Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Penthouse Player (Book #1: Billionaire Bosses Series) by Tara Leigh

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Penthouse Player

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Abandoned by her mother and spurned by her father, Reina St. James is tired of being treated like a dirty little secret. It wasn’t easy making her way into the high-risk, high-reward Wall Street world ruled by financial kings and trust fund tyrants. But now that she’s got a stiletto-clad toe into one of the swankiest firms in Manhattan, Reina is determined to prove she’s more than just a pretty face hiding an ugly past.

 For Tristan Xavier Bettencourt IV, escaping the shadow cast by generations of family fortune has been difficult, and success hasn’t come without sacrifice. Tristan has always put business before pleasure… Until Reina’s curved lips prove an invitation he can’t resist.

 Walking away from their explosive night together won’t be easy, even if the heat between them might consume both of their careers. Will Reina and Tristan risk everything by betting on each other?

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Except from Penthouse Player (Book #1: Billionaire Bosses Series):

My eyes skipped over a blonde in a red dress, and then quickly returned. I hadn’t realized I’d started walking towards her until a waiter nearly spilled my drink. She was gorgeous. And when she tipped her head back to laugh at something the man beside her said, I decided that word was entirely inadequate. Stunning was much more apt. Exquisitely stunning, actually. Her creamy skin was flawless. And she was tall. I looked down, or at least she appeared tall with the five-inch stilettos on her feet. When her open-mouthed laugh faded into a generous smile, her wide eyes met mine. If she’d been an investment, she would have been labeled high risk, high reward, with a warning—Don’t buy if you can’t afford to lose

Her lips closed around the edge of the glass in her hands, our stare unbroken. Her eyes were the bright shade of freshly cut, well-tended grass. And after she took a sip, white wine by the looks of it, she didn’t look away. Her open appraisal was a lure, and I took the bait. She could have been a model on a billboard in Times Square, or in the GQ magazine I subscribed to but never had the time to read. I know I should’ve turned away. This girl was clearly trouble with capital T, something I needed as much as a hole in my head.

After doing well with the first fifty million I’d been able to raise, I was just about to open my fund up to new investors. I didn’t have any official commitments yet, but I had no doubt my fund was about to grow to at least $500 million. I had a lot to consider, and a ton of work to do. This was the most important time in my career and I couldn’t afford to fuck it up by becoming a lovesick fool over some girl, exquisitely stunning or not.

I stopped in my tracks, maybe ten feet away, although I couldn’t tear my eyes from her face. She was young. Maybe too young? But then she smiled again. And not just any smile. This one wasn’t polite, or friendly, or casual in any way. No, her smile was so bright it heated the drink in my hands and blinded me from seeing anyone else in the room. Her curved lips were an invitation I couldn’t resist. Even though I knew I should.

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About the author and where to find her: 

Tara Thompson May 2017 social media bTara Leigh attended Washington University in St. Louis and Columbia Business School in New York, and worked on Wall Street and Main Street before “retiring” to become a wife and mother. When the people in her head became just as real as the people in her life, she decided to put their stories on paper. Tara currently lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut with her husband, children and fur-baby, Pixie. 

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Excerpt and Sweepstakes: Break of Day (Book #2: One Night in South Beach Series) by Andie J. Christopher

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One Mistake: Carla Hernandez needs to drop off the glamorous Miami grid. Her aunt’s house in Havana seems the perfect place to get over being dumped by her fiancé—and figure out why she keeps messing up her life. But photojournalist Jonah Kane’s unexpected presence is one sizzling mistake she’s hungry to make.  

 One Temptation: Jonah thought his favorite Cuban refuge would help him get some badly-needed peace. Still, he’s ridden out way worse than the tropical storm trapping him with Carla. And he’s going to handle this spoiled little princess on his own dominant, seductive terms just until the storm is over. Too bad this sexy wild card only makes him only want more. And more . . .

 No Restraints: Now Carla’s back home—but not quite alone. When her baby is born, she’s going to raise it on her own, no matter how much she still burns for Jonah. But Jonah can’t get over her irrepressible spirit or the passion they shared. And trying to walk away is only making things too hot to resist . . .

Excerpt from Break of Day (Book #2: One Night in South Beach Series):

Carla’s skin was melting. Her cotton romper clung to her melty mess of a body in the heat of August in Cuba. Rivers of mascara ran down her face, and she would shank someone for an afternoon in air-conditioning with a stack of fashion magazines.

I just thought being with a redheaded Cuban girl would be more exciting.

Her ex-fiancé’s words echoed in her head for the millionth time since he dumped her and asked for the ring back. She hadn’t thought an accountant’s wife needed to be exciting, but what the fuck did she know about anything anymore?

She smiled at the driver, probably a guy from Tia Lola’s street. He’d picked her up at the airport to bring her to the family home. Lola’s house was a couple of blocks off the stately, crumbling facades along the Malecón. When he’d put her bag in the trunk, she’d tipped him with American money; she’d seen her father do it the last time they’d visited. She clutched her shoulder bag, remembering exactly how much money she had in there. She didn’t usually carry around thousands of dollars in cash.

When the car had pulled up to her aunt’s house, she tried to give the driver more money. In a few words of rapid Spanish, he refused her and smiled. She grabbed her suitcase out of the trunk, took a deep breath, and walked up to the door.

Even though the exterior needed a whole mess of masonry work, the colonial mansion was still impressive. Carla wasn’t sure how it had stayed in the family. She knew that her father’s aunt ran a casa particulare. She rented out some of the bedrooms to tourists for more money than anyone in Cuba could afford, but she wasn’t sure how that was enough to keep the place up—especially since Americans hadn’t been able to come here for fun for almost half a century.

That was changing, and Carla was here to help turn her aunt’s house into a boutique hotel so that her tia could retire and so that her family’s home could sustain itself.

When she knocked, she was expecting her sixty-something-year-old great aunt to open the massive, carved, wooden door. Instead, a giant stood on the threshold. A bare-chested giant with biceps the size of her head. Her mouth popped open—and went dry to be perfectly honest. She made the mistake of looking down, hoping for more clothing. What she found were thighs, just massive thighs, encased in black boxer briefs.

She was going to find her words, eventually. Right now, she just needed a minute. Her clothes felt even stickier on her body, her makeup more melty, and before she humiliated herself by muttering something like thiiiighs, she looked up at his face. That didn’t make the humidity situation with respect to her panties any better because he had the most perfect face. And the most perfect smirk to go with the most perfect face she’d ever seen. And to go along with the perfect brown skin and the—gah—muscles. The only thing not perfect about him was the scar that bisected one of his dark eyebrows and the furrow between said eyebrows.

“Seen enough, princess?” The giant’s voice resonated to her very marrow, and she nearly shivered with the desire to climb him like a tree. She barely registered that he spoke English with an American accent. She didn’t even take exception to the fact that he’d called her “princess.” That should hit a sore spot, but she wasn’t about to let it. Now that she was single, she needed to store this kind of thing up for her spank-bank.

But she knew it was probably better if she said something sooner or later. Before that drool started from the corner of her mouth and after memorizing the pattern of his chest hair. “Who are you?”

“Who the fuck are you?” He reared back a bit and seemed to pull air with him. That’s the only way she could explain following him into the foyer, pushing past his big body without spending too much time trying to cop a feel. Indeed, who the fuck was she, trying to cop a feel of an angry giant? It might be time to admit that she was beyond needing spank-bank material and right in the neighborhood of need-to-get-laid-right-now.

“Where’s Tia Lola?”

“You mean Señora Hernandez?”

“Do you ever answer questions without questions?”

“Only when I get my questions answered, princess.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Answer my questions.”

She’d had about enough of his bullshit, but she surmised that the best way to get her questions answered was to give him what he wanted. “Okay. No, I haven’t seen enough because I’ve been sleeping with the same guy for three years, and he doesn’t look nearly as good as you in boxer briefs. Or at least he didn’t before he dumped me.” It felt so good to say exactly what was on her mind. With Geoff, she’d always had to watch her words. She took a breath, and continued while he still looked taken aback. “I’m Carla Hernandez. Lola Hernandez is my father’s aunt. I’m here to bring her—something.” She felt like a drug dealer carrying around this much money, but it was impossible to transfer American money to Lola’s bank account in Cuba.  She didn’t want to say money, because while the giant appeared to be benevolent and had certainly made himself at home here, she couldn’t be sure. “Now, who are you?”

“Jonah Kane.” Of course he had to have a name that sounded like he looked. He appeared to be wearing boulders under his skin. Of course his name would be hard, like rock. “I’m here working on a book, and I’m renting a room here.”

“You’re a writer?” she asked, surprised. “I know some writers have crazy rituals to make sure things get done, but leaving the U.S. just to get away from reliable Internet seems extreme.”

“I’m a photojournalist.”

That piqued her interest, but it seemed past due for him to put his pants on. For one thing, his body was going to give her a heatstroke-related seizure if she was exposed to it any longer. He was so hot it was starting to make her mad. For another thing, she could feel his judgmental glare and didn’t like the way he said princess—it was an insult disguised as an endearment, and she didn’t need that.

“Can you please go put some pants on?”

He leaned one hand on the bannister of the stairway leading to the bedrooms, with a sexy, cocky half-smile on his face. “Why? I thought you were getting a great show?”

Carla wasn’t going to rise to the bait of a jerk like that. She’d grown up with two of them—both her father and brother were a handful—so she just pointed upstairs. “Pants now, unbearable ego later.”

* * * *

Jonah stomped up the stairs, still cranky from his rude awakening. Mrs. Hernandez had told him her niece was coming for a visit. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but it wasn’t the woman who’d showed up at the door.

He’d perked right up when she gave him a slow once over, worrying that he’d have an inconvenient hard-on, one that he couldn’t control, for the first time in years. She wasn’t his usual type. His last girlfriend—if you could call her that—had been a foreign service officer in Kenya. Shannon spoke multiple languages and could handle a bit of rough in the bedroom—hell, she’d loved a bit of rough. Ultimately, the only place they were compatible was in bed, but she was the kind of woman he’d end up with.

Carla Hernandez was a pretty little pixie sprite who reeked of privilege. He wasn’t a big shopper, but it didn’t take a genius to guess that her outfit probably cost more than all the furniture in his New York apartment. She showed up from the U.S. in an all-white little suit thingy—like the kind toddlers wore. If that didn’t say idiotic rich girl, he wasn’t sure what did.

If he’d started in on any of the things he wanted to try with her—pushed her up against the wall and shut up her throaty little cock tease of a voice with his mouth—he’d probably ruin her clothes and maybe crack a rib.

No, the freckled redhead was not his type, but she’d managed to get under his skin in about ten seconds flat, and he hated that. He’d negotiated his way out of getting kidnapped by a terrorist group, and he was having dirty sex fantasies about a woman who would balk at the first hint of a spanking. Maybe he wasn’t being fair, but his gut told him that Carla was trouble, that it would be best to stay away. That pert, upturned nose combined with the deep smoky voice might make her sexy as hell, but he didn’t have time for a regular girl, much less a princess like her. Make him put on pants. He should have dropped his boxer briefs just to see what she’d have done. He smiled at the idea of shocking her.

When he got back downstairs, she was sitting on one of the old, falling-apart chairs in the room that Lola insisted on serving her tea in every afternoon, even though Jonah preferred beer. But, every afternoon he was there. He sat his ass down anyway and drank tea from the chipped service Lola had inherited from her grandmother.

Carla looked fresh and unconcerned as she pressed the cuff of her shorts flat with her fingertip, as if she was ensuring they were still straight. Like a nervous tick. She’d said she was here to give her aunt something, but she hadn’t said what that something was. He’d grown fond of Lola, and he didn’t want anyone taking advantage of her, including her own family.

“What are you really doing here?” His voice was overly harsh, and she jumped. He was usually careful about how he used his voice and his size, which wasn’t necessarily an asset in his line of work. Not many subjects forgot that he was there when he took up so much space.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business.” She might not see it, but that didn’t matter. He wasn’t about to let any avaricious relatives get at a woman who’d treated him like a son during the months he’d been in Havana. “But, if you must know, I’m here because Lola needs help updating this place.”

Jonah looked around. He could see that, but he still didn’t trust that Carla wasn’t scheming to get this place out from under Lola and ship her great aunt off to some retirement home/purgatory until the woman kicked it. Jonah didn’t trust women with perfectly pleated white shorts or prissy-ass attitudes.

He sat down on the chair opposite her and it creaked in protest. “Doesn’t seem like it needs much updating to me.”

Carla brushed a large strand of red hair off of her face and behind her shoulder, revealing a swath of milky, freckled skin that make him think of summer. Innocence. When he looked up at her face, her plush lips were twisted into a suppressed smile. She’d caught him checking her out. And now she’d be on some power trip about how he wanted her—which, of course, he didn’t.

“It does need updating if she wants to turn this place into a successful B&B once tourism travel completely opens up.”

“She’s never said anything about wanting to do that.” Jonah pulled on his earlobe. “I think this place is charming as is. It’s a historical landmark. You’re probably wanting to tear out everything nice about the place and put in a one-hundred-thousand-dollar bathroom.”

She grimaced. “That’s mighty presumptuous of you. And, like I said, this isn’t any of your business.” She got up on her feet then. Her high heel echoed against the bright, mosaic stone floor.  “Where’s my aunt?”

“Great aunt.”

“I’m well aware of our relationship to each other. Where is she?”

“She’s at the park, playing checkers with her friends. She usually comes back around four and makes tea.”

She mumbled, “I hope she has rum for the tea.” She hefted her carry-on and roller bag and walked out of the room.

He had to fight himself to keep from grabbing her bag and carrying it up the stairs for her. And then he had to fight his hard-on again when she turned around. She might be lean, but her ass was to die for. His heart picked up at the thought of palming it, and an image of her mouth, wide with the shock of taking him inside as he grabbed both half-globes, took him over for a split second. Not even her grumbling something about being a gentleman stopped him from thinking about what she’d look like naked and wanting him.

He did not have time for this shit.

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About the author and where to find her: 

Andie J ChristopherUSA Today Bestselling author Andie J. Christopher writes edgy, funny, sexy contemporary romance. She grew up in a family of voracious readers, and picked up her first Harlequin Romance novel at age twelve when she’d finished reading everything else in her grandmother’s house. It was love at first read. It wasn’t too long before she started writing her own stories — her first heroine drank Campari and wore a lot of Esprit.

Although, she set aside writing fiction for a while, her love of romance novels stayed with her through college, law school, and multiple cross-country moves. During one long East Coast winter, she decided writing a book would be a good excuse to avoid braving the elements. It was love at first write. Her heroes are dirty-talking alphas, and her heroines traded Esprit for Free People. (None of them would turn down a Campari, though.)

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Review: A New Leash on Love (Rescue Me #1) by Debbie Burns

New Leash

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When Craig Williams draws the short straw and has to take his daughter’s adorable new puppy to a shelter after the holidays, it’s just another painful episode in the fall-out of a miserable divorce. He needs to pick up the pieces of his life, and, after a fiery confrontation with Megan Anderson, the young woman running the shelter, he wants to put the whole episode behind him. However, when he keeps finding new ways to reconnect with her, he realizes Megan’s compassionate and caring nature just might be the perfect salve for his broken heart.

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 4/5 stars

Megan Anderson’s least favorite time of the year is the after Christmas regrets phase when families who were so stoked to have a new pet at Christmas have suddenly realized the realities of caring for a fur baby.  When the acceptance has set in, those families begin surrendering their pets to shelters like the one Megan runs. 

Craig Williams doesn’t want to be the bad guy, but he’s been starring in that role for a long time, and as the bad guy, it’s his job to surrender his daughter’s Christmas puppy to a shelter.  The whole process leading up to the surrendering of the puppy has been utterly miserable and if he can just get through this, things may actually start to look for him.  And then he meets Megan Anderson at the shelter and his day goes from bad to worse.  Not only is she angry about his surrendering of the puppy, she’s livid and lets him know in no uncertain terms exactly how she feels about his entirely selfish decision to give up his pet. 

To be sure, Craig is cranky about Megan’s outburst, but he’s also intrigued by a woman so passionate about the animals she cares for.  As luck would have it, his daughter changes her mind about the puppy and Craig finds himself right back in Megan’s world and happy to be there.  Megan falls instantly for Craig’s daughter and his daughter falls instantly in love with the shelter and wants to become involved.  As fa as Craig is concerned it’s a win/win and he has no intention of denying his daughter her passion.  If Craig is tremendously lucky, he may even get to experience a little of his own passion. 

Megan isn’t afraid to date, but she doesn’t do so all that often.  Her job at the shelter is a full-time job for two that she does with the help of just a few part-time volunteers and that leaves very little time for a personal life.  Additionally, since he split from her fiancé, Megan has been hesitant to give her attention and/or her heart to anyone.  But, Craig Williams is a cat of a different color and he is certainly worth her limited free time and attention.  The only real difficulty for Megan is the inclusion of Craig’s daughter in her world.  Make no mistake, Megan adores Craig’s daughter, but as she finds out more about their family’s background, Megan is hesitant to risk hurting the youngster. 

Turns out, dating on the down low is all kinds of sexy and fun, but both Megan and Craig know they can’t go on this way forever.  Not only does Craig’s daughter (and son!) complicate their romance, so do issues at the shelter, and Megan’s own past which she hasn’t completely dealt with.  It seems every time Megan and Craig gain a little ground, some fresh hell crops up to knock them back more than a few steps.  When the final straw lands on the proverbial camel’s back, Megan does the only thing she knows to do, she hightails it to her mother’s house and seeks the solace and resolution she has not often found there.  With any luck and a lot of conversation, Megan will be able to deal with her past so she can address her crazy uncertain future and her feelings for a man she never meant to love.

The Bottom Line:  I am a sucker for a book with animals in it and the fur babies certainly helped me to more thoroughly enjoy this book!  Both Megan and Craig are very likeable characters who each have a good deal of crap in their respective pasts to make them wary of love and romance.  There is plenty of conflict and difficulty in this read to keep the pages turning quickly and enough emotional turmoil to keep one wondering at the possibility of a HEA.  Rest assured, dear reader there is an HEA in this one and getting there is so vey worth the time and effort.  Though Goodreads lists this read as book one in a series, it can absolutely be read and enjoyed as a standalone.

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Review and Sweepstakes: Elliott Redeemed (Book #2: Preload Series) by Scarlett Cole

Elliott Redeemed

Elliot “Pyro” Dawson burns up the lead guitar like a legend. But the nickname Pyro isn’t just a clever play on words. It’s much darker. A past he’s fought like hell to overcome.

Grocery store cashier Kendalee Walker is at her wits end and homeless. She’s watched her fourteen-year-old son, Daniel, go so far off the rails, he can no longer see the tracks.

When the two are brought together, attraction flares, but can Elliott find the family he never had with the sexy woman and her son, or will he fall back on dark habits?

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

There are a few authors in my world I feel never, ever let me down and Scarlett Cole is absolutely one of those authors!!  Elliot Redeemed, the second book in the Preload series is wonderfully strong and incredibly moving!

Elliott Dawson is exhausted and that is how he spends most of his life.  Make no mistake, the time he spends on the road with Preload is worth the tired, but the time he spends struggling with his darker desires, that’s not worth the tired.  Elliott’s darker desires have been under control for many years now, but it is truly a daily struggle to maintain that control.  His desire for fire sometimes becomes nearly overwhelming and there is nothing Elliott can do but escape to his safe place and create a blaze that burns off his anxiety and reduces some of his exhaustion. Elliott has long thought this exercise is the only way he can continue to control his dark desires, and then he meets Kendalee Walker.

Kendalee Walker once had it all; the doting husband, the well-mannered and handsome son, and a home and bank account that allowed for serious comfort.  That all went away when she caught he husband in bed with another woman and her now-depressed and angry son burned down their home.  Kendalee is now broke, her marriage is over, and her son has burns over a significant portion of his body.  The only thing that seems to brighten their seemingly dismal future is the completely random and unexpected visit from Elliott and one his bandmates, a service they offer exclusively to the children’s hospital.  As it turns out, that visit changes everyone’s life.

Elliott understands his connection to Kendalee’s son (fire and abuse!) but, he can’t explain nearly as easily his connection to Kendalee.  Kendalee sparks (HA!) everything good and protective in Elliott and quiets the demons and dark desires he battles constantly.  For the first time in his adult life, Elliott can see beyond his own colossal struggles and can envision a future with true and lasting happiness.  All he must do is convince an extremely guarded and wary woman that he’s not only good for she and her son, but he’s exactly what they both need in their lives.  Oh, and he has to find a way to break it to her that he has his own issues with fire and abuse that will continue to be a factor in their lives forever. 

The Bottom Line:  Holy Hell!!  I’m not sure how dark it got in Scarlett Cole’s head when she was writing this book, but what came out on the pages is awfully dark.  In fact, I think this may be the darkest book of the entire world/series – Second Circle Tattoos included!  This book runs the gamut from arson/pyromania to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, to extremes in love and devotion.  There isn’t a reprieve of any kind once you start this book so be prepared for all the feels and prepared to experience a sleepless night because you aren’t going to want to put this one down.  I thoroughly enjoyed this read, but need to make clear to protentional readers, this isn’t an easy read.  Oh, the writing is flawless so that part is easy, but the topics touched on are very dark and emotionally challenging.  There was no way I was turning down the challenge and I simply can’t wait for the next book to hit the shelves!

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About the author and where to find her:

Scarlett Cole

The tattoo across my right hip says it all really. A Life Less Ordinary. Inked by the amazingly talented Luke Wessman at the Wooster Street Social Club (a.k.a. New York Ink). Why is it important? Well, it sums up my view on life. That we should all aspire to live a life that is less boring, less predictable. Be bold, and do something amazing. I’ve made some crazy choices. I’ve been a car maker, a consultant, and even a senior executive at a large retailer running strategy. Born in England, spent time in the U.S. and Japan, before ending up in Canada were I met my own, personal hero – all six and a half feet of him. Both of us are scorpios! Yeah, I know! Should have checked the astrological signs earlier, but somehow it works for us. We have two amazing kids, who I either could never part with or could easily be convinced to sell on e-bay.  I’ve wanted to be a writer for a really long time. Check through my office cupboards or my computer and you’ll find half written stories and character descriptions everywhere. Now I’m getting the chance to follow that dream.

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Review: The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Life . . . .

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On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time–and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.

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Source: Natgalley          My Rating: 4/5 stars

It’s not often I get to the end of a book and must really think about if I liked it or not.  I can’t honestly say I liked Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Life She Was Given, but I can say I appreciated so much about it that I am able to genuinely award this book a very solid four-star rating. 

From beginning to end, this book is the twisted and sad story of a family warped by fear, religious extremes, hatred, and ignorance.  Lily Blackwood is just ten years old when she’s forced to leave her family and join the circus.  As one of the so-called “freaks,” it is Lily’s job to awe and amaze circus goers with her otherness, but at ten years old, all she really understands is having been abandoned by the only two people she has ever known in her entire life, her parents.  Lily’s first months and years with the circus are marked by moments of pure terror, fear for her life, and only a few moments of true happiness.  Sadly, this cycle will be never-ending and not truly understood by another human being until nearly two decades later when another family member uncovers the truth of Lily Blackwood’s life.

When Julia Blackwood returns to Blackwood Manor, it is under a cloud of despair.  Her parents are both dead (though not particularly missed) and the home she has inherited is marred by years upon years of bad memories.  In so many ways, the house feels haunted and as Julia begins picking her way through the rooms, many of which she was never allowed in, she discovers a whole host of evil and awful secrets kept from her by her deceased parents.  With little in the way of answers, Julia turns to the Manor’s farm hand to help he unravel the mystery of her home and family.  What Julia discovers brings to mind the old adage, ignorance is bliss.

As Lily and Julia’s stories unfold, it brings them ever closer to colliding.  As the past hurtles toward the present, Julia is faced with some very difficult decisions about her future and the future of the seemingly cursed Blackwood Manor. 

The Bottom Line:  As this was my first Ellen Marie Wiseman book, I wasn’t precisely sure what to expect.  I can’t say I enjoyed this book as the plot is just so dark and twisted and filled with so much tragedy and precious few moments of happiness.  There is actually one scene I couldn’t even read ☹   What I did like is the craftsmanship involved in the writing of this book and the ability, on the part of the author, to let this tremendously sad tale be just that, a tremendously sad tale.  Wiseman makes no attempt to make this something more than what it is, to take generations of anger and hurt, ignorance and fear and make them all suddenly disappear with the revelation of the secrets.  In all, I found this book both disturbing and unsettling in the best way possible and immediately went to Amazon and bought two other of Wiseman’s books, The Plum Tree and What She Left Behind.

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Double Review: Shut Out and Cross Check (Books #1 and #2: Bayard Hockey Series) by Kelly Jamieson

Shut Out

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The Bayard College hockey team isn’t where Jacob Flass thought he’d be a season ago. He was a rising star in the Canadian major junior league, cruising toward a spot on an NHL roster—until a single disastrous night on the town brought it all crashing down. Now he’s out of options, except for playing well, studying hard, and staying away from girls. He’s not supposed to be flirting with the hottest, sweetest chick he’s ever met. But how could he possibly stay away?

Skylar Lynwood knows that Jacob is out of her league. She’s just trying to go with the flow, which isn’t easy when six feet and four inches of total hockey hunkiness is making a play for her one moment, then giving her the cold shoulder the next. Skylar’s head tells her that this rugged athlete isn’t worth her time, but her body says something altogether different. Risking her heart for Jacob may be the craziest thing she’s ever done . . . but she won’t let him shut her out.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: Purchase          My Rating: 3½/5 stars

After an extremely rough year, Skylar Lynwood has resolved to do and be better.  Her grades are going to come up, her relationship with her best friend is going to be righted, her volunteer work is going to increase, and there will be no boys to distract from any of her resolutions.  Absolutely no boys! 

And then Fate giggled . . . .

Jacob Flass had one tremendously bad night which has landed him in the one place be never thought he’d be, college.  From the time he could skate, Jacob has been on the ice and has developed a deep and abiding love for hockey.  His talent has taken him to the brink of the NHL draft and if it weren’t for that one seriously awful night, he’d be well on his way to forging his future in the NHL.  To make matters far, far worse, Jacob’s stint in college has come with conditions and if he doesn’t meet those conditions and keep his nose clean, his chance at a hockey career will be permanently erased.  That means good grades, no partying, hard work on the ice, and absolutely no girls.

And then Fate giggled . . . .

To keep one another on track, Jacob and Skylar hatch a plan to fake date.  Once word gets out, the puck bunnies will leave Jacob alone and Skylar gets the benefit of a new friend.  On the surface, fake dating is super easy.  All you must do is convince others you’re a couple and that’s simple when you’re already incredibly attracted to one another.  Fake dating behind the scenes is far harder and keeping your feelings at bay is a tremendous effort.  For Jacob, he finds comfort in just being near Skylar and for Skylar, Jacob offers not only friendship, but the reawakening of feelings she thought gone after a horrifying event at the hands of her now dead friend.  It only takes a hot minute for all the lines to become blurred, the clothes to come off, and all the resolutions to be thrown out the window. 

It’s when the clothes come off and the lines become blurred that things go from good to great to ridiculously awful!  Friends with benefits/fake dating doesn’t really suit either Jacob or Skylar, but both are too afraid to share their true feelings and reveal all the secrets of their respective pasts.  Throw in an angry and vengeful best friend (Skylar’s!) and there is nothing to do, but wait for the inevitable train wreck to happen.  What no one counts on is both Skylar and Jacob’s resilience and their intense desire to overcome their obstacles and be together. 

The Bottom Line: Overall, I enjoyed most of this read, but found it to be a bit soap-boxy in some areas.  Skylar and Jacob are both solid characters I had no trouble getting behind and rooting for, but where I fell a bit off the Skylar-loving band wagon is any time beyond the first one or two times she preaches about the instances of rape and sexual abuse on college campuses.  Do NOT misunderstand me, this is a critical and timely topic, but the reader is a bit hit over the head with it too many times in this read.  Skylar’s position is made clear early on and reiterated with her volunteer work and activities.  She doesn’t need to talk about it at every turn and when coupled with Jacob’s own past, it just becomes a bit too much.  The point could have very much been made with a few less beatings of the dead horse.  With that being said, I liked nearly every other aspect of this read from the fake dating to real dating trope, the team of hot, sexy, funny, and intelligent hockey players, and the troubled roommates.  I can’t say I would recommend moving this book to the top of your TBR, but I wouldn’t ignore it either.  After all, there’s a whole team of hockey players . . . . .

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Cross Check

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Ella Verran has three goals this semester: get off academic probation, repair her relationship with her friend Skylar, and take some responsibility for her life. All of which are hard enough without hot, snobby hockey player Ben Buckingham around to distract her. Ella can’t stand Ben, and she knows the feeling is mutual. But he’s best friends with Skylar’s boyfriend, so he’s always around—taunting and tempting Ella in ways she never thought possible.

As the star forward of the Bayard College hockey team, Ben has goals too, like playing well enough to land a spot on an NHL roster. Ben is perfectly poised on the ice, so why can’t he keep his cool around Ella? Her wild behavior rubs him in all the wrong ways—and a few of the right ones. But as they skate around each other, Ben learns that there’s more to Ella than her bad reputation. And when the line between love and hate starts to blur, he can’t resist crossing over and sweeping her off her feet.

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 3/5 stars

Round two of the Bayard Hockey series opens with Ella Verran, roommate to Skylar, current campus slut (or so the rumors say), enemy to the stunningly sexy Ben Buckingham, and a girl in desperate need of counseling.  Since the loss of her two best-friends, Ella has gone a bit off the rails and if she doesn’t right the ship soon, it’s going to be too late to come back from the mess she’s made of her life.

Ben Buckingham is a big man on campus, known for his snappy dressing (or not if you ask Jacob!), his mad hockey skills, and his love of the ladies.  Though he’s never hurting for attention, Ben isn’t an indiscriminate lover, just honest and up front and somewhat selective.  Though he finds Ella attractive, he knows her reputation, and has yet to have a civil encounter with her.  When they’re in close proximity to one another, it takes a whole millisecond before the sniping begins which makes the attraction Ben feels toward Ella all the more uncomfortable.  It becomes downright painful when he takes more than a millisecond to actually talk to Ella and discovers he quite likes her.

With the start of a new semester, Ella has resolved to get her sh*t together.  Her grades will come up, her days and nights of hard partying and going home with virtual strangers is done, and come hell or high water, she’s going to repair her relationship with her best-friend, Skylar.  While even one of these goals would be daunting to most, Ella is determined to call on her discipline and will power to overcome every obstacle in her path.  The grades and friendship repair are solo missions but, Ella misses sex which makes being around the totally and undeniably sexy Ben Buckingham on a regular basis, a particular breed of awful. 

What starts as a clandestine affair, quickly becomes something more for both Ben and Ella.  The feelings between them are real and neither knows what to do with them.  For so long, Ben has hidden his past and his fears in an effort to keep people (mostly girls) at arm’s length.  If he doesn’t get too close, he won’t have to reveal his shameful secrets, but Ella makes him want to open up, to be closer.  For Ella, the tragedy of the last year has unloaded consequence after consequence and she isn’t entirely sure she’s even capable of truly feeling for someone.  Ben tests that theory at every turn and just as things seem to be going well, it all falls apart (again!) and all the secrets and fears come tumbling out and tear apart what could be a solid relationship.

The Bottom Line:  Like the first book in this series, I wanted to like this book more than I did.  I very much liked Ella and Ben and wanted them to succeed as a couple, but once again, there is a soap box quality to this read that was off putting.  Because there is so much repetition from book one, the theme of rape and sexual abuse and misconduct are prevalent in this book as well.  I found myself skipping over the soap-box passages which allowed me to enjoy the other parts of the read.  Again, I reiterate the importance of this topic, but not to the extent it’s dealt with here, again!  With all that being said, I’m still not done with this series as I really, really liked the ending to this one and want to see what’s next for the Bayard boys.

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Review: Chasing Wicked (Book #1: Wicked Series Series) by Kathryn L. James

Chasing Wicked

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Stone Mitchell was and always will be toxic.  Forbidden.  Poison.  I’d had a taste and it nearly killed me. Now, I knew better than to bite the apple.   He’d betrayed me in the worst imaginable way possible.  Six years later, I found myself riding out a dangerous storm with the cheating bastard.  Truths are uncovered. Deception unfolds. Passion ignites and chemistry explodes.  Adding to the drama? I hold a secret that’s unforgivable. I’m the one that ruined our second chance.  Yet, it’s Stone that comes for me with a vengeance.  He’s wicked. He’s wicked ruthless. Pure wicked sin.  …and I want another taste.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 4½/5 stars

Disclaimers:  I totally judged this book by its smokin’ hot cover and I don’t think the synopsis comes close to doing this book justice. 

Stone Mitchell doesn’t necessarily enjoy being a virtual recluse, but the circumstances of his life have rather dictated his seclusion.  Just before leaving for college, he was embroiled in a scandal of the naughty variety and during college, he was convicted of a crime and sent to prison.  Only one of those events, Stone is certain beyond doubt he isn’t guilty of.  What he is certain of, those two events cost him everything but his business and his business, though extremely successful, is cold comfort during the long nights.

Stone has resigned himself to the life he leads and holds little hope for anything changing anytime soon.  He sorely underestimated his delightful granny who has no intention of seeing her grandson go a minute longer without the love he so desperately misses and wants back.  Armed with new information about that awful sexual scandal, Stone just has to track down and convince one seriously angry woman to give him the second chance he’s still not quite sure he deserves.  Six years is a long time to hold a grudge, but Stone didn’t handle the fallout of the scandal well at all and knows he has an uphill battle ahead of him . . . . again.

Avery has spent six long years hating and loving Stone Mitchell.  He broke her heart, tore her family apart, and gave her the greatest gift imaginable, a beautiful little girl who has become her life.  Stone only knows about two of those things which make his reappearance in her life incredibly complicated.  When Stone blew out of town in the wake of the scandal, he left Avery crushed and pregnant.  With no intention of every allowing him back into her life, Avery saw no reason to ever disclose the existence of their daughter.  However, when Stone shows up with information that exonerates him, the game has changed and Avery is forced to reveal her secret to the one man she’s never been able to resist.

Stone’s initial reaction to Avery’s secret is absolute fury, but his daughter is pure joy and it doesn’t take him long to realize, if he wants to be a part of her life, he’s going to have to make an effort to control and get over his anger.  One thing is for sure, he’s never gotten over his attraction to Avery and falling into bed with her is as natural as breathing.  He wants to be with her, and he wants to be a full-time presence in his daughter’s life, but until they know the full truth about the scandal and work through their old hurts and fears, an HEA is going to be difficult.  Oh, and Avery is one stubborn woman 😊

The Bottom Line:  Once again, I am rewarded for judging a book by its delectable cover 😊  I got so much more out of this book than I anticipated and I am so very glad for that surprise.  From the very beginning I was drawn into this book, the characters, the awesome backstories (I LOVE BACKSTORY!), and the twisty, turny plot.  This one moves at a good clip and won’t be easy to put down once you get stated.  Avery and Stone are both full-bodied characters who are sympathetic and easy to like.  Their daughter and Stone’s grandmother are secondary character highlights, the naughty bits are delicious and appropriate, and the ending is crazy good!!  Though this story does have a proper resolution, the series is far from over.  Stone has brothers and granny ain’t done with her meddlin’!

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