Review: Back Piece (Book #1: Skin Deep Inc. Series) by L.A. Witt

Back Piece

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Colin Spencer is a tattoo artist with a past he’d prefer to keep a secret. Actually, he has a few secrets that he’d rather people didn’t know about, which is why Colin doesn’t do commitment. But when a shy sailor approaches him at the gym, Colin finds this guy pushing all his buttons.

Growing up in a conservative family, then escaping with the Navy, Daniel Moore is an unsure virgin who feels like he can’t share his true self with anyone. Seeing Colin—and his tattoos—at the gym are the sign Daniel needs to finally get those tattoos he’s always wanted, and maybe try his hand at flirting.

As Colin and Daniel spend more time together, their awkward hesitations turn into a deep passion neither expected. But with both men harboring secrets, will their relationship be able to survive their insecurities and become something beautiful?

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Source: Netgalley     My Rating: 2½/5 star

Colin Spencer has fought tooth and nail to get his life back on track and though some days are far harder than others, he’s mostly on the right path these days.  Routine helps and hitches in the routine are likely to cause waves of the devastating variety.  The hot new guy to show up at the gym could very likely be a hitch . . . . .

Daniel Moore left home as soon as he was legally old enough to do so.  He’s spent his entire life in the closet out of fear his ultra-religious and completely homophobic family will not just reject him, but abandon him completely.  Ironically, Daniel has found the greatest acceptance in the Navy where his shipmates couldn’t care less about his sexual orientation and genuinely like him for himself and his abilities.  Oh, and they love to embarrass Daniel by pointing out eligible men during outings which is exactly how Daniel came to notice Colin Spencer at the gym.  Colin is the hottest man Daniel has ever seen and if had more experience, Daniel would know exactly how to approach him. 

The opportunity to approach Colin presents itself when Daniel sees his tattoos.  Wanting one (or more!) of his own, Daniel broaches the subject of custom work and thus, the relationship begins.  It’s clear from the beginning both Colin and Daniel are attracted to one another, but Colin has a past that is both deliciously scandalous and dangerous to his ongoing mental and physical well-being.  Being in a relationship is tricky and requires a great deal of disclosure on Colin’s part which is why he has avoided such entanglements for some time.  Daniel is altogether different and though Colin initially rejects the idea of being more than friends with benefits, it doesn’t take long to see the folly in that plan.

Daniel is as besotted with Colin as Colin is with Daniel and the early days of their relationship is all about discovery.  With each new revelation from Colin, Daniel falls deeper in love and Colin understands that his past and his secrets, however scandalous and awful, are accepted by Daniel.  In fact, Daniel is likely the most accepting person Colin has ever met and that makes him love Daniel all the more.  Just as each begins to feel there is nothing they can’t overcome, Daniel’s family comes to town and everything they have built is blown apart! 

The Bottom Line:  I really, really wanted to like this book far more than I did.  There are some significant issues with this read that are reflected in my overall star rating.  First and foremost, among the problems is the development of the characters.  Colin is significantly more developed than Daniel which makes him far more interesting.  Daniel is a sweet kid, but all we really get out of him is his lack of experience and the fact he’s from an extremely homophobic family.  Next up, the repetition.  Nearly every conversation between Daniel and Colin are basically the same and generally all include some version of the phrase “my incredibly/extremely homophobic family.”  I’m a smart girl and the book isn’t that long, I can remember Daniel’s background.  Finally, there is the sex.  I rarely ever complain about sex in a book, because, quite frankly, I enjoy the naughty bits, but this book has a metric ton of sex and that’s far too much.  While the sex is good and varied, it does occur a lot and takes away from other elements of the story, such as character development.  With all that being said, I did like Colin and his story and the description of the tatoos.  Unfortunately, Colin and his tattoos alone just can’t carry the read and pull it above a two-and-a-half-star rating.

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Double Review: Working It and Faking It (Books #1 and #2: Ringside Romance) by Christine d’Abo

Working It

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Nolan Carmichael is getting a fresh start—new career, new company, new life. The only problem is, he liked his old life just fine . . . until an accident robbed him of his health, his job, his self-confidence, and his ability to go out in public without having anxiety attacks.

Zack Anderson has scared away his last four administrative assistants. So when he hires Nolan on a whim, he’s not too worried, since Nolan will be gone within the week anyway. Two weeks later, Nolan has made himself indispensable, completely reforming Zack’s schedule, life . . . and libido.

But in a company already torn by internal politics, one wrong step could ruin both their careers. And not only are they working to reopen Ringside Gym, Zack’s retreat when he was a troubled teen, but they also can’t help themselves falling for each other. If only the rest of their lives could go as smoothly as things do when they’re alone together.

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Source: Purchase     My Rating: 4½/5 stars

Everyone, quite literally everyone is wary of Zack Anderson. He may be brilliant and accomplished, but he’s a colossal jerk who goes through assistants like most people go through tissue. Human resources have despaired of ever finding Zack an assistant who can tolerate him so the surprise is widespread when Zack walks in on an in-progress interview and announces he will have the interviewee as his new assistant.

Nolan Carmichael, along with the human resources interview team is stunned into literal silence when Zack Anderson walks in on the interview. Even more stunning, especially to Nolan, is the fact that, after only a few very pointed questions, Zack hires Nolan as his assistant. As quick as he walks in, Zack walks out and Nolan has a new job. He’s also become the subject of the latest “how long will this one last” betting pool among the HR staff. The odds say, less than a week.

Nolan is a surprise to everyone!! After surviving a horrific and debilitating wreck, Nolan has been through things others can only imagine. In his pre-wreck life, Nolan was a top-notch professional used to dealing with high-pressure situations and, quite frankly, assholes. Though Zack is demanding, he’s nothing Nolan can’t handle and within the first few hours of his arrival, Nolan is already getting the office and Zack’s life ordered and organized. It doesn’t hurt at all that the work is interesting and Zack is beyond easy on the eyes.

For the first time in his life, Zack is at a loss. He hasn’t scared off Nolan with his atrocious attitude, his work load is lightening under Nolan’s organizational skills and oversight, and actually likes Nolan. In fact, Zack is comfortable enough with Nolan that he not only tells him about his true passion, but shows it to Nolan as well. Get your mind out of the gutter . . . . . I’m talking about the gym!! The other guttery bit comes later 😊 Not only is Nolan interested in the gym project, he’s willing to organize the massive overhaul of the site and coordinate with workers, contractors, and Zack’s best friend and partner. With so many hours of the day and evening spent together, it’s no surprise when Zack and Nolan’s shared attraction becomes something more.

The something more between Zack and Nolan is steamy, sexy, hot and complicated as can be. There’s the whole “I haven’t ever really done relationships” from Zack, the whole, “I haven’t been seriously involved since the accident” from Nolan, and the fact they are boss and employee. Yeah, the complications are numerous right from the start, and they get worse as outside forces come into play and threaten to destroy the best thing either man has ever had.

The Bottom Line: I don’t think I’ve yet read a Christine D’Abo book I haven’t liked and Working It is no exception. There’s a lot going on in this book from past personal issues to current office drama that all comes together to create a very cohesive, full, and entertaining read. Zack and Nolan both have very strong personalities which means the plot drama needs to match them in order to be believable. D’Abo nailed it!! I find it so much more satisfying when two characters face a tremendous amount of adversity, whip adversity’s ass, and come out all sexy, solid, and better people at the end. Mission accomplished. I found Working It to be so satisfying, I immediately dove into book two in the series, Faking It!

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Faking It

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Max Tremblay should be happy. His night club, Frantic, is one of the most popular gay clubs in Toronto, and his childhood refuge, Ringside Gym, is well on the way to reopening. But when he finds yet another drunk in the alley beside the bar, Max isn’t sure this is the life he truly wants.

Grady Barnes has it all. He’s rich, famous, and wants for nothing. Well, nothing but a good relationship with his father. When he discovers that his father is going to force him into an arranged marriage, Grady has had enough. He tracks down Max, the man who got him to safety after a night of overindulgence, and makes him a proposal: pretend to be his fiancé for two weeks and he’ll invest in Ringside Gym.

When the pair travel to Vancouver to attend a family wedding, the flames of their mutual attraction ignite, and they discover that the only difference between pretend and reality is how well they can fake it.

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Source: Netgalley and Purchase     My Rating: 4/5 star

Max Tremblay is in a funk and helping one more sloppy drunk outside his club isn’t helping the situation.  Unfortunately, this particular sloppy drunk is worse off than most which is how Max finds himself not only escorting the drunk back to his hotel, but ensuring he makes it into his bed (ALONE!) and has plenty of water to combat the coming hangover.  Max thought his good deed would go unpunished until the well-dressed man with photographs, a bad attitude, and a threat showed up. 

Grady Barnes isn’t just any sloppy drunk, he’s a very wealthy sloppy drunk with a father hell bent on ruing his life.  While that sounds overly dramatic, it is nonetheless true.  Grady’s father sees nothing beyond his business, money, and success and his latest scheme has Grady marrying the son of a potential business partner.  While Grady is gay and isn’t opposed to making new friends, he has no interest in marrying a fresh out of the closet kid who hasn’t even had a chance to explore his own sexuality yet.  The only person this marriage is going to benefit is Grady’s dad and the only way Grady can get out of it is a scheme just south of miracle territory. 

Max has never considered himself a miracle, but he does consider himself bored and in a funk so when the cleans-up-well sloppy drunk, Grady Barnes tracks him down and propositions him, Max is willing to go along for the ride.  Since the suggestive (though totally innocent!) pictures already exist, Grady suggests Max pose as his fiancé just long enough to get Grady’s dad off his back and the arranged marriage off the table.  Nothing can go wrong here, at all.

For two weeks, Max and Grady will live in Grady’s family home and with any luck, will convince everyone of the authenticity of their love and engagement.  The passion won’t be hard to fake as Max and Grady both have that in spades for one another; it’s the real feelings and emotion which could cause problems and Grady’s father is a shrewd man.  When they’re alone, Max and Grady begin to develop a real connection, but in public, with the family, Max has to sit quietly and watch as Grady withers under his father’s attention, harsh words, and abysmal treatment.  But, every man has a breaking point and there comes a time when Max just can’t keep his mouth shut any longer.  Turns out, when something more than sex is involved, it’s hard to stand by and watch the one you care about be abused. 

The Bottom Line:  Faking It is another Christine d’Abo hit!  Max is absolutely the star of this show and it is so satisfying to see him go from a burned-out state to once again loving life and finding pleasure in the world he’s built.  Though he and Grady’s relationship begins as a fake engagement, real feelings develop and Max isn’t the kind of man to ignore the obvious.  Getting to the HEA isn’t at all easy and there are some unexpected twists and turns along the way (I can still be surprised!) but it is all worth it in the end.  Though this book can be read as a standalone, I would highly recommend reading book one, Working It first as there a recurring characters and locations that will simply make more sense if you know the back story.  In all, an enjoyable M/M read with a strong cast, excellent dialogue (I LOVE good dialogue), an interesting plot, and the promise of more to come.

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Double Review: Fatal Fiction and A Reference to Murder (Books #1 and #2: A Book Barn Mystery Series) by Kym Roberts

Fatal Fiction

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When kindergarten teacher Charli Rae Warren hightailed it out of Hazel Rock, Texas, as a teen, she vowed to leave her hometown in the dust. A decade later, she’s braving the frontier of big hair and bigger gossip once again . . . but this time, she’s saddled with murder!

Charli agrees to sell off the family bookstore, housed in a barn, and settle her estranged dad’s debt—if only so she can ride into the sunset and cut ties with Hazel Rock forever. But the trip is extended when Charli finds her realtor dead in the store, strangled by a bedazzled belt. And with daddy suspiciously MIA, father and daughter are topping the most wanted list . . .

Forging an unlikely alliance with the town beauty queen, the old beau who tore her family apart, and one ugly armadillo, Charli’s intent on protecting what’s left of her past . . . and wrangling the lone killer who’s fixin’ to destroy her future . . .

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Source: Purchase     My Rating: 4/5 stars

Good Lord! When Charli Rae Warren accepted she had to come back home, she had no idea what kind of mess, nay disaster, she would be walking into. Her beloved family bookstore has been painted a horrifying shade of pink, there’s a pink armadillo running around who seems to have the run of the place, and there’s a dead woman in the office. And just because the day isn’t bad enough already, Charli is arrested for the murder and her daddy is missing. Yeah, going home is never easy.

Once the small matter of not being a murderer is cleared up, Charli sets out to clean up the mess left by her daddy so she can sell the bookstore and get back to her real life far, far away from Hazel Rock, Texas! Setting things right is going to be a monumental job since the bookstore is a mess, the buyer has backed out, Charli’s presence in town is now hot gossip, and the suspicion of murder had shifted from Charli to her still-missing daddy.

As it happens, Charli didn’t burn every bridge in town when she left a decade ago and she’s got some help sorting through the crap sundae that is currently her life. The delightful hairdresser across the street is a whiz with crafts and decorations which is exactly what the bookstore needs, the local football coach and his team are readily available for some light carpentry and heavy lifting, Charli’s still-sexy-ex-rat-bastard boyfriend is now the town’s mayor and willing to pitch in, and the sexy sheriff seems to be on hand quite a lot. Despite the death in her bookstore and her long absence, Charli finds herself welcomed back to her hometown, a feeling she never thought she would appreciate.

While Charli only meant to be in town for a few days, at best, a few days turns into a few more and a few more. Progress on the bookstore is coming along nicely and before long, Charli realizes she’s making long-term rather than short-term plans for the site. Huh? When did staying become a viable option? When she’s not putting her family livelihood to rights, Charli finds herself digging deeper into the mystery of the murdered woman. Turns out, she wasn’t exactly what everyone thought and there’s more than enough suspicion to go around. If Charli’s daddy would ever show his face in town again perhaps the whole mess could be cleared up and the murder solved!

The Bottom Line: Fatal Fiction really is a cozy mystery so I feel like I got exactly what I signed up for with this book. Charli is a stubborn woman who has held on to old hurts and betrayals for far, far too long. Coming home wasn’t meant to be a mending of fences reunion, but that’s precisely what it turns into which allows Charli to let go of some of those old hurts. She revives old friendships, struggles with old feelings, and finds you really can home again even if it takes a little work. The mystery is sufficiently strong yet not too intense and the reveal of the big bad and his/her motives doesn’t play out until the very last minute!! In all, Fatal Fiction has a little bit of everything including, tender moments, funny moments, drama, a pink armadillo, reunions and reconciliations, and even a little bit of danger. A good read and a decent start to a new series.

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A Ref. to Murder

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Charli Rae Warren is back home in Hazel Rock, Texas, spending her time reading, collecting, and selling books—at least, the ones that don’t get eaten first by her father’s pet armadillo. Running the family bookstore is a demanding job, but solving murders on the side can be flat out dangerous…

The Book Barn is more than just a shop, it’s a part of the community—and Charli is keeping busy with a fundraising auction and the big rodeo event that’s come to town. That includes dealing with the Texas-sized egos of some celebrity cowboys, including Dalton Hibbs, a blond, blue-eyed bull rider who gets overly rowdy one night with the local hairdresser . . . and soon afterward, disappears into thin air.

Dalton’s brother also vanished seven years ago—and Charli is thrown about whether Dalton is a villain or a victim. After a close call with an assailant wielding a branding iron (that plays havoc with her hair) and some strange vandalism on her property, she’s going to have to team up with the sheriff to untangle this mystery, before she gets gored . . .  

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Source: Netgalley     My Rating: 4½/5 stars

For a small town, Hazel Rock, Texas sure does have its fair share of drama and no matter how hard she tries to avoid it, Charli Rae Warren keeps finding herself right in the middle of it all! To be sure, when Charli signed on to help with the annual fundraising rodeo, she didn’t expect to find herself smack in the middle of a double murder investigation and she sure as hell didn’t expect to find her best friend as the main suspect. Really, what does a girl have to do to stay out of trouble in Hazel Rock???

When Charli signed on to help with the annual rodeo, she had no idea she would bust wide open a cold case involving the disappearance of a rodeo star. All Charli wants to do is run her silent auction, complete her volunteer hours at the rodeo, and see a lot of money go to a good cause. Unfortunately, her best-friend is involved with one of the rodeo stars, the rodeo star, Dalton Hibbs who has a huge ego and propensity for causing trouble. Though Charli wants to support her best-friend and the happiness she’s clearly found with her rodeo man, Charli is distrustful and has real issues with his treatment of her friend.

As it happens, Charli has reason to be distrustful when Dalton goes missing just days before the rodeo is due to start. What’s more, as Charli begins asking questions, she once again finds herself in hot water. Her questions seem to be right on point if the man with the branding iron hell bent on hurting her can be used as proof. Her best friend’s home is broken into and when Charli and her friend track Dalton’s cell phone, they find the unthinkable, not one, but two graves and one of them is fresh. As you might well expect, the local law (the super-hot Mateo!) isn’t at all pleased with Charli’s meddling. Though she promises Mateo to stay out of the investigation, Charli is far too curious for her own good and finds herself even deeper in the mess than ever before. Before it’s all said and done, Charli finds herself in more danger than she’s ever been in before and with a new best-friend, the inflatable donut!

The Bottom Line: This series has found its feet for me and I liked this book even better than the first, Fatal Fiction. Charli is officially welcomed back to town and has worked tirelessly to make the Book Barn Princess an even larger and more successful part of the community. She’s on good terms with her dad, has accepted the fact she has a pink armadillo as a pet, and is eternally frustrated by two sexy men who can’t seem to figure out precisely what they want. One of my favorite parts of this book, and a quality I hope to see in later installments of the series, is Charli’s marked determination to stay out of trouble and then landing in the thick of it. She exasperates the cops, worries her father to no end, and pushes the limits of her health insurance. I’m sort of smitten with Charli Rae Warren and look forward to her next adventure 😊

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About the author and where to find her:

Kym R.Three career paths resonated for Kym during her early childhood, a detective, an investigative reporter, and a nun. Being a nun however, dropped by the wayside when she became aware of boys, they were a perk to life she couldn’t deny. In high school her path was forged when she took her first job at a dry cleaners and met every cop in town, especially the lone female police officer in patrol. Following her dream led to a degree in Administration of Justice and the Kansas City Police Department. Kym followed her dream and became a detective that fulfilled her desire to be an investigative reporter, with one extra perk–a badge. Promoted to sergeant, she returned to SVU a short time later. She retired from the job reluctantly–her husband drug her kicking and screaming to another state, but writing continued to call her name.

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Release Day Review: Make Me Stay (Book #2: Panic Series) by Sidney Halston

Make Me Stay

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April: Walking away from Matt Moreno was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Lying to him was a close second, but for his safety, I had no other choice. I was undercover, working to put some nasty people behind bars. But when Matt nearly recognizes me on Lincoln Road a year later, all those very real feelings come rushing back. Now that my assignment’s almost over, will he understand why I lied? Why I had to leave? Most important, can he ever forgive me?

Matt: I was madly in love with June Simpson . . . or, at least, with the woman I thought was June. Then she just disappeared while my family’s nightclub went through hell. And after months of searching, when I think I’ve finally found that sexy, raspy voice and those exquisite blue eyes, she slips away once more. Turns out, “June” is actually Detective April White. She’s been playing me the whole time. And she’s about to rock my world all over again.

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Source: Netgalley and Purchase     My Rating: 5/5 stars

I don’t even know where to start with this ball of awesome! I read this book twice before sitting down to write this review and I still have no idea where to begin . . . .

If I must pick a starting place, I think I’ll go with my weakness, characters 😊

Matt: Simply put, the universe hates Matt Moreno. Though he likes to believe he’s in control, if he’s honest, he’s never been in control of his own life. From birth, his father has groomed he and his twin, Nick to take over the family business. While Nick got a business degree, Matt was shuffled off to law school and as their father begins to age, the twins are taking over more and more of the nightclub’s running and responsibilities. For Matt, that means a full work week at the law firm and then endless hours at the club over the weekend. Matt’s burning more than one candle at both ends and eventually, something’s got to give. The only bright spot in Matt’s life is June, the gorgeous raven-haired beauty who walked into his life five months past. Just when Matt thought the universe was finally throwing him a bone, June disappears without a trace just as Matt, his brother, and father are arrested for a myriad of crimes.

One year later . . . . .

June/April: Matt Morena was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to June/April. He was strong and sexy, smart and successful, and cared for her unconditionally. Walking away from Matt was the hardest thing June/April has ever had to do and the betrayal is more than she can bear. As it happens, Matt isn’t the only person who feels betrayed by June/April which is how she finds herself in a hospital room surrounded by complete strangers. In fact, there is nothing in June/April’s memory, at all. When Matt shows up in her hospital room, the only emotion she has toward him is complete confusion. Her body recognizes Matt instantly, but her mind just won’t recall who he is or why on earth he is so very angry with her. Even more confusing, this man who seemingly hates her is taking her home to aid in her recovery.

The Plot: This is the first time (if memory serves) Halston has split one of her books into two distinct parts and it’s pure genius. Though Matt’s woman occupies a single body, her story is really that of two distinct women and two very different periods in her life. In fact, even as the plot unfolds and the reality of the whole June/April situation becomes clear, it is hard to see the two characters as a single individual – one playing a role and one real. Though there are certainly shared characteristics between June and April, they quite impressively read as two distinct and separate characters. This sort of distinction creates a very rich, very deep plot with characters far more complex than the synopsis implies. Though there is some plot overlap from the first book (Pull Me Close) it is told from a completely different perspective. In fact, it’s told from three completely different perspectives, Matt’s, June’s, and April’s.

The Bottom Line: The very nature of this book – two distinct parts, two distinct characters in a single body, and one very angry man – likely would have gotten away from a less experienced, less talented author. Furthermore, without careful planning and some crafty plotting, Make Me Stay could have become nothing more than a repeat of book one in the series. Instead, Make Me Stay is strong standalone title that shares characters and some plot points with book one, but is in no way a repeat or even a lame rehashing. Matt is by far my favorite of the primary characters and he tugged at my heartstrings from start to finish. Even in his angrier moments, I still wanted all the best in the world for the poor bastard. I found June incredibly difficult to like (to be fair, June felt the same way), but April was so very easy to like and feel for. To see how Matt reconciles the knowledge and reality of these two women in one shared body was really one of the highlights of the read and made me like him all the more. As always, the inclusion of older characters into this story was quite welcome and certainly helped round out the cast and enhance an already excellent story.

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About the author and where to find her:

sidneySidney Halston lives her life with one simple rule: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”–Mark Twain. Or even simpler, “Just Do It”—Nike.  And that’s exactly what she did. After working hard as an attorney, Sidney picked up a pen for the first time at thirty years old to begin her dream of writing. Having never written anything other than very exciting legal briefs, she found an outlet for her imaginative romantic side and wrote Seeing Red.That first pen stroke sealed the deal, and she fell in love with writing.  Sidney lives in South Florida with her husband and children. She loves her family above all else, and reading follows a close second. When she’s not writing you can find her reading and reading and reading. She’s a reader first and a writer second.  When she’s not writing or reading, her life is complete and utter chaos, trying to balance family life with work and writing (and reading). But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Review: Heat by Opal Carew

Heat

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Rikki’s first love was a firefighter and after he died, she decided to protect her heart by pouring her desires into the novels she writes. When research on her latest book brings her to a firehouse, she’s determined to keep it professional, but these men are too hot and charming to resist. And when firefighters Simon and Carter make it clear they’re willing to help her fulfill her steamiest fantasies, Rikki realizes she’s going to lose more than just her cool.  As Simon and Carter help Rikki unlock her desires, she finds herself falling for both men. But how can she give them her heart when they can’t promise she won’t lose them too?

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Source: Netgalley      My Rating: 4/5 stars

Is there anything hotter than a fit and fine firefighter? How about a whole house full of them ready to bare all for a good cause? Yeah, Rikki’s job as a photographer just sucks 😊

Since the death of her boyfriend many years ago, Rikki just hasn’t been able to move on. In a last-ditch effort to save herself, Rikki packs her bags and moves to a new city. With three new roommates and her old college roommate, Cassie for support, Rikki is hoping to get a fresh start, to move past the pain of losing her boyfriend. First up, getting roped into Cassie’s firefighter calendar project. All Rikki has to do is hang out at the firehouse, take loads of pictures, and help put together the charity calendar. With so many hot men all willing to work with Rikki, the project should be a walk in the park. Unfortunately, every time the alarm sounds, Rikki is reminded of her loss and the fear she feels at the men rushing out into danger is quite nearly crippling.

Added to the fear is Rikki’s particular interest in two of the men, Simon and Carter. From the moment she saw them, Rikki knew both men were meant to be hers. Her connection to both is instantaneous and powerful, but so is her fear of losing them. With a degree of bravery she never knew she possessed and some sexy persuasion, Rikki decides to take a chance on love. Her reward is two dead sexy men with nothing but her pleasure and well-being in mind. Simon and Carter are attentive and kind, caring and concerned, and just the right amount of naughty. They adore Rikki and have no intention of giving her up. As each day goes by, Rikki learns to trust in her men a bit more, and understands their job is risky, but they’re well trained and as careful as they can be when out in the field.

Life has a cruel sense of humor though and just as things seem to be on track and really good for Rikki and her men, the rug is pulled out from under them. In one fell swoop, a suitor from Rikki’s past makes an appearance and a very attractive offer and a nasty call threatens everyone’s lives. Old fears and new one crop up, loyalties are questioned, and before it’s all said and done, everyone is broken and in need of repair.

The Bottom Line: Heat is a typical Opal Carew read with some totally unrealistic bits, a decent plot, characters who are easy to root for, and A LOT of naughty bits. Simon and Carter and their fire house crew sort of steal the show in this one. The men are all such dominate and commanding personalities that this could easily be expanded into a series with each man getting his own HEA. As for the women, I liked Rikki and her best-friend Cassie well enough, but each is just a bit too meek and mild for my liking. With that being said, Rikki doesn’t allow Simon and Carter to dominate her; it is simply this, Rikki’s less commanding personality is a good fit for the strong alpha males she’s chosen. As always, the naughty bits are plentiful in this read, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more variety. If everyone is going to but I would have liked to have seen a bit more variety. If everyone is going to share, then everyone should share. That is, let the boys get it on with each other with as much enthusiasm as they have with Rikki. At the end of it all, I still liked this read as I do with most of Opal Carew’s books. I already know what I’m going to get when I dive in so I’m often neither blown away nor disappointed. Such is the case with Heat.

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: The Beautiful Lost by Luanne Rice

 

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In The Beautiful Lost, Luanne Rice deftly uses her experiences with depression to craft a lilting and surprising story about the vagaries of the human heart. Maia has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts ever since her mother left to follow her passion of studying ocean life in the Canadian Maritime provinces. Maia is convinced everything will be fine if she can only reconnect with her mother, meaning she won’t have to take her pills, she will never need to be institutionalized again. When Maia runs away from home in search of her mom, she gets unexpected help and companionship from Billy, her crush from school. On the roads through New England, Maia and Billy learn truths about each other that are equal parts enthralling and distressing.

Excerpt from The Beautiful Lost

Today I was ready. Last night I’d hidden the Volvo key on the ledge outside my window. I grabbed it and stuck it into my jeans pocket along with my cell phone. Then I dove into my closet, rummaged for the duffle bag that I’d already filled with a fleece, my rain slicker, underwear, extra jeans, my diary, bottles of medication, my toothbrush, the packet of my mother’s letters, and all the birthday and Christmas money I had. “Who’s there? Maia, is that you?” I froze. Astrid had finished faxing and making her call, and her vigilance had kicked in. I heard her footsteps on the stairs and quickly locked my bedroom door, just as she began rattling the knob. That lasted exactly three seconds, and then she ran down the hall. I knew what she’d do next: call my father and try to head me off at the pass. I had to move fast and couldn’t risk her grabbing me if I went through the house. I threw my duffle out the window and, just like yesterday, climbed out and shinnied down the pine tree. Wind blew through the lilacs. They’d just bloomed, and their scent was stronger than perfume. Tiny purple flowers tossed overhead, mixing with the pine needles. I had lived here since birth; my parents had brought me home to this house, and the smell was as familiar to me as anything in my life. I tore through the trees, made it to the garage door, and hauled the door up in one wild motion. I hadn’t started my mother’s car in a long time, but it was an indestructible Volvo station wagon and it fired right up. I backed out, my heart beating so fast it could have run the engine. Wheels squealing, I flew out of my driveway, leaving Astrid running after the car, yelling and waving. My plan was to hit the highway and disappear, but I had a lump in my throat that made me turn right onto Shuttle Meadow Avenue. My phone buzzed in my pocket. I ignored it. I passed my old elementary school and Heckler Pond, where I had learned to ice-skate, and didn’t feel an ounce of sentimentality. Leaving home meant leaving home. You had abandon old things to the past. I was ready.  But Billy.  Martindale Street wound up the steep hill above the pond. Tall trees shaded it, but every so often I’d glance right, and through the branches could see the opposite rise where my house stood.  My phone kept buzzing, the different rhythms that meant that Astrid, and maybe by now my dad, were both calling and texting. I didn’t even look.  I pulled into the circular driveway. The massive brick building, gothic with spires, arched windows on the first floor, and oxidized green copper roof rose before me. This was a different perspective than I’d ever seen before; I scanned the upper stories, trying to locate Billy’s window, but everything looked different, being so close.  A bunch of kids my age were clustered in a play area full of swings, seesaws, picnic tables, and a jungle gym. I saw Mary Porter, Anna Jacoby, and Kevin Hernandez from school. I could ask them where Billy was. I could do that so easily, but I was frozen in the car.  How many times could I say a private goodbye? I had thought yesterday in English class was it, then in study hall today, and now here I was at the Home. I had to see him one last time.  The car running, I gripped the steering wheel hard with my elbows locked, just begging the stars to let him walk by. That’s when I spotted him sitting alone under a maple tree, leaning against the wide trunk. And, as if the stars had decided to answer, he looked up and saw me too. Then my heart had the biggest jumpstart ever—he leapt up and came toward me. I got out of the car.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I came to say…” I said, but I couldn’t get the words out.
He looked in the back seat and saw my duffle.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Away,” I said.
Our eyes burned into each other. I felt heat in my chest, knowing that this really was the last time. I wanted to reach over, touch his hand. I hoped he could read my mind and somehow know he was the only person I’d miss, that I’d come here today because he was, ineffably, mine.
“Away where?” he asked.
“To see my mother,” I said.
“Can I go with you?” he asked.
I stared at him. Had I heard right? No, I had to be dreaming.
“Will you take me?” he asked.
It was real. This was happening. His eyes were begging me.
“But people will miss you. They’ll wonder where you are,” I said.
“I live in a group home,” he said, gesturing at the building. “They won’t wonder for long.”
And then he touched me—just one finger on my wrist bone—so quickly I would have thought I’d imagined it if it didn’t tingle all through my body.
“I can help you,” he said.
“Help me?”
“Yeah, you’re running away, right? I know how to do that. No one will catch us,” he
said. He was already hurrying around the car. I didn’t think after that. I climbed into the driver’s seat, he got in beside me, and we sped off.

About the Author:

Luanne Rice is the New York Times bestselling author of over 30 novels for adults and the YA novel The Secret Language of Sisters. There are more than twenty-two million copies of her books in print across the world and five of her novels have been adapted into TV movies and miniseries. Luanne lives in coastal Connecticut with her family of cats.

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Spotlight and Sweepstakes: All the Stars Left Behind by Ashley Graham

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Relocating to Arctic Norway would put a freeze on anyone’s social life. For Leda Lindgren, with her crutches and a chip on her shoulder the size of her former Manhattan home, the frozen tundra is just as boring as it sounds. Until she meets her uncle’s gorgeous employee.

Unfortunately, no matter how smoking hot the guy is, Roar comes with secrets as unnerving as his moving tattoos. And Leda doesn’t trust him.

Roar shouldn’t be drawn to the moody human girl with eyes that leave him weak in the knees. But when Leda gets shot by one of his enemies and survives, Roar finally understands why he’s drawn to her: Leda is exactly what he was sent to Earth to find. A weapon of immense power capable of saving his planet.

She just doesn’t know it yet.

 

About the author and where to find her:

Ashley Graham was born in Ontario, Canada, and has since lived in five countries. Before writing her first manuscript in 2015, she worked as a clerical assistant, quality assurance officer, chef, and stay-at-home mom/homeschool teacher. When she isn’t writing or reading every book she gets her hands on, Ashley enjoys online window shopping, Netflix binges, and spends way too much time thinking about space travel. ALL THE STARS LEFT BEHIND is her debut novel.

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