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: 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: 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.

Book Review: Jagger by Chelsea Camaron and MJ Fields

I was looking forward to that same rock and roll vibe I got from the previous book in the Caldwell Brothers series, Morrison (I haven’t read Hendrix yet, but it’s on my Kindle….so someday). It was there, though not as strong, as was the same dark, damsel in distress theme.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
An MMA fighter wants to save a young girl from the harsh abuse of her father. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Not Really a “Meet Cute”
Like Morrison, Jagger rides that line between hard edge and completely heroic. When he first meets Tatiana, she’s being beat by her father. Jagger beats the man, only to be arrested. Determined to be her savior, Jagger keeps an eye on Tatiana and sneaks her gifts (including food because she’s not fed enough), staying hidden because of the restraining order the father took against him.

Too Young to Know Better
Tatiana’s abuse is brutal, but she stays because her father has insinuated that she’s not a real U.S. citizen, and she’s terrified that without his protection, she’ll be sent back to Russia. When she realizes that Jagger has been leaving the gifts for her, she finds hope that things will get better, and when she finally gets the courage to leave her home, he’s the first one she goes to.

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Off to a Rough Start
From the start, their relationship has challenges. First, Tatiana is only 17, so Jagger makes sure he keeps his distance until she becomes legal (only three days from the day she runs away, which I guess is convenient). Then, when Tatiana finds that he makes his living by beating people up, she freaks out, scared that she’s attracted to a violent man. When she first runs away, there’s some confusion as to whether Jagger is even single, and that confusion is made worse by a fighter named Cobra, Jagger’s nemesis, who “befriends” Tatiana and proceeds to fill her head with lies about Jagger.

Weird Characters
The whole thing with Cobra is a little weird. The guy is an abuser himself, but he doesn’t hurt Tatiana. Instead, he has this weird, creepy need to both protect her and use her to piss off Jagger. Tatiana’s feelings towards him are conflicted as well. She spends most of the book calling him a friend, and he’s portrayed as this bad guy character who you’re supposed to sympathize with even though he admits to having beat his girlfriend. So that was unsettling.

Family & Rock ‘n’ Roll
There were a lot of things I enjoyed about the book. I liked the dialogue and writing, and I enjoy the Caldwell brothers as a family. I also like the Caldwell wives from the first books, Hailey and Olivia, who welcome Tatiana into the family and reach out to take care of her. As for side characters, which I tend to be a fan of, there were a lot of feels with some of the emotions came from those relationships. Also, a character named Kid was introduced, and I feel like he needs at least a novella.

Dramatic Instalove
What didn’t quite ring true for me was the instalove between Jagger and Tatiana and the intensity of their feelings after having “known” each other for just a short time. I can see a justification in that maybe he was her savior and so it would be natural that her feelings would be super strong towards him? I think I wanted more buildup and development of their relationship though.

Fast Recovery Time
Tatiana’s personality later in the book also didn’t seem to match with her being an abuse victim. At first she’s scared and timid, and that was understandable. But she seemed to recover fast, and once she was living with Jagger, there seemed to be a lack of any of the psychological side effects that this abuse would have. It was mentioned she had scars, but her mental recovery time seemed quick. Also, I had a hard time with the characterization of her father. He was an abusive drunk who seemed to hate her, but he’s also stashed away a half a million dollars to give to her? It was just odd, and some of these details, though small, sometimes took me out of what was otherwise an enjoyable read.

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The Romance Factor
Even though the intensity of the feelings between Tatiana and Jagger seemed to happen a little fast, I enjoyed most of their moments and found them sweet. Most were pleasantly dramatic, though there were a few points where things got a little too melodramatic. 3/5

The Steam Factor
Once Tatiana gets legal, Jagger is all up on that. Their sexy times are raw and dirty, but they don’t get into any weird territory. I feel like Tatiana’s virginal and sheltered innocence could have been played up a bit more, but Jagger’s edginess made up for it. 4/5

Final Thoughts
Even though there were little things that bugged me, when I got to the end of the book, I still came away with a satisfied feeling. The word flow of these books is so good and melodic, and I feel that even the drama, when looked at in the context of the whole story, fits in with the general tone the story sets.

Book Review: Atone by Beth Yarnall

Just a quick housekeeping note. I few weeks back, I put a new page on the blog regarding solicitations and requests to review books. I’d been receiving a lot of authors asking me to read their books, and I wanted to address where I stand on this. This doesn’t need to be read by everyone (obviously if you’re a reader and not a writer, you don’t even need to worry about it), but anyone wanting to ask me to review their book should know that even though there are exceptions, it will not be my practice moving forward to accept all requests.

Trigger warnings for this book: There are very dark and heavy themes and descriptions of sex trafficking, abuse, and rape.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A man recently released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit is now working to help a young woman find her sister who was drawn into a dark world that the woman knows much about. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.
I read the first book in this series, and while it was okay, I remember feeling like it had a very young adult vibe. The second book revolves around Beau, the brother who Cora fought to release from prison by proving his innocence, and Vera, a troubled and secretive woman who needs the investigation agency to help her find her sister. Unlike the first book, there was no YA vibe. This one is dark and disturbing, and yet somehow manages to still be romantic.

Damaged Halves of a Whole
Beau and Vera are both damaged. Beau isn’t quite over his murdered girlfriend, not just because she was taken from him, but because their relationship before she was killed was rocky. When he meets Vera, he sees another damaged soul and wants to be her champion, much like his sister championed him and worked tirelessly to get him out of jail.

Vera is also drawn to Beau, but she can’t get over the things in her past that she feels make her “less than” and not worthy of his love. She keeps most of her history from him as long as possible, thinking that when he finds out about her past, he won’t want to be with her. Not only that, but the things she was involved with, which tie in directly with her sister’s disappearance, are things that can get her killed if she’s discovered by the man at the center of it all.

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Dark Side
This is definitely not a lighthearted fun read. It’s dark and sad and highlights the nasty world of sex trafficking. Vera is a strong woman. I liked her, I felt bad for her, and I wanted to see her “win” and get revenge on the man who abused her. Beau seems to understands her pain and does his best to handle her carefully, though he doesn’t always succeed due to his own background which affects the way he sees things. I found the characters to be realistic and poignant, and it was their characterization that made the book enjoyable for me.

The Romance Factor
It’s hard to resolve the theme of this book with the fact that the book is a contemporary romance, but the author makes it work. Beau and Vera share a bond that no one else can really understand, and it shows by Vera’s willingness to fully trust him and no one else, and Beau’s determination to stay with her and protect her no matter what. 4/5

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The Steam Factor
I struggled a little bit with the sex in this book, not because the sex scenes weren’t well written, because they were, and they were definitely steamy. But it was hard for me to reconcile the fact that Vera had been brutally used and abused and yet was still somehow completely sexually functional when it came to Beau. I understand that psychologically, this is possible, that some people can compartmentalize and still have a healthy sex life with someone they trust. I just expected Vera to have a bit more difficulty with it than she did. 4/5

Final Thoughts
Even though I thought the first book was just “okay,” I really enjoyed this one. It’s a heavy read, but it’s worth it and sends a message of redemption and hope that resonated with me.

Rolling in the Deep by Rebecca Rogers Maher

You don’t find many love stories that center around people winning the lottery, probably because the chances of winning the lottery are so slim that too many stories of this nature would feel unrealistic. However, when executed well, it’s a premise that’s enjoyable and almost believable.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
Two grocery store employees trying to make ends meet decide to buy a lottery ticket together, never thinking they’d win or expecting the ways in which it would change their lives. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

The Good Stuff
I’m so happy I requested this book. It had so much going for it and ended up being one of those books that I really didn’t want to put down.

Ray is great. He’s just a nice guy, a total beta male, and he has the sweetest crush on Holly, even though he doesn’t act on it right away. He’s not exactly happy, still mourning the death of his mother and dragging his feet when it comes to going to culinary school, but he’s hopeful and he takes pleasure in the little things, like being nice to people. He even makes a Pee Wee’s Big Adventure reference. Classic!

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I also enjoyed that the story didn’t take the angle that winning the lottery would make everything awesome, because even though it’s something we all fantasize about, it’s also a complete game changer. Holly and Ray’s problems weren’t miraculously solved by money. In fact, the money caused them more problems. So while the plot wasn’t necessarily common, approaching it this way made it realistic.

Things That Made Me Go Hmmm
I liked Holly and I understood why she made the choices she did, but I wanted her to be stronger in the sense that she wasn’t so passive. The thing is, I felt like the way she acted was probably true to someone who had been emotionally abused, as her ex-husband did to her. The fact that she’d gotten out of the marriage was good, but it was sad that she continued to take his abuse, even though she was doing it out of fear of losing her son. I really wanted to see her stand up to her ex…or beat him with a tire iron. That would have been okay too.

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The Romance Factor
The romance felt intense in this one, but in a good way. It was believable that they would become closer after this event, and they felt like real people. Their relationship was well paced and made my heart a bit fluttery. 4/5

The Steam Factor
I was actually surprised at how steamy the sex scenes were. The plot felt very innocent for some reason, and I expected it to be very closed door. I was surprised when things got down and dirty, but happy that these moments only enhanced the romance. 4/5

Final Thoughts
Though this book was more of a novella, it was still well paced. The ending seemed a bit abrupt, but it was a good happily ever after. I’m looking forward to reading more by this author.