Book Review: Waking Up With a Billionaire by Katie Lane

This NetGalley request was kind of spontaneous and stemmed from the fact that I’m a fan of billionaire novels…or at least I’ll give anything billionaire a try. Plus, I found the cover to be pretty, and yes, I do sometimes judge a book by its cover.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
A billionaire known for his painting is blocked until the woman he helped save from an abusive relationship agrees to pose for him. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Prologue to the Plot
Grayson and Chloe met when he helped save her from a violent domestic situation. Chloe hadn’t been very friendly to Grayson, and since coming back from that encounter, Grayson hasn’t been able to paint the beautiful nudes he’s known for. Now, his work is needed for a benefit gala, but he’s blocked, so much so that he can’t even paint a bowl of fruit.

Like One of Your French Girls
Chloe needs money. She wants to run away to Europe to avoid some big secret she’s hiding and someone she’s hiding from, but she can’t afford it. So when she decides to offer herself up as a model for Grayson’s painting, she’s surprised when he turns her down and says he can’t paint. Chloe figures she’s going to have to find another way, but when Grayson “kidnaps” her to keep her from leaving until his new sister-in-law gets back from her honeymoon, Chloe ends up realizing how safe she feels in his home. She also decides she’s going to help him get his painting mojo back.

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Get It Together
The story was enjoyable and fun. Apparently, Grayson was sweet and shy in previous books, but he has a bit of a stiff edge in this one. Chloe is sarcastic and damaged, and her mystery unfolds slowly as the book progresses. We find out fairly early what she’s running from. I won’t spoil what it is, but I found it to be fairly anticlimactic. It seems Chloe is a fan of self-made drama and lets her mind and her assumptions get away from her.

The two characters work well together, and I loved the pre-existing angst they share for each other that carries over into their current relationship.

Men and Their Ways
Maybe I was in the mood for some more fighting, or maybe I’m just irritated when people do things they’re expressly asked not to, but I got super annoyed when Chloe said she didn’t want or photos shared or she didn’t want to become a model, and Grayson and his brothers were like, “Too bad, so sorry.” I mean, she rolled with it, but seriously, guys. Have a little respect.

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The Romance Factor
There’s a sense that Grayson and Chloe connected from the start, and possibly that Grayson may have fallen quickly, but I thought the progression of their relationship and the way they sorted out their feelings was sweet. Chloe pulls the whole “I have to leave to save you” BS that annoys me, but it does up the angst quotient, so it was okay for what it was. 4/5

The Steam Factor
While maybe not as steamy as some things, there is one scene in particular that turned on every single heat sensor in my brain. When painting meets sensuality, things explode in the best way ever. 5/5

Final Thoughts
This book can be read as a standalone, though admittedly, I had a hard time keeping members of the family and aspects of the Beaumont family tree straight. Overall, though, I liked the story and how everything played out. I’d definitely recommend it, and I’d be interested in going back and reading the stories of the other two brothers as well.

Book Review: To Have and to Hold by Lauren Layne

It’s been so fun watching Lauren Layne’s writing evolve. This latest series, The Wedding Belles, feels new and different from her older stuff but is still fun and brings the awesome dialogue and banter that she’s so good at.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
A wedding planner goes head to head with the brother of her latest bride, a control freak who wants her help exposing his sister’s fiance as a fraud. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

The Client Is Not Always Right
Brooke is making a fresh start in New York. She’s always been a great wedding planner, but when her ex-fiance was arrested for being a con man, her reputation and her heart took a huge hit. New York is giving her the chance to get away from that by working with the city’s premier wedding planning agency, The Wedding Belles. She’s thrown directly into her first assignment and finds herself instantly attracted to the brother of the bride, who holds the purse strings and has major control issues.

Let’s Make a Deal
Seth knows his sister’s fiance is shady, and it doesn’t sit well with him that he didn’t even know she was serious about someone much less ready to marry him. So he decides to get the wedding planner in on his micromanaging, asking her to give him details of everything she discusses with his sister. Brooke is willing to make this deal as long as he keeps his distance from the planning itself. His presence puts the bride on edge, and Brooke’s goal is to make the bride as happy as possible.

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Hard-Headed, Yet Entertaining
The two of them butt heads in the way that stubborn characters so often do, and the sexual tension between them doesn’t help. It doesn’t help that Seth has sworn off relationships since he was burned by a woman he thought he wanted to marry and Brooke has both professional and trust issues with dating him.

Seth and Brooke were fun to read, and they brought that whole “I want you but I’m not ready to be with you” conflict to the max. Their personal demons definitely played into it. Seth can’t handle what he can’t control and Brooke pretends to be happy go lucky all the time but still has a lot of pain regarding the blindside she received at her own wedding. It was a nice dose of reality that even though she knew her ex had swindled people and lied to her, she still had feelings for him when the story began, despite her anger and hurt, and that played into all the things she had to work through.

Sides and Quirks
I’m also a fan of side stories and side characters. Not only did I really like Seth’s sister, I loved the subplot of his best friend being into her. Another quirk I thought was fun? There sees to be a bit of a theme with food being thrown whenever Brooke pisses Seth off.

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The Romance Factor
There is such great angst between Seth and Brooke that it breaks the heart a little bit when they have their break-up. They both have to deal with their own personal issues before they can be together, and the way that Seth tries to get her back definitely falls under the category of “go big or go home.” 4/5

The Steam Factor
Though not overly steamy or explicit, there were a few really sensual moments. 3/5

Final Thoughts
Layne does a fine job of giving us a great story while still setting the stage for future books and allowing is to start getting to know the other wedding planners in the series. I’m excited to keep reading this series and love that each Belle has a different personality and brings something different to the business.

Book Review: Full Heat by Carla Swafford

The first book in the Brothers of Mayhem series had a good ending but there was also something of a cliffhanger. This story is about the hot headed brother of the heroine and it brings the same grit and dark themes. Trigger warning for strong references to rape and abuse.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
A woman hires the Brothers of Mayhem to be her bodyguard while she and her business is threatened by a rival gang. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Biker Bodyguards
Mary Jane and her business partner are being threatened and extorted by a local gang. Her business partner suggests she enlist the services of the Brothers of Mayhem. Though the brothers are known for their own violent ways, under their current leadership, they’re offering bodyguard services as a way to go legit. Their leader, Storm Ryder, is reluctant to help Mary Jane for his own personal reasons, but when it becomes apparent her life truly is in danger, he takes her to clubhouse so he can keep watch on her, day and night.

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No Touching
Storm doesn’t like to be touched. Ever. After several years in jail being abused and raped by other inmates, he can’t handle physical contact unless he’s initiating it. But he finds himself opening up to Mary Jane and letting her get under his skin. She’s a free spirit, having grown up in a commune, and every time he does something he thinks is going to push her away, she surprises him by welcoming and accepting him for who he is.

Daddy Issues
Personal and club matters are made more complicated by the fact that Storm’s dad is back in town, a man who physically abused him and his sister and killed their mother. Unfortunately, the man who actually raised Storm seems to be siding with his old man, and besides an impending war with the other gang, there’s also a lot of unrest within the Brothers. It’s not until Mary Jane takes him to the commune where she grew up that he realizes there is a place and a person that could actually make him happy.

Emotionally Dark
The motorcycle club is violent and criminal, and yet even with this as a backdrop to the story, there’s still a strong romantic and emotional element. It’s hard sometimes to see Storm as an actual hero because of the alpha male harshness, but once we get into his emotions and how painful his time in jail was for him, it’s easier to understand where some of that violence comes from. The other characters, not so much. Storm’s father is loathesome. I actually liked the rival gang better than I did him, and I hope he ends up with some sort of really painful comeuppance.

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The Romance Factor
Mary Jane knows what Storm is like, knows that he pushes her away, and yet she keeps trying to get through and show how much she cares for him. It’s not an easy journey for either of them, but I loved the amount of conflict and emotion they exude in their relationship. 4/5

The Steam Factor
Storm and Mary Jane have a lot of sex. Pretty much every time they’re alone in his room, which is frequent since that’s where she’s hiding out. It’s super spicy! 5/5

Final Thoughts
Motorcycle club books can’t necessarily be marketed as “sweet,” but there were a lot of sweet parts in this one. There’s also an appearance by Cassidy and Thorne from the first book that plays into Storm’s story. Gritty and disturbing, this book still got me in the feels and ended up being a strong read.

Book Review: Her Survivor by Vonnie Davis

PTSD has become prevalent in a lot of the romance novels I’ve read, and it’s usually well done. This book spends quite a bit of time talking about it, which I appreciated because I think it’s a good way to highlight and teach readers more about it. It’s not a side thing..it’s almost the main theme of the story.
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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
A man who lost his leg serving as a SEAL goes to a small town to deal with his PTSD where he meets a pretty woman dealing with secrets and trauma of her own. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Dealing With the Scars
Dustin lost his leg and gained a good deal of facial scarring from his last tour of duty, but the physical issues are nothing compared to the PTSD he’s had since getting back. When his SEAL buddy, ZQ, invites him to his quiet ranch for some rest and relaxation, he takes him up on the offer, only to find that the man has offered his architectural services to the local bookstore owner.  This pisses Dustin off at first, especially when he finds himself attracted to the woman, knowing there’s no way a woman is going to want him with all of his issues.
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Hiding Out
Kelcee loves the little bookstore she inherited and her small town, but there’s also an underlying fear that she’s going to be found by someone in her past who she knows wants her dead. Still, she’s feisty and doesn’t take crap from people, and so when her first interaction with Dustin involves a heavy dose of rudeness on his part, she lets him know it. But when Dustin calls to apologize and they start to get to know each other, he becomes the one person she feels safe with.

 

Love and Trauma
Their new relationship is a little rocky. Dustin has a lot of hang ups, but he also gets violent when he has nightmares, and it terrifies him to know he could hurt Kelcee. He’s also afraid to go out in public and it takes him awhile to realize that Kelcee doesn’t care about any of that. She just wants to be with him and help him through his PTSD as much as she can. He pushes her away, but when her life becomes endangered, he realizes how much he needs her in his life.

 

An Issue with Multiple Faces
The PTSD was shown in different forms to highlight how different people deal with it. Several of the side characters have it, including characters I believe we’re going to see in future stories. Dustin and Kelcee both have it, and it’s definitely a contrast to see how each one handles it.

 

Winning Dialogue
I enjoyed this story even though there were a few things that annoyed me. On the positive side, I really liked the small town feel of the story and most of the banter between Kelcee and Dustin. She was compassionate and caring towards him, but when he got out of line, she didn’t hesitate to tell him where to go. I also enjoyed the side characters, but they seemed to add a lot of sub-plots to the story, and at times I felt they took away from the romance between Dustin and Kelcee, which was the part I really wanted.

 

Curves For the Win
I liked that Kelcee was a plus-sized heroine, and some of her feelings about that and how people treated her were handled realistically and thoughtfully. Some people were mean, others didn’t care. Kelcee handled it well, as she’d learn to accept herself and wasn’t self conscious when things go intimate. I did get a little tired of people, including her, referring to her “teacup ass.” While endearing at first, and though I understand it was kind of one of those cute running gag things, it felt a bit overused.

 

The Romance Factor
Dustin lets Kelcee in and hopes to be able to have a real relationship with her. The fact that he tried to hide his PTSD was kind of sweet (if maybe not the right thing to do). When he pulls away because he’s afraid he’ll hurt her in one of his violent moments, the pain and conflict between the two gave me such feels. 5/5

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The Steam Factor
Though not super spicy, there are a few sensual moments between the sheets. 3/5

Final Thoughts
One thing that stood out to me was that I got a feel for the characters mostly through their action and dialogue, and though I usually like to get the inner thoughts and emotions to a higher degree, the way this book was written really worked for me. Even with minor annoyances, there were some great quirks (the older woman who reads BDSM novels was awesome) and I enjoyed the story overall. I’m looking forward to see how the other characters are handled in future novels.

Book Review: Surrender to You by Shawntelle Madison

This series hooked me with the BDSM theme and the fact that the story does not in any way present it as anything shameful. The second book continues that trend with conflict that has nothing to do with what the characters like in the bedroom and everything to do with the fact that they have emotional trust issues.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
A concierge and a hotel mogul meet when convenient for sex, ignoring the fact that they have stronger feelings they’re too scared to pursue. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Time and Distance
Tomas and Carlie have known each other for years, ever since Carlie and her friends were young and struggling to make ends meet. Their relationship was intense and they cared for each other, but a family emergency and miscommunication took Tomas away from Carlie, leaving her feel abandoned and causing her to shut off all emotions towards him, other than those that dictated they get together when they’re in the same area to let off some sexual steam.

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Girl’s Gotta Hustle
After running her concierge business in the UK, Carlie has come back to the states temporarily to see her old friends. At the same time, Tomas is in the area overseeing a deal on a new hotel. Since Carlie needs money, she takes a temp job as a concierge for that same hotel, determined to stay away from Tomas despite the fact that he’s always around.

Less Romance, More Personal Drama
This book read differently for me, and I don’t know if that’s because it was the book or because of the mental space I was in when reading it. I really enjoyed it, but the romance didn’t seem to be the story’s priority. I didn’t always feel like I was reading a romance novel.

Until the end, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of interaction between Carlie and Tomas. They start the book out by hooking up, and then a lot of the narrative is getting to know them through their differing points of view and seeing how they feel about the other. Carlie is definitely walled off emotionally, and she has this thing about not wanting to owe Tomas anything. Tomas on the other hand, is in love with Carlie and wants to give her things with no strings attached.

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There’s also a lot of plot surrounding Carlie getting to know her birth mother and dealing with Celiac Disease. Gluten intolerance isn’t something you see every day in romance novels, but I thought the whole subject was well done and fit into the story rather well.

The Romance Factor
For the most part, this felt like a story about Carlie that Tomas just happened to play a role in. But the most romance showed when we saw the story through Tomas’ point of view, where we catch glimpses of how much he truly cares for her and how he regrets having left her behind all those years ago. He also does so many nice things for her, like finding out she’s gluten intolerant on the sly and making sure she’s well fed and cared for by having her meals delivered to her. 3/5

The Steam Factor
The sexy times were intense and hot, but they weren’t as frequent as I was expecting, partially because Carlie spends a lot of time not wanting to be that close to Tomas in order to guard her feelings. However, it should be noted that the BDSM vibe is still there, as Tomas is definitely dominant over Carlie when they get together. Also, there’s a hidden floor in his new hotel that indulges special guests in BDSM play. Which seems odd, but was presented as completely normal in the course of the story. 4/5

Final Thoughts
Though it started out a little slow, I eventually got hooked into Carlie’s story and kind of fell in love with Tomas. There are some really sad parts to the story, so I ran the whole range of emotions while reading it. Love the sex positivity in this world and the history of the main characters that unfolds within the story.

Book Review: His to Protect by Stacey Lynn

The first book in the series lead almost directly into this one, and I’d read the synopsis and was really looking forward to this damsel-in-distress plotline.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
An abused woman is kept safe by a man who’s attracted to her but is wary of relationships after his wife walked out on him. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

On the Run
Trina is a woman who comes from money, so one wouldn’t think she’d be digging around in the trash to try to find food for her dog. But that’s how Declan finds her one night. He gives her a meal and offers to let her stay with him, seeing that she’s skittish and has no money but not knowing her full story. Declan feels protective, but after his ex-wife bailed on him, he’s determined not to get mixed up with any woman.

To the Border
Trina’s plan is to get to Canada, but her plans are derailed when someone breaks into her hotel room and steals her money and passport. Canada was her sanctuary since her abusive husband has political ties and power that she can’t fight if she stays in the U.S. The last thing she wants to do is drag Declan into her mess. He’s kind, and though she allows him to help her out, she knows that eventually she’ll have to leave if she doesn’t want him to face her husband’s wrath as well.

Even Strong Women Can Have a Protector
Modern day damsel-in-distress is one of favorites, and this story does it so well. Trina has been badly abused and in the hospital so many times that she finally had enough, but she knows her husband will be looking for her. While skittish and scared and full of misplaced heroism (thinking she has to leave to save Declan), she’s also strong. She left knowing how difficult it would be and did it anyway because staying would have been worse.

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The Strong Silent Type
Declan is quiet and broody, but he’s also kind and wants to make sure Trina is taken care of. Though neither want to fall in love, being in close quarters, both at his home and his restaurant where he hires her on temporarily, you know it’s bound to happen.

Cameos and Girlfriends
We also get to see Blue and Tyson (from the first book). Tyson helps Declan look into Trina’s husband a little more in depth (CIA connections for the win) and Blue brings Trina into her circle of friends, an aspect of the first book and this book that I really enjoyed (supportive girlfriends for another win).

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The Romance Factor
Declan’s protectiveness made me swoon a lttle bit, as did the two of them trying their best to not fall into bed/love right away. There’s also the whole thing about Declan being hurt that his ex left and feeling like he’s never going to be good enough for anyone, and yet it’s a high society woman who shows him that he’s worthy of being loved for who he is. 5/5

The Steam Factor
While not overly explicit, the sex scenes are sensual and hot and add to the romance and tenderness of the story. 4/5

Final Thoughts
I enjoyed this book even more than I did the first one and liked the hints we’re given about the third one in the series, which I now have to get my hands on. Good characters, great romance, and one of my favorite tropes made for a really good reading experience.

Book Review: Cutter by Ashley Suzanne

Life advice I’ve picked up from reading romance: if you think not telling the father of your child that he’s the father of your child is a good idea, you’re probably wrong.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
When a fighter comes back to town a few years after his girlfriend broke it off with him, he finds a secret that she’s kept from him for three years. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Friends First
Cutter is a homeless teen until he’s taken in by a couple who own a gym. He starts as a custodian, then becomes a fighter when he wants to impress a pretty girl who works there. Josette is determined to get through school, get her degree, and make something of herself. Which means no time for a relationship, except that she enjoys hanging out with Cutter and the attraction between them is very real. The obvious solution? A friends with benefits agreement.

There It Is…There It Isn’t
It’s not until Cutter is ready to leave for Vegas to further his fighting career that he and Josette decide to try to be an actual couple, long distance and all. But when Josette finds out she’s pregnant, everything changes. She tells him that she’s going to “take care of it” because with him leaving and her plans for the future, there’s no way she can be a mother. And Cutter, being of the mind that it’s her choice, lets her do what she thinks is best, even though he wants her to have the baby. The whole thing leaves Josette with the feeling that they can’t be together, and so she breaks up with him right before he leaves, refusing to answer his emails and leaving him heartbroken.

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Then and Now
Fast forward a couple years later and Cutter is returning home to visit the couple who took him in. He’s had a good career and hasn’t been home since he left, and the last thing he wants to do is run into Josette. But when he sees her at a social gathering, not only do old feelings rear up, but he also finds that she’s not alone. She has a daughter.

Character Conflict
I liked Cutter and Josette as characters, and this was one of the stories I’ve read lately where the conflict is completely between the two main characters (no outside danger in this one). Cutter is severely pissed that Josette never told him about having the baby and even more pissed when he finds that she’s seeing an old enemy of his from the gym. Josette thinks she did what was right in not ruining his career by telling him about the baby. However, she’d recently had some conscience issues and had been trying to figure out how to drop the bombshell. Unfortunately, she didn’t do it in time, and Cutter is left angry and hurt but sure he wants to be part of his daughter’s life.

Realistic Feels
The struggle between these two is so real. There were a lot of emotions and parts of the story that totally broke my heart. I also had a lot of anger at Josette. She was a good character, but she was also flawed in that her way of thinking was so selfish. Good intentions or not, how the heck is not telling the father of your kid what’s up a good thing? I especially liked that Cutter’s friends, who’d always liked Josette, called her out on her BS and told her how dumb she’d been.

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Kid Alert
The parts with the little girl were well written and I didn’t find them annoying as I sometimes do in novels. I thought that Josette’s single mother journey seemed a little easy. She’d finished school and got a good job all while raising a baby, and though there seemed to be a few people who helped her out, it felt way too easy. I know she was super prepared and organized and had laid a lot of groundwork for her future early, but babies seem way more complicated and difficult than that.

The Romance Factor
The secret child trope is not my standard heartstring stuff, but I enjoyed how much Cutter and Josette really loved each other even when they were fighting. I thought the things they had to work through were genuinely difficult, and I liked that Cutter had to come to terms with his hurt and anger towards her to be able to move on. 3/5

The Steam Factor
There aren’t many sexy times, but there a few that are fairly spicy. 4/5

Final Thoughts
There’s a lot of the redemption theme in this book, and the story is a classic case of good intentions gone wrong. I enjoyed the emotion and the overall plot and thought the narrative and characters were strong. I haven’t read the first book in the series, but that didn’t matter. I got the jist of things and it’s fine to read this one as a standalone.