Book Review: Blown Away by Brenda Rothert

I went into this one knowing it was going to be sad, but luckily, it wasn’t as sad as I thought it would be (though there were some tears). But come on, storm chasers? I was having visions of Twister meets sexy times. For the most part, I was close.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
The fiance of a deceased storm chaser joins his team and ends up falling for his best friend. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Unexpected Loss
Right away, this story starts off on a depressing note. Drew is excited to be getting married to her fiance, Colby, and even though he’s currently chasing a big storm that has devastated a whole area and everyone is worried about him, Drew knows he’s fine. Sure enough, he calls her to tell her he’s okay.

And the next morning, the police show up to tell her he was hit by a car and is in the hospital, close to death.

Needing a Change
Fast forward a year later. Drew feels aimless and unsure of what she’s doing with her life when one of Colby’s storm chasing teammates invites her to join them on a trip to Oklahoma. Knowing she wants to do something to shake things up, she agrees.

Long Held Crushes
Colby’s best friend, Aiden, has had a thing for Drew for years. When he sees that she’ll be traveling with them, he vows to keep his distance. This is partially in honor of his friend and partially because he doesn’t think he’s good enough for her. It’s hard to keep his distance though when he’s paired with her on the road to show her the ins and outs (no pun intended) of storm chasing.

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Sad, Then Not Sad
When it started out sad, I expected the whole tone of the story to be super low and kind of melancholy, but it wasn’t. It was actually a fun read with some good storm chasing scenes and interesting character interactions. Drew misses her fiance, but enough time has passed that she’s ready to move on, and of course she notices how good Aiden looks. It doesn’t help that she catches him getting it on with another woman, a scene that titillates her more than anything else.

Teamwork
The side characters are great and I’d love to see stories for all of them as well. Though they weren’t talked about in detail, enough was given to pique my interest. I especially wanted to see something between the good ol’ boy and the nerdy girl, but no relationship or foreplay was alluded to. I even liked the older sassy woman that Drew visited in the camping area where the team stayed while chasing in Oklahoma.

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The Romance Factor
The passion between Drew and Aiden was strong, but I liked the angst that was there as well. Aiden has that complex about not being good enough for Drew, but there’s also the fact that he doesn’t want to move in on his best friend’s woman…even though his best friend has been gone for a year. Also, the fights these two had felt intense, which upped the conflict, which gave me feels. 4/5

The Steam Factor
Voyeurism isn’t something I see a lot of in romance, probably because it doesn’t always work for the heroine to see the hero getting it on with another woman. However, Drew secretly watching Aidan with a one-night stand was kind of hot and set things up for what I wanted to see happen between them. There was also definitely a nice mix of sex and storm adrenaline going on. Because thunderstorm sex is so hot right now. 4/5

Final Thoughts
Except for a few differences, it really was like reading a sexier version of Twister, and I loved it. The characters felt real, the relationship between Drew and Aiden felt well developed (probably because Aiden had been holding onto some feelings for a long time), and the storm chases were awesome. Definitely a fun way to spend a couple hours and a nice way to kick off storm season in Kansas.

Book Review: After We Fall by Marquita Valentine

I had to go back and remind myself what happened in the previous book in this series to get familiar with the world and characters again. This book starts where the previous one left off (sort of) and has the same sweetness the other one did. I still haven’t read the first book in the series though. I really need to get on that.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A woman out of an abusive marriage is excited about starting a new life but nervous about being so close to the cop who saved her. A full synopsis can be found on this book’s Goodreads page.

We Meet Again
When Hunter last saw Evangeline, she was badly beaten and bruised. He was the one to save her, making sure she’d get medical treatment to survive what her husband had done to her. Since then, he hasn’t been able to forget about her. Even though he’s helped many abuse victims as a police officer, Evangeline got to him the most. So when he sees that she’s moving in to his apartment complex…to the apartment across from his, as a matter of fact…he reaches out to her.

Changes for the Worse
Evangeline pretends not to recognize Hunter when she first sees him, even though she very much does. She’s happy she finally got a divorce from her ex, but she’s still haunted by all the things he did and said to her, and she’s embarrassed that she let it go on for so long. Even though she’s attracted to Hunter, she has trust issues and is a bit skittish. She’s afraid to jump into a relationship because her ex had been amazing and sweet when they’d first gotten together, and she hadn’t seen or expected the change in him until it was too late. Now she can’t trust that it won’t happen with someone else. For her, it’s easier to stay alone.

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Taking Life
Evangeline’s abuse was difficult to read about, and abuse survivors may want to take this as a trigger warning for the book. She flashes back to many of the ways he hurt her, not just physically (though there are some physical details), but also mentally, telling her she’s not worth anything and making sure she no longer has any friends or is in close contact with her family (part of which she isn’t because of her shame). There are a few times when she mourns the person she was before she met her husband.

Common Ties
Hunter and his mother were both abuse victims of their father, so Hunter feels especially protective of abuse victims. I felt that a lot of his attraction to Evangeline had to do with him wanting to protect her and help her come back from her trauma. It helped that his abuse was one of the things that allowed her to connect with him and eventually trust him.

Enemies & Friends
There is a bit of a damsel in distress plot, as Evangeline’s ex-husband starts calling to to harass her and things escalate. But it’s also another avenue in which she’s able to empower herself to take a stand against him. There’s also Saylor, the woman in the apartment that Evangeline ends up becoming friends with (a big deal for her since she hasn’t had friends in a long time) who’s a Star Wars nerd and completely adorable. The tone of the book was slightly dark and very serious, but Saylor helped lighten the mood. I really hope she gets her own story.

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The Romance Factor
I love when a sweet hero takes such good care of a woman, and Hunter really does. The development of their relationship felt slow at first, building up to when Evangeline finally trusts him. It felt like there was a slow buildup and then a really fast slide into her jumping him, but I suppose in the context of a romance story, it has to happen at some point. 4/5

The Steam Factor
Evangeline wants to get her groove back, and she does. It takes her a bit to warm up to Hunter, but when she does, things get spicy. 4/5

Final Thoughts
I really like the way Marquita Valentine writes. It’s not overly flowy, but it’s emotional and gives me a good sense of how the characters are feeling. I get alot of passion and sadness, but I also get hope and I love the way the characters work together. This book was stronger on the sadness, but it still held my attention and made me swoon over Hunter a couple times.

Book Review: Always for You: Jack by Alexis Morgan

This quiet romance didn’t have the high level of passionate angst that a lot of the books I read have, but it was cute and sweet, with some seriousness and sadness, and had a general contemporary literature feel.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A Special Forces retiree fosters an abused boy and falls for the boy’s tutor. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Facing a Loss
Right from the beginning, this book stabbed me in the feels. Jack is home with his two brothers after the death of their father. He’s decided to stay home and take over his father’s business and spend time with his grieving mother. It’s not what Jack wanted to do, but a knee injury has forced him out of the military. Since he only contracts for a friend and his brother’s are still career military, he opts to stay.

Abused Kids
A couple weeks later, a young teenager shows up offering to help clean up a worksite for some money. The same teenager is found badly beaten in a ditch shortly after that, and Jack is called to help him since he’d given the kid, who seems to have no family, his business card. Having been fostered by his mom and dad when he was young after being in an abusive situation, Jack wants to help give the boy, Ricky, a comfortable and loving home.

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Family First
The foundation of this story feels like the relationship Jack builds with Ricky, and there’s a strong theme of family. However, rather than feeling like an afterthought, the love story fits well, more like a puzzle piece. Caitlyn is hired as Ricky’s tutor to assess his education and bring him up to the level he needs to start school in the fall. Right away, she and Jack are attracted to each other. But Caitlyn is getting over a failed marriage with an ex who made her feel like she wasn’t good at anything, so she’s slightly skittish at first.

Doing the Right Thing
There’s also the fact that Jack and Caitlyn have to be careful when it comes to dating, as they don’t want him to feel ignored or shut out because of their relationship. In fact, everything everyone does is very carefully done to make sure he’s made to feel welcome and loved by a family that cares about him rather than the situation he’s coming from. I liked the way the characters were portrayed. They act ideally, but they still make mistakes despite their best intentions.

The Romance Factor
I enjoyed the romance between Jack and Caitlyn, but it was definitely mellow and there wasn’t a lot of conflict between them. 3/5

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The Steam Factor
There’s some kissing and some heavy petting, but this one is perfect for readers who don’t like a lot of detail and open door sex. 2/5

Final Thoughts
This was a nice, chill read that cleansed the reading palate from some of the more intense stuff I’ve been reading. I liked the family dynamic and the fact that I shed a few tears. I liked this first one in the series and will be waiting for the next two books which center around Jack’s adopted brothers.

Book Review: His Deception by Patricia Rosemoor

Maybe it’s because I watched The Bodyguard at an impressionable age, but I love this trope. I just don’t get enough of these types of stories, so I was excited to read this one. I especially liked the twist of her not knowing he’s guarding her body.

His Deception

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A man is hired to bodyguard a millionaire’s daughter without her knowing about it, which makes things even more complicated when he falls for her. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

I Guess He Meant Well
Katelyn grew up in a weird situation, her mother having left her father when she was young, but her father doing what he could to make her a part of his other family, despite the poor treatment she received from his wife and her half siblings. As an adult, she still loves her father, but she wants to make it on her own and has made it a point to distance herself from his name. By opening a cafe in a small town in Wisconsin, she thinks she’s found her dream.

When a school shooting happens and her father receives threatening emails as the manufacturer of the assault weapon used, he begs Katelyn to get a bodyguard. She doesn’t think she’s in danger, believing that only a few people know she’s his daughter, so she refuses. But her father is a control freak, so he hires one anyway. Enter Thorne Hudson.

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More Than a Job
Thorne pretends to be just another traveler passing through the area and Katelyn feels drawn to him instantly. He’s attractive and mysterious and he offers to bartend for her when her normal guy disappears. Thorne starts to have feelings for Katelyn, and his feelings war with his duty and his sense of guilt. But he also realizes she needs to protecting, and eventually it becomes less about doing the job her father hired him for and more about him knowing he would die for her if need be.

A Little Too Stubborn
Katelyn knows something’s up, but though she doesn’t trust her father, she never believes that Thorne is anything other than who he seems to be. Which makes it that more exciting when she does find out. At one point though, she starts to understand that she probably is in danger, yet it takes her awhile to come around and actually be thankful for Thorne’s protection.

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Love and Mystery
I liked the mystery and the danger of this story and thought it blended well with the romance. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I dig a story where the culprit could be any of a group of suspects. There’s also some other issues going on, like Katelyn’s trust issues and the return of her ex after several months. Thorne also has issues that stem from his childhood.

The Romance Factor
If The Bodyguard made me enjoy this type of love story, I think it was probably Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that made me love the hero who would die for the woman he loves. When Katelyn gets emo over the fact that she didn’t know he was guarding her, he still holds on to hope that she’ll come around and his feelings only get stronger. 4/5

The Steam Factor
To be completely honest, I though things were going to be a lot hotter than they were. The sexy times started out really promising, but they usually didn’t last long. It felt like there was a lack of foreplay before Thorne slid into home base (if you know what I’m saying). I’m thinking it was less of a series of quickies and more of a lack of detail, which is cool. I mean, they both seemed to enjoy it, even if we didn’t see everything. 3/5

Final Thoughts
Despite the lack of foreplay, I really liked this book. I thought the emotion between Thorne and Katelyn was solid and I liked the tension of waiting to see who was targeting Katelyn. This seems to be a standalone novel, which makes me a little sad because I liked the setting and thought some of the other characters were interesting. I would definitely read more by this author.

Mug Shot by Carolyn Fardig

This 2nd book in the Java Jive series entertained me way more than I expected. Though the first one had been okay, I thought the characters and world felt more familiar and comfortable in this one…and I really liked the unexpected twists.

Mug Shot

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A woman sets out to clear her friend of murder charges by finding the real killer. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Where We Find Our Heroine
I’m going to try really hard not to spoil anything here. We met Juliet in the first book, Death Before Decaf. In this one, she’s still running the coffee shop, still besties with Pete, still enemies with Pete’s girlfriend, Cecilia. She’s also sort of dating Cecilia’s brother, Stan, though she’s not terribly impressed with him, nor is anyone else, including his family.

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Too Nice to Be a Murderer
Weird things start happening with Cecilia’s family, and there’s a good deal of distrust placed on Stan. But when Cecilia is murdered (not really a spoiler since its in the Goodreads synopsis) and it looks like Pete did it, Juliet needs to do her own sleuthing to find out what’s going on. She’ll stop at nothing to prove her best friend is innocent, even if that means getting other people in trouble and ignoring the advice of Ryder, the guy she’s allowing back in her life after he lied to her in the previous book.

Love Triangle
This book isn’t necessarily a romance, but a mystery with romantic elements. There’s still the weird thing between Pete and Juliet that hovers around the line of friendship and something else. Yet when Juliet sparks things with Ryder, those feelings are genuine too. I enjoy this kind of thing in a mystery novel, and I like wondering who she’s going to end up with. For the record, I was Team Pete in the first one, but I may have switched my allegiance.

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Twisted
There were a lot of funny moments in this book and there were a couple good surprises. I liked that with regards to the key players and characters, the author wasn’t afraid to work outside of the framework a little bit. For instance, Cecilia wasn’t really a front and center character, but she seemed important enough that I was legit surprised when she was the murder victim.

The Romance Factor
The romance isn’t strong, but I felt it was more present in this one than the first. Juliet flashes back to some feelings about Pete, but the sweetest parts were between her and Ryder. I’m so conflicted, because I don’t know who I want her to end up with. There’s a touch of angst, but again, the romance takes backstage to the mystery. 3/5

The Steam Factor
Besides a few mentions of getting it on with Ryder and the revelation of some sex toys at one point, there’s not a whole lot of steam in this one. 2/5

Final Thoughts
This was a fun story that kept me engaged. The first one definitely set a foundation that made this one stronger. Though mysteries aren’t my first choice, I hope the author has more planned in this series, because Juliet is growing on me and I want more of her and her weird little life.

Book Review: Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein

I realize that not everyone is going to have my same reaction to this book, so please take what I say as my opinion and not a guarantee that you’ll feel the same. The day after I read this book, I was so emotional I could hardly stand it, not just because it stabbed me in every single feel I had, but because I didn’t want to read anything else after it. I really just wanted to go back to the beginning and read this one again.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A young woman is terrified to find that her high school bully is in her college class and will be her partner for a project, but she starts to find a side of him that she never expected. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Painful Experiences
Letty was horribly bullied in high school, and she carries the effects of that with her. She’s scared of everyone when she first meets them and has a low self-esteem. Even though she’s out of high school and in college where she believes she’s now away from her bullies, what happened in high school has ingrained itself to her personality and existence.

Turning It All Around
Tate is the one that Letty always saw as the ringleader of her tormentors, so when she sees him in her cinema class, she freaks out, and rightly so. All she can think is that he’s there to harass her again, to make her life hell because he obviously didn’t get enough of it in high school. But Tate has his own reasons for being there, and those reasons are not about hurting Letty. In fact, he reaches out to her, but when she tells him she wants him to stay away, he does, going so far as to try to take their shared class from the hallway to make sure she feels at ease.

Things Change
The bullying was never made to seem less than it was or romanticized. Tate was cruel, but as Letty gets to know him, she sees the ways in which he’s changed and she starts to trust him, eventually finding herself falling for him. Even then, their past haunts them. Though Letty starts to believe she can trust him, it doesn’t take much for her to fall back into that fear and belief that he’s only trying to hurt her. As for Tate, he wants nothing more than to get close to Letty, but his actions in high school have far reaching consequences, and she’s unwilling to bend to him easily.

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Redemption
Tate never tries to justify his past actions. He knows he was horrible and messed up, but he never tries to get Letty to forget about it. I don’t even think he ever actively asks her to forgive him. Instead, he tries to treat her as well as he possibly can, showing her that he has changed and that he in no way wants to ever hurt her again. Though the story is told from Letty’s point of view, we get to know Tate right along with her and see all the things and insecurities he’s been hiding about himself. I mean, the guy has body issues, and while that’s no excuse for him teasing Letty in high school about her weight, there is that subtle insinuation that everything mean he ever did or said to her was an internalization of what he didn’t like or was trying to hide about himself.

Emotions All Over the Place
Though the bullying is disturbing and depressing, the story itself isn’t necessarily sad. Yet the author writes such great emotion that I felt exhausted and wrecked at the end (in a good way, of course). I was completely satisfied, but there were tears, and I had a really hard time leaving this book.

The Romance Factor
While I hated that Tate had been mean to Letty in the past, I was completely wrapped up in the relationship they formed, mostly because almost everything Tate did screamed of earning redemption and trying not to hurt someone he had fallen in love with. He treats her with so much care, it was hard not to get emotional. There are times when Letty catches him doing something when he doesn’t know she’s watching, like keeping a scribbled note she’d written while they were studying.  It felt like every kind thing she did to him and every time she seemed to trust him a little more meant the world to him. I seriously got weepy. 6/5

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The Steam Factor
So the project they have to work on together is about sex in cinema, which means that “research” is watching steamy movies where sex plays a key role. You know what happens when two people who have an attraction for each other sit really close on a bed and watch hot movies? Stuff gets out of control in a really good way. There is a slow burn of foreplay between Letty and Tate that goes on in a way that’s sweet and highly sensual yet still extremely dirty. 6/5

Final Thoughts
The only issue I had was more of a technical issue (possibly due to this being an advanced proof of the book). There were times when the dialogue continued and I lost track of who was talking. But otherwise, I am completely in love with this book. I had to fight the urge to re-read right away, but I’ll be pulling this back out in a few months for another reading for sure.

Book Review: Lust is the Thorn by Jen McLaughlin

Forbidden love is a trope I have a hard time with in contemporary romance. The plot usually involves not being able to date someone because they’re the sister of a best friend or something like that (and meddling family members irritate me to no end). However, I don’t often read a story where a relationship is forbidden because the hero has decided to be a priest.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A deacon planning to take his priestly vows as penance for something he did eight years before has to fight his feelings for the only woman he’s ever loved. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

The Euphemism of a Name
I should probably mention that I had to get over a little bit of skepticism at the beginning of this book before I really sank my teeth in. First, there was a lot of Rose and Thorn stuff. Meaning the heroine’s name is Rose, the hero’s name is Thorn, and the heroine has a thing for roses with one thorn in them. Symbolism, sure, but my 12-year old brain kept wanting to say things like “I bet he’ll put his thorn in her rose” (I never claimed to be mature). Also, I kept thinking of The Thorn Birds.

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The Danger of Seclusion
Thorn has tried to take care of Rose since her brother died in a car accident they were both in. But Rose has kept parts of her life a secret, so when he’s called in as her emergency contact after she’s attacked and hospitalized, he finds out that she’s been stripping to make ends meet. Because she’s physically hurt and needs someone to take care of her for a few days, Thorn is given access to a large home owned by the priest he’s studying under.

The Barrier of Friendship & Catholicism
Rose knows she’s on her own and she does what she has to to make ends meet. She and Thorn have both grown up poor and abused, and she’s continued the trend of abuse, dating guys who beat her or treat her poorly in other ways. The truth is that Thorn is the only one she’s ever loved, but she can’t have him now that he’s going to take his priestly vows. In truth, she didn’t think she could have him anyway, since she believes he’s never seen her as anything more than his best friends little sister and a good friend.

The Power of Self Loathing
It’s pretty clear where this is going. Even though Thorn hasn’t taken his vows, he’s determined that it’s going to happen, so the guilt he has over his feelings for Rose is strong. I spent a lot of time wondering why he didn’t just say screw it and stay with her, but as the story unfolds, we find out more about his feelings of guilt and the penance he’s chosen for his past actions. It’s also hard to argue with a man who turned to God when things got rough and is now trying to pay things forward the best way he knows how. Thorn isn’t driven completely by guilt. He also wants to help others.

The Matchmaker of God
The priest Thorn studies under is a minor character, but I think he’s one of the key elements of the book. He’s the voice of reason that tells Thorn more than once that he needs to decide if he really wants to be a priest. I’m not sure if its intentional, but the priest also seems to be a bit of a matchmaker. I mean, he lets Thorn take Rose to his secluded mansion where he knows they’re going to be alone and then he makes a special call to let Thorn know they can help themselves to the wine cellar? I think the good Father was playing a little bit of matchmaker there.

The Romance Factor
The romance left me emotional. It’s so obvious how much these two love each other, yet they start out believing the other sees them only as a friend. But even when that’s no longer a barrier, there’s the whole becoming a priest thing that’s difficult to overcome. On Rose’s part, she feels like she’s not good enough to ask Thorn to stay with her, so she makes him leave her alone so she can get on with her life, even though it kills her to do so. And Thorn has a secret that he knows will make Rose hate him once its revealed. So much angst and heartbreak. I loved it! 5/5

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The Steam Factor
Talk about hot! The first naughty scene with Thorn and Rose (which involved him helping her wash because she had to keep her casted arm dry) knocked me on my butt with how erotic it was. Maybe it was the whole forbidden contact thing, but damn! And that was with no actual sex happening. The sexy times were infrequent but powerful, and for my reaction to that first scene alone, I have to rate this one high. 5/5

Final Thoughts
While I found a little bit of humor in the premise, this book is actually dark and there’s a lot of description of the abuse Thorn and Rose went through, as well as the attempted rape that put Rose in the hospital. But I loved the romance between the two characters and the passion they had to underplay with each other because of their life choices. The story quickly erased any skepticism and turned out to be a sweet and sensual read.