The Hardest Fall, Ella Maise

The Hardest Fall by [Maise, Ella]

Sometimes a meet-cute isn't a meet-cute at all.  Sometimes it's a meet-whole helluva lot of awkward.  But the impression has been made so it can only go up from there, right?  Well not so in the case of Zoe Clarke.  She and Dylan Reed stumble through three before things take hold.  Their first two meetings were disasters but something kept bringing them together.  The circumstances surrounding the third are the hardest and yet they're the ones that will keep them together if Zoe can find the courage to share the secrets plaguing her.  If they can overcome that, Dylan's pride and career will be lemon pie.

Lemon pie?  You know, "easy peasy, lemon squeezy" and "easy as pie" put together?  No?  Or maybe I should have jut gone with "piece of cake" instead?  Well, whatever, you get the idea.  Back to the point...

So many excellent one-liners in this story.  I'm sure making the teaser graphics were only difficult because there were too many to choose from.  The sentiments, the confessions, the almost poetic way Zoe has with how she rambles and spills everything from her heart and head so it jumbles together into a beautiful mess of feels.  Dylan's heart is much more straightforward and the way he adored every weird quirk, gesture, and obliviously sexy thing about Zoe was all tenderness aimed straight for the cockles of my heart.

 The Hardest Fall, Ella Maise

Cute, quirky, honest, big heart, earnest Zoe.  Devoted, sweet, focused, wonderful Dylan.  Really, really liked this story.  I actually liked how the story led me on like it did Dylan until we got the real story from Zoe like that's how we should have read the situation all along.  It was a surprise and yet not drawn out for days and days for it all to come to a gigantic explosion of awful in the last three chapters.  Yes, there was a bit of extended angst concerning the situation but the way it was written was engaging rather than just being strung along to increase tension artificially.

Having a solid supporting cast also gave the story a boost.  Even though there wasn't a lot of time spent on background for the side characters we get a good general idea of who they are, why they are who they are to Zoe and Dylan, and why they are important to the progress and evolution of the overall story.  The drama that came from their friends could probably have been left out but I think it helped the evolution of the Zoe and Dylan story by giving another focus, a way to encourage change, and an opportunity to see them show loyalty and to bond more deeply to one another as well.

 The Hardest Fall, Ella Maise

The resolution was good, not exactly formula either.  We did have Dylan being all butt-hurt and acting out a little, but it was minimal, controlled, and honest.  Then when he found out the truth his immediate reaction sealed the deal for me.  I wish there had been a little more groveling because he was on the other side of a similar misunderstanding and should have shown more understanding in the beginning but going after her as he did and baring his heart as he did calmed my need for a good grovel a bit.

And that ending, good Lord, the feels!!  I loved the ending so hard it's not even a joke at this point.  Being that it was from Dylan's POV we get to see how deep his heart actually goes.  His love for Zoe, his life, and all the pieces that made them special as a partnership came together beautifully.  The ending was longer than most in this genre and I can't tell you how much that made this story better.  It gave ample time for us to settle into their happiness, believe in their future.  Throughout the entire story I was charmed by the uniqueness of the characters, invested in their outcome, and absorbed by the events.  Win, all kinds of win.

 The Hardest Fall, Ella Maise

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 The Hardest Fall, Ella Maise
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Author Bio
Writing has become my world and I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than giving life to new characters and new stories. You know how some things simply makes your heart burst with happiness? A really good book, a puppy, hugging someone you’ve been missing like crazy? That’s what writing does to me. And all the hard work, all the sleepless nights, all the anxiety…everything is worth it at the end. And I'm hoping that reading my books will leave you with that same happy feeling.

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Physical Connection: The Physical Series Book 4, Sierra Hill

Physical Connection (The Physical Series Book 4) by [Hill, Sierra]

Two men and one sizzling attraction.  Mark is an excellent surgeon, Eli is an excellent nurse.  Working closely with one another is a double-edged sword, though.  They work well together and that connection is beginning to spill over into some forbidden thoughts.  Well, forbidden to Mark.  Not only is he concerned about their working relationship, but he's not ready to face the questions regarding his sexuality.  Eli has no such qualms.  He's been out since high school and despite his unfortunate past he's got a happy life and loves what he does.  But getting to know the sexy doctor could definitely make things better.

I liked each of these men overall.  There were some inconsistencies, dramatics, cowardice, and impulsive moments that I wasn't a fan of, but I did find the men a good match for one another when they finally got on the same page.  Together they had some intense chemistry and when the ending was really worth getting to.

Mark's coming out, or lack thereof rather, had more to do with being afraid than timing.  He was so sure everyone in his life would turn their backs on him because of one person he knew of in his circle that had a tragic end.  Then when he chose his two best friends to come out to he mentioned that he knew one of them would only be mad that he hadn't shared this part of himself earlier.  He was also a fairly dramatic person in his head.  But he was earnest and trying to be everything to everyone and I can't really fault him for that.  Everyone should be given a chance to come out when and how they choose.

Eli was easier for me to like from the start but probably because he was more clear about who he was and what he wanted.  That didn't mean he was without frustrating moments.  His immature and impulsive reaction to Mark's reassertion of his expectations was disappointing but I wasn't expecting him to reflect so hard and so honestly about it.  We get an idea of his past before this happens and it apparently touched a little too close to that hot button for him to react better.  Yet it's the way he apologizes, the sincerity behind each of his words and sentiments that makes me forgive him.

So in a short story we got to see two men that were surprisingly well-described and had sufficient back story to make them believable characters and plenty of chemistry.  The ending was really the best part and smoothed out the rougher edges of immature displays, drama queen inner monologues, and inner angsting.

*$1.99 on Amazon!
Physical Connection: The Physical Series Book 4, Sierra Hill

The Courage of a Cowboy: Elk Heights Ranch Book 2, Kristin Vayden

The Courage of a Cowboy (Elk Heights Ranch) by [Vayden, Kristin]

Unrequited love is never easy and when Kessed's hopes are crushed good and proper, she isn't sure what that means for her heart going forward.  If it were up to Jasper, he'd show her what it meant, but with him by her side instead of the oblivious Sterling.  The timing is off, though, until Cyler's steer delivery comes early and it'll take cooperation between Kessed and Jasper to get the ranch ready for them.  Along the way they find something deeper and better than they envisioned before.  But when an IED sends Sterling home with open eyes, Kessed will have to decide if it's the past or the unexpected that holds her heart's attention from here on out.

I enjoyed Kessed's feisty attitude.  Her loyalty to her friend, her wit, her honesty.  She's a fun character to get to know and while her vacillation becomes a bit tedious, it's her honest introspection and careful thought that I respect.  By taking the time to truly think about each person and the way each made her feel she could get to the heart of the matter and make the best choice.  And aside from the unfortunate moment that was witnessed, the way Kessed handled it was sweet, hot, funny, and extremely appropriate for each person she interacted with.  She truly knew each of them and knew what to say and how to get her point across while maintaining the essential parts of their relationships and being true to herself as a person, not just true to her feelings.

Jasper was sweet, patient, and adorably funny.  He was a great partner for someone like Kessed and it's his balance for her personality that made me cheer him on the most.  The fact that he also had a great relationship with his sister was another point in his favor.  Their sibling banter was cute but it also introduced us to a sound voice of wisdom concerning his course forward with Kessed.  Harper's brand of honesty and sass was perfect to get Jasper to see that he couldn't assume and make decisions for Kessed without getting her side or allowing her to work through her feelings in her own time.  His presence, his goodness and humor, those things were what made Kessed see what she really needed and not just what she'd been hoping for as a doe-eyed adolescent.

With two great MC's and an equally stellar side cast this story was allowed to focus on the relationship and the individuals so we could really get to know them.  I was impressed with the outcome of the story despite my reservations about Kessed before I started reading.  I'm so very glad to have been put in my place by watching her be awkward, sweet, honest, and unique.  With the encouragement, understanding, and passion she got from Jasper she could grow into a confident woman who believed she could gain everything she hoped and more.  I'm looking forward to reading Harper's story where Sterling will meet the woman who will put him in his place and bring him out from his wary military shell.  His steadiness is sure to provide the ideal environment for Harper's heart as here's to hoping Elk Heights will bring back a solid cast and do them justice.

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 The Courage of a Cowboy: Elk Heights Ranch Book 2, Kristin Vayden

Both Harper and Sterling have a lot of healing to do.
But maybe they can help each other...
If only they can give up the illusion of control
and trust in the healing power of love.
The Cowgirl Meets Her Match (Elk Heights Ranch) by [Vayden, Kristin]
*Pre-order now for $3.99
Releases August 14, 2018
 The Cowgirl Meets Her Match: Elk Heights Ranch Book 3, Kristin Vayden

Laken and Cyler have their own history.
When revenge and redemption don't mix
it'll take determination and forgiveness
before they can find a future in love.
Heart of a Cowboy (Elk Heights Ranch) by [Vayden, Kristin]
*$3.99 on Amazon
Heart of a Cowboy: Elk Heights Ranch Book 1, Kristin Vayden

And don't forget the giveaway!
Reading is personal, so a giveaway should be too! Enter to win a “Director’s Cut” signed paperback with notes, insights and reflections from the author on the story of “The Courage of a Cowboy”, but first, coffee! In your new mug of course, and then after you read, take a moment to write your own thoughts in a new journal, who knows where your thoughts may lead you! You can enter to win on Kristin Vayden's Facebook page. No strings attached! 

Squared Away: Out of Uniform Book 5, Annabeth Albert

Squared Away (Out of Uniform) by [Albert, Annabeth]

Crushes are rarely a prelude to a great love.  When Isaiah sees Mark again after a mostly-absent six years he's absolutely sure that his crush has died.  The tragedy that's bringing them together this time will test both of their resolves to keep things civil enough for the children.  Mark isn't expecting Isaiah to stick around or be what he's promising to be.  All he can see is his own need to control the situation.  Isaiah and Mark both have their hangups about the other person and unless they can truly forge a partnership together, their grief and fear will ruin the best thing that could ever happen to them, each other.

Isaiah has come a long way.  He has finally found what gives him purpose.  He's struggling a bit regarding what could give him direction and fulfillment in his career, but when he takes up the mantle of guardian for his nieces and nephew he's more than willing to step up to the task.  Over the years he's been the go-to person when a caretaker is needed so he's got a good deal of experience.  The way he takes things in stride, doing his absolute best to care for the children despite his own heartache is commendable.  But it's his tenderness, his determination, his inner strength that really makes him shine.  Knowing who he is, that yes he enjoys partying, but knowing when to set those trivial pursuits aside for the greater love of the kids gives me the opportunity to see that he's growing up and getting his priorities straight, the ones that really matter.  It's tough to see how his father, and even Mark in the beginning, treat him because of his youthful behaviors.  He hadn't really needed to be different until now and he isn't the immature party/play boy everyone paints him as.  There are times when his patience with Mark runs thin because there's a lack of time under his belt, but overall he's a good man, a mature man, the kind of person that can see what's right, what's best, and move toward it.

Well, most of the time.  But the romantic heart that beats inside him has a whole other challenge to overcome.  That crush on Mark didn't die, it merely sat on the back burner until Mark came home.  He has fears and frustrations, same as anyone, and Mark's own difficulties just seem to make them worse.  Except when they finally get on the same page?  Straight swoon.  They are equally tender, sweet, understanding, and sexy together.  Isaiah's patience and willingness to let Mark set the pace frees Mark in ways he was never expecting.  He comes out of his shell and we can see his growth on every page.  Until he starts worrying about all the things in the outside world that he isn't ready to face.

Mark had never entertained the idea of a lasting partner, one that would accept him for everything his is, all that he can and can't do.  And then Isaiah not only opens the door, he busts it down quite spectacularly.  When Mark begins to embrace his own sexual discovery it's more tender and sweet than steamy and raunchy.  I loved this.  We get to see his heart so clearly and I'm more and more drawn to him with each gentle and loving thing he does for Isaiah.  It's just when he freezes up and lets his fear do the talking that we see the "one step forward, two steps back" dance that threatens to ruin it all.  He's not alone in the things being done to end the relationship before it can take root, no, but his hangups are in the driver's seat more often than not.  Yet it's his confession when he lays it all on the line that really moves me in this story.  While I have mixed feelings about his "option three" everything surrounding that and his heartfelt words that make the most difference.  Seeing him through Isaiah's eyes as he bonds with the children, cares for the baby, blurts all his feelings and fears out, and his tentative yet enthusiastic sensuality wins me over in the end.

This story had ups and downs and a ton of feels.  Both men had failings and yet they figured it out and found a way to rise above it all and not just make the best of the situation, but created a set of circumstances that allowed them to win and thrive.  The story fits so well with the rest of the series and each pairing gives us an additional foothold into the family of friends they're creating.

*$4.99 on Amazon!
 Squared Away: Out of Uniform Book 5, Annabeth Albert

Echo: Pierce Securities Book 9, Anne Conley

Echo (Pierce Securities Book 9) by [Conley, Anne]

If Simon Pierce can't get control of his personal demons he just might fail not only himself, but the woman he can't live without.  There's more at stake than his carefully ordered life and rules.  Lacie, Bonnie, and his entire team are at stake if they can't connect the dots and finally put Jonas out of commission.  Simon will have to prove to himself that love can open the doors to trust, that history won't repeat itself if he lets Lacie into more than just his bed, and that there's no force on Earth that will keep him from solving this case and protecting them all.

Lacie Hill is being haunted by multiple people.  When her father witnesses one of the men accosting her he hires Pierce Securities to watch out for her.  Lacie isn't stupid, for which I was impressed and glad for, so when Simon shows up she can tell something is up and is grateful for the protection once the truth comes out.  She also isn't one to run scared either, so she does her best to live her life as she would if the threat weren't there.  But being tugged to and fro by Simon's hot/cold reactions to their chemistry she's left confused, vulnerable, and then when the stalking gets worse, she's becoming increasingly frustrated and scared.  There's a lot that weighs on her and Simon is actually making things worse.  I admire her inner strength and her ability to compartmentalize is useful, wise, and a healthy coping mechanism.  She goes a bit far sometimes, but for the most part I think she's smart and resourceful.

 Echo: Pierce Securities Book 9, Anne Conley

Simon Pierce, on the other hand, for all his control, rules, and rigidity, is running scared.  Scared of his past coming back in the form of another woman, scared of his feelings, scared of failure, scared of his enemies.  While it's not apparent on the outside, when we get the full story about his background and his frustration concerning the team members' relationships with their clients it becomes obvious that his vulnerability pervades everything he thinks and does.  I do like Simon.  I think his vulnerability is something that makes him attractive, someone worth healing and loving.  And Lacie is the perfect partner for him in that regard.  What I don't particularly enjoy is his priggish attitude at times.  The way he treats Lacie in the beginning gives me hope, the way he treats her after he realizes he's attracted to her crushes it.  There's something about Simon that bothered me in this story that I wasn't expecting and I can't even put my finger on it.  He vacillated a bit too much for me and his treatment of Lacie was disappointing more often than not.

But together, when Lacie wasn't willing to put up with Simon's retreat and confronted him, they became so much more.  Lacie's inner strength drew out Simon's and I loved where they ended up.  Each of them had strengths and weaknesses that made them ideal partners for one another.

The drama of this story brings the case against Jonas to a close.  Finally!  Each confrontation without truly being a confrontation was really good at ramping up the tension.  Connections were all over the place but missing one piece, just one thing that would bring it all together.  The final confrontation was big, emotional, and harrowing.  The interrogation was disturbing and actually quite perfect to finally get the answers into a little of Jonas' twisted, sick mind.  Answers.  That's really what this novel offered more than any of the others.  We finally see where everything was heading, the why's of all the trauma and drama, and the reality of what they were all facing.  At last we see it all.  Including the happiness.  Having their barbecue at Ryan's place was the right way to bring it all together.  Food, family, hopeful announcements, Simon's softer side, and most of all, happiness and peace.

*$3.99 on Amazon!
 Echo: Pierce Securities Book 9, Anne Conley

Quick Reads and Quick Reviews 19

Sapphire Embers: The Beginning of Dragons by [Chase, Jadyn] From Bodyguard To Boyfriend by [Isaac, Wyatt] Promise Me We'll Be Okay by [Iris, Nell]

Sapphire Embers: The Beginning of Dragons by [Chase, Jadyn]For being so short the author packed a lot of stuff in here.  Heartbreak, dragons, war, apocalyptic meteors, shifting, confusing clones, "save the species" mating, insta-love, angry townsfolk, dramatic sacrifice, and a kind of open ending...and that's not even everything.  I think there were too many elements to sufficiently do any of them justice.  The writing style is also not really my cup of tea.  It was far too flowery and surface-skimming rather than direct, moving, and the kind that delves deep enough to captivate you and keep your attention.  When it came to the long-lost-love aspect of the relationship it wasn't really believable.  There were quite a few things that you had to suspend reality for in the story but the relationship part shouldn't have been one of them.  It should have been the focus instead of feeling like an add-on to a complicated shifter/birth of dragons/post-apocalyptic world type of story.  I was quite underwhelmed and disappointed after being quite interested when I read the synopsis.  In fact, if you read the synopsis you pretty much read the condensed version of the story.  Needless to say, I was hoping for something a little more but got a little less.  2 stars.
 Sapphire Embers: The Beginning of Dragons, Jadyn Chase

From Bodyguard To Boyfriend by [Isaac, Wyatt]Attracted from the start, Gabriel and Jensen dance around it and forge a tentative friendship while they get to know one another.  But one night in Honduras changes things for them.  As they learn to navigate their new dynamics it's their fear and uncertainty that will drive them apart if they don't admit to themselves and each other what really matters.  We're given a pretty good picture about each of these men right in the beginning.  Even up to their first time together we get a sense of why they would be good for one another.  From that point, though, things become a little muddy.  What we're led to believe is their main obstacle is given a token moment of consideration before determination that it's not what matters overwhelms it.  But then near the end it becomes the giant wedge between them and is addressed poorly.  Gabriel's other concerns were more natural and organic to their relationship drama and I feel that age was what was expected to be the problem even though it really wasn't.  There were also some awkward moments I came across that made me feel like I was missing something.  The dinner at Carly's house near the beginning felt out of place despite giving us the first moment of "contact" and hinting at something more than just a crush on a coworker.  Overall I felt the story lacked a read-through that could have caught the lack of fluidity in the relationship's progression before their falling out.  The ending, though, that was tender, sweet, and well thought out.  It made me want to forgive the other issues I came across.  And adding in the touching epilogue brought it up to where it should have been all the way through.  3 stars.
From Bodyguard to Boyfriend, Wyatt Isaac

Promise Me We'll Be Okay by [Iris, Nell]When the pressure of family and appearances becomes too much for Vincent he sheds what's causing him the most stress.  At least that's what he thinks he's doing when he leaves Jude.  He had no idea how wrong that decision would be until the only person he loved almost as much as Jude is taken from him.  With nothing left worth losing he finds the courage to knock on the door to his past, and hopefully his future.  Jude is doing his best to move on.  But being left is far different from doing the leaving.  Half of his heart is gone and he's reaching a point where he's going to break if he can't move forward and away from the devastation of Vincent leaving him behind.  And then a knock on his door one night changes everything.  If he can forgive, if Vincent can prove he's changed, they might stand a chance against their fears and insecurities and be able to build a future far better than they could have imagined.

Both men had their faults and they were each likable at their core.  I do wish there had been more groveling, more explanations.  What was there was sufficient but it also felt like it was lacking something, a punch of some kind.  And I'm not saying a physical altercation between the men.  There are quite a few moments where one or both of them put the explanations off.  Saying they needed to talk, they needed answers, and then not really getting back to it wasn't really satisfying.  And while the end was absolutely sweet, spontaneous, secret, and cute, it was a little bit of a shock.  With something in-between their reconciliation and the ending, some kind of settling, this could have been an even more enjoyable story.  As it was it was good but it could have been great with a little more detail, a little streamlining, and maybe a little more directed focus.  3 stars.
 Promise Me We'll Be Okay, Nell Iris

The Race, Alice Ward

The Race by [Ward, Alice]

The chance of a lifetime or the love of a lifetime?  Sometimes we dream of having both but circumstances force us to choose.  But what if the choice for love opens the door for the chance?  If Emma and Locke both lack the courage to go balls to the wall to create the future they want they'll never know.

Emma is a fierce competitor.  But because she's a woman she was forced to take a back seat to her older brother on the track.  Their relationship suffered a bit because of the jealousy and animosity that simmered underneath the acceptance and support for a good friend that happened to be her closest sibling.  I was frustrated with their dynamic from the beginning and never warmed up to their supposed friendship.  His jealousy for her situation is understandable but maybe he should have taken a look at how she felt her entire life being forced to support him despite being just as good if not better behind the wheel than him but because she was born second, and a woman, she had to play support cast to him for years.  And his treatment of her when Emma and Locke were caught being intimate?  Total dick move.  Like, supremely disappointing.  And then his other unacceptable move during her qualifying race...ugh.  I know we're probably going to get his story but I don't think I can find it in me now or soon to want to read it.

But this story is about Emma and Locke, so back on track here...  Okay, so the way the sibling's dynamic played out in the story wasn't my favorite and there were many times it could have enhanced what was going on with her career, her relationship, the pressures of racing, the grueling training, being many ways it could have helped her evolution but instead it created a distraction and more angst that never let up.  Emma was captivating at the start and then aside from physical strength and finding girly aspects of herself that enjoyed playing up her femininity, she really didn't change.  For me she stagnated as a character and I wasn't all that impressed with her.

Her fearlessness, talent, determination, and take-no-guff attitude was fantastic and when the pressure got to her and she lost a bit of her fearlessness and determination I could understand it, it was just the way she got it back that seemed rather lackluster.  There wasn't something that changed her and made her realize what she could and should be doing to improve or fight those pressures, it was just Locke distracting her and taunting her so she could go back to showing some of her spirit.  And the take-no-guff attitude really just became more reactionary and showcased a fiery, hair-trigger temper rather than a focused, strong, low tolerance level for bull that had no problem calmly calling people out for it like she did with Locke when they first met.

Locke was interesting in the beginning.  He had a past that pushed him to the level of fitness and business success he currently enjoys.  I liked the transformation aspect, but his hatred of that part of himself was slightly off-putting.  I was hoping that by loving the all-natural, genuine Emma he would find a balance.  And the epilogue showed the emotional evolution he experienced throughout the story.  He was far more dynamic as a person than I felt Emma was.  There were aspects of his character that I wasn't drawn to but overall I felt like he achieved more in his personal revelations that kind of made up for it.

Having grown up watching NASCAR and my dad in the garage and his shop as a mechanic there was a ton of the story that I enjoyed and appreciated.  Any time we got to a race scene I was charged and loved the detail, the anticipation, the excitement of the race itself.  Awesome job with this part of the story.  The romantic relationship was pretty good with both characters being ideal partners for one another but lacked the overall transformation and settling most of Alice's characters undergo in her stories.  External drama was a bit bigger than necessary and didn't really have a satisfactory resolution.  But that epilogue...utter perfection.  Alice is the master at phenomenal epilogues that convey change, deep and abiding love, sexy times, and the utter happiness between the MC's.  So while I had some issues with the story, the epilogue made me almost forgive them.

*99¢ on Amazon or FREE on KU!
 The Race, Alice Ward

Wait With Me, Amy Daws

Wait With Me by [Daws, Amy]

A fiery redhead with an addiction to free snacks and the vibe of a waiting room at the Tire Depot meets a super hot mechanic with an addiction to "smoking" red licorice and a certain fiery redhead.  Neither are really looking for forever but can't deny their chemistry or their draw to one another's personalities.  Secrets and drama might keep them apart if they can't be honest with themselves and each other.  But any good author worth her salt knows that when you find a real life book boyfriend, you do whatever it takes to write your own happy ending.

Kate is Mercedes and Mercedes is Kate.  Well, that's the idea behind a pen name, but Kate often feels that her alter ego is the more fun side of her that is only accessed by the muse that lets her write.  When that muse deserts her she's frustrated until it's in the Comfort Care Center of Tire Depot that she finds her muse chilling with the free coffee and insanely delicious baked goods.  So she does what any self-respecting author does.  Sets up camp and chills where her muse has parked her own fanny.

I loved Kate.  Even the secret of her name doesn't make me dislike her.  She's quirky, real, natural, funny, creative, direct, sexy, awkward, sensual, witty, smart, determined, genuine.  And coining emongry?  Straight genius.  Reading her thoughts and the dialogue on her part was never a chore.  Her reactions to pretty much everything were both surprising and organic and I was blown away with how much I liked her.  Like, I actually want to know her in real life and be her friend.

 Wait With Me, Amy Daws

Miles is the kind of guy we all hope is the one chosen to work on our car.  Hot, sweaty, dirty in all the best ways.  And lucky Kate, he's smitten...he just doesn't know it yet.  He's been burned by a drama-loving gold-digger in the past and he's not ready to let anyone past his emotional barriers, and maybe not ever.  But when a small, titian-haired, pizza-shirt wearing woman in flip-flops barrels into him, quite literally, all bets are off.

There were times that I wasn't a fan of his attitude and the way he would go back and forth.  And his "end" for them was totally harsh.  I get the past overlapping with Kate's drama and making him lash out but that was seriously brutal.  And seeing as how the only thing she omitted  was her "real" name and kinda-fudged the details about the roommate/ex situation, I don't know that either of those things warranted such a severe response.  When it came to everything that she is, she didn't lie.  There seems to be a lot of focus on her "lies" but she told him her pen name in full and because it really is a part of her I don't feel like that was a lie.  Every other moment she was genuine with who and what she is.

Their resolution, however, was everything it should be.  Sweet, tender, sexy, genuine, and heartfelt.  The entire story played out well.  I was interested in everything that happened and didn't want to put the book down once I started reading.  Sometimes I laughed, other times I teared up, and then there were moments when I cringed not only internally, but actually felt my face tighten in response to certain situations.  I was made to feel things while reading and I love when that happens.  So yes, I loved this book.  There were small issues here and there and individual moments were sometimes very clearly what I wouldn't have wanted to experience yet worked in the story, but despite those times I was won over and over again and enjoyed nearly every minute spent reading.

*3.99 on Amazon or FREE on KU!
 Wait With Me, Amy Daws

Destined to Crave: Descended of Guardians Book 1, Setta Jay

Destined to Crave (Descended of Guardians Book 1) by [Jay, Setta]

Knowing who your mate is when you're young is both a blessing and a curse.  Lucy knows Rykr is hers and meant for only her.  But he's five years her junior and once she hits maturity, if she gives in to the mating frenzy, she feels that she'd be taking away his chance to know himself as a man.  Rykr knows in his heart that she's wrong but nothing sways her decision.  What follows sets them and all the worlds on a collision course with demons.  Their bond will either free them or doom them.  With Lucy and Rykr fighting for their future in two different ways it'll take courage and a little deception to push them in the direction of their fate.

...Okay, so first, can I mention that the heroine on the cover appears photoshopped terribly?  Her proportions and body size looks terribly awkward, like they were trying to make her bare torso much slimmer than her upper body suggests.  It's like they tried to shrink her to be super small compared to the dude.  In the story Rykr grows immensely and is much larger than her, but don't force it on the cover.  Can't tell you how many times I've read a book where the woman is a brunette but the cover shows a blonde...or how about when the female lead is supposed to be curvy or voluptuous and the cover shows a slim woman?  Nothing is wrong with a naturally slim woman, nothing at all.  But when she looks unnaturally "posed" like this it's pretty dang annoying...

Lucy is fiercely protective of Rykr.  Sharing a bond with him makes her happy until she forces herself to think of him above herself.  I enjoyed her strength of will as well as her devotion.  During their time apart nothing keeps her from maintaining her heart's loyalty.  When the danger that has kept Rykr from her is revealed she wastes no time in picking up the mantle of protector, willing to fight for their mating by forcing Rykr's hand.  Her determination is admirable.  Aside from knowing her fierceness and her history of having a good heart we learn about her the most during the long flashback scene.  We get to see her feelings about animals but don't truly learn what her power and "light" is.  It heals, cool, but what really is it?  Where did it come from?  Who stole it?  What made it begin to come back in part if David later claimed to give it back to her in full?  There are quite a few questions and gaps that aren't filled in during this short story and introduction to the series.

Rykr is much the same.  He is a fierce protector as well and a good man.  His heart is for Lucy and Lucy only.  No matter what he experiences he's true to her, even after his heart feels shattered when she delivers the blow of forced separation.  His struggles with demons is a major problem and brings the plot racing forward as soon as his dilemma is revealed.  To find out what the real issue is, why he was chosen for the possession/habitation, what his and his mate's roles are in this mess, the ancient records, the "bad" guys...all of these things are connected but only touched on in this book and will need the subsequent stories in the series to become clear.  And speaking of clarity, what we get in the extended flashback as well as Lucy's musings are all we really get about who Rykr really is.  We have a general belief that he's good, that he's protective, that he loves Lucy immensely...but that's kind of all we get.

Overall this was a good story with a lot of attention to background and then the forming of the bond rather than an evolution of emotions and a progression of series drama.  The way the demon habitation problem is solved is quick and easy compared to what we were expecting with all the emotional angst.  Kind of disappointing even if it was a relief to have the MC's "triumph".  We get more questions than answers in this story and very little about the MC's themselves.  Despite that they are actually likable.  There are numerous characters with intriguing powers, interesting personalities, connections that I'm curious about, and an overarching story line that I'd like to see through to the end.  I would continue this series if given the choice even though this first book was heavy on drama but light on follow-through and basic with conflict resolution.

*99¢ on Amazon!
 Destined to Crave: Descended of Guardians Book 1, Setta Jay

Broken Protocol: Smoke & Bullets Book 2, A.R. Barley

Broken Protocol (Smoke & Bullets) by [Barley, A.R.]

Growing up close, Dante and Luke both had the love and nurturing of an amazing father.  What they also had was an incredible amount of affection and desire for one another.  As the elder foster brother, Dante did what all self-respecting older brothers do...he ran.  He ran from his inappropriate attraction to his younger brother and dove so deep into his police work that he couldn't find his way out.  When his mind and body had finally had enough he found a place to settle and still went about avoiding Luke.  Feeling abandoned and spurned, Luke dove into creating his own life.  One mugging brought them back into each other's lives and as they try to investigate the case on their own time, something much bigger, much deeper builds between them until Dante can't, won't run and Luke will do almost anything to keep him.

I'm not a fan of encouraging jealousy or throwing your life in someone's face just because you're hurt by their reaction.  In this case both of these acts were used to encourage Dante's response and it worked, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.  I felt that Luke was immature and spiteful.  Rather than showing his emotional cards he hid behind gratuitous flirting with the specific aim of rubbing Dante's face in it quite spectacularly on multiple occasions.  It showed that he was willing to use others toward that aim as well and didn't speak well for his base character.  Sure, he could have genuinely been interested in those men without Dante in the picture, but the way he went about it all was grating and disappointing.  For all the times he claimed he wasn't a kid anymore he sure showed the maturity of one.  Not being seen as a kid is more than just having the appearance of a grownup and some life experience under the belt.

That being said, while this happened two, almost three times in the story, we get enough of Luke on the job and in reminiscences that we see much more clearly who he really is.  If all we had to go on was the various club and bar scenes I would have been immensely frustrated and disappointed.  Instead, we see a brilliant mind, a lot of focus, determination, and selflessness, a huge amount of frustration and desire for Dante, confusion, tenderness, and understanding...a well-rounded person that could absolutely be the ideal partner for Dante.

Dante is a little easier to understand and like right from the start.  While he's dark and broody and intense, he also tries his best and comes from an incredibly difficult upbringing.  His past doesn't come to light until near the end when he finally feels that he's willing to risk everything he's tentatively built with Luke and it's agonizing.  I believed his turmoil all through the story and when I learned the basis for it all I was a little shocked and a lot heartsick.  Only with Luke has he ever been completely bare and, thankfully, Luke was the perfect person to lay it all out in front of.

Dante's back and forth up to this point is definitely a bit frustrating, but the roadblocks he sees are realistic and valid.  Their connection isn't one that most people understand and their relationship is absolutely a cause for concern in most situations.  These men belong together, however, and it takes a lot of courage for them to admit and embrace what they truly mean to one another.  By the time they get together I actually believe that they can overcome their societal obstacles because of the background we get and the groundwork laid as they get reacquainted.  With the added drama from the mugger, we get an intense situation that both pushes them closer as well as adds another layer to their difficult coming together.

The drama was always in the background because it was the initial force that brought them back into one another's lives but also because it was the investigation that was, in part, driving the plot forward.  Maybe because the case needed to be handled in Dante and Finn's off time it changed the way he investigated it, but it felt like it was always there but never really thought through.  One evening of going over files to make the connections between incidents to link them, one night of clubbing for the sake of interviewing (which is a whole other thing because we really just end up getting tiny snippets of interviews from Luke's various hookups and more than a little internal commentary on their tattoos and sexual encounters...), and one interview with Ryan from the couple that started Dante's involvement in the beginning.  Including a few mentions of something that should be clicking but isn't and details that he should be focusing on and yet doesn't, the case that seems so important is also not given enough focus to actually matter.  Only when Luke gets huffy and goes out on his own do things become clear and also quite dangerous.  I can't say the end confrontation wasn't intense, fitting for the story, and worth the emotional confessions, but everything leading up to it seemed to lack the attention it deserved.

Despite my complaints of immaturity and lack of attention given to the investigation driving the relationship closer and the story forward, I liked the book.  Dante was dark and troubled and needed the lightness that Luke brought to the table.  Luke was young-feeling and intelligent and needed the grounding and devotion Dante offered.  They're both committed to their jobs and one another.  Dante's short, direct confession was perfect for him and for the couple.  The overall story was interesting and drew me in so that I actually want more from the Smoke and Bullets series that will come.

*$3.99 on Amazon!
 Broken Protocol: Smoke & Bullets, A.R. Barley

Mountain Manhattan, Frankie Love

Mountain Manhattan: Mountain Man in the Big City by [Love, Frankie]

Stifled by concrete and metal, wishing for open air, trees, and isolation, Ford Thatcher is in a situation of his own making.  Commissioned to create an art installation in Central Park he's in a chaotic city with no clue how to fill the brief and keep his sanity.  Until he sees the green of his beloved forest in the eyes of the woman staring at him from across the check-in counter.  Mia has no room in her life for romance or a fling but Ford makes her resistance futile.  Both know something permanent isn't in the cards but their hearts don't care.  It'll take a lot of humility and courage to move beyond what they know to reach for what they deserve.

Mia is slowly being buried under the weight of all her responsibility.  I admire her strength, love, and commitment to her family.  She's doing a great job but the stress gets to her and causes her to become rather emotionally unstable at times.  Totally understandable, of course.  The way she is when she first meets Ford gives us a glimpse of who she is inside, the part of her that's stifled by life's circumstances.  She's strong, sassy, fun, funny, and confident.  But when the light of day reveals everything on her plate, it's not as shiny as it was before.  Ford is still mesmerized, awed even, at the amount of fortitude she has within her.  As the story progresses I find that her character weakens under the strain of adding romantic love to the mix.  Instead of using it as a strength, her immaturity due to her age becomes apparent and it takes Ford's tenacity and determination to remind her of the woman she could become.

Ford is intrigued from the get-go and it's no surprise why.  While I found him arrogant and condescending in the beginning, it didn't take long for me to see the reality of who he is inside.  His insides match Mia's quite well.  Through his interactions with her he becomes reacquainted with his softer, tender side.  The side that's been buried and smashed into submission by a staunch resolution to ignore it.  His past dictates his actions with Mia and they're as annoying as they are understandable.  It takes him a long time to truly open up to Mia.  I'm not really a fan of how often he belittles their connection, Mia as a woman after he thinks his emotional revelations are being rejected, and the city he won't bring himself to understand except through Mia.  I didn't appreciate his description of what they were doing as a way to tap into his muse and felt that wasn't given enough of a dismissal or acknowledgement of fallacy when his real feelings were made known.  He was tender and then he'd get all butt-hurt and react poorly.  Once I can understand, but two or three times?  Not awesome.  He does overcome that, though, and redeems himself in a big way with his grand gesture.

The proposal was pretty over the top, a bit cheesy, and a little unrealistic, but despite all that it was still romantic and heartfelt.  It was, at its most basic parts, what Mia needed to both see and hear to convince her that life with Ford is where she's meant to be, no matter where that is.  Their individual growth was the most important here and they didn't achieve it on their own.  Only through the strength of the other person were they able to see what was missing and acknowledge what they needed to become the person they'd always wanted to be.  The ending was sweet, tender, humorous, and triumphant for all of them.  Mountain Manhattan was a mostly well-rounded story with difficult pasts and emotional blindness surrounded by a heaping amount of sexual chemistry and a happy ending.

*$4.99 on Amazon or FREE on KU!
 Mountain Manhattan, Frankie Love

Claimed, Alexa Riley

Claimed: A For Her Novel: A Full-Length For Her Novel by [Riley, Alexa]

Stunned from the moment he saw her, Jay captivated Jordan and he was determined that she be his forever.  Jay was equally smitten but her cluelessness stuck him in the friend zone for years before one moment changed everything for them.  Their journey was sweet, cute, awkward, and far more dramatic than expected, but their passion and rightness together was spot on.  They were meant for one another and no shady business deals or kidnappings were going to keep them apart.

Jay was flighty and yet completely focused and driven to do her job well.  She was competent and no-nonsense when it came to her duties and I admired her dedication.  At the same time she was a chatterbox and sneaky passionate.  While she didn't have any experience in that department she wasn't shy about her own sensuality.  Her juvenile (youthful, not immature) excitement about playing it up for Jordan was sweet and cute.  When worse came to worst for her and her sister she kept her wits about her and used her head to think through their problem rather than cowering, crying, and becoming more a liability than an asset.  There's nothing wrong with crying or being afraid, not at all.  Stressful situations even more mild than what she was experiencing can trigger different reactions in different people and it's all natural and fine, I just admire Jay's response.  She definitely felt fear but her concern for her sister, her determination to stay alive, and her commitment to being found by Jordan was fierce and spoke to her inner strength.  She came out of the situation stronger than when she went in and that strength will only serve her well from here on out, especially to be the best partner for Jordan in all aspects of life.

 Claimed, Alexa Riley

Jordan was unexpected.  I loved his heart, his willingness to accept fate's hand in his choice of life-mate.  His tenderness and affection for his father and deceased mother, the way he cared for Jay before ever voicing his attraction, his virgin status, all of these things combined to make him more than just a scarred yet handsome security guard, it made him human and infinitely likable.  I was surprised that he would have chosen to wait for the right woman before becoming sexually active.  His reaction to Jay's dangerous situation was expected but I respected his choice to do what needed to be done rather than what his reactions dictated he should do.  The way things were resolved showed that his turmoil could be tempered with reason.  He was a good man through and through and virtually every scene showed his dedication to staying one.

 Claimed, Alexa Riley

Together Jordan and Jay were playful, loyal, quirky, and devoted.  While their intimacies were a bit advanced for two virgins I will suspend my belief about that in favor of just being happily surprised that neither of them are formula virgins or the sex-pots we generally get in stories like these.  Their interactions were more sweet than sexy most of the time, which I appreciated.  The description of their first lunch together was adorable and completely endearing.  When all the drama came down it was surprising in its intensity.  I wasn't expecting all the violence and gore that we were privy to.  It was pretty tasteful, if stuff like that can be considered tasteful, I just wasn't expecting it to that extent.  The resolution was surprisingly realistic with Jordan's struggles to accept life as it was after their dramatic ordeal.  I appreciated that his father made him see how important it was that he shouldn't smother Jay because he was afraid for her.  His realization of his own fears allowed him to be honest and to heal from everything that happened to the person he loved most.

 Claimed, Alexa Riley

So as a bit of an aside that I feel should be noted, there were many mentions of Jordan's spying and how Jay was okay with it all while acknowledging many times that she should be creeped out.  Yeah, I'm leaning more toward the creepy vibe rather than the happy-to-be-protected vibe.  There should have been a discussion about it and boundaries.  Yes, he wasn't doing anything maliciously, nothing was perverted, and nothing was too invasive, BUT the tendencies themselves shouldn't be lauded or praised.  It's a violation that shouldn't be okay even if it was super tame and described romantically in this story.

And when all is said and done, the story ended well and on a very positive note thus making up for all the crazy they had to endure.  The characters were likable and a great pairing.  Side characters were support but stood out in their own way and drew interest into their own stories.

*$4.99 on Amazon!
 Claimed, Alexa Riley
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Author Bio

Alexa Riley is New York Times, USA Today & #1 Amazon Best Selling author. Alexa Riley is two sassy friends who got together and wrote some dirty books. They are both married moms of two who love football, donuts, and obsessed book heroes. They specialize in insta-love, over-the-top, sweet, and cheesy love stories that don’t take all year to read. If you want something SAFE, short, and always with a happily ever after, then Alexa Riley is for you!

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