Review: Cream of the Crop (Book #2: Hudson Valley Series) by Alice Clayton

Cream of the Crop

Title: Cream of the Crop Series: Book #2: Hudson Valley Author: Alice Clayton Format: Paperback and eBook, 384 pages Published: July 12, 2016 by Gallery Books ISBN: 1501118153

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Manhattan’s It Girl, Natalie Grayson, has it all: she’s a hot exec at a leading advertising firm, known industry-wide for her challenging and edgy campaigns. She’s got a large circle of friends, a family that loves her dearly, and her dance card is always full with handsome eligible bachelors. What else could a modern gal-about-town wish for? The answer, of course, is…cheese.  Natalie’s favorite part of each week is spending Saturday morning at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, where she indulges her love of all things triple cream. Her favorite booth also indulges her love of all things handsome. Oscar Mendoza, owner of the Bailey Falls Creamery and purveyor of the finest artisanal cheeses the Hudson Valley has to offer, is tall, dark, mysterious, and a bit oblivious. Or so she thinks. But that doesn’t stop Natalie from fantasizing about the size of his, ahem, milk can.  Romance is churning, passion is burning, and something incredible is rising to the top. Could it be…love?

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:

Release day for a new Alice Clayton book is one of my favorite days of the year!  I have been completely smitten with Alice Clayton and her breed of awesome since I first read Wallbanger a couple of years ago.  I now go into her books expecting yet another 4½ to 5 star read and for the most part, that has always happened.  For the most part . . . .

Likes:

Hudson Valley: This is a definite plus for me as the scene was set so beautifully in Nuts, book one of the Hudson Valley Series.  Clayton doesn’t disappoint here with her descriptions of the area, the surrounding communities, the amenities, and the people who populate the region.  I swear, Clayton’s descriptions make me want to drop it all and move right on out to the country.

Natalie: Oh, Natalie!!  I love a woman who can’t open her mouth without R-rated falling out and Natalie Grayson certainly fits the bill.  From top to bottom, Natalie is big, loud, smart, funny, sexy, and totally lacking an internal edit button.  Natalie has worked hard to become the confident and successful woman she is and she isn’t afraid to acknowledge her achievements.  Natalie has embraced every aspect of her being and body which gives her an unparalleled confidence. 

Oscar: I will always, always, always love me a tatted up man!!  I will always, always, always love a strong, kind, and respectful man and Oscar Mendoza certainly fits the bill.  Though Oscar was introduced in Nuts, we didn’t learn much about him and we still don’t until about halfway through Cream of the Crop.  While I would normally chafe at so little backstory, it works for this character.  Oscar is quiet, reserved (except in bed!), and a man of few words.  Very people in town know his story so it is appropriate that he reserves telling anyone about himself until he is close to them.  Case in point, Natalie (aka Pinup).  When his story finally does come out, it just adds to his awesome.

The plot:  Yeah, it’s always nice when you like the plot but, as I’ve said before, a weak plot can be carried by strong characters.  Luckily, Cream of the Crop has both strong characters and a really good and believable plot.  There’s no stretching here to make things work, there’s no convoluted crap that makes little to no sense.  What there is, is the story of a country boy falling in love with a big city girl and the issues they face making a go of their relationship.  Oscar is already living in the Hudson Valley and Clayton gives Natalie two very good reasons to be there as well, her best-friend is from the area and her job.  Furthermore, Natalie already “knows” Oscar since she is a frequent flyer at his weekly booth at the Union Square Farmer’s Market.  The interactions between Natalie and Oscar, especially in the beginning are so funny and sweet.  It makes their eventual hook-up to real romance all the better. 

The naughty bits:  Yeah, this is one my favorite parts of this read and an area of writing where Clayton really shines.  Natalie is just and brash, bold, and confident in the bedroom (and the barn and the truck . . .) as she is everywhere else.  She is a curvy women and she has found a man who truly appreciates her size and her willingness to play with him sexually.  The naughty scenes are more than just sex, they are encounters that are often peppered with humor, mishaps, and genuine emotion.  If you’re in it just for the sex, you’re going to be disappointed.  Clayton’s naughty bits are always so much more than just the sex.

Dislike:

That one scene:  Yes, I only have one dislike in this entire read but it is significant enough that it dropped my star rating down to a mere 4 stars.  Late in the read, Oscar is visiting Natalie in the city and attending an event with her.  Oscar’s behavior is abhorrent and so totally out of character that I was left totally confused.  Even the explanation for his behavior in this one scene is wonky and makes no real sense to this character as a whole. Normally, something like this would just turn me off the character but when I thought long and hard about that scene, it began to feel more like a writing error than a character error/misstep.    

The Bottom Line:  With the exception of that one scene, I adored this read.  Everything comes together so beautifully in this book from the plot to the characters to the descriptions of the scenery, it is all engaging and entertaining.  Once again, Alice Clayton has killed it!!  I laughed out loud, I wanted to choke the life out of a character or two, I was saddened, and I totally rooted for both Natalie and Oscar.  From the opening page to the last line of the epilogue (with the exception of that one scene!) I was hooked, totally and completely.

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About the author and where to find her:

Alice ClaytonALICE CLAYTON worked in the cosmetics industry for over a decade before picking up a pen (read laptop).  She enjoys gardening but not weeding, baking but not cleaning up, and finally convinced her long-time boyfriend to marry her.  Now, about that Bernese Mountain dog.

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Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. Hobart

Death at a Fixer Upper

Title: Death at a Fixer-Upper Author: Sarah T. Hobart Format: ebook, 267 pages Published: May 17, 2016 by Alibi ISBN: 0399177841

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Newly armed with her real estate license, Sam Turner loves Arlinda, her quirky seaside hometown in Northern California. But life by the beach isn’t exactly a breeze: She and her teenage son, Max, are being evicted from their apartment, her long absent ex-husband unexpectedly resurfaces, and her possibly romantic relationship with sexy Chief of Police Bernie Aguilar is, well . . . complicated. All Sam wants is a quick and easy sale. What she gets instead is a killer headache—or three.  Sam’s trying to drum up interest in 13 Aster Lane, a rambling Victorian fixer-upper that’s more than a little neglected—and possibly haunted—so when a trio of offers arrive out of the blue, she can’t help thinking it’s too good to be true. But after a new client drops dead on the property, she fears she’s lost more than a commission. Before Sam’s out of house and home, she must unmask a killer targeting her clients, or the only property she’ll be moving will be plots—at the local cemetery.

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 2½/5 stars

My Review:

Sam Turner needs to sell a house! Unfortunately, the only property on her real estate dance card is a rundown Victorian that no one has wanted for decades.  Unloading this monstrosity isn’t going to be easy but Sam has bills to pay and a teenage son to support so she’s going to unload that house, even if it kills her.

For years, no one has been interested in the old Victorian but, in what Sam sees as a stroke of luck, all of a sudden there is interest in the property.  In fact, there is suddenly a lot of interest in the property and if Sam plays her cards right, she’ll get a hefty commission from the sale.  The timing couldn’t be better since Sam’s car is in need of some major repairs, she’s buying a new house of her own, and she’s pretty sure her scumbag landlord is going to charge her a huge fee for “repairs” needed on her crappy apartment.  All Sam has to do is convince just one of the interested parties that the house is worth fixing, the roses are worth saving, ghosts aren’t real, and this really isn’t a good place to build a new subdivision. 

As the days pass, events related to the sale of the property become strange, perplexing, and eventually downright dangerous.  With each weird and/or dangerous occurrence, Sam becomes more curious about the history of the property and the people who are involved with it.  Poking around in the past isn’t always a good idea and as Sam continues to uncover new information, the threat to her safety becomes more serious.  Too curious for her own good, Sam keeps digging and uncovers the answers to an unsolved bank robbery, the truth about the death of the previous property owner, and why her current buyers are dropping like flies. 

The Bottom Line: As I sit here writing this review, I’m finding it difficult to get really excited about this read.  I didn’t dislike it but I also had to remind myself on several occasions that I needed to finish reading this book.  Seasoned readers know that having to remind yourself to read a book isn’t a glowing recommendation.  There aren’t any major technical issues with this read but there are some real stretches and unnecessary bits where the plot is concerned.  For example, the homeless man who hangs out at the real estate office, the reappearance of Sam’s ex-husband, her flighty sister saving the day, and the barely there romance with the chief of police.  These stretches and unnecessary bits detract from an otherwise decent plot line and make the read somewhat convoluted, a state I do not care for in my reads.  While many readers will find this read quirky and fun, I found it be only OK and was hoping for so much more.

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Review: Hard to Fall (Book #4: Take the Fall Series) by Marquita Valentine

 

Hard to Fall

Title: Hard to Fall Series: Book #4: Take the Fall Author: Marquita Valentine Expected publication: October 18, 2016 by Loveswept ASIN: B01E2H3M1A

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As a hardworking, hard-partying firefighter, Hayden Walker values his career and his freedom. But as the eldest son of a U.S. senator, he agreed long ago to follow in his father’s footsteps and run for office, and that means settling down and marrying the picture-perfect wife. Hayden just isn’t ready for that sort of commitment . . . not with women like beautiful, curvy Saylor Dean—the naughty bridesmaid he recognizes the morning after his buddy’s wedding—tempting Hayden to stay single forever.   The unwanted love child of a well-known politician, Saylor has always felt isolated and alone, her only solace the animal shelter she runs in Forrestville. Then she meets Hayden at her best friend’s wedding. During their impulsive and unforgettable night together, Saylor feels desired like never before—only to wake up and find that Hayden doesn’t remember his drunken proposal, or their hasty marriage, or her. But when the truth comes out, Saylor finds it’s a lot harder to fall out of love than in love.

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:

***REVIEW IS SLIGHTLY SPOILERISH***

Hot firefighter who loves to talk dirty and thoroughly satisfy his partner and a nerdy, quirky chick who saves hurt and abandoned animals and has a Star Wars obsession??  HELL YES!!!  Sign me up!!!

Saylor Dean is about as quirky and nerdy and weird as they come.  Though hardly anyone knows, she is a multimillionaire thanks to the guilt money given to her on a regular basis by her totally absentee yet totally famous father.  Her mother might be considered absentee if it weren’t for the fact she’s a famous movie star who adores her daughter and sees her every chance she gets.  From most people’s perspective, Saylor has it made.  She owns her own business, is financially free to do as she pleases, and has a small circle of valued and trusted friends.  What Saylor doesn’t have and desperately wants is a true family of her very own. 

Hayden Walker has no interest in drinking the Walker family Kool-Aid.  He doesn’t want to be a politician, he has no desire to be a politician, and if his father doesn’t start listening soon, things are going to get ugly.  In the meantime, Hayden is going to continue to serve his community as a top-notch firefighter and live his life as he sees fit.  In what could only be described as a stunning bit of debauchery and life living, Hayden has one hell of a good time in Tijuana at his friend’s wedding reception.  At least, he thinks he had a good time, he woke up naked and couldn’t remember anything🙂

Back in the real world, Hayden keeps running into Saylor and can’t seem to get the weird girl out of his head.  She’s quirky and beautiful, always seems to say the wrong thing, and delights Hayden on every level.  Though he’s never had to chase a girl before, Hayden finds he not only wants to chase Saylor but he wants to catch her and keep her.  What Hayden doesn’t know, thanks to a truck load of alcohol is that he’s chasing his wife.  Saylor, scared to death of Hayden’s reaction doesn’t readily share the news about their nuptials nor does she share her lineage.  Turns out, both of those bits of information are going to be vital to the survival of her relationship with Hayden.  If they both survive the impending storm, they may even learn to love one another.

The Bottom Line:  You know what?  Hard to Fall is really a fitting end to the Take the Fall series and I quite enjoyed this read.  Saylor is just so delightfully weird that you really can’t help but love her. She is so awkward as to be almost unbelievable which makes her even more likeable.  Hayden, on the other hand is relatively put together which makes him an excellent balance for Saylor.  This read places a huge emphasis on family and what it means to be a family and those values sort of shine through both Saylor and Hayden.  Their relationship certainly isn’t conventional by any means but it works for these two and works nicely with the overall plot.  The ending gets wrapped up a bit too quickly and conveniently but other than that, this is another solid read from one of my favorite contemporary romance authors!! 

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About the author and where to find her:

author - Marquita ValentineNew York Times Bestselling Author, Marquita Valentine, writes sexy heroes that make you swoon and sassy heroines that make you laugh. She’s the author of the bestselling contemporary romance series, Holland Springs, and the new adult romance series, Boys of the South.  Marquita met her husband aka Hot Builder at Sonic when they were in high school. She suggests this location to all of her single friends in search of a good man—and if that doesn’t work, they can console themselves with cheesy tatertots. She lives in North Carolina in a very, very small town with Hot Builder and their two children.

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Review: Must Love Wieners (Book #1: Rescue Dog Romance Series) by Casey Griffin

Must Love Wieners

Title: Must Love Wieners Series: Rescue Dog Romance Author: Casey Griffin Format: Paperback and eBook, 368 pages Published: August 2, 2016 by St. Martin’s Paperbacks ISBN: 1250084679

goodreadsPiper Summers works like a dog juggling three jobs to put herself through veterinary school—driving taxis, delivering pizzas, and singing telegrams. Thankfully, Piper has her devoted dachshund Colin to help her keep things in line. That is, until she gets fired…and someone throws her a bone that is too good to resist.  Aiden Caldwell is an Armani ad come to life—a billionaire CEO who’s just adopted a dachshund from the rescue center where Piper volunteers. He’s hot on Piper’s tail to be his personal dog walker…but he may be after more than a walker for his wiener. The gorgeous, spirited Piper is everything he’s ever wanted from a woman—and more. But can Piper ever love, and trust, a man who has never learned to open his heart—or has she bitten off more than she can chew?

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:

Piper Summers is just fine!

Aiden Caldwell does not mix business with pleasure!

Piper Summers is focused on her goals and is determined to accomplish everything without anyone else’s help.  To get through vet school, she works multiple crappy jobs, lives in a ramshackle little apartment with her contraband dog, Colin, and spends every one of her precious free moments at the dachshund rescue center.  With just a few weeks left in her final semester of school, Piper can make it as long as the universe cooperates. 

Enter the universe with a sense of humor . . . .

In one afternoon, Piper manages to get fired from two of her crappy jobs and fall face first into the lap of the most stunningly gorgeous man she has ever met only to get up and sing to him.  There’s no stopping a singing telegram girl!  With no expectation of ever seeing him again, Piper is stunned when the stunner makes an appearance at the doggy rescue center where she volunteers.  As if falling into his lap weren’t humiliating enough, the gorgeous man also knows Piper lost two of her jobs and is in a bad way, financially speaking.  What else is there to do but offer her a job??

Aiden Caldwell never mixes business with pleasure but he may be willing to make an exception where Piper is concerned.  Though her first and second impressions left something to be desired, Aiden is attracted to Piper and wants to know more about her.  The getting to know her better becomes all the easier when Piper agrees to work for Aiden as dog walker to his rescue dachshund, Sophie.  Aiden is stunningly wealthy, wants what’s best for Sophie, and is willing to help ease Piper’s way financially.  Though she expects to work alone, Piper is surprised when, day after day, Aiden makes a point of accompanying her and the dogs to the park for some play time.  On most occasions, Aiden acts interested but he runs hot and cold which often leaves both he and Piper confused.  Keeping business and pleasure separate isn’t as easy as it sounds and things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Dating Aiden Caldwell is as thrilling as it is frustrating.  Between the two of them, there is a lot of back luck which makes building a new relationship even more difficult.  Aiden’s hot and cold comes out at the most inconvenient of times and one of the two of them is apparently being targeted by a crazy person.  There’s the car that tries to run them down, there’s the vandalism of the doggy rescue center (which Aiden just happens to own), and there’s the vile behavior of one of Piper’s singing telegram customers and several of Aiden’s employees.  While one or two of these things may be written off as pure coincidence, collectively, Aiden and Piper are worried and the police are proving to be of little help.  Figuring out who is targeting one or both of them and surviving the next attack is of the utmost importance but mixed into the mystery is the distinct possibility that Aiden is a dirty, rotten bastard and the one behind all the awful. 

The Bottom Line:  I am always going to read a book that has dogs in it so it’s just a bonus when the book is also really good.  Piper’s life is like a comedy of errors and with every new incident I just found myself shaking my head in disbelief.  Piper really does have a crappy life for the time being and everything she loves and holds dear is being threatened.  Aiden is the only seemingly good thing in her life but life with him comes with its own set of complications.  Aiden is a good man who has some really funny rules about mixing his personal life and work.  While he tries to do the right thing, Aiden often stumbles and has to dig himself out of a mess.  This quirkiness makes for a sweet romance that is only enhanced by the presence of the two totally adorably Doxies.  Because of all the action and drama, Must Love Wieners reads quickly, has a strong plot line, believable characters, and some really funny plays on the whole wieners thing.  Overall, an enjoyable read and a good start to what is sure to be a fun series.

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About the author and where to find her:

Casey GriffinCasey Griffin can often be found at comic conventions on her days off from her day job, driving 400 ton dump trucks in Northern Alberta, Canada. As a jack of all trades with a resume boasting registered nurse, English teacher, and photographer, books are her true passion. Casey is a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel finalist, and is currently busy writing every moment she can.

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Review: Crossing the Barrier (Book #1: The Gray Eyes Series) by Martine Lewis

Crossing the Barrier Banner

Crossing the Barrier

Title: Crossing the Barrier Series: Book #1: The Gray Eyes Author: Martine Lewis Format: Paperback and eBook, 380 pages Published: March 22, 2016 by BMJ Chanapi Press ISBN13: 9781944940003

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High school student Malakai Thomas, star wide receiver of the varsity team, collides with band member Lily Morgan on his way to football practice. As days go by, Malakai cannot get the petite clarinetist out of his head.  Lily Morgan can feel everyone’s emotions. She loses her ability to shield herself against them the day Malakai runs into her. Now she must try to maintain her sanity in the emotional jungle that is high school, as well as deal with her growing feelings for Malakai.  Can Malakai get over the social stigma and his own internal struggle to be with Lily? Is Lily’s secret too big to accept, even for him?

 Lily (2)

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 4½/5 stars

My Review:

When I initially read the synopsis for this book, I really didn’t think it would be a read for me and then I met Martine Lewis, interviewed her for my blog, and thought maybe I should give Crossing the Barrier a shot.  Holy wow!  I am so glad I gave this book a chance.  Talk about a surprise!  FYI: The synopsis doesn’t do this book justice . . . . 

At it its core, Crossing the Barrier is all about its characters and everything is driven by these well-developed and completely interesting people.  It’s not easy to create a real person in a book but Martine Lewis has managed to do so and her characters carry every aspect of this read right on through from beginning to end.  Here’s the roll call:

Lily: Lily Morgan isn’t like the other kids.  Since birth, Lily has been able to channel other people’s emotions and if she doesn’t have her well-developed shields in place, she can be overwhelmed by the emotions and thoughts coming from those around her.  When you’re in high school, those emotions and thoughts are often erratic and intense and until the minute Malakai Thomas slammed into her (literally!) she was able to hold the emotions at bay.  Now, Lily is going to have to call on all her reserves and the help of her best friend to survive each day.  To make her life far, far worse, Lily lives with the single most horrible human being on Earth, her stepmother, a woman who has never hidden her total and complete hatred of Lily. 

Malakai Thomas:  What a good kid!  Like Lily, Malakai doesn’t have the best home life but he makes the best of what he has.  When most kids would take advantage of their parent’s frequent absences, Malakai does not.  He is responsible, kind, has a strong sense of right and wrong, and though he is exceedingly popular, he doesn’t give into the peer pressure that is near-constant.  In fact, once Malakai meets Lily and really gets to know her, he goes totally against what his “friends” want and begins to date the band geek.  

David: In so many ways and on so many levels do I love this kid!  David is Lily’s best friend’s older brother and he is just a genuinely good guy.  Like his sister, David knows about Lily and her abilities and is fiercely protective of her.  In fact, if Malakai weren’t so into Lily, David would be next in line to date her and be proud to do so.  At every turn, David is right there for his friends and family and won’t let anyone stand in his way when someone needs his help.  David is a support system for those around him and never once does he complain about being so.

Beatrice:  Not everyone in Crossing the Barrier is good and Beatrice is a shining example of awful.  Halfway through this book, I contacted Martine Lewis and asked if she would kindly kill off Beatrice in some truly wretched, horrible, and awful way.   Now that Lily’s dad is gone, Beatrice doesn’t bother hiding her hatred of Lily.  In fact, Beatrice truly has no concern at all for Lily and that is abundantly clear in her every word and action.  With each encounter, I hated Beatrice a little more and was disappointed to not know what happened to her at the end of the read.  Yes, I was truly hoping for a truly spectacular end to this cow.  Maybe next time around . . .

As all the above characters – and a host of others – interact with one another and tell their stories, the plot unfolds and evolves.  While Lily’s lack of shields is the major plot line, there are other things going on as well including the sudden reappearance of Malakai’s mother, the devolution of Beatrice, and Lily and Malakai’s budding relationship.  There is so much interaction and conversation that the plot really moves along at a swift pace and gives both the characters and reader very little down time. 

The Bottom LineCrossing the Barrier was a quite a pleasant surprise for me and with the exception of a few wonky things, this is a book that is well worth the time and effort.  The wonky things for me included Malakai’s mother and what her real purpose is as it isn’t quite explained and the fate of a few of the characters such as Beatrice, Wes, and Zoe.  To be sure, the wonky things are minor and are far outweighed by the good things.  This is a solidly written read with fully-developed characters that all come together in such a smooth and effortless way.  You really don’t notice this book is just shy of 400 pages once things get rolling and you become attached to the characters.  In all, Crossing the Barrier is an excellent start to what should be a truly exciting series.

Malakai (1)Amazon

About the author and where to find her:

Martine LewisMartine Lewis is a forty something who was born and raised in the French speaking province of Quebec, Canada. She spent her childhood looking forward to her summer vacations at the farm, which were a nice escape from the suburbs where she lived.  Her first written endeavor was a 200-page handwritten Duran Duran bandfiction which she wrote when she was eleven years old. Of all her written work, this is the only one she no longer has.  All throughout high school, Martine wrote more bandfictions and some original work, then she went to write fanfictions in the Star Wars, Buffy and Harry Potter universes. Her fanficiton in the Potterverse are mostly centered on characters of her own creation and can be found on fanfiction.net.  Following her viewing of Roswell on Netflix in 2012, Martine wrote book two and three of the Gray Eyes Series, then went on to create the Gray Eyes Series universe in which she has been playing ever since. She writes contemporary coming-of-age romance fiction (young adult/new adult) with a twist.  Martine is an avid reader and rollerskater. She loves sushi, hot chocolate on a cold day, and the beach. But what she loves above all else is to curl on her chair with her computer and write more stories for her readers.  Martine currently lives in Houston TX with her two cats.

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Review: The Purest Hook (Book #3: Second Circle Tattoos Series) by Scarlett Cole

The Purest Hook - 2nd Circle #3

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Rugged, hot, and rock hard, Dred Zander is exactly the type of man that normally sends Pixie running. Not dreaming about running her hands down his washboard abs…and lower. The lead singer and guitarist for the band Preload embodies trouble behind his quick smile and guarded eyes, and Pixie left trouble behind her years ago along with the name Sarah Jane Travers and the pathetic trailer her mom called home. With her abusive past in her past, she has a new life, a new family at Second Circle, and a dream of opening her own business. She needs capital and time. What she doesn’t need is a tempting long-haired rocker or the paparazzi that follow him around.  But Dred has other ideas. Pixie’s sweet hazel eyes, purple hair and kaleidoscopic tattoo of exotic flowers that swirl up her arm haunt his dreams, and he knows she wants him too. He just has to convince her. But as a juicy exposé threatens to expose their pasts, and a blackmailer terrorizes their present, Pixie and Dred have to decide what really matters and fight like hell to keep it.

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 4½/5 stars

My Review:

Pixie (aka Sarah Jane Travers) has worked harder than most to carve out a life for herself.  After escaping what could only be called a torturous home life, Pixie as reinvented herself.  Trent and Cujo quite literally picked her up off the front steps of Second Circle Tattoos and since that moment, she has been a member of the family.

As the office manager of Second Circle Tattoos, Pixie is organized, ordered, efficient, and totally suited to the job.  She loves working with Trent, Cujo, and Lia and hanging out with them and their respective mates during her off hours.  Pixie is happy with her life, comfortable and she certainly doesn’t need anyone coming along and screwing up the balance she has fought so hard to achieve.   Unfortunately, the universe has other plans for Pixie and if she’s going to see her way clear of the trouble that’s coming, she’s going to have to break down some of the walls she’s built up and learn to truly trust those she calls family and friends. 

Dred Zander is the kind of trouble Pixie doesn’t need.  The beautiful, tatted up lead singer of a heavy metal band has made his interest in Pixie quite clear but she is reluctant to become involved.  Pixie’s past is utterly terrifying and intimacy is something she struggles with on a regular basis.  To let Dred in, to allow him to touch her in the way he wants to dredges up memories and emotions best left buried.  Fortunately, Dred is also a kind and patient man and knows, in his soul that Pixie is worth the wait.  With some pretty large demons of his own and even more trouble in his immediate future, Dred is sort of the perfect man for Pixie.  All she has to do is allow him into her world.

Dred and Pixie together is some kind of wonderful.  Each has secrets, each has demons, and each has a vested interest in protecting themselves and those around them.  They care deeply for one another but trust doesn’t come easily for either so navigating a new relationship is more difficult than it would be for other couples.  As events begin to unfold around Pixie and Dred, they must decide if they are going to take the incredible leap of faith it takes to truly trust another person, to become completely vulnerable.  When the time comes for them to decide, it isn’t smooth sailing as there are some significant events that are going to radically alter the course of Pixie and Dred’s lives.  As you might expect from two somewhat broken people, mistakes are made and feelings are hurt but in the end, it is worth all the awful. 

The Bottom Line:  The Second Circle Tattoo series has been a delightful surprise for me.  With each succeeding book, I’m a little more invested in the lives of the characters.  Pixie and Dred have both been around from the beginning so it is nice to get their full stories and histories in The Purest Hook.  Both are broken but healing and doing the best they can to overcome really crappy pasts.  Individually, each is strong but together, they are a force and their HEA may have been the most satisfying of the series to date.  Enhancing this read is the continued presence of other Second Circle characters including Trent and Harper, Cujo and Drea, and Lia.  This group of diverse, quirky, and just plain weird individuals have all come together at Second Circle to redefine what it means to be a family.  While there are some light and funny moments in this read, it also deals extensively with some heavy issues including abuse and addiction.  This isn’t an easy read in that regard but it is a very good read and a fine addition to the series.

About the author and where to find her:

Scarlett ColeTwo-time RITA finalist, Scarlett Cole, is a contemporary romantic suspense / contemporary romance author (represented by Beth Phelan at The Bent Agency). Author of the Second Circle Tattoos Series. The Strongest Steel was a Best Debut Goodreads Author Finalist 2015, and Authors on the Air Global Radio Network #1 Contemporary Romance Pick for 2015.  When Scarlett isn’t writing, she spends her time reading, hoarding mason jars, and working out to off-set an epic sour candy habit.  Having travelled the world for work and fun, Scarlett is a citizen of both Britain and Canada. A true city-dweller, she considers Toronto and Manchester home and likes to set her books in vibrant locations such as Miami and Los Angeles.

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Review: The Fractured Heart (Book #2: Second Circle Tattoos Series) by Scarlett Cole

The Fractured Heart - 2nd Circle #2

Title: The Fractured Heart Series: Book #2: Second Circle Tattoos Author: Scarlett Cole Format: ebook, 283 pages Published: January 5, 2016 by St. Martin’s Press ISBN: 1466886684

goodreadsTattoo artist Brody “Cujo” Matthews knows how to keep things simple. In life and in love. Abandoned as a child by a mother who refused to stick around to raise three boys she didn’t want, he’s intent on staying clear of complicated women. The only things complicated in Cujo’s life are the killer tattoos he designs and inks. That all changes when he’s asked to help organize his best friend Trent’s engagement party, which means working with Trent’s fiancée’s best friend, Drea, the definition of high maintenance and sizzling curves. And the one woman he doesn’t want to walk away from.  Andrea “Drea” Caron is broke and tired. After years of caring for her ailing mom, she’s at the end of her rope trying to manage the piling medical bills, two jobs, and a life placed on hold. She certainly doesn’t need the added frustration of a sexy playboy tattoo artist messing up her best friend’s engagement party or her carefully balanced life. But when Drea witnesses the abduction of a woman from the café she works at, she can’t help but turn to Cujo who’s determined to prove to Drea that he’s someone she can count on forever…but as they attempt to bring the truth to light, someone is working to bring that forever to a sudden, deadly halt.  

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:

It’s been a week or so between finishing this read and writing this review.  As soon as I pulled the book up on Goodreads, my mind immediately flashed to exactly the same things I liked and disliked at the moment I completed the read. 

Likes:

CUJO!!!  Cujo was introduced in book one, The Strongest Steel and I am so glad Cole didn’t make me wait until the end of the series for his book.  Cujo is outwardly all kinds of kid wrapped in a beautifully built man-sized body but inwardly, there is a lot going on.  Though the reason is never quite specified, Cujo is just fine with the world believing him to be happy-go-lucky tattoo artist rather than part owner of Second Circle Tattoos.  Oh, and he is also part owner of both his brother’s businesses but that’s just showing off J  Lurking even further below the tough exterior is a lot of darkness that includes unresolved issues related to the disappearance of his mother and surviving a truly nasty illness.  All of Cujo’s story – including how he got the nickname Cujo –  comes out as he becomes more involved with Drea.  With each revelation, I liked Cujo a little more and found my liking of him made it all the easier to forgive his dumbassery. 

Cujo really is the heart of The Fractured Heart and while he sort of got saddled with a really wonky plot, Cujo was able to salvage the wonkiness and pull this one out of lower star rating.  Cujo shows so much growth over the course of this read that he is virtually impossible to dislike.  Even when Cujo screws up – and he does – he finds a way to make things right and makes sure it is clear, his intentions were good even if the execution sucked.  So many times throughout this read, Cujo’s world is rocked and after a bit of rolling, he manages to come out on top as well as taking care of those he calls his own. 

Dislikes:

Drea’s plot line:  This half of the plot line is just really, really wonky and I had a hard time buying into it from the beginning.  I was totally OK with the portion of the plot that involves Drea’s mother; that part isn’t at all hard to buy and it is quite heartbreaking.  The random woman who is kidnapped from Drea’s work place and then consumes her thoughts only to show back up in the most ridiculous of places and ridiculous of ways is the part that is hard to buy.  Drea has enough to deal with without being nearly consumed by the identity of the kidnapped woman and her involvement with environmental issues.  Connecting all of this to Drea’s “real” life with her mother and Cujo was just too much of a stretch for me. 

Drea:  Yeah, I sort of didn’t like Drea much either.  Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to like Drea simply because of her kindness towards Harper in The Strongest Steel but her actions in this read made her hard to like.  Drea does everything within her power to help her wretched mother and I have respect for her there but when it comes to her relationship with Cujo and her actions with the kidnapped woman, she lost me completely.  On several occasions, Drea plants her head firmly up her own ass and takes decisions away from others (Cujo!) or acts in a totally irrational manner simply because she thinks her way is the right way.  In these instances, Drea comes off as selfish and inconsiderate which left me seriously disliking her.  Even when she eventually pulled her head out, the damage had been done and I couldn’t ever get back on Team Drea.

The Bottom Line:  With all that mess being said, how in the world can I possibly be at a four-star rating?  One word, CUJO!!!  Cujo is more than enough to carry to this story and balance out all the wonkiness and weirdness.  In fact, after this read, Cujo is my favorite character in the Second Circle world and it is going to be damn hard for another character to bump him out of that spot.  Cujo’s interactions with the other characters, in particular his nieces, Pixie, and Harper had me wrapped around his little finger.  His back story is so sad but he hasn’t let it totally affect his present and the things that are lingering get dealt with in this read.  At the end of it all, Cujo is such a strong (OK, domoinant!) character that I was able to overcome the other issues I had with the read and just soak up the Cujo awesomeness!!  On to book three, The Purest Hook and if I’m really lucky, Cujo will be in that one too🙂

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About the author and where to find her:

Scarlett ColeTwo-time RITA finalist, Scarlett Cole, is a contemporary romantic suspense / contemporary romance author (represented by Beth Phelan at The Bent Agency). Author of the Second Circle Tattoos Series. The Strongest Steel was a Best Debut Goodreads Author Finalist 2015, and Authors on the Air Global Radio Network #1 Contemporary Romance Pick for 2015.  When Scarlett isn’t writing, she spends her time reading, hoarding mason jars, and working out to off-set an epic sour candy habit.  Having travelled the world for work and fun, Scarlett is a citizen of both Britain and Canada. A true city-dweller, she considers Toronto and Manchester home and likes to set her books in vibrant locations such as Miami and Los Angeles.

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