BOOK REVIEW: Beautiful Secret by Christina Lauren

BeautifulSecret 322When Ruby Miller’s boss announces he’s sending her on an extended business trip to New York City, she’s shocked. As one of the best and brightest young engineers in London, she knows she’s professionally up to the task. The part that’s throwing her is where she’ll be spending a month up close and personal working alongside—and staying in a hotel with—Niall Stella, her firm’s top urban planning executive and The Hottest Man Alive. Despite her ongoing crush, Ruby is certain Niall barely knows she’s alive…until their flirty overnight flight makes him sit up and take notice.

Not one for letting loose and breaking rules, recently divorced Niall would describe himself as hopeless when it comes to women. But even he knows outgoing California-girl Ruby is a breath of fresh air. Once she makes it her mission to help the sexy Brit loosen his tie, there’s no turning back. Thousands of miles from London, it’s easy for the lovers to play pretend. But when the trip is over, will the relationship they’ve built up fall down?

review

“It’s yours, you know.”
“What is?”
“My heart, of course, but also my body. My hands, my lips, my cock. I trust you with all of it more than I even trust myself.”

My mind is still reeling because this book was my complete and utter undoing. I am writing this review while literally still hugging my now beloved paperback copy, secretly hoping that the beautiful words in it would somehow escape and infuse themselves into me forever. With one of the most phenomenal writing styles of our generation and flawless, iron-clad character development, this talented writing duo has given us once again an unforgettable, emotionally engaging storyline to become addicted to, this time with two incredibly intricate characters and a perfectly paced, meticulously crafted relationship that is never rushed, never even hurried, and solely driven forward by the characters’ emotional growth and self-awareness. I gobbled up every word, immersing myself into a story that had my attention from the get-go, and I fear I will never be able to fully express how much I truly adored this book.

“I’d been wrestling with my Niall Stella crush for six months, and I was pretty sure he still didn’t know that I was an employee at the firm rather than a regular takeout delivery girl.”

Ruby Miller is a twenty-three-year-old American intern at one of the largest and most successful engineering firms in Europe, now living in London. Attractive, smart, witty—Ruby’s open and honest personality shines through her every action, but is regularly stilted by her ongoing and downright distracting infatuation with her office crush—the very handsome but unreachable, Niall Stella. Fully aware that the object of her affections might not even be aware of her existence, she is happy to appreciate him from afar, relishing every moment spent in his presence, every stolen glimpse of the man who feeds her most intimate fantasies, but still secretly hoping that one day he’d notice her.

“What was it you said about repressed sexual energy?”
“Enough to power the whole bloody city, if you ask me. That’s where his real urban planning skill would come in—hooking himself up to the grid .”

Niall Stella is distinguished, reserved, his every step measured and poised, but behind that firm façade lies a man who is stuck in a rut of self-imposed boundaries and expectations, a man who struggles daily with regret and self-deprecation, his failed marriage having left a deep emotional scar that makes him question whether he could ever make a woman truly happy. His old-fashioned view on relationships and love in general is shaken from the moment Ruby enters his life, her vivacious and unrestrained personality, coupled with the kind of openness and honesty that is foreign to him, drawing him out of his shell and forcing him to push his own limits.

“Do you think I’m weird?”
“Yes, weird in the sense that you are unexpected and I am rarely surprised by people. I think you rather exquisite.”

When they find themselves together on a month-long business trip to New York City working alongside each other every single day, they quickly discover that their greatest difference lies in the way they perceive relationships and the way they each process the growing emotions they feel for one another. An extrovert by nature, Ruby’s honest and communicative disposition shakes the very foundations of Niall’s introverted, quiet reserve, making him feel adventurous, interesting, fun for once—sides of himself he never got to see during his decade-long marriage to a woman he barely knew. Everything he feels for Ruby is new to him, part of the uncharted territory of his inexpressive personality, thus forcing them to commence a carefully paced, open and honest exploration of what a sexual relationship between two such opposites might entail. And what it would take to overcome all the emotional hurdles standing in their way.

“If I wanted to make love to her tonight, I could. If I wanted to feel myself deep in her throat, I could. If I wanted limits, I would need to be the one to set them. But did I truly want limits, or did I think I should want them?”

What starts as a sexy, rather flirty storyline, quickly morphs into an even sexier but deeply emotional romance that is truly remarkable in its approach to the way these characters learn to discover one another, and themselves in the process. We hear both their voices throughout the story, that precious insight into both of these characters making us appreciate their deepest fears and hang-ups a lot more intimately.

I laughed, I cried, I felt my body burn from the sheer sexiness of too many scenes in this book to count, never knowing a guy merely touching a woman’s calf could make me literally combust in my own skin like that. And I felt every single emotion these extraordinary authors had expertly woven into this story. Their signature climax in the end carries that sweet punch of angst that we’ve become helplessly addicted to, perhaps even pricklier this time around as it left me a sobbing mess in its wake, only standing to show that there is no emotion these authors are unable to stir in their readers. A beautiful read, an astonishing love story, a couple whose journey I understood and felt from beginning to end—this is a book I would recommend with all my heart.

“And what if after the rush of conquest wears off, you’ll realize that I’m not what you’ve built me up to be?”

5stars

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BOOK REVIEW: Three Simple Rules by Nikki Sloane

threesimplerulesI would do anything for my dream job. Now I have to.

In order to save my skin at the office, I’m forced to sell it at an exclusive and illegal blindfold club.

He paid thousands of dollars for one night to own me, but when my blindfold comes off, I want more. More nights, more rules, and more from this unavailable and uncompromising man.

Rule number one, no questions.

Rule number two, no lies.

But, rule number three? That’s the hardest one to obey.

review

“I’m not interested in a relationship, but I am interested in you.”

Just… WOW. Talk about total sensory overload! One of the hottest stories I’ve read in a while, with possibly some of the best written sex scenes I have ever come across, this is a book I devoured in every possible way. And loved every delicious moment of it. Steamy, romantic, exhilarating—every twist and turn in this mouthwatering story was delivered just right, penned to perfection, and kept me hypnotized cover to cover. One of my most exciting reads of late, this is exactly the kind of erotic romance I tend to completely lose my mind over because apart from a fresh and interesting storyline, the sex scenes in it never bored me, they never stopped stretching my comfort zone, and I never stopped clinging onto every single word in them. Sometimes repeatedly.

“I was about to become a whore.”

Evelyn Russell loves her job. As a talented young designer at a prominent design agency, she is hungry for success and willing to give her all to achieve it. But when one simple mistake puts all her hard work into jeopardy, Evelyn is forced to sell her body, for one night only, at an exclusive BDSM club, where clients pay thousands of dollars for sex. The only catch is that she is to be blindfolded and bound during the act, as per club’s policy. Apprehensive but desperate, Evelyn is determined to go through with it, even secretly a little aroused by the idea of surrendering all her inhibitions to a man in such a way…but nothing prepares her for that man to be the one who pushed her into that predicament in the first place.

“Someone’s requested a hold be put on you. He’s not a member of the club, and only members have that privilege.”

Evelyn’s ‘buyer’—whom I won’t name so that you are not deprived of the thrill from discovering his identity on your own and at the right moment—is a man accustomed to getting his own way in his professional life, but craving that level of control in his personal life too. Evelyn is everything he hopes to find in a woman, the allure of her courage, willpower and confidence being his ultimate siren call, but he finds himself overwhelmed, both physically as well as emotionally, by the lustful vixen blindfolded before him and the ecstasy he finds in her arms as they consummate their one-night only arrangement.

“So, yeah . . . That was the best orgasm of my life.”

And so he takes off her blindfold and what follows is a oh-so sexy exploration of sexual tastes and fantasies, with only three simple rules guiding them through it, designed to challenge and explore the very essence of their self-control. As their relationship takes flight, what they eventually find in one another is exactly what they never even dreamed of needing—a person they would be unable to live without, in and out of the bedroom.

“You don’t get to ask questions, no matter what… Rule two is you answer my questions, and you have to answer them honestly… The last rule is your body belongs to me, so that means your orgasms are mine. You don’t come without my permission.”

I rarely enjoy such a relatively low level of angst and drama present in a story, but this story was truly an exception. It was exactly as I needed it to be for the sexual connection between the characters to take centre stage and thus become a crucial component of the evolution of their relationship, without sacrificing the emotional aspect of it all. These characters discover themselves through their sexual connection, and as sizzling as those scenes are between them, there is no doubt in my mind that this is first and foremost a romance, a love story between two people who found their perfect match in each other, and who are willing to put in the work for their relationship to survive.

I loved this book, unexpectedly so, and cannot praise it highly enough for the way it so seamlessly ‘married’ titillating erotica with heart-warming romance, all wrapped up into a flawlessly written, impressive little gem. It was a joy to read and it catapulted me right onto the next book in the series without a second thought.

“I would have paid twenty for you.”

5stars

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BOOK REVIEW: Deep by Kylie Scott

DeepPositive. With two little lines on a pregnancy test, everything in Lizzy Rollins’ ordinary life is about to change forever. And all because of one big mistake in Vegas with Ben Nicholson, the irresistibly sexy bass player for Stage Dive. So what if Ben’s the only man she’s ever met who can make her feel completely safe, cherished, and out of control with desire at the same time? Lizzy knows the gorgeous rock star isn’t looking for anything more permanent than a good time, no matter how much she wishes differently.

Ben knows Lizzy is off limits. Completely and utterly. She’s his best friend’s little sister now, and no matter how hot the chemistry is between them, no matter how sweet and sexy she is, he’s not going to go there. But when Ben is forced to keep the one girl he’s always had a weakness for out of trouble in Sin City, he quickly learns that what happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay there.

Now he and Lizzie are connected in the deepest way possible…but will it lead to a connection of the heart?

review

“You’re the only girl I want.”

Well, tickle me pink and call me a Stage Dive groupie for life, because this was the perfect ending to a series I adored beginning to end. We’ve been collecting clues about their relationship for so long, little breadcrumbs Ms Scott has been leaving here and there just to keep us speculating, and now we finally get to hear it all and fall in love with yet another couple in this crazy, addictive rock star family. As the entire Stage Dive mob comes together to take care of one of their own, we are given one of the most emotional and angst-ridden stories of the lot, and yet another reason to love this series and secretly hope we haven’t seen the last of them.

“The moment I came into Ben Nicholson’s orbit I was helpless, powerless to resist his pull.”

As the little sister of the wife of one of Stage Dive’s most rowdy members, Liz was immediately brought into the fold and regarded as family, but from the first moment she set eyes on him, she knew her heart would always beat for one man and one man alone—the bearded wonder also known as the group’s bassist, Ben Nicholson. Eight years her senior, Ben is a loner, a natural-born musician who cherishes his freedom and not having any ties in life preventing him from enjoying his rock star lifestyle, but even against his better judgement, he cannot fight the pull of the young woman who is set on seducing him and obliterate any semblance of self-control he pretends to have around her. One night of unrestrained passion, one night of pretending the world around them does not exist, and their fates become forever intertwined.

“It was like we were each other’s whole world. Nothing else existed beyond the bed.”

Finding herself an unwedded, expectant mother at twenty-one is not what Liz ever thought her life would amount to, but her heartbreak only deepens when she realises the man she has also fallen desperately in love with could never give her what her heart aches for the most—a permanent place in his life. So a friendship is forged for the sake of their unborn baby, a friendship that neither of them truly feel comfortable with or emotionally fulfilled by, but they try, against everything their hearts scream at them to feel…until they cannot pretend any longer.

“One day I’d find someone else who made me feel like Ben did. I just had to wait it out.”

But falling in love with a man who does not know how to make room for someone else in his life, a man already living his dream, proves to be a hurdle Liz never expected to have to face, especially with a baby on the way, adding an incredibly gripping level of angst to a story that is as emotional as it is entertaining. A story of two people finding in each other what they didn’t even know they sought and needed the most in life—a place to belong—this was the perfect send-off to a group of characters whose tales have each become favourites of mine. Ms Scott is an expect at giving us stories we become absorbed in, often giggling uncontrollably while our hearts are clenching from the underlying angst behind the jests, her colourful characters owning the pages they live on, and never losing our undivided attention. A drunken Las Vegas wedding between two strangers, an unexpected and rather hilarious match made in Heaven between two complete opposites, a story of unrequited love under the guise of a friends with benefits pact, and now this series gets its cherry on top with an unexpected pregnancy scenario that evolves into a truly touching and flawlessly paced romance between a kickass heroine whose strength of character is inspiring, and her bearded wonder, the man who never knew what his life was missing until he met her.

My heart is still hurting when I re-read some of my favourite scenes from this book, the deliciously prickly angst getting to me every single time. Another must read from this very talented author, another slam dunk in the series. Let’s hope it is not truly the last…

“Just give me a chance to catch up and I promise, Lizzy, I will have your back.”

5stars

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BOOK REVIEW: Fisher’s Light by Tara Sivec

fisherslight

Fisher, 
I guess this is it, huh? After fourteen years together, starting a life of our own on this island, five deployments and countless letters I’ve written you through it all, I finally go out to the mailbox and see something I’ve always dreamed of: an envelope with your handwriting on it. For one moment, I actually thought you’d changed your mind, that all the awful things you said to me were just your way of coping after everything you’d been through. I was still here, Fisher. I was still here, holding my breath, waiting for you to come back even though you told me you never would. You always said you’d find your way back to me. Out of all the lies you’ve told me, this one hurts the most. Enclosed you will find the signed divorce papers, as requested. 
I hope you find what you’re looking for. I’m sorry it wasn’t me. 
Lucy 

To get the ending they want, Lucy and Fisher will have to go back to the beginning. Through the good and the bad, they’ll be reminded of why they always made their way back to each other, and why this time, one way or another, it will be the last time.

review

“No matter what, I will always find my way back to you.”

The hardest thing to do when you find a book you end up loving body and soul is not to turn your review into an ode to the author and all the ways her words have moved you, thrilled you, inspired you, but I fear that I will fail miserably by the end of this review because this book took my breath away, and made me fall in love all over again with Tara Sivec’s spellbinding writing style. Heartfelt, gut-wrenching, romantic—this is a story that enthrals you completely, shutting out the world around you and overwhelming you emotionally until you cannot think of anything else. An epic love story like no other, Lucy and Fisher’s tale will forever hold a very special place in my heart, and it still brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it.

“My life has been spent waiting for this man to come back to me.”

Lucy and Fisher are high school sweethearts, each other’s first loves, each other’s only loves, but after Fisher’s five tours of duty over a fourteen-year span, the bulk of their marriage has effectively been spent living apart. Every single deployment has left Fisher just a little more broken each time, the horror of his memories continuously tormenting him and stripping him of his ever-waning grasp on reality. Until his terrifying fantasies start bleeding into his everyday consciousness, completely blurring the line between his past and present, thus putting in danger his very reason for living—his beloved wife.

“She is my heart, my soul, my everything and I know it’s only a matter of time before I do something that could possibly kill her.”

Lucy has spent her entire adult life as a military wife waiting for her husband to come back to her after his many deployments, making sure he had a loving place to come home to. In her early thirties, the owner of her own business, she has always worked hard to stay independent from her husband’s family legacy and wealth, the only thing she ever wanted out of life being her husband’s safe return and his love and devotion. But war has slowly changed the man she has loved since she was sixteen years old, chipping away at his sanity and the man who eventually returns after his last tour of duty is not the man she once knew.

“I’ve never felt so alone, even when he was halfway across the world. I’m living in this house with my husband and I get to see him every day, but it feels like I’m living with a ghost.”

As their past is revealed to us in snippets, their present and their past interlaced with one another and told simultaneously, we see their marriage as it came to be, we watch it survive distance and separation, and eventually succumb to the effects of the many traumatic events Fisher has lived and survived through, not to mention how little they know of one another by the end of it. With astonishing insight into the darkness of his mind and his struggle to keep it rooted in reality, we get to hear not only Fisher’s voice as he tries and fails to break free of the prison in his mind, but also the magnitude of Lucy’s heartbreak from the demise of her marriage and the gradual loss of her one and only love.

“I want to take away his pain, to stop the hurt that fills his heart and his mind, but I feel like I’m so far out of my depth that I’m drowning.”

And eventually, we see them lose it all. But this is not a story of lost love—this is a story of two people who have fought hard to stay together, to expel the demons tearing them apart, and who are forced to fight even harder to find their way back to one another. This is a story of second chances, of remembering the good and the bad that brought two people to a particular point in their relationship, and of never forgetting the great, once-in-a-lifetime kind of love that never allowed their bond to be truly broken.

“How many people get a second chance at love with the only person they’ve ever held in their heart?”

With impeccable, emotionally inspiring prose, Ms Sivec caught me by surprise with this novel, her once witty and entertaining voice now replaced by a more mature, confident writing style that made me regretful of having missed all the undoubtedly brilliant steps in the evolution of her craft. Even though this story is told in constant and often disjointed leaps from past to present, we are never distracted or confused by those leaps, as their tale becomes a puzzle that forms effortlessly in our minds, each new fragment of their past adding new layers to our perception of their present. By giving us a window into the psyche of both these characters, we grow attached to both of them in equal measure, our hearts breaking at their lows, and rejoicing at their highs. We get to feel the powerful love between them, and all they are willing to give of themselves in order to never let their bond wither away. This was one of the most intense, heart-wrenching stories I have ever read, as well as one of the most exquisite ones, and I wish there were a way to read it for the first time all over again.

“I’m going to remind her why we’re perfect for each other. I’m going to show her that there’s no one else on this earth that can love her like I can.”

6stars

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BOOK REVIEW: Rock Hard by Nalini Singh

rockhard2Wealthy businessman Gabriel Bishop rules the boardroom with the same determination and ruthlessness that made him a rock star on the rugby field. He knows what he wants, and he’ll go after it no-holds-barred.

And what he wants is Charlotte Baird.

Charlotte knows she’s a mouse. Emotionally scarred and painfully shy, she just wants to do her job and remain as invisible as possible. But the new CEO–a brilliant, broad-shouldered T-Rex of a man who growls and storms through the office, leaving carnage in his wake–clearly has other plans. Plans that may be equal parts business and bedroom.

If Charlotte intends to survive this battle of wits and hearts, the mouse will have to learn to wrangle the T-Rex. Game on.

review

“Ms. Baird, have I or have I not made it clear that I would like you in my bed?”

When you put together a former pro rugby player turned CEO, a timid but mouthy assistant, and enough all-consuming sexual tension to burn up the pages, you get quite a delicious little package already. But add to that some rather phenomenal writing and flawless character development and you are in for a real treat. A sweet, slow-paced, very sexy romance between two people who are drawn to one another from the moment they meet, this story is not as straight-forward or as predictable as it might seem. Gently and sensitively interwoven with some heavier, much more intense emotional undertones than I ever expected to find in a story of this kind, this was a book I found to be absolutely impossible to put down. I adored the characters, I loved their unique connection, the snarky humour that colours their every exchange, and I was utterly charmed by the way their relationship slowly but surely takes hold, never rushed, never forced, thoughtfully and realistically mapped out from the start. A book I will most definitely re-read many a time, I urge you to meet and fall in love with Charlie-mouse and T-Rex.

“A petite but tempting morsel. Too bad she was terrified at the sight of him.”

Charlotte Baird is the girl no one notices in the office. Petite, unassuming, cloaked by figure-drowning clothes that are designed to make her feel invisible, she is self-conscious and unobtrusive, but behind the timid little mouse hides an intelligent and witty young woman, capable of much more than people give her credit for. Her traumatic dating past, however, has made it so that she now deliberately avoids attention of any kind, her bashfulness and fear of men being something she cannot control or escape from, both in her personal as well as her professional life. Her quiet existence is thrown off balance by the arrival of her new boss, a man hired to salvage the struggling company Charlotte works for, but one look at him and there is no doubt in her mind that he is the most compelling man she’s ever met. And the most intimidating one too.

“Gabriel Bishop was a gorgeous man… Too big and muscled and dangerous, but gorgeous. Like a tiger was gorgeous. Right before it ate you.”

Gabriel Bishop’s reputation precedes him wherever he goes. An ex-rugby star turned ruthless businessman, he is smart, driven, confident and successful in all his endeavours, but very few people in his life truly know the man behind the muscles and the tailored business suits. What comes across as arrogance and callous drive is a need to never again feel like that little boy whose whole life changed the day his father abandoned his family and left them fending for themselves. From the moment shy little Charlotte steps in front of him, he cannot get her out of his mind, the hidden fire in her eyes stirring something in him, a hunger he’s never known before, but it is her occasional smart mouth that intrigues him the most. So he makes her his new PA, forcing her to work daily alongside a man she is terrified of as well as viscerally attracted to, both being a constant challenge for Charlotte, especially since her new boss is also determined to get her in his bed. And has no qualms about expressing it. Unequivocally.

“If you tell me you don’t want me, I’m going to demand you give me your panties to prove they’re not damp.”

In a sexy game of “T-Rex and mouse”, we watch their relationship change over time, cross boundaries and evolve into what they both desperately want. But Charlotte’s hang-ups are a real obstacle to any intimacy between them, forcing Gabriel to handle her with patience and care, teasing, tempting and charming her out of her shell, thus allowing her to bloom under his loving touch at her own pace.

“The seeds of terror were hidden within her, could burst open at any time.”

I am still stunned by how much I not only enjoyed this story, but also felt emotionally invested in every aspect of it. There is a delightful streak of light-hearted humour tied in with the intense emotions driving this story forward, and it is this perfectly balanced contrast that hooked me in and kept me enthralled until the end. The characters are well-rounded and fascinating, and their very differences are what makes their connection so magical and touching at times. A mighty “T-Rex”, larger than life and deceptively rough around the edges, falling for a gentle little “mouse” and treating her with such loving care and sensitivity that it wards her demons away and makes her whole again—this is a story that will warm your heart and make it race all at the same time, every part of this story done just right, and every eloquent word penned by this gifted author making you want to read everything else she’s ever written.

“When you look at me like that, I want to do everything you ask me.”

5stars

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BOOK REVIEW: Lifers by Jane Harvey-Berrick

lifers

After eight years in prison, twenty-four year old Jordan Kane is the man everyone loves to hate.

Forced to return to his hometown while on parole, Jordan soon learns that this small town hasn’t changed since he was carted off to juvie all those years ago. He is the local pariah, shunned by everyone, including his own parents. But their hatred of him doesn’t even come close to the loathing he feels every time he looks in the mirror.

Working odd jobs for the preacher lady, Jordan bides his time before he can leave this backwards town. But can distance erase the memories that haunt him? Would living in another state free him from the prison of his mind? Will the pain of living ever subside?

Torrey Delaney is new in town and certainly doesn’t behave in a way the locals believe a preacher’s daughter should. Her reputation for casual hook-ups and meaningless sex quickly spreads around town. And that’s on top of her budding friendship with the hardened ex-con handyman – the good Reverend is less than thrilled with her estranged daughter’s path.

As friendship forms, can two damaged people who are afraid to love take their relationship to the next level? Can Torrey live with Jordan’s demons, and can Jordan break through Torrey’s walls? With the disapproval of a small town weighing heavily on them, they struggle to find their place in the world. Can they battle the odds, or will their world be viciously shattered?

Is love a life sentence?

review

“I didn’t believe life was worth living ‘til I met you.”

I don’t know why I am even surprised anymore when I fall in love with another novel by this extraordinary author because it happens every single time, and I always end up walking away a total wreck, unable to pick up another book for days to come. An unexpected but truly phenomenal reading treat, this was a story I loved with all my heart, and even now, days after I first finished it, I am drawn to it again, aching for the characters, for more of their life journey, for more of that unique, exquisitely poignant feel a Jane Harvey-Berrick novel possesses beginning to end. This is a book I want to urge everyone to read, to drop everything and not wait another minute, because beautiful, inspiring stories like these are rare finds these days, and it baffles me why they are not on everyone’s lips when they truly deserve to be.

“What would it do to a person, living day in and day out surrounded by nothing but memories and hatred?”

Torrey Delaney does not believe in love. Her parents’ broken marriage and her mother’s subsequent abandonment when she was just a young girl have taught her that relationships are undependable, that hearts are expendable and that the only person she will always be able to rely on is herself. But while such a life mantra has protected her so far from heartbreak and disappointment, it has also caused her to act recklessly when picking her casual hook-ups, her latest affair finally driving her to leave her old life behind and to start afresh somewhere else. With limited resources at her disposal, however, Torrey is forced to make a small town on the gulf coast of Texas her temporary new home—the very town in which her estranged mother happens to be the local preacher. Perceived by everyone as the preacher’s trashy daughter, she does nothing to dissuade others of that opinion of her because it gives her the freedom to behave as she chooses…until she crosses paths with a young man who cannot escape what the whole town thinks of him as his every move is judged and condemned.

“I wouldn’t want a guy like me spending time with my daughter either.”

Jordan Kane has spent the last eight years of his young life serving a prison sentence for one careless act that cost him the life of his beloved older brother—the town’s golden boy. Now treated as the local pariah by everyone he once knew, Jordan is met with disdain and disgust everywhere he goes, but no one hates him as much as he hates himself for getting to live the life his brother never got to live. Alone and broken in a town that wishes he were dead, he struggles daily with the burden of his memories and his newly found freedom, clueless as to how to assimilate into a world that keeps rejecting him at every turn. Until an outspoken firecracker breaks through his defences and teaches him how to live again.

“In prison I’d kept to myself; out here, I didn’t know what the boundaries were anymore. It was a game of life where I didn’t know the rules and couldn’t work them out— and I was losing. Big time.”

A friendship born out of loneliness and curiosity soon becomes a powerful bond that neither of them can deny, or live without. But while Torrey struggles to recognise her feelings for the sad, broken man she is slowly falling for, for Jordan she represents everything he never dared to hope he would find in life, and everything he believes he will forever remain unworthy of. Torrey eases his despair, her no-nonsense attitude forcing him out of his self-imposed purgatory, and the more time they spend together, the more he no longer feels all alone in the world.

“If I could, I’d take you somewhere real upscale. There’d be a starched white cloth on the table, napkins folded into fancy shapes, and candles all around us. I’d order champagne and the best food on the menu. We’d eat and laugh and talk, and I’d take you dancin’ till dawn. Then I’d lay you down on soft sheets and love you till the sun was high in the sky.”

Living in a small town determined to never forget or let him forget his sins, however, remains a constant test for their budding romance, and while our hearts melt with delight as we watch them fall irrevocably and passionately in love with one another, they also break every time their love is met with hostility and intolerance. A story of forgiveness, of second chances, and of letting go of anger and self-hatred in order to be truly free to embrace all that life has to offer—a story like this is simply my favourite kind of reading escape. Confidently and eloquently written, addictive cover to cover, every emotional word of this oh-so wonderful tale stole my breath away and even though it was my undoing on more than one occasion, it left me with the goofiest grin on my face. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

“…the only thing I’d miss if I went back now would be you.”

5stars

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BOOK REVIEW & EXCERPT: Soaring by Kristen Ashley

soaring

American heiress Amelia Hathaway needs to start anew.

Her husband cheated on her, and when everything she wanted in life slipped through her fingers, she fell apart. When she did, she took another heart wrenching hit as she lost the respect of her children.

When her ex took her family from California to live in the small town of Magdalene in Maine, Amelia decided it was time to sort herself out. In order to do that and win her children back, she moves to Cliff Blue, an architectural masterpiece on the rocky coast of Magdalene.

Her boxes aren’t even unpacked when she meets Mickey Donovan, a man who lives across the street, a man so beautiful Amelia takes one look at Mickey and knows she wants it all from him.

The problem is, she finds out swiftly that he’s friendly, he’s kind, but he doesn’t want everything back.

Amelia struggles to right past wrongs in her life at the same time find out who she wants to be. She also struggles with her attraction to the handsome firefighter who lives across the street.

But Amelia will face a surprise when her friendly neighbor becomes not-so-friendly. As Amelia and Mickey go head to head, Amelia must focus on winning back the hearts of her children.

She soon discovers she also must focus on winning the heart of a handsome firefighter who understands down to his soul the beautiful heiress who lives across the street is used to a life he cannot provide.

review

“All my life, I was the girl who everyone thought had everything or could get it. But the only thing I ever wanted was a man like you.”

To encapsulate all the feelings that a Kristen Ashley novel stirs up in me is always an ambitious feat in itself, her stories being an extraordinary emotional journey beginning to end, and this book did not disappoint. Mickey and Amelia’s story moved me deeply, just as I expected it would, but the sheer beauty of their romance caught me by surprise. I never expected to relate so completely to two characters representative of this particular point on the age spectrum, and while their sizzling chemistry is truly something to behold, the emotional aspect of their connection, specked with just the right amount of heart-pricking angst, took my breath away on more than one occasion. This is a story about life, about the unexpected journeys that life takes us on, about the curveballs, about the direct hits and the pain they bring, but it is first and foremost a story about second chances at finding happiness, about finding the strength to be whole again and fighting for what matters the most in life. A truly splendid example of this author’s inimitable style of storytelling—I walked in these characters’ shoes, I felt all they felt, my heart roared every time they ‘soared’, and in the end, I did not want to say goodbye to them.

“There is nothing guaranteed in life. But the only leaps worth taking are leaps of faith on love. So look where you leap, beautiful, and happy landing.”

Amelia Hathaway is a woman in her late forties, an heiress, a mother, a scorned wife. The unexpected demise of her marriage made her lose herself in her anger and pain, turning her into the kind of vindictive individual her privileged upbringing taught her she should be, but while reeling in self-pity and fury, Amelia lost herself along the way, the ultimate cost being the affections and respect of her two beloved children. In a desperate attempt to start anew, to beat back the anger and bitterness that poisoned her mind for too long, and to give her children the kind of mother they could not only love again, but also be proud of and learn from, she moves to Magdalene, the small coastal town her ex-husband and their children made their new home.

“No matter what it took, no matter how much time, no matter that it made me bleed, no matter what it cost me, no matter that it would take everything I had and force me to find more, I had to do what I’d come to Maine to do.”

But a new house, new friends, a new purpose in life mean little when one’s confidence has hit rock bottom, and Amelia’s wake-up call arrives in the form of a handsome firefighter neighbour, whose striking looks and protective demeanour make her wish he’d see her the way a man sees a woman he wants in his life. But she soon realises that before anyone can see her that way, she needs to like what she sees in the mirror.

“He didn’t need me in his life. I didn’t even like me in my life. Alas, I couldn’t escape me.”

Mickey Donovan is a single dad, a natural provider, a man who works two jobs in order to give his kids the life they deserve, even when doing what he loves means living a more modest life than the one he was born into. The slow downfall of his marriage has made him question all he can offer a woman, especially a woman like Amelia Hathaway, knowing he could never give her all that she has been accustomed to having in her life. But Amelia’s insecurities put a different spin on Mickey’s reluctant behaviour.

“He didn’t want me, plain and simple. I was just his…‘attractive’ neighbor.”

When they finally take a leap and give in to their attraction, they inevitably connect on every level, but they don’t rush—they take their time, they show consideration for the people in their lives such a union would affect the most, and they give themselves time to get to know one another. The true beauty of these characters is that they are two formed, adult individuals who know what they’d gain by taking a chance on such a love, what they risk missing out on if they don’t, and who are now prepared to work their hardest to hold onto the rare magic they found in each other. The slow evolution of their relationship is as it should be, gradual and organic, each emotional milestone sinking deeply into our hearts and making us smile in delight. And there is so much to smile about in this story!

“… there is no safer place than in my arms and when you’re here, Amy, you can give me anything.”

This is the tale of a woman who always had a lot in life, and yet all she ever wanted was a loving family and a man to stand by her and accept her for all that she is. And it is the tale of a hard-working man coming to terms with the fact that some women are not looking for glitz and gold in life, but the simple joy of loving and of being loved by a man who understands them and provides for them in ways no money could ever buy. With so many aspects of this story designed to tug at our heartstrings, this was not a book I was able to read in one sitting, taking my time to fully absorb the magnitude of some particularly emotional scenes in the story. While this might be in essence a love story, this is also a tale of broken families, of healing families, of new families. And it is a story of redemption, showing that we are not defined by the mistakes we make, but by the steps we take to correct them.

“I am who I am. I have what I have. And one of the things I got that I wanna keep is you.”

5stars

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excerpt

“Hello, Boston Stone,” I greeted because I had no idea what else to say.

“You are?” he asked as I put the bags to the ground and touched the button on the trunk that would open it keyless.

As it glided open, I opened my mouth, doing it uncertain if I’d share my name or continue to try to brush him off, but I didn’t have the chance to decide.

I heard the word, “Babe,” growled from behind me.

I turned and saw Mickey stalking our way.

Not sauntering.

Not simply walking.

Stalking.

And he didn’t look happy.

“Mickey,” I called tentatively as a greeting, uncertain at his demeanor.

I hadn’t seen him since he hadn’t seen me (I hoped) at the movies.

He was in his firefighter-not-fighting-a-fire uniform of blue khakis and tee. His eyes were moving up and down my body. He still was unbelievably beautiful (that uniform…seriously).

He didn’t greet me back.

When he stopped, his gaze cut to Boston Stone and it went flinty.

“You need somethin’?” he asked incomprehensibly inhospitably.

“I was just helping this lovely lady with her groceries,” Stone responded.

“I got it,” Mickey stated flatly and then he got it. As in, he carefully pulled me back, grabbed the bags I was perfectly capable of picking up myself and placed them in my trunk.

He then went for the bag Stone was carrying, caught hold, but Stone didn’t let go.

“I can put it in the trunk myself, Donovan,” Stone clipped.

So they knew each other.

“As I said, I got it, Stone,” Mickey clipped back.

Yes, they knew each other.

The handles flattened as they both kept hold and pulled.

“Please!” I exclaimed. “We already had a wine incident. The sidewalk of Magdalene has been anointed with one red, let’s not anoint Cross Street with four.”

Mickey instantly let go and stepped back, running into me but he didn’t apologize or move away.

He stayed close, the back of his left side touching the front of my right.

It was at that point I noticed Mickey gave off a lot of heat.

Stone put the bag in my trunk, shut it and turned slowly to Mickey and me.

But he had eyes on Mickey.

“Are you two seeing each other?”

“That’s your business how?” Mickey asked as reply.

“It’s my business because, if you’re not, I’d like to request you leave so I can ask her to dinner,” Stone returned.

My head jerked as my body locked in shock.

“That’s not gonna happen,” Mickey growled.

My body stayed locked in shock but that didn’t mean my eyes didn’t fly to Mickey’s stony-faced profile in more shock.

“So you are seeing each other,” Stone remarked.

“Again, not your business,” Mickey bit out.

Stone’s expression turned shrewd. “And that’s something that would lead me to believe that the beautiful woman standing behind you is free to go to dinner with me.”

“You forget English?” Mickey asked. “I already answered that too.”

I butted in, “I think I can speak for myself, Mickey.”

He moved nothing but his head (though his torso shifted an inch) so he could look down at me.

His eyes were communicating again.

This time they were communicating the fact that he really didn’t like Boston Stone.

Considering what I knew of Mickey, this would be something that, along with my own natural aversion to Mr. Stone, would have made me decline the man’s invitation.

Unfortunately, Mickey added words to his look so this didn’t happen.

“You’re not goin’ out with this guy.”

Was he being serious?

He couldn’t tell me what to do. He wasn’t my father, my brother or my lover.

Heck, he barely knew me!

All he knew about me was that he didn’t want me. I was his…“attractive” neighbor who he now did not even walk over to beg recipes from (okay, so Aisling didn’t know of any other recipes I had, but whatever).

He didn’t even return my email!

And he was off with beautiful, statuesque redheads, smiling at them, taking them to movies.

He couldn’t tell me who I could and could not see.

“I’m not?” I snapped.

“No,” he turned fully to me, an ominous fully. “You are not,” he enunciated each word clearly.

“Sorry?” I asked sarcastically. “When did you become my big brother?”

He was still enunciating clearly, and dangerously, when he stated, “I absolutely am not your big brother.”

“No, you’re not,” I retorted, tossing my hair, which I hoped was shining in the sun. And with my hair toss, I further hoped my fabulous highlights caught the rays and gleamed. “You’re my neighbor. And if I want to go out with someone, you can’t say boo to the contrary.”

“This guy is an asshole,” he bit off, jerking his thumb at Boston Stone.

I felt my eyes get big and I got up on my toes, leaning into him, hissing, “That’s insufferably rude, Mickey Donovan.”

“It isn’t rude if it’s the truth.”

“You may think so but you don’t say it in front of the man in question.”

“You do if he’s as big of an asshole as this asshole is,” Mickey shot back.

My eyes got wider and I leaned closer. “Stop being nasty!” I demanded.

“You been in town, what?” he asked then answered with another question he didn’t expect a reply to. “A coupla months? I lived here my whole life and trust me, I’m savin’ you from a load of misery, this guy gets interested in you,” he returned.

I rocked down to my stilettos. “I am a big girl, Mickey. All grown up and everything. I do think I can make such decisions for myself.”

“You do, and they’re not what I’m tellin’ you to do, you’d be wrong.”

I glared at him.

Then I pushed right past him, hand lifted and got in the space of Boston Stone.

“Boston,” I said as he took my hand, grinning arrogantly and more than a little obnoxiously at me. “A belated nice to meet you. I’m Amelia Hathaway.”

His hand tightened in mine as he murmured, “Amelia.”

I pulled my hand from his, asking, “Do you know Cliff Blue?”

“Of course,” he replied, inclining his head in a pompous way that actually was kind of creepy.

“I live there,” I announced, doing another hair toss and powering beyond the creepy. “And I have plans this evening but I’m free tomorrow. Are you?”

“I wasn’t,” he replied. “But I’ll be making a phone call and I will be.”

“Excellent,” I decreed. “Seven?” I went on to ask.

“I’d be delighted,” he said softly, his eyes dancing with humor and I could see that too was relatively malicious.

I didn’t care.

I’d go out with him once, just to stick it to Mickey.

Then I’d be done with Boston Stone.

And anyway, I had about seven new outfits that would be perfect for a date and I knew this even though I hadn’t been on a date in two decades.

“I’ll see you then,” I said.

“You will, Amelia.” He dipped his chin to me. “Looking forward to it.”

“And me,” I replied.

He gave me another arrogant grin then transferred it to Mickey.

“Donovan,” he murmured.

Mickey didn’t reply.

Stone looked back to me. “Until tomorrow, Amelia.”

“Yes, Boston. And please, feel free to call me Amy.”

Mickey grunted.

Boston smiled before he turned and sauntered away.

I whirled on Mickey and tipped my head to the side. “See? All grown up and able to make decisions for myself.”

“What I see is a pattern here,” he retorted unpleasantly.

“Oh?” I asked with mock interest. “Do tell.”

Then Mickey told.

“First time I laid eyes on you, your ex was up in your face, cursing at you, threatening you, shouting right at you and acting like a total f*cking dick. It’s obvious he’s rich and up his own ass and didn’t give a shit you were alone, and because of that, you probably felt unsafe. It was just as obvious you were lettin’ him use you as his punching bag. Even if no woman deserves the way he was speakin’ to you, he just kept right on punching. Now, you know that guy you just made a date with is a total asshole and you made that date anyway. So that’s your pattern. You open yourself up for assholes to shit all over you. And if that’s the way you like it, baby, then no way in f*ck I’m gonna get in there to show you there’s another way.”

Before I could retort, he turned on his boot and prowled away.

Read another excerpt

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Magdalene series reading order and purchase links
(standalone novels with interconnected characters)
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BOOK REVIEW: Confess by Colleen Hoover

CONFESSAt age twenty-one, Auburn Reed has already lost everything important to her. In her fight to rebuild her shattered life, she has her goals in sight and there is no room for mistakes. But when she walks into a Dallas art studio in search of a job, she doesn’t expect to find a deep attraction to the enigmatic artist who works there, Owen Gentry.

For once, Auburn takes a chance and puts her heart in control, only to discover that Owen is keeping a major secret from coming out. The magnitude of his past threatens to destroy everything important to Auburn, and the only way to get her life back on track is to cut Owen out of it.

To save their relationship, all Owen needs to do is confess. But in this case, the confession could be much more destructive than the actual sin.

review

“I’m scared I’ll never feel this again with anyone else.”
“I’m scared you will.”

I have a confession to make. I started reading this book at least half a dozen times over the past two months, and every single time I could not get past its very first scene. I am a glutton for angst, I seek and devour stories that make me feel, that move me one way or another, thus leaving a small but memorable trace of themselves in me long after I finish reading them, but I do not enjoy scenarios that hit too close to home, the finality of which leaves me without any hope left, and where the pain I experience while reading those few pages adversely affects my experience of the entire book. I am a diehard fan of Colleen Hoover’s brand of storytelling, her endless imagination and irrefutable skill at penning little masterpieces of ‘mass destruction’ always leaving me speechless and in awe, but I simply could not connect with this story as well as I hoped, and even though I enjoyed it in the end, it did not keep me enthralled as her stories normally do because I failed to connect with the characters on too many levels. And yet, given the very subjective nature of my ‘objections’, I’d recommend this book in a heartbeat as I don’t doubt it for a moment that most readers will love this story with all their hearts.

“I’m so tired of having to give up the only things in life I want.”

The sum of all its heartbreaking puzzle pieces, this is a story like no other I have ever read. Auburn Reed is a young woman in her early twenties whose past six years of her life have slowly crushed her spirit, leaving her unsure of herself, vulnerable, and stuck to the choices she was forced to make. The helplessness of her situation, however, has not completely extinguished that tenacious spark in her that drives her to believe her future could be brighter one day. And it is her resolve to better her life that brings her to the door of an art studio in downtown Dallas with a “help wanted” sign in the window.

Owen Gentry is an artist, a loner, a young man who drowns his demons in the striking art he creates by drawing inspiration from other people’s life stories rather than confronting the reality of his own. But not even the weight of his own self-reproach could ever erase the selflessness of his heart, or his fiercely protective nature. Finding Auburn at his doorstep is something he always hoped for but never dared to believe could happen. We are told their story from two very different perspectives, aware from the very beginning that their perceptions of their fated encounter are nothing alike, but the connection they both feel from the moment they set eyes on one another is the same—visceral, irrefutable, unfaltering.

“I’ve never felt stronger than I feel when I’m with her. I’ve never felt like I had purpose like I feel when I’m with her.”

As they dare to explore the attraction between them, we slowly discover what their lives truly entail and why being together is perhaps something they were never meant to have. They selflessly give their hearts to one another, that love palpable in their every stolen touch, every lingering glance, every playful word, but some loves come at too high a price to bear, and Auburn and Owen’s love might have been ill-fated from the very start.

“I’ll take whatever you’re willing to give me. Because I know that if you walk out that door, then ten years from now . . . twenty years from now . . . we’ll wish we had listened to our hearts when we think back on tonight.”
“That’s what scares me. I’m afraid if I listen to my heart once, I’ll never figure out how to ignore it again.”

Colleen Hoover has created another unforgettable story exploring the human condition and, in this case, how much of themselves a person is willing to sacrifice for the ones they love. Her trademark sense of humour, her familiar literary techniques, the very recognisable tone of her characters, are all there to pull us in and leave us incapable of putting this story down, but I found myself unable to connect with Auburn and Owen as well as I needed to in order to become completely invested in their story. I felt we were offered only snippets of their colourful personalities, as well as of some of the secondary characters, but not enough to make me understand them in their entirety. There was an intensity to this story that was missing in my eyes, especially given its themes, many vital aspects that could have made me feel closer to the characters often only hinted at or brushed over too quickly. The confident straightforwardness with which this author always tells her tales did not fit the story, in my opinion, leaving me wishing for more emotion, more passion, more highs and lows that neither of these characters got to express, especially given the helplessness of the situations they both found themselves in.

A very touching tale of two people whose lives have been intertwined for longer than they realise and whose hearts are forced to battle what their every instinct tells them to feel, this is a story that will greatly please most readers, and even with my own inability to connect with some aspects of it, I have to admit that I could not put it down. There is a great balance to this story that leaves us filled with hope and bittersweet positivity, showing us that for every act of thievery that life inflicts upon us, there is a gift offered in its stead.

“She deserves better. So much better. She deserves me. If only she knew that.”

4halfstars

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BOOK REVIEW: A Stone in the Sea by A.L. Jackson

AStoneintheSea

He wanted nothing at all…

Until he found she had everything to give…

Sunder lead singer and guitarist Sebastian Stone has everything—fans, fame, and fortune. He also has a heart full of bitterness and a reputation for a short-fused temper. But an outward reputation rarely reveals the true man inside. Facing assault charges after trying to protect his younger brother, Sebastian is sent to Savannah, Georgia to lie low until the dust settles in L.A.

Shea Bentley is beautiful, kind, and hiding from the very lifestyle Sebastian has always embraced.

When the mysterious, tattooed stranger begins hanging out at the bar where she works, Shea is quick to recognize he is nothing but trouble, but she’s helpless to the way her body lights up every time his intense gray eyes tangle with hers.

They both soon find themselves drowning in a sea of desire and passion that won’t let them up for air.

Sebastian knows firsthand secrets never die, and he’s not the only one who’s hiding them.

Loving someone always comes with a price. But will it be Shea’s past that costs them everything?

review

“I never needed anyone to love me until I needed you.”

I should have known. I should have known she would wreck me. I should have known she would give us another gut-wrenching story, and then leave only heartbreak in its wake, because this book owned me, cover to cover, every single sentence in it reminding me once again why I love this author’s writing style so dearly, and why her words affect me every single time without fail. An intense, passionate love story that had all the components I am drawn to in a romance of this kind, but coupled with a few personal ‘triggers’ of my own—I was mesmerized from the very first page, and my fascination with these characters only grew as the story unravelled. Two people scarred by life, desperate to put their dark pasts behind them, and viscerally drawn to each other from the moment they meet—this is the story of finding the missing piece to one’s life, of finding the courage to take a chance, to throw all caution aside and risk one’s heart for nothing more than the hope of a happiness like no other. There are so many crucial facets to this story which I will not even mention to you, wishing for you to discover them on your own and thus allow this story to overwhelm you slowly, as intended, because there are so many complex layers to this tale, so many puzzle pieces, and the pace at which we uncover them is as important as the story itself. If you are looking for a phenomenally written, captivating read that you will not be able to put down, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

“I’d never felt anything was missing from my life. Not until the day I met Sebastian Stone.”

Sebastian Stone is a rock star, a man whose life has been under the magnifying glass ever since he found fame, but his road to success has not been an easy one, marred by great loss and bitter mistakes, making him the disillusioned and hot-tempered young man he is now. When faced with the disastrous consequences of his temper’s latest outburst, he finds himself cooped up with his band mates in a small town in Savannah, Georgia, forced to re-evaluate his life altogether. But while seeking anonymity and peace, nothing prepares him for his body’s unexpected reaction to a kind-eyed waitress at a local bar, whose inexplicable pull leaves him baffled and starving for more.

“I knew it then. What I wanted.
To lose control.
Just for a few hours.
And I wanted to lose it with her.”

Shea Bentley is a young woman whose deceivingly simple life hides a painful past full of secrets, a past she hides fiercely from all those around her. Kind, unpretentious, modest—Shea is unlike any other woman Sebastian has ever met, her eyes hiding a darkness he immediately recognises, while her inner light draws him to her like a beacon through a storm. And as much as he tries to stay away from her and not be an unwanted distraction in her life, her siren call keeps pulling him to her night after night.

“What are you doing here?”
“The same thing I’m doing every night, Shea. Thinking about you and wondering why the hell I can’t stop.”

They both fight their attraction, try to find reasons for avoiding an emotional connection of any kind, but when they inevitably succumb to the unwavering spark between them, it is one of the most devastating, explosive, uninhibited, heart-breakingly passionate sights to be seen. Ms Jackson uses every weapon in her writing arsenal to express emotions of such magnitude that we are left quivering messes, totally entranced by her prose and hopelessly addicted to the intensity of the scenes she is weaving before our eyes.

“I fell.
Plunged into his abyss.
Heart first.
Through waves of ecstasy. Deeper. Deeper. To where I touched a sea of stars that blinded my eyes, where I floated in that place that belonged only to us, a place that didn’t belong to this world. Where darkness and light reigned and wrong or right had no bearing.
A brutal ecstasy.”

The connection between these characters takes on a life of its own and it soon becomes a palpable force driving the story forward. Sebastian is a man who never sought anything more than a temporary escape from his life, a chance to forget, until he meets a woman who gives herself to him selflessly and bravely, who takes a risk with her heart by loving a man who would never love her back the same way…or stay. But their greatest battle might end up being one they never even imagined fighting alongside one another.

“I’m going to break you, Shea.”
I knew it.
Felt it in my gut.
“You already have.”

Ms Jackson is a master storyteller, a skilled ‘sadist’ when it comes to affecting her readers’ emotions and making our hearts ache, but her brand of ‘torture’ is quite possibly one of my favourite ‘afflictions’. In this book, her powerful writing style has the added element of an almost lyrical pace to the prose itself, with heightened imagery and emotional associations present in every rhythmic beat of the words themselves. It deepened my connection to the story, to these characters and their emotional journey, leaving me breathless on more than one occasion.

I will not lie to you, there is a nasty cliffhanger at the end of this book, one that was needed given the many puzzle pieces yet to be revealed. It left me a raging mess, but glad that the story had not been cheapened by forcing it into one book. So, if you are not allergic to anticipation and get a kick out of reading phenomenally written, angst-ridden stories that overload your senses start to finish, I urge you to give this beautiful tale a chance.

Sebastian and Shea’s story will continue in Drowning to Breathe in June 2015, and then conclude in Through the Storm, expected in October 2015.

“I was falling further, being sucked beneath the surface.
A stone in his sea.
Completely drowning in this man.”

5stars

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BOOK REVIEW: Losers Weepers by Nicole Williams

LosersWeepersIf we didn’t know darkness, we couldn’t fully appreciate the light.

Garth Black’s more familiar with this concept than most people are. He hadn’t just lived in the dark for the majority of his life—he thrived in it. With a mom who’d bailed on him and a dad whose understanding of coddling started and ended with a bottle of whiskey, Garth had never been expected to rise to any sort of occasion other than following down the same dead-end paths.

That changed when he fell in love with Josie Gibson. After years of pulling each other closer before shoving the other way, they finally stopped shoving. Josie’s love is like nothing Garth’s ever experienced. He holds it close. He holds it sacred. He would do anything to preserve it and keep it from pollution, even if that means removing himself from the picture.

Garth might have been allowed a temporary furlough to bask in the light, but that pass has been revoked, and he’s been swallowed again by the dark. Will he revert to his old ways of hurting those he cares for most? Will he go back to the same destructive patterns . . . or will it be worse this time?

We can’t know light without first knowing dark . . . and Garth Black’s about to get acquainted with the dark in a whole new way.

review

“You don’t throw away the love of a lifetime because someone gets injured—that’s when you prove what your love’s really made of.”

Garth Black. This dark, troubled, smart-alecky cowboy stole my heart in Finders Keepers, but I have to admit that getting a continuation of his story was equally thrilling as it was terrifying at first, because every protective bone in my body did not wish any more harm to come to these beloved characters. Garth and Josie’s love story had been a lesson in perseverance, of stubbornly fighting for what we want most in our lives, and of breaking the self-disparaging cycle we might have been born into. But their tale was not over, as blissfully as it had ended, and one more hurdle was needed for Garth to recognise and truly embrace the unconditional love a woman like Josie was offering him. An intensely emotional and thought-provoking story, sugar-coated with light-hearted humour and sarcasm, it never steered away from getting across a very meaningful message of hope and courage, of learning to grab life by the horns instead of fearing it, of living to the fullest regardless of what the future has in store for us, and of seizing every minute of every day like it were our last. I fell in love with these characters all over again, and I still find myself smiling from time to time as certain scenes unexpectedly flash through my mind, because this superb, feel-good story stays with us long after we turn the last page.

“I had nothing to compare to the way she loved me, and that’s what made it so special. No one but her had ever come close to loving me like that. No one had ever believed in me the way she did. Her love was so big and overwhelming that each day with her erased another day of pain and failure from my past. Her love was magic, healing me as it lifted me up, and though she tried convincing me otherwise, I knew I could spend ten lifetimes trying and failing to give her what she’d given me in a year’s time.”

Garth and Josie have found their happy ending in each other’s arms and with a hopeful future before them. But, after a childhood void of affection and approval, and having been told all his life that he was nothing, Garth still struggles with his self-esteem issues, especially when it comes to truly believing that he could ever be worthy of someone as wonderful as Josie. He plans of handing her the world, of making every single one of her dreams come true, thus making her as happy as she makes him, and his career as a bull rider is his means to that very end. But one moment, one flash in time, steals his dreams away and leaves him facing the kind of future he has dreaded all his life.

“My whole life, everything I’d been and everything I’d wanted to become, was spiraling away from me. Fragments of the man I’d been and the man I’d wanted to become were gusting out of reach. My life as I’d known it was over. My life as I’d hoped it would be would never come to fruition.”

As we watch him reverting to his old, sarcastic, self-destructive ways in an attempt to cope emotionally with his own helplessness and inherent pessimism, we also watch him push away those he loves the most in life—his Josie most of all. Convinced that she would be better off without him and determined to give her the life he believes she should want, he becomes his cantankerous old self, the man he knows Josie should not love. But all his plans fall through one by one as he realises that the firecracker he loves more than life itself is not a woman who can be told what to feel or what to do. And that her love comes with no conditions.

“Joze, you and I are more alike than both your mother and father pray every night we’re not.”
“Ah, that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me. Nothing says romance like implying your woman’s the asshole equivalent of you with boobs.”

Ms Williams has given us a kickass heroine that created the perfect character balance to the hero’s often belligerent and gloomy ways. Josie is Garth’s perfect match in so many ways, defusing his negativity with her sharp tongue and quick wit, disarming him with her bubbliness and playfulness, and mending his broken heart with her endless love and devotion. Even in his darkest hour, she is the beacon that pulls him out of his own misery.

“My God, Joze. You’re the best damn woman God had the audacity to go and create. How did I end up with you?”

There is something so emotionally fulfilling about a story like this one—even the sadder moments leaving us bursting with hope and positivity—but it is the sheer magnitude and beauty of the love present on every single one of these pages that captured my heart irreversibly. This inspiring, uplifting, touching love story was great before, but now it became a sight to behold. I cherished every moment and was only too happy to discover that one way or another, we would not be saying goodbye to these beloved characters just yet, as they would inevitably play a minor role in the final chapter of Jesse and Rowen’s story in Heart and Soul. This is a book for the heart and mine is overflowing right now.

“Nothing’s fine without you, Joze. But with you? Everything’s perfect.”

5stars

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Lost and Found – Reading Order and Purchase Links
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Lost and FoundMy Review | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Near and FarMy Review | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Finders KeepersMy Review | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Losers WeepersMy Review | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
Heart and Soul: iBooks (16 Jun 2015)

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BOOK REVIEW: To the Max by Elle Aycart

Forensic accountant Annie Griffin has always suspected she’s a bit jinxed, so when she finds herself 35, single, temporarily homeless, and pregnant on a technicality by a gigolo, her fears are confirmed.

Adrenaline junkie and professional stuntman Max Bowen needs a house-sitter to watch after his pets while he’s out of town. Annie needs a place to stay. Standard quid pro quo. No biggie. She can handle that, whatever hellhounds he owns. Until Max, the most sought-after bachelor in the county, comes back ahead of schedule and suddenly she’s roommates with a 27-year old sex God who turns out to be so much more than what she expected.

Max might have had the attention span of a humming bird on crack when it comes to women, but that was before Annie. Her quirkiness and sweet contradictions soon captivate him, not that she’s inclined to give him the time of the day. With his reputation preceding him, he knows the odds are badly stacked against him, but he will do his best to prove her that he’s what she needs, stuck-up socialite grandmothers, doomsday preppers, groupies, pregnancy hormones, and repentant biological dads be damned.

review

“What are you thinking?”
“How young you look.”
“Were you thinking that yesterday while I was between your legs, eating your pussy after I’d f*cked you hard against the wall?”
“I wasn’t thinking.”
“Good. That’s how we’ll keep it, then.”

A love story penned by Elle Aycart never disappoints, something about her trademark style of romance making me ache in anticipation every single time I am about to start reading one of her books because there’s not a doubt in my mind that she’d overload my senses and leave me squiggling in my seat from the sheer sexiness of her words. I have been waiting for a long time to read Max’s story and all good things definitely come to those who wait because this book was everything I hoped it’d be…and so much more. The perfect fusion of sweet and racy, with well-timed injections of humour and suspense, I loved every word in it. And I am now desperately besotted with another Bowen brother, another incorrigible dirty-mouthed alpha male—this one just happens to look like a mouth-watering Viking.

“I’ve been in the dating arena long enough to know that when your date starts talking about themselves in the third person, it’s time to hide.”

Annie Griffin is a single woman in her mid-thirties who dreams of settling down and marrying the man of her dreams, even though her dating history has amounted to one disappointment after another. But she remains an optimist, an ‘active dater’ who is willing to persevere in her search for the love of her life, even if to find him she’d have to kiss many a frog. Annie’s life comes to a standstill when she finds herself pregnant, compliments of an impetuous one night stand…with an escort.

“I somehow envisioned embracing motherhood differently. Not at thirty-five, without a partner, and knocked up by a gigolo who might or might not be named Luigi.”

Max is the youngest Bowen brother, and the last bachelor in this family of genetically blessed men. A professional stuntman, a daredevil, an irrepressible heartbreaker who loves playing the field, he wears his singlehood like a badge of honour, envisioning commitment and long-term relationships only somewhere very far on the horizon. When he runs into Annie at his brother’s wedding, any spark that might have ignited otherwise between them is quickly doused by an unexpected bout of morning sickness, coupled with the frustration from finding herself on another failed date to add to her already lengthy list. But their connection is immediate from the start, even with the wrong bodily fluids exchanged between them, both surprised by how easy it is to talk to one another and how effortless it is to be in each other’s company.

“… he was such a shameless flirt. Gorgeous, charming, easygoing. Pity when it came to women, he has the attention span of a hummingbird on crack.”

When Annie finds herself temporarily without a place to stay, Max offers her his home, a housesitting arrangement suiting them both while he’s away working on location and while she adjusts to her new condition. But every time he comes back home, he finds new reasons for liking the witty, down-to-earth, funny woman sleeping under his roof. And for wanting more with her.

“I’ve watched you come apart in my arms. I’ve held you while you slept. I’ve felt your baby kick. No, I haven’t f*cked you. My dick hasn’t been inside you. But don’t be mistaken; we do have an intimate relationship.”

As they start tiptoeing in the lukewarm waters of a friends-with-benefits arrangement, Annie struggles with the eight-year age difference between them most of all, fully aware that their priorities in life are nowhere near being aligned to one another, not to mention her impending single motherhood never letting her forget that she would soon be responsible for more than just herself. And yet, their attraction and affection for one another keep taking root, making Max more and more aware each day that that some things in life cannot be planned and that when the right woman comes along, you sweep her off her feet and never let her go.

“I’ll erase them.”
“What?”
“Your reservations. I will blast them out of the sky. Every single one of them.”

I will be honest with you, this story had me at ‘pregnant by a gigolo’, knowing that the element of an unexpected and possible single parenthood would pull at my heartstrings from the get-go, but this story is so much more than just a formulaic scenario of an incorrigible bachelor falling for the single mum. This is a story of two people becoming friends first, of loving each other platonically well before their attraction kicks in, of a man finally finding someone he could no longer imagine living without and who makes him want to be the man she deserves to have in her life, and of a woman who blossoms emotionally the day she allows herself to fall head-over-heels in love with a sexy, over-protective ‘Viking’, age differences and self-imposed inhibitions be damned. I loved the slow-burning pace of this love story, the way we get to witness the gradual evolution of their relationship—from friends to lovers, from lovers to each other’s forevers—and I couldn’t get enough of the sizzling chemistry between them, not to mention the explosive sex scenes that were simply perfect start to finish.

“I noticed when I went to your bedroom … that you have a yoga swing hanging from your ceiling. I didn’t know you practiced yoga.”
“I don’t. That’s a sex swing.”

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, every aspect of it pleasing immensely the romance junkie in me, while making my heart race for all the ‘right’ reasons. If a well-written, sexy, feel-good love story is your thing, look no further.

“Love me? I’m a simple man, Ace. I don’t ask for much.”

5stars

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BOOK REVIEW & EXCERPT: The Deal by Elle Kennedy

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She’s about to make a deal with the college bad boy…

Hannah Wells has finally found someone who turns her on. But while she might be confident in every other area of her life, she’s carting around a full set of baggage when it comes to sex and seduction. If she wants to get her crush’s attention, she’ll have to step out of her comfort zone and make him take notice…even if it means tutoring the annoying, childish, cocky captain of the hockey team in exchange for a pretend date.

…and it’s going to be oh so good

All Garrett Graham has ever wanted is to play professional hockey after graduation, but his plummeting GPA is threatening everything he’s worked so hard for. If helping a sarcastic brunette make another guy jealous will help him secure his position on the team, he’s all for it. But when one unexpected kiss leads to the wildest sex of both their lives, it doesn’t take long for Garrett to realize that pretend isn’t going to cut it. Now he just has to convince Hannah that the man she wants looks a lot like him.

review

“I never expected her. Sometimes people sneak up on you and suddenly you don’t know how you ever lived with them. How you went about your day and hung out with your friends and f*cked other people without having this one important person in your life.”

Time and time again, my reading history has proved to me that all I need for a book to make me pay attention is a confident, articulate writing style and multifaceted characters who take shape in my mind, regardless of how distant their reality is from my own. But for a book to truly make me fall in love with its story, there needs to be a certain synergy of all its elements, an undeniable spark flickering between the characters that arouses my interest immediately and makes me unable to step away. And this book had it all. I can honestly say that very few stories end up truly satisfying the picky reader in me to such an extent that I see no faults, but this heartwarming, funny, unexpectedly profound little gem took me by surprise and ended up rocking my world. Deceivingly nothing more than a cliché college scenario at first glance—a jock falling for the ‘invisible’ girl—this is a story of courage, inner strength, of paving one’s own way in life, and of love…unplanned, unequivocal, impassioned love that you feel all the way to your toes. I read this book in one day, sporting a permanent smile on my face because everything about this story made me happy, and at the end, I so desperately wanted to re-read it all over again.

“You’re not talking.”
“I don’t want to scare you off.”
“Dude, you’re standing there naked in front of me with your dick in your hand. If that doesn’t scare me, I doubt anything you say will.”

Hannah Wells is not a popular girl. A college junior and music major, she has spent the last five years of her young life battling the emotional remnants of one single night from her childhood, a night her innocence was stolen from her and her family’s lives changed forever. And yet, Hannah does not hide from the world or shy away from attention, never letting the past steal her future away from her or prevent her from giving her heart to someone. But when her latest crush happens to be the star wide receiver of the football team, she is clueless as to how to make him notice her. Until another jock makes her an offer she wishes she could refuse.

“For the love of God, I’m not tutoring you.”
“Sure you are.” I shrug. “I just need to figure out what you want in return.”
“I want to not tutor you. That’s what I want.”

Garrett Graham is a star athlete, the captain of the hockey team, a cocky flirt used to women throwing themselves at him and never refusing him anything…until he meets Hannah, the only girl on campus who doesn’t go gaga over his every move. Or any of his moves for that matter. Desperate for her help in order to pass a course he is suddenly failing, and thus putting his sporting career in jeopardy, he strikes a deal with her that would benefit them both, but in two very different ways—her tutoring services for his help in getting her crush to finally see her. But the closer they get to his goal, the further they both want to be from hers, their banter and bickering soon replaced by mutual attraction, protectiveness and affection. And then one kiss changes it all…

“Yes, Hannah and I are friends. In fact, she’s the only female friend I’ve ever had. And yes, I want to keep being Hannah’s friend. But…I also want to sleep with her.”

It might appear like a typical college romance formula, but nothing about this story felt predictable or overdone. The leading characters, as stereotypical as they might seem within the New Adult framework, are well rounded and dynamic, fresh and unique in every way. The smug and gregarious hockey star hides a world of hurt under his confident façade, and the one thing that the sassy, outspoken geek wants the most in her life is to feel safe and whole again, and these unexpected layers to their personalities are what endears them to us. They are opposites, but what attracts them to each other are not those differences—it is the way they empower one another, and the way their hearts are capable of loving, regardless of their painful pasts. There are so many heartbreaking layers to this story, so many themes to ponder on, but even more reasons to smile and walk away with a spring in our step. If you’re looking for a flawlessly written book with the perfect blend of light-hearted humour, heart-warming romance and a convincing storyline, I cannot recommend this story highly enough. And no matter what you hear, Garrett is mine.

“Living well and being happy is how we get over the shit in our past.”

5stars

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excerpt

Thirty minutes before my shift ends, I find Garrett Graham in one of my booths.

Seriously.

Does this guy ever give up?

I have no desire to go over there and serve him, but I don’t have much of a choice. Lisa, the other waitress on duty, is busy tending to a group of faculty members at a table across the room, and my boss Della is behind the baby-blue Formica counter dishing out slices of pecan pie to three freshman girls sitting on the tall swivel stools.

I set my jaw and march up to Garrett, making my displeasure obvious as I meet his twinkling gray eyes. He runs a hand through his cropped dark hair and flashes a lopsided grin.

“Hey there, Hannah. Fancy meeting you here.”

“Yeah, fancy,” I mutter, yanking my order pad out of my apron pocket. “What can I get you?”

“A tutor.”

“Sorry, that’s not on the menu.” I smile sweetly. “We serve really good pecan pie, though.”

“You know what I did last night?” he says without acknowledging the sarcasm.

“Yep. You were text stalking me.”

He rolls his eyes. “Before that, I mean.”

I pretend to think it over. “Um…you hooked up with a cheerleader? No, you hooked up with the girls’ hockey team. No, wait, they’re probably not ditzy enough for you. I stick with my original guess—cheerleader.”

“Sorority sister, actually,” he says smugly. “But I’m talking about what I did before that.” He raises one dark eyebrow. “But I’m very intrigued by your interest in my sex life. I can give you details about that another time if you want.”

“I don’t.”

“Another time,” he echoes in a dismissive tone, folding his hands on the blue-and-white-checkered tablecloth.

He’s got big hands with long fingers, short nails, and knuckles that are slightly red and cracked. I wonder if he’s been in a fight recently, but then I realize the busted-up knuckles are probably a hockey player thing.

“I was at study group yesterday,” he informs me. “There were eight other people there, and you know what the highest mark in the group was?” He blurts out the answer before I can hazard a guess. “C-plus. And our combined average was a D. How am I supposed to pass this makeup if I’m studying with people who are as dumb as I am? I need you, Wellsy.”

Wellsy? Is that a nickname? And how on earth does he know that my last name is Wells?

I never told—argh. Damn sign-up sheet.

Garrett notices my surprised look and cocks his brows again. “I learned a lot about you in study group. Got your number, your full name, even found out where you work.”

“Congratulations, you really are a stalker.”

“Nope, just thorough. I like to know what I’m up against.”

“Jesus Harold Christ! I’m not tutoring you, okay? Go bug somebody else.” I point at the menu in front of him. “Are you ordering? Because if not, then please go away and let me do my job in peace.”

“Jesus Harold Christ?” Garrett snickers before picking up the laminated menu and giving it a cursory glance. “I’ll have a turkey club.” He sets the menu down, then reaches for it again. “And a bacon double cheeseburger. Just the burger, no fries. Actually, I changed my mind—yes to the fries. Oh, and a side order of onion rings.”

My jaw almost hits the floor. “You’re seriously going to eat all that?”

He grins. “Of course. I’m a growing boy.”

Boy? Nuh-uh. I’m only noticing it now—probably because I’ve been too distracted by how insufferable he is—but Garrett Graham is all man. There’s nothing boyish about him, not his chiseled good looks or his tall frame or that ripped chest of his, which suddenly flashes to mind as I remember the picture he sent me.

“I’ll also take a slice of that pecan pie and a Dr. Pepper to drink. Oh, and some tutoring.”

“Not on the menu,” I say cheerfully. “But the rest is coming right up.”

Before he can argue, I abandon his booth and head to the back counter to place his order with Julio, our night cook. A nanosecond later, Lisa rushes over and addresses me in a hushed voice.

“Oh my God. You know who that is, right?”

“Yep.”

“It’s Garrett Graham.”

“I know,” I answer dryly. “That’s why I said yep.”

Lisa looks outraged. “What is wrong with you? Why aren’t you freaking out right now?

Garrett Graham is sitting in your booth. He talked to you.”

“Holy shit, he did? I mean, his lips were moving, but I didn’t realize he was talking.”

I roll my eyes and walk over to the drink station to pour Garrett’s drink. I don’t look his way, but I can feel those smoky gray eyes following my every movement. He’s probably sending telepathic orders for me to tutor him. Well, too bad for him. There’s no way I’m wasting the little spare time I have on a college hockey player who thinks he’s a rock star.

Lisa trails after me, oblivious to my sarcasm and still gushing about Graham. “He’s so gorgeous. Like unbelievably gorgeous.” Her voice lowers to a whisper. “And I hear he’s amazing in bed.”

I snort. “He probably started that rumor himself.”

“No, Samantha Richardson told me. She hooked up with him last year at the Theta kegger. Said it was the best sex of her life.”

I have no response, because I couldn’t care less about the sex life of some girl I don’t even know. Instead, I shrug and hold out the Dr. Pepper. “You know what? Why don’t you take his booth?”

The way Lisa gasps, you’d think I just handed her a check for five million dollars. “Are you sure?”

“Yep. He’s all yours.”

“Oh my God.” She takes a step forward as if she’s going to hug me, but then her gaze darts to Garrett and she appears to have second thoughts about broadcasting her terribly unwarranted joy. “I owe you so big for this, Han.”

I want to tell her that she’s actually doing me the favor, but she’s already dashing toward the booth to wait on her prince. I watch in amusement as Garrett’s expression clouds over at Lisa’s approach. He picks up the glass she sets in front of him, then meets my gaze and slants his head.

As if to say, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.

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A Reader’s Review of Fifty Shades of Grey – The Movie

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Movie reviews are really not my forte because I am a very reactive viewer and tend to experience cinematography through an acutely emotional and subjective lens, even more so than with books, but Fifty Shades of Grey is the story that singlehandedly jump-started my reading passion and it is greatly responsible for the way my reading tastes have evolved over time, thus leaving me a bursting bubble of emotions after seeing its movie adaptation. I will admit that I had a reasonable number of expectations, bracing myself for disappointment because very rarely does a movie outmatch its book, but let me tell you, this movie did not just do the first book in the Trilogy justice—it pulled off the almost impossible task of faithfully bringing these fictional characters to life and making them even more psychologically layered and three-dimensional than they might have been in the first place, turning my overall viewing experience into an absolute thrill start to finish.

After seeing Dakota Johnson’s portrayal of Anastasia Steele, I am convinced that this role was made for her. The Fifty Shades Trilogy always centred around its heroine and her inner voice, making any actress’ portrayal of this role much more important than the one of Christian Grey, but Ms Johnson’s innate comedic timing left me speechless, not to mention all the ways she succeeded in expressing Anastasia’s vulnerability and naiveté, often with nothing more than a facial expression or a look. Her reluctance to just jump into the sexual adventure that Christian was proposing and thus effectively put aside her own romantic ideals was real, palpable, vivid in her every move. Even more so than in the books, I felt her desperate desire to be loved by him for the woman that she is, not the one he wants her to be, and that never changed in her, even when she surrendered to him and gave his lifestyle a taste.

Jamie Dornan was also a pleasant surprise, mainly because I was not always keen on his casting in this role, and even though at times there was a ‘stiffness’ to him that gave me the impression he was not entirely comfortable in Mr Grey’s shoes, he still managed to exceed my expectations and make me confident that he would ‘grow’ into this role even more in subsequent instalments of the Trilogy. His dominant streak didn’t always feel ‘natural’ to me, his words not always matching his body language, but that did not distract me in the slightest from enjoying him as the delicious ‘Fifty’.

The chemistry between the main characters was phenomenal, culminating in some of the most explicit and yet tastefully executed sex scenes I have ever watched on the big screen. There was a lot of nudity, both male as well as female, as it should have been given the storyline, but it was done with just the right level of detail, and it did not leave me feeling cheated out of any imageries that the books so vividly described. Their every sexual encounter was graphic enough to make it appear ‘real’, but elusive enough to allow us to fill the blanks with our own imagination.

Lastly, the music soundtrack needs to be acknowledged because it not only perfectly matched each scene, it enhanced them and played a vital role in our total multisensory experience.

This movie adaptation will undoubtedly meet its champions as well as its harsh critics, some happy to simply enjoy it without any preconceived notions, while others dissecting its every scene and assigning more symbolic meanings to it than it ever wished to convey, but I remain of the opinion that Christian and Ana’s love story was never meant to be a ‘how-to’ guide on relationships. It never set out to teach us any lessons other than what happens behind closed doors between two consulting adults is no one’s business other than their own. It never ‘glorified’ any aspects of itself. And there are no victims in this scenario. It’s a story that started a discourse on sex, liberated women to talk freely about their own sex lives, and it added the missing spark to many bedrooms. It was a catalyst, not a point of reference, and for many readers like yours truly, it will forever remain the seed that started the forest.

I loved this movie, plain and simple. I was emotionally spent by the end of it and immediately desperate for the sequel, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone willing to open-mindedly enjoy some steamy but utterly addictive fiction…with a mouth-watering side of kink.

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The Books
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The Soundtrack

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BOOK REVIEW & EXCERPT: Hero by Samantha Young

Hero_youngAlexa Holland’s father was her hero—until her shocking discovery that she and her mother weren’t his only family. Ever since, Alexa has worked to turn her life in a different direction and forge her own identity outside of his terrible secrets,. But when she meets a man who’s as damaged by her father’s mistakes as she is, Alexa must help him.

Caine Carraway wants nothing to do with Alexa’s efforts at redemption, but it’s not so easy to push her away. Determined to make her hate him, he brings her to the edge of her patience and waits for her to walk away. But his actions only draw them together and, despite the odds, they begin an intense and explosive affair.

Only Caine knows he can never be the white knight that Alexa has always longed for. And when they’re on the precipice of danger, he finds he’ll do anything to protect either one of them from being hurt again…

review

“I fantasize about f*cking you in this office a hundred times a day.”

You know you’ve really liked a book when you find yourself re-reading it four times in the span of a month! At first glance, the premise of this book might appear to be just another billionaire-falls-for-the-girl-next-door scenario, and you might walk into this story expecting nothing more than some good ol’ smutty fluff with great chemistry between the characters and a few blazing sex scenes. But you would be wrong. Because when Samantha Young tells a story, she injects it with so much heart-clenching angst, you find yourself gripping your chest because your heart won’t stop hurting, thus turning any cliché into a phenomenal and truly unforgettable reading experience. I adored this book, from the stubborn, feisty, but inherently vulnerable heroine, to the brooding, arrogant, but essentially tortured hero. I loved their banter, I loved the energy between them, whether they were fighting or getting tangled between the sheets, every scene they shared being a delectable delight start to finish.

Caine Carraway and Alexa Holland are apparent strangers to one another, but their lives have been tragically connected from a very young age. Now a self-made billionaire and one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors, Caine has overcame family tragedies and betrayals to become the man he is now—a man who does not trust easily or let many people into his inner circle. So when a reminder of the most painful event in his past walks into his life unannounced, he lashes out and cuts the ground from under her feet by getting her fired. But even jobless and with no professional prospects in sight, Alexa is determined to put aside her pride and heal the breach between them, even if it only means he sees that they are more alike than he realises.

“I’m not here to fall for him. I’m just trying to be there for him somehow. I get him, even if he doesn’t realize it, I really do get him. I would like to be his friend if he’ll have me.”

As the estranged daughter of a disowned diamond heir, Alexa feels deep shame for the sins of her father, but her own family history has made her even more sympathetic to the pain that Caine carries in him. Desperate for him to see that she is nothing like her father, she accepts an offer that is obviously intended to make her life hell—she agrees to be his personal assistant.

“I need a PA who will fulfill all my wishes and demands immediately. That’s not easy to find—most people have social lives. You, however, are desperate and the way I see it, you owe me.”

Their reasons for such an arrangement might vary drastically, but Alexa is no pushover, and while she has made herself an easy mark for Caine’s relentless contempt, her snarky and at times insolent personality shines at every turn. The more they fight, the stronger the attraction between them becomes, and very soon their chemistry moves to the bedroom.

“I’ll come by your place when I’m finished up here.”
“My place?”
“Mmm. I’ll text you when I’m on my way.”
“Shouldn’t you wait to be invited first?”
“Lexie, may I come to your apartment tonight so I can f*ck your brains out?”

But from the very beginning, their intentions towards one another have not been the same, and not even a sizzling affair changes that. While Alexa sees how great they truly are together and wishes for more, Caine remains an impenetrable fortress of emotions, his past making him blind to what is right in front of him. Until he risks to lose it all forever.

“I’m not the guy you’re looking for, Lexie. I’m never going to be that guy.”

This story truly has it all—an emotionally charged romance, two multifaceted characters whose actions are as unpredictable as they make sense, a suspenseful background storyline to keep us wondering until the very end, and the kind of romantic angst that sets our hearts racing and where mere words start hurting like daggers. Alexa is a heroine I connected with from the start, her persistence, her courage, and her generosity with her heart making me very protective of her. So much so that I felt every one of her emotions, her pain in particular. This is just one of those stories that got to me, Ms Young’s exceptional writing style playing a vital role in that, and it left me with a goofy grin on my face, even though I felt like my heart had gone through the wringer. A truly great contemporary romance to sink our teeth in and lose ourselves in unabashedly. Over and over again.

“I’m not looking for a hero. I never asked for that. I just wanted you…”

5stars

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excerpt

Ethan led me into Caine’s office the next afternoon and I was surprised to find Caine not behind his desk but standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows staring out over High Street and Atlantic Avenue to the harbor beyond.

With his back to me, I stole that moment to fully appreciate Caine Carraway without him knowing it. So yeah, I couldn’t see his face, which was the best part, but with him standing with his hands in his trouser pockets, legs braced, shoulders relaxed, the view was delicious enough for me. His height, those broad shoulders, and let’s not forget that ass.

That was a mighty fine ass.

When the seconds ticked by without a response from him, I began to feel like a high school nerd waiting for the captain of the football team to pay attention to her.

I didn’t like that nearly as much as the view of his ass. “You rang?” Caine turned his head slightly in profile. “I did.”

“And I assume there was a reason?”

He faced me and I felt that flush of attraction as his eyes swept over me. “You would assume right.” He sighed and strolled over to his desk, his gaze raking over me speculatively as he did so. “Do you own a suit, heels?” His scrutiny moved to my face. “Makeup?”

I looked down at my clothes. I was wearing jeans and a sweater, and no, I wasn’t wearing makeup. I had good skin. I’d inherited my olive skin from my mother and despite those darn freckles sprinkled across the crest of my nose, it was blemish free. I rarely wore foundation or blush, and because my eyes were so light and my lashes so dark I only wore mascara when dressing up for an occasion.

I knew I wasn’t glamorous, but I looked like my mom—I had her apple cheekbones, blue-green eyes, and dark hair— and my mom had been very pretty. No one had ever looked me over and considered my lack of makeup with disdain before.

I frowned. “Weird question.”

Caine relaxed against his desk in much the same pose as he had used the last time he pinched his lips at me in his office. And he was pinching his lips and inspecting me. I felt like I was being judged and found wanting, which was insulting normally but somehow even worse coming from a guy who looked as put together as he did.

Sexy jackass.

“I couldn’t change Benito’s mind,” Caine informed me. “That little bastard can hold a grudge.”

If I weren’t so deflated by his news I would have laughed. “Bu—”

“So I thought about it,” he said, cutting me off, “and you can try working for me. You’ll need to invest in some appropriate clothing, however.”

Um . . . what? Did he just . . . ? “I’m sorry. What?”

“Benito informed me that it kills him but he just can’t take you back after your behavior with a client lost him such big accounts. You’re the biggest disappointment of his thirties and before you went insane you were the best PA he ever had. The disappointment of your behavior on set, and I quote, Broke. His. Heart.”

“Oh yeah, he sounds devastated.”

“Despite his flair for the melodramatic, it seems he has high standards and he has led me to believe that before you acted like an insane person you were intelligent, efficient, and hardworking.”

“Insane person?” That word had been used as an adjective to describe me twice now.

He ignored me. “I need a PA. Ethan is a temp and my previous PA has decided not to return from maternity leave. I have a job opening and I’m offering it to you.”

Dumbfounded.

There was no other word for how I was feeling.

How could this man go from never wanting to see me again to offering me a job that meant I was going to be in his face? A lot.

“But . . . I thought you didn’t want me around.”

Caine narrowed his eyes. “I need a PA who will fulfill all my wishes and demands immediately. That’s not easy to find—most people have social lives. You, however, are desperate and the way I see it, you owe me.”

I sobered at his reminder of the past. “So what . . . you get to act out some kind of vengeance by working me into an early grave?”

“Something like that.” He smirked. “It’ll be a comfortable grave, though.” He told me the salary and I almost passed out.

My mouth parted on a gasp. “For a PA job? Are you serious?”

I’d get to keep my apartment. I’d get to keep my car. Screw that . . . I’d be able to save enough money to afford a deposit on my apartment.

Caine’s eyes glittered triumphantly at my obvious excitement. “As I said, it comes with a price.” His grin was wicked and I suddenly felt a little breathless.

Posted by arrangement with New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company.
Copyright © Samantha Young, 2015.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Traveling Man by Jane Harvey-Berrick

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“I was ordinary. Nice. 

He was extraordinary. And he wasn’t always nice.

Moody and difficult, brilliant and beautiful, Kes scared me and he protected me. He could be incredibly hurtful and incredibly thoughtful. He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for me. He challenged me, he took me out of my safe little box and showed me the world could be magnificent. He was everything I wasn’t.”

Aimee Anderson is ten when the traveling carnival first comes to her nice little town. She doesn’t expect her world to change so completely. But meeting Kestrel Donohue puts her life on a different path.

Even though she only sees him for the two weeks of the year when he passes through her home town, his friendship is the most important of her life. As a child’s friendship grows to adult love, the choices become harder, and both Kes and Aimee realize that two weeks a year will never be enough…

 

review

“He could breathe fire, he could eat flames, but the word ‘love’ burned on his lips.”

I have such a soft spot for Jane Harvey-Berrick’s brand of make-believe, the allure of her remarkable writing style pulling me in and holding me captive time and time again, and this book was no exception. A setting that was completely foreign and somewhat uninviting to me, she once again succeeded in mesmerizing me from the very beginning, until I realised I was highlighting entire pages, in awe of every word, every emotionally-charged description, every thrilling detail about a story that was as addictive as it was startling.

“I couldn’t tell you why the carnival lured me with its sticky fingers and bright, whirling colors, except to say that it was different, and that excited me. I’d only read about ‘different’ in books, never experienced it for myself. Perhaps it was a case of be careful what you wish for.”

Aimee Anderson has always been fascinated by carnivals. So when, on her tenth birthday, her wish to visit the newly arrived carnival in town is granted by her stringent parents, Aimee feels like all her hopes and dreams have suddenly come true. But even though in her young eyes carnivals are the closest thing to a world of magic, she expects nothing more than Ferris wheel rides, cotton candy, and thrill acts to tickle her vibrant imagination. Until a boy with silvery eyes and a challenging smirk on his lips steals her away from the crowds and shows her his world the way only a ‘carnie’ gets to see it. From the moment she lays eyes on him, she sees the wonder that is him, utterly blind to the prejudices swirling around them and only seeing him with the beauty of her heart.

“You have a gift, Kes, an amazing wonderful gift. It’s special, just like you.”

Kestrel “Kes” Donohue has never known any other life but that of a ‘carnie’. Coming from a long line of traveling men, Kes was born into this life and has never wished to be part of another, his wild and unrestrained personality having found the perfect outlet in that nomadic lifestyle and in the thrill of the stunt shows he’s found himself starring in from an early age. A showman by nature, Kes has never wanted any part of the world outside the carnivals. Until a young girl with glittering eyes, tugging at her mum’s hand from glee, catches his eye. And steals his heart.

“You’re my girl, Aimee. No one else.”

Year after year, they meet up for two weeks each summer when the carnival arrives in town, and year after year, they fall deeper and deeper for one another. We watch their budding romance through the eyes of a young girl falling in love for the very first time in her life, as she waits all year long for those short weeks when she’d be free to be herself and in the company of the only boy who has ever owned her heart.

“I don’t want us to be an illusion. I think about you all the time—do you ever think about me?”

But loving Kes is no small task. Temperamental, unpredictable, even cruel at times, Kes is like warm sunshine and stormy skies on the same day, being simultaneously capable of great attentiveness and careless indifference with equal likelihood of it happening. In public, he is naturally cocky and confident, but his heart and self-esteem are not as untouchable as he wishes others to believe. When the time comes for the young couple to look into the future and decide what they want the most, they encounter violent opposition from those closest to them and time is suddenly stolen from them, ruthlessly and deceptively, leaving them to nurse their shattered hearts for eight long years.

“He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for me.”

Fifteen years after their first encounter, Aimee might no longer be the bright-eyed girl whose heart did not know the sting of heartbreak, but the lure of carnivals still pulls her in, and a small part of her still believes that magic lives there. When she meets Kes again, the memory of those teenage years spent loving one another still burns fiercely between them, even though their worlds remain unconnected, just as before and now more than ever.

A young love turning into a second chance at happiness, this is a story of two people who fell for each other against all odds, even when they knew that loving one another would inevitably end in heartbreak. Against a brilliant backdrop of colourful characters and bewitching imageries, we get a front seat in this delightful coming-of-age tale that then transitions into an adult romance to make our toes curl and our hearts stutter. With impeccable prose, meticulous character development and a distinctive gift for pulling readers into her storylines until we are so deeply invested, we never want them to end—we are once again given such a unique, profoundly heart-warming and undeniably sexy story that stays with us long after it ends. I lived this book cover to cover, could not get enough of every beautiful word it, and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Kes and Aimee’s tale will conclude in The Traveling Woman.

“You’ve been sprinkled with fairy dust, missy. The carnival is in your blood now.”

5stars

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The Traveling Duet reading order and purchase links
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The Traveling ManMy review | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Paperback
The Traveling WomanAmazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA

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