Shari Slade’s fourth and final installment takes us back into the Devil’s Host MC. Noah enforcer for the MC and Star, a waitress with a debt over her head, are waiting to see if the MC will help rescue Noah’s sister from a rival MC. Noah needs Star more than ever now-she is the only one who knows the other MC and who’s behind the kidnapping. These edgy, suspenseful, erotic little niblets are an action-packed surprise that gives readers a decadent taste of the dark side of Motorcycle Clubs and the bikers who give their undying loyalty to this brotherhood. Emotionally stronger this round, Noah and Star have both grown considerably. The intense sexual chemistry blends well with the connection this couple has forged. Noah’s influence on Star has peeled away the fear and shame and a warrior is born. Slade wraps up the conflict and settles the romance perfectly though she leaves enough open to allow her to revisit this serial if she so chooses....more
Favorite Quote: “Magnificent. Irritating and utterly disrespectful. Totally off limits. The enemy.”
Nico Toscani is the Las Vegas crime boss and the bastard son of the former Don. When his father was brutally murdered, the family voted his uncle in as the new Don instead of him. Nico watched his father being gun down in cold blood by the Cardano family and has carefully planned his revenge for years. But all his plans come to a screeching halt when Mia Cardona walks in his office.
Mia Cardano is a mafia princess unlike anyone has ever seen before. An eclectic mixture of punk rock and geek, Mia disavowed her heritage in order to escape her destiny and struck out on her own as a security system hacker. Hired to break into and analyse Nico’s casino for security flaws, a handsy security guard and her retaliatory reaction gets her caught. Taken to meet Nico, Mia is both attracted and repulsed by everything Nico stands for. She has worked to long and too hard to cut her ties with the mafia. Mia leaves with the battle lines drawn and knows despite their attraction, nothing can come of it if they want to survive.
Nico is the first in Sarah Castille’s dark and steamy mafia romance series. Set against the glittering backdrop of Sin City, a couple from rival crime families unwillingly fall for one another and now have to find away to survive the backlash that is coming. Sexy, smart, gritty, and surprising humorous, Castille walks us into the inner sanctum of the Costa Nostra and lays bare the politics and seedy dealings of this complicated world that relies on bloodlines, honor, and antiquated ideals to excuse its horrific crimes.
Heavily character driven, there are three points of view used to tell the story and Castille takes her time to identify all the players involved and their connections to one another. She effortlessly slips in key background information that allows readers to understand instantly the reasons behind the character’s actions without feeling as if we are being crushed by massive amounts of unnecessary information.
Nico and Mia are two of a kind, both having suffered at the hands of their families. Nico was raised to run the Toscani empire but being born on the wrong side of the sheets places him in a precarious position. Forced to kowtow to his uncle and cousin, he has to play nice knowing that at any moment, they could legitimately take him out and the family wouldn’t bat an eye. He has quietly built his own empire, waiting for the day he can take over the family and exact his revenge for his father’s death. Gorgeous, deadly, and seemingly heartless, Nico is everything that the mafia embodies but there is a small part of him that just wants to be free of his responsibilities and ties.
Mia, like Nico, is a product of her environment. Groomed to be a quiet and biddable mafia wife, Mia broke away from the life when her father had her boyfriend murdered right in front of her. Starting her own company has given her the independence she craves though she stays close to her family in order to protect her younger sister, Kat. Mia is such an appealing combination of strength and vulnerability. Strong, loyal, intelligent, and a fighter…Mia stands toe to toe with everyone, demanding equality. Carrying some serious baggage, she isn’t weighed down not discouraged by it. She is a force of to be reckoned with.
The romance, though slow to develop, is fueled by combustible chemistry and intense sexual tension. Unwanted attraction is the best of tropes. Steamy scenes and titillating dialogue with a distant lack of over the top dramatics and episodes gives credence to their feelings. They try to stay out of each other’s path but like magnets, they are constantly drawn back into each other’s orbit. Nico is torn by his attraction to Mia. To fall for her means a possible war and to give up his plans for revenge while Mia has always been firm that she will never allow herself to be drawn back into this world willingly.
“Are you afraid you might fall for me?”
“I’m afraid you won’t let me go.”
She was right to be afraid.
Nico is perfect in his dominance because it is tempered by genuine concern and affection. He wants Mia and her safety and happiness is what drives him. Mia also isn’t one to play games. She is comfortable with her sexuality with no hang ups or distractions to keep her from falling for Nico. Castille catalogs the changes this couple goes through as the succumb deeper to their desires. Nico begins to lose some of his old-fashioned views concerning women and Mia realizes not all men are like her father.
“Mia, tesoro…non era mia intenzione ferirti…I never wanted to hurt you.”
Steady pacing and a multi-level storyline keeps the story moving at a swift pace and the action at a premium. Castille has an appealing voice that hooks you right into the story. The romance and conflict move in tandem, playing off one another seamlessly. Energetic narrative keeps readers firmly engaged as Castille moves her players around like a champion chess player. Betrayal and revenge are the foundations on which this story is built and everyone has an agenda. Violent undertones only serve to further legitimize the subject matter while interjections of humor help to soften the blows coming.
“Oh. My. God. I can’t believe you did that. Prostitution is illegal in Nevada unless you’re a licensed brothel.”
“Hacking into your husband’s phone to find out his location is also illegal, but I didn’t see you batting an eye about doing that… How’s that black hat feeling today?”
“It wasn’t really a black hat hack. I was doing it for a good reason, so I’d say it was more gray.”
“It’s illegal. Therefore, it’s black. Your Mafioso husband has turned you towards the dark side.”
Dynamic and engaging characters round out the story, adding authenticity to the danger that lurks in the background. Both Mia and Nico’s families are stereotypical wiseguys but they both have a strong network of friends and protectors who watch out for them. Nico’s bodyguards are surprising softhearted for capos while Mia’s bestie-Jules-has no problems donning a black hat when it comes to helping Mia. I do hope Castille chooses to revisit a certain undercover cop whose loyalties are tested.
Nico is a roller coaster ride of action packed drama, intrigue, betrayal, and deception that leaves the reader on the edge as Castille unfolds the arc and drops clues to what the future may hold. Though we end on a positive note for our hero and heroine, the story itself is far from over. The next book is Nico’s capa-Luca- and his fall from grace. It’s set to release May 2017. Though this is my first time reading Castille, it definitely won’t be my last. Fans of enemies to lovers will definitely enjoy Sarah Castille’s newest series-Ruin & Revenge.
LAPD consultant Sophia Ross is handed the opportunity of a lifetime when she comes to the UK to fulfill the terms of a will. Upon arriving, Sophia realizes that there is more at stake than a little breaking and entering. Sophia has landed right in the middle of an ongoing war between the Light and Dark Courts.
Nikolas Sevigny, a Daoine Sidhe knight of the Dark Court, has been in exile for centuries along with his fellow knights. Unable to return home to Lyonesse, he has been searching for a way to reunite his people in order to stop Isabeau, Queen of the Light Court, from destroying them all. He will use anyone and anything to win this war. Even at the expense of his own happiness.
Nikolas sees a way to get what he wants through Sophia though she refuses to be anyone’s pawn. As their animosity rises, so does their attraction to one another. When Isabeau unleashes her fiercest fighters to stop Nikolas and Sophia, they will have to set aside their differences and band together if they want to survive what is coming.
Moonshadow is the first in a new trilogy that spins off of Harrison’s best-selling Elder Races. Set in the UK, Harrison expands on the ongoing dark Fae demesnes storyline that has weaved itself in and out of the main series. Easily read as a standalone, new and long time fans will able to sink right into this new world and character influx with nary a bump.
I’ve been a huge fan of Harrison’s since she released Dragon Bound and introduced us to the Elder Races. This explosive series gave PNR a much needed shot in the arm with its fantastic world building, dynamic characterization, and an arc brimming with suspense, intrigue, humor, and plenty of sexy romance that has kept me enthralled ever since. I was pleased to see Harrison diving into the Fae demesnes and their long standing war. The clues and engaging bits of information she has dropped throughout the series hinted at an epic storyline well worth the wait. Unfortunately, I wasn’t all that impressed with this first installment.
The story opens with Sophia in America. She is doing a reading and in a vision, she finds herself face to face with an unknown, gorgeous man. She disrupts the vision and wonders how and why this man was able to see her and if this is an omen about her future.
Sophia Ross worked with the LAPD as a witch consultant until she was shot multiple times while on assignment. On an indefinite leave of absence and unsure what to do with her life, she meets with Dr. Kathryn Shaw and learns that she has been named in Dr. Shaw’s late father’s will. If she can gain entrance to the Shaw family mansion in the UK within in 90 days, she will own it, all of its possessions, and the land free and clear. Built as a monument of victory on a broken crossover passageway (a gateway between Earth and the other worlds) the family abandoned the home when ‘it’ stopped letting people enter. Sophia jumps at the chance to learn more about her origins and leaves immediately for the UK. Her arrival drops her into the middle of a war when she rescues an abused dog and meets Nikolas Sevigny.
Nikolas Sevigny is the leader of the Daoine Sidhe Knights of the Dark Court. Considered abominations because of their multiple bloodlines, the Queen of the Light Court has made it her mission to destroy them all. Trapped on Earth centuries ago when Queen Isabeau’s Captain of the Hounds, Morgan le Fae, destroyed their only way of getting home, Nikolas and his remaining knights have searched tirelessly to find a way home while avoiding death. When he scents a familiar fae he’s been looking for, the trail leads him to Sophia.
Tempers flare….wills clash…and a destiny awakens…
Moonshadow takes place in a relatively short span of time. It was hard to narrow down an exact time frame because of the time shifts between Earth and the other worlds. I estimate everything occurred in a two week span-give or take a few days. I found this short time frame didn’t allow for the storyline nor the romance to evolve as naturally as I expected. It was very rushed and forced in some places. The development occurs on a singular level, not allowing for any real depth or exploration. We are given the bare bones of the conflict at hand and the characters involved. This book essentially sets up the world and conflict, staying in the present and leaving me feeling there was so much missing. The flow was off , the pace uneven, and the narrative choppy.
The romance also wasn’t a sell for me. I adore the trope of antagonistic attraction, something Harrison excels at, but this is one time I felt it didn’t work. Sophia is very independent and self-sufficient. Nikolas’s autocratic behavior rubs her the wrong way and she reacts in a sarcastic and at times a juvenile manner. The brief background we learn about her does explain the basis of her nature but she goes overboard and by the end, I was exhausted by her.
I couldn’t see why this couple fell in love. From their first meeting to their final declaration of love, I felt they were more infatuated with one another than anything else due to being forced into a volatile situation and having to depend on one another. While I could understand the attraction; both are intelligent, loyal, hard working, and extremely self-sacrificing, there wasn’t enough time for them to get to know one another much less fall head over heels. Sophia repeatedly refers to Nikolas as an arsehole and snarks at him when she feels he is ordering her around. She claims to dislike him and initiates sex with no strings, then gets angry when he agrees and distances himself. Her insults are framed as foreplay.
Nikolas is not much though I understood his reasoning better. He is much older than Sophia and has been fighting one war or another for most of his life. He knows the dangers around them and while he tends to react with anger over Sophia’s actions, it’s out of concern for her well-being.
As always, Harrison writes some steamy, chemistry boosted, love scenes and while I enjoy them greatly, I will admit I am prejudiced against the word spurt. It’s a whimsical word that works well (in my opinion) in erotic and or comedic romances but felt very out of place in the seriousness of the storyline and characters.
A cast of interesting secondary characters are brought in to round out the story and I’m looking forward to seeing each shine in their predestined roles. Many new faces and some old ones make an appearance. We meet the other knights and the Puck (Robin) holds a strong place in the story. The most intriguing character to me was Morgan la Fae. Harrison hints a few times that there is more to him than what meets the eye and I’m interested in seeing how and even if she redeems him.
All in all Moonshadow was a disappointment when compared to the jewels I have read from Harrison. I’m hoping this is just an anomaly and the second book in this trilogy takes us back to her normally exceptional works.
Beyond Surrender is the ninth and last installment in Kit Rocha’s Beyond series. Nessa, O’Kane princess and ruler of the distillery, finds her sanity and strength tested when she falls for the one man whose only goal is to see Eden fall. The sectors are going to war and nothing will ever be the same again.
This post apocalyptic series has been a favorite of Smexy Books since its first installment, Beyond Shame, was released in 2012. This dark post apocalyptic world revolves around a walled utopian city-Eden-where the rich and elite live and the outcasts who live outside the walls who have divided the city into gang controlled sections. Heavily character drive, the arc focuses mainly on Sector Four-the O’Kanes. As the series has expanded, we meet the other sectors, their rulers, and the war that is brewing between Eden and the sectors. It’s all rather bittersweet to see the series coming to an end though Rocha has confirmed that their spin-off, Gideon’s Riders, will release its first installment March 2017.
Beyond Surrender is Neesa and Ryder’s story. Nessa, the genus behind the O’Kane Distillery, has been with Dallas since the very beginning. Her family worked for his on his family’s farm in TX. Dallas left the farm to seek his own way and when things got rough on the farm, Nessa and her grandfather followed. All grown up now, Nessa is considered the princess of the O’Kane family and protected like one.
Ryder has been preparing for war for a long time. When his mentor, Jim, was killed, Ryder took Jim’s diary that is a goldmine of information, and became the new leader of Sector Five. Ryder turns up in Sector Four though, to be an ally for Dallas and his leadership. Dallas and company have been preparing for war for a long time and they are ready to proceed. It’s here that Ryder meets Nessa, and there is a definite chemistry between them.
Tori, let’s first talk about Ryder and Nessa’s relationship. I felt it was more quiet than the romances in other books. They had eyes only for each other – and while it was still intense, it was less chaotic. I liked that – since their world was erupting around them.
Tori: I agree. The romance is softer, more intimate, and though it definitely doesn’t hold the erotic edge that we have seen with previous couples, it still maintains a strong hold on the story. Their contrasts-Nessa’s impulsiveness and Ryder’s calm, steady nature-play off one another perfectly. Nessa shows Ryder how to dream beyond his mission while Ryder gives Nessa the dominance and security she craves. Nessa has spent her life unsure if men want her for her or for her connections to Dallas. Ryder doesn’t need anything from her. Not her skills or not her connections. This exhilarates and scares Nessa.
“She’d always wondered what made women bolt like terrified pray in the face of that look. If a hot guy knew what he was doing with his dick wanted to get busy, why wouldn’t you jump on and ride?
Now she got it. Arousal might have made her wet enough to squirm, but the flutter in her chest was closer to panic then excitement.
Oh yeah. She got it now, why women ran. She also knew that running got you chased.”
Their interactions are infrequent, making the time they do have together more intense as they take advantage. Ryder and Nessa both have their respective roles to play with Ryder on the front lines and Nessa staying behind to man the home fires so to speak. I loved the sense of danger that surrounds them-the possibility of death and the reactions of the O’Kane men who see Nessa as their baby sister.
“As soon as Ace and Jas and Dallas find out, they’re going to make it weird. They always make it weird.”
The romance blends well with the conflict. Rocha jumps right into the fray with no lead up, putting us right up against the wall with our favorite characters. We’ve been waiting for this since book one and I felt Rocha delivers as intended. Allies and enemies alike have played a long game and the time has come to pay the piper. Rocha doesn’t hold back and keep readers in their safe places. War is hell and this writing duo unapologetically shows us the hell the sectors go through to win back their lives and freedom. What did you think Mandi? Were you happy with the way the conflict played out?
Mandi: There was a lot of pressure on this book to deliver a solid HEA for our main couple, but to also deliver on the build up of this war, and to check in on everyone that we have met through the series. It was a lot, but the authors made it all flow so smoothly. One criticism I’ve had with this series is that we don’t always see the violent acts committed outside of Sector Four, and to understand the danger and be immersed in this world, I think experiencing the horrible acts is important for the reader. Not that I enjoy war, but in this book the authors do present it to us and it was a nice payoff. Although I almost had a heart attack when a certain sexy man went down. Good thing when Rocha gives us a HEA, it STAYS a HEA. I did think the first half was a little slow, but maybe that was because I was anticipating the end.
Another thing I enjoyed, not only in this book but the series in general, is Dallas’s rise to power and how others perceived his power. He doesn’t ooze finesse, quite the opposite actually, but he knows how to earn respect. Ryder had been groomed to be the leader of the sectors, and instead of working against Dallas or holding a grudge, he contributes to the war efforts without causing a headache for Sector Four. Dallas is also my absolute favorite character in this series (well – Dallas and Lex) so everyone better bow down! *wink*
Tori: This for me was one of the best scenes. We have watched Dallas and Lex grow within their positions and in here they actually give voice to the changes they’ve made as leaders, O’Kanes, and lovers. I have always found it fascinating that Lex and Dallas are always Declan and Alexa to one another-as if they need that separation between them and the sector.
“I love you, Alexa,” he murmured against her lips. “So let’s settle down and rule our den of sin.”
“For life, Declan.”
Mandi: Up next is a spin-off series, titled Gideon Riders (you spend a little time with them in this book) and they will take us to Sector One. The first book will be Ashwin and Kora and wow did they have some intense scenes in this book.
Even watching for it, Cruz didn’t see the explosion coming.
One second, they were on opposite sides of the alley. The next, Ashwin was slamming Cruz into the brick wall hard enough to know the wind out of him. Ashwin’s hand closed around his throat, pushing him up onto his toes, and his rational mask shattered. “Where is she?”
Oh boy. Their story is going to be HOT.
Are you excited, Tori?
Tori: Excited may not quite be the word for what I’m feeling. I’ve been completely obsessed with Ashwin since first meeting him. A genetically altered soldier who’s become so obsessed with a woman to the point where he needs to hide her from HIM? WHAAA???
They were both what their creators had intended. Perfectly formed tools meant for a single purpose. Trying to change that was a futile act that led to malfunction. He was proof of that.
He’d forget how to feel again. And she’d be safer without him.
I want to know the whys, wheres, whens, hows. *grabby hands* Also very interested in seeing who is the heroine for Gideon and how she’ll help him to accept his destiny.
Beyond Surrender is the perfect ending for this portion of the arc. A soft romance combined with an intense conflict closed some doors but left others open to ensure we are well prepared for the next adventure to come.
Favorite Quote: “Tell me what you need.” “An orgasm would be nice.”
The 12th installment in Jaci Burton’s best selling Play By Play series gives readers a sexy, sweet, and humorous romance between two people whose trust has been broken by those they cared about. More laid back than previous books in terms of conflict; food and family are the main ingredients that are used to create this spicy/sweet romance.
Our protagonists, Flynn and Amelia, are extremely similar in their character makeup. Both are intelligent, loyal, and witty with a lack of the usual deep seated emotional baggage that often sparks tension and misunderstandings in these romances. Hard working and well liked, their personalities and humor mesh well together throughout the story, helping to push their blooming romance along at a smooth and steady pace. Flynn appreciates that Amelia seems to enjoy his company for him-not what his career can bring her. Amelia likes that Flynn respects her, trusts her, and doesn’t feel she needs changing.
Dual points of view allow us insight into their thoughts and emotions concerning the developing romance. We learn more about Amelia’s divorce and how it affected her views on relationships. Burton doesn’t make it easy for Flynn to convince Amelia to trust him, which pushes him to bring in his secret weapon-his family.
The storyline is relatively straightforward and predictable. Burton’s smooth writing and engaging helps to balance the daily ins and outs of the restaurant and the football team with Flynn’s low-key courtship of Amelia. I never felt as if the story was being rushed or crammed with information. He wants Amelia to give them a chance and he spends his time teasing, cajoling, and subtly pushing his way into Amelia’s life and bed. Amelia isn’t sure she can trust him. Fear for her job and her heart if things go bad keeps her walls up. She slowly begins to open up to him; first in bed then in her heart.
The love scenes were more playful and less scripted in this installment, though I’m still seeing a continuation of repetitive phrases during sex. Amelia’s dirty mouth was a pleasant shock as it strikes a nice contrast against her polite and reserved outer persona.
“You’re very beautiful, Amelia.”
“Thank you. Now fuck me.”
Burton uses the family fueled atmosphere of the Sabers and the Cassidy’s to draw Amelia out and help Flynn press his suit. We get to spend time with previous couples along with Flynn’s siblings, significant others, and parents. They are a warm engaging group who embrace Amelia whole heartedly, giving her the sense of family and stability she’s been yearning for. The sibling’s bickering offers readers some amusement as does Amelia’s relationship with her bff-Laura.
A misunderstanding towards the end pushes Flynn finally face his own issues but it was very melodramatic and seemed to come out of nowhere. The grovel is well done but again, the whole scene felt tossed in at the last moment and didn’t seem to mesh with what we had seen of Flynn or the story’s overall tone.
Burton’s Play by Play series continues to offer amicable, low key escapism with sexy sports heroes and the woman who steal their hearts.
Heidi Cullinan revisits Logan, MN and a favorite couple when a newcomer to town and finds an invitation to more than just the holiday festivities. The last installment in Cullinan’s Minnesota Christmas series gives readers the gift of erotic delights when a committed couple decides to add a third to their relationship. What first starts out as a physical connection that allows for some hot and heavy playtime soon turns emotional when love enters the equation. Cullinan addresses the various issues surrounding polyamory relationships in a frank and respectful manner though she didn’t completely sell me on the legitimacy of this relationship. The relationship centered on Gabriel being the common denominator. I never felt the connection between Arthur and Dale went any further than mutual affection. A faint suspense subplot adds tension to the story and helps to cement Dale’s place in Logan. Regardless of my issue, I felt Cullinan did an excellent job with the romance and showing that love is what we need it to be. I enjoyed my visit back to Logan and look forward to visiting again soon....more
You always know you’re going to get a dark, gritty, sexy, angry and complicated romance when you pick up a M. O’Keefe book. Damaged men and women who carry more baggage than Samsonite reluctantly find one another and embark on a journey towards their redemption…if they’re brave enough to accept it. She doesn’t always offer her readers a HEA, but she does offer enough hope to assure readers the couples involved have a very good chance at making it. O’Keefe’s newest venture-Bad Neighbor- embraces all that and more when an angry illegal back room fighter falls for a shy illustrator whose life has taken a turn towards the unknown.
Charlotte, a professional illustrator, is forced to downsize tremendously when her twin sister, Amber, gets into some trouble and goes on the lam. After selling her condo and giving most of the money to her sister, Charlotte moves into a run down apartment complex in a seedy part of town and attempts to reestablish her life as best she can. Shy and introverted, Charlotte is shocked when she meets her neighbor-the rude, grumpy, and utterly gorgeous Jesse.
Jesse, a backroom fighter, also lives at the apartment complex. His first meeting of Charlotte tells him three things. She’s beautiful, she’s hiding something, and she’s not for him. He’s also hiding a few secrets of his own. Secrets that could hurt them both if discovered. Jesse pushes and pulls at Charlotte, blowing hot and cold with each new encounter. So Mandi, what did you think of the initial setup?
Mandi: OMG this set-up is my candy. Innocent heroine in hiding. Intimidating, grumpy – wait – asshole hero next door who just happens to be an illegal fighter. He is described as “thick” with sweaty abs.
*peeks out window and looks at elderly do-gooder neighbor* Damn it! I don’t have a “bad neighbor.”
I feel like O’Keefe not only sets-up a bad boy hero, but she goes there with him. He has depravities. He is not nice. He can be a SUPER jerk. But at least he admits it:
This was sex, Sex the way it was in movies. And books.
I felt primal all of a sudden, and I realized that I was kissing the way he was kissing me. My hands were fisted in his shirt. I sucked on his tongue. Bit his lip. I ate him like he was an avocado and I was starving.
My back hit the fridge because he’d pushed me there. His hand cupped my chin, lifting my head as he backed an inch away from my mouth.
“I’m sorry I’m a dick,” he whispered, his breath washing my lips, my face.
Apology accepted, Jesse!
And on the other side, Charlotte, although in hiding and a little scared, is so cute. When she sees Jesse, she is a little fearful by how masculine and raw he is – but her fantasies start coming to life in her head. Leading a safe, romantic life, Charlotte is not used to being near and attracted to such an intense person. Her safe little fantasy about the fruit stand boy down the street gets thrown out the window.
“Bedroom?” he asked, jerking his thumb toward the shadowed doorway beside my kitchen.
I opened my mouth to say what but nothing came out.
Was this the fruit stand fantasy coming true? Was this…possible? He said bedroom and I just led him in there and we went at it? Was that how these things worked?
(He just wanted to fix her doorknob – like her actual, metal doorknob!)
Tori, did you like the chemistry between Jesse and Charlotte and how their romance plays out?
Tori: I love the sexual tension that O’Keefe begins building from the first time Jesse pushes Charlotte’s futon threw her apartment door. It’s a hot, pulsing, earthy entity that screams (or maybe that was me) DO ME!! DO ME NOW!! Jesse pushes Charlotte’s boundaries; locking onto the sexuality she keeps buried and gives her an outlet in which to embrace and express herself with no shame.
“I was right, he whispered. You’re so fucking soft.
It’s …they’re…” I made some gurgling sounds of despair and tilted my face away.
“Fucking perfect,” he said.
The romance itself blossoms almost under the radar; completely unconventional but no less uninspiring. Seeing Charlotte and Jesse slowly open up to one another is both sweet and sad; neither thinking they have anything to really offer one anyone. It’s here where the similarities between them shine the brightest. Both of them have spent their lives being dragged into their siblings messes; caring for them instead of themselves. Though Charlotte is more forthright in her attempts to care for Jesse (OMG-the curtains-I DIED), he does things that alert us to the fact that Charlotte isn’t just a novel new flavor for him.
“I want to see you again, and you’re hungry, So, I can feed you.”
Even though the story has a darker tone overall, with all the secrets and the slow reveal in just how intertwined Charlotte and Jesse’s lives are, I love the bits of humor and spontaneity that interject themselves in an organic manner. Charlotte is such a shy, introverted woman yet they have the such dynamic chemistry, the dialogue just flows right along. When she boldly makes sexual demands of Jesse, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the vision in my head. It was akin to seeing a cute blond-haired cherub suddenly start cursing like a sailor in the middle of church.
What did you think, Mandi? Did you appreciate the humor and spontaneity that was added? Did it feel natural to you, too?
Mandi: Yes! For what I would categorize as a “dark erotic” there are a good number of scenes that made me smile and chuckle. I thought O’Keefe did a nice job with the illegal fighting atmosphere and although the suspense may not have been my favorite part, it was light and didn’t overshadow the story. I am excited for the next book which will feature Jesse’s brother. Oh, do I have questions!!
Before I go, I have to mention the orgy! Well – what I call an orgy. Jesse says there must be five people for it to be an orgy and there were only four – two and two participating. But damn it – it was a fun scene. You’ll have to read it to enjoy it – but I will leave you with a naughty quote (put under spoilers because naughty)
There is a HEA although it’s kind of abrupt and I maybe not the most solid of HEAs. But I definitely recommend this one.
Tori: I agree, Mandi. I think O’Keefe did an excellent job of blending Jesse’s fighting and the reasons for it with the suspense plot line though I felt it was a little weak. The romance is definitely the main focus of the storyline and I loved that we had plenty of scenes to laugh at while watching this couple find their place together in the world. Staying in the present keeps the story moving at a solid pace but I felt we lost something by not really getting to know the other two players in this story whose actions put Charlotte and Jesse in the place we met them. I too felt the ending was rushed I personally felt Charlotte forgave Jesse to easily for what he did but she does make her point in cheer worthy manner so all is well. While we aren’t given a solid HEA or even HFN, I am looking forward to book two and hope we see more of Charlotte and Jesse.
Favorite Quote: “Six months is nothing when considering the potential of forever without you”
Soccer goalie Rachel Jameson is in her last year at Glendale College. After surviving an abusive home life, Rachel has her sights set on graduating and moving forward with her life.
Until she meets Mack.
With his gorgeous looks and flirty smile, he pushes his way past her boundaries and into her life with a speed that surprises them both. Rachel finds herself falling in love for the first time in her life.
Until she discovers exactly who he is.
Forced to abandon their romance before it really starts, Rachel’s carefully structured life begin to spiral out of control as she struggles to repair her broken heart. When it looks like she may lose Mack for good, Rachel has to decide whose future means more. Hers or theirs.
Jillian Liota’s debut book, The Keeper, is a contemporary romance with a faint NA feel that flirts with a taboo romance and other serious subject matters. Fans of Zapata’s Kulti will enjoy as it has a similar premise. Told in the first person narrative, Liota builds a humorous, engaging, and bittersweet story that focuses on a college student whose carefully scripted life is blown to pieces when she unknowingly falls for an unsuitable man. While I’m not fond of 1st person narrative, Liota does an excellent job of not only characterizing Rachel but also the supporting characters. Solid writing, a strong cast, and addictive dialogue keeps you engaged as you watch this young woman’s life fall apart in a way that forces her to finally deal with issues she buried long ago.
Rachel Jameson is a college goalie whose older brother plays professional soccer. A born athlete, she grew up playing male dominated sports which only served to fuel the abuse her father heaped on her. Finally out from under his thumb, thanks to an athletic and academic scholarship, Rachel keeps her head down and focuses on her goals.
At a party her brother throws, she meets a mysterious man who pretends she is his girlfriend to help guard him against an overzealous party goer. They strike up a conversation, the witty banter between them and they end up on a balcony screaming to the stars. This meet cute sets the stage that begins to bring Rachel out of her shell and show us the real Rachel.
Mack is everything Rachel likes in a person and that scares her to death. Their chemistry is soft but potent, illuminating that instant zing some couples get at first meeting. Only one date and Rachel is hooked until she discovers he’s been hired as one of the team’s new soccer coaches. Liota handles this reveal well. She expertly voices all that Rachel is feeling.The hurt, pain, sorrow, anger, confusion, and sense of betrayal all flows true. We feel it right along with Rachel.
“I know that it’s way to fast, way to soon to let my heart get this emotionally involved. I don’t let my heart get involved. I’m not this person. We went on one date. We kissed one time. But God, there was something special there. Something really special.”
I will admit I was a little skeptical that Rachel didn’t recognize this man when they first met. He was a former soccer star who not only played on the same team as her brother but is good friends with her brother.
Rachel was very easy to relate to. A bit of a nerd; her intelligence, common sense, and dry snark shines through in all her actions and dialogue. Though introverted, she doesn’t roll over for anyone. She speaks her mind quite often. She’s a fighter-a bet a quiet one. Her strength is phenomenal but it’s the flashes of vulnerabilities she reluctantly shows that grab hold of the reader. Liota captures the essence of a 22/23 year old perfectly.
“Jeremy thinks you can go pro.” “Jeremy also thinks the Black Eyed Peas are the Beatles of our generation. He’s been known to think stupid things.”
Mack is the perfect guy. As we see everything through Rachel’s eyes, her views of him are flavored by prejudice. He comes off gorgeous, kind, funny, and seemingly very into Rachel. I liked how she was with him. More open and self-confident. He makes her feel safe and wanted, something she didn’t even realize she wanted or needed. Liota doesn’t give their romance an instant fix nor fuel it with heavy bouts of angst and over the top dramatics. Rachel and Mack both have issues that need addressing and some tough decisions to make. Especially Rachel. But they communicate this to one another with all misconceptions clearing up in a reasonable amount of time. Rachel finally opens up completely about the abuse and her resulting behavior. I liked that Liota not only brings in a therapist but we get to see some of their sessions. Often the subject is broached but it fades to black and suddenly the person in question is fixed.
A strong and dynamic cast of friends and family are all on board as they offer advice, laughter, a shoulder to cry on, and some needed kicks in the butt. Rachel’s bff Charlie is a vivacious addition who always has Rachel’s back along with Rachel’s fellow team mates.
“You have to get it out of your head your worthless, RJ. You’re anything but, and it sounds like this guy knows it.”
Her brother Jeremy is a good guy and your heartbreaks a little when he realizes just what Rachel went through when he left home. Apparently, there is a little something-something between Charlie and Jeremy and their story will be told in Keep Away.
Liota’s debut The Keeper is definitely a “keeper.” Some mild grammar issues aside, I’m looking forward to reading more from her in the future.
Favorite Quote: “He’s an asshole, but he’s my asshole.”
Quarterback JR “Ace” Anderson has made a successful transfer to Southern U to quarterback for the Renegades after the showdown between him and his old coach at Western State. With his reputation preceding him, he has a long road ahead of him in trying to gain the trust of his new teammates. The only person who seems to believe in him is the one person who he needs to stay away from-his coach’s daughter.
Bryant Johnson, a student at Southern U, has one goal in her life-to make people happy. Using her southern charms and proper upbringing, Bryant has spent her last 3 years of school taking rough young men and molding them into the perfect boyfriend. Ace promises to be her greatest project to date though she wasn’t expecting his resistance or her attraction to him.
When the gal everyone loves falls for the guy everyone hates, the biggest battle of the year will be off the field.
Downed is the 3rd installment in Jen Frederick’s highly popular Gridiron series; a sports romance contemporary that follows a champion college football team as they navigate the stress of school, sports, and women. Though part of the series, it can easily be read as a standalone. Humor and mild growing pains create the perfect canvas on which to capture the growth and redemption of a man who must come to terms with his past and learn how to be the leader he’s destined to be.
Fans will remember Ace from the previous books. A two-time championship winning quarterback with a disreputable reputation, he hit the skids in book two-Jockblocked–when some of his antics come back to haunt him. He made some bad choices that led to his having to transfer to another school and the loss of his best friend. Rude, obnoxious, loud, and toting around a huge chip on his shoulder, this self-proclaimed arrogant jerk has been given a second chance but is unsure how to move forward.
“No girls, head down, trying to fit in with my new team as best as possible. It’s not working.”
Redemption stories can be a fun ride if the author not only shows readers that the object of redemption is worthy but makes the journey a believable experience. Frederick’s achieves this by slowly drawing out our hero’s demons and allowing us to see the real reasons behind some of his behavior. She doesn’t attempt to manipulate readers by creating a storyline that magically uses Ace’s past to excuse all of his bad behavior but rather uses some outside influences to show him that he has the ability to achieve all his goals if he just learns to trust himself and his team.
Enter Bryant Johnson.
Bryant is the poster girl for the proper southern belle. Blonde, beautiful, and bubbly, she looks like a pampered princess but marches through the world like a 5 star general. To her there are no problems that can’t be solved…you just have to find a way around it. The daughter of the Renegade’s coach, her time is split between her family, her sorority, and her projects. One of those projects is based on a tragedy from her past. She has spent years using every trick in her impressive arsenal to redeem bad boys into perfect boyfriends. And she has decided Ace will be her last and possibly greatest makeover ever.
“Each encounter with Ace drives home the universe’s message that I need to save him from himself…”
Ace and Bryant’s romance starts out incredibly odd and funny. Bryant essentially insinuates herself in his life, declaring he is her boyfriend, and he’s at loss on how it all happened. Of course, the team is all for it as Bryant is beloved by all and she is the goddess of baked goods. Yes, the team is all for pushing Ace into a relationship he doesn’t want for unlimited access to yummy baked treats.
“Don’t fuck this up for us,” a stern voice tells me. The warning comes from the left tackle, the guy who guards my blind side.
“Yeah,” Carter agrees, frowning deeply at me. “I’ll lay you the fuck down if you screw this up for the team.”
I admit I wasn’t completely on board with Bryant and her manipulations. There is a self-righteous smugness to her in the beginning that was off-putting. She essentially goes out with men who are jerks in order to make them better people. An admirable goal, however, she isn’t honest about her intentions. These men think they are dating her because she is interested in them-not because she wants to make them over then release them back into the wild.
“My program is a catch and release one, not catch and keep.”
Frederick’s keeps the storyline relatively lightweight as she works her magic around Ace and Bryant. Strong chemistry, witty banter, and a playful attitude in and out of the bedroom entertains readers as Ace keeps Bryant on her toes and refuses to be just another project to her.
“If I date you,” I mutter, breaking our mouths apart, “I have a rule, too.” “What is it,” she asks breathlessly. “You don’t hold back on me,” I say roughly. “You don’t lie there with your eyes closed while I fuck you like you’re doing me a favor by letting me drill your pussy.” I grasp her chin, tipping her head so she’s forced to look at me. “I either turn you on or I don’t. And if it’s the latter, then I’m not wasting my time here, Bryant.”
As we watch this couple date not date, both mature along with the relationship. Frederick doesn’t attempt to change either of them at their core but rather helps them smooth out some rough spots. Bryant grew on me somewhat and you see her heart is in the right place. She eventually learns that she can’t hold herself responsible for other people’s actions and how perfection won’t stop the bad things in life from happening. Ace matures in both thought and deed; learning how to be a functional part of a team and a relationship. Both of them become each other’s biggest cheerleaders which is something they need. Some bridges are repaired and some are crossed with no looking back. Though there are some minor external conflicts, they’re low key and easily resolved.
A charismatic and rambunctious cast of secondary characters helps to keep the story from becoming too internalized with their unsolicited advice, observations and attempts to help. The team’s rally moment where they finally accept Ace as one of their own was ridiculously funny while Bryan’s sisters killed me with their outrageous neediness. The Renegade’s coach (Bryant’s dad) is a pivotal character who provides Ace with the support he doesn’t get from his own parents. A variety of new faces are introduced while some old friends drop by for a visit to help expand the world while solidifying the bridge between the two settings.
“We’re gonna win back your girl, right?” “Yup.” “Count me in, but only if there are ninja stars and zip lining involved.”
Downed is a fun sexy romance that will delight romance readers who enjoy watching the redemption of a seemingly unrepentant hero.
**spoiler alert** I picked up this book for review because I do enjoy the redemption of a grumpy hero. I didn't even get 16% in before I realized the**spoiler alert** I picked up this book for review because I do enjoy the redemption of a grumpy hero. I didn't even get 16% in before I realized the hero was beyond grumpy-he was an arse. There is also a rape scene that is presented more as dubious consent though I didn't see any consent. All I saw was resignation. The hero verbally expresses he doesn't want what is happening and the other man continues to engage in sexual congress with him. The hero ends up just letting the other man get him off and nothing is said. When someone says get off me, leave me alone and you don't stop what you're doing-it's rape. ...more
Favorite Quote: “Once she looked out at the world and never seen any darkness. She’d trusted blindly, dumbly. Not anymore.”
Bailey Jones is the only known survivor of a serial killer known as the Angel of Death. Except Bailey saw another woman there. One who Bailey helped to escape and then she just disappeared. From the deputy who rescued her to the shirk she’s been seeing, no one believes her. But Bailey knows the woman was there and has come to LOST for help in locating her. She never expected to be attracted to the agent assigned to her.
LOST agent Asher Young knows all about the fear, pain, horror, and guilt that Bailey carries around inside her. His own experiences have left a darkness in him that he fears may strike out at Bailey should he give in to the burning attraction that is slowly consuming him.
As more bodies turn up, all marked with the same tattoo that the Angel of Death used on his victims, Asher fears that whoever is playing games with them will not stop until they claim their final victim-Bailey.
Taken is the fifth installment in Eden’s dark romance suspense thriller series-LOST. Based on the LOST agency (Last Option Search Team) that uses their considerable skills to help law enforcement find people, each story revolves around a couple who helps one another to keep from tumbling into the abyss. Though each book is loosely based on the agency and the arc bleeds over a little, each one can be comfortably read as a standalone.
Dark, gritty, and intense, Eden gives life to our worst fears as she slowly builds a harrowing tale of intrigue, suspense, deception, and horror that all revolves around one person-Bailey Jones-and a memory that no one is sure is even real. The heavy atmosphere pulls us into the story instantly as Eden jettisons the reader in the past and we experience Bailey’s kidnapping through her eyes as it happens. The fear, pain, confusion, and horror all blend together as she tries to understand what is happening. When Bailey is able to escape her bonds and surprise the killer with another woman. The woman escapes, leaving Bailey with the killer, and Bailey finds herself once again at death’s door. When she is saved by the police and assured her tormenter is dead, we skip forward to the present and her hiring of LOST.
Taken is easy to follow romance wise; Eden uses dual narrative and internal memory flashes of the protagonists’ pasts in order to flesh them out and help build on the chemistry that ignites upon their first meeting. The mystery itself is a little more complicated. Though somewhat formulaic overall; two damaged people, a vicious series of crimes, a race against time; the always smooth presentation and intriguing clues dropped gives rise to intense emotions as the plot picks up speed, leaving the reader tense with anticipation till the very last page. Eden methodically maps out Bailey and Asher’s investigation and the police interactions, creating a solid base on which to build this decidedly convoluted mystery.
Bailey and Asher are an interesting mixture of contrasts and similarities, adding depth and background to the main storyline. The romance holds an integral place in the story and Eden uses the investigation to help draw out their developing emotions for one another. Strong sexual tension only adds to this couple’s appeal.
Bailey has lost so much since her kidnapping and torture. Her whole life has been turned upside down and she is merely a shell of who she used to be. She fears everything and is constantly harassed by the media. Her reaching out to LOST is two-fold. She wants to find the other survivor and take her life back. Asher Young is an ex-navy seal who joined LOST after he was discharged; much to the relief of his friend and the owner, Gage. He and his twin sister were also the victims of a kidnapping as teenagers…only their story ended a little differently with Asher killing the kidnappers. Asher is a natural born protector. The kidnapping affected him deeply and he has spent his life in dangerous situations to make sure no one suffers like he and his sister did ever again. Both he and Bailey are scared that their pasts now define them but together they learn differently.
A diverse cast of secondary characters keeps the suspense and mystery flowing smoothly. Each person adds personality, drama, and insight into the story. Through them we finally get the full truth behind what exactly happened to Bailey and why. The events leading up to the reveal is quite a twisted journey. At times I did feel that the story dragged in the areas. There was a lot going on and it seemed to stumble over itself as Eden began to untangle all the threads and lead us towards the end.
Eden wraps up everything nice and neat in a climactic finale that answers our questions and wraps up all the loose ends. Bailey and Asher are left in a good place and Eden gives us a preview of the next story, Wrecked, and heroine, Asher’s twin sister, Ana.
Adriana Locke tells a compelling story about a couple whose marriage falls to the wayside when an accident at the local mine sets a series ofGrade: C+
Adriana Locke tells a compelling story about a couple whose marriage falls to the wayside when an accident at the local mine sets a series of actions in play that leaves them unable to cope. Locke gives us an intimate view of a small town struggling to stay afloat and the effects it has on this married couple. Locke lets us see when it all began to go wrong, the consequences, and finally the steps they take to try to repair it. I was a little dismayed to find that the bulk of the issues were laid at the husband’s feet. While I can see his need to be the man of the house and his actions he takes when he thinks he’s a burden were wrong, I did feel the wife got off a little too easy as Locke paints her firmly in the victim corner. Regardless, engaging dialogue and an inclusion of well-meaning friends help to make their journey a little easier. I will admit I was surprised by the dichotomy of the faint inspiration tone and the explicit dirty talk and sexual scenes. Warning: keep your tissues handy....more
Favorite Quote: “Hope you brought your A-game, Whitney.”
10 years ago, the love of Saylor Rodgers’s life left without so much as a goodbye. A year ago she broke her engagement because once again she wasn’t what someone wanted. Now she sits staring at an invitation to her ex fiance’s wedding. In her curiosity, she RSVPs. Now she is stuck attending a wedding she doesn’t want to attend and no one to attend it with. That is until her first love sweeps through the door of her bakery.
Hayes Whitley, mega movie star and heart-throb to millions, knew he broke Saylor’s heart when he left town after graduation to pursue his dreams. When her brother emails him, reminding him of a debt he owns, Hayes drops everything to come home to help Saylor. But Saylor isn’t the starry-eyed girl he left behind. Saylor doesn’t want his help. In fact, she doesn’t want him at all.
Saylor agrees to let Hayes escort her to the wedding and spend the week with him; taking a much-needed break from her business. But what starts out as a friend helping a friend turns into more as old feelings resurface and this couple has to decide if they can build on what they started so long ago…or finally let each other go.
Sweet Cheeks by K. Bromberg is a stand-alone second chance romance that delights the reader with it’s cheeky humorous narrative, engaging protagonists, and simmering sexual tension. I’m a huge fan of second chance romances that start out on an antagonistic base. There is something infinitely appealing watching a couple revisit the history of their failed relationship and discover what went wrong as their emotional tinted glasses fall to the wayside. The well plotted storyline flows at a steady pace; interjecting humor and bittersweet moments as two high school sweethearts are reluctantly reunited after ten years.
Our story opens with Saylor Rodgers who owns a cupcake bakery called Sweet Cheeks. She is struggling due to the bad press her business has received after she broke off her engagement with the town’s most eligible and influential bachelor. When she receives an invitation to her ex fiance’s wedding, she’s shocked and yes, hurt, that everything from the paper the invitation is printed on to the wedding destination is exactly what she had planned. In a moment of anger, she RSVP’s and plus ones and places it aside, never thinking her assistant would actually mail it.
“It’s one thing to envision Mitch panicking. It’s another to find out the RSVP was actually mailed.”
When her ex-boyfriend, Hollywood hottie Hayes Whitley walks into her bakery, Saylor is an epic mess of emotions. She correctly guesses her brother contacted Hayes to ask him to help her out of this mess and she lets loose ten years of anger, pain, and sorrow. Hayes thinks fast on his feet, claiming ignorance of her predicament while struggling to accept that he may not be able to charm his way back into her life.
I loved Hayes and Saylor. Their romance was sweet, snarky, sexy, and heartbreaking. Strong chemistry and steamy panty dropping passion saturated the story, assuring readers that no matter what happened in the past, this couple aren’t over one another.
“My pace, Saylor. Not yours. I’m in control now. You may own pieces of me you never even knew, but right now, I’m going to own you. Every single part of you.”
The slow journey towards discovery, forgiveness, and ultimately love controls a large portion of the storyline. Bromberg builds the story, effectively commuting to readers how these two have suffered. Saylor was grievously hurt by Hayes walking away and completely cutting off all contact though she didn’t let it overtake her life. She moved on, building a life and business for herself.
“Hayes Whitney was a part of my past. Is part of my past. […] Haynes Whitney became so much more than my big brother’s best friend. He became my first crush. Then later my first love. And later my first heartbreak.”
Hayes expects the same girl he left behind and is surprised and turned on by the strong, sarcastic, independent woman she has become. Though he comes off as the villain, in the beginning, our opinions change as Hayes slowly opens up to Saylor and explains the reasons behind for why he left the way he did. He’s not proud of how he handled it and doesn’t ask forgiveness but at the time it was the only way he could do.
“I knew we were young. Knew I did the right thing in chasing my dream since she was only seventeen and I was nineteen. But how selfish was I to leave without an explanation or a goodbye? Ass. Hole. And for that I deserved her understandable caution, every bit of her wrath, and every ounce of her hatred.”
Saylor has secretly been following Hayes’ life through the tabloids and has issues reconciling her best friend and the rumors she’s heard. She silently sits, waiting for him to cut and run again. There is no instant forgiveness on Saylors part. Even after his confession, Saylor has her doubts.
A strong main conflict and various subplots intertwine with the romance. This couple has to reacquaint themselves with the people they have grown into. It doesn’t help that Saylor and Hayes have external factors attempting to hinder their reconciliation. Saylor deals with hers at the wedding but Hayes’ issues are a little more difficult to settle. While I did feel Hayes situation was a bit melodramatic, Bromberg creates an effective back story to help ease its way into the storyline and maintain an air of realism.
The HEA is predictable though the journey itself is hilarious and fun to follow along with. Saylor learns how to ask for help and turns a negative situation into a fruitful opportunity. Hayes finally takes control of his life and paves the way for his and Saylor’s future.
Favorite Quote: “She wasn’t going to be that girl in the movies that changed the playboy into a monogamous, perfect husband. She was just Rebecca Washington, straight-A student, and prude extraordinaire.”
Rebecca Washington is your average college student; a little overly concerned with her grades (okay A LOT concerned), socially awkward, OCD, resistant to change, and prone to embarrassing rants of rambling when nervous. All of this becomes painfully obvious when her boyfriend of six months breaks up with her in public for being boring. She’s then hit on by the popular Derek Byrnes only to discover it was all a bet after she dumps her entire life story on him. To add insult to injury, Rebecca learns that Derek is now her partner for an Eng Lit project that will require her to do the worst possible thing in the world-speak in public.
Rebecca’s need to maintain absolute control over her GPA has her reluctantly spending more time with Derek to ensure their project is perfect. Each encounter causes Rebecca loosen up and let go of some of her need for control as her initial assessment of Derek being a carefree jerk slowly changes. Forced to acknowledge her growing feelings for Derek, Rebecca wonders if this is the real thing or is she setting herself up for another humiliation.
Jordan Gray’s debut Prude is a fun, sexy, emotional coming of age new adult that uses a unique approach to define the romance in this ambiguous NA setting. Crisp writing, indulgent humor, and an easy flowing storyline makes it incredibly easy to become fully invested in this book. Heavily character driven, Gray uses the narrative to drive this opposite attraction romance with a heavy inclusion of antagonism, miscommunication, and sexual tension to draw out the protagonists and maneuver them in the right direction.
“I hate you so much,” Rebecca moaned, noticing his obnoxiously cheerful expression.
“This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, Rebecca.”
She stared at the ceiling. “It’s a partnership.”
“Is it? Already?” Derek wiggled his eyebrows.
Readers will find Rebecca reluctantly charming in her eccentric-ness and shyness. Her internal monologues and off the cuff information dumps leave you laughing as she dissects everything from her encounters with other people to the contents of her lunch. She’s a planner and a perfectionist which leads to some interesting situations as she learns that while she can plan her life down to second, she can’t plan everyone else’s.
“So you came here to check up on me? Thanks for the vote of faith, Prude.”
“Original nickname,” Rebecca said.
“If the shoe fits…”
Derek is the complete opposite of Rebecca. Living in a fraternity, he is outgoing, popular, good looking, and seemingly nonchalant about school and life in general. He’s one of those men who you think has the world in the palm of their hand; everything seems to come easy to him. His carefree attitude and incessant teasing of Rebecca comes off mocking at first, until you begin to see Rebecca slowly gaining her self-esteem and confidence with each new encounter. As this is told from Rebecca’s point of view, everything we see and feel is 100% prejudiced by her. I personally would have enjoyed getting a dual narrative to better characterize Derek. It’s not until the end do we get to meet the real Derek that’s been hiding beneath his carefree persona.
“I…” He shook his head. “I was a fucking asshole. I know it doesn’t make things better, but if I could go back and … if I could do it over, I wouldn’t have…” He seemed at a loss for words.
I enjoyed the brief foray back into college and seeing all the nuances of this awkward time where you hover between childhood and adulthood. So many changes and challenges are tossed at you and the coping mechanisms range from drinking and partying to hiding out in the library and wondering if you can just live there all four years. Gray touches on everything just enough to tease your memories out without forcing you to relive every single moment.
As Rebecca struggles to figure out her relationship with Derek and in retrospect, herself, an engaging cast of secondary characters chime in, adding plenty of laughter and energy with their offers of advice, shoulders to cry on, and promises of smackdowns. Shayler and Ansley are Rebecca’s best friends and have her back no matter what. I loved the dynamics of their relationship and unconditional love. Damian, the president of Derek’s fraternity, offers some insight into Derek and helps to show Rebecca that everyone has a story to tell. You just have to look for it.
The ending comes at you fast and seemed to wrap up everything a little too neatly though watching Rebecca grow to not only accept herself as she is but also gain her independence and voice made this story worth any issues I had.
Prude is a light-hearted new adult romance that addresses some weighty subjects without dragging the book down into an emotional quagmire. Gray definitely has a pleasant voice that speaks for the shy nerd in all of us and I am looking forward to seeing what she has instore for us in book two.
Favorite Quote: “If I could take away that pain for you, I would.”
Chelsea Dwyer has always been attracted to Aidan Devereaux but circumstances kept her firmly in the friend zone. When he suffers a tragedy, Chelsea is the one who provides him with a shoulder to cry on, an ear to rail at, and a body to take comfort from. As their relationship grows, so does Chelsea’s feelings for Aidan, but is he ready to try to start living again? Or will he let his grief and anger chase away his only hope at happiness.
Cherish Her is the third installment in Stacey Lynn’s compelling and hope filled Fireside series. Though part of a series, each story revolves around one couple and their journey through pain and loss towards love, hope, and forgiveness. This particular installment is an emotional roller coaster as Lynn addresses some difficult subject matters that will pinch your heart and flood your eyes you watch this couple struggle to understand and deal through some dark times. Though this is a romance, the main conflict is a heavy topic that blankets the storyline. Lynn focuses a large amount of energy on identifying the issues at hand and helping this couple move past the tragedies in their lives and finding the will to not only move on but move forward.
The story opens on a tragedy and brings our protagonists together during the worst possible circumstances. Lynn grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go as she opens the floodgates and drenches us in all the emotions of the people involved. Lynn does an excellent job of bringing out and legitimizing the grief, anger, horror, guilt, pain, and hatred that these characters experience. No one is immune from the tidal wave that engulfs them.
Readers have watched Chelsea and Aidan dance around one another since the beginning; their circle of friends overlapping but each keeping their distance. Having met two years ago at a school function, the attraction was instant but the timing wasn’t quite right as a turbulent divorce all but shattered Chelsea’s self-confidence and all Aidan’s energy and time was focused on raising his son, Derrick. Fast forward to the present and Chelsea finds herself a horrified witness to a tragedy and seems to be the only one Alex allows to intrude upon his grief. This creates a bond of sorts that undergoes various definitions as Chelsea tries to understand exactly what her role in his life is now. This becomes extremely hard for her as Alex’s grief and anger causes him to take for granted what she’s offering while he offers nothing in return.
Chelsea is heroine we can all relate to. She comes off shy, sweet, and somewhat fragile though we soon learn that her compassionate nature and innate need to comfort isn’t a sign of weakness. She is a pillar of steel and has no issues speaking her mind or demanding respect. She is very firm in her value as a woman and a human being. Having been cheated on and divorced by a man who decided her infertility issues and their marriage weren’t worth the trouble, Chelsea slowly and painfully rebuilt her life and self-esteem, accepting that children may never be in her future. She vowed to never let anyone make her feel that inferior ever again.
Aidan. Poor poor Aidan. He experiences something that every parent fears and my heart broke for him. A strong, stoic, quiet man, his need to be in control stems from having a child at a young age and raising him single-handedly when the boy’s mother disappeared, unable to handle the responsibility. Now that something has happened that he couldn’t control, he struggles to find his footing in a sea of grief and anger. He clings to Chelsea, using her as his life preserver, unable to fathom surviving without her yet also feels unable to give her what she needs, wants…and deserves.
This couple’s story is more than a romance, it is the story of two damaged people who come together at the worst possible time only to emerge triumphant through the pain. The slow building romance takes on new meanings as it both helps and hinders Chelsea and Aidan in their struggle to find their way. Both are forced to look deep inside themselves and decide what is the best path to take towards healing; even if it means walking away from each other. At times I did feel that Chelsea’s attraction to Aidan and desire to be more than just a friend interfered and caused her to be a bit less sensitive to the situation.
Spoiler »The man is grieving the loss of his child and Chelsea acted put out at times that he wasn’t acting like a man in love. Luckily, she has some good friends who point out that it’s not all about her.
The descriptive narrative and emotional dialogue help to bring this story into clear focus, allowing readers to intimately share in the journey from beginning to end. A personable, well-defined cast of secondary characters introduces us to some new friends and brings back some old ones for us to spend time with. Their concern and unwavering support is a bright beacon of hope even as they are powerless to nothing more than watch someone they love self destruct. One character in particular plays a strong role as his own guilt and pain helps to bring Aidan from the edge of the abyss as he finds his own salvation in helping to save another child’s life.
Cherish Her is an emotional story of love, loss, and acceptance that will leave you laughing, crying, and hugging your loved ones. Keep your tissues handy.
Favorite Quote: “Hey. The stable called, they want their high horse back.”
Genie McQueen is back and ready to rock and roll in the second installment of Sierra Dean’s spin off series-Genie McQueen. Fans will remember meeting Genie in Dean’s parent series-Secret McQueen. Genie is Secret’s sister-same mom, different dad. Unlike Secret, Genie is half werewolf and half witch. Like Secret, she is a magnet for trouble. Recently made alpha of New Orleans by her uncle Callium, the King of the South, she is slowly coming to terms with her added responsibility.
When two of her pack are arrested for suspicion of murder, Genie involves herself in the police investigation to help prove their innocence. At the same time, her ex boyfriend Cash requests her help in locating some missing girls at his girlfriend’s sorority house. Plus, her twin brother Ben is in town intent on causing trouble. Using her wits and magic, Genie dives in to try and tries save her boys, find the missing girls, kick her brother’s butt, and get herself a first date with her hot new boyfriend.
Black Magic Bayou is a strong, well written sequel that picks up where book one, Bayou Blues, leaves off while helping to re-familiarize readers with Genie McQueen and her small slice of the McQueen world while introducing some new characters and setting up future plotlines. Jam packed with action, humor, romance, and some seriously scary things that go bump in the night, Genie’s first true test as the Alpha of New Orleans requires her to
Heavily character driven, Dean balances on a fine line with her latest heroine whose character and situation similarities to her sister are noticeable yet Dean admirably strives to keep Genie her own person. This likable, engaging heroine has the powers and skills, neither which guarantee she will survive whatever is thrown her way, and it makes for an enjoyable ride. I like that her magic isn’t treated as something horrible to be hidden in fear of the consequences. She embraces both sides of her nature; not seeing herself as an either/or.
It helps that Genie was raised in the pack and received training as a witch and that she doesn’t have to deal with all the extra baggage her sister was forced to drag around with her. It also helps that unlike Secret, Genie only has to answer to Callium (and possibly her grandmother).
The two conflicts ride side by side with Genie trying to solve them both, though I felt the sorority conflict was more tighter and more evolved. Dean uses one to solve the other, effectively morphing them into one with some interesting results. Plenty of twists and turns takes us on an fast paced enjoyable investigative ride that leaves you a little shocked at results. Genie’s own actions show us the surety of future issues with her dual nature as does the introduction of Santiago-a male witch who offers her some warnings. He is an interesting mixture of appeal for Genie; both in terms of attraction and power and that worries me a little. He is what Genie could be if she practiced her magic more, a powerful draw, that could lead to possibility of a love triangle. As Genie seems to have made the choice to be with Wilder, I hope this is just a feeling on my part.
The ending resolves the main conflict though we are left with some open plot lines that I’m sure will cause Genie some problems in the future. A small cliffhanger scene at the very end only solidifies that.
Black Magic Bayou gives us another McQueen to love and cheer for and I can’t wait to see what Dean has in store for Genie and the pack next.
Famous pop singer Cady Ward, Queen Maud to her fans, has come home to rest and recuperate after a long grueling tour. When an overzealous fan is able to make it backstage after her last concert, her manager demands she hire a bodyguard.
Police officer Conn McCormick has his own problems with a potential scandal that could ruin his career. His captain decides to place Conn on bodyguard detail while IA investigates his case.
Not looking for a relationship, their close proximity only fuels the flames of their chemistry and soon Cady and Conn give into their desire. But someone is messing with Cady and when Conn’s investigation reveals who the culprit is, he will have to choose his heart or his job.
Going Deep is the 5th book in Anne Calhoun’s Alpha Ops series. Each book can be read comfortably as a standalone though there is character and scene cross over from previous books. Though this is listed as a romance suspense, It is more contemporary romance with a suspenseful/mystery element running through it. The evolution of the romance takes precedence. While well written with a smooth pace, a steady stream of reveals at appropriate intervals, and the expected steamy scenes; there is a curious sense of disconnect in here. The characters and the storyline develop and progress as expected but with none the emotional intensity and sense of anticipation I usually experience while reading her books. The spark that would have brought it all to life is not in evidence. The full novel length helps evolve the storyline but not enough to save it.
The beginning introduces us to our protagonists and has a promising start. Cady is a famous musician who has come to her hometown to relax for a couple months before beginning another tour to promote a new album. Having fired her last bodyguard, she bulks at needing a new one in her hometown. When a drunk fan sneaks backstage to profess his love and a string of bad luck begins to plague her, her manager demands she hire a bodyguard. Here we meet the super sexy, super broody Conn McCormick.
Conn McCormick, a former soldier turned police officer, is a quiet self-contained man who’s being accused of assaulting a prisoner in his care. His lieutenant decides to get him out of the office and public eye while they investigate the charges brought against him. As Conn has some documented anger issues, he suspects he’s being set up. His lieutenant refuses to allow him to look into it, instead loaning him out as Cady’s bodyguard and asking him to trust the system he pledged to defend.
Calhoun spends time showcasing the contrasts between Cady and Conn and slowly introducing their compatibility. I enjoyed getting to know Cady and Conn as individuals. They seem very different on the surface yet deep down they want the same thing. Love. Respect. Commitment. Choice. Cady had a decent childhood with some mild angst while Conn was shuffled around, unwanted, from relative to relative after his deadbeat father disappeared. Cady isn’t naive but she also isn’t as jaded as one would suspect for a rockstar. She accepts the negative along with the positive aspects associated with her career choice. I liked that she while she wasn’t a pushover she also wasn’t a diva. She’s very comfortable in her own skin. Conn, on the other hand, is a mass of contradictions. A solitary figure, he is most comfortable surrounded by his brothers in blue- his family. A family that wants him, is proud of him, and will never desert him. Being accused of a crime he didn’t commit hits him on a multitude of levels. He feels betrayed and abandoned.
Where I would have expected more friction here (Cady is famous, rich, and very mobile while Conn is middle class and firmly settled in his job and the town) it’s very minimal. Every possible stumbling block is easily resolved with little to no fanfare. This couple is excruciatingly affordable. Nothing really seems to phase them. We see some raised emotions from time to time but overall they roll with the flow. Watching them come together is nice and sweet but nothing momentous. There is quite a bit of downtime as Calhoun works to put this couple on the same page together.
As Calhoun is the queen of erotically charged romances, I’d be hard pressed to find fault with the physical scenes in here but again, it’s all very circumspect. There is a faint push and pull in the beginning as Conn seeks to talk himself out of wanting anything personal with Cady but easily overrides himself at every available opportunity. Some hot and heavy love scene adds to the chemistry we feel from the beginning, they didn’t do much to solidify this as a viable romance. It has insta-love all over it and while I could see understand Conn falling for Cady-she offers him stability and family- I wasn’t sure what tipped the scales for Cady.
A cast of secondary characters flirts in and out of the storyline, adding to the suspense and mystery of behind both conflicts. No one really stood out beyond their place settings with the exception of Cady’s sister. Her scenes are some of the strongest aspects of foreshadowing I’ve seen in a long time. Calhoun excels at making her an unlikable character.
The two main conflicts set up nicely but fail in delivery and development. Calhoun seems to lose interest in them early on and they stay in the background until she pulls them out to remind us they are there. I was disappointed in the resolutions. They were flimsily constructed and their lack of development has them falling flat once we get all the facts behind them.
While Anne Calhoun remains an erotic siren whose couples and romances are a literary feast for the eyes and senses, this particular book seems to deviate from Calhoun’s usual fare and just wasn’t what I expected.
Favorite Quote: “He made falling in love so easy.”
Sharon Sala takes us back to the small town of Blessing, Georgia in her third installment with a sweet and heartwarming story of second chances when a war weary soldier comes home to heal and falls for a young widow and her adorable little girl.
I love small town romances and Saving Jake hits all the right notes. Small towns are notorious for being nosy, unforgiving, gossipy, while being filled with an overabundance of love and compassion. Everyone knows everyone’s business and what happened in past is viewed as if it just happened yesterday. In here, Sala builds an ambiguous tale of love, loss, redemption, and forgiveness with some humor, passion, and emotional angst.
This story engages from page one, flowing smoothly and evenly as Sala sets the tone and scene. Strong characterization, engaging narrative, and a compelling storyline is deeply rooted in humor and sorrow. There is a strong inspirational tone that matches the world in which it is set. Small towns are often built on the faith of its residents and that faith is what sustains them during the bad times while giving them cause to celebrate during the good times.
I loved meeting Jake, Laurel, and of course, Bonnie. All of them are sweet, sensitive, and kind people who despite their tragic circumstances in life, remain strong and relatively cheerful. Though the relationship starts out somewhat antagonistic, neither are sure if they are ready for friendship much less a romance, watching Jake and Laurel grow beyond their pain and sorrow. Each of them finding the courage to not only go on with their lives after tragedy struck but to learn to reach out to one another despite their fears was heart warming.
Using dual narratives, Sala does an excellent job of getting us into their heads and showing us the deep wounds that need healing in order to move forward. Your heart will definitely hurt as Laurel describes the pain, anger, and guilt she continues to feel after her husband committed suicide. Like Jake, he too was a vet but refused to deal with his PTSD-choosing to end his life instead. Abandoned and blamed for his death by his family, she also has to deal with their escalating harassment.
Jake’s pain is the result of the war. Hailed as a hero for wounds suffered in battle, he deals with PTSD, nightmares, and survivor’s guilt on a daily basis. It’s hard for him to accept his survival when his best friend who saved his life didn’t make it home. He too has his to deal with harassment from a local resident.
Watching this little group grow gradually into a family is delightful to watch. Sala does a wonderful job of developing the relationship while keeping this couple true to themselves. Their problems aren’t miraculously resolved once they acknowledge their feeling for one another. Nothing felt manipulated or forced. I found Bonnie amusing and realistic in narrative and actions. She’s not used as a plot device and is more than able to carry her own weight in the storyline. Her pet invoked some feelings of nostalgia in me as my daughter also had a pet chicken as a child.
Fans of Sharon Sala and small towns bursting with heart are sure to enjoy this latest installment that brings two deserving people a second chance at life and love.
Susan Stoker’s Badge of Honor series is an integrated series though each book can be read comfortably as a standalone. These strong, sexy, modernized romance suspenses follow the lives and loves of hard-working Texas law enforcement and emergency personnel. A solid storyline, engaging dialogue, and some smoking hot love scenes zip you right along as we watch two strong, independent, slightly stubborn people fall head over heels in love.
This is my first time reading Susan Stoker and I was impressed on how smoothly this story was reads. The balance between this couple’s personal and professional lives blends seamlessly with the conflicts presented. Stoker does a wonderful job of divulging into the various stereotypes found in male dominated professions and the struggles women deal with trying to balance of being taken seriously while trying to maintain their femininity. She also addresses domestic violence and the misconception that only women can be victims.
Told from dual points of view, though Hayden’s is dominant, we get an intimate ringside seat into her emotions and thoughts on how she perceives herself as a deputy and a woman; something she is having a hard time reconciling. She has spent her whole life proving to her father and her coworkers that she is more than able to hold her in a male dominated field. She’s worked hard to gain her co-workers respect and trust. But always being treated as one of the guys has caused her to feel insecure about her femininity. Watching her friends find love doesn’t help. She’s ready for the next stage of her life but unable to overcome the role she’s been placed in.
Meeting Boone Hatcher helps her to not only get in touch with her more feminine side but to also not feel guilty for it. Hayden meets this deliciously sexy cowboy on a routine call. He is being falsely accused of abuse though it turns out he is the victim. Hayden deduces that and arrests his ex girlfriend. Tangible chemistry is felt from the beginning though this couple takes their time getting to know one another, adding to the sexual tension. There is a sense of awkwardness in the beginning, especially on Hayden’s end. It makes sense as we see she is entering into uncharted territory though there were moments her discomfort made me uncomfortable. It was refreshing to see that Stoker doesn’t try to change Hayden or Boone as their relationship progresses. Two alphas making a go at it. Hayden doesn’t suddenly become flirty, coy, or feel the need to subdue her personality in order to be more appealing. Boone doesn’t sacrifice appeal or his masculinity because of Hayden’s strength. He is attracted to the beautiful, sensual, strong woman she is and is often confused by no one else’s ability to see that.
A minor cast of secondary characters are used to help push the story forward and give us more insight into Hayden and Boone. The suspense subplot pops in and out remind us that Boone’s ex girlfriend hasn’t given up though I do wish it had commanded a stronger presence. The end is a climatic finish that resolves the main conflict and assures us Hayden has finally found her happiness. We are also given a small epilogue that clues us into the next hero and heroine.
There were a few issues that seemed overly exaggerated in order to further hype up the storyline. Hayden’s parents for one. I was also a little shocked that Boone’s ex girlfriend was able to sneak in and out under the radar with little to no problem.
Regardless, Justice for Boone is a fast sexy read that offers a sweet romance while handling some intriguing subject matter with confidence.
Criminal investigator, Xander Stone, is called in when all else fails. Hit by lightning as a child, he gained the ability to hear people’s thought. When he’s finished with his latest case, he hears a woman’s voice telling him she is dying. This voice has been speaking to him for years, begging for him to save her. Convinced it is nothing more than hallucinations brought on by his accident, he usually silences her voice with alcohol. Only this time, he isn’t given the choice. He is taken over by a greater power and ‘wakes’ to find himself in front of a dilapidated mobile home in the middle of nowhere. Once he forces his way in, he finds two women on the brink of death, and discovers one of the woman is the voice he’s been hearing.
Isleen has long given up being saved. After 8 years of captivity and torture, completely at the whim of a woman who refers to Isleen as the Dragon and herself as the Queen, she is prepared to die. Her grandmother, also a prisoner, keeps reassuring Isleen that her savior is coming. She will be saved if she can just hold on. When Isleen reaches the point where she welcomes death with open arms, a man appears and saves her and her grandmother.
Abbie Roads’ Race the Darkness is the first in a two book series. This debut blends the paranormal with horror to create a dark romantic suspense that flirts lightly with the fairy tale-Beauty and the Beast. A scarred, bitter man plays reluctant hero to a mysterious young woman being held captive and abused by a religious cult. Heavily character driven plot lines and an emotional base tells us a story of love, loss, hope, and redemption as this couple fight to stay alive against a religious cult who demands their death in the name of an ancient prophecy.
The beginning showed great promise. Roads’ sets us down in the middle of an intense scene, giving us a front row seat to witness the power that the hero, Xander Stone, carries in him. Not only can her hear people’s thoughts but his ability also amplifies sound, causing him great pain and is the cause of his anti social behavior. Xander is an island unto himself. His father abandoned him emotionally and physically after Xander’s accident and Xander has grown into an antagonistic, untrusting, angry adult. When he connects with Isleen, a bond is revealed, one that confuses and angers Xander. Especially since a similar bond all but destroyed his father.
This story reminded me a little of Dean Koontz-think A Door Away From Heaven. Similar in “way out there” fantasy inspired plot lines, seemingly random characters with complex ties to one another and a religious and/or mythological base. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end. The story’s strong opening dissolves into a jumble that lacks dimension, direction, and personality. Once past the initial rescue and meet and greet, the story becomes a disjointed mess. Repetitive dialogue, manipulative plot devices, and random character/scene insertions left me with more questions then answers. The story felt rushed with very little in the way of exploration and development into the characters and the reasons behind what happening.
Xander is the only character who is defined in any real fashion. The perfect grumpy hero. He is an arse and makes no apologies for it. We know why he is an arse and it makes perfect sense. Everyone else stays rather singular in dimension- acting as a catalyst to explain someone else’s actions. Even Isleen to an extent. She is the stereotypical angelic heroine, designed for sacrifice because of her innate goodness. She has her moments where Roads’ attempts to break her out of her mold-some dark humor at her own expense and verbal commitments to being strong. But she slips back easily into her predestined spot. We are told what is happening in the present but not really why. From Isleen’s captivity to the ancient prophecy that started it all-every offered is merely cursory.
The villain(s) of the piece offer hints of intrigue, suspense, and eventually horror as Roads’ introduces us and takes us into their world. We are shown what is happening and gradually clued it to the why but, connection Road’s tries to make between the present and the past is weak and murky. Again we are left with far more questions than answers. I was also disappointed in the deconstruction of the main antagonist. He goes from scary to pitiful in a nano second
Race the Darkness had all the ingredients to be a wonderfully dark and unique paranormal romance suspense but Roads’ chooses far too often to play it safe, She backs off when we would expect her to charge forward and juggles entirely too many characters and plot lines for the story to handle. Book two, Hunt the Dawn, spotlights a new hero and heroine though looks to be contained within the same world. I am really hoping this one tightens up considerably and answers all the questions book one leaves you with.
Favorite Quote: “I will say the wrong words from time to time. And I will cock things up. That’s a given, unfortunately. but there will never, ever be a time when I do not love you or want you in my life.”
Sophie Darling thought she had struck gold when she is upgraded to first class on a trip to England. And when the most beautiful man she’s ever seen sits next to her she practically vibrates with lust, convinced this is her reward for all her good deeds in life.
Then he opens his mouth.
Gabriel Scott is on his way to England to meet up with the rock band he manages. Used to getting what he wants when he wants, he is visibly upset when he is forced to share a cabin with another person. When his complaints fall on deaf ears, he decides to make the best of it, offhandedly noticing his seat mate is gorgeous.
Then she opens her mouth.
What starts out as a battle of the wits with Sophie determined to ruffle her straight laced companion soon morphs into a friendship of sorts as Sophie and Gabriel begin to engage in harmless flirting and energetic discussions to pass the time. When Gabriel discovers Sophie is interviewing for a social media position for the band, his disappoint is keen. Gabriel doesn’t date fans or employees but the attraction between them can not be denied. Once they arrive in England, Gabriel finds he can’t stay away from Sophie and doesn’t really want to. But he’s been hurting for so long and is used to managing it on his own. Now he needs to decide if he’s willing to let go of some of his famous control and fall into the unknown of love with the one person who cannot be managed.
Managed in the 2nd installment in Kristen Callihan’s sexy, humorous, bittersweet contemporary romance VIP series. Based on the members of a famous rock band, Kill John, this heavily character driven story revolves around the band’s icy, standoffish manager and the carefree, uninhibited woman who’s made it her mission to melt all the ice and bring forward the passionate man underneath. Book one, Idol, gave us the lead singer’s story and we learned that the band went through a dark period when one of their members OD’d and was placed in rehab. Though things are much better now, the ramifications from that event reverberated through the band, affecting them all. Especially their manager-Gabriel Scott. As each installment revolves around one couple, they can be technically read as standalones however there are events and characters in book one that cascade over into this book.
I adore Kristen Callihan’s romances from her humorous and sexy NA sport series to her gritty and dark paranormal series. Callihan has a gift for digging deep beneath the artifice and tripe, taking readers an unexpected and exciting adventure jam packed with love, lust, fear, loss, and acceptance. Though predictable in terms of the HEA-it is romance after all-it’s the journey there that holds our attention with the humor, spontaneity, chemistry driven love scenes, and overall dynamics. The essential meet cute at 35,000 feet in the air is a unique introduction in that this couple is essentially forced to make nice for hours and it sets up this opposite attraction romance deliciously. I found it really gives readers an intimate and quite comical look into the personalities of Sophie and Gabriel.
“I don’t like you,” I mutter…
“Lie,” he points out. “You’ve told me repeatedly now that you find me blindingly attractive.”
“That doesn’t mean I like you. Besides, your brand of pretty is a weapon. You reel victims in with it, just like a vampire does. I wouldn’t be surprised if you sparkle in the sun.”
“I cannot believe I’m arguing with a woman who references Twilight.”
“The fact that you know I’m referencing Twilight betrays you as a secret Edward-loving fanboy.”
His snort is loud and scathing. “Team Jacob all the way.”
I can’t help it, my eyes fly open, and I lift a corner of my mask to glare at him. “That’s it. We can never be friends.”
I absolutely adore Sophie. She is an absolute delight with her outward sunny personality and buried complex nature. A breathe of fresh air who breezes through life seemingly unconcerned and deftly takes what life hands her like a pro. Pretty, funny, intelligent, and very snarky, Sophie isn’t in need of saving from anything. She isn’t suffering from a dark tragedy or a broken heart. She has has pretty good life with a loving family. A former freelance photographer, (paparazzi), she does has a connection Kill John that ties into the previous events. She makes her peace with the band and attempts to navigate her way through her new job and her feelings for Gabriel.
“Gabriel Scott might not know how to manage me, but I sure as shit am clueless when it comes to him too.”
Gabriel Scott is a grumpy, cold, standoffish man whose entire life revolves around the band. Having attended school with the band members, they share a special bond that transcends the usual manager/artist(s) relationship. Intelligent, sexy, gorgeous, and very commanding, Gabriel chooses to manage his lingering anger over his childhood through some questionable means. His fear of commitment casts a long shadow. He hasn’t the time to invest in them and he has been used to many times by those who want to get close to the band. Meeting Sophie is an eye opener that scares him to death. She both exhilarates and confuses him. He is stymied how this one person managed to get under his skin so deep. Something very few have ever managed to accomplish.
“I don’t know whether to run or grab hold of her and never let go.”
The slow burn romance of Sophie and Gabriel’s relationship from friends to lovers gives readers a chance to understand what makes these people tick. Intense chemistry explodes between them from the first time they meet, melting into a sexual tension that drives this couple as they feint and parry, unsure of what exactly is building between them and if they will survive it.
“I have never experienced intimacy. I did not know how good it felt to simply be with someone and let everything else melt away. The world can fuck off when I’m with Sophie Darling. There is only us. I don’t have to be anyone else but Gabriel.”
Through laughter and tears, Callihan shows this couple that should they choose to drop their shields, they have a phenomenal chance at happiness together. Gabriel’s inherent protective nature and Sophie’s ability to see the real Gabriel despite what he chooses to show the world only further proves they are meant for one another.
“Most people believe I’m incapable of feeling anything.”
Outrage punches through my chest like a burning fist. In that moment, I know I’d go to war for this man. Even if he hated every second of it. No one should have to face the world without someone at their back. Especially not someone as dedicated as Gabriel.”
We see old and new faces; each one an important part of the storyline. Killian and Libby are here along with the rest of the band. And we get to meet some new faces who offer clues to possible future couples. A somewhat predictable plot device pops up towards the end and is used to push Gabriel and Sophie into confronting the last of their doubts and overcoming them.
“Destroyed. My polished armor. My stubborn resistance. My hardened heart. She’s smashed through the first two and laid total claim on the third. And I don’t feel like running.”
Four well know historical romance authors have come together in a spirited anthology about four young women who meet as girls at Madame Rochambeaux’s Gentle School for Girls and become fast friends despite their differences in social, class, and economic status. When they find a mysterious sixpence hidden in a mattress, the girls decide it will be their lucky charm towards making the perfect marriage. Now years later, these young women each take a chance on the coin and their happiness.
Something Old by Julia Quinn sets up the premise for Four Weddings and a Sixpence and introduces readers to her heroine, Beatrice Heyward.
Stefanie Sloane’s Something New finds Anne Brabourne in a dilemma. She must marry by her 21st birthday or she will find herself packed away to the countryside permanently. Unwillingly to repeat her parent’s turbulent marriage, Anne wants to find a biddable husband who will allow her the freedom and peace she desires. A chance meeting with the delectable and marriage avoiding Duke of Dorset proves their undoing but can he convince himself and her that marriage isn’t the end but the beginning?
Humor, mayhem, and some meddlesome relatives offers readers a unique and fun courtship between two marriage-shy individuals.
Something Borrowed by Elizabeth Boyle introduces us to Cordelia Padley whose little white lie about having a fiance has come to haunt her and now she must find a real one toute de suite. A childhood promise has her asking an old friend for a favor. Pretend to be her fiance for a week and then they will part ways. When these two reunite they discover that more than just promises connect them but will an Earl in need of funds choose duty or heart?
A sweet reconnection romance blooms between two friends as they attempt to deceive their loved ones. The mild angst blends well with dry humor and strong chemistry.
Something Blue by Laura Lee Guhrke pits Lady Elinor Daventry against a former flame when he steals her sixpence. Elinor needs her lucky charm in order to marry an influential man who can save her father from the man who stole her heart. But the sixpence has other plans for Elinor as she soon discovers that in order to hate someone, you still have to be in love with them.
More serious and emotionally based on the four, I enjoyed watching the dilemma between love and duty unfold and play out
Julia Quinn’s… and a Sixpence in Her Shoe ends the anthology with Beatrice Heyward. Beatrice, an orphan raised by a pair of spinster aunts, doesn’t believe the sixpence is lucky at all but decides to play along to keep her friends happy. An enthusiastic student of the sciences, Beatrice finds her own happily ever after with a wounded Marquis who’s own scientific studies make them the perfect match.
This is my favorite of the four. A chance meeting, a misunderstanding, and two enthusiastic aunts help these quiet scholars find love among the stars. A lovely and very touching story that looks beyond the physical to the heart of the matter.
An enjoyable anthology that showcases the strong bonds of friendship and the power of belief. Though each author is different, these four voices blend together perfectly as each one captures the essence of their charge(s) and their somewhat rocky road to true love. I liked the premise behind a shared “good luck” charm that is passed around. Reminded me a little of the Sisterhood of Traveling Pants series.
New Jersey Hurricanes striker Logan Hart is an international soccer star who plays hard on and off the field. Gorgeous, rich, and single, he has the perfect life.That is until a former one night stand hands him a baby, claiming it’s his, and disappears. Logan doesn’t know the child is really his or not and has no idea how to care for her. His sister puts a call into a nanny service. Logan’s all for handing off this new responsibility to more capable hands so he can get back to his single ways but when the sexy, blond, take no prisoners nanny shows up and informs him she is the nanny, not the parent, and his participation is non-negotiable, Logan finds himself looking for more than just a new notch on his bedpost…he wants to win her heart.
Isabella Bennett takes pride in her career as a professional nanny. Using her skills, she not only cares for the children of the rich and famous but also helps to teach the parents how to become a family. Logan and his child desperately need Isabella but their mutual attraction could create some problems. Isabella is there to whip Logan into shape, not fall into his bed. As the chemistry between them only continues to bloom, Isabella finds herself hoping that this is the real thing. But a secret Isabella is keeping may be the one thing that stops her from finally getting her happily ever after.
Hard to Hold is the first in a new sports based romance contemporary series by Katie Rose.An appealing premise and cover piqued my interest right away. I enjoy sport based romances and I’m always looking for more secret/surprise baby tropes that don’t follow the norm. Rose sets the stage right off the bat with a bold scene and narrative. Our hero, Logan Hart, is home from Europe and having a drink with a teammate. A young woman interrupts Logan’s night out, handing him a baby and informing him he is the baby’s father and she’s done. Logan is shocked and tries to chase after her but she drives off before he can stop her. Logan heads home, calls his sister, and proceeds to freak out. And rightly so. His sister helps him out by putting him in touch with a professional nanny service send over a nanny who instantly sets to right the chaos that has descended, winning his admiration, trust, and eventually his heart.
This lightweight predictable story hits all the basic notes for a romance but doesn’t develop beyond a singular level. This surprised me because I read and reviewed The Heat is On, #4 in her Bad Boys of Summer series, and enjoyed it. I found the overall romance and storyline much better developed and balanced in comparison to this one.
An antagonistic employee/employer relationship develops and trips along with a wee bit of angst, humor, and some push and pull in the romance. Logan sees a beautiful woman he’d like to get to know better but has no ambition towards making it something more permanent while Isabella sees a gorgeous abet arrogant man who needs to to be taken down a notch. They dance around each other as Logan learns how to be a parent while dealing with the team, the gossip, and locating the baby’s mom.
The chemistry is plausible and helped along by some steamy scenes but the connection is weak. Isabella seems determined to keep Logan firmly in “player” category though there is no evidence of this besides second hand gossip. I was also not happy with her presumptions about his having one night stands and obviously not using a condom. Logan struggles with crossing the line between them, knowing he needs her more for his child then his bed. When they decide to go forward, he stops them at a critical point and she ends up taking it personally. They don’t really seem to get to know one another on a personal level, and I never saw the moment it went from attraction to affection for either of them.
The best part of the book for me was watching Logan grow into parenthood. He doesn’t instantly take to the baby and there was a sense of realism there. The confusion and fear were evident and Logan learns to deal with it while growing to love his child. There was a small storyline concerning Logan that didn’t seem to offer much in ways advancement in the book or his character. Logan suffers under the care of a host family while in Europe as a teenager and resents his parents didn’t believe his claims. Interesting but there is no resolution and it disappears as quietly as it enters. A minor conflict concerning Isabella’s secret is the catalyst that pushes Isabella to trust Logan and we are left with the HEA we never doubted was coming.
Hard to Hold is sure to appeal to fans who enjoy predictably sweet and lightweight romance contemporaries with a hint of spice that doesn’t push any real boundaries or demand much emotionally.