Aaaaand we all know that those never work out in romance novel land. An additional feature to this trope though that provides a bit of a twist to what we’re used to is the fact that Honey and Jake’s time together has an ending. They’re not just planning on jumping into bed with each other until things get boring between the sheets. Nope, they designate a time period together of one month. At the end of that month they’ll both go their separate ways. Honey will have an all important and time consuming internship beginning when that month is over, and Jake will be moving to Italy. This looming deadline results in both Honey and Jake wanting to take full advantage of all the time they have together.

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Now, a very small and cynical part of me wondered if the time limit to their relationship may have resulted in their emotional connection being put into hyper-drive. I even questioned if things may have eventually fizzled out between them had they not had this looming one month deadline hanging over their heads. However, something that squandered these musings was the fact that Jake and Honey truly did seem to have a connection that went beyond the physical. It wasn’t just sex. For either of them. This was particularly evident during a scene when they cooked dinner together, as they realize they’re both opening up to each other in a way they’ve never done with another person before. It seems like such a simple activity, making dinner, and yet it highlighted a level of intimacy to their relationship where they were both happy to simply be in each other’s presence, chatting, cooking away, and with their clothes on no less.

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“The rest of his life would be divided into the time before he met her and the time since.”

The Mothers

An intense and burning attraction isn’t the only thing that Jake and Honey share. They both have a rather complicated history with their respective mothers that helped shape who they are today. For Honey, her mother was always a wanderer; a woman caught up in her career who traveled from place to place with her daughter in tow. When Honey was just a teenager her mother married another man, and had twin boys. Not one to be tied down, it wasn’t long before Honey’s mom was off chasing another story, and her presence in her children’s lives was few and far between. Honey could have gone on the road with her mom, but even at a young age she knew she wanted to settle in one place, and ultimately the bulk of the care for her half-brothers fell on Honey’s shoulders. The lack of her mother’s presence in her life meant Honey didn’t always have a nurturing woman’s perspective to lean on when it came to relationships or friendships. It might not have resulted in the most stable childhood home environment, but the love for her brothers made her the caring and quirky woman that Jake couldn’t help but fall in love with.

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Honey’s relationship with her mother was no picnic, but it was a damn feast aplenty compared to the relationship that Jake had with his own mother. For years Jake has been plagued with nightmares wherein he relives the death of his brother when they were both young teenagers. Jake blames himself for his brother’s death, something which he became increasingly convinced of when his mother openly blamed him for the death as well. Cesco was the golden child that his mother preferred, and she always viewed Jake as a “spare”. Following Cesco’s death, she not only laid an enormous amount of guilt upon Jake’s shoulders, but she pressured him throughout the years to pick up the life that Cesco would have led by marrying into a wealthy Italian family to carry on their impeccable lineage.

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To see how this strong former SEAL could crumble under the weight of so much misplaced guilt was heartbreaking. He’s obviously hesitant to share too much of his past with Honey, especially seeing as it has an immediate impact on their time together. He’ll be moving to Italy at the end of the month to marry whoever his mother has deemed worthy for him. The fact he’s willing to give up the rest of his life in the hopes that fulfilling this familial obligation will make the nightmares featuring his brother go away was a straight punch to my emotional hand-basket! I did appreciate that while Honey does offer him some solace and comfort, it is ultimately Jake who must find the strength within himself to stand up to his mother to live his own life, and not the one she hoped Cesco would lead one day.

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New York, New York

I am a city girl through and through, but I will be the first to admit that New York City is not my favorite town. There are big cities, and then there’s New York. It’s a whole other level of huge that simply isn’t for me. Something that Charlotte O’Shay managed to do with this novel was turn New York City into a primary character. Throughout the novel we see the city come alive to act as both friend and foe to our lead couple. It succeeds in drawing them together, yet also acts as a barrier which can separate them. I appreciated that at the start of the book we do see a darker side to the city, and how it can prove to be an imposing obstacle to a newcomer like Honey. It’s not as though things are all sunny and perfect like in a Friends apartment scene.

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And yet, we also see that in spite of it’s size, Honey and Jake succeed in surreptitiously finding each other numerous times in such a huge city throughout the span of the book. It would seem that fate doesn’t see the Big Apple as such an imposing force. One of my favorite scenes in particular was when Jake chose to share a special tradition from his childhood with Honey. They’re able to connect over a unique feature of the city, and it’s a special moment that makes it seem as though Jake and Honey have been able to find a small corner of intimacy just for themselves in the midst of the hustle and bustle of NYC. Now, is the representation of what can happen in New York 100% accurate? Probably not. Unless of course you know of another sexy security expert willing to rent out a floor of his fully-furnished and renovated townhouse for a reasonable price that I just didn’t know about 🙂

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

Series: City of Dreams, book 3. It was so much fun to see a few glimpses here and there of the characters from the first two novels.

Final Impressions: Based on how the story began with our characters coming together so many times in some rather comedic circumstances, I initially assumed this was going to be a rather light-hearted tale. I should have known that this series has a tendency to pack in some emotional punches, and this third novel proves no exception. Jake’s complicated relationship with his mother was especially intriguing, and you can’t help but hold your breath in anticipation at their eventual confrontation. I do wish Honey could have had a similar heart-to-heart moment with her own mother, but at the end of the day this story is about Honey and Jake. A key feature to the success of their relationship wasn’t just sexual compatibility, even though they have that in spades, but rather the natural ease with which they could simply be with each other. In these moments Jake didn’t have to worry about living up to his mother’s expectations, and Honey didn’t have the added burden of looking after her brothers or supporting herself in the city. They could simply forget all their worries and enjoy being themselves with each other. But yes, sexual compatibility was definitely a plus!

Smut Level: When you have a scene involving a man giving a tour of his newly renovated kitchen to a potential love interest, you can practically guarantee one thing with absolute certainty. At some point or another…we’re gonna have some kitchen counter sex!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 234 Pages.

A Leap of Faith by Nell Castle

Goooooing to the chapel and I’m, gonnna find a good looking minister to fall in love with. Ok, definitely not as catchy a tune as “Going to the Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups, but it’ll have to do!

What’s it About?

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Desperate times call for desperate measures. At her core, merchandising maven Sophia Anton is an old-fashioned girl. To start a family by age 30, she’ll do what’s needed to make sparks fly with an old friend—including a crash diet. But when Sophia meets Jackson Thomas, the handsome new minister in town, she quickly finds she’s playing with fire. Sophia’s new look is working like a charm to snag the man of her dreams, so why is it Jackson’s face she sees when she closes her eyes?

Jackson, whose troubled past has led him to adopt a life of celibacy, never expects to feel hot under the collar for a woman of his own parish. How can Jackson dream of a future with Sophia after he’s shut the door on love?

First Impressions

Mkay, so technically I don’t know if Sophie found her handsome minister in a chapel, church, priory, rectory, or monastery, but boy did she find a good one! For those of you who may not be familiar with church terms and titles, don’t worry! One thing I do know is that ministers are allowed to get married. No rules being broken here! Jackson may have taken a personal vow of abstinence after the failure of his first marriage, but when he meets the selfless and caring Sophia, he starts to question if she might be the one for him. Which will win out? His vow, or his growing love and appreciation for one of the members of his church?

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Ballet Dancer vs. Minister

Sophia is facing a dilemma of her own. For years, she’s been in love with Christopher, a man who has always treated her as more of a friend than anything else. But Sophia is determined to attract his attention in any way possible, even if it means starving herself to lose weight. This was definitely one of the most fascinating, yet depressing aspects of the novel.

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It shows the lengths one person can go to when desperately searching to make a connection with someone else. She doesn’t realize that there’s a minister who already appreciates her for who she is on the inside. Sophia can’t deny her growing attraction for the new minister, but what will she do when Christopher starts to actually take notice of her new appearance?

Unexpected Twist

The first half of this novel really focuses on Sophia attempting to get involved in some new church volunteer opportunities, all the while also trying to balance her efforts to woo Christopher, and her growing attraction for Jackson. The second half of the book takes a totally unexpected twist that was so unbelievably sudden, I had trouble believing it actually happened at first. Although it was definitely a unique feature, I also felt it kind of interrupted the overall flow of the book.

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Additionally, even though this book is supposed to feature a budding romance between Jackson and Sophia, I felt like they never really spent a whole lot of time together. They have one really deep, emotional conversation, but it sort of seemed like throughout the majority of the book they were mainly thinking about each other rather than interacting with each other one-on-one.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Should you read it? I’d categorize this as a sweet read. It’s not an overly religious novel, but rather really shows the importance of having faith/trust in others, as well as yourself. It highlights caring for others, the close relationships we can make in life, and even the mistakes we can make too.

Smut Level: This is an extremely clean read. It’s a minister for crying out loud! Don’t tell me you were expecting any kink! All they do is exchange a kiss or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 201 Pages