BOOK REVIEW: Before We Were Strangers by Renée Carlino

During their senior year of college, in an NYU dorm tucked into the heart of the East Village, Grace and Matt struck up a friendship over Jeff Buckley, Pearl Jam, and the Ramones. She was going to be a world-class cellist and he was going to be a famous photographer, their paths destined to diverge after graduation.

Even after an afternoon pub crawl ended in their drunken, spontaneous wedding, their visions for the future never overlapped enough for them to be together. The summer after college, he left his “ex-wife” on good terms and went to Brazil to work for National Geographic. They vowed to stay in touch and see each other soon.

They never did.

Fifteen years later, back in New York City, Matt sees Grace as she boards the J train. They’re both different in a hundred ways, and yet they’re still the same. But just as they recognize each other, just as he understands what he left behind all those years ago, the train pulls away. His only recourse is to send a missed connections letter out in the world, and hope she remembers where to look.

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“You were always with me, Grace. I never found a way to let you go.”

It only takes one visit to New York City to understand why so many timeless works of fiction happen to take place here, why so many unforgettable love stories are inspired by this city, and just how many recognizable icons of this great metropolis are now reminders of some of the greatest books we’ve ever read. And we can now add another one to that list of greats. A love story spanning over more than a decade, this is the tale of two young people who simply met too soon in life to truly appreciate what they had found in one another, whose lives take off in different directions, but eventually bring them back to each other again, where they belonged all along, because their hearts would and could never love another. It’s a story that shows us that some loves have no expiry date, that some people are meant to be with one another no matter what, even when time is stolen from them, even when they are robbed of memories that could never be replaced, even when nothing could ever make them forget the bitter taste of regret from losing one another for so long. This was one of the most heartwarming romances I have ever read, a story I adored, and it made me miss the bustling streets of New York City even more, but knowing that next time I’m there, I’d be seeing it through these characters’ eyes too.

“You can’t re-create the first time you promise to love someone or the first time you feel loved by another. You cannot relive the sensation of fear, admiration, self-consciousness, passion, and desire all mixed into one because it never happens twice. You chase it like the first high for the rest of your life. It doesn’t mean you can’t love another or move on; it just means that the one spontaneous moment, the split second that you took the leap, when your heart was racing and your mind was muddled with What ifs?—that moment—will never happen the same way again. It will never feel as intense as the first time.”

Matt Shore and Grace Starr met on their first day of senior year at college, and from the moment they laid eyes on one another, they became inseparable. Both creative, strong-willed and independent, their shared quirkiness makes them perfect partners in crime, always encouraging each other’s artistic affinities and ambitions, and becoming each other’s muses and greatest fans, until the connection between them inevitably outgrows the bounds of their friendship and transforms into a romantic one. But as their final year of college comes to an end, their relationship all too quickly falls apart, leaving them heartbroken and mournful of all they had lost, forever wondering if they’d ever find such happiness again as the one they had found in each other’s arms.

“We were victims of bad timing. But here we are again.”

Fifteen years later and now both in their mid thirties, they see one another again for just a moment in time, and suddenly nothing can stop the memories of their time together from invading their every thought. But when they finally find each other and all the lingering questions about those missing years are answered at last, they are left with even more resentment and regret, their love having survived it all, but once again put to the test as their hearts struggle to forgive for all that was stolen from them.

“I missed everything, Gracie. I missed everything.”

A heart-wrenching, truly unforgettable tale of second chances at love, of two people whose love never died, never even dimmed, even though what was taken from them could never be given back. I rarely connect with two characters this way—I loved their every quirk, their every imperfection, their every insecurity, but I loved loved loved the way their hearts loved each other the most. Ms Carlino has a flair for dreamy, passionate love stories that warm our hearts and feed every romantic bone in our bodies, but this time around, she has given us a true gem, a timeless tale of a never-ending love set against the backdrop of a magical city she captured oh-so perfectly, a tale that I suspect will become a favourite for many.

“New York has an energy that takes root inside of you. Even a transplant like me gets to know the different boroughs, like they’re living, breathing organisms. There’s nowhere else like it. The city becomes a character in your life, a love you can’t take out of you. The mysteriously human element about this place can make you fall in love and break your heart at the same time. When you hear her sound, when you breathe in her scent, you share it with all the people walking beside you on the street, in the subway, or gazing from a tall building across Central Park. You know at once that you are alive, and that life is beautiful, precious, and fleeting.”

5stars

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BOOK REVIEW & EXCERPT: The Moment of Letting Go by J.A. Redmerski

You can follow the rules or you can follow your heart…

Sienna Murphy never does anything without a plan. And so far her plans have been working. Right after college, she got a prestigious job and gained the stability she’d always craved–until work takes her to the sun-drenched shores of Oahu and places her in the path of sexy surfer Luke Everett. For the first time, she lets her heart take control. Drawn to his carefree charm, she makes a spontaneous and very un-Sienna-like decision to drop everything and stay in Hawaii for two more weeks.

Luke lives fast and wild. When he meets Sienna, he’s convinced that some no-strings-attached fun is just what she needs. As their nights quickly turn from playful to passionate, Luke can’t deny the deep connection he feels. But there’s a reason Luke doesn’t do long-term. He can’t promise Sienna forever, when the enormity of his past has shown him just how fragile the future can be.

review

“We’re all stronger than our weaknesses. Sometimes we just need someone else to help us find that strength.”

Not all great stories make your heart skip beats, or leave your mind in a twist—some stories seep slowly from the pages, like a mist gently descending down a mountainside, and percolate your skin, your bones, your heart with the mere magnitude of the message they carry. This was one of those life-altering stories for me. I cannot tell you how much this book truly touched me, challenged me, confronted me, its timing almost uncanny given how much I’ve been personally pondering on these ideas of late. This is a love story, first and foremost, and yet at the very core of it lies a thought-provoking reflection on our purpose in life, on why we do what we do, on how much of us gets lost in the endless pursuit of money, success, security, and on the true meaning of happiness and freedom. I will admit that it took some time for this book to captivate me fully, its deliberate slow pace being difficult to acclimatise to at first, but once I became invested in the story, I could not think of anything else. Perfectly timed, flawlessly written, deeply relevant as all this author’s stories tend to be when it comes to exploring the human condition in all its multi-faceted beauty—I loved this book with all my heart and was once again reminded of Ms Redmerski’s extraordinary gift for extracting us from our own lives and letting us escape to another reality, all the while pondering on the life we left behind.

“Have you ever had that feeling when you know deep down that you should do something? Like if you don’t do it, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life?”

A twenty-two-year-old event coordinator for a high-profile event planning company from California, we find our heroine, Sienna Murphy, on an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii, in the final stages of organising a lavish wedding. But as good as she is at her job, it becomes clear from the very start that Sienna’s heart is no longer in it, the never-ending race to prove her worth to her boss and to her clients, as well as the large commissions that are constantly dangled in front of her, finally starting to lose their appeal and thus making her question her priorities in life. Overcome by stress caused by her latest project, Sienna finds herself in the midst of a mini-breakdown, and it is at this moment that she meets a man destined to change her life forever.

“Luke Everett is dangerous. He’s more dangerous than flying in a plane or jumping from a cliff into water or from a bridge attached by a giant rubber band or getting lost in the forest. Everything about him screams change and the unknown and if you let him in, your meticulously planned life will never be the same again.”

Luke Everett is a free spirit, a man determined to live an uncomplicated life, far away from the fast-paced daily grind of city living. He spends his days teaching surfing and working at a small local business, but as a lover of extreme sports and a firm believer of living life without fears, he is also hooked on the thrill and the sense of freedom he gets from leaping out of airplanes, climbing rocks, or jumping from cliffs with only a few seconds to deploy a parachute. And while he normally stays away from women he knows would never understand his lifestyle but rather run in the opposite direction the moment they find out about his daredevil pastimes, in Sienna he recognises the person he used to be, the person he left behind before he realised what his own fears had cost him. He is inexplicably drawn to her and he asks her to stay.

“I know this sounds crazy…it even sounds crazy to me, but I want you to stay.”

As a three-day business trip turns into a two-week vacation, we watch Sienna and Luke grow closer each day, discovering one another and all they could be together. With patience and understanding, Luke helps Sienna free herself from her biggest fears, thus inspiring her to find herself and her true potential, but while tackling Sienna’s obstacles, his own demons slowly come to the surface, exposing a guilt-ridden young man who resents every day he gets to live.

“I drank the sky and brought an angel down with me.”

This is a story about the fears that prevent us from being who we were truly meant to be, about the reasons and excuses we find to keep living unfulfilling, uneventful lives, while our hearts ache for more. It’s a story exploring the age-old argument of whether we are put on this earth to live to work, or work to live. It shows us what a person can find in life once they start living fearlessly, freely, embracing our true passions and divesting ourselves of our greatest fears. What begins as a tale of two opposites attracting, Sienna and Luke’s story quickly becomes a lesson in perspective, a lesson in priorities, a lesson in loving, a lesson in living life in the moment, fear-free, and unafraid of change. It’s a story that fed the hopeless romantic in me, while also leaving me pondering on my own life. And I loved every moment of it.

“Most people never let their feet leave the ground. Whether they’re afraid of heights, or afraid of hospitals, or they stay in the same place all their life because they’re afraid of change—so many people go through life on the ground and die without ever knowing that they can fly.”

5stars

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excerpt

She smiles ridiculously and shakes her head—I fight the urge to reach out and pull her down on my lap; the image of her bare thighs around my waist, my hands hugging the curvature of her ass…breathe Luke…just breathe.

“I’m not walking on your back,” she sort of laughs the words out.

“Why not?” I cock my head to one side.

“Well I think I’m a little too heavy to be walking on your back,” she says as if I should already know this. “And because it’s weird?” It was more a statement than a question, but something else she thinks I should already know, apparently.

God, she’s so fucking cute.

I roll my eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those girls who wears a size zero and thinks she’s fat.”

“No! I’m not one of those,” she defends. “I just don’t want to hurt you!”

I laugh without restraint.

“OK, well you’re not going to hurt me, I can promise you that.” I get up from the couch—with pretend difficulty—and step around Sienna and the coffee table and then lay on my bare chest on the floor. “Come on. It’ll really help me out a lot.” One side of my face is pressed against the rug as I look up at her at an angle. She stands over me with her flimsy arms crossed—I grow even harder beneath my shorts.

“No, Luke,” she laughs, “I’m not going to do it.”

“Yeah you are,” I say casually and wave my hand at her as if there’s nothing to it. “The only way you can hurt me is if you jump up and down really, really hard. Now get on.”

“No.”

“Please?”

She shakes her head repeatedly, her smile growing.

I break out the big guns.

“It’s the least you can do for me letting you stay here for free and have my bed.” I grin subtly, which I imagine looks strange with my cheek smashed against the floor.

“No!” She laughs out loud. “I’ll sleep on the couch from now on if that’s the case.”

With me? I want to say—and almost do—but restrain myself.

“No you won’t,” I tell her sharply. “What kind of guy would I be if I made you sleep on the couch while I was all sprawled out on the comfy bed? Now step on and start walkin’.”

“You’re crazy.”

Absolutely, one hundred percent, no-going-back crazy for you—I admit it.

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BOOK REVIEW: A Pound of Flesh by Sophie Jackson

Haunted by nightmares of her father’s street murder fifteen years ago, Kat Lane decides to face her fears and uphold his legacy of helping others by teaching inmates at a New York prison. There she meets arrogant Wesley Carter, who’s as handsome as he is dangerous, as mysterious as he is quick-witted, and with a reputation that ensures people will keep their distance.

As teacher and student, Kat and Carter are forced to leave their animosities at the door and learn that one should never judge a book by its cover. As Carter’s barriers begin to crumble, Kat realizes there’s much more to her angry student than she thought, leaving them to face a new, perilous obstacle: their undeniable attraction to one another.

When Carter is released and Kat continues to tutor him on the outside, the obstacles mount. Can they fight the odds to make their relationship work? Will Kat’s family and friends ever accept her being with someone of his background? And will Kat’s discovery of Carter’s role on the night her father died force them apart forever…or unite them?

review

“I’ve missed you my whole life.”

I’m constantly searching for love stories with unconventional settings, for a book to make me escape into a world that I wouldn’t immediately associate with romance, and this book most definitely fit the bill from the start. Partly set within the walls of an adult correctional facility, this is the story of two people whose every encounter in life could be seen as nothing more than a matter of happenstance, but whose paths crossed when they needed each other the most, saving one another in turn, and ultimately proving that some loves are truly written in the stars. Capably written, emotionally engrossing and even electrifying at times, it is hard to believe that this is Ms Jackson’s first novel, as her confident writing style impressed me from the very first page, and I cannot wait to see where her talent takes us in the future.

We meet them as adults in their mid twenties, but Kat and Carter’s story began on a cold night on a lonely, dark street in the Bronx, when a scared eleven-year-old boy saved a terrified little girl from being ruthlessly killed. While for Kat, every recollection of that terrifying night has haunted her dreams ever since, trapping her mind in a relentless slideshow of events that changed her life forever and stole her innocence from her, for Carter, the little girl’s courage, determination, and the memory of her peach-flavoured scent has comforted him in his dreams for the following sixteen years. And even though their very different upbringings turned them into two very different people, the memory of one another, however blurred or faded by the passing of time, remained something they have always fiercely protected and drawn strength from.

“She hated her fear; she hated the root of it, and she knew she had to face it head-on—even though she was terrified of it.”

Tired of feeling paralysed by her fears, Katherine “Kat” Lane hides those fears behind a façade of assertiveness and confidence, not wanting to feel like a victim ever again. Determined to make a difference in the world and find her purpose in life, while also facing her fears head-on, she finds employment as an English literature teacher at a prison, teaching the very same type of men who instilled those fears in her in the first place. And it is here that she meets Wesley “Wes” Carter, an angry young man whose cantankerous and volatile personality, coupled with a plentiful list of minor crimes and misdemeanours on his record, have caused him to spend most of his life in and out of detention centres. But while everyone only sees him as a “menace to society”, Kat is inexplicably drawn to him from the first time they meet, seeing past his hostile walls and desperate to help him.

“She’d known him all of two days, spoken maybe a dozen words to him, mostly through gritted teeth, but still she knew, deep down, somewhere in her stomach, there was something about him, something more—something that set him apart from the other students in her class. Something that called to her in a way she could never explain.”

And while their worlds try to pull them as apart from each other as possible, they grow closer each day, Kat’s fiery and strong-minded disposition being the perfect ‘antidote’ to the rage that constantly simmers under Carter’s skin. She challenges him and brings out the best in him, her persistence making her the first person in his life willing to go out of her way to help him. She melts away the anger churning inside him, soothing the fragile little boy in him who just wanted to be loved and not always be thrown away by those who were meant to love him unconditionally.

“I’m happy to have anything you’re willing to give me at this point. Just sitting here with you would be enough.”

As their relationship slowly morphs into the most meaningful one of their lives, we watch them battling the past as well as the present for one another. The story of a man crippled by the tentacles of his own fears of rejection and abandonment, and of a woman who is willing to fight the world for the right to love him—I loved every moment of it, and even felt compelled to find out how their story continues in the follow-up novella. I particularly enjoyed experiencing the intensity with which the author paints their every intimate encounter, their every touch exploding into an almost euphoric flame of passion that overwhelms them, devastates them, makes them lose control of their senses, and leaves them, as well as the reader, breathless in its aftermath.

“Her touch and words grounded him, while her kisses made him fly.”

But as much as I loved the way these characters communicate with their bodies everything they are incapable of expressing otherwise, I didn’t always connect with them in other less passionate moments, often failing to be moved by their circumstances and natural reactions. I personally felt the characterisation of the lead players as well as of some of the secondary ones in the story was at times incomplete, even contradictory, and thus one step short of getting me completely invested in them. That did not, however, significantly diminish my overall enjoyment of this beautiful story. I love stories of meant-to-bes, of people being meant for one another and never feeling truly complete until they find each other, and this story fed the dreamer in me, while keeping me glued to the pages cover to cover. I cannot wait to see what Ms Jackson has in store for us next.

“You’re everything to me, Peaches. You always have been. Always.”

4stars

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A Pound of Flesh – series reading order and links
anounceofhope

A Pound of FleshAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Love and Always
(follow-up novella): Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA
An Ounce of HopeAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Fate and Forever (follow-up novella): Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA

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BOOK REVIEW: The Paper Swan by Leylah Attar

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit.

They lie.

For 21 days she held on.

But on Day 22, she would have given anything for the sweet slumber of death.

Because on Day 22, she realizes that her only way out means certain death for one of the two men she loves.

review

“We are a question that hasn’t been answered yet, a hiding place that hasn’t been found yet, a battle that hasn’t been fought yet.”

Holy cow! What a spectacular book this was! Gripping and unexpected, this story literally took my breath away, and I not only found myself reading until dawn, but also incapable of moving on and picking up another book for days to come. Within an exhilarating scenario that is as unique as it is astounding, I never expected to find so many surprises, so many twists and turns at every corner, and I felt like I was on a joyride of a lifetime. But fear not because I will not spoil any of it for you, as each small discovery, each staggering revelation, each ‘sucker punch’ in the story has made this one of the most riveting, compelling, and truly unforgettable reads of my life. Not to mention, one of the most divinely written ones too.

“This was a murder-turned-into-abduction. This was a screwed-up moment of weakness. This was a personal, targeted attack against my father.”

There is no slow introduction into the storyline, no gradual easing into it for the reader—the story takes off ‘mid race’, as we find the heroine with a gun pointed at her head, abducted and facing death at the hands of a man she doesn’t know. Skye Sedgewick has lived a privileged life since birth, her only living parent showering her with love and attention, and never making her want for anything. And yet, at the mercy of her captor, powerless and facing imminent death, her mind draws comfort from recalling a time when she was just a child, when the sound of her nanny’s lullaby could erase all hurts, when her childhood best friend’s intrepid heart made her feel safe and protected, and when all it took to put a smile on her face was a pink-frosted cake and a paper giraffe. But even those happy memories do little to dissolve the utter gloom of her reality—held hostage on a boat by a man who shows her no compassion or empathy, whose mind games and bouts of cruelty slowly strip her of all hope and dignity, while they sail towards an unknown destination and an uncertain fate for Skye.

“I felt like all the bits that held me together were slowly coming unglued, falling off, piece by piece. I was disappearing, disintegrating like the rocks that get eaten by the sea.”

But as their journey continues, an unexpected attachment forms between captor and captive, and the more Skye’s childhood memories keep returning and offsetting her harsh reality, the more of the truth behind her abduction is revealed. Until the past and the present suddenly collide and our heroine and her captor, Damian, find themselves torn between what has been and all that their hearts tell them should be.

“There are no good guys or bad guys. Everyone has a reason.”

And that is when this story takes off on an unforeseen adventure of soul-searching, friendship, redemption and survival, an adventure where love is the ultimate prize and the past is the bitterest foe. As Skye and Damian succumb to their feelings, recognising a love that was written in the stars for them, they soon realise that that very love is the only thing holding vengeance back by a thread, a thread that can snap at any moment, and take it all away from them in one sweep.

“… there is no space too dark or too vast or too irredeemable that can’t be filled with love.”

There is so much more I could tell you about this story as I find myself here bursting to talk about it, but I have to remain vague so that you can discover and truly appreciate every facet of this beautiful tale the same way as I did—slowly and without warning. I will tell you, though, that no amount of imagination could have prepared me for any jaw-dropping moment of this passionate, thrilling, at times even gritty story of two people who have come full circle in life, only to find themselves torn between all they have gained and all they have lost.

“You can either choose love or you can choose hate, because where one lives, the other will die.”

I feel no amount of praise will ever do a book of this calibre justice. With its exquisite prose, almost poetic at times, the phenomenally framed characters, vulnerable and strong at the same time, the passionate, turbulent love story that pulls on every one of our heartstrings like a fine concerto, the richness of a storyline that is never predictable and consistently enthralling, this is a book I wish I could make everyone read. Because books like these are few and far between, and are nothing less than life-changing.

“It’s not over, you know, it never has been … you will always be my forever.”

6stars

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Other works by this author…
fromhislips

53 Letters For My LoverAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
From His Lips
(novella): Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback

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BOOK REVIEW: Three Little Mistakes by Nikki Sloane

I sell sex, sin, and pleasure, but it isn’t just my business, it’s my entire life. I get off on the power of controlling it all.

She’s the one woman I can’t have.

She threatens everything, and yet I can’t stay away. There’s a beautiful, sexual creature inside this timid girl that’s desperate to claw its way out. I’m going to set it free, even if it brings my empire tumbling down.

I have to believe she’ll be worth all the little mistakes I’ve made.

review

Who could I become beneath him?

Whoa! This was quite possibly one of the kinkiest, filthiest, my most titillating reads of the year, and my skin is still burning from every single mind-blowing sex scene in it. A red-hot delight that occasionally even pushed me to the limits of my own comfort zone, this is a story intended to make our hearts race and our bodies ignite, and the very light BDSM tang to it only added to the overall allure of it all. If you’re in the mood for a book that takes charge and never lets go…of your undivided attention, or you’re simply looking for a kinky ‘bed warmer’, this book will make your toes curl cover to cover…and possibly even give you a few ideas.

“I could be charming. My eyes were kind and my smile warm, or so I’d been told, and I played up the old southern accent I used to have when needed. I disarmed. No one suspected the wolf beneath my surface, and only a handful of people knew about him.”

We met Joseph Monsato in the first two books in the series, as the owner of the ‘blindfold club’, a man who reeks of power and authority, and never lets his guard down. Even with an impressive portfolio of very successful establishments around the city, his favourite and his most profitable club remains his only illegal one—the high class brothel where men pay escorts to fulfil their dirtiest sexual fantasies. And while known for occasionally ‘sampling his own product’ by having casual, consensual sex with the women who work for him, those ‘scenes’ rarely do more than satisfy a physical need in him, never leaving him craving for more or unleashing a possessive streak in him. Until a bright-eyed, self-assured young woman walks into one of his clubs and catches his eye. And then hooks him deep by simply evading every single question he throws her way—so deep that he finds himself constantly thinking of her and hoping he’d see her again.

“I watched men worship the naked bodies of beautiful women every Friday and Saturday night at my blindfold club, using their mouths, their hands, their cocks . . . but I’d become desensitized. The scenes on the security footage did little to arouse anymore. But this girl with the shocked expression? She started a burn inside me and brought me to life. Dangerous and thrilling.”

At twenty-three, Noemi has always followed her family’s carefully laid plans for her future, and while she was raised to be sensible, cautious, poised, she craves the freedom to be herself—to speak out, instead of always biting her tongue, to become an assertive woman who is in control of her own fate, instead of allowing others to keep a tight rein on her, to accept the sexual woman inside her who confidently acknowledges her sexual desires, instead of being ashamed and even a little afraid of them. Her attraction to Joseph, a man fifteen years her senior, baffles her, scares her, makes her want to run the other way every time she is near him, and yet his dirty mouth and his brazen propositions are as irresistible to her as the air she breathes, to the point where they become all she thinks about, day and night.

“Do you want to be bad?” I did, but twenty-three years of doing the right thing were hard to shrug off.

Before they know it, they are deep under each other’s skin, nothing left of the ‘casual’ arrangement they’ve entered into, and each sexual encounter bringing them closer and closer to ridding themselves of the binds of their own minds and pasts. Joseph’s dominance and need for absolute control trigger a sexual awakening in Noemi, and under him, she becomes wild and uninhibited, and eventually more confident and outspoken in other aspects of her life. He makes her feel alive, free, powerful, while her devotion to him compels Joseph to question his own mantra of ‘nothing lasting forever’…until one last secret between them puts all they’ve worked hard to build between them to the test.

“You’d be my submissive.”
“What?”
“You’d give me control over you.”
“I have enough people telling me what to do.”
“But my control would set you free, Noemi.”

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed every single second of this very sexy read, I found myself wishing that one particular secondary storyline had been explored in greater depth, capitalising on the angsty emotions it could have stirred in readers, rather than being wrapped up quickly, and too easily, even though it represented the nail-biting climax we had been waiting for from the start. It did not affect my enjoyment of the story, however, just left me hungry for more in that regard.

I’ve known for quite some time now that this author can write scorching sex like nobody’s business, and this book just proved that once more. But regardless of that very appealing fact, if you’re looking for a tantalising read, a story of finding your perfect match in life who empowers you to be the person you were meant to be, and make you feel safe to believe in a ‘forever’, a story that stirs up the romantic in you and satisfies a need for kink, look no further. And you might even walk away from it like me, thinking that perhaps three is never a crowd…or four for that matter.

I’d asked if she wanted me to ruin her, and she’d done it to me.

4halfstars

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Blindfold Club
(standalone stories with interconnected characters)
threehardlessons

Three Simple Rules: My ReviewAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Three Hard Lessons
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Three Little MistakesAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback

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BOOK REVIEW: The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward

thebourbonkingsFor generations, the Bradford family has worn the mantle of kings of the bourbon capital of the world. Their sustained wealth has afforded them prestige and privilege—as well as a hard-won division of class on their sprawling estate, Easterly. Upstairs, a dynasty that by all appearances plays by the rules of good fortune and good taste. Downstairs, the staff who work tirelessly to maintain the impeccable Bradford facade. And never the twain shall meet.

For Lizzie King, Easterly’s head gardener, crossing that divide nearly ruined her life. Falling in love with Tulane, the prodigal son of the bourbon dynasty, was nothing that she intended or wanted—and their bitter breakup only served to prove her instincts were right. Now, after two years of staying away, Tulane is finally coming home again, and he is bringing the past with him. No one will be left unmarked: not Tulane’s beautiful and ruthless wife; not his older brother, whose bitterness and bad blood know no bounds; and especially not the ironfisted Bradford patriarch, a man with few morals, fewer scruples, and many, many terrible secrets.

As family tensions—professional and intimately private—ignite, Easterly and all its inhabitants are thrown into the grips of an irrevocable transformation, and only the cunning will survive.

review

“You’re the love of my life, whether you’re with me or not.”

I have the biggest book hangover ever. I am literally struggling to find things to occupy my mind with just so I wouldn’t go back to re-read this fabulous, oh-so addictive, sinfully moreish book, because at the end of the day, no matter how many times I flip those last few pages, no new ones are going to appear. The first instalment in The Bourbon Kings saga, this is the devastatingly compelling story of a very prestigious Southern family from Kentucky—the Bradfords—and it follows the four Bradford siblings and all the scandals and heartbreak entailed upon them by being born into such wealth and privilege. The best way I can describe the feeling of reading a book such as this would be to say that if Dynasty and Downton Abbey had a baby, this would be it! I am telling you, this book will ruin you, break you, steal your breath away so many times, you’ll be breathing into a paper bag by the end of it, and once you recover, you’ll be begging for more more more!!

“I was almost over you, Lane. I was getting my breath back, my life back.”

While the story as a whole is comprised of a number of intertwined subplots as we get to hear several distinct voices belonging to each Bradford son or daughter, as well as their romantic interests, this book in a way belongs to the youngest Bradford child—Jonathan “Lane” Tulane Baldwine—and the woman he lost two years before but never got over—Lizzie King. Lane has been wasting his life away for two long years, hiding from the world in New York City and spending his days either drinking or playing poker, but the ill health of the only quasi-parent he’s ever loved suddenly brings the prodigal son back home, to a house he never wanted to see again, forcing him to face the woman he cannot stop thinking about.

“The one man she never wanted to see again . . . was going to come home.”

Lizzie has been working at the Bradford Family Estate for ten years, working her way up to become one of their most valuable employees. Independent, diligent, proud of her hard work and determined to make it on her own in life—nothing prepares her for the return of the youngest Bradford son, her body betraying her from the moment they lay eyes on each other again, but two years of separation have not even dimmed her heartbreak or the sting of his betrayal. Lane, however, is a changed man, unwilling to let the love of his life slip through his fingers once again, and prepared to do whatever it takes to convince her to trust him again.

“I’m prepared to be a very patient man when it comes to you. I will seduce you for however long it takes—give you space if you need it or follow you tight as sunshine on your shoulder if you’ll let me. I lost my chance with you once, Lizzie King—that is not going to happen again.”

Lane is not the only Bradford we get to fall in love with in this book, his sister Gin’s and older brother Edward’s storylines being even more captivating and intense at times. Virginia “Gin” Baldwine, is a woman who lost her self-respect a long time ago, a woman who feels deeply and hates herself for all her downfalls, and yet for all those around her she maintains an air of pride, perfection, superiority, and complete emotional detachment. Spoiled by a lifetime of depraved luxury and blessed with good genes, Gin is used to getting her way in everything, especially the men she sleeps with, but ever since she was a teenager, she has loved one man and one man alone—the only man she can never have. For almost two decades, she has played a torturous and unhealthy cat-and-mouse game with Samuel Theodore Lodge III—Samuel T. to his friends—a successful attorney and old family friend, always one-upping each other with their sexual conquests while maintaining a very casual friends-with-benefits arrangement between them. But when two very headstrong people play a cruel game with each other for too long, they eventually end up forgetting why they started playing it in the first place, possibly losing the only chance they get at finding their happily-ever-after.

“To sacrifice her body at the altar of money? Fine. She would do what she had to.”

And then there is Edward Baldwine, the eldest son and heir apparent to the Bradford ‘throne’, a man whose broken body coupled with a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father have forced him to leave his old life behind, and become a recluse who spends his days training horses and his nights drowning himself in self-pity and alcohol. But even as a shadow of his old self, his heart continues to ache for Sutton Smythe, the daughter of the Bradfords’ biggest competitor and Edward’s best friend since childhood, a woman he never claimed when he had a chance to but secretly loved all his life.

“You must know that I fell in love with you a long time ago. You must know it. How could you not? I’ve been following you around for years— is that why you hate me?”

While he fall head over heels with each Bradford sibling and the people they are destined to love forever, we also see them facing one common problem, a monumental setback that would change all their lives collectively and would require them to either join forces…or watch reality as they know it disappear in a puff of smoke.

A sinfully addictive telenovela-esque collection of jaw-dropping twists and turns, secrets and lies, set against a very enthralling backdrop of Southern wealth and privilege, I never wanted this book to end. Ever. I loved all the main characters, felt heartbroken over all their storylines, and cannot wait to see where the series takes us. In the meantime, I’ll be the one rocking in a corner, begging the universe to make the wait for the next book as short as possible.

“This is . . . your time, Lane. God has provided you with a sacred duty to keep this family together. You are the only one who can do it. This is all falling into place because it is your destiny to bind the blood once again. It happens every couple of generations. It’s happening now. This is your time.”

6stars

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BOOK REVIEW & EXCERPT: Him by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

They don’t play for the same team. Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions—can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend…and a big one to learn about himself.

review

“Jamie Canning was my first crush and my first love. But he was never mine to have.”

Be still, my beating heart… It doesn’t happen every day that two authors you love decide to write a book together, so this collaboration had me bouncing off the walls from the moment I got word of it, but this story, this sexy, fun, enchanting story was all I hoped it would be, and so much more. A wonderful testament of both these authors’ extraordinary talents, this is a story that pulled me in from the very first page, the flawless prose as captivating as the charismatic characters in it, but it was its heart-warming quality and the sheer emotion driving this love story forward, not to mention the blazing chemistry between the two leading men, that owned me cover to cover.

“I have the same damn weakness I’ve always had… My weakness is him.”

Former best friends, fellow hockey prodigies, Wes and Jamie used to spend every summer together at hockey camp, until a naughty little bet blurred the lines of their friendship, resulting in four years of silence between them. Now in their early twenties, both of them hockey stars in their own right, they unexpectedly find themselves in the same place at the same time, and memories of some of the happiest moments in their young lives start flooding back, every single one of them tied to those summer camps spent as best friends. But only one of them really knows why their friendship ended so suddenly.

“How do you apologize to someone for cutting them out of your life without so much as an explanation?”

As the star player of his college team and with an NHL contract already in the bag, Ryan “Wes” Wesley’s future could not be any brighter, his only regret in life being the loss of his best friend, the only man he’s ever loved, the very reason he was eventually forced to face the truth about his sexuality. His love life now being nothing more than a string of commitment-free hook-ups, Wes enjoys his freedom and ability to focus solely on his hockey career, but seeing his former best friend again stirs up in him feelings he thought were long gone, feelings he’s always known would forever remain unrequited. And memories of a time when those weeks spent together each summer were all he would look forward to all year long.

“My life has been chaotic for as long as I can remember, and I always dealt with it alone. My parents’ criticism, my confusion over my sexuality. But for six weeks every summer, I didn’t have to be alone. I had Jamie, my best friend, my rock.”

Jamie Canning never understood why he had lost his best friend from one day to another, always suspecting that their last wager might have affected them differently, but never accepting in his heart that one night of drunken stupidity could have ended a six-year friendship. So when Wes unexpectedly makes contact with him again, Jamie’s heart offers no resistance, eager to have his friend back and desperate for answers.

“Life is just a little brighter, a little louder wherever Wes is.”

One last summer before their professional careers take off, one last summer camp as roommates, six weeks to relive old memories and make new ones together—Wes and Jamie might be hoping to rekindle an old friendship, but they end up uncovering much deeper feelings for one another, feelings that would change the course of their futures forever. As they explore each other’s bodies and their own hearts in the process, we watch two young men come to terms with a reality that neither of them ever thought possible, their desire for each other only eclipsed by their unwavering determination to put their friendship first. We watch a young man being finally able to express all he’s ever felt for his best friend after a decade of secretly longing for him, and another young man facing a side of himself he never knew was there, a side that equally confuses and excites him, but also a side of himself he refuses to deny—both their journeys being equally compelling and believable.

“Was I hiding something from myself? Or was there nothing to suppress?”

A love story that hooks you in with its simplicity and honesty, I fell in love with every moment of it. It’s a story of two friends becoming lovers, of two men falling for one another and being willing to change their lives in order to put each other first. It is not a story about the struggles of being gay, about coming out to the world or one’s battle with their own sexuality—the focus of the story remains on the irrevocable bond and the sexual attraction between these two men, and the courage it takes to put love first. The perfect blend of sweet and sexy, this tender romance was such a delightful read!

“Loved you every summer since I was thirteen years old. Love you even more now.”

4halfstars

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excerpt

Boston’s skyline comes into view from my bus window well before I’m ready.

It’s a mere ninety minutes from Northern Mass to TD Garden. And I’m from Boston. The Frozen Four is always played at a neutral rink, but if anyone has a home ice advantage this year, it’s me. Playing in the Bruins’ arena is my childhood fantasy come to life.

Apparently it’s my jackwad of a father’s fantasy, too. Not only is he pumped up to invite all his asshole colleagues to my game, he can look like a hero on the cheap. He only has to spring for a limo, not a charter flight.

“You know what I like best about this plan?” Cassel asks from the seat next to me as he flips through the itinerary that our team manager passed out.

“That this event is like the puck bunny world headquarters?”

He snorts. “Okay, sure. But I was just going to say that they’re putting us up at a nice hotel, not some sleazepit off the interstate.”

“True.” Although the hotel, whatever it is, won’t be nearly as grand as my family’s Beacon Hill mansion a few miles away. I’d never say that, though. I’m not a snob, because I know that opulence doesn’t stamp out ignorance and unhappiness. Just ask my family.

We spend the next half hour snarled in traffic, because that’s just how it is in Boston. So it’s almost five o’clock by the time we’re finally unloading the bus.

“The gear stays!” our student manager shouts. “Take only your luggage!”

“We don’t have to schlep our gear?” Cassel yelps. “Baby, I’ve arrived. Get used to this treatment, Wes.” He elbows me. “Next year in Toronto, you’ll probably have a personal assistant to carry your stick around for you.”

It feels superstitious to talk about my NHL contract before the Frozen Four. So I change the subject. “That’s awesome, dude. I love it when another guy holds my stick.”

“Teed that one up for you, didn’t I?” he asks as we grab our duffels off the sidewalk where the red-faced driver has tossed them.

“Sure did.” I let Cassel enter the revolving door first just so I can grab the door by its handle, holding it with a tight lunge and trapping him inside.

Stuck now, Cassel twists around to give me the finger. When I don’t let go, he turns away and reaches for his belt buckle, setting up to moon me and whatever slice of Boston happens to be walking past the hotel on a windy April Friday.

I let up on the door and give it a shove, smacking him in the not-yet-bare ass.

Ah, hockey players. You really can’t take us anywhere.

Then we’re in the shiny lobby. “How does the bar look?” I ask.

“Open,” Cassel answers. “That’s really all that matters.”

“Truth.”

We find an out-of-the-way place to stand while we wait for the team manager to sort out the hotel rooms. But it’s going to be a while. The lobby is busy and getting busier. Our end of the room has a distinctly green-and-white color scheme, with our Northern Mass jackets everywhere.

But on the other end of the room another color catches my eye. It’s orange. Specifically the orange and black of another team’s jackets. They’re filing through the same doors we just entered, shoving each other and generally acting like testosterone hounds. It’s all very familiar.

And then the room tilts a little as my gaze locks onto a sandy blond head. I only need the oblique view I’ve got to recognize the shape of his smile.

F*ck me. Jamie Canning is staying at this hotel.

My entire body tenses as I wait for him to turn his head. To look right at me. But he doesn’t. He’s too engrossed in conversation with one of his teammates, laughing at something the guy has just said.

He used to laugh with me that way. I haven’t forgotten the sound of Jamie’s laughter. Deep and husky, melodic in a carefree kind of way. Nothing ever kept Jamie Canning down. He was the epitome of go-with-the-flow, probably because of his laidback California upbringing.

I hadn’t realized just how much I’ve missed him until this very moment.

Go talk to him.

The voice in my head is persistent, but I silence it by wrenching my gaze off Canning. With the colossal amount of guilt lodged in my chest, it’s now become even more evident that I need to apologize to my old friend.

But right this second I’m not ready.

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Other books by these authors…
theyearwefelldown
theyearwehidaway
blondedate_new
theunderstatementoftheyear
TheShamelessHour

The Year We Fell DownAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
The Year We Hid AwayAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Blonde Date (novella): Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
The Understatement of the YearAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
The Shameless HourAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback

Connect with Sarina: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

The Deal: My reviewAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
The Mistake
: My reviewAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback

midnightrescue midnightalias midnightgames midnightpursuits
aftermidnight midnightaction midnightcaptive midnightrevenge

Midnight RescueAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CAPaperback
Midnight Alias
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CAPaperback
Midnight GamesAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CAPaperback
Midnight PursuitsAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CAPaperback
After Midnight (novella): Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA
Midnight ActionAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CAPaperback
Midnight CaptiveAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Midnight RevengeAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CAPaperback

Connect with Elle: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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