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.


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.


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.


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: Last Hit by Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick

At my job, we have a type of project that is easy enough that I can listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I work on it. This time around, I chose to listen to this audiobook. It kept me riveted and engaged, but when things got hot in the book, I felt a little nervous listening to it in the office. Talk about some heat.


One-Sentence Synopsis
A sheltered young woman leaves her home to live on her own and becomes involved with a mysterious Ukrainian who has ties with a dangerous Russian mafia group. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Immersive Entertainment
Though my first audiobook was fun but not magical, and I have to say…I loved this one. I loved that the readers used a Russian accent when reading from Nikolai’s point of view. I also enjoyed the fact that there were two people reading, one for each character’s point of view.

Living Under a Rock
Daisy is really naive. Really, really naive. But it works in this book because she’s been extremely sheltered and so is weirdly awkward. Her father has kept her under his thumb for years, having turned paranoid and agoraphobic after the murder of his wife. But Daisy wants more, and so after some sneaky planning, she manages to run away to live in an apartment with a roommate. Because I could understand why she had no social skills, her awkwardness and the fact that she was clueless about many things weren’t as annoying as they might have been otherwise.


Keeping Tabs
Nikolai starts out a little creepy, but he’s so endearing that I didn’t actually care that he was peeping on Daisy. He’s an assassin and part of a Russian bratva, but he’s also damaged from his youth. So when he actually has feelings for Daisy, it’s classically trope-ish and really romantic. He wants to protect her, she wants her independence, and this brings some great conflict.

Of course Nikolai doesn’t tell her he’s a killer for hire, and his secrets start to get a little out of hand. But he tries to maintain normalcy by taking her out on dates and buying her nice things…things she doesn’t want him to buy because they cost so much, of course. But he does it anyway. He’s also there to rescue her in a few situations, so props for some damsel in distress situations that make sense considering Daisy’s lack of world experience.

Sex & Violence
This is a darker romance, dealing with mafia and murder and heroines in danger. I loved this blend and thought it was well balanced. There was suspense in the fact that I knew at some point Nikolai’s profession would get Daisy into trouble. It was just a matter of it actually happening. Then when it did, I got all worked up waiting for Nikolai to figure it out and go save her. There are some dark themes. While Daisy isn’t raped, another character is, and there is quite a bit of violence.

The Romance Factor
I got the same heart feels from this one that I get from a really great book I’ve read visually. Nikolai’s desire to protect Daisy is amazingly sweet, and Daisy’s worry that everything she says or does is wrong is kind of adorable. I know, it sounds like  it could get really annoying, but it’s not. 5/5


The Steam Factor
While the sex doesn’t overpower the plot, the sexy times are definitely tantalizing. Daisy’s a virgin at the beginning, but it doesn’t seem to take long for her to jump on the dirty talk/dirty times train. 5/5

Final Thoughts
This was a great story with narrators that I really enjoyed. When it comes to audiobooks, the voices reading the story play a huge part in the experience. I’m going to listen to this whole series, including the book I’d already read (which I loved, so it won’t be a chore to enjoy it again). This one is written by 2 authors I like, and I feel that when they collaborate, romantic magic is made.

Book Review: The Billionaire Takes a Bride by Jessica Clare

Even in the most lighthearted series, you can get a story that manages to maintain the fun while still introducing a pretty dark and/or serious theme. This is one of those. Trigger warning for themes of rape.


One-Sentence Synopsis
A marriage of convenience seems like the perfect solution for two people who need an “other” to help them out, but it gets more difficult when they start to have real feelings for each other. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Crazy Families & Messed Up Pasts
It’s not often you find a modern day marriage of convenience story, but this one nails it and does it in a way that’s fairly realistic. Well, in the world of a billionaire anyway. Sebastian’s horrible mother is involved in a reality TV series about their family and being that the woman is completely insane, she wants Sebastian to get back with his ex as part of the season’s storyline. Chelsea is a bad ass roller derby girl, but when the skates come off, she has a hard time dealing with crowds, the dark, and men hitting on her due to PTSD from being raped a few years before.


Beneficial Nuptials
When they meet at Gretchen and Hunter’s engagement dinner, Chelsea finds Sebastian to be “safe,” and they decide to be party Safety Buddies. After all, if they pretend to be together, men won’t hit on her and people won’t bother Sebastian about this family’s TV show. But then Sebastian decides to take it a step further, because if he marries Chelsea, then his mother and his ex (in theory) can’t bother him about the show’s storyline of getting back together. And since Chelsea’s roommate moved out and it scares her to be alone in an empty apartment, she jumps on the opportunity.

Taking Care of Business
It’s all fun and games and convenience until someone starts getting lusty after the other one, though. And it doesn’t take long for Sebastian to realize that he’s probably not going to be able to avoid all those feelings he said he wanted to avoid in the first place. Yet he doesn’t push Chelsea into anything, especially when he finds out what happened to her. Instead, they become good friends and he just takes care of “things” on his own.

Split Persona
I loved the whole roller derby thing and the fact that Chelsea is of two personalities. In her roller gear, she’s fierce, tough, and confident. Outside of it, she feels broken and scared, which is understandable. Her sex feels are pretty much non-existent, but when she realizes that Sebastian is turned on by her, she starts to feel that she’s ruining his life by not being a wife who can give him what he wants. Because by that time, they’ve started to like each other and the whole convenience/temporary nature of the marriage seems to have been forgotten.


Roller Girl
Sebastian never pressures Chelsea into anything. Instead, he lets her take control. He also makes it a point to let her know that no matter how much she’d been drinking the night of her rape, it wasn’t her fault. Chelsea slowly comes out of her shell, but it’s not until Sebastian suggests she integrate her roller derby persona into the bedroom that she starts to find her sexuality again.

Working Through Issues
I think thus far, this one is my favorite in the series, not only because it has some of my fave tropes (friends to lovers, marriage of convenience) but because the characters felt real and I loved that Chelsea was able to regain her identity and empower herself, even after a traumatic event. Of course, the big conflict of the story reopens some of those wounds, but Sebastian is great as the supportive husband who just wants Chelsea to feel safe.

The Romance Factor
Besides the above mentioned tropes, I also get a little mushy over the whole damsel in distress thing, and when Sebastian comforts Chelsea after the lights go out in their hotel in New Orleans, I melted. He’s so sweet and caring and careful of her feelings that I couldn’t help but love him. 4/5

The Steam Factor
Because of the nature of Chelsea’s PTSD, there isn’t a super high volume of sex in this story, but what there is manages to sizzle while still maintaining the respect and caution towards Chelsea’s past and the things that made her scared of it in the first place. And honestly, not everything is resolved by the end, but you’re still left with the feeling that things are going to be okay, both in and out of the bedroom. 4/5

Final Thoughts
I mentioned in the last B&B review I did that the stories were going to parallel and sure enough, this one seems to be happening right alongside Edie and Magnus’ story. I believe it parallels Asher and Greer’s story as well, which comes out later this year (and has already been preordered by yours truly). I also enjoyed the random reference to one of the reality shows in Clare’s Games series. The whole story left me with warm fuzzies, and I can’t wait for book 4 to come out.

Book Review: Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

I checked this out from the library at the request of my mom because she wanted to discuss it with someone. Fair warning: this is NOT a romance. It is a crime drama with a very twisted element of romance to it. Though I usually stick to writing about romance, once in awhile I like to change it up a bit for those readers who like different genres. However, if you’re not one who enjoys dark themes, you may want to skip this post and/or this book altogether.

Trigger warnings: Painful physical and psychological torture, drug dependency, murder, descriptions of dead bodies, and sexual abuse.


One-Sentence Synopsis
A detective known for bringing down the serial killer who tortured and almost killed him is called in to help find the person murdering young girls. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

PTSD: Maximum Level
Archie Sheridan is a hot mess, addicted to pain pills and very noticeably damaged, as he should be considering that his career in tracking down serial killer Gretchen Lowell culminated in him being her final victim before prison. Though she allowed him to live, his mental state is jacked up, and though he’s competent and smart enough to be brought back on this new case, he spends most of his time high on meds.


Daddy Issues
Susan Ward is a reporter who’s been requested to follow the case. The media didn’t handle Archie’s previous case well with regards to how they made the police department look, so this time they’re asking for a reporter to get the scoop as it happens. Susan is also getting info on Archie. After all, he’s an interesting figure who’s been to hell and back. But Susan comes with her own baggage as well, namely a need to become involved with older men, sometimes even married ones. She’s not a homewrecker, rather if the situation happens, she latches on to it for her own sense of security.

Heartbroken. Literally.
Reading about Archie in general is like watching a trainwreck. As messed up as he is, he’s an interesting character that draws you in to his mind and his problems. And to be honest, being drawn into his mind made me really uncomfortable in a way that I kind of liked. Yes, he’s haunted by Gretchen and the memories of torture (which the author describes in painful detail…hide your ribs, hide your spleen).


But it’s not just because the experience was traumatic. There’s also a Stockholm element of attraction there. Archie continues to see Gretchen once a week to get information on the victims she killed and buried that the police never found. Beyond that reason, though, Archie has a strange need to see her and talk to her.

Spoiler: She’s Going to Need a Good Therapist
Susan is a mess, but only mildly so at the beginning. Her past comes to light as the story progresses. She’s damaged, but she’s also kind of fierce and fearless, at least on the surface. She has a definite attraction to Archie, and I liked that you get the feeling that her demons are sort of calling to his.

The Romance Factor
Well…this isn’t a romance novel, but I suppose you could look at it has having a romantic element to it? Even so, it’s not a lighthearted warm fuzzy romance at either end. Susan’s attraction to Archie seems one-sided, though I think there’s room for that to develop, but the younger woman/older man thing is tragic in the context of the plot. And the weird thing Archie and Gretchen have going on? I mean, I know it’s psychologically possible, but it weirded me out. 2/5

The Steam Factor
The plot doesn’t lend itself to any real steam, and while we get a little bit of gritty language describing things that may be happening, we never get those kinds of details. 1/5

Final Thoughts
This type of book is obviously going to score low on romance traits, but the read itself was entertaining if you’re not bothered by violence. I liked the pacing, I liked the side characters, and I like the fact that this book seems to put a new and disturbing twist on the whole serial killer thing. Also, I’m kind of intrigued by a female serial killer. You don’t hear about them often, and so one as a character in a work of fiction is kind of fun…in a dark, psychotic way.

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.

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.


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


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.

Book Review: Forgotten Promises by Jessica Lemmon

The Lost Boys series by Jessica Lemmon takes a more serious tone than a lot of contemporary romances I’ve read. This one especially takes it to some dark places. While it’s a good read that I recommend, it is NOT a light and fluffy read by any means.

Trigger warnings: This book contains themes of physical and sexual abuse and molestation, pedophilia, and suicide.


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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A released prisoner vows to get the proof he needs to send his father to jail, and a girl he knew in high school may hold the key to helping him…if he doesn’t get arrested for kidnapping her. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

First World Problems
On her 21st birthday, Morgan finds out her boyfriend has been cheating on her. This is the worst thing to happen in her world, so she plans to spend the rest of the night getting drunk and trying to forget his betrayal. But when she sees Tucker at the convenience store and goes to talk to him,  she sets herself up to find out that there are worse things in the world than being dumped.


From the Past
Tucker knew Morgan in high school and even once saved her from being raped. But he was also the juvenile delinquent who’s father was the chief of police. When he hears sirens and panics, he kidnaps Morgan and takes her to a friend’s cabin to hide out while he decides what to do. Morgan is understandably scared at first, but she’d been fascinated by Tucker in high school, and now she finds herself attracted to him.

Dark & Light
You’d think this was a case of Stockholm Syndrome, and I suppose there’s a little bit of that, but it goes deeper. Tucker needs Morgan’s father, a lawyer, to help him put his father behind bars before he gets involved in a camp for boys and does to them what he did to Tucker and his brother for years. Because of his past, Tucker doesn’t like to be touched and he can’t trust anyone. But Morgan represents purity for him, and when she reaches out to him, showing him true kindness and affection, he’s torn between wanting to accept her gift and wanting to push her away so as not to dirty her with what he perceives as his own darkness.

A Sad Truth
Rape is used quite a bit in romantic fiction, and it’s often something visited upon the heroine. Having the hero be the victim was definitely a turn, but one that the author handled well. Tucker knows that what happened to him wasn’t his fault. Yet he feels dirty and unworthy of love. Though he accepts Morgan’s affection at the cabin, he doesn’t believe himself worthy to be with her.

Perception is Everything
As for Morgan, even though they’re only together a few days, her whole outlook on life is changed, just by knowing what happened to Tucker and understanding that his juvenile delinquency wasn’t a rebellion against his father, it was a way to escape him. Yes, this happens only over a short time, but it’s not beyond the realm of belief, and the pacing is perfect for the intensity of the characters and their relationship.

The Romance Factor
Morgan and Tucker have a history of sorts, and though they seem to fall for each other quickly, their background keeps this from being a case of insta-love. Tucker’s tragic past makes Morgan’s need to accept and heal him that much stronger. Though there’s not that romantic angst I enjoy, the conflict and angst from other areas is powerful, and the way the characters come together is both sad and hopeful. 4/5


The Steam Factor
The few scenes there were had enough detail to “see” what was happening, but this one wasn’t hardcore erotic, and I’m actually thankful for that. In a story with such dark themes, I think there had to be a good balance between the plot and the sex, and the balance was definitely there. So while I’m only giving it a 3/5, I’m doing so with much respect Jessica Lemmon for handling this topic well.

Final Thoughts
This quick read (it’s more of a novella) isn’t going to be for everyone, and I say that because I know readers who don’t want dark themes in their romance. However, I really enjoyed it, and I especially liked that not only was a difficult subject tackled with grace, it was done in a way that shows that it’s not just women who can be victims of horrible crimes against their bodies.