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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

ARC Review: Playing with Fire by Lexi Ryan

Playing with Fire is the first book in Lexi Ryan's new Mended Hearts Series, which features characters from New Hope. If you are a fan of Lexi Ryan's, you will recognize many familiar faces here. The Mended Hearts series books can each stand on their own, but the characters are interconnected and are best when read in order for full enjoyment. It is not necessary to have read any of the previous books to understand Playing with Fire, but if you are going to read any of the books I would recommend at least reading the Here and Now series since Max plays such a huge part in those books. If you haven't read those books though, beware of spoilers for those books below. 

Dr. Phoenix Reid doesn't let many others close, and she definitely doesn't tell them about her past. She prefers to keep things private, but one night with Max Hallowell changes everything. She thought that she could keep things to one night of pleasure, but Max doesn't seem to be giving up. He wants Nix, and is willing to give her all the time that she needs. But Nix knows that she needs to keep away from Max in order to keep him and his daughter safe. But what happens when she starts to let Max in, and he is determined to help her even after learning everything? Can they find a way to make sure that Nix is safe and have a chance at a future together, or will everything go up in flames?

I really loved Max in the previous books, and I really felt badly for him. I always thought that Hannah needed to be with Nate, but I couldn't help but fall in love with Max. He had made some huge mistakes, but he was a great guy that gave so much of himself to others. My heart broke for him when he lost everything, but I was glad that he was able to focus on the positive in his life and I thought that he was a great dad to Claire. That was even more evident here, and he was so adorable with her and with everything he did for her. But I really liked him with Nix. He was every bit the good guy we have come to know and love, but he was also so supportive. I loved that he didn't judge her or give up on her. Nix did annoy me a bit in this book if I am honest. While I understood where she was coming from once all was revealed, her hot and cold act got old here. I was ready for it to be over before it was, and I wanted her to wake up and see just what she was at risk of losing with Max. They were so good for one another, and I wanted her to see that sooner than she did. 

Overall, this was a good story though and I really liked how everything turned out. I love Max, and it was great to finally see him find some happiness! I was shocked when their connection first started to happen in previous books, because I never saw it coming. But throughout this book it become so clear how perfect they were for one another. I loved seeing familiar faces, and it was really great that they were all so supportive of Nix and Max together, because there very easily could have been some drama there with everyone's intertwined pasts. I am looking forward to more in this series though, and I cannot wait to get Cade's story next!

**ARC Provided by AToMR Tours**

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | iTunes 

ARC Review: Only a Promise by Mary Balogh

I liked the simplicity of this book. Some may perceive it as boring, but I would rather describe it as calm. There were no intense scenes of spies or duels. There weren’t many huge secrets that shocked everyone half way through the story. It was simply the story of two souls falling in love while helping each other face their inner demons.

This is another first for me from an author. Being the fifth book, this was an odd place for me to start with this series. However, I never felt lost in the overall story. Mary Balogh did a nice job describing the background without over doing it. I was introduced to several of the other members of The Survivors and am intrigued to read their stories.

Chloe has had a hard time with the beau monde. She had a late debut because of deaths in the family, and then her first season, her younger sister creates a scandal that shames the whole family back to the country. She braves the ton a second time about six years later only to find another supposed scandal from her family’s past brought to light. The poor girl runs again back to the country.

Ralph is summoned to his grandparents’ home for a visit. He is the heir to his grandfather’s dukedom, and his grandmother stresses the importance of him finding a bride and continuing the line for his ailing grandfather’s sake. He expressed his worries about a marriage to his grandmother, completely forgetting that her guest, Chloe, is in the same room.

Then Chloe supplies a bargain for a marriage of convenience where love and emotions have no part. It will serve them both for their purposes. They have a quick engagement and small wedding. Then these two strangers face the world and some very hard times together. They become intrigued with each other and cannot resist learning more about their spouses.

Only a Promise is a simple, sweet love story. I found the lack of an intense side story to be very refreshing. The focus was more on the love story. Ralph really tugged at my heart as a tortured hero, and I felt like Chloe could have been a close friend of mine. I was dragged in and felt like I was there with all of the characters. A lovely read.

**ARC copy provided by Publisher**

Purchase: | Amazon | Kindle | B&N | iTunes |

Feature and Giveaway: Once and Again by Elizabeth Barrett

For readers of Shannon Stacey and Susan Mallery, the heartfelt new Briarwood series begins with a tale of forbidden love, broken promises, and second chances.

Growing up in Eastbridge, Connecticut, Carolyn Rivington was a young debutante who did whatever her parents asked. So when her father demanded that she break things off with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks or else, she did. Now Carolyn’s family is deep in debt. She’s no longer a member of the Briarwood Golf and Yacht Club, she’s an employee. And the tanned, tattooed, dangerously handsome stranger who saunters into her lobby isn’t just her new boss . . . he’s also her first love.

The last time he saw Carolyn, Jake Gaffney was in the back of a police cruiser, handcuffed and humiliated. But seeing her again stirs other memories: a blanket on the beach, the moon above their heads, and the most expensive bottle of wine he could afford. Now the tables have turned. As a real-estate magnate and Briarwood’s new owner, Jake doesn’t have to answer to anyone. But now that he’s back home, he’s finding it hard to live down his old reputation.

Before they can move forward, Jake and Carolyn must face their pasts. But it’ll take more than sizzling chemistry for them to heal old wounds and return to the love they once shared.

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo |

ARC Review: Safe at Last by Maya Banks

I was waiting in a state of excitement, and utmost impatience for the next Slow Burn novel by Maya Banks, and the book featuring Zack Covington was everything I’d hoped it would be. Following the events that led Beau and Ari together, it appears as though the fanatics who want to use those with psychic abilities (and have tested or enhanced), have given up. Months of quiet gave those at DSS a chance to settle down and take on a less strenuous case, or so the operatives think. However, when Zack Covington, former football pro, turned security specialist for DSS runs into his former high school sweetheart Gracie, all bets are off.

Our story begins with the men at DSS saving a teenaged-girls’ life. She has been brutalized, but thankfully Zack is able to take the enemy out and bring the girl to safety. Despite the mission’s success, Zack is brought back to the past, and torturing himself afterward. Why you ask? The answer is simple: the love of his life disappeared without a trace twelve years ago, and he to this day, despite his best efforts, has not found her, and knows nothing of her current state of being. There was mention of Zack’s past prior to this book, but the provided hints were merely breadcrumbs, so small and inconsistent that it left us wanting. Thankfully, I did not have to wait long to gobble up the much larger tidbits! The sadness and regret Zack feels is terrible. So terrible in fact, that I feel his sense of defeat through the pages.

The only negative aspect of the book is the redundancy of displayed emotion (the same expression of feelings is repetitive). However, this aspect is so small that it does not detract from this overall wonderfully written story. This is especially true when the story starts heating up (and no, I am not referring to anything sexual in nature, for once). I am actually referring to the action, and the filthy, destructive nature of secrets uncovered throughout this novel. To me, the meat of this story is in the demons, found within the two main characters, Gracie and Zack (thus the slight redundancy being practically insignificant). Gracie is absolutely and irrevocably damaged. Ironically, our hero is supposedly to blame. Quite quickly, in fact, are we thrown into the pit of despair, confusion, and chaos that is Gracie and Zack’s unsettling past.

Right after Zack’s aforementioned mission, the team is brought in to an art gallery by a man known as Wade Sterling (whom happens to be Gracie’s only friend in the world). He wants DSS to ensure the safety of the artwork during the showing, and in hindsight, now I realize this has to do with Gracie and her need to be anonymous. After all, she is in fact hiding from the traumatic events of her past that involve her one true love, Zack. Unfortunately for her, Zack recognizes the landscape and knows without a doubt that the painter is Gracie. She arrives, sees Zack, and has a breakdown of epic proportions. In that one solid moment, where after twelve years of seclusion, and depression behind closed doors, Zack is paralyzed with shock. He is utterly thrown off-balance by the irony of Gracie’s proximity after so many years, but also bewildered by her horrified reaction.

The second I read that scene, I knew this book was going to be a tear-jerking, cry-my-eyes-out-ugly, I-need-to-stab-something story. Don’t laugh, because I am not kidding! Truly, when any character has such a perfectly described anxiety-driven reaction, one knows that that particular individual has endured a horrible and possibly disturbing experience. Any normal reader, at that point, is going to raise their eyebrows in a, “what the hell?” moment. Honestly, any type of abuse digs at your soul when you imagine it, or read about it, because those types of incidents actually occur. Therefore, empathy is always waiting for you to open your heart to those that have lost pieces of themselves because of it.

So, to say that Gracie is a vulnerable, emotional wreck would be an understatement. Even worse, she blames Zack for whatever trauma she experienced. After their encounter, Zack tries to unravel the mystery with no luck, as does Eliza. You may remember Eliza, whom is the only female DSS operative (and honestly one of my favorite characters). She attempts to help Zack find the truth, but is also unable to find anything. Alas, Zack tracks Gracie down again, and demands said answers, but Wade steps in the way. I’ll be honest, I did not like Wade at first, because he seemed controlling and I was suspicious of him. Damn, was I wrong! I flipping love Wade now, and holy hell, I am dying to see if him and Eliza get their own happily ever-after in one of the novels (let’s hope). He is dangerous, sexy, intelligent, and he is adamant about the importance of treating women properly. Not to mention, he is protective, and a bit of a smart-ass (add in the ability to fight, use a gun, and a shady past….and I’m dying to know more). Moving on….

This is where the story really takes off. Gracie becomes the target of the former enemy of DSS from the prior book. She gets beaten within an inch of her life to send a message to DSS, proving that they are not giving up yet. Zack not only finds himself more on the outside because Gracie was already afraid of him, but now he is after revenge (which is pretty intense since the Deveraux brothers, Caleb and Beau, were already hoping for it). Once Gracie is in the hospital, it becomes clear we now have two monsters to deal with, those from the past, and those in the present. After some violence, threats, and man-pissing matches, we discover that Gracie believes Zack had her violated, thereby forcing her out of his life at a young age.

What we don’t know is who the culprits are, and though the one behind the disgusting, and downright psychotic plan is no surprise (at all), the plan itself, as well as how it was carried out against Gracie is quite shocking. Luckily, the author ties up that loose end quite well. I do enjoy it so very much when self-serving pricks end up losing everything they worked for. Yes, yes I do. Admittedly, I am totally an eye-for-an-eye kind of gal, especially when violence against an innocent is involved. So, be prepared for satisfaction on that front. As for the enemies of DSS, well, that story is not over, but we definitely had a great fight and showdown in this book.

I’ll admit that Ari and Beau’s story was more intense action-wise, but this book was more emotionally charged. After a time, Zack’s discovery of what actually happened to Gracie enables him to find the confession necessary to save their love. However, in the process of saving Gracie, Eliza becomes the next victim. I am just going to say that I shouted expletives once Eliza’s abduction became the ultimate subject of the book. I love Eliza, I mean, she is tough, and she has some of the best pun’s I have read in a long time. Plus, she is truly an honorable, good woman. A woman who is there for all the guys and so damned loyal, especially to Zack, and I’ve loved him since the beginning of this series.

With Gracie almost killed, then going through recovery, and under surveillance, Eliza was an easy target (though she prevails, of course). I’ll say that the absolute best part is when Gracie finally realizes that Zack is innocent on some level though she hasn’t figured out how. Why? It’s simple. Once she understands that there is a piece of the puzzle missing, and that she still loves him, she is able to let go of the past enough to be truly strong. This happens at the perfect time in the story because once she gives herself peace, she becomes capable, she shines, and she teams up with Ramie and Ari. The three of them band together, tell the men how it is, and lead the operatives on a mission to save Eliza. Not to mention they plan a hardcore take down of the psychopaths that have continuously haunted their loved ones.

During the rescue, people are injured, but everyone is safe. Most importantly for the reader, the men and the women who brought joy to their lives are back together. Towards the end, Zach and Gracie are able to mend their broken relationship, and right the wrongs done to them. Furthermore, they give us as the readers hope. This hope tells us to believe that love can conquer all, and if you have faith in the one you love, that hope can inspire. Seeing the operatives of DSS, the Deveraux brothers, and Zach avenge their loved ones was sweet and satisfying, but we know there is more to come. With that said, to me, I loved seeing a woman abused and torn to shreds (metaphorically, of course), come out on top. Even better, she had a man who gave her the chance to be reborn, to become the best version of herself possible.

**ARC provided by Publisher**

Purchase: | Amazon | Kindle | B&N | iTunes |

Monday, July 6, 2015

ARC Review: Taming Lily by Monica Murphy

Taming Lily is the third and final installment in the Fowler Sisters series by Monica Murphy. I have really enjoyed this series and couldn't wait to get to know Lily better. While each book is a standalone, these are best read in order to get full enjoyment. This book was really good, and I didn't want to put it down. 

Lily Fowler has always been known as the party girl heiress of the Fowler Cosmetics family. But this time when she finds herself in trouble, she heads to Hawaii looking to hide out. Lily goes out of her way to make herself as unrecognizable as possible, yet she still feels like someone is watching her. When she nearly drowns, she finds herself rescued by her watcher. Soon she finds herself getting close to Max, even though she knows that she should be careful. Max knows that he needs to keep his distance from Lily, but he can't help the way he feels about her. But when everything comes to a head, Lily finds herself not knowing who to trust. Can Lily trust Max, or is he the last person that she should turn to?

I liked these two together a lot. Lily and Max were super hot together, and I loved the dynamic between them. They are both used to control, and they don't like to give it up easily. But with each other, they found it impossible to act as they normally would. The pull between them was magnetic, and I couldn't get enough of them. Lily was so much more than her reputation, and I really enjoyed seeing a different side to her. She was very easy to like, and I found myself relating to her more than I expected. She wasn't my favorite character in the previous books, but I really liked her once I started to get to know her here. Max was sexy and mysterious, and I will admit that I didn't want to like him at first. I knew what he was up to and I figured that would be a huge strike against him. Yet he completely won me over, and I found myself loving him just like Lily did. 

I will say that there were a few things that kept me from rating this one at 5 stars. I thought that grandma Fowler was missing here, and it was pretty noticeable. I also felt like though we got some of Pilar and Forrest Fowler, that we never really got to see enough of them together. I didn't really feel like their parts of the story were given enough attention, considering they were a huge part of what happened with Lily's story. I was curious to get more of the two of them, and would have liked to have seen them together more. The other thing that I noticed is that even though each book was different, there was a really big common thread throughout each book. Each book features a man falling for one of the sisters that starts out without the best of intentions when it comes to them. While I do find it interesting to see a sort of enemies to lovers story with someone out to destroy the other's life and they end up falling for them, I felt like that was overdone with this series. It would have been okay if it hadn't been every book in this series. I still really enjoyed this series though, and I thought that they were well written and sexy. Each book was entertaining, and I would recommend this series especially if you are a Monica Murphy fan. This is definitely one of my favorites of Murphy's and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

**ARC Provided by Publisher**

Purchase: | Amazon | Kindle | B&N| Book Depository | iTunes |