A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

ME
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (516 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Letters from the only man she’s ever loved.

A keepsake of the father she never knew.

Or just a beautiful glass vase that catches the light, even on a grey day.

If you had the chance to make a fresh start, what would you keep from your old life? What would you give away?

Gina Bellamy is starting again, after a difficult few years she’d rather forget. But the belongings she’s treasured for so long just don’t seem to fit who she is now.

So Gina makes a resolution. She’ll keep just a hundred special items – the rest can go.

But that means coming to terms with her past and learning to embrace the future, whatever it might bring . . .

A Hundred Pieces of Me is a book that you hope won’t ever come to an end because it’s a delight to read. However, when you do reach the final word you begin reflecting back on what you’ve just read.

It’s not only a wonderful story, but it forces you to reflect on your own life and what choices you’d make if you could only keep one hundred items.

Ms. Dillon pulls you into the story immediately and you connect with Gina as she begins her journey to rebuild her life. The author also does a wonderful job playing on all your emotions. I think there’s a little bit of Gina in all of us, and that’s what makes you read on.

The dialogue is very natural sounding and despite the book’s 500 plus pages, time flies by as you read more. In fact, you want to read just a little more at each setting to see what Gina selects as her hundred pieces and what background and story is connected with it.

What I also liked about this book was the backstory unfolded slowly and intermingled with each chapter about the hundred pieces. I felt it gave more insight into Gina’s character and why she was choosing a particular item.

One of the endorsements on the back of the book mentioned that it’s a book that you want to read one more chapter before you turn in for the night and that’s exactly what happened to me.  This is the first book I’ve read by Lucy Dillion, but it definitely won’t be the last.

With summer reading season ahead, I’d highly recommend you add this book to your list.

The Unwanted Earl by Ruth J. Hartman

EARL
The Unwanted Earl by Ruth J. Hartman
The Love Bird Series Book 2
Publisher: esKape Press
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (221 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Edelweiss

Amelia Talbot has been issued a death sentence. At least it feels that way. The thought of marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather sends her into a panic. So much so that she sets off on a desperate search to find another man to marry her—quickly.

Conrad Croome, the Fifth Earl of Lofton, knows all too well that blackmail isn’t the way to form a marriage. How ironic that one Amelia Talbot uses a Croome family secret he’d thought long buried to force him to marry her.

Is Conrad doomed to a life of marriage based on an exposed secret, or could Amelia learn to love an unwanted earl?

Could you build a relationship on blackmail? A story of redemption and second chances, The Unwanted Earl tells a love story that definitely isn’t run-of-the-mill.

Conrad Lofton is not a typical romantic hero. He’s clumsy, allows himself to be pushed around by his mother, has an aversion to the outdoors matched only by his great fear of birds and oh yes, was the villain in the first book of this series. He’s a man who’s made some terrible mistakes in his life and mistreated many people. Despite that, I found myself rooting for him from the very beginning.

He wants to change for the better. He’s realized his faults and knows that he has a long road ahead of him before he can be a better man. What really won me over to his side however was his mother.

Lady Lofton is a superb antagonist. She’s controlling, uncaring, cold, and belittling. Due to her own great dislike for the outdoors, she denied her son a proper childhood, as well as teaching him rudeness and cruelty. Yet even she received one short scene in which I felt genuinely sorry for her and life she had created for herself.

The heroine, Amelia, is the exact opposite of Conrad. She loves the outdoors, she loves crowds and parties, she loves to talk, and is lively and spirited. The contrast between the two leads was the backbone of the book and often amusing.

However the story does for the most part lack much conflict. As we see the story from both Amelia’s and Conrad’s point of view, we are never in any real doubt of their feelings for each other. The biggest rift in their relationship originates from a misunderstanding that was cleared up in the very next chapter. I couldn’t help but feel that the fact their engagement began because Amelia blackmailed him into it, should have greater impact on the story and the way the two interacted.

I also felt a little jolted from the story when there was the occasional event that felt historically inaccurate, usually the actions and attitudes of the servants, who often behaved far more freely than would likely have been allowed in that era.

The book does have some excellent humor though. Conrad’s various run-ins with nature and animals were always highly amusing. Lady’s Lofton’s standoffs with Amelia’s own high maintenance mother were another highlight of the book.

Despite being the second book in a series, The Unwanted Earl can definitely be read as a standalone novel. A few incidents are referenced from the previous book, but are explained sufficiently that a new reader doesn’t feel left out of the loop and the book is self-contained for all important purposes.

It’s a sweet and unique love story that kept me interested even when the plot felt occasionally thin, with well-rounded characters that made me care about the outcome. If you’re in the mood for a nice, low-key romance, you couldn’t go wrong with The Unwanted Earl.

After Me by Joyce Scarbrough

AFTER
After Me by Joyce Scarbrough
Publisher: Buzz Books USA
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (290 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

After she’s murdered by a sexual predator, 18-year-old Jada Gayle must stay among the living until she finds and stops the Internet stalker who killed her. When the Afterlife Admissions Office assigns the now “transdead” Jada to a foster home back among the living, she assumes the identity of a newly-dead homeless teen and is expected to simply fit in as she hunts down her killer.

Complicating things even more, Jada discovers that an addendum to her termination agreement was inadvertently left out of her paperwork and means she now must learn to deal with normal human emotions. How can a dead girl be expected to feel anything when life had left her so empty? Then she meets Lew Stanton—captain of the chess team and computer whiz who makes her dead heart beat phantom rhythms in her chest. As if it’s not bad enough to have the hots for a nerd, Jada’s new friend Annalee likes him too.

While Jada deals with all this unwanted teenaged angst, the man who murdered her is closing in on more foolish girls. Jada thinks she has plenty of time to handle her predicament until the night she gets a terrifying message: I HAVE YOUR FRIEND.

Some deaths leave behind loose ends. Now that Jada’s been given the chance to tidy a few of hers up, will she be able to do it?

Jada’s snide approach to the afterlife is quite funny. What really made me like her, though, was how she responded to everything that happened after she was murdered. Not only did it fit her personality to a tee, it blended in incredibly well with how some people react to the type of trauma that she’s just endured. Her character development was superb, especially considering how subtle it is in the first few chapters of this novel. While I don’t know if the author has any intention of fulfilling my wish, this is the kind of book that is absolutely begging for a sequel. I loved getting to know Jada and would be thrilled to catch up with her again very soon.

People in Jada’s position are given special powers to help them complete their missions. Most of her newfound abilities are things that her new friends and foster family wouldn’t notice under normal circumstances, but there are a few things about her that I would have liked to see explained in more detail due to how easy it would be to accidentally reveal them. The powers themselves make a great deal of sense given the nature of her assignment, but it was occasionally hard to believe that Jada was so good at keeping others from noticing the logical consequences of her having them.

The premise of this tale was so unique that as soon as I noticed it I had to know what happens next. Ms. Scarbrough snagged my attention so thoroughly that I actually stayed up past my bedtime for several nights in a row to power through just one more chapter. What really earned this story such a high rating, though, was how the author acknowledged certain tropes in young adult fiction without succumbing to them. It’s hard to dig more deeply into this topic without bumping up against spoilers, but I was impressed by her consistently creative approach to the plot. This was my first introduction to Ms. Scarbrough work, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what she’ll do next!

After Me is a must-read for adults and teens alike. I, for one, will be rereading it again soon.

Uncover Me by A. M. Hartnett

ME
Uncover Me by A. M. Hartnett
Publisher: Mischief: An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (176 pgs)
Other: BDSM, M/F, Anal Play, Fetish, Toys, Spanking, Voyeurism
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

There’s a heart inside every fantasy.

The photos are becoming a compulsion for Carrie. As soon as she wakes up, she feels the need to engage with the readers of her erotic website, Dirty Pictures. No matter how hard she tries to focus on her real life the need is always there. The high is knowing that men desire her.

One day a comment on her erotic website makes Carrie go cold: one of her readers, Brendan, has recognised a landmark in the window of one of her pictures. Brendan knows where to find her and has sent a tantalising private message. His invitation to play was so tempting in no time at all, in a variety of settings, their sensual adventures become wild. Her sexual and emotional reawakening reaches peaks she never imagined possible.

But Carrie finds it difficult to treat their relationship as casual. Terrified of heartbreak, she breaks off her affair with Brendan. Her previous relationship left her in tatters and she’s too scared to take such a chance again. Brendan endured a broken marriage so she’s not alone in her confusion and reticence. But can Carrie ever hope to be more than his fantasy girl?

Carrie is a girl with a blog and a secret.

Breaking up is hard to do. Carrie is suffering from a betrayal that left her reeling. Empty and heartbroken, she finds an outlet in a new blog—one where she takes pictures of herself in sexually explicit situations. No face. She is Maggie, a woman who is fearless and sensual, her body posing in very hot and intimate settings and situations. What starts off as an experiment quickly changes into a pulse pounding obsession that can’t be quenched. Her phone is her addiction of choice and the camera speaks the words she can’t say.

Brendan is a successful businessman and sees Carrie’s blog. Known to him as Maggie, he is captivated by her sexy photos and connects with her online. After he recognizes her building in a photo, he asks to meet her and the story really takes off.

Brendan and Carrie are two firecrackers lighting up the night with their mutual needs and passions. To be seen and to watch. Toys, spanking, sweaty sex scenes that made me want ice water and a host of scenarios kept me turning the pages. Hot. Hot. Hot. The story develops quickly with some interplay between Carrie and her sister and it adds dimension to the character I found refreshing.

Carrie wanted Brendan just for fun. If she kept him at a distance, he can’t hurt her. When he steps over the line and tries to draw her into his private life, things spiral out of control quickly. What started out as a physical “relationship” just got more complicated. Is Carrie able to forget the past and learn how to love? You’ll have to read this luscious tale and find out.

I loved this book for the unique scenarios it presented. The author draws you into each scene and you can feel what it’s like to be that girl taking pictures and posting them online for the world to see. It’s sexy and hot and amazing all at once. When Brendan finds her, you feel the uncertainty and fear—will my job find out? Will he stalk me? It’s all there. So is the heat when they connect. It’s electric and I couldn’t stop reading. Kudos to A. M. Hartnett. I am now a convert awaiting your next novel.

Blogging will never be the same again. Bring on the cameras.

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“G” as in Gone by Cheryl N. Warner

GONE
“G” as in Gone by Cheryl N. Warner
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (41 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Geoff and Cami are the perfect couple. Or are they?

When radio talk host “Geoff with a G” Garner doesn’t come home from work one day without so much as a call, Cami begins to question his loyalty. Of course, it might simply be a practical joke. That’s what his radio show is known for. Or perhaps his anxiety disorder has returned, what with her constant pushing about starting a family.

Geoff’s anxiety has indeed returned, but not because of Cami. His kidnappers want $2.5 million for his release, but will anyone believe the prankster has been taken hostage before it’s too late?

Sometimes what happens after two people find their happily ever after isn’t as straightforward as it might first appear to be.

I enjoyed reading the descriptions of what it feels like to have anxiety. This is a difficult emotion to fully capture in fiction because so many of its symptoms can easily be mistaken for other issues. Tying them all together takes some talent. Ms. Warner pulled it off so well that I briefly wondered if some of the scenes were based on real-life events. They felt incredibly realistic and panic-inducing.

Geoff and Cami’s voices were so similar that at times I had trouble telling them apart. Couples who have been together for a while sometimes mimic each other’s mannerisms, but I found it hard to believe that any two people would have nearly identical thought patterns. While their personalities are eventually described in greater detail, it was done through telling instead of showing the reader exactly how Cami and Geoff are different from one another. I particularly would have liked to see more concrete examples of Cami’s love of organization and Geoff’s strong urge to be in the spotlight.

The humour in this tale caught me off guard. I was expecting to like it based on how intrigued I was by the blurb, but I never thought I’d find as many things to chuckle over during the course of it as I did. Kidnappings are serious business, of course, but the way other characters react to the disappearance of a man known for pulling outlandish pranks was well worth my time.

“G” as in Gone is a solid mystery that I’d recommend to anyone in the mood for something modern and funny.

Lifeline by Kit Power

LIFELINE
Lifeline by Kit Power
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (85 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

FRANK IS IN TROUBLE.

Not the “best call the wife” sort of trouble. Not the “how on earth did I manage that?” sort of trouble. Not even the “I hope to God no-one ever finds out about this” sort. Frank would kill for that kind of trouble right now. But it’s not Frank who’s making that call.

Someone else is. And that someone else is Trouble like Frank has never known.

And now, Frank is discovering that in a survival situation, hope can be as much of a liability as despair…

Pain is a signal that something has gone wrong in a body, but that isn’t the only purpose it serves.

The blurb barely scratches the surface of what this story is about, but in this case that’s a good thing. Not knowing exactly what to expect when I started reading made it even scarier once I realized what was happening to the narrator. It’s difficult to go into specifics without giving away spoilers, but this is definitely something that belongs in the horror genre.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent developing the final scene. It felt slightly abrupt to me based on how much time was spent earlier on in the plot wrestling with whether or not the narrator will get what he wants. The pacing was well-done throughout this piece, but when it ended I felt like I’d been dropped over the side of a cliff. A certain amount of dread works well in this sub-genre, but Lifeline would have easily earned a much higher rating if it had provided a few more details about the last jaw-dropping paragraph.

The fast-paced, thrilling plot lead me to finishing this tale in one sitting. By the end of the second scene I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next because the author had already shocked me with certain twists. I’ve read one other book by Mr. Power so far, and it’s interesting to see how his writing style evolves from one set of characters to the next. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more from him in the future!

Lifeline wallows in the dark, sinister side of the horror genre. This is a good choice for anyone who likes to be scared by things that actually happen.

Bear With Me by Lynn Red

BEAR W
Bear With Me by Lynn Red
A Jamesburg Shifters Novel
Publisher: Yellow Moon Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (243 pgs)
Other: M/F, Masturbation
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Curvy, sharp-witted and slightly self-conscious, Lilah Jorgenson is a raccoon-shifting painter with a white streak in her hair and a longing to find the family – but mostly the MATE – she never thought she’d have.

All she wants is someone to hold her, to kiss her, to… claim her as HIS. But who has the time to hunt down a perfect man? Does such a creature even exist?

Clocking in for what she assumes is going to be a normal night at her job at the Jamesburg jail Lilah’s got no clue that she’s about to meet the bear of her dreams.

Thickly-muscled, widowed, inked-up former soldier Rex Lee spent five years away, but clan trouble called him home. Love is distant memory for Rex – the only thing on the huge alpha’s mind is keeping his cub and his bear clan safe, even if it means the occasional scrape that ends with him in the slammer.

Trekking down the cell block, Lilah stops, dead in her tracks. A bear with wicked tattoos, a massive chest and a pair of arms perfect for holding her tight? Who was tossed in jail for fighting to keep his daughter safe? Maybe that perfect man DOES exist!

When Rex catches a glimpse of Lilah’s two-toned eyes, her luscious curves, and her wicked little grin? The bad boy alpha decides right then he’s found something he never would – a mate to claim, to possess, to make his forever – no matter what it takes.

I enjoyed this roundabout story that takes the present, introduces a crisis , and ends up solving a past mystery all while telling the story of two people falling in love.

Jamesburg is an odd place and I think that’s part of its charm. This time around there are were-unicorns and were-Pomeranians. But they are only secondary characters. The main characters are a were-raccoon with a story and a were-bear with an even darker background. How could I not read this novel?

I like how Ms. Red seems to be able to blend various elements in her stories. There’s comedy, both light and dark, silliness, sex, dark paranormal villains, romance and a zombie with a crush. The villain is kind of two-fold which was interesting because there are times that I think one isn’t a true villain but a victim. There was something the full villain said that made me question the heroine but whatever it might have been was never realized. I had a lot of possibilities rummaging around my brain but they were all for naught. The author didn’t do anything with that cryptic comment. I couldn’t be too disappointed though because what she did do was pretty fascinating in and of itself.

Bear With Me is a standalone story. It starts off with the mayor and his wife so a reader can still find out what’s going on with them since the first book but unlike the second book, Erick and Izzy don’t play a role in the final showdown. They are just there in the beginning to break the ice for this newest tale in the town. This current novel follows Lilah and Rex exclusively. Well, the villain has his POV time too.

Another carryover character is Jenga and Atlas, the zombie bear. Even though Jenga started out bad, he’s actually turning into an endearing, eccentric and fascinating character and he’s a great asset to this series. A reader gets to see a bit more of his character growth and it lends itself nicely to the telling of this tale.

A major factor that I greatly appreciate about Ms. Red’s style of writing is her balance between dark conflict and light humor. This novel could have really been dark and depressing because certainly the villain was a nasty bit of business but the author stops just short of it and injects some comic relief, a hero to the rescue and a heroine who isn’t shy about defending herself and those she cares for. It’s because of the lightness and comedic bent that I keep reading these stories. It has the drama and suspense to appeal to romantic suspense readers, it has the sexy escapades to appeal to erotic romance readers, and it has the silly quips, unique observations about Jamestown’s residents and adorable personality quirks of the main protagonists that keeps me coming back for more. It’s just plain fun.

Atlas has more onscreen time in this tale and the effect is hilarious. He actually helps the hero and heroine save the day but I’m willing to bet readers have NEVER seen the kind of comeuppance that gets doled out to the villain in Bear With Me . I laughed and giggled. Ms Red has a devious and highly entertaining mind.

There are other aspects of the book that I wasn’t clear on, and those are the pesky Edgewood brothers. I sort of understand their purpose in the beginning of the book but I am still confused as to their true motivation and target of their ire. What they’re doing makes no sense and I didn’t feel it was explained well enough for me to accept their presence in this story. That being said, the author made it very clear that they were not nice people and in fact were losers. But angry, petty and jealous bears are trouble no matter which way you look at it. That was their function in the book and in that, they were effective.

There are other people that populate the story that provide emotional insights and motivation for Lilah and Rex and played valuable roles in the conflict. Leena was my favorite.

Bear With Me is a really good tale with lots of diabolical twists and a wonderful romance. It has surprises, sexy encounters, silly humor, a bit of action and suspense and a well-rounded and sentimental wrap up that’s as beautiful a happy ever after as one could wish. I had fun reading this novel and give it a good recommend.