Tami's Book Reviews

Rotten by J.L. Brooks

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

J.L. Brooks captivated me with Distractions and she has again given me the unexpected in Rotten.  This story had so many elements to love, its characters were unorthodox and engaging, there were twists that kept me turning pages and an ending that was incredibly satisfying.

Antoinette (Toni) Knox is the daughter of the owner of a strip club.  While she has a loving relationship with her father, Stephen, she is burdened by the judgement of those in her home town and the taunts and exclusion from kids at school because of who her father is.  David Stark is the one exception, he is her friend, perhaps slightly more, and takes his role as protector of Toni very seriously. 

I loved Toni.  She was intelligent, ballsy and prepared to admit her mistakes.  She grappled with her internal demons and faced the things that sent her from her home with a strength that was hard not to admire.  There were a number of times where I chuckled at her determination, her quick thinking and the outcomes she was able to achieve.  David was also a fabulous character.  His commitment to those he loved was unwavering.

While I finished Rotten in a relatively upbeat mood there were a number of elements that were quite heartbreaking.  Overwhelmingly, the many things that Toni missed out on because of her flawed decision making as a child/teenager.  Her assumptions of peoples intentions meant that she lived a life that lacked the intensity of emotion she deserved. 

Interestingly the people she thought she couldn't trust turned out to be the very ones she could rely on while others weren't so trustworthy. As Toni came to terms with her past, her choices and her options for the future she blossomed into the person she was truly meant to be.  While she had always known her father loved her, she developed a true understanding of the man that he was, and reading that as it happened was just beautiful.

Rotten was a relatively quick read and if I'd had the chance I would have finished it in one sitting.  The writing style was completely engaging and I loved the way Brooks wove Toni's Catholic beliefs into the story in way that was meaningful and easy to understand.  Rotten has confirmed for me that picking up a J.L. Brooks novel is a decision that will never disappoint.

If Forever Comes by A.L. Jackson

3.5 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

If Forever Comes is the conclusion to Christian and Elizabeth's story.  I feel quite conflicted about this book.  As with Lost to You and Take this Regret it is beautifully written, but the bulk of the story is quite heartbreaking and I had really been hoping for a little more happiness for Christian and Elizabeth given everything they had been through prior to this book.

The story is told in dual point of view and alternates from present day to scenes from the past until the two intersect.  This approach allows you to experience the current emotions of the characters, while slowly developing an understanding of the circumstances that have led to their situation.  It is quite powerful, although I must confess I was a little confused with where the story started at first, having just finished the previous two books in the series it was not the start I was expecting.

I was really impressed with Christian as a character in this series and my opinion didn't change in If Forever Comes.  He grew so much in the previous books and continued to convey the depth of his love for Elizabeth and Lizzie in this one.  I think I was more sympathetic towards him than Elizabeth in this book.

There were times in Take this Regret that I questioned Elizabeth's actions/reactions.  In If Forever Comes I found her to be incredibly selfish and I agreed wholeheartedly with Christian at one point in the story:

"I thought better of you than this, Elizabeth, but I was wrong.  You are the most selfish person I've ever met."

While I completely understood the depth of the emotions she was feeling she made unfair judgements about the impact of situations on others, particularly Christian. 

I was really pleased with the conclusion to the story, although I did feel that it came about rather quickly.  I loved that the dual point of view continued through to the Epilogue and that we got to hear a little more from both characters - it was a fitting end to the way the entire series had been presented. 

I will definitely be reading more from A.L. Jackson.  I fell in love with her writing style and was at times overwhelmed by the depth of feeling she conveyed in her stories.  Her character development was excellent and I found myself invested in the outcomes that affected them.  While I was looking for something I didn't find in If Forever Comes I think if you've read Lost to You and Take this Regret you should finish off the series, just be prepared for more heartbreak for Christian and Elizabeth.

Tragically Flawed by A.M. Hargrove

3 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Tragically Flawed is a story about damaged people falling in love.  Riviera Benson has had a brutal, horrific life up until the point in time that she meets Benjamin 'Shan' Shandon.  The extent of what she has endured is extreme and it is almost hard to believe that she has managed to survive.  Her ability to withdraw to a safe place in her mind is really all that has saved her.

Escaping a violent and abusive ex, Riviera finds herself in Beaver Creek, Colorado and lands herself a job painting murals, trompe l'oeil and other artistic finishes on the walls in the homes of the wealthy.  Happy to get lost in her work and fearful of her past catching up with her she doesn't mix widely.

Shan is the owner of the most successful construction company in the region and crosses paths with Riviera through his work.  Their first couple of encounters are less than positive (to say the least) and yet an attraction blossoms between the two that neither of them fully understand, nor know how to react to.

For me the relationship between the two moved a little too quickly to be realistic, particularly in light of Riviera's back ground.  Shan had a fiery temper and Riviera saw this a number of times, which I would have expected to be just too traumatic for her.  my liking.  There were some steamy sex scenes between the two, although I thought these were a little over done, particularly given Riviera's history.

I didn't fully understand Shan's 'trauma' - well that's not right, I did understand it, but I didn't really believe the impact it had on him - there was just something missing for me.   There are some excellent characters in the story.  I particularly liked Amie and her passionate support of abused women.  She was the perfect friend to Riviera and certainly helped her get the support she needed to heal.  Marsha Sue was one nasty piece of work.  I would have liked something more concrete in the history between her and Shan to make some of her actions more realistic though.  Unlike with other books, I didn't find myself quite as invested in the characters and will admit to finding some of Shan's dialogue just a little too cheesy for

Tragically Flawed was a relatively quick read.  It provided enough entertainment to keep me turning pages and I was happy with the way it ended.

Lost to You by A.L. Jackson

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Lost to You is a short novel that provides the back story to Christian and Elizabeth: how they met and fell in love.  It is just gorgeous.  I loved Christian in Take this Regret (despite his bad decision early in the book) and in Lost to You we get to see a little more of his character and the impact Elizabeth has on who he becomes.

I read Lost to You after Take this Regret and this actually magnified the impact of the choices made in Take this Regret.  It particularly gave me more insight into Elizabeth and her reactions.  I'm happy with the order I read the books in, but you could definitely read Lost to You first without compromising either story.  If you're the sort of reader that doesn't like to know things that happen in the future for characters then you should probably start with Lost to You.

A.L. Jackson has a really easy to read writing style.  This is a gorgeous prequel for a wonderful series.  I am moving on to If Forever Comes next and can't wait for the conclusion to Christian and Elizabeth's story.

Worth the Fight by Vi Keeland

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

This is the first Vi Keeland book I've read and it won't be the last.  In Worth the Fight Keeland has created some fabulous, fabulous characters.  I have no doubt that Nico will become a very popular book boyfriend - an MMA fighter he has all those attributes that send women swooning - sexy good looks, muscles on muscles, tattoos and he knows what he wants when it comes to Elle.  I think Elle will become an equally popular 'female lead'.  She is gorgeous (of course!), smart and has just the right level of confidence to be a good match for Nico.

Worth the Fight was a quick read, and I was completely drawn into the story finishing it in one sitting.  Both characters are battling guilt and remorse from past events in their lives.  Both have judged themselves more harshly than anyone else and consequently they have made decisions about their lives that have left them essentially passing time.  Elle is in a relationship that is safe, that allows her to limit the depth of her feelings and fills her days with work.  Nico is avoiding getting back in the cage and yet still training as he would in the lead up to a fight.

The relationship that develops between the two is perfect.  It moves at a pace that is believeable and I was super impressed with the way Keeland built the tension/emotion between Nico and Elle.  It was almost radiating off the pages.  There are some hot and steamy scenes but they don't overwhelm the story - it's not just about sex.  There is no huge relationship drama and no cheating.  This doesn't mean there aren't issues in the story that the characters must overcome, there are, but they are more based around the struggle each of them faces in dealing with their past and finding a way to move forward. 

I loved Worth the Fight.  It is one that will be easy to recommend to people looking for a swoon worthy male, a strong and yet feminine female, an engaging story and a satisfying conclusion.

Take This Regret by A.L. Jackson

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Take This Regret is a powerful lesson in the impact our choices have on others.  Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, words are uttered, choices are made and there is no taking them back.  How easy is it to think only of ourselves in a difficult situation and not consider the consequences of our actions for others?  How often have you done or said something with little thought, only to regret it at length? 

Christian Davison learnt first hand exactly how painful this can be.  A rash ultimatum cost him more than he ever would have imagined.  He then spent five years suffering, not sure what to do to correct his error and yet mourning his loss every day.

For Elizabeth Ayers, the betrayal was so huge that she can’t ever forgive.  The impact of Christian’s choice meant that Elizabeth had to completely rebuild her life.  And while there are things she absolutely doesn’t regret, the pain of lost love is one she is struggling to move on from.

I loved Christian ... well I didn’t love how he behaved early on in the story, but his character evolved perfectly and he was willing to take risks and fight for his family.  The relationship that developed with his daughter, Lizzie, was gorgeous.  The unconditional love between a father and daughter was a delight to read and the depth to Christian’s feelings for Lizzie were so realistically portrayed.

Elizabeth was an incredibly strong character whose sole focus had been her daughter.  She sacrificed everything to give Lizzie a life filled with love.  Towards the end of the story I found myself getting frustrated with her though.  While I could completely understand the impact of the past on her decision making, there was no logic to some of her choices and she ended up doing exactly what she had worked so hard to avoid. 

Take this Regret is just beautiful.  I was lost in the story very quickly and ended up reading it in one sitting as I just had to know how the story would unfold.  Told from both Christian and Elizabeth’s points of view you get to understand elements from each of their perspective, which added to the intensity of the emotion I felt as I read.  I will definitely be reading Lost to You and If Forever Comes.

Darkest Legacy by Allyson Gottlieb

3.5 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Darkest Legacy is a short novella that introduces us to Tamara Kingsley and Valentine.  Set in a magical world, the two met as teenagers at a the Ravenswood Academy of Dark Magic.  A friendship is formed between the two and evolves into something more.  But the relationship is not the focus of the story - instead we are transported forward in time and get to experience events from Tamara's perspective, 20 years after the two last parted company.

Darkest Legacy is told from Tamara's point of view.  I would have liked something to indicate the shift in timeframe that occurs (present to past).  While I did work it out relatively quickly, it did confuse me a little although not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the story.  Darkest Legacy is very well written.  The characters are very well developed and I felt very connected to their story.  Despite being a very quick read, there is substance and detail that gives you a good understanding of the context for the story.  You also get a conclusion, so while I'm sure there will be more instalments you're not left wondering what is going to happen next in this particular episode.

A little 'Harry Potter' like in the story line I think this book will appeal to many and I think it could be the start of something huge for Gottlieb.

Breaking Nova by Jessica Sorensen

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

There is definitely a theme to the Jessica Sorenson books I have read - damaged people struggling to find themselves, questioning their worth and whether they deserve happiness.  It is not a joyous theme and yet I have absolutely enjoyed reading her stories.  The despair and introspection from Sorenson's stories is a gentle reminder of the balance and harmony I have found in my own life and as a consequence I am thankful for what I have.

Breaking Nova is a difficult read.  There are many elements that people would ordinarily find offensive or too confronting to read but I think they are built into the story in a way that is credible and realistic, that does not glorify them but rather conveys the complexity, sadness and loneliness people feel when grappling with loss, grief and depression.  There is a lot of drug use in Breaking Nova; by a number of characters. 

Despite the painful journey I had with Nova,  I got to the end of her story with some hope for a brighter, more positive future.  Nova's experiences and circumstances have left her a shell of the person she used to be and she has struggled to find a healthy way to deal with her pain and grief.  Nova uses order, structure and numbers to numb herself from her pain and to quiet her brain.  But it isn't enough. 
"... sometimes stuff happens and we find ourselves lost, and suddenly we're standing in a place we don't recognize and we're unsure how to get back or if we even want to."
Nova dabbles in the world of drug use as a means of finding some escape - but it only causes her to question things more, to seek greater clarity and control.  She recognises the temporary and transient nature of the escape drugs give and questions her ability to do things differently.  Haunted by elements from her past, constantly questioning whether her present would be different if she had done or said things differently Nova takes some chances, seemingly small on the surface, but monumental in terms of who she is, what she has experienced and who she may become.

Quentin Carter is a key factor in Nova's journey.  Carrying his own pain and guilt he has turned to regular drug use as a means of numbing himself.  Plagued by memories and regret Quentin has no real purpose or direction: in fact he believes he should be dead.  When Nova and Quentin meet they begin to question the way they are thinking, the choices they are making and there is the prospect that perhaps they can 'save' each other. 

There is nothing 'romantic' about Breaking Nova in the usual sense of the word.  I found the story challenging to read, because it is sad and the despair of all of the characters is a little overwhelming at times.  But it is beautifully written and Nova's character is incredibly strong.  I really liked her and appreciated her struggle and the choices that she made.

I was happy with the ending in Breaking Nova, I didn't feel like I was left hanging and wanting to know more and I was given enough to engage me in the books that are to come in the Nova series.  Even though there is the promise of more challenging stories to read in those books I will pick them up as I have an investment in the characters; a connection with them that has left me wanting to know what the next chapter in their story might be all of which is a testament to the way Breaking Nova is written.

Finders Keepers by Nicole Williams

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

We met Garth Black first in Lost and Found - he was the quintessential bad boy: drinking, fighting, womanizing were key elements of his persona.  In Near and Far we saw a side to Garth that confirmed our suspicion that he really wasn’t as bad as he wanted people to think he was and were left wanting more of Garth’s story.  Nicole Williams hasn’t left us hanging - in Finders Keepers we get a whole lot more of Garth and his story and it is one you should read.

Beautifully written, Finders Keepers is a really easy read.  Having developed a bit of a relationship with the characters in the first two books in the series I found myself lost in the story very quickly.  I tend to have a bit of a soft spot for the ‘bad boy’ so it was no surprise (to me anyway!) that I became a huge Garth fan as I read.  His slow, but very definitive transition was an absolute pleasure to watch unfold.  I loved that he finally let down his walls and took some chances.  I loved that we got to understand a whole lot more about his background, about his life long friendship with Jesse and Josie and we got to see all the possibilities for his future.

Josie was the perfect match for Garth.  If I had to describe her with one word it would be feisty.  She didn’t put up with his crap and she stood tall and strong in the face of some very challenging situations.  We got to understand some of the history to Garth and Josie’s friendship in Finders Keepers and for me this gave me an even greater appreciation of their feelings for each other.  The final outcome of their relationship isn’t disclosed until the very end and I was on the edge of my seat reading the final chapters.

If you’ve read the first two books in this series I think it really is not a matter of if you’ll pick up Finders Keepers, rather when.  My first exposure to Nicole Williams was with her Eden Trilogy, followed closely by the Patrick Chronicles - with the addition of the Lost and Found series she has cemented a spot on my ‘must read’ author list.

Near and Far by Nicole Williams

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

We met Garth Black first in Lost and Found - he was the quintessential bad boy: drinking, fighting, womanizing were key elements of his persona.  In Near and Far we saw a side to Garth that confirmed our suspicion that he really wasn’t as bad as he wanted people to think he was and were left wanting more of Garth’s story.  Nicole Williams hasn’t left us hanging - in Finders Keepers we get a whole lot more of Garth and his story and it is one you should read.

Beautifully written, Finders Keepers is a really easy read.  Having developed a bit of a relationship with the characters in the first two books in the series I found myself lost in the story very quickly.  I tend to have a bit of a soft spot for the ‘bad boy’ so it was no surprise (to me anyway!) that I became a huge Garth fan as I read.  His slow, but very definitive transition was an absolute pleasure to watch unfold.  I loved that he finally let down his walls and took some chances.  I loved that we got to understand a whole lot more about his background, about his life long friendship with Jesse and Josie and we got to see all the possibilities for his future.

Josie was the perfect match for Garth.  If I had to describe her with one word it would be feisty.  She didn’t put up with his crap and she stood tall and strong in the face of some very challenging situations.  We got to understand some of the history to Garth and Josie’s friendship in Finders Keepers and for me this gave me an even greater appreciation of their feelings for each other.  The final outcome of their relationship isn’t disclosed until the very end and I was on the edge of my seat reading the final chapters.

If you’ve read the first two books in this series I think it really is not a matter of if you’ll pick up Finders Keepers, rather when.  My first exposure to Nicole Williams was with her Eden Trilogy, followed closely by the Patrick Chronicles - with the addition of the Lost and Found series she has cemented a spot on my ‘must read’ author list.

Freeing by E.K. Blair

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

In Fading I absolutely loved Jase - he was selfless and supportive and endlessly there for Candace as she dealt with the fall out of her brutal rape.  While we got to see Jase as Candace's best friend, we didn't get the insight or back story to Jase ... until Freeing. 

Freeing is not Fading from Jase's perspective, it is his story.  It develops him, his character, his relationship with Mark - all of the things that were hinted at in Fading are addressed, his story is told in detail and it is beautiful.

Jase is such a wonderful character.  He is so incredibly complex.  His family has impacted who he is, his self acceptance and who he will allow himself to be.  Moving to Seattle, away from home, has given him the opportunity to be open about his sexuality.  But in reality, Jase hasn't fully accepted that he is gay.  He avoids intimacy for fear it will confirm who he is.  Instead, he has meaningless flings with many guys, which only adds to his guilt. 

Jase's world is turned on its head when he meets Mark.  Mark is different and evokes feelings in Jase that he hasn't encountered before.  While I absolutely loved Jase, Mark was by far my favorite character in Freeing.  As Jase struggled to deal with his feelings and the relationship that was developing with Mark he made some pretty poor choices.  Each time Mark dealt with the situation just beautifully; he was strong, loving and somehow managed to show Jase a path forward.  Mark also accepted Candace unquestioningly and offered her support as she recovered.  Where Jase was sometimes indulgent, Mark was always honest and pushed both Jase and Candace to be less reliant on each other.  He showed them that they could, in fact, trust another with their hearts.
"I look over at him and take his hand, holding it, lacing my fingers with his.  He's beautiful and perfect and all I'll ever want.  He has no idea what he's given me.  He'll never understand no matter how much I tell him.  Everything I've been searching for from the time I realized I was gay, he's given me: my realization, my understanding, my accepting.  He makes it okay for me to be who I was always meant to be."
 E.K. Blair has such a wonderful writing style.  Her books are so easy to read, her characters are well developed and realistic and Freeing is a perfect companion to Fading.  While you could probably read Freeing without having read Fading I think the story has that much more substance if you read Fading first.  I loved knowing more about Jase and I loved watching his character evolve into one that finally allowed himself the freedom to love unequivocally.  I cannot wait for Falling to be released - E.K. Blair is firmly on my must read list.

Very Bad Things by Ilsa Madden-Mills

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Ilsa Madden-Mills has set a very high standard with her debut novel.  Very Bad Things is an excellent start and I will watch with interest for more from Madden-Mills.

I absolutely loved Nora.  She had the ideal mix of intelligence, sass and vulnerability.  Nora tried really hard to be bad, to rebel against the perfection expected of her by her mother.  Of course she failed terribly at being bad, but she did bust through the boundaries set for her and found enough of herself to be happy.  I loved her obsessions with words, her people watching and the way she assigned animals to people.  She was intelligent, funny, sexy - an all round fabulous female character that I couldn't fault.

I equally loved Leo.  He was such a wonderful 'parent' for Sebastian and desperately wanted to do the 'right' thing.  He fought so hard to protect his heart and struggled to actually understand what it was he was feeling.  Hiding behind things like age difference and an inability to take a risk with his heart meant that he treated Nora terribly, more than once, and yet I couldn't judge him harshly for it because it was never his intention.  I know, I know that sounds ridiculous, he didn't mean it, therefore it was OK ... which is not exactly what I mean ... it was more that he was so terrified of hurting Nora and giving her his heart that he ended up doing exactly what he was afraid of.

There are so many other wonderful characters in this story too and the potential for more stories about any number and combination of them is definitely there.  Sebastian, Leo's brother was a particular favorite, as was Teddy (I absolutely adored the interactions between Nora and Teddy).

Madden-Mills has a wonderful writing style.  It is incredibly easy to read - I particularly liked the start of each chapter which had a quote of relevance from (mostly) one of the characters in the story, they were cute and quirky and completely appropriate.  Very Bad Things is not a long read, but it is engaging and definitely sucked me in, invested me in the characters and had me wondering precisely how it was going to turn out.  I was cheering for Nora the entire time and was really happy with how the ending came together.

Saving Amy by Nicola Haken

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

If I had to describe Saving Amy in one word it would be "intense".  Despite the fact that there is an uplifting, hopeful thread to the story, it is also bleak, sad and distressing to consider the life that Amelia (Amy) Hope lived is, in fact, lived by many.

The first few chapters of Saving Amy were incredibly disturbing - a violent and abusive father, a mother detaching herself from her surroundings with a gin bottle, drug abuse, random sexual encounters and self harm ... I was devastated by the horror that was Amy's life.  To me her choices were all about survival, which is kind of ironic because every one of them took her so close to death.  These chapters painted a graphic picture of Amy, her life, and her quest to escape it so well that I felt like I was right there with her and I so wished I could reach out and do something to show her that she did have a worth.

Following a suicide attempt Amy finds herself in hospital.  Dr Richard Lewis is her attending physician.  Amy is painfully reminded of the time he had helped her once before, embarassed by the tingling she feels when he touches her and the flush that involuntarily colors her cheeks. Richard has secrets in his past that no-one else knows and he is drawn to Amy.  He steps into her life and while Amy doesn't fully understand why Richard is doing what he is doing, she accepts what he offers on the basis that it will be short lived, an escape from the pain that is her life, until she has to return home again.
"I wanted to stay but I needed to go.  I thought I loved him - if that was an emotion I was even capable of - but I knew he didn't love me; he just wanted to save me."
Amy was a wonderful character.  Having lived her life in fear, hiding her horrific home life from everyone, she was incredibly strong, incredibly resilient.  Mature beyond her eighteen years Amy had essentially resigned herself to her life, deciding it was what she deserved and sought to release her pain in increasingly risky ways.  Richard saw things in Amy she wasn't able to see. 
"Everything you consider to be wrong with you are just the results of you trying to be strong for too long - trying to cope alone for too long." 
 As much as Richard was focussed on 'saving' Amy, it was through his connection with Amy that he was also able to begin to recover from his own past. 

Saving Amy is beautifully written.  I found myself lost in the story.  At times I had to put it aside briefly as the intensity of the subject matter was a little overwhelming.  The beatings Amy suffered at the hands of her father were quite graphically described at times and as a parent it was difficult to read,  particularly knowing that her mother was effectively allowing it to occur. 

Despite the bleak elements of the story there was a thread of hope, a promise of happiness, woven into the story that had me persisting to the end, and I am very glad that I did.  There is a happy ending, although the path is not smooth.  There were some elements that were unpredictable, as well as elements that were heartbreaking although critical to the outcome.  Upon finishing Saving Amy I was left feeling drained, sad that Amy had had the life she did, but happy she had managed to find a way to rise above her experiences and become so much more than she ever thought possible.

Feeling This by Casey Blue

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

I really enjoyed Feeling This.  It was a sweet story about two people letting go of their past and trusting their feelings, living in the moment and finding happiness with each other.

Jordan Rhodes is a wealthy young man on the cusp of having the life he's always wanted - madly in love and about to propose to his fiance, a career waiting in his father's company - what more could anyone ask for?  A series of events completely out of his control send him spinning down a spiral of despair and heartbreak and Jordan is left just wanting to escape everything that reminds him of what he has lost.  I really liked Jordan, he is a passionate man who feels intensely and for me there was an element of seizing the moment and living as if you only had today in his character.

Kimber Maguire has a background that couldn't be more at odds with Jordan's.  A mother stricken with multiple sclerosis (MS) who's turned to drinking for solace, an absent older sister and the responsibility of caring for her mother and paying the bills.  Kimber has dreams to do and be more and with the support of Mrs Bruin is taking a few college classes, which adds to her hectic schedule and responsibility.  Kimber is a bit of a firecracker - quick to anger, slow to trust - and she does whatever she can to keep people out of her life, not wanting them to see what she is dealing with.  Having taken responsibility for so much from such a young age she is reluctant to let people in and believes that she needs to deal with things herself.

In his attempt to escape his past Jordan finds himself in the small town that is Kimber's home.  The two encounter each other and there is a connection between them that they tentatively explore.  I wasn't entirely convinced by their relationship, but I did enjoy reading the two come together.  Their personalities absolutely impacted their interactions - Jordan was moving forward, despite his view that he was broken.  He clearly had feelings for Kimber but would second guess his ability to be what she needed.  Kimber was mistrustful and self doubting, never believing she was worthy of Jordan (or really anything actually). 

As with many stories I wanted to shake the two of them and tell them to just tell each other what they were thinking and feeling.  It could have avoided much of the angst they had to deal with ... but then it would have been a simple boy meets girl, they fall in love, happy ending - and where's the fun in that?

Feeling This is well written.  I really enjoyed Casey's writing style and it did not take me long to finish the story.  There are some wonderful supporting characters who have stories of their own.  Jenna, Kimber's sister, was intriguing and it was nice to see a small part of her journey in the story.  Heidi, Kimber's brazen and outspoken best friend, was also fabulous!  The pace was fast and I suspect some will find this unrealistic, but I was happy with the story and it's conclusion.

Crossroads by Megan Keith

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Having read and loved Finding My Way I couldn’t wait to pick up Crossroads and see what would happen next for Nick and Em. Having lost Em in Finding My Way Nick has managed to get himself together enough to finally plan his long dreamed of overseas trip. He should be ecstatic about that, and a small part of him is, but a larger part is devastated that Em is gone. Funnily enough, Em is equally as miserable, lamenting choices and lost opportunities. A chance run in with Nick leaves both of them wondering whether there may be a future for them together after all. 
The story is told from alternative points of view, so we get to know what is going on in each of the characters heads. I’ve said it before, I love this approach. The insight I get from each perspective makes all the difference to my connection to the character. Hearing exactly what Em and Nick were thinking was perfect, although I did want to take them both and shake them furiously on more than one occasion. 
I loved Nick. Watching him transition from the ‘player’ to the guy who really felt something meaningful for a girl and didn’t want just a hook up was gorgeous. He was sensitive, vulnerable and we still got to see plenty of his strong and sexy side ... mmmm, plenty!!! 
Em really blossomed. She was quite timid and uncertain in Finding My Way, but in Crossroads we got to see a much more confident side to her. There was still the internal dialogue of doubt, but she progressively believed in herself and the circumstances around her and I applauded her courage and creativity many times. 
Crossroads is a beautiful, beautiful story about falling in love, about taking chances and about finding a sense of self worth. Megan Keith has a writing style that is an absolute pleasure to read and she builds characters that are relatable and (particularly in Nick’s case!) loveable. She also writes some pretty fabulous sex scenes ... just saying! 

You must read Finding My Way first or you won’t understand the significance of much of what happens in Crossroads. New Beginnings is book 3 in the series and from the little sneak peek at the end of Crossroads it will tell us Seth’s story ... can’t wait!

Three of Diamonds by W. Ferraro

3 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Three of Diamonds is the third instalment in the Men of Hamden series and tells the story of Wes Thompson and Lola Nash. I was very much looking forward to reading Three of Diamonds having been introduced to the characters in the previous books in the series. Consistent with the other books in the series Three of Diamonds is focussed on the connection between Wes and Lola, but this book steps up the stakes in the bedroom arena with some very ‘fifty shades’ style action. If you’re shy and not up for reading some very erotic, dare I say kinky, sex scenes you may want to think twice about picking this one up. I should clarify and say there is no violence and all parties involved are willing, adult participants ;) 
I enjoyed Three of Diamonds but I felt it was missing something. I wanted to understand more about Wes, his background and what led him to the lifestyle choices he made. I would have liked a little bit more development of the relationship with Lola outside of the bedroom. To me the sexual relationship dominated and as a consequence I missed what I would describe as the real connection between Wes and Lola. I couldn’t help but compare/contrast to Three of Spades where I felt like I got to know Dylan and Natalie as well as they got to know each other and as a consequence felt more invested in their story. 

Ferraro does create some absolutely fabulous characters. Wes will appeal to many – that balance of dominant yet considerate male willing to give everything to those he loves. Lola is a very strong and independent woman and I liked that she maintained those characteristics throughout the story. She made active choices and while there was a level of ‘submission’ I didn’t think she acted out of character. Her love for her brother Boyd and her intense desire to protect him and give him everything she could was beautiful.

You get to see the characters from their earlier books again, even if it is only a glimpse, but it was nice to reconnect with them and see how their relationships had progressed.

Overall this was a good read. There were some minor editing quirks that I found a little distracting but I enjoyed the story and was happy with the ending.

Temporary Bliss by BJ Harvey

5 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Having been seriously burned in a relationship Makenna Lewis (Mac) has made a vow never to let a man have control over her life. Her life is going in all the right directions with her three ... yes ladies, count them ... three very different friends with benefits. They all meet different needs and they’re all very okay with no commitment. Mac couldn’t be more settled (and satisfied!), that is until she meets the game changer, Daniel Winter ... Delicious Daniel ... “the smoking hot volcano of fine”... “Superman” (god I just loved all the ways Mac referred to Daniel!). Daniel turns Mac’s world upside down. She is terrified of all the things that she feels where Daniel is concerned and doesn’t really know what to do about it. 
I just loved Mac. I know she is going to annoy the crap out of some people, but I saw a woman who was simply scared of getting hurt, so she settled for physical connections that were satisfying. And her capacity to be up front and clear about what she wanted was kind of unique - she had almost a male perspective when it came to sex and I was actually a little in awe of that. Mac was the sort of girl I’d love as a best friend - down to earth, feisty, vulnerable - the kind of girl who’ll tell it like it is and yet still look out for you no matter what. 
Daniel is to die for ... sexy, funny, perceptive ... perfect for Mac. He read her incredibly well and managed their interactions just beautifully. I laughed out loud more than once at their exchanges. I also loved that he wasn’t all sappy and flowery and prepared to be walked all over. 
Kate, Mac’s best friend is the kind of best friend everyone should have. I loved her and I love that we will get to read her story in True Bliss. 
B.J. Harvey has a fabulous writing style. It is easy to read and Temporary Bliss didn’t take me that long to finish. I was completely engrossed in the story and in love with the characters and was super satisfied with the ending. If you enjoy a romance, with a bit of steam (ok, a lot of steam!), no cheating and some absolutely adorable characters who are very realistic then you should pick up Temporary Bliss.

How He Really Feels by Lisa Suzanne

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Lisa Suzanne has done a fantastic job with her debut novel, How He Really Feels. Her writing style is engaging, entertaining and I loved the way the story line developed and progressed. Julianne is a very likeable and realistic character. Infatuated with her sexy boss she crushes on him for almost a year without ever disclosing how she feels. Her internal dialogue and actions were just typical of a woman interested in someone but not sure how, or whether, to act on her feelings. The added complexity of a 'forbidden' workplace relationship added to the intensity of the affair between Nick and Julianne as they had to keep their feelings secret from those they worked with. Nick is your perfect male character. Handsome, sexy, intelligent, loving ... he is open with Julianne and the two communicate in a really honest and refreshing way. The friendship they developed before embarking on a relationship had a lot to do with how they interacted with each other and for me, this added substance and credibility to their relationship. There were a lot of sex scenes between Nick and Julianne, they spent the majority of their time together having sex but there was enough 'substance' in their other interactions that this didn't seem over the top. In fact, I thought it was a very accurate representation of a 'new' relationship, particularly given the year of lead time before the two got together. 
Julianne's best friend, Travis, is an interesting character. I'm really not sure how I felt about him and I'm really not sure whether I liked the contribution he made to the story. In part his role was to add a 'complication' to the relationship between Julianne and Nick, but for me it was a little bit contrived and I didn't necessarily buy what transpired between Julianne and Travis, particularly given their history. 

Overall the pace of the story was good. I was engaged and keen to see what was going to happen with Julianne and Nick. Towards the end of the story there was a lot happening and a few times it did feel like the author was trying to wrap too much drama into the story. I think one or two of the events could have been left out and the story would still have had enough substance to engage the reader fully and lead to a satisfying conclusion.

I was asbolutely rooting for Julianne and Nick - the progression of their friendship to a relationship was romantic and well paced. They were faced with a number of challenges and I thought their individual and collective reactions were realistic and believable. The conclusion was gorgeous and while this is book one in a trilogy, there isn't a cliff hanger - you get a happy ending worthy of the journey of the characters.
Book Two - What He Really Feels is due for release in early October 2013 - and it tells Travis' story. Given my ambivalence towards him in How He Really Feels I'm hoping reading things from his perspective will redeem him a little. And despite how I felt about Travis, I will pick up What He Really Feels as I loved Lisa Suzanne's writing style, character development and story construction. 

Everything For Us by M. Leighton

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

The wait for more of the Davenport twins, particularly Nash (and I mean the real Nash, not Cash pretending to be Nash) is finally over! And Everything for Us does not disappoint. 

Everything for Us was the perfect next instalment in the Bad Boys series (I’m loathe to call it the conclusion because I really, really hope that Leighton will write Gavin’s story). It’s where we learn a lot more about Nash and where we watch Marissa transform into a genuinely nice person. The story did start a little bit slow but it wasn’t long before I was well and truly absorbed back into the world of Olivia, Cash, Marissa and Nash.

The connection between Marissa and Nash is dynamite. They’ve both had life altering experiences and are evaluating how they will move on from them. For Nash, being exiled for seven years following his mother’s murder has resulted in him having to make choices he would not have ordinarily made just to survive. As a consequence he is an angry, bitter man, focussed on revenge. Marissa’s abduction has given her a total shift of perspective and has her walking away from the person she used to be. Both of them see elements of themselves in each other and both think they are too broken to be worthy of the other.

There are some very hot scenes in Everything for Us - Nash is a bad, bad boy and Marissa seems to be a worthy ‘opponent’ for him. Despite a level of submissiveness she doesn’t let him totally walk all over her and her strength of character is one of the things Nash finds hard to resist. An event from the past provides insight into Nash’s interest in Marissa and has consequences he fully expected but was hoping to avoid. Marissa has revelations about her father and his manipulation of her, which actually strengthens her resolve to be a better person. Cash and Nash persist with their quest to gain justice for their mother’s murder and there’s just enough of Cash and Olivia to keep everyone happy.

If you’ve read the first two books in the series I think you will be satisfied with book 3. As I said, I’m loathe to refer to it as the final book in the series because I would love to see some more Gavin.

Anywhere With You by Kaylee Ryan

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

"Life is a giant canvas ... and you should throw as much paint on it as you can" 
Anywhere With You was simply gorgeous. A sweet love story, without any relationship drama, deception or unnecessary angst - it tells the story of Allison and Liam, how they meet, how they fall in love and how they realise that with each other they can have everything they ever wanted. 
Kaylee Ames has done a wonderful job with this story. She has created characters that are realistic and incredibly likeable - I found myself investing in their friendships and hoping for good things for all of them. I'll admit as I read through I kept wondering when things were going to go pear shaped for Allison and Liam - it's a formula that is fairly prevalent in romance books, the couple meet and are attracted, they struggle with coming together, they do, then something from their past or some other drama takes place and tears them apart until they find themselves coming back together again. While I was expecting it, I was really hoping it wouldn't happen and then was so pleased that it didn't. The fact that Anywhere With You has not only a HEA, but doesn't have relationship drama, made it stand out from many books I've read of late and I really enjoyed it as a consequence. 

While the focus of the story is Allison and Liam, Hailey (Liam's sister) and Aiden (Allison's best friend) are feature characters. And there is the promise of something developing between the two of them. Given how much I enjoyed Anywhere With You I really hope that Ames' next book is about Hailey and Aiden.
With a more thorough edit, Anywhere With You may have just snuck into a five star rating from me - but there were a few too many errors in the version I was reading and they did distract me from the story more than once. Despite that, it was an absolutely delightful story, with a couple of very memorable quotes - like "I love you like a fat kid loves cake" and "live and love fearless" - out of the context of the story they don't sound like much, but they are delivered just perfectly and that is what made them memorable for me. Of course my favorite is the one I started this review with - "life is a giant canvas ... and you should throw as much paint on it as you can" - such a wonderful concept and one that I think we all should take notice of.

Epiphany by Christina Jean Michaels

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

I fell in love with the cover of Epiphany when I first saw it and could not wait for the opportunity to read the book. I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed.

From the first few pages I was engrossed in the story and wondering exactly how things were going to pan out for Mackenzie. The prologue set the scene for what to expect and in light of Mackenzie's rather prophetic dreams the prospects for her were rather disturbing.

I really liked Michaels writing style. It was engaging and easy to read and she built the suspense in the story incredibly well. I would just start to feel like I might have a sense of the direction things were heading and there would be a twist I didn't expect.

The relationship between Mackenzie and Aiden was also well written. There was a strong attraction between the two early on, enhanced by the fact that Mackenzie had been dreaming about Aiden for some time, so I was a little bit worried it might be a case of 'insta-love' but I think Michaels got the pace and intensity between the two right. I also think she got the balance of suspense/romance perfect - if you are a fan of either genre, I think you will enjoy Epiphany.

I thoroughly enjoyed Epiphany and found myself thinking about the story and characters when I wasn't reading. I was completely satisfied with the conclusion and will definitely be looking for the next instalment in the Legacy of Payne series.

Love Square by Jessica Ingro

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

It's been quite challenging writing this review for Love Square, primarily because I really, really didn't like Sam, the main female character in the story. She was selfish, deceitful and in some cases just downright nasty when things didn't go the way she wanted. Despite my intense dislike for Sam I was engaged with the story and wanted to know what was going to happen to all the characters. For me that is an indication of a good book! Love Square was well written and absolutely had me intrigued and engaged right to the end. 
The subject matter is one that may not sit well with many - it is about a love triangle gone wrong, and it provides detailed examination of a wife who has an affair, so for those that don't like to read stories about cheating you may not want to pick this one up. 
Given the subject matter it will come as no surprise that steamy bedroom scenes form a key part of the story line. Let me tell you, there are a LOT of steamy sex scenes *fans self*. Ingro certainly writes these well ;) 
As I mentioned, I did not like Sam and I found myself laughing out loud at her logic more than once. Her treatment of both her husband Aiden and her lover Jacob, was appalling and in all honesty she found herself in the situation she was in through acting on her selfish desires, rather than behaving in an adult manner and dealing with the deficiencies in her relationship with her husband. 
There is an absolute twist at the end that I did not see coming. It is incredibly clever and completely appropriate and I laughed out loud at the irony Ingro had built into her story. I'd be stunned if anyone was to predict it! I enjoyed Love Square - I can't say that I loved it and that was primarily because of my dislike of Sam but I would absolutely recommend it if you're looking for a steamy and intriguing love story with a twist.

Heartstrings (Love Notes #2) by Heather Gunter

5 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

I consider myself very lucky to have been involved in the journey that has seen this book published. As Heather's blog partner we chatted (albeit on-line) regularly as she wrote this story. It was an intense five weeks of actual writing for Heather and I think the product is just exceptional.

Heartstrings tells Tori's story. We first met Tori as the 'mouthy redhead' in Love Notes who befriended Charlie and was always there for her. However, Tori had a secret and it is in Heartstrings that we learn what that is, understand it's consequences and travel with Tori on her journey to recovery.
I just love Tori! She is a gorgeous character with sass and confidence and yet we also get to see her vulnerability in Heartstrings. Learning of her experience and watching her process it and deal with it was heartbreaking. As a beta reader I got to read chunks of chapters at a time and I would lose myself in the few pages and then be shattered when I'd finished - knowing I had to wait a little longer for the next instalment to be sent out for reading. Heather has managed to capture incredibly intense emotions in the pages of Heartstrings. I could feel what Tori was feeling and just wanted to reach into the pages and make things OK for her.

Will is to die for. He would be one of my all time favorite YA book boyfriends. He has that perfect balance of confidence, sincerity and caring - and the way he persists with Tori when other guys may have just given up is a testament to how strong his feelings are for her. 

The story is told in dual point of view so we get to see things from both Will and Tori's perspectives. I always feel a greater connection with the characters with this approach because you get to understand things more clearly. We also get to see some more of Charlie and Maverick and it was so great to know that they're still going strong. It was also wonderful to see Charlie giving back to Tori as she supported her through her experience.

I know that this was a challenging book for Heather to write. It was very personal and I think this is evident in the emotion that rolls off the page with every word. Heather has done an amazing job and I hope that there was an element of closure for her in this too. Heartstrings is well written and easy to read, to the point that having beta read I couldn't wait for the final product so I could sit and read the story again from start to finish in one sitting.

Tori's journey is one that I hope will give courage to others who have the same experience, confidence that they don't have to deal with things on their own and a belief that it is absolutely possible to move forward.

Breathless (Jesse #1) by Eve Carter

3 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Breathless is the first book in the Jesse series and it tells the story of Jesse and Niki. I enjoy books written in dual point of view and I really enjoyed the establishment chapters of this book. You get excellent insight into Jesse and Niki separately and the chapters gradually bring them together for their first meeting. I was intrigued as to how and when they would meet and what would flow from there. I felt like I had a good understanding of the two characters and was looking forward to what would happen when they finally came together.

Jesse is a bit of a firecracker and definitely a bad, bad boy. Following an accident that has impacted his motocross riding he turns to drink, drugs and women to drown his sorrows until his brother sends him off to help his Uncle with the running of his bar. Niki is almost the complete opposite - a good girl, following the path her father has set for her, including dating the guy from his law firm that has her father's approval. When Jesse and Niki meet there is an instant attraction, although Niki resists Jesse's attentions because she is in a relationship.

I struggled with the 'transformation' in Jesse after he met Niki as it seemed a little extreme and hard to believe. For me there wasn't quite enough substance to their encounters to support his change. Having said that, some of his behaviour to win Niki's heart was just gorgeous. He definitely worked hard to find a way to spend time with Niki. Interestingly, as Jesse is working to clean up his act, Niki is working to express herself, move out of the shadow of her father's control and is starting to be a little more rebellious - although not to the extreme that Jesse had displayed early on in the story. In light of the changes she was making I found her reactions in a couple of situations a little strange. She seemed to revert to more 'conventional' behaviours which I had trouble reconciling with her attempts to be less 'controlled'. I loved Niki's best friend Kat - outgoing and always challenging Niki, while still looking after her. Kat had the capacity to present an alternative perspective to the situations that Niki faced and added a level of balance - which is kind of surprising since she was the more 'out there' of the two.

Carter has a nice writing style that is easy to read. Towards the end of the book I was able to predict the 'twists' in the story line and I was a bit disappointed with the end. I'm not a fan of cliffhangers at the best of times, but Breathless really just kind of stopped and for me there wasn't really a big enough hook to commit me to the next book in the series. I will no doubt pick it up if I see it, but I wasn't left with the enthusiasm to mark my calendar for release day I have had for other series. Overall I enjoyed Breathless, it was easy to read and no trouble to finish, but it won't make my re-read list.

The Things We Can't Change Part Two: The Struggle by Kassandra Kush

5 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

The Things We Can't Change Part 2 - The Struggle is the perfect continuation of this episodic story. I simply loved Part 1 and was shattered by the cliff hanger ending. Not only was it huge, it was devastating and I had to patiently wait for Part 2 to find out what happened next. Fortunately the wait was not too long - one of the absolute advantages of being a blogger is that you sometimes get to read books before they're released - which I did in this case and consequently it shortened my wait just a little bit. 

Aptly titled "The Struggle" Part Two sees Evie and Zeke grappling with their circumstances and trying to come to terms with their lives - literally struggling to find a way to be that is peaceful, happy and satisfying. I am in love with both Zeke and Evie as characters. They are complex and so very realistic. Zeke is forced to re-think many things. Underlying many of his choices is his desire to close off all emotions, to not feel, which sends him down a path he really doesn't want to follow, with consequences he didn't anticipate. Evie is dealing with the aftermath of her relationship with Tony - recovering from an abusive relationship is not something that can happen over night and I think the pace at which Evie moves is very realistic, despite how much it made my heart hurt. Her suffering is intense and her coping strategies are a little frightening.
I really love Kassandra's writing style. It is engaging, easy to read and for me, conjures up imagery that helps me lose myself in the story. As with Part One, Part Two was a quick read, but it didn't feel rushed or underdone. 
I think some will see Part Two as a rather bleak episode in this story, and there are certainly dark elements that are heart breaking. But I also think it is the case that the characters need to experience their 'struggle' before they can begin to look forward in their lives. I wrote in my review of Part One that it is absolutely not a given that Evie and Zeke will be together and I stand by that statement having just finished Part Two. There are still many obstacles ahead for them, but I'm optimistic (and a sucker for a happy ending, which could be clouding my judgement just a little!).

Part Three is scheduled for a September release, again not long to wait (thank goodness). Having said that, I think the multi-part approach to this story is a great one. I can honestly say that I would have had to put the book down at the point Part Two finished for a brief break before continuing on. The intensity of the final few chapters had me reeling a little, so for me, the wait until I get to find out what happens next is manageable. Having said that, I'll be picking up Part Three as soon as it becomes available.

Jaded Touch by Nola Sarina

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

I really enjoyed Jaded Touch. I think there is definite value in reading Gilded Destiny first as it does provide the back story to the Vespers. While I think you could still read Jaded Touch without it, there are some elements that will just make more sense if you do.

Three is a wonderful, head strong character. Different from other Vespers in that she was not made by the original pair, but rather made by a ‘Gent’ (a male Vesper). As a consequence she is taunted by other ‘Maids’ and susceptible to control should a Gent choose to impose himself upon her. Unlike Levitiqas, Vashni the female Vesper queen, does not banish memories from the maids unnecessarily – consequently Three has some recollection of her origins and her maker, although his precise details have been expunged from her mind.

Jaded Touch is well written. The relationship that evolves between Jack and Three is fabulous. The banter between the two is entertaining and charged with sexual tension, not to mention the underlying risk of death to them both should the Vespers discover their secret. Jack was just wonderful – his willingness to confront Three, despite the consequences clearly conveyed the depth of his feelings for her.

There are other wonderful characters in this story too, I particularly liked Sychar. Despite all the rules and restrictions imposed by the Vespar culture Three and Sychar develop a friendship – something completely forbidden. This was actually one of many transgressions from the rules by both Three and Sychar, and it had me wondering just how much control Levitiqas and Vashni really had. It also had me wondering whether there would be a future story about some sort of Vesper revolt.

As much as the Vespers are terrifying creatures I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Three and Sychar – clearly just wanting to have a level of comfort with their existence but this was simply not allowed. The manipulation by Levitiqas and Vashni is extensive and it is not until almost the very end of the story that you understand its full extent. I do hope we get a Sychar novella in the not too distant future.

There was enough in the two Vesper novellas for me to watch out for any further instalments. Jaded Touch had a bit more substance to it for me and shows great promise for more in this series.

Gilded Destiny by Nola Sarina

3.5 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

It's been a little while since I've read a paranormal novel and I had forgotten just how much I enjoy that genre. The exposure to a parallel world in which immortal (or other supernatural) beings interact with humans, sometimes without the humans understanding exactly what it is they're dealing with; a reality that just verges on impossible to believe, but also has enough substance to it that you really can't completely discount it - I do love paranormal!!

Gilded Destiny introduced me to the Vespers. An immortal, vampire like being with a history reaching back to the Garden of Eden. The Vespers are an interesting 'race' and I found myself wanting to know more about them and their history. What became apparent was the battle between the expectations of their 'maker' (Levitiqas) and their residual, human morals/beliefs. While Levitiqas controlled the Vespers with violence, cruelty and by removing their memories, the Vespers, particularly Nycholas, retained enough of themselves to challenge the rules.

Calli is the 'female lead' in Gilded Destiny. A strong woman, grappling with the aftermath of a serious accident and memory loss associated with that. She encounters Nycholas one evening and her reality alters significantly. I liked Calli, although I did think she handled some of the situations she faced a little too stoicly. She was witness to some rather gruesome events and she managed to keep her composure entirely. While I appreciated in many cases her survival instinct was driving her reactions I did find it a little hard to believe.

Gilded Destiny is described as a novella - around 120 pages, so not long. While I really enjoyed the pace at which the story moved, there were some sections where I would have liked a little more detail. Of course not having the information printed on the page didn't stop my mind from wandering and creating my own scenarios!

Present Perfect by Alison G. Bailey

5 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

I don't know if this happens to others, but for some reason I end up going through periods where I read books of a similar nature.  I don't mean the stories are similar, more that they have similarities in intensity, emotion and in conveying meaningful messages.  Just now I've been reading books that have had me reeling across a full gamut of emotions - and Present Perfect had me swinging on a pendulum from one extreme to the other.  Congratulations on your first book Alison G. Bailey - it was ... perfection.

Present Perfect is an absolutely beautiful story about the importance of the present, about living in the here and now, not fearing what might be, but grabbing what is with both hands and reveling in everything it brings, regardless of how short lived it might be.

Amanda 'Tweet' Kelly considers herself less than perfect.  When she compares herself to her sister, Emily, there's a lot left to be desired (in her eyes).  Not as sporty, not as academic, not as pretty - Tweet sees all her limitations and, sadly for her, lets her self assessment heavily influence choices she makes.  Of greatest consequence are the choices she makes about Noah Stewart, her life long best friend. 

I absolutely loved the way Bailey told the story of Tweet and Noah's friendship.  Connected shortly after birth the two were virtually inseparable with one of those unique bonds that most of us don't get to experience.  They shared so many things, all their 'firsts', and had in each other an unquestionable ally, confidant and protector.  There comes a time in their friendship when both of them realise they have fallen in love with each other, not the friendship kind of love, but the all consuming, soul mate kind of love ... only Tweet's lack of self worth drives her to focus on protecting the friendship at all costs.

The intensity of emotions I felt while reading Present Perfect was extreme.  I'm not one to cry often when I read, but I did have a bit of a quiet tear here and there as I read.  There were also some laugh out loud moments and sometimes they were wrapped so close together it was hard to believe I had jumped straight from one emotion to the other.  

Dalton was a favourite character for me, with some of the most sage advice from one so young.  I particularly liked:

"He deserves to know how he impacted your life.  He gave you a gift.  You know what it feels like to love someone.  That doesn't come along every day, at least not the real kind.  You need to go thank him for that before you have to say goodbye.  Everyone deserves a thank you and goodbye."

oh, and "Ah young grasshopper ... perfection is an illusion nurtured by insecurities" - his was only a minor role in the story, but his contribution was profound.  I would have loved a lot more Dalton.

There were so many things that happened in this gorgeous story, some wonderfully memorable lines and the ending had me reeling ... twice!  I think Present Perfect is the kind of book that can teach us all something.  I suspect I will return to it again and will find yet another pearl of wisdom.  For now I will sit back and bask in the glow of having finished a fabulous story.

Finding My Way by Megan Keith

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

I have had the good fortune of reading a number of outstanding debut books recently and Finding My Way by Megan Keith is no exception.  In this well written story we spend time with Emma (Em), Seth and Nick as the three of them, independently and together, seek to "find their way" in life.

Emma is in the final stages of recovery from the end of a long term relationship.  A series of events force her to realise that it is time to move on from Josh and after 11 months she opens her mind to the prospect of a future full of possibilities.  It is amazing how mindset can impact so much about a person - once Emma makes the active decision to begin living her life again, there is a noticeable change in the way she carries herself and interacts with others.  As a consequence she catches the eye of two very different men:

Seth, the gorgeous, sensitive IT guy at work, who Emma has had a bit of crush on is captivated by her smile one morning.  From there he begins to notice Emma and the two tentatively start to explore a relationship with each other.

Nick, the sexy, outspoken player from the kiosk at the train station.  He's been watching Emma as she moves through the train station each morning for some time and notices something different about her the morning after her decision to move on.  The two strike up a 'friendship' - which is filled with sexual tension.

All three characters are grappling with life, love and what they want from both.  Emma is unsettled at work and not really clear about what her career path will be.  She's also confused about the things she is feeling for Seth and Nick - two very different men and confused about what they want from her.  Nick is a serious player: he doesn't do relationships. Until he meets Em and he realises she's too good for a 'hook up'.  He has dreams of being a successful DJ,  travelling the world and is battling with his father's disappointment, watching his friends settle down and the feelings he is developing for Em, despite them both agreeing to be 'friends'.  While slightly more settled, Seth is dealing with his own insecurities.  Frustrated with his house mates, lonely, and while satisfied at work for the moment he wants to do more with his qualification and find someone to settle down with.

Finding My Way is told from three points of view: Emma, Seth and Nick.  I really liked how we got to see scenes from the different perspectives.  So many times I wished the characters would just tell each other what they were thinking.  A whole lot of their frustrations could have been resolved if they had just communicated clearly with each other!  But having said that, I couldn't help but chuckle at how realistic their interactions were.  So often people make assumptions about what others want, without checking their perception, and more often than not they get it wrong.

Sometimes taking a risk requires more courage than you thought you had.  Even with the encouragement of her best friend Kat, Emma doesn't quite manage to take a leap when she could.  Despite her caution, Emma does manage to stay true to herself and she does make tough decisions.  Her experiences with Seth and Nick are both wonderful and heartbreaking - and it's not till the very end that you learn how things will play out for the three of them.  I really enjoyed Finding My Way.  There is another book to follow that I will be watching for.

Unbreakable by Rebecca Shea

5 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

Unbreakable is a phenomenal debut from Rebecca Shea.  Heartbreakingly beautiful, I dare you not to absolutely fall in love with Gabe, Landon and Jessica.

I would caution even those of you that 'never' cry when reading books to choose your reading location very carefully.  This is not a book to read on the bus, or in any other sort of public place for that matter (unless of course ugly crying in front of complete strangers is something that you're comfortable with).  It will rip your heart in two and leave you wondering whether anyone (including you!) will survive the trauma of what happens to these three amazing characters.

There is such integrity, sincerity and selflessness from all three.  It was so wonderful to read a love story that didn't include deception, betrayal or infidelity.  Despite that, be prepared for some devastatingly painful scenes as the story unfolds and our characters grapple with their love, their insecurities and their selfless wish for those they love to have what they think they deserve.

Gabe and Landon are two outstanding men.  I didn't want to like Landon to start with, but by the end of Unbreakable you can't help but be completely in love with him.  The tattooed bad boy, is such a wonderful contrast to Gabe.  Gabe is also just amazing.  So completely in love with Jessica, so focussed on giving her everything - here's a snippet of what to expect from him: 
"... it's the kind of love that won't let me breathe if you're not with me.  It's the kind of love that makes me not want to live if I can't be with you"
Some of the chapters from Gabe's point of view were some of the hardest, most emotional words I've ever read.

Unbreakable will take you on on a wildly emotional rollercoaster.  Rest assured, you will get your heart back, in one piece, although it will have suffered along the way and it will take you some time to recover.  Unbreakable - is definitely one of my favorites for the year and I cannot wait to read more from Rebecca Shea.

Escaping Me by Elizabeth Lee

 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

It’s so hard to describe how I felt when I finished Escaping Me.  It was a delightful read and I had that kind of *sigh* moment, where you feel fulfilled and happy for the characters.  This is a gorgeous story about working out who you are, finding someone who accepts just that and falling in love.

Whitney Vandaveer is the daughter of a successful and wealthy lawyer.  Her boyfriend is exactly the kind of guy her father expects her to be with and her life is planned out ahead of her.  That is until she catches her boyfriend cheating on her.  Whitney heads to her mother’s farm to spend time with her sister Mallory and her mother for the summer break.  It’s an opportunity to think about what she wants for her life, now that everything she thought she wanted doesn’t seem so appealing.

Cole Pritchett is a hot head.  Sent away from his home town by his brother because he’s stretched the friendship with the law one too many times.  Cole finds himself playing white knight to Whitney when she pushes herself too hard on a run and passes out in her driveway.  There’s a good chunk of Cole that doesn’t want to play Good Samaritan, he just wants to live a quiet existence and avoid others for as long as he can to increase the chances that he won’t beat the crap out of someone.  But Whitney’s good looks aren’t lost on him and he does the right thing, returning her to her mother’s farm.

The relationship between Whitney and Cole develops fairly quickly, but what I really liked was the way they grappled with the issues they faced.  Both of them were working so hard to escape who they had been, to be ‘better’.  And what they found in each other was an acceptance of who they were.  Both had had experiences that left them feeling deficient, but they had just enough self worth to want to try to be different.  They manage to connect in a way that allows them to do just that.

There isn’t a major event or drama in this story that they have to recover from.  There is a series of issues they face that challenge their relationship and test their ability to not fall back into old habits. 

In each other they find enough to feel worthy of the other, which inspires them to pursue what they really want in life. There is a happy ending and no cliff hanger.  Oh and it would be remiss of me not to mention Elizabeth Lee can write very steamy love scenes ... *fans self*

I really enjoyed Escaping Me.  There are a number of other wonderful characters, Mallory; Whitney’s sister, Zeke; Cole’s workmate, Leanne; Whitney’s mum.  Even Whitney’s dad turns out to be not quite as pompous as I first thought.  If you’re looking for a feel good story, with just a tiny touch of drama then I suggest you pick up Escaping Me.

The Things We Can't Change Part One: The Prologue by Kassandra Kush

5 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

I picked up The The Things We Can't Change Part One in the full knowledge that it is the first instalment of a larger story.  I'd actually read the first chapter on a post on the author's website and was so intrigued I simply HAD to read the rest of the book.  I can honestly say I WAS NOT disappointed.  Despite being short and finishing with a massive cliff hanger I absolutely loved The Things We Can't Change Part One.

Kassandra Kush has tackled the very difficult subject of an abusive relationship in a way that is both confronting and informative.  To everyone around her, Evie Parker is 'perfect' - beautiful, popular, wealthy and her boyfriend is the equally beautiful, popular and wealthy Tony Stulls.  They are THE couple in high school.  As is often the case though, appearances are not everything and there is a bleak, dark side to their relationship.  Tony is unbalanced, psychologically controlling and violent.  Evie is terrified: terrified of what he will do to her, of what he will do to himself and of people finding out what she is experiencing.  The simple answer is that she should leave, or she should tell someone, which seems so obvious.  But the flashes of the Tony she fell in love with: sweet and loving, combined with the threats he makes to harm himself make that option an impossible choice for Evie.

Zeke Quain is the quintessential bad boy.  But really he's not - his attitude and style are carefully designed to help him keep distance between himself and everyone around him so that he doesn't get hurt again.  With a background that couldn't be more opposite to Evie's, Zeke has to work at the Country Club that Evie and Tony are members at to help support his family.  His younger sister, Cindy, is his kryptonite.  He will do anything for her and in fact does everything he can to ensure she can pursue her dream of dancing.  Cindy is the one person that Zeke can't say no to.  Zeke and Evie go to school together, but they mix in totally different crowds.  Both know of each other, but their interactions are generally filled with derision and disdain.

That is until Zeke discovers Evie's secret.  Despite his vow to not care, he takes it upon himself to talk to her about what is happening with Tony and to encourage her to speak up.  The dynamic between Zeke and Evie is just fantastic.  There is no 'insta-love', in fact, they often can't speak with each other without one of them walking away furious at the assumptions being made.  There is an underlying attraction, not to mention Zeke's obsession with Evie's hair, but it seems to me to be more about them recognising things in each other that they share.  For Evie, there's a sense of safety when she is with Zeke.

The Things We Can't Change Part One is very well written.  The characters have depth and I was completely engaged from start to finish.  Even the 'support cast' is so perfectly developed that I fell in love with Evie's dad, the self made success story, felt indifference towards her stepmother and felt that I really got to know each of Evie and Zeke's friends enough that they were meaningful characters in this story.  The cliff hanger is massive - for a brief moment I wondered whether the version of the e-book I had wasn't complete and I actually said "Nooooooo" out loud when I realised it was, in fact, the end of Part One. 

I cannot wait for Part Two.  Apart from wanting to know what happened next from the final moments in the story, I want to see what happens with Evie and Zeke.  It is absolutely not a given that they will be together.  There are so many obstacles to this it almost seems impossible: and yet I'd really, really love to see a relationship between the two unfold.

Don't let the prospect of a cliff hanger put you off - you will seriously miss out on a wonderful story if you do.

A Night to Forget by Jessica Wood

4 out of 5 Stars

See all Tami's Reviews

A Night to Forget by Jessica Wood is a short read with just over 120 pages, so it’s not long, but there was enough in the story to whisk me away for a couple of hours and I really enjoyed it.  I know there have been variable reviews about this book but I was impressed by this first effort from Jessica Wood.  Some of the elements I use in my assessment/rating of a book are how engaged I am with the story, whether I'm entertained and whether reading is effortless.  A Night to Forget ticked all of those boxes for me.  There were some minor editing issues, but nothing substantial.  Characters were well developed, the dialogue was good, particularly some of the exchanges between the group of girlfriends.  While some of the story line is a little far fetched - it is a work of fiction and the romantic in me appreciated it.

Emma Anderson is in her final year of college.  Despite having a steady boyfriend for almost a year, Emma has not yet lost her virginity and is not actually convinced that Mike (her boyfriend) should be the one to take it.  Adding to her reluctance are the fairly sensual encounters she's been having each night with the man of her dreams. 

Emma heads to Cancun for spring break with three of her friends and much to her surprise she fleetingly sees the man she's been dreaming about.  On the night before she is heading home, Emma runs into Brandon again and has an encounter equal to those in her dreams.  With a flight to catch early the next morning Emma leaves Brandon a note with her number and hopes that he'll make contact - but unfortunately for Emma, he doesn't.  Fast forward six months and Emma is in San Fracisco to take up her internship with a marketing company.  Imagine her shock to discover that Brandon, her dream man, is her new boss and it would seem he has no recollection of their encounter in Cancun.

A Night to Forget then follows the interactions between Emma and Brandon as she tries to balance her feelings for him against the fact that he does not seem remember what was a significant event for her and of course that he is also her boss.  There is definitely an attraction between the two. 

Given the length of the book things do move fairly quickly, but I didn’t feel like it was rushed.  This book is part one of a two part series and it does finish with a bit of a cliffhanger.  While I'm not really a fan of those, I didn't mind this one so much.  I am very keen to find out how the balance of the story will play out and I understand that book two is due for release in August, so there is not long to wait!  

Playing With Fire (Guarded Hearts #1) by Ashley Piscitelli

3 out of 5 Stars
I need to start by saying be prepared for a massive cliffhanger!  I'm generally not a fan of them, and I could tell as I was nearing the end of the book that it was going to be an 'unfinished' story, but I wasn't quite prepared for the enormity of the cliffhanger.  I'm not sure what the authors plans are in terms of the timing for the release of book two, but hopefully she won't keep people waiting too long.

Playing with Fire was a quick read that had enough in it to keep me focussed to the end.  It took only a couple of hours to finish and I enjoyed the story.  I think the editing let this one down a little bit and, for me, this impacted on the quality of the story.  While I always try and look past typo's or wrong word use (eg your instead of you're) they distract me enough that I am not completely engaged in my reading in the way I prefer to be.

That aside, there is lots to like in Playing with Fire - Carter James particularly!  Hot, sensitive (seriously the guy watched The Notebook and a number of other chick flicks and even shed a tear or two!!) and focussed on giving Maddy anything and everything.  It was a little bit of insta love from Carter's perspective - but the reticence from Maddy made the relationship believable.  And she had a lot to be reticent about - particularly her psychopath boyfriend Chris.  He is one intense dude and there are scenes involving him that some people will find quite disturbing.

Maddy is quite a damaged girl.  She's had a very rough life and never had anyone just love and accept her.  While she generally keeps her distance from people she had found herself in a relationship with Chris at highschool.  He continued the trend of treating her badly and Maddy simply thought it was what she deserved.  That is until she meets Carter and he starts to get under her skin.

There are good chunks of the story focussed on Maddy and Carter and the development of their relationship.  I couldn't help but wonder when Chris was going to show up again and I think the author had the balance of his participation in the story quite right.  You would almost start to believe he was gone completely and then something would happen and you'd realise he really is completely crazy and Carter's obsession with keeping Maddy safe was warranted.

There are a couple of side stories that peaked my interest and these are setting up elements for the two other books in this three book series.  In particular, Jason and Nicole's story is one that I'd like to know more about.  And then there is the mystery of Spencer - I really do wonder what he is getting himself into!! 
Overall Playing With Fire was an enjoyable read.  Not one that is likely to hit my re-read list, but certainly entertaining enough that I would read the other books in the series when they are available.

This Time Around by Ellie Grace

4 out of 5 Stars
If you're looking for a sweet, uncomplicated love story then This Time Around is a perfect choice.  The book tells the story of Nora and Jake, high school sweethearts who broke up just before Nora left to got to NYU.  For four years the two lived their lives apart, but never really recovered from the break up or moved on from their feelings for each other.  As best friends Susie and Ethan are set to wed, Nora returns to her hometown of Beaufort and must prepare herself for seeing Jake again for the first time in four years.  What follows is a beautiful story about finding love that both Nora and Jake had thought lost and discovering the courage to follow dreams that really matter.

Nora is a bright young woman, talented song writer and singer and four years into her law degree.  With a loving family and a father who has very high expectations, Nora has never seriously considered a future other than becoming a lawyer in her fathers firm - apart from a brief time when she was re-evaluating her plans to go to college which would take her away from Jake.  But the break up shook those thoughts from her mind and she followed the path expected of her. 

Jake on the other hand is a bit of a rough diamond, who has not been able to shake his reputation as a 'bad kid'.  The break up with Nora hit him hard and he had a rough patch for a while, but managed to pull himself together and finish a degree in architecture.  Working for his father's construction company he is exploring options to pursue his career, but is clearly not complete.

As the two re-connect their feelings are still evident and they must work through issues associated with their break up so they can build a future together.  This presents more of a challenge for Nora than Jake as she struggles with meeting her father's expectations and doing what she wants to do.  Unlike many books, there is a not mountain of drama in this story.  It is a very realistic scenario that plays out and it is written well.  This approach was a refreshing change for me and I really enjoyed reading This Time Around as a consequence.

Written from both Nora and Jake's point of view we get to see things from each perspective.  I've said before that I am a big fan of this style as it always helps me to connect with both characters.  This Time Around is a short, sweet read that left me feeling good at the end of it.  I think it is definitely worth picking up.

Twinsequences by Jennifer Foor

 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Imagine losing the love of your life before you ever got to tell them how you felt.  Imagine discovering a betrayal of proportions you never thought possible.  Imagine finding out it was all at the hands of the one person you thought you knew better than anyone in the world – your twin sister.  Pretty intense stuff hey?  And that’s not the half of it!!

Twinsequences by Jennifer Foor is an intense, drama filled story.  Willow and Ivy Green are identical twin sisters – but they couldn’t be more different in personality.  Willow is the studious introvert, while Ivy is the outgoing, party girl.  On more than one occasion Willow steps in to help her sister out when she is in a bind – and really, Willow doesn’t mind, she’d do anything for her sister ... even pretend to be her without really understanding why.  But maybe Willow’s motives go beyond helping her sister, maybe the temptation to be near the man she loves is just too much, even for her?

I really enjoyed Twinsequences.  Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get more complicated and twisted, they would.  I simply could not put it down, glued to my kindle, dying to find out exactly how it was going to end.  Ivy is one sick and twisted individual, so there is a stack of psychological game playing and you can’t always tell who is in on it.  There is also a stack of steamy sex scenes, so it’s not one for the faint hearted. 

In all honesty I suspect this book is not going to be for everyone – the extreme nature of the drama is unrealistic, but if you’re a fan of soap opera type sagas, then it will definitely entertain you.  I found myself chuckling at some of the bizarre scenes (that actually weren’t supposed to be funny) because they were so extreme, but it all added to my enjoyment.  There were some issues with the editing that I found a little frustrating which is why it didn’t get four stars from me.  But all in all, there was enough in the story to hook me and keep me turning pages.  The ending was never guaranteed and the twists and turns along the way made for some entertaining reading.  

Branded by Abi Kettner and Missy Kalicicki

 out of 5 Stars
I haven’t read a Dystopian tale in quite a while and I found myself very quickly getting drawn into Lexi Hamilton’s world, the Hole, and the anguish, pain and suffering it imposed on all sentenced to live within its walls.

Unfairly accused, judged guilty without trial, branded for the sin of Lust, Lexi finds herself thrown into a world of survival of the fittest.  Assigned to a job at the hospital, under the supervision of Sutton, Lexi must follow orders, ask no questions and do whatever she can to stay alive.

She is not entirely alone – she has been assigned a guard, Cole, who is responsible for keeping her safe.  From the moment Lexi passes through transition Cole is her shadow, leaving her only when he trains and when she works.  There is clear class separation and interaction between guards and sinners is limited, usually only occurring when a guard decides to exercise their authority. 

Cole is repeatedly forced to save Lexi – she is of particular interest to guards and sinners alike and as the two find themselves in life threatening situations at regular intervals they develop a level of comfort with each other.  Cole’s partner, Zeus – a giant and goofy, but savage, Great Dane forms a quick bond with Lexi and provides her with added protection, not to mention comfort and affection – even if it does come with buckets of drool.

Lexi was an amazing character, mentally strong she endured so much – not to mention the brutal physical injuries she sustained on more than one occasion.  Despite the circumstances that brought her to the Hole, Lexi draws some comfort and strength from the love of her father and while he is not with her, he inspires her to stay strong. 

Cole is also a wonderful character.  A guard of integrity, unlike many he takes his responsibility of guarding Lexi very seriously.  Not only does he guard her, but he begins to offer her something that goes beyond his duty.  Of course any relationship between a guard and a sinner is forbidden, punishable by death.

For me, the development of the relationship between Cole and Lexi was a little predictable.  It also developed in a way that didn’t quite make sense to me, progressing quite quickly from one point in the story without interactions of substance between the two that made it believable.  Having said that, their passion for each other was clear and the tension caused by managing the risk of being discovered kept me turning pages.

There were many twists and turns in the story that were not easy to predict.  Characters Lexi thought long gone returned and played significant roles.  Her suffering was immense and she encountered heartbreak after heartbreak – while eating away a part of her, these also added to her strength.

I was worried as I drew to the end that there would be a cliff hanger ending – and I’m really not a fan of those.  As the percentage complete climbed and the loops in the story weren’t being closed off my concern increased, particularly since the book is subtitled Sinners #1.  I was very pleased that there is a conclusion to this story, I wasn’t left hanging and racing to find out the release date for book 2.

Overall I enjoyed reading Branded.  The world created by Kettner and Kalicicki is a brutal one.  And yet within that brutality there is hope, love and a conviction that “you can overcome anything ... short of death”.

The Disappearing Girl by Heather Topham Wood

4 out of 5 Stars
See all Tami's Reviews

The Disappearing Girl deals with the sensitive subject of eating disorders.  It follows Kayla Marlowe down a winding path as she searches for love and acceptance, primarily from her mother, following her father’s death.  Her journey takes her through various stages of an all consuming eating disorder where she eats less, eats nothing, purges and binges until she is so lost she is literally disappearing.

This book is very well written and for me, not having had any direct exposure to an eating disorder, was quite alarming.  I’ve always been conscious of the impact of the spoken word, but it becomes even more evident when you see the direct connection between quips like: 
“Who knows? Maybe we’ll be the same size one day?” Her tone hinted it would be cause for celebration.  If I could finally be a size two, she’d love me.
and the eating choices made to reach an all too ridiculous goal weight.

Kayla’s father had passed away unexpectedly a year ago.  Kayla and her sister Lila had always had a rather strained relationship with their mother, never feeling that they lived up to her impeccable standards and their father had been the buffer between them, balancing their mother’s critique.  With him gone, and Kayla’s mother dealing with her grief as best she could, Kayla and Lila were left to fend for themselves as she passed judgement on their appearance.

Kayla’s weight loss efforts start small, but when she receives positive reinforcement from everyone around her about how wonderful she looks she persists with her ‘diet’. 
My rationalizations, born out of insecurity, had taken over, and they would guide my every decision going forward.
Kayla’s diet very quickly escalates into limiting her calorie intake, purging any food she eats so that the calories won’t be absorbed, binging followed by more purging.  Her weight loss continues and surprisingly nobody confronts her.

In amongst all of this Kayla meets Cameron.  He manages to get under her skin and there are times when she is with him that she can almost forget about everything that drives her unhealthy behaviour ... almost.

Their relationship develops beautifully and it is clear that he is smitten with Kayla from their first encounter.  The depth of his feeling evolves the more time they spend together, but sadly, Kayla’s insecurities and the secrets she is hiding lead her to question everything, particularly whether she is worthy of Cameron.

The thing about anorexia is it’s not something you can hide.  Continued weight loss is visible and finally it gets to the point where Cameron confronts Kayla with his concern for her.  
I’ll be the asshole here if I have to, but I’m taking you to a doctor.  This has gone on long enough.
The fall out for everyone is significant and Kayla must confront the very things that have driven her behaviour to ensure she doesn’t disappear. 

I enjoyed The Disappearing Girl.  The story is engaging, the characters are realistic and relatable – Kayla is a smart young woman and yet she succumbs to this terrible illness, to the pressures and expectations of a ‘perfect’ appearance.  I was devastated by the lengths she would go to and even more alarmed at the online network of support (from fellow sufferers) she was able to establish, complete with ‘thinspirational’ quotes like “your stomach isn’t growling, it’s applauding” or “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels”.

This book gave me insight into an issue that I’ve not had experience with before and reinforced for me just how important it is to use your words kindly and not shy away from confronting someone if you are worried about them. review coming soon!

Off the Record by Sawyer Bennett

4 out of 5 Stars
See all Tami's Reviews

Off the Record by Sawyer Bennett is a beautiful love story.  There is no love triangle, there is no 'drama' to be uncovered that drastically impacts the characters, there is just human nature, life experience and the consequence these have for how we relate to others.  Having read a number of books lately with a slightly dark or bleak nature to the story line it was an absolute delight to get lost in a sweet story about two people discovering each other and taking the risk that is falling in love.
Ever Montgomery is reporter looking to launch her career.  She's also a woman with some trust issues when it comes to men, and not without good reason.  When she interviews Linc Caldwell, goalie for the New York Rangers there is an unmistakeable spark between the two and for all intents and purposes the interview goes really well.  But a series of events shortly after the interview hit some buttons for Ever and raise her ire, which has serious consequences for the story she writes about Linc.  Ever commits the ultimate journalistic sin ... she doesn't check her facts and she publishes an 'off the record' comment.  Linc's reaction is swift and to avoid a law suit, Ever must spend six weeks shadowing Linc so that she can write a new story about him.  His purpose is to prove to Ever her initial assessment was incorrect ... her captivating blue eyes and quick wit have nothing to do with him wanting to spend time with her ... much!
The storyline is not complex, you are not constantly questioning motives or wondering at the impact certain events will have later.  It is straightforward, but don't interpret that as boring.  The interactions between Ever and Linc are delightful to read.  Linc goes about his life as a professional athlete and it does not take Ever long to realise she has judged him way to quickly.  There are a number of peripheral characters in the story, Linc and Ever's family members primarily along with a couple of friends, but the focus is very much on the two and their six weeks together.  There are some steamy love scenes and Bennett also highlights the very important issue of volunteerism and the contribution these amazing people make following disastrous events like tornadoes.
I really enjoyed Off the Record.  It was a quick read that left me feeling warm and positive at the end.  If you're looking for something light to fill an afternoon of reading I would encourage you to pick up Off the Record.  It is book three in the “Off Series”, but I had not read any of the other books in the series and that did not effect my enjoyment/understanding of the story - it is a stand alone read.  There is a fourth book in the series scheduled for release in August (Off Course) and I'll be adding that, along with the other books in the series, to my TBR.

Nearly Broken by Devon Ashley

4 out of 5 Stars

Nearly Broken deals with subject matter that I’ve only encountered a couple of times previously and Devon Ashley handles it in a way that doesn’t shy away from the brutal reality of human trafficking.  It is explicit in its detail of the degradation of young women by those involved in this practice, so if that is not something you want to read about then you should heed the advice that accompanies the book:

New Adult Romantic Suspense / Dark Realistic Fiction
Recommended for 17+ for mature and disturbing situations, language and sexual content

and choose an alternative read.

I really don’t want to disclose the story line in this review, which is quite a challenge, but I'm going to give it a go.

Megan is a fabulous character.  She is resilient yet fragile, courageous yet terrified and deals with the situations she faces in what I considered to be a very realistic manner.  Past events drive her behavior and she grapples with a constant, yet unknown, threat.  It is not until certain puzzle pieces come together that she truly understands the consequences of her past for her future.

Nick is to die for.  He is smart, caring, a talented chef and will stop at nothing to be with the woman he loves.

Nearly Broken is beautifully written.  The story flows effortlessly and you are caught up in Megan’s world very quickly.  Her emotions are clear and vivid and her experiences are haunting.  I found myself immersed in her world and praying that the outcome would be what she deserved.

I really enjoyed Nearly Broken.  It is not a story for the faint hearted with some fairly graphic detail about the human trafficking/sex trade and yet intertwined with this dark element there is a beautiful love story that is a delight to read.  I think it is both the stark contrast between and blending of these two elements that makes Nearly Broken such a wonderful read.

Irreparably Broken by K.J. Bell

4 out of 5 Stars

So I've literally just finished reading Irreparably Broken and wanted to get straight to my review.  I usually sit on a book for a least a couple of hours before I try and write how I felt about it, but I enjoyed Irreparably Broken so much that I don't feel the need to distil my feelings, just to write about how much I loved it!  

K.J. Bell has created a suite of amazing characters in this book but what I loved, loved, loved about Irreparably Broken was that it concludes in a way that was satisfying - the book is a stand alone read and they seem to be relatively rare occurrences these days.  There is definitely scope for books centered around other characters in this book, but Tori and Brady's story had a start, middle and ending that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

On the face of it, some could dismiss Irreparably Broken as having a 'predictable' plot - but I encourage you not to make that assumption based on the synopsis.  Yes there is the whole crushing on the best friends older 'bad boy' brother and heart broken by the ex boyfriend (not to mention the confusion at how 'comfortable' Tori is with her crushes younger brother) - but there are twists and turns and surprises in this story that you're unlikely to predict. 

Tori has had her heart broken by Jake, her first love - it's not just the fact that he cheated on her that hurts, it's the way Brady, her best friends older brother, had a hand in making sure she knew about Jake's cheating that has caused Tori to swear off guys and relationships generally.  Her family has relocated due to her dad's work and rather than go to “Minn-e-fuckin-sota" with them, she moves in with her "BFFAA" (best friend forever and always) Liv and her family.  Having been friends forever, Liv's family is like Tori's own.  In fact, she's always harboured some envy at just how perfect Liv's parents are and at the family environment Liv has.  Tori has also harboured a crush on Brady, Liv's older brother, for many years and unbeknownst to her, he will be home for the summer!

What Tori also doesn't know is that she is the reason for Brady’s decision to spend summer at home as he's decided to be up front about how he feels about her.  Having reached that decision, his execution is not as perfect as you'd hope and there are times when you could cut the emotional tension between the two with a knife.  Sadly, nothing is straight forward for them – Tori is struggling with wanting to guard her heart from another hurt; Brady has history and doesn't think he is worthy of ... well, much actually: 
Christ, look, I'm toxic, like fucking poison, nothing instant though - I'm something slow and painful, and you don't need that in your life.
 As Brady battles with his past and the demons he carries around he inevitably hurts Tori, which is the last thing he wants to do.  Through all of this Tori has the unending support of Tug, Brady and Liv's younger brother.  Tug is just adorable - only 9 months younger than Tori and Liv - he is always asking Tori out and she is always responding with "I'd rather ..." comments - some of which are both revolting and downright hilarious.  Tug is a great friend to Tori, but it's also clear that there is something unexplored about the relationship between the two and how that evolves throughout the story is just beautiful.

Liv is the sort of best friend everyone should have.  In one scene she deals with Tori's ex so beautifully I laughed out loud at her tenacity and ferocious protectiveness of her friend.  She's gorgeous, outspoken, loyal and hell bent on getting Tori laid!

There are elements to this story that were completely unexpected.  The tragedy that strikes has consequences for everyone that will change the course of their lives forever.  K.J. Bell has done a fabulous job, she's created a couple of swoon worthy characters in Brady and Tug (and Harrison probably warrants a mention too).  In amongst everything there are some steamy sex scenes, humour and an engrossing story line.  I read Irreparably Broken in one sitting as I just couldn't wait to find out how it was going to end.  I'd love to see a follow up book about Tug or Liv as the next instalment from K.J. Bell, but the great thing is I haven’t been left hanging, wondering what the future holds for anyone in the story, least of all Tori and Brady.

Beside Your Heart by Mary Whitney

4 out of 5 Stars
Beside Your Heart is a beautifully written tale of love, loss and the transition from teenager to adult.  Nicki Johnson is deputy press secretary for the newly elected president.  Smart, succesful - she has everything any woman could ask for, except the love of her life.  In a moment of melancholy she Googles Adam Kinkaid and finds pictures of him splashed across British tabloids with a stunning British Aristocrat on his arm.  As Nicki reminisces, the story returns to their unforgettable senior year of high school together and we learn of the incredible connection the two shared and a love that no matter how strong, couldn't withstand the vast distance between Cambridge and Texas ... or could it?

 Mary Whitney has done an amazing job with this story.  She dealt with the issues of grief and loss within a family, first love, first time, and high school friendships in such a realistic way.  It absolutely took me back to life as a teenager and those intense feelings of love, lust, family drama and heartbreak. 

Nicki and Adam meet at school.  Adam is in the US for one year as his father has taken up a teaching post at a University.  Charming, gorgeous, the impeccable English gentleman, Adam has no shortage of female admirers at school.  Nicki on the other hand is doing whatever she can to blend in as she struggles to deal with the tragic loss of her younger sister in a serious car accident.  Nicki and her mother survived the accident, but both are traumatised and devastated by Lauren's death. 

Nicki is scarred, both physically and mentally and struggles to talk about Lauren and all things connected to her.  Adam manages to find a way behind the walls she has built up.  He is patient, considerate and what blossoms between the two is simply beautiful.  Sadly for the two of them, it is very difficult for them to simply enjoy their time together as there is essentially a huge countdown clock hanging over their heads until Adam must return to England with his family. 

Nicki is a very mature young woman and having suffered such pain at the loss of her sister she tries to guard her heart from further pain.  The depth of feeling between Nicki and Adam is something more than the usual high school sweethearts and it is heartbreaking to read as they deal with a series of events leading up to Adams return home. 
While I loved Beside Your Heart I was very frustrated with how it ended. I would have loved another chapter or perhaps a few more pages in the Epilogue as for me, it felt like a rather abrupt finish to a story that had unfolded slowly, beautifully and in a realistic and detailed way.  Here's hoping there will be another book to follow in the not too distant future.

The Englishman by Nina Lewis

3 out of 5 Stars

The Englishman tells the story of Dr Anna Lieberman, Assistant Professor of English literature at Ardrossan University, a prestigious college in America's South.  Anna is young, intelligent and extremely passionate about her profession.  She takes up her position at Ardrossan having spent time teaching in England and is set on progressing her career and ultimately gaining tenure at "the Folly" (the nickname given to Ardrossan).  Being the new kid on the block is never easy, and within the academic world I suspect it is even more challenging than usual.  The ever present need to 'publish', the challenge of teaching adult students, the competition amongst peers - all add to create a less than ideal work environment.  Throw into this mix a beligerant old professor who uses your office for his personal storage, university scandal, politics within your department and a number of other frustrating events and 'settling' into a new job becomes much harder than you would have hoped.
Of course, then there is Professor Giles Cleveland, Anna's mentor - the English professor in both senses of the term (he's English and he teaches English!).  Anna is attracted to him from the get-go.  He is older, quite aloof and 'typically english' in his style.  I'll admit, I didn't really buy the connection between Anna and Giles - for her it seemed almost instantaneous, although in fairness it was initially lust.  I found their interactions to be almost combative (even though there was a flirty undertone) and so kept wondering whether they were ever really going to get together.
"When we're alone...I'll call you anything I like, and you'll stick it."   He pauses for effect, and into the silence crowds a cornucopia of terms and phrases.  "Not because I'm a male and momre powerful than you -- I'm not by the way, more powerful than you -- but because I'm not calling you anything that I don't believe to be true.  In company, rest assured it'll be 'Dr Liebermann, my esteemed colleague.'"
Without being cliched, the Englishman wasn't my cup of tea.  I struggled to stay connected with the story.  There was an awful lot going on and I was never really sure when a new 'issue' was introduced whether it was going to be instrumental to the outcome for the story or just a sideline.  The Englishman is beautifully written, very academic in its style and referencing to literature, which is completely appropriate given the subject matter, but I struggled to read it and often had to re-read sections to really get the gist of what was going on.  My preference is not to have to work quite that hard when I'm reading for entertainment.

There is much to enjoy in the story, some excellent supporting characters and Lewis has the ability to make scenery and places come alive off the page.  For me, there was too much complexity and this impacted my reading.  I think personal preferences will play a huge part in whether you enjoy The Englishman.

Wanted Wife by Gwen Jones

4 out of 5 Stars
Wanted Wife is a quirky story about finding love in the most unexpected places - a fabulous debut book from Gwen Jones.

Julie Knott is a TV reporter on the upward climb of her career.  Engaged, viewer popularity growing and a wedding to end all weddings just two weeks away – what more could you ask for??  How about your fiancé NOT leaving you for his ex and tweeting the ‘disengagement’ before he’s even finished the conversation with you??  That’s exactly what happens to Julie and before she knows it she’s single, homeless and seemingly all out of options.

That is, until she heads out to cover the story of Andy Devine, who’s advertised to find himself a wife by posting flyers on utility poles.  She arrives in Iron Bog with camera man Denny in tow to interview Andy and film the wife interview process.  What she is not prepared for is “the most stunning man I’d ever laid eyes on” who also happens to be incredibly smooth, intelligent, and absolutely set on having Julie as his wife. 

The two enter into a rather unconventional relationship and the story follows what transpires between them.  Both Julie and Andy aren’t being completely honest with each other from the outset.  Told from Julie’s point of view we know what her angle is and whether you agree or disagree with it, you at least have some understanding of why she’s agreed to enter into the relationship with Andy.  When it comes to Andy, there’s this mystery surrounding him.  He seems almost too good to be true at times but I did wonder just what it was that was going to come to light and bring everything unstuck. 

The two have an undeniable chemistry and some of the banter and exchanges between them were gorgeous:
”So . . . I guess we can pretty much agree we’re attracted to each other.” 
God, he was so cute.  “You can say that.” 
He leaned back against a post, taking me with him.  “Even though we may have nothing in common?” 
I pushed up on my toes, brushing my lips against his.  “Seems like we’ll have a lot of time to find out.  We’ve already taken a big leap.” 
“By getting married”, he concluded, kissing the corner of my mouth. 
“By falling seriously in lust,” I said, kissing him right back.
For a “wordly” television reporter, Julie is incredibly naive when it comes to relationships.  Mind you, not having had great success with them in the past, and starting off in such an unorthodox fashion as she does with Andy, it’s not really that surprising.  There were lots of lessons for Julie throughout the story and she really did become a different person:
Where was Andy?  But then, where was I?  And where in hell was I going?  If this was a precursor to what my life would be like later on, then I’d better get used to it.  Damn reckless of me not to see what lay down the road, naive of me to think it would be easy.  And shame on me for thinking I could come out the other end the same.”
I really enjoyed Wanted Wife.  It was funny, it was sexy, it was romantic and is definitely worth picking up.

The Art of Love by Anne Whitney

4 out of 5 Stars
The Art of Love was quite different from the books I've been reading of late.  With a bit of a schedule of books to read based on the blog tours we have listed I picked this up and didn't re-read the synopsis before I began, so wasn't really sure what to expect at the outset.  I was quickly intrigued about where the story was going to go and found myself quite engaged by Marina, Fitz, Viridian and Derek.
Marina Phillips has had a lifetime of torture and control at her fathers hands.  Finally reaching a point where she is not prepared to stay in Spokane any longer she hastily packs a bag, boards a train and finds herself alone, starving and next to penniless in New York City.  Her only driver, to escape the life she had known:
I wanted to become invisible.  If I could manage that then everything would be okay.  It had to be.
Wandering the streets on her first night there, unsure of where she is going or where she will spend the night she stumbles into a modern art gallery and takes advantage of the free buffet.  As she stands there eating her fill and considering her options an artist begins his 'performance' and much to the amusement of the audience and embarassment of Marina she is drawn into the show.  This is her first encounter with Fitz, the sexy performance artist, and from here begins Marina's discovery of life, love and a future away from the control of her father.
Marina is a very interesting character.  Having spent twenty years as her father's slave she is accustomed to keeping secrets and keeping to herself.  Her exposure to the art world of New York City is an eye opener to say the least, but she definitely holds her own amongst the chic and sophisticated 'artists' who befriend her.  I was surprised, and not always convinced, by Marina's wisdom.  Having lived her life under the control of her father she had a surprisingly insightful perspective to many of the situations she faced and sometimes I wondered how she could convey such maturity given her upbringing.
The Art of Love is as much about Marina's evolution as it is about Fitz's enlightement.  A young artist, rebelling against the expectations of his father, Fitz is complex and confusing.  He openly objects to the life his father wanted for him and yet a significant proportion of his ilfestyle is funded by his father's money.  There is a challenging mix of innocence, creativity and pretentiousness evident in Fitz - but underlying all of it I detected his desire to love and be loved. 
The story takes place over a relatively short timeframe, and in some ways this had me questioning the relationship development between the characters.  There was this instant connection and trust between Marina and Fitz as well as with Marina and Fitz's best friend Viridian and brother Derek.  The pragmatist in me questioned it, and yet Whitney's writing made it believable. 
As Marina struggles to find her place in New York her father mounts a very public campaign to find her and Marina must grapple with hiding all over again, all the while trying to determine who she is, what her relationship with Fitz means and how she can have a future of her choosing.
I enjoyed the Art of Love.  It wasn't filled with sappy romance or steamy sex scenes - it took a very different approach to the coming of age of a young woman.  It may not appeal to everyone, but I appreciated the art culture and Marina's honesty and was satisfied with how it ended.

Fading by E.K. Blair

5 out of 5 Stars
I'm going to do something I never do and that is start this review at the end of the book:
"Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.  Approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.  And only 46% of assaults are reported to the police."
These statistics are incredibly alarming and it is heart breaking to think of the trauma and ongoing pain suffered by so many, often in silence.
Fading tells us Candace's story.  A talented college student pursuing a career as a professional ballerina.  Focused on her study and dance, Candace has a very small group of friends and doesn't tend to go out a lot - quite at odds with the 'usual' college life.  Battling with the expectations of her parents, Candace studies hard to maintain a 4.0 grade point average.  Her mother particularly, is focussed on appearances and does not consider studying ballet or a career as a professional dancer a path worthy of her daughter and does not hide this view from Candace. Frustrated, lonely and feeling like perhaps she needs to relax and live a little, Candace agrees to go out with someone who has her mother's stamp of approval.  Despite her reservations and the lack of any real spark, Candace persists, with consequences more dire than she ever would have imagined. 
Fading is intense.  It is heartbreaking, it is graphic, it does not shy away from the impact of a brutal sexual assault.  Candace had her whole world ripped apart and Fading tells of her experience and her journey forward.  She struggles daily, and is dependent on her best friend Jase.  Candace loses a lot as she deals with her experience.  Embarassed, guilty, traumatised she works hard to be 'normal' and move forward, but every day is incredibly hard.
"I'm fading."  I feel the heat of my tears as they linger down my cheeks.  "He took all my light, and I've been fading ever since."
With the support of Jase and his partner Matt, Candace exists.  It is through her friends that she meets Ryan and as their friendship develops she begins to wonder whether she may be able to have a life after her attack.
"I've only ever truly let one person in - Jase.  Guys have always made me feel awkward.  I don't know how to respond to affection, and I wind up feeling embarassed and shy.  For the first time, I don't want to feel that way."
Despite the bleakness of the subject matter I loved Fading.  Candace was an incredible character - strong in so many ways and yet so incredibly vulnerable.  Not having had a warm and loving family experience, and being an only child, meant that she was slow to connect with people generally, but with Jase she had a friendship that filled the void of her family.  Jase is a wonderful friend, dealing with hsi families inability to accept his homosexuality and working on re-establishing a relationship with Matt.  He selflessly supports Candace and helps her as she recovers from the attack.  The intensity of her trauma was palpable and this transferred to tension in my body as I read.  I would periodically 'come to' as I was reading and realise that I had been gripping my kindle so hard my fingers were stiff and I had been sitting with muscles clenched in reflection of what Candance was experiencing.
Ryan is intrigued by Candace from the first time he meets her.  He senses her vulnerability and is satisfied with what she offers him.  He is gentle, supportive and carrying secrets of his own.  He is persistent and patient and a perfect remedy for Candace if she can move beyond past events.
"I understand you and Jase, but I know how I feel about you".  He takes a moment before softly saying, " I want you to need me more than him." 
Feeling the need to defend myself, I say, "He's all I've ever had." 
Taking my hand in his, he places it against his chest when he tells me, "You have me now too."
Fading will affect you.  It is not a light and romantic read.  It is a realistic story of one woman's horrific experience.  I'm going to conclude this review at the same place I started, the end of the book:
"You just read about Candace who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Flashbacks, Sleep Terror Disorder, and Nightmares.  These are only a few of the effects one can experience after being sexually assaulted.  There is help.
US: National Sexual Assualt Hotline: 1800 656 HOPE (1800 656 4673)
National Sexual Assault Online Hotline - ohl.rainn.org/online/   visit www.rainn.org to find more information and resources
AustraliaNational Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

The Trouble With Goodbye by Sarra Cannon

4 out of 5 Stars
The Trouble with Goodbye is a beautiful story about a young woman and an experience that can only be described as horrendous.  Author Sarra Cannon has managed to tell this story in such a way that it conveys hope, instills courage and shows that some risks are worth taking.
Leigh Anne Davis is a young woman that chose to leave the security of her home town and the wealth of her family to pursue a college education in Boston.  Her decision is in small part a rebellion against the pre-determined life path her parents, particularly her mother, have for her.  It was out of character for her, particularly leaving behind Preston Wright, the gorgeous son of the wealthiest man in town who everyone thought Leigh Anne would marry. 
At university Leigh Anne finds happiness and a sense of herself that she has not known previously.  She begins to properly move on from Preston and start to look forward to a life the way she wants it to be.  As is often the case, in one night Leigh Anne loses the independence she has fought so strongly for, and she chooses to return home in the hope that the familiarity of her old life may give her back some of what she has lost. 
Dreading the trip home and worrying at how successful she will be at fitting in, Leigh Anne has a rather stressful return to Fairhope.  In amongst that she encounters Knox Warner, who is new to the town and very different to everyone else.  Different in the sense that he seems to carry a burden of his own and different because he doesn’t seem to be concerned with what people think.  Knox helps Leigh Anne and supports her in a way that she has never experienced.  A complete stranger and yet he understands exactly what she needs:
I lean forward and bury my face in my hands.  I turn away as a sob escapes my lips.  My body shakes with it and I struggle for air against the crushing weight of guilt and sorrow and anger.  Everything I haven't been allowed to feel or express breaks loose, and I don't have the strength to control it anymore.

I don't know what I'm expecting him to do, but somehow this stranger, this guardian angel, knows exactly what I need.

He scoots across the leather bench seat.  Without a word, he pulls me into his arms.

And he lets me cry.
Despite the damage caused by her experiences and knowing Knox is not the sort of guy her family and friends would approve of, Leigh Anne can't deny what she feels when he's near or how he seems to want to be with her:
I think of the way he held me that night in the dark.  He pulled me into his arms without a second thought and never questioned my pain.  I think of the butterflies I feel every time I'm near him.  Butterflies I just tried to force with Preston just to prove I'm still alive.  That I'm not broken.
Only the truth is I am broken. 
And the guy right here in front of me is the only one who sees it.  For some reason, he seems to like me anyway.
Leigh Anne must grapple with what has happened to her, her return home and what it is she wants to do.  She struggles in her relationship with her Mother, who is more concerned with what others might think than how her daughter truly feels.  Leigh Anne reconnects with her high school friends and while there is a level of comfort, Leigh Anne can never really move beyond her experience at college and struggles to properly fit in.  Her disappointment at having to return home and her frustration with her families response to events surrounding her return mean that she feels very alone and disconnected.
She encounters Knox at different times (generally when she really need help!) and each time he accepts what she has to offer and responds in a way that gives her comfort, confidence and a sense that perhaps she will be okay.  Knox is just wonderful ... his past is troubled and yet he has found a way to be comfortable in his skin and make the most of what he has.  He is not from the wealthy circles that Leigh Anne's mother prefers, and yet he is rich in ways her mother and some of those people will never be.  He is honest about who he is and encourages Leigh Anne to look beyond expectations of others, to find enjoyment in simple things and most importantly, seek acceptance from herself.
"I'm not afraid", I say, but I"m lying.  I'm terrified.  Not of the water or the swing.  I'm terrified of what I"m feeling for him and how perfect he seems to be.  I don't deserve this.  I don't know what to do with this.

"If you're not afraid, then what the hell are you waiting for?"

The sadness I've been carrying around for so long urges me to take a step back, away from the edge of this mountaintop.  But there's a growing hope that tells me to seize this moment with both hands.
What the hell am I waiting for? 
Breathless, I jog toward the woods, slip out of my jeans and toss them to the side.  I reach out for the swinging rope, catching it on its second pass toward the shore.  There are several tight knots and I grip the highest one with two trembling hands.  I back up the hill until the rope is taut, and with my heart beating fast, I hold on tight. 
And I fly.
The Trouble with Goodbye tackles a story that I suspect happens more frequently than we know.  Despite the negative events and their consequences for Leigh Anne I actually felt a sense of hope as I read.  Leigh Anne is a wonderful character - broken by events, but not to the point of losing who she is and with Knox's strength she finds herself again.  I really enjoyed The Trouble with Goodbye.

Chase by Chantal Fernando and Dawn Martens

3.5 out of 5 Stars
From the outset I need to say that I really enjoyed reading Chase.  It was an easy read with some outstanding Alpha male characters that will hit book boyfriend lists aplenty – particularly Kade I think! 
Chase (Resisting Love #1) is the story of Layla and Chase.  Layla is a pretty innocent girl, looking for somewhere to live that is close to University and not close to her parent’s home.  Having looked at a number of not so appropriate places she arrives at the last place on her list and cannot believe her luck.  The house is gorgeous, as is the guy who shows her around (James) and despite having some reservations about sharing a house with men (two of whom she hasn’t yet met), she takes the room.  Flash forward a short while and Layla is hitting it off beautifully (in a brother/sister kind of way) with James and Kade, two of the three men in the house, but she is yet to meet the third.  She’s heard exchanges between him and the women he’s brought home, but not actually met him.  Layla heads out for a girls night out with best friend Nikki and meets Chase, uber gorgeous and with clear intentions for Layla.  Imagine her surprise when she wakes in his bed the next morning ... in the master bedroom of the house she is living in! 
Despite enjoying this book I wasn’t really convinced by or connected to Chase – his adoration of Layla seemed instant and it was a little hard to believe that he would be able to quickly change his womanising ways.  Some of the back story was clarified later in the book, but it felt a little unreal to start with.  I think this affected the way I felt about Chase throughout the story and meant that I didn’t find him or his interactions with Layla that believable.  Having said that, he did redeem himself a little bit towards the end of the book – but I was never really cheering for him.
Layla on the other hand I loved.  She was sassy and held her own in the interactions with Kade and James.  Chase dominated her a bit too much for my liking – but that was more about his style than any real weakness in her.
The other characters in the story were fantastic.  James, Kade and Nikki particularly.  There was enough going on with them that you want to know more – and we’re fortunate because Fernando and Martens are working on Kade and Nikki’s story next, which I will certainly be watching for.  Aubrey is the ex from hell – incredibly nasty and manipulative but brings some interesting twists to the story.
I enjoyed reading Chase and as I said will be watching for the next book.  It was a quick and easy read.  The edition I was provided for this review did have a number of typo’s in it, which detracted a little from the story, and is part of the reason for my 3.5 (rather than 4) rating.  Despite being part of a series Chase and Layla’s story was wrapped up beautifully, so don’t avoid this for fear of a cliff hanger.  

One Tiny Secret by Adam Kunz

4 out of 5 Stars
Oh my goodness!! Talk about sitting on the edge of my seat the entire time.  Adam Kunz has achieved a perfect balance of suspense and romance in One Tiny Secret - a rather unusual combination but it definitely works.
Danielle (Dani) Marks is the teenage daughter of the Sheriff in Holden Ridge - following unexpected events at a Halloween party Dani finds herself the target of blackmail threats from an unknown person.  As they increase in intensity and things around town start to get decidedly creepier Dani has to try and work out just who it is that has it in for her before people she loves fall victim to "Unknown".  Add into the mix Parker Reed, Dani's ex boyfried, and the undeniable feelings she still has for him and you've got a hotbed of emotions, fuelled by lust, terror and good old teenage drama.
Having watched many, many horror/slasher movies in my day (Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining etc) I really appreciated the style of One Tiny Secret.  While not as gruesome as the examples I've listed, there was certainly plenty of suspense, with just enough blood to satisfy the horror fan in me.  At times I found Dani's actions and reactions a little bizarre, but of course if you reflect on the role of the female lead in most horror movies, they do tend to make the obvious 'stupid' choice.  Having said that, Dani was surprisingly resilient and I was super impressed with how she held things together towards the end of the book.
Parker deserves a special mention.  Kunz has created a fabulous love interest for Dani, particularly with the history between the two of them.  He is swoon worthy and regularly says all the right things ... but ... there's a few things that happen that had me wondering whether he could be trusted ...[and you'll have to read One Tiny Secret to find out!]
One Tiny Secret is very well written in a style that was easy to read and engaging.  I was hooked early on and while I had an inkling of who 'Unknown' was, it wasn't until quite late in the story that I felt confident in my assessment, and then it turned out I was wrong!  I think there's enough romance in the story to satisfy the majority of YA/NA readers and when combined with the mystery/intrigue of 'Unknown' all with a little bit of Halloween flavor this book will appeal to quite a wide audience.  

Distractions by J.L. Brooks

5 out of 5 Stars
Stay alert, Violet.  Distractions will be your undoing.
Distractions was not what I expected.  It was so much more, far exceeding my expectations to the point that I have found myself mulling over parts of the book, re-reading chapters as I write this review and thinking about the characters and events since finishing it.  My challenge now is writing this review without spoilers (which hopefully I have achieved) because for me, a significant chunk of the enjoyment was unravelling the story and I don't want to take that away from anyone else.
In the Prologue we meet 14 year old Violet Phillips:  a complex mix of intelligence and emotion.  Drawn to the gypsy culture that would descend upon her home every summer, and under the guidance of her older sister Vivienne, Violet learnt to belly dance and would lose herself in the fantasy world she could create as she danced.  After her sister left, Violet struggled to balance her reality and turned to drug use as a means of escape.  In amongst the drug stupors, she manages to find some solace in studying literature, amongst other things, and somehow escapes the complete destruction and desolation experienced by most hard drug users. 
Distractions then moves forward eight years to a time when Violet is 26 years old and has established herself as lead Research Assistant in the lab of Dr David Robertson, a renowned geneticist working on developing what is hopoed to be a revolution in genetic therapy.  Violet holds "Doc" in very high regard.  He is her "mentor, father figure and knight in shining armor" so what happens one night between the two, followed by the inexplicable (and apparently sinister) disappearance of Dr Robertson impacts Violet significantly.
From here we travel a series of journeys with Violet as she seeks to understand herself, her past and the impact this has for her future.  Violet must balance many 'distractions' on her journey, which is filled with mystery, intrigue, deception, romance and ultimately a discovery of just how strong one woman can be.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Shephard in this review.  Shephard is Violet's neighbour and source of support following the events with Dr Robertson.  The two have a chemistry that is heart warming, not to mention the intimacy of their connection and I'm not just referring to the sex scenes!  Despite Violet's reservations, primarily due to their age difference but also due to the timing of them coming together, she cannot deny her feelings for Shephard or just how right their relationship feels:
"If someone has the ability to make you glow in the darkness, they must be remarkable.  That does not mean there is something wrong with you.  It means there is something right.  Only you would believe the worst."
Violet is a wonderful character.  She is an ecclectic mix of her life: teenage gypsy, drug user, erotic dancer, academic, researcher, sister, friend.  She is complex and carries a hurt from her past (and Connor Lewis) that is in part responsible for both her achievements and her introversion.  Violet's life is not what it seems and Distractions follows her path to discovering just what it should be.  It is more than a love story, so much more.  Violet must manoeuvre herself, as if in a giant chess game, in order to remain whole.  Each move is made in the absence of the full picture and she must determine who she can trust along the way as she evaluates and makes each move:
"... no one would listen, they can't see the truth.  They are so wrapped up in trying to figure out what their opponent's next move is, they can't conceive that maybe there is someone who can see the big picture.  He can see every piece on the board and every game that is played.  It's not just about him shouting down; they have to let him know they can hear him, and trust him.  But submission is a very hard thing for most people.  They need to feel like they are in control, even if it is an illusion. ... It could be so much easier, Violet, if they would just stop for a second and listen."
I really enjoyed Distractions.  It requires a level of concentration to make some of the connections but it is worth the investment.  The conclusion was nothing like I thought it would be and everything I hoped.  

First Born by Tricia Zoeller

4 out of 5 Stars
I've read many 'shifter' books as I have a bit of a thing for the paranormal genre so I started reading First Born with a few preconceptions.  Well, they were blown out of the water fairly quickly!  First Born is not your typical paranormal approach to the shape shifter story, which is kind of obvious given it’s described as Urban Fantasy, but it was something quite different for me and I really enjoyed it.

For Lily Moore, every woman's worst nightmare is about to come true.  Out on a date she finds herself in a secluded location and starting to feel the effects of some sort of drug.  Her date is closing in with fairly clear intent and there is no escape ... unless of course you can shape shift into some scary ass creature and fight your way free!  That is exactly what Lily does and there begins her quest to uncover her shape shifting form, her heritage and the truth behind her boyfriend's death.  Oh and perhaps a bit more about Detective Hottie while she’s at it!
Lily's shape shifting is a complete shock to her.  Not only does she experience it for the first time without any indication it was possible, but she has no idea what she has changed into, how (or if) she can change back or precisely what state her date was in when she fled after fighting him.  What she does know is that her senses are heightened, her appetite is voracious and a mysterious man seems to be watching her!
Forced into hiding as the police try and uncover exactly what happened to her date (and her) Lily has to try and discover details of her shape shifting,  who the mysterious 'watcher' is and who is responsible for the increasing number of deaths of people connected to her.  Detective Caldwell Simms (aka Detective Hottie) is assigned the case.  Having met Lily previously following the death of her boyfriend some months earlier there is definitely a spark between these two.  He struggles with his attraction to Lily and piecing together the evidence before him that is becoming stranger and stranger and seemingly pointing to Lily's involvement.
Lily calls on her brother Seth for help in her quest to stay safe and sane while they work out exactly what is going on.  Seth has some secrets of his own which adds even more to the mystery in First Born.

I don't want to say too much more about the story because I definitely don't want any spoilers in this review.  What I will say is First Born is well written, with tons of intrigue and suspense.  Throw in the shape shifting element, complete with some Chinese mythology and you've got an absolute page turner.   While the end of the book sets up book two in the series, there is completion to this story - and I didn't even come close to picking it!  I certainly got all the answers I was looking for, as well as a solid investment in the characters so I'll be watching for book two from Zoeller.

Sweet Thing by Renee Carlino

5 out of 5 Stars
Sometimes you read a book that touches something in you and leaves a lasting mark.  Sweet Thing was one of those books for me.  It's been a while since a book moved me to tears or had me walking away from my Kindle in frustration.  Sweet Thing did both of those things.
Sweet Thing is Mia's story.  Mia was so incredibly 'together' and yet so startingly confused that I was torn between loving and hating her.  She frustrated me, she inspired me and ultimately she won me over as she struggled to understand her true place in the world.  A talented musician with a business degree, Mia moves to New York following her father's sudden death.  Her plan is to run his cafe for a while until she figures out how to put her business degree to good use and give her life some purpose and direction.

On the flight to New York Mia meets Will Ryan - a handsome and talented musician with a loving and spontaneous nature - like Mia's father in so many ways.  I have to say right now that Will was amazing.  His passion for music, his belief in himself and the people he loved, his tolerance of Mia as she struggled with her feelings for him were all just beautiful.
As Mia grieves "Pops" loss, she struggles to uncover who she is and what she wants from life and love.  Her pain, confusion and frustration were so vividly depicted by Carlino that my heart hurt for Mia.  I alternated between wanting to take her and shake her until her head rattled or wrap her in one of those make the world stop hurting hugs.  Her journey is intense, sad and yet uplifting as she learns to trust her heart.  

The group of friends that surround Mia are a wonderful mix of just what she needs: eccentric, talented, supportive, confronting ... I could go on but I think you get the picture.  Collectively they watch as Mia grieves and they intervene when she needs them most.  There are words of wisdom from Martha in particular that are thought provoking and inspiring.
"you have to teach your heart and mind how to sing together ... then you'll hear the sound of your soul."
From the outset Mia seems set on a life that doesn't embrace her creativity and musical talent.  There is no doubt that her parents failed marriage and the distinct differences between her mother and father have influenced her perspective on how to have a 'successful' life, but it is astonishing that she so completely discounts what is a significant part of who she is and it is this that presents the most challenging internal conflict for Mia.  Martha (again) provides food for thought as Mia grapples with life:
"You are your mother and your father.  You are your experiences and your fears and the love you let yourself feel.  You are your degree and your talent and your passion.  You are your pain, your joy and your fantasies.  You are me and Sheil and Jenny and Will and every person that touches your soul ... but most of all you are you, whoever you dream that to be."
Her connection with Will is unquestionable, and yet Mia does question it constantly.  As he begins to find his own place in the music world Mia fears that his success will take him away from her and shatter her heart all over again.
Sweet Thing was almost painful - Mia's journey was slow and sometimes I was frustrated with her indecision and inability to take that leap of faith, but really, it couldn't be any other way.  Will was passionate, patient and forgiving, but still managed to maintain his integrity and strength.  Together, their journey was authentic, inspiring and I absolutely loved Sweet Thing.

Lost and Found by Nicole Williams

4.5 out of 5 Stars

I am a huge fan of Nicole Williams, and while I haven't read all of her books (yet) I absolutely fell in love with her Eden series and the Patrick Chronicles so I was very excited to read Lost & Found.  Williams knows how to write the perfect male character - that amazing blend of sensitivity, strength and not to mention gorgeousness that makes you just sigh as you're reading - and she's done it again with Jesse in Lost & Found.
But I should start with Rowen, after all, Lost & Found is really her story.  At eighteen Rowen has spent the last five years of her life hiding, rebelling and basically doing whatever she can to separate herself from the hurt that comes with relationships - of any kind.  An incredibly dysfunctional relationship with her mother drives much of her behaviour.  Rowen has a penchant for black, right down to her lipstick and contact lenses and is quite accustomed to the stares and 'freak' comments leveled in her direction.  Rowen's mother decides that Rowen must spend a summer on an old friend's ranch to 'prove herself' before she will commit to funding Rowen's dream of attending art school.  So after a long and exhausting bus trip, Rowen finds herself at Willow Springs with the Walker family:  Rose, Neil, Lily, Hyacinth, Clementine and of course Jesse.
I loved Rowen, despite her fractured life she had a strength of character that was wonderful.  I particularly liked her willingness to question everything she had ever known when presented with the balance and love that the Walker family embodied.  She rose to the challenges they unwittingly presented her and with each step began the long journey of finding the real Rowen Sterling.
Rose was perfect as the mother figure Rowen had never had.  Her stark contrast to Rowen’s mother had me questioning how it was possible for them to have been lifelong friends, and yet, it made sense at the same time.  Rose loved Rowen from the start, something that Rowen struggled with, and she regularly guided Rowen as she moved forward:
"Listen, I don't know what you've done, or what your mom thinks you've done, to deserve spending your whole summer where I'd guess is the last place you'd want to spend your summer.  And you know what? "  She didn't wait for me to reply.  "I don't care.  Every morning we get a chance to be different.  A chance to change.  A chance to be better.  Your past is your past.  Leave it there.  Get on with the future part, honey."
Jesse was a significant part of Rowen’s journey and his compassion, his thoughtfulness and his persistence made it impossible not to fall in love with him, despite Rowen regularly telling herself that girls like her didn’t deserve guys like Jesse. 
There were so many things to like about Lost & Found that really, you just need to read it for yourself.  Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the same formula you’ve read before.  Yes it’s troubled girl meets gorgeous boy, falls in love … but it’s also so much more than that.  Rowen’s journey is beautiful and Jesse’s balance and honesty help her find her way like no other had been able to. 
"We don't deserve anything, Rowen.  We don't deserve punishment, we don't deserve happiness, life owes us nothing.  Realize that."  His voice wasn't gentle anymore; it was as strong as I'd ever heard it.  "So we have to take what we want because life sure as shit isn't going to freely hand it over."  He kissed the skin just above my collar bone.  "And I want you."
Williams has a wonderful way with words, she creates imagery that is vivid and clear and leaves you feeling like it’s you that is walking through the field of tall grass in the middle of nowhere.  Her characters are complex and yet incredibly real, often reflecting parts of your own life and experience.  Pick up Lost and Found, you won’t be disappointed.

Full of Grace by Misty Provencher

5 out of 5 Stars

Full of Grace is the companion book to Hale Maree by Misty Provencher. It tells the story of Landon Grace and Sher Traifere. I hadn't read Hale Maree, where these two first meet, but in all honesty it didn't detract from my enjoyment or understanding of the story.

Full of Grace is told from Landon's perspective and deals with the issue of an unplanned pregnancy. Landon and Sher have what both initially consider as a one night stand, but then Landon's perspective is changed when he learns more about Sher's 'history' and Sher discovers she is pregnant.

I loved the premise of this story - an unplanned pregnancy and the rights of both parents to be involved in the decision to terminate. I could feel the turmoil both characters were dealing with: Landon, a brother to five sisters and raised by a single mum, determined to be there for his child and Sher and willing to do whatever it takes to convince her to keep the baby. On the other hand, Sher, also raised by a single mum with multiple siblings from different fathers, is desperate not to be her mother all over again, devastated that she hasn't yet had the opportunity to live her life and terrified of the long term consequences of being a teenage mum.

As I said, I hadn't read Hale Maree, so I didn't have any background to the relationship between Landon and Sher, but there was clearly chemistry between the two of them. Yes, their initial encounter was somewhat alcohol fuelled, but the way Landon talks/thinks about Sher conveys so much more than a meaningless one night stand.

The two must come to grips with the pregnancy and it's consequences for their future. They must also determine what they have together, when really they know next to nothing about each other:
"I realize that I'm every bit as stupid as she's thinking I am, even if not for the same reasons. I have no idea what Sher's last name is. I don't know a damn thing about her, except that she's got skin like the underbelly of a baby rabbit and she's carrying my baby - for the moment. We came together for maybe ten minutes total and it began this whole weird elbow pipe of our lives as strangers. What a mess."
Landon was just gorgeous, his determination to have Sher hear his side of things had me chuckling regularly and his slowly dawning realisation that there was more to his feelings than just the thought of the baby in Sher's belly was a delight to read. They have moments where you think "this is it, they'll be OK now":
"For one second, the world freezes. There is only Sher staring into my eyes. Me, staring back. Our connection is beyond physical, it's even more than the link of a baby growing in her belly. It's my soul and hers, grazing fingertips over one another."
And then something would happen that would set them back almost to where they started. Despite that, Landon was persistent, consistent and so loveable I really don't know how Sher could resist him:
"She's the wild card and how she plays her hand will still determine my entire life, whether I like it or not. I should hate her, but instead, I've tracked her down and now I just want to sit here, pretending none of it happened, and watch her sleep."
Landon and Sher's story is beautifully written. There are complexities to the story that have them questioning what the pregnancy means for both their individual and collective futures. Underlying the fear and uncertainty there is a slowly developing connection with each other that promises them great things:
"This one moment, in my bed beside her, is whole. Warm and safe and invicible, it feels like a beginning And if I were able to lay beside her like this every day of my life, I think the end would feel as complete."
I loved this book. I sat up late to finish reading it because I just had to know the outcome. It is not long and while some reviews have commented it wasn't long enough, I was very satisfied with where it finished. I will also be adding Misty Provenchers other books to my TBR list.

Barely Breathing by Heather Allen

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Barely Breathing is the second book from Heather Allen and continues the story of Ever Harding. We first met Ever in ‘Just Breathe’ where she discovered her mermaid history and made a choice that would change not only her life, but the lives of the Lior and the Erebus (the two mermaid clans). In Just Breathe, Ever lost her heart to Jack, but having sacrificed everything for him things didn’t go quite as she would have hoped.
Ever is struggling to recover from the heart break and living in the sea without him is not what she had envisaged for her future. While his sister Amber is a supportive and caring friend, she is also a constant reminder that Jack is not there.

Barely Breathing is told from alternating points of view – Ever’s and her brother James’. It’s an approach that I really like as it gives you two perspectives, generally providing a fuller picture to the story. James has come to terms with his mer-man life and is training for the impending battle. Sara is sent as James’ guardian and James is struck by her beauty. For the first time, he finds himself falling hard for a girl. Sara works with James to develop his fighting skills and the more time James spends with Sara, the stronger his feelings for her become. James is unwittingly aligned with the Erebus clan and is confident that if Sara is by his side, he can do anything.

We met Alex towards the end of Just Breathe and despite her sadness over Jack, Ever was a little intrigued by him. He is gorgeous, friendly, supportive and unless Ever is mistaken he has more than a friendly interest in her.

Alex helps Ever with her training and she quickly develops an affinity for the bow and arrow. She also further develops her "will’s" and it is soon very clear that she is an incredibly powerful mermaid. Her role in settling the future of the Lior clan is unavoidable, and as she comes to grips with this, she must also determine whether choices she has made in the past have been the right ones – including choices made with her heart. As if that’s not enough of a burden to bear, Ever and James must also come to terms with the fact that despite being brother and sister, they are on opposite sides in the impending war.

I’ll be honest, I found Ever to be a bit insipid in Barely Breathing. Constantly avoiding issues and never really dealing with the situations she found herself in decisively was very frustrating for me. Having said that, she was often described as ‘running away’ or not dealing with her problems – so she was consistent with her character, I just don’t really warm to characters like her. In her defence, her heartbreak over Jack caused her much distress, the confusion over exactly which side of the battle she should be on and whether she was developing feelings for Alex all would have made making decisions a significant challenge for Ever. 

Barely Breathing is well written and definitely wraps up a whole lot of things left hanging from Just Breathe. I was quite frustrated with how Just Breathe concluded, so did get the closure I was looking for. There are some twists in the story that you don’t expect: the Ever/Alex/Jack triangle is resolved and there’s a twist that impacts James and Sara that I never saw coming.

The story is set to be a trilogy when finished. Rest assured though, the promise of the third book doesn’t mean a cliff hanger this time. There is a nice finish to the story in Barely Breathing, with enough options for the third book to deliver complete closure for all the characters. If you’ve read Just Breathe, you should definitely pick up Barely Breathing.

Friend Zoned by Belle Aurora

5 out of 5 Stars

I had the great fortune of reviewing an ARC of Friend-Zoned prior to its release and was absolutely blown away by this book.  First time author Belle Aurora has created an awesome story with an amazing cast of characters who you just can’t help but fall in love with.
Friend-Zoned is centred around the friendship between Valentina Tomic (Tina) and Nikolai Leokov (Nik).  Tina owns a boutique called Safira’s which is across the street from Nik’s night club, The White Rabbit.  Tina notices Nik through the window of her boutique following an exchange with a less than satisfied customer.  She then observes him during the three cigarette breaks he takes each day and finally, on a whim, sends him a bag of candy with a note attached.  What follows from there is a not so ordinary introduction and the development of friendships, love and lust between the two and their circle of friends.
Tina is the kind of woman everyone needs for a friend.  She is generous of spirit, trusting, loving and the woman can bake cupcakes that are to die for!  As a result of some significant past hurt, Tina keeps others  at arms length in the relationship game.  She’s a touchy, feely kind of girl so gives out hugs generously and is a loving and loyal friend, but she keeps her heart closely guarded for fear of it being irrevocably shattered.  The hurt and loss associated with Jace, the guy she thought was ‘the one’, has taken a massive toll on Tina and she doesn’t believe she will ever love again.
Nik is generally mistrustful of women.  Following the death of his father when he was sixteen, Nik took on the role of head of the household and took care of his family.  As a consequence, Nik didn’t have a lot of time for girlfriends.  Nik’s father had been a senior figure in the Russian gang world and Nik was initiated into Chaos, a Russian-American gang, as an enforcer shortly after his father’s death.  Nik spent a number of years collecting drug money, debt money and bribes before leaving the gang to start his night club.  His wealth and success have made him a regular target for women, but not the sort of women you settle down with.
At an early stage Tina and Nik declare themselves ‘friends’ and begin to do the things that ‘friends’ do with each other, coffee, lunch, clubbing – all the while both of them are fighting against the feelings they are developing.  Watching the relationship develop is just gorgeous.  The underlying sexual tension is palpable and I was just praying they would act on their feelings (I may even have emailed the author a little extract from the book at one point followed by a “YAY!”).  Aurora’s writing style is brilliant – she captures the humour and the intensity of the burgeoning relationship perfectly.
Aurora has also expertly developed the characters that form the ‘family’ in Friend-Zoned:  Max - Nik’s younger brother, Ghost (Asher) - Nik’s best friend, Trick - Nik’s cousin, Nat – Tina’s BFF, Mimi and Lola – the two girls who work at Safira’s with Tina.  The group of eight spend a lot of time with each other and there are snippets about the interactions between them all that had me wondering whether there will be more for these guys – Aurora has confirmed that ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ is book two in the series and it will tell Nat and Ghost’s story (which I’ll be watching for closely).
Aurora posted the following ‘fantasy cast photo’ on her Facebook page and I think she has chosen perfectly:
Friend-Zoned is a mature, contemporary romance – with some humour and even a bit of intrigue as some of Nik’s gang life history re-surfaces and threatens the group.  The dialogue is well written, there are some ’hawt’ and steamy love scenes(definitely not YA!!) and I really got caught up in this story. 

The ARC I reviewed was the pre-edited version, but even so there were not that many typos/errors, so I would hope the final product is error free in that regard.  There is a satisfying conclusion to Nik and Tina’s story that had me smiling from ear to ear.  Definitely pick up Friend-Zoned for an engaging read – I loved this book and will be recommending it widely!

Just Breathe by Heather Allen

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Just Breathe by Heather Allen is a story about teenager Ever Harding.  Ever is in her senior year of high school and an avid swimmer.  The story starts with a break up scene with her boyfriend of three years, Michael.  I have to say that the emotion in the scene was palpable and I think Heather Allen did a wonderful job of conveying the heart break Ever felt in those opening pages.  Ever certainly wasn’t expecting Michael to break up with her, and it is the start of many unexpected things that Ever must come to terms with.
The early stages of the story deal with Ever’s recovery from the break up, including having to face Michael out on a date with another girl.  Ever then encounters Jack: mysterious, gorgeous, eye-colour changing Jack.  I appreciated the ‘recovery’ period for Ever as it made the beginning of her relationship with Jack a little bit more believable.  I wouldn’t have bought her starting to have feelings for another guy quite so soon after the devastation from Michael if some effort hadn’t been placed on her getting over him.
Ever is a very capable swimmer and has a strong connection with water.  She uses her swimming to take time out and gain space from everything going on around her and it’s not until she ventures to the beach with Jack that she truly discovers the depth of her bond with the water.
Jack is a rather elusive character and I will confess to not really feeling a connection with him.  There was a bit too much mystery for me to believe he was everything I think he was supposed to be.  Ever and he definitely had something going on, the warm tingly feeling between them was just the tip of the iceberg, but I had this underlying question mark on Jack which meant I was never fully cheering for him and Ever.
There is a lot to this story, lots of important detail, and I found myself having to flick back and re-read bits because I felt like I was missing something a couple of times.  On re-reading I realised that I’d missed the significance of a particular detail, so from that point I tried to ensure I read a lot more carefully. If your preference is to not have to concentrate closely when you read, Just Breathe may not be an ideal choice for you. 
As the synopsis of the book says, Ever is forced to make a choice between a life on land and a life in the sea.  I really felt for her in having to make that choice as it seemed to me that she was given very little information by the ones that were supposedly going to tell her all she needed to know.  Both her Gam-aw and Jack told her very little and this had me questioning whether someone in her situation would actually choose as she did.  This might have been because I didn’t fully trust Jack (there was just something about him that I was wary of) but it didn’t seem to me that Ever fully understood the consequences of the choice she was making.  There was also much made about ‘no going back’ once the choice was made and yet it didn’t actually seem to be the case – which I found a little bit confusing.
As I neared the end of the book I found myself watching the percentage complete on my Kindle, and kept thinking “man, there’s a lot to wrap up in not a lot of time”.  I read the final paragraph and moved on to the next chapter, only to discover it was the Acknowledgements from the Author and I had to flick back to see if I’d accidentally skipped two pages rather than one.  I was really frustrated with where the story ended as I didn’t feel like anything was truly wrapped up.  The ‘About the Author’ page promises that the Just Breathe novels will be a trio when finished, which is a plus, although I think a teaser for book two would have been beneficial to give some sense of closure to the first book.  I understand that book two, Barely Breathing, is very close to release.

Overall I enjoyed Just Breathe, the story is intriguing and the world of the mer-people created by Allen is one that I would like to know more about.  I’m also keen to know what happens next for Ever, for Jack, for her brother James, for Jack’s sister Amber and not to mention more about the new ‘hottie’ Alex, who we meet in the last stages of Just Breathe.

Moving Forward by Erika Taylor

3 out of 5 Stars
"A Fireman, a Drummer and a Super hero walk into a bar ....
yeah, there's no punch line, that's just a fantasy of mine"
I adapted that from a picture that hit my Facebook news feed a little while ago.  If you can relate, then Moving Forward is a book you may want to pick up.
Let me introduce Derek Jordan, fireman, drummer, single dad and genuine nice guy.  Light brown hair, ice blue eyes, model good looks and did I mention he's a fireman and a drummer??  Derek has watched Jesika from afar for a while, not in a crazy stalker kind of way, but in the "oh my god she's beautiful and wouldn't you know it married" kind of way.  Respectful and reverant is probably how I would describe the way he has been aware of Jesika and his interest in her.  A first hand encounter, in less than ideal circumstances, only adds to Derek's feelings and leaves him with a glimmer of hope that maybe, if he's patient, there could be a future for them.
Jesika Reynolds, a loving mother and wife, completely devoted to her husband Jake and son Jaxon is devastated when Jake is killed in a car accident.  Moving Forward starts off twelve months after his death, at the point where Jesika is grappling with her love for her dead husband holding her back from living her life and being happy.  She is trying to make choices that won't disrespect the love she had for Jake, but will allow her to be the best mother she can for Jaxon and have a life that is fulfilling and happy.
Jesika and Derek officially meet at a career's day at their children's school.  Neither can understand the undeniable connection they feel.  They cautiously start to explore their feelings for each other and the story follows the development of their relationship, in which Jesika and Derek must deal with issues from their pasts before they can truly 'move forward'.
There are lots of connections or history between characters in this story, although they don't all know this at the same time.  For me this added a level of intrigue to the story as there was no 'inevitable' outcome, although in the end it did wrap up fairly predictably.   A couple of times I found myself wondering whether there was a yet to be explained significance to a character and thought it would have been good to develop the story more in some of those situations.  For example, Jesika's best friend from college, Holden, makes a couple of appearances and for me his contribution to the story was very limited and I wasn't really sure whether there was more to uncover about him.  There were other unanswered questions for me, which was a little frustrating.  I did wonder if they were deliberate and will form the basis of future books by Taylor.  I think the book would benefit from at least one more chapter before the Epilogue.  The last chapter finished with a fairly intense scene and I would have liked just a little bit more story before jumping ahead a few months. 
The story is told from both Derek and Jesika's point of view (alternating chapters) and I really like this style.  I like to see things from both perspectives and I think it helps the reader develop a greater understanding of the characters.  There is also a great "supporting cast" in Moving Forward, in particular Jesika's best friend, Mallory and Derek's brother, Seth.  They are both avoiding commitment and, on the face of it, only in the whole relationship game for the sex and the 'fun'.  We learn that Seth has had a heart breaking encounter previously and as a consequence guards his heart closely, although he argues that his rocker lifestyle and prioritisation of the band is what keeps him from tying himself down.  Mallory just seems to have a knack for picking the wrong guy, the type that always ends up breaking her heart and despite her outward confidence I think there is definitely more to her story.  The relationship that develops between these two is a side story, but you are interested to know where it's going to go.  The final chapter in the book is from Mallory's perspective and sets up the next instalment in the Timing is Everything Series, No Going Back, which is Mallory and Seth's story.

I enjoyed Moving Forward.  The pace is fast, with some steamy love scenes and did I mention that Derek is a drummer  ;)  Definitely one for the more mature audience given some of the language and sex scenes.  

Three of Spades by W. Ferraro

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Three of Spades is the second book by Wendy Ferraro about the men of Hamden, with a particular focus on Dylan Cross.
Clearly established as the 'bad boy' in Three of Hearts, Dylan is renowned for his love em and leave em attitude. With a history of a steady string of short term, primarily physical relationships, the last thing Dylan anticipates is falling for Natalie.
Natalie Parker, a kindergarten teacher spends much of her time caring for her dying mother, Gloria. Gloria decides she needs to be "cruel to be kind" to ensure Natalie does not spend the rest of her life alone after her mother dies. As a consequence, Natalie seizes on a strategy from one of the many books she has read and decides to pay a man to pose as her boyfriend for her mother. Given her lack of relationship experience, Natalie decides she'll use the opportunity to learn about the physical side to a relationship as well.
With her strategy set and time slipping away, Natalie propositions Dylan for the role. Dylan negotiates what he considers to be an appropriate fee, establishes some terms and conditions of his own and sets out to 'educate' Natalie as best he can.
While a little predictable, the developing relationship between Dylan and Natalie is a delight to read. Dylan takes his role of 'boyfriend' very seriously, with a particular focus on his role as teacher in the bedroom. Some of the love scenes between the two are incredibly steamy and Natalie blossoms under his tutelage. As the time of their 'arrangement' draws to an end, it is apparent to both of them that there is more to their relationship than either of them intended. The question is, will Dylan and Natalie admit to themselves and each other, precisely how they feel?
There are other elements to the story that add to the intrigue and uncertainty of the outcome. We meet Natalie's brothers, Reggie and Sam, both of whom treat her badly and are trying to manipulate the care of their mother for their own benefit. We see glimpses of characters we met in the Three of Hearts and it's nice to see how their relationships are developing. There is even a disgruntled employee of Dylan's in the mix, that could have added a greater level of angst to the story if that part of the plot was a little better developed.
I really enjoyed Three of Spades, more so than Three of Hearts. There is something satisfying about a 'bad boy' coming unstuck in the game of love - although Dylan Cross is not as bad as he'd like people to think.

Ferraro includes an excerpt from Three of Diamonds at the end of the book, which, along with some of the scenes involving Wes Thompson and Lola, the new bartender at Cal's, within the book has peaked my curiosity for the next instalment in the stories about the men of Hamden.

Three of Hearts by W. Ferraro

3 out of 5 Stars
Three of Hearts is the first of three books by Wendy Ferraro about the men of Hamden.  In Three of Hearts we meet Seth Finn, handsome widower, successful construction company owner and father of three.  Seth lost his wife Maggie five years earlier, shortly after the birth of their third child, Megan and since that time has not been able to face the prospect of another relationship.  Caring for his children and ensuring the success of his business has been his primary focus, until he meets Mae.
Mae Turney is an oncology nurse who relocates from Boston to the town of Hamden.  She moves into the apartment that adjoins the home of Seth and quickly befriends his three children Conner, Aidan and Megan as well as his housekeeper Lynne and sister Robyn.
Mae is not your 'typical' female lead - Ferraro has created a character that is intelligent, independent and also refreshingly curvaceous, rather than the svelte,  catwalk model figure that usually features in romance novels - this was a nice change, although almost a little overdone with repeated references to Mae's curves and 'womanly' features.
For me the relationship between Seth and Mae moved a little too quickly, particularly given there were children to consider. They had only spoken a few times, and Seth was a little rude on at least one of those occasions, before they were all of a sudden in the middle of an intense, physical relationship.   The connection between the two characters was real enough, I just thought the pace at which they moved was a little unrealistic.  
There are some great supporting characters in this story - bad boy, Dylan Cross: Seth's business partner and life long friend;  Robyn Finn: Seth's sister and the one responsible for bringing Mae into his life, Wes Thompson: another business associate and good friend of Seth; and Lynne O'Shanahan : Seth's fiery irish house keeper - all add some interest and help to keep Seth honest with himself and Mae - much to his annoyance!
As with any good romance novel there's an event that puts Seth and Mae's relationship to the test.  Without wanting to disclose the detail I was really disappointed with Seth, his behaviour in the heat of the moment was appalling - I think we were supposed to consider it part of his 'fiery' Irish blood, but for me it was extreme and difficult to recover from.  I was also a little disappointed with the resolution to the issue - it seemed like some important things were glossed over and it just felt like the conclusion came about too quickly and easily.
Having said that, I enjoyed Three of Hearts, it was a quick read with enough substance to keep me engrossed in the story.  Ferraro creates some strong characters and writes some steamy love scenes.  Three of Spades is the second book in the series and I'm moving on to that next to learn more about Dylan Cross.

Nowhere to Run by Nina D'Angelo

4 out of 5 Stars
Let me start by saying how excited I am that Heather has let me join Into the Night as a guest reviewer - I just hope I do her justice!  
My first review is for Nowhere to Run by Nina D'Angelo - who happens to be a fellow Aussie (I almost feel like I need to declare a conflict of interest because that's enough for me to already think she's awesome!!).
Nowhere to Run centre's around Stephanie Carovella, an investigative journalist.  Intelligent, driven and fiercely loyal Stephanie will do whatever it take to keep those she loves safe, including walking away from everything and everyone she loves.  
Having left her life in L.A. behind without so much as a goodbye to a number of her friends, Stephanie reluctantly returns following the brutal murder of one of her closest friends.  Before Stephanie can identify who is responsible others are killed in startlingly similar circumstances and Stephanie is forced to acknowledge that she is central to the deaths mounting up around her.
 Nowhere to Run is an outstanding "who dunnit"  - the entire time I was reading I was wracking my brain trying to identify who the bad guy was.  There were so many possibilities and just when I thought I had it, a new piece of information would present itself and I be looking for a new suspect.
The supporting cast adds great value to the story.  I particularly liked Gena Evans, the gritty LAPD Detective with a love/hate relationship with Stephanie.  Despite the fire and venom that only good female friends can generate, they are loyal and as Jake points out to Gena at one point "when the going gets tough, you two unite and you're one hell of a formidable team".  
There is a good mix of mystery and romance in the story - not only are you trying to work out who the killer is, but you're wondering what is going to happen in the relationship stakes for the characters.  The murders are rather gruesome, with fairly detailed descriptions provided of the injuries inflicted on the victims.  If you're at all squeamish you may not enjoy those parts, but it is fairly important in establishing the psychological profile of the killer.  
Nowhere to Run caught my interest early and kept me hooked - right to the end.  If you're a fan of Patricia Cornwall or TV shows like CSI/NCIS then I think you'll enjoy Nowhere to Run.  Nina D'Angelo cleverly sets up the second book "Nowhere to Hide" in the Epilogue, and I for one, will be looking to read the next book in the Stephanie Carovella series.