Quick Reads and Quick Reviews 6

Gray Matter: Deep Six Security Series Book 5 by [McGraw, Becky] An Equation For Murder by [Nichols, Jayne] Desire Me Dearly (Heron's Landing Book 3) by [Morland, Iris]

Gray Matter: Deep Six Security Series Book 5 by [McGraw, Becky]Both of these people were passionate but in different ways. They had the potential to really compliment one another and bring out the best in the other person too. Their bickering was a bit more than just that, though, at times Gray was downright mean and I couldn't get behind that. And to have angry sex be a focus wasn't exactly my favorite either. Gray was so determined to not be swindled that he held on to his mistrust tighter than he held onto Michaela and that cost him in the end. Did they work it out? Of course they did...it was the how that was pretty entertaining. The whole story was tumultuous and full of frustrations on all sides. I liked Michaela's fire and vulnerability. She was the star of the couple and kept me hoping for the best for them. A couple other people stole the show, though and that was Hawk and Dante. Especially Dante. I'm looking forward to reading their stories. 

Overall, this was a pretty good book that makes me curious about all the other players in the series. As for this particular relationship, I'm on the fence because I think that there are some key foundation elements that are missing from their relationship. Their fire and commitment should see them through, though, so their HEA did feel both hard-won and believable.  3 stars.

An Equation For Murder by [Nichols, Jayne]This wasn't like I expected it would be. I enjoyed it even if it took a reeeeeaalllllly long time to get moving. The extremely slow progress in the beginning made it easy to take breaks while reading and not feel like I've missed anything when I came back to it...and that's not exactly a good thing. The content of that progress, however, was very sweet. It built a foundation for success not just for the relationship between Sam and Lillian, but for Lillian's confidence and self-awareness.

Lillian struggled for many years with an inattentive husband and then after his death because she essentially gave up everything for him, his career, and their family. When she finally comes to the realization that she needs something for herself, to get to know who she is as a woman and prove that she can be of worth and do something worthwhile, she chooses school. Finding herself in the arms and classroom of Sam is something she didn't expect.

Sam is struggling with his own immediate family as well as having to take on a basic math class that he would generally avoid. Finding Lillian in his arms and his classroom, however, was a reward he wasn't expecting. Throughout the story he falls deeper into all that is Lillian. Her strength, her heart, her generosity, her determination, her intelligence. With so much to keep him in her orbit he can't help but want to keep her in his.

There's quite a bit of external drama that brews on the periphery until all the players come together. I wasn't expecting the ending to be slightly open in terms of one of those meetings, but the resolution was pretty satisfying. There was a small paragraph of summation of the future which was a little disappointing because of length and the fact that important things were given only a few words, but the content was sweet, hopeful, and healing. Overall, it was an interesting story but had a tendency to drag for the first half.  3 stars.

Desire Me Dearly (Heron's Landing Book 3) by [Morland, Iris]The writing in this story is interesting, engaging, and it flows well.  The story itself, however, isn't nearly as good as many of the other works from this author.  Drama was quite a bit bigger than necessary and the resolution of that drama was the same as well as kind of lackluster.  Romance was also kind of a let-down.  There was so much potential for the fiery, outspoken, multi-layered Kat and the taciturn, hurting, gruff, brooding Gavin.  We learn a lot about these characters individually, together, however, we see longing from afar and more than a little physical attraction.  I don't believe that they're building a romance together at all and with a lot of declarations of protection that didn't really jive with how the story played out.  And then there's Emma.  I was expecting more from Kat and Emma but there was a huge complication there that was eventually accepted by Gavin and strides went toward coping and healing.  Overall, this was slightly disappointing based on how much I usually like the author and other books from this particular series.  2.5 stars.

The Hunt, Alice Ward

The Hunt

Tumultuous to say the least. Passionately moving and intense.  This was a great book that had more downs than ups, but those ups were so full of feels that it left you with a feeling of hope, change, love, and healing.  The downs came from things we all experience in life but Caitlyn and KP both had them heaped on in such a short time frame that it was a wonder that both of them found it in themselves to rise above.  Luckily, they had one another.

I really liked Caitlyn.  I admired her strength of character and honesty.  She came from intensely horrific beginnings and because of her feisty, irreverent, phenomenal grandmother, she found in herself a way to rise above, to become a genuinely good human.  Their humor together was quite remarkable and a true testament to how awesome her g-ma was.  Throughout the entire story Caitlyn was consistent with her beliefs, her dreams, and her heart.  She was the good that KP needed in his life to overcome his own awful upbringing and resulting lifestyle.

KP was a good man.  At first he was just a sexed-up billionaire who considered rejection a challenge.  His thing with Rachael was testament to that and I was actually prepared to dislike him.  Honestly, when a character starts out as KP did I am almost guaranteed not to like them throughout the entirety of the story.  Alice, however, is amazing at bringing out the human, the real man out from behind all that dreck.  His emotional turnaround was really good.  He was honest with Caitlyn, himself, Luke, and even Rachael when she made it extremely difficult for him.  I was surprised about his desire for fidelity, that he tried so very hard to be what he knew Caitlyn needed from him.  Anyone going from what he was to what he became would struggle and he struggled valiantly and triumphantly.  It's not his fault Rachael was a part of his womanizing past and a total biotch as well.

My favorite characters were definitely Eula and Wenton.  The MC's were awesome, yes, but these two people brought this book to another level of great.  Eula was Caitlyn's g-ma and a true quality human being.  She was fun, real, honest, and said the most perfect things for the situation.  I honestly wanted to screenshot so many things she said in regards to her feelings for Cait and her own next step.  Wenton was one of those special people who only know how to be good.  Born with what we generally term an illness or a disability he embodied everything that was good and right with humanity and none of the avarice, selfishness, or darkness so, really, what some think as less than capable, a reason to be marginalized is actually the way we all ought to be.  True greatness and tenderness in the two people in the book that send both Caitlyn and KP to their knees and, ultimately, one another's arms.

Overall, this was a really, really great book.  I enjoyed getting to know everyone here in KP and Cait's world.  I could have had a story of Luke and Alicia all on their own instead of catching glimpses of them through the moments of sharing between Luke and KP, though...  Anyway, awesome book, well worth the time spent reading and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

In the Shadows, Hailey Turner

In the Shadows (Metahuman Files Book 3) by [Turner, Hailey]

4.5! Really awesome book! The men were straight bad ass and the overall story was exciting, intriguing, and kept my interest from start to finish. It was longer than I was expecting but that turned out to be a good thing because, having not read the first two books in the series, there was so much to explain so the readers wouldn't be lost. The way the author did this, though, was just about perfect. There were a ton of details but were given in context of this story. Because it's set in a world with all the same elements as the previous two books it's kind of repeated information but because it's in context of Sean and Alexei, it's new to me and flows with the events I'm reading about. I suppose if I had read the first two books I would think this tedious and superfluous, but if we're jumping in mid-stream we don't feel lost. It's also not like an info-dump either so it's not walls of text that I want to skip over.

The dynamic between the two men is complex and also very simple. They've known one another and have been building a camaraderie, if not a relationship, in previous books but since they weren't the focus, we get Alexei reminiscing about the contact they've had. That contact allowed them to grow fond feelings for one another, how fond, however, wasn't apparent as more than general friendship and getting-to-know-you stuff until they were together on this current mission. Sean's quick thinking invited Alexei and his team to become part of a much larger mission that no one truly expected. With so many twists and turns and new revelations Sean and Alexei forge something much deeper. The question then becomes will this become something that will last after the intensity fades?

Sean is a liar by trade. Is he more than that? The way he was written was really well done. He knew what he needed to do for the mission, for his country, and for others and he remained calm, collected, and able to think ahead to what could come at them to make good decisions. I admired him as a man. What he desired and believed he deserved was something far less than what Alexei could see for him. Alexei was a good match for him because of the trust, passion, concern, and regard he held for Sean. Alexei is strong, strong willed and absolutely capable of believing in something beyond himself. That strength also led him to a bit of arrogance. I wasn't bothered by his arrogance, though, because it actually became endearing.  Honestly, I really love both of these men.  Sean did go from quietly awesome to a bit more emotional, understandable with the circumstances, but he did a bit of changing that I'm not sure I love.  He didn't decrease in my estimation, I just don't know if I'm keen on how he comes across at the end versus who we come to know in the beginning.

In the beginning there was quit a bit of reference to Sean's ability to pick up on languages and dialects in others' accents. He also has a knack for imitating many accents which aided him in both the CIA and MDF. That ability apparently didn't extend to him repeating Russian words requested him by Alexei. Claiming that Sean was butchering the words didn't fit with what we were introduced as a special talent so that inconsistency didn't really work well. It's either one or the other. To make Sean less than perfect and a bit cute by not being able to accurately say the Russian words is one thing, but to say that he is adept at accent imitation and then have him fail so spectacularly with this doesn't really make sense. Could we blame the passion? Sure, but I don't buy that. Similarly, when there are moments of Russian language education we get zero explanation or definition beyond kotyonok meaning kitten. A bit disappointing, that.

Overall this was an awesome book that I was happy to read and wish I had started at the beginning. I'll be hoping my library starts carrying this series so I can get to know all these awesome men and women from the start. I would have liked more from the ending revolving around these two men but since this isn't the end of the series we'll get to see them in the periphery of later books.

*Start at the beginning for FREE for a limited time!
In the Wreckage: (M/M Sci-Fi Military Romance) (Metahuman Files Book 1) by [Turner, Hailey]

The Cat's Pajamas, Soraya May

The Cat's Pajamas by [May, Soraya]

I thought this was going to be more on the humorous side rather than a typical romance but that turned out to be an okay thing. The romance was believable and unhurried. Lots of sexy times sure helped things along as well... There was also good pacing throughout the story. Many details from Cat's past were mentioned in conversation between them but we never saw the discussion where he learned all those things so that was a little confusing but not a deal-breaker for believability. The humor came out in their interactions and kept the couple from seeming too stagnant or sex-focused. Together they were a good match.

Ryan was a modern-day Indiana Jones, minus the life-threatening situations, and despite his misguided attempts at keeping things with Cat going by keeping secrets, he was a tender, passionate man. He had love, a complicated situation with his father, and incredible intellect. He was also just a dude who made a mistake.

Cat was complicated, hard on herself, and just trying to find where she belonged. She found a place in the Wunderbar at the end of her travels and stayed. Was it where her heart was home? Perhaps not, but she couldn't see if that was really the case because she couldn't help but hold her heart aloof and separate from the community. Something was missing. Until she found Ryan.

The way that they came together was cute and steamy. Their resolution seemed obvious to the reader and the side characters but Cat and Ryan remained frustratingly oblivious to how they could make amends. In the end I was happy with how things came together. The epilogue was a bit more day-in-the-life but it did intimate what we could see in the next book with Bea as well as how sweet Ryan and Cat are together. Overall, this was a really cute story that drew me in to their community and I'm looking forward to the next book.

Books with Unrealized Potential

Tame me if you can by [Levi, Alexis J.] The Wolf and the King by [Veldura, Tami] The Billionaire's Dirty Virgin by [Adams, Lexi]

Tame me if you can by [Levi, Alexis J.]The writing was stilted and read like full sentences and paragraphs were copied and pasted from Google Translate. The romance took forever to get off the ground and was quite awkward, mostly because of how the book was written, but also because it was just a bit schizophrenic. Dynamics between all the characters were almost exhausting because there were so many. There was so much that could have been omitted or streamlined to make the book more clear, concise, and interesting. Bell's gift seemed like it would play a bigger part, it was certainly built up enough, but it was dropped later and not given enough attention to make it shine as it should have.

Overall, the story was fine, not great, just fine. It wasn't as funny or romantic as it could have been and needed serious editing.  2 Stars.

The Wolf and the King by [Veldura, Tami]I was really excited about this book.  Shifters, crossing class lines, fated mates...so much could have gone so right here.  Except when it was all put on paper it ended up being too much and too little.  There was no background on either man at all so we have nothing to keep us interested in who these people are, why they should be or stay together, what motivates them, what will keep them in our minds beyond turning the last page, or why we should even like or be drawn to them in the first place.  We have Parker who seems submissive in the blurb but then is quite the opposite in the story.  Then there's Kaleb who is under the abusive thumb of Richard and the blurb gives no hint to that horrendous situation.  Passion is one thing, and there's a good start to it, but then it gets desperate and not like the coming together of mates who join souls, just a way to end the pain of an incomplete bonding.  I do like the realization by Parker later that emotional bonding was what was needed.  There was also a great moment when Kaleb found the beginning of his inner strength too.  And the would-be husband seems like a great man and I was curious about him.

Overall, there was too much with Kaleb's past not explained or healed, too many shifter aspects not given their due (the switching of inner animals?), too many hangups about sexual acts (from Kaleb's side), an unbelievable and unsustainable relationship, and too little background on both men (but especially Parker) to recommend them as individuals or partners.  2 stars.

The Billionaire's Dirty Virgin by [Adams, Lexi]I didn't hate it but I didn't like it either. I like the idea of a sexually confident woman, virgin or not, and the synopsis offered the idea that that's what I would be getting. The reality was disappointing. Both characters were shallow and had very little in the way of admirable qualities or a believable relationship. Lust was there, naivety in spades, prick motives, cheesy realizations, lackluster confessions, quick and summarized reunions, and a general sense of meh. No, this book was not for me. Is it for others? Absolutely! It was a short book with steamy scenes and an HEA with reunions all around.  2 stars.

Darkness Before Dawn, Leigh Robbins

 Darkness Before Dawn by [Robbins, Leigh]

I liked this book overall, but when broken down into individual parts it probably seems like I'm less than enthusiastic about it.

First, Dawn seemed so great in the beginning, definitely young and her level of attachment to Matt at the outset matched that youth.  Then there was Matt.  He seemed much older than his age and I'm pretty sure the beginning mentioned him being 21 but then later in the book he was reported as being blinded at 19...I'd have to re-read the book to catch what was up with that or if I'm just remembering incorrectly, but either way the age thing was confusing when speaking of, to, and about Matt.

Second, I'm less than impressed with the run-in at the hospital with the g-fri and the leg guy and all that.  Sure, it was a very in-your-face thing for Dawn and set the tone for a lot of events in the book, but I just didn't like it.  It could have been done very differently, something less distracting from what should be the main couple in the story.  The events that followed because of this set the timing for Dawn and Matt so much later in the book that I was tempted to skim and jump ahead but would have missed probably half the book.

Third, related to the second issue, is the amount of extra stuff in there that felt superfluous to the main couple and the story in general.  When I think back on the book I remember the related points but have a hard time connecting them in a real timeline because a bunch of other vaguely unimportant details fuzzed up the memory of the flow.  Also in the realm of extra was Lauren and Brett.  I feel like they should have gotten their own story because fairly important and semi-connected events were big and there but merely glossed over because they weren't really the focus.  It drew attention away and distracted from the main story but felt like I should be invested in their outcome as well so the little crumbs of information we get about them are completely unsatisfactory.

So there's more that bugged me, like the amount of tears and crying from Dawn from beginning to end, but there's stuff that I liked too.  The confessions were especially tender and touching and the difficult moments weren't glossed over or romanticized.

Matt's blindness was dealt with in a pretty mature way.  I liked that it was hard, difficult, and that he found ways around his lack of sight.  His internship was both good and bad.  He did something about his situation and, unfortunately, it didn't work out, but the reasons were intense.  It was a turning point for him that was utterly necessary.  How he came to that realization wasn't exactly mature and it hurt Dawn and set their union even farther into the future, but it was more real than I expected.

Dawn's situation with needing help and protection was intense as well.  As extreme and awful as her experience was near the end I was glad that there wasn't a Deus ex machina situation or a white knight moment.  Well, there was a bit of the knightly, but it didn't happen in time to keep bad stuff from happening.  We all know that life isn't made up of perfectly timed moments, but how we survive and rise above the bad we encounter.  What happened was more real and didn't shy away from the consequences which I respected.

Overall, this was a good book.  There was equal frustration and sweetness to recommend it so it was a worthwhile experience.  Oh, and there were some really cheesy moments that weren't really the sweet kind, more the extra sappy and juvenile.  But other than that, I don't mind the time it took to finish reading.

Celebrating Love, Maryann Jordan

Celebrating Love (Saints Protection & Investigations Book 9) by [Jordan, Maryann]
I really loved this book.  This is the first book from this author that I've read and I'm hooked.  Book one in the Saints Protection & Investigations series, Serial Love, is currently free on Amazon and I just bought it to get involved with these men and women from the beginning.  Bayley was energetic, super quirky, observant, enthusiastic, optimistic, and courageous.  I loved her.  She allowed her brain to rule over her fear and was willing to voice her suspicions even if she wasn't sure that they were valid.  Her quoting Agatha Christie was unique and special because it was just another way that made her both memorable and cute.  Nick was OCD, loyal, hardworking, devoted, smart, and willing to open himself to all that is Bayley.  Together they were sweet, inspiring, and supportive.

Nick, I feel, was the more complicated of the MC's because had both the duration and events of this particular story and also because of the changes going on in his life.  Nick was becoming disenchanted with all the politics, maneuvering, and backstabbing that was going on in his particular alphabet.  And then there were his personal complications coming from family and his neuroses.  With Bayley he could start to truly see the future, one where he didn't expect himself to be, and was clearly open to what all those changes meant.  I really enjoyed how soft he became, so accepting of all that Bayley is.

I'm excited for the next, to get to know Nate, Scarlett, and Agnes.  Well written, good pacing, intriguing characters, believable relationships, and villains who both were and were not villainous.  In fact, I was so sure of who the real bad guy was that I had a small surprise when there was more to that story than met the eye.  I probably should have seen it coming but honestly, the way it was written made me think that it wouldn't be the usual outcome.  So I had suspicions and then thought I knew and then the real villain was the unexpectedly expected person.  Confusing?  Yeah, you'll just have to read the story to know what I mean.  But I liked how it played out.

Overall, this was a really fun read.  It was complicated enough that it stayed interesting and with the perspectives of other characters it felt well-rounded and helped the resolution to feel satisfying and complete.

*Serial Love is free at time of posting

Quick Reads and Quick Reviews 4

 Cocked & Loaded, [Fields, Annette]  His to Keep, [Wood, Vivian]  Blaze, [Kade, Teagan]

This was a little short for me.  I enjoyed the story and the strong, feisty Pepper the most.  She was a bit fragile near the end, but it was well warranted because of how she'd been maneuvered and raised.  Her heart was guarded but she needed healing just as much, if not more, than the arrogant and aloof Reagan.  He was tender, sweet, and more than a little sexy.  With all that, he was also patient and willing to work hard.  There was no insidious or ulterior motive for his getting close to her beyond the first meeting.  He knew that there was more to not just Pepper but her community that would benefit him than just building on the land first acquired.  All around great story that had more heart than I expected and just enough sexiness to round out a quick and intense romance.  The issue with it being short was more that there was a leftover feeling of shallowness, that there could have been more depth and a foundation that was lacking (not missing, just lacking).  4 stars.

I was a bit disappointed with this story.  The connected story, His Best Friend's Little Sister, was a much better book with more depth and angst and resolution.  Sure, Henry and Ellie had a life-long connection through her brother which gave a background for them, but why can't a book of equal length and interesting circumstances have just as much depth?  There was nothing here to really recommend the romance itself and Samantha tended to be not just submissive, but a doormat and a rather weak female.  I wasn't drawn to her or invested in her.  Connor was arrogant and self-absorbed and his confession near the end wasn't nearly good enough to make up for an entire book of his antipathy and vacillation between being drawn to Sam and denial of anything more than physical attraction.  Then the dating app thing was a total dick move.  Not a fan.  So I didn't hate this book because these people were still human and navigating some difficult circumstances that I hoped would have brought them together in a more concrete, believable, emotional way.  2 stars.

This book was merely okay.  There was a ton of sex, which is always interesting in a story with the title and premise, but there was very little in the way of maturity and growth.  The epilogues were absolutely necessary and the reason for a 3 star instead of a 2 star rating from me.  I liked that they each helped one another with their weaknesses and that their relationship wasn't just physical, it just got a little overshadowed by all the hormonal posturing of 21 year old males.  I actually thought this was an unwise age to make the MC's.  I would have believed their depth of feeling more if they each had a couple/few more years of life experience.  The villain was predictable but not exactly in a bad way.  His craziness was a bit unexpected though.  Overall, this was a pretty good read, definitely quick, but not exactly inspiring depth worth revisiting.  3 stars.

Wedding Day, Erin Bevan

This was a really cute story. We have Dallas who never met a challenge he didn't like and Cassie who is likely to be the biggest challenge. And also the biggest reward Dallas has ever met.

Cassie is innocent, hard working, and a devoted mother. She loves her family and is committed to them and her community so jumps at the chance to move her and her daughter back to Frisbee, TX. The only thing in the way of her peaceful life is a busy boyfriend and a handsome blast from the past. She tried valiantly to steer clear of Dallas' overt charms but doesn't stand a chance when he decides to pursue her relentlessly. He worms his way into her life and into her heart.

Dallas is looking for some fun while he's recovering from a broken wrist and sees his brother's challenge as the perfect distraction. When he finally sees the object of the town's interest, the new veterinarian seems unaffected by his advances. His interest in her becomes something genuine and his eyes are opened to a future he didn't know he wanted. He's ready to make some changes for his auburn-haired beauties and hopes his plans work out.

Meanwhile, we've got jealous people on both sides of this relationship that try their best to come between Dallas and Cassie. Insecurities and misunderstandings do their damage and before we know it there's a whole lot of groveling that needs to happen. The confessions are sweet and the resolution is simply handled despite the dramatic crescendo it reaches.

There was more sweetness than steam for the couple. I'm not a fan of the fade out or skip scene thing for the sexy times, but all the other intimate moments had a good zing so I can probably overlook that.

The supporting cast was really good. Spencer and Brody's story should definitely be told. Eloise is quite the stand-out character and I wish she were present a bit more, even though she's almost more periphery than side-kick.

Overall, this was a great read, very sweet and entertaining. I willingly read and reviewed this ARC from the author.

This book is totally worth having in your library.  In fact, from August 19-23 you can get this book for free!  That same window of opportunity gets Erin Bevan's books offered at a big discount so be sure to visit during those four days.  It'll be the last sale before Christmas, so don't miss out!

You Never Know, Mary Calmes

 You Never Know by [Calmes, Mary]
Honestly this is 2.5 rounded up for me. I'm a huge fan of Mary Calmes and I read any book of hers as soon as my library gets it. Then I go back and read most of those repeatedly. This one, however, might get one more read to see if I'm just in a mood to not like it very much right now, but I think what I'm feeling might be lasting in this situation.

Mitch is just like most of Calmes' alpha men with confidence, arrogance, determination, irresistibility, and not a small amount of smugness. Hage is a bit damaged, a lot vulnerable, and determined to keep his past in the past because he can't trust his heart to be safe in Mitch's hands. And rightfully so! When we get the flashback to the breakup phone call and the reasons for abandoning Hage as well as the difficulties Mitch has with what's on offer in Florida I hate Mitch. There's not nearly enough groveling. I have a hard time when Calmes' men just give in because they come to terms with and accept the supposed inevitability. This book has that in spades and I'm not exactly cool with that.

Overall, this book is good, but not great and I'm not in love with any of the characters. No one gets enough page time except for Hage's constant stream of consciousness and the flashbacks. The support group of friends get one moment a piece of love and grateful sighs, but nothing that really builds that foundation. Ash is there and then it turns out that what should have been something real is actually something else and it ends off screen. The trauma that Hage went through as a POW gets glossed over even though it's insisted multiple times by Mitch, Jess, and Hage that the story will be told.

At the end I've become invested in no one, not even Hage. Calmes is true to her style and I respect that, I just had so much more hope for this second-chance romance. I rounded up because, while disappointing, the story had potential and I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt.

Quick Reads and Quick Reviews 3

This was a cute story that was an enjoyable way to pass the time. Ash was self-absorbed yet still very sweet, he just didn't know what he had until he tried to push his own ideas of performance onto Emma. Emma had already been hurt by the loss of her sport, but maybe, just maybe, she could find the courage to let Ash see just how much more he could have with her as more than his best friend. As they both navigated their present with eyes on two seemingly opposed futures they found something deeper than they thought possible. Ash's revelation of Emma versus girls on the road was so sweet and a bit surprising for what I expected him to be. Emma was more fragile than I expected but far more mature...until she started with the avoidance, then I was a bit less impressed. Her solo time on the slopes made me proud though. Both Ash and Emma did their soul searching and healed themselves in a way that made them coming together much better. How it all played out was simple and yet still cute to follow. 3.5 stars.

There was a lot of sweetness at the end that almost made up for the melodramatic ups and downs of the relationship featured in this story. Lizzie is forever running from Trent and their past, never truly able to heal and move on. Trent is forever burying himself in his work to escape Lizzie, their past, and the trauma of his own upbringing. Together they could either find heaven or hell, and the road they take to find their end is fraught with emotional crises. Overall, this is a good book, interesting, contains small amounts of tenderness, a lot of denied chemistry, repeating history, and healing. I could have done without all the immaturity and martyr mindset, but that was not only something intrinsic to each character, but also to their relationship. Without that I'm not sure there would have been any real conflict that could bridge the gap and give the romance a second chance. Still a good read though.  3.5 stars.

I was surprised by how this book turned out.  There was a lot of steam and chemistry and more than enough drama that should have left a sour taste for me, yet the hope and healing that happened near the end was good.

Seeing Halston grow up, grow into the woman she was always meant to become was gratifying. Watching Ford become more bitter and dismissive as time passed was disappointing but from his perspective, totally predictable. The way they came together was a bit unexpected and I was glad for the confessions and realizations that opened the door to tenderness, understanding, and a very bright future. I would have liked more in the way of descriptive resolution instead of a feeling that with a single conversation the pain of the past was gone. The healing and the ending felt rushed and glossed over when so much drama and heartache got chapter after chapter.

Overall I liked the book more for the ending and the tenderness that was there in the end as well as the honesty that was in the beginning before things fell apart. Things came full circle romantically and ended on a note of hope, love, and rightness that was well worth the frustration.  3.5 stars.

Shelter for Sophie, Susan Stoker

I really, really enjoyed this book. Having seemingly imperfect women that had such amazing strength and inner goodness was wonderful and also different. Not because there aren't other books with great, strong women, but because those women are either attractive with humility or attractive without any neuroses or imperfections beyond vulnerability and/or sass. Sophie, Quinn, Beth, Adeline...these women and more in this series are truly human, truly remarkable. They steal the show and have so much to offer. I'm a huge fan.

This is the first book I've read, not just of this series, but from this author. I'm in. I've signed up to be a reader for her because I can't get enough of these stories and am too impatient to wait for the released version.

On to the actual book review...

The mysticism aspect here was sometimes laid on quite thick and seemed a little contrived. Not that it wasn't accurate, I actually wouldn't know if it was or wasn't, but those moments were a bit awkward. That only happened a couple times, like the sudden realization of the need for the Enemy Way ceremony. I get it and the actual ceremony and the after part were great, it was just the explanation part that got a little awkward for me as a reader. Aside from that and one other moment, I was happy to have a huge, essential part of such a vibrant culture included. The way that it was an integral part of Chief is believable and heartfelt. I could honestly see a man like Chief both loving his heritage and becoming who he was as a result of it for both good and bad.
Chief as a man was solid, dependable, spiritual, and loyal. I liked him very much. His initial misunderstanding and then his determined and patient way of wooing Sophie was sweet and built up a lot of anticipation for the deepening of their intimacy. Their interactions were honest and sweet. Overall, it was a good match with his respect and reverence for human frailty and her spunk, tenacity, and inherent goodness.

Because of how tame it was in the passion department, I was perpetually surprised by the instances of cussing and dirty talking. I see nothing wrong with either thing, I was just taken aback every time it happened because I was never really expecting it. The tone of the book didn't just straddle the line between being suited for sweet or erotic, it was kind of schizophrenic about it. I would have liked it to be one or the other or a bit closer to both sides to switch between instead of shift from one extreme to the other. I'm not sure if this is just the author's style or something that other readers didn't see as an issue, but for me it was noticeable and a bit jarring. Other than that, I was glad that someone so sweet could also be very willing to be completely real and raw in her language and enjoyment of sexuality.

The dramatic stuff and the villain weren't really one in the same. The biggest drama came from the Navajo understandings of interlopers and spiritual interference in good things. Second to that was the drama with the hospital and arsonist. Having both of those things try to endanger both Sophie and the romance was interesting and kept the book from being too formulaic.

Overall, this was a really great book and I'm totally looking forward to the rest of the series. I happily read and reviewed this ARC for the author via thatbookrocks.

 Shelter for Sophie, Susan Stoker

Fighter, Carol Lynne

Fighter: (A Gay Romance) (The Brick Yard Book 1) by [Lynne, Carol]
This was tumultuous to say the least.  So many highs and lows that I wasn't sure how to feel about it when I finished reading the book.  I knew I liked it, but how much?  Not exactly sure.  One thing is clear, however, and that's that I'm still thinking about the book.  That by itself says that it's not just a good book, but that it's moving as well.  There are so few light and happy moments that it's difficult to praise with happier feeling words but words like heartfelt, captivating, and great still apply.  This truly was all of those things as well as being dark, painful, heartrending, and cruel.  I'm invested.

Lucky is so terribly damaged by a mother so evil that I don't have words to describe just how cruel and horrible she is.  At one point in the story I find myself hoping that Lucky can find healing through forgiving her until she shows her true self when Dray finds her for answers.  Nope, there will be no redemption for that woman.  Unfortunately, Lucky is in the position of having to bear the weight of his past and her sins all on his own shoulders.  He's absolutely sure that he's not worth loving or fighting for.  Fighting comes easily though.  Not for his self-worth, his pride, to find acceptance among strangers, or even for freedom, no, Lucky fights because that's the only place he can relate to himself.  It's clear, though, that he doesn't really know who he's supposed to be because no one has shown him what he could be, only what he can do in terms of the cage.  So how is he supposed to figure it out when the people who see him and see his potential only see what he can do for the sport?  When does the sport become a cage in itself?

Dray is very familiar with cages.  He hides is sexuality because he knows no one will respect or embrace a gay fighter.  So when he's outed by someone he thought he could trust, he runs.  But not before leaving some parting advice to a young Lucky.  That advice does more harm than good when Lucky takes it to heart.  To bury a fundamental part of yourself because fighting is more important than being proud of who you are.  So when Dray drops that nugget of stupidity on him and then bolts it's a long time before Dray can see just what he did to compound Lucky's difficulties.

Brick is a solid man, a gruff, crotchety man with the most tender heart.  His heart isn't really something you notice until you see that he wasn't investing in fighters, he was investing in humanity.  In caring for something and someone beyond your own self.  When he becomes ill and Lucky needs help, they call on Dray to help out.  While everyone struggles with Brick's illness they all  find out just who he is and what he's done for others throughout his life.  It also sheds light on possibilities for Dray and Lucky's future.

The relationship drama isn't exactly what I was expecting.  I thought maybe Vince would make an appearance, maybe someone from Lucky's past, and the synopsis hinting at Dray's penchant for running away, another unintentional outing...the list goes on.  What did happen was organic to the storyline and the difficulties written.  The pairing is good and there are some definitely steamy moments but the intimacy that was important wasn't the sex, it was more about the comfort, healing, closeness that Lucky was completely inexperienced with and that Dray had to teach him about.

The synopsis isn't inaccurate, but it is a bit misleading.  Well, a lot misleading because the major parts of the story really aren't mentioned in the lengthy blurb.  So I was a little surprised.  Good surprised?  Kind of, but how can you be happy about all the awful that is revealed?  Does the awful stuff that happens make this book depressing?  A little, I guess, but more because you see a darker side of humanity than you would typically encounter and with it comes the consequences of those actions and how individuals are affected and changed by it.  Overall, though, the book was gritty and dramatic and also sanguine because there was so much love and hope.  All the darker elements made the tenderness really shine through.

Thank you, NetGalley for this ARC which I most willingly read and reviewed.

Hung, Anne Marsh

 Hung by [Marsh, Anne]

This was actually a mistake.  I didn't mean to request to be a reviewer and I was hoping I wouldn't be selected by the author.  Well, I did and I wasn't very excited about it.  And then I read the book.  Aside from the many editing errors and the cheesiness and over-the-top mentions of male genitalia, I really, really liked this book.  It was funny, sweet, dramatic, and totally saucy.  Absolutely worth the short time it took to read.

Pick is unapologetic, huge, determined, and thrown for a loop by all that is Sara Jo.  Sara Jo is quirky, bold, sensual, and obviously hiding from someone.  There's all kinds of sparks between and around them and they quickly become more than just interested.  When the past catches up with Sara Jo her unlikely knight is willing and patient and, most importantly, he's on her side no matter what "authority" that past holds.

This was a really quick story with what could probably be more HEA than HFN because of the feelings near the end as well as the confessions and concessions, but there's no real mention of the future in concrete terms.  Pick was awesome, my favorite in the whole thing, and I did quite like Sara Jo so overall this was a good book.  Way more amusing and entertaining than I thought it would be.  The title is apt because of the appendage Pick wields, but I was concerned that it would read more like an adult film and have Sara Jo turn into a moody, vapid bimbo.  Thankfully that was not the case.  I was very happy to be surprised.

Quick Reads and Quick Reviews 2

Adore Me Ardently (A Heron's Landing Christmas Novella) by [Morland, Iris]A super quick story full of sweetness. There was a bit of passion to hint at more than just mere attraction and the epilogue was absolutely sweet and gave the whole story a complete conclusion. The romance was a bit rushed and since it's a novella I expected a shortened romantic timeline, but this was still a bit too short for me. Without the epilogue I would have found the whole relationship a bit forced and unable to last beyond the drama and attraction died down, but Matt and the epilogue were the highlights of the story. I was so very glad for a tender hero who wasn't typically handsome and had so much more to offer than instant attraction and bedroom skills. Matt was humble, simple, real, and so very considerate. He was also strong and determined and very willing to love the flawed Holly. Holly was vulnerable and still intelligent enough to know that any connection, no matter how strong or how tenuous, is suspect when fleeing from a traumatic past. The way that they find each other is serendipitous and the evolution of the couple was heartwarming.  4 stars.

The Dryad by [Silva, Dante, Mozes, Vanessa]This was a very interesting beginning to what seems a very interesting story.  We have Julian, a misfit in his own home and who adores his mother and her tales of her homeland.  She was a wanderer who had a gift for music.  In that regard, Julian is the same.  He loves the lyre that has been passed down for generations in his mother's family and tries to practice as often as he is able.  This is particularly difficult because his father is a farmer and is doing his best to have his sons follow in his footsteps.  The youngest of the three boys, Julian helps to support the family by doing odd jobs in their town.  Until one day he happens upon the dryad in her element.  What began as a stolen moment in the forest to play his music ended up as sparking an interest in the mysterious.  Julian and his dryad form a bond and he's drawn into magic and the unknown.  Ending on an open note, there's definite interest in how the story continues.  At least I hope it continues...  3 stars.
Invaluable (The Trident Code Book 2) by [Albertson, Alana]
This was actually a pretty good story.  I was expecting something a bit like Triton since this is only the second book I've read by this author, but aside from being clearly the same writing style, I liked these characters much better and the story was much more interesting.  I like them despite getting a relatively shallow view of who they are.  Kyle is much more fleshed out than Sara but they seem to fit together well.  Especially with her strength and determination and focus throughout her horrible ordeal in the desert.  She kept her head and saved more than herself.  Overall this was a tumultuous, sexy, tender story that made me want to read more from the series.  3 stars.

Rock the Cradle, Aiden Bates

Rock the Cradle: An Mpreg Romance (Silver Oak Medical Center Book 6) by [Bates, Aiden]
I started off thinking that this would be one of the better of the series. I'd read a preview and was excited about these flawed, vulnerable, neurotic, heroic men. Then throughout the full story I found myself increasingly frustrated by nearly everyone. But all's well that ends well, yeah? The story ended with sweetness and hope and a bit more summary than I like, but it was a good ending for men who really needed happiness and love.

Derek was a quick thinker, a compassionate man, and very intelligent. He was also deeply flawed, intent on separating himself from everyone that could truly hold his heart. He didn't know to ask for more, would never let himself, so deludes himself into thinking he'll never be worthy of it and is determined to never ask. Circumstances put him in a situation where someone needs him for their care and well-being and, to his surprise, his complaining neighbor becomes a source of comfort.

Alex is stuffy, stuck up, focused, and so very alone. He's not aware of just how lonely he is until he finds himself yearning for Derek's companionship. His family life is in turmoil and his psyche is in need of some serious help. When he blows up at Derek one too many times he realizes that the time has come to seek outside help. Once he gets the aid he needs he's also given the shock of his life when someone from his past shows up on the doorstep...of his neighbor's place.

Together they ride an extreme roller coaster of emotion and neither one thinks the other wants more. In fact, they've convinced themselves of that and their avoidance is so extreme that their assumptions do an excellent job of killing what could be a happy future. The way they find their futures is incredibly frustrating.

I fought not to skim all the parts where people getting after Alex. Yes, he's a total jerk sometimes because he can't see his way past his own problems, but why in the world is there no one in his corner?! Let's beat him up, berate him, and guilt him so much that he's backed into a corner and only gets more defensive and upset so he makes even more mistakes and cringe-worthy outbursts.  Honestly, everyone talked about how alone Derek was and that he's the one most inconvenienced and hurt by everything that's going on and while I mostly agree, I get so mad that no one can see that for all Alex is surrounded by "family", he's more alone than Derek.  No one, not even his mostly understanding mother, builds him up and makes him see that he's a good man without doing and sacrificing for every single person around him.  And after the initial meeting with the therapist, where are the ongoing visits he knows he should be having?  No support, no understanding, no confessions of love and hopes for him.  Rick Wade could be that, but the one instance of advice is short and never revisited.  I'm almost disgusted at everyone making Alex out to be the one who's always wrong, always having to fix everything.  After Ayla left he got blamed for the whole thing as a 13 year old...anyone want to be kind about that altering how he saw and did things?  Derek had an incredibly difficult upbringing.  Damaging, to say the least, and everyone gives him all the patience and love in the world.  Absolutely necessary, yes, I'm just saying that I feel so much for Alex and wonder why no one else does.  Ugh...I can't really rant anymore without giving away big spoilers, so I'll leave it there.

Overall, this was frustrating and hopeful in equal measure.  The beginning and the end tried valiantly to make up for the ridiculously frustrating middle.

Guarding Her, Lexi Whitlow

Guarding Her, [Whitlow, Lexi]

2.5 rounded up. Meh...Maddox is the star, Avery is blech. The steam is great, the romance felt unbalanced and lopsided.

I really loved Maddox. He was sweet, tender, strong, and committed to doing the best he can with what he was given. He doubts himself and what he has to offer. He goes all in with a girl he loved and is willing to protect her from everything she's trying to escape, even at his own peril. And then there's the bonus that he's smokin' hot. There was so much for him to offer even though he isn't sure he's worth it. He does know, however, that once he makes a decision, there's no stopping his determination to see it through. He worries for Avery and knows the part of her that she tries so hard to hide and sees her as worth so much more than she gives herself credit. When things get really rough he calls on the people he knows he can count on, even though their companionship was forced on him in the beginning, he did what he does best and turned straw into gold. He's the ultimate knight in tarnished armor, the one you really want in your corner and in your heart.

And then there's Avery. I didn't like her. There's a line between being feisty and just being a bitch. She crosses that line all the time. So what, a guy left with no word, you've got crappy parents, and your life is planned out for you...yes, those things are all terrible by themselves and even worse when piled on top of each other, but when push comes to shove, she just rolls and then has temper tantrums. Doing something to spite your hateful mother would be different if you were doing it for another, more genuine reason rather than just to piss her off. She chose her major and is excelling with it, awesome! But then when she chooses to follow her mother's demands for Maddox' sake, she goes against everything she says she believes in. That doesn't read as love and self-sacrifice, it reads like a whiny martyr who really had no true convictions in the first place. I saw no moment where she really grew up, she just realized that the world was a lot bigger than her problems. She didn't try to make changes, she just chose the easier road. No, her mom wasn't the easiest, it was just the easier of the two options she saw. No trying to think outside the box or be honest with Maddox, no using the intelligence Maddox praises, no using her own resources, contacts, and convictions to see other possibilities, just giving in in the name of love. But love is more than that.

But enough ranting...

The book was fine and Maddox was really the star of the whole show. Avery was okay, but her redeeming quality was really Maddox. Ella is a great friend to have and she's honest, sure of herself, and asks the hard questions. The villainous parents are suitably awful, and Salvatore is like the best friend and surrogate parent you could ever find. We read about Bebe peripherally and she even becomes a namesake later, but we don't actually meet her so I guess she's as great as everyone says. Overall, we have a relatively quick read with a really hot hero. And that was my takeaway.

Read and willingly reviewed an ARC from Hidden Gems.

*Currently FREE on Amazon!  (Free on 9/20/17)