Edible Espionage by Dana Volney & Shaunna Owens

EDIBLE
Edible Espionage by Dana Volney & Shaunna Owens
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (131 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Smart and independent, Sarah Zion is a woman who rarely apologizes. As head pastry chef and co-owner of Crazy for Cake, she feels the small business pressure to keep her dreams alive. Winning the grand prize at the Trio Trifecta would be the icing on the cake. She is caught off guard when smooth talking, gorgeous Gavin Arnold folds himself into her life.

When a help wanted sign appears, Gavin jumps at the opportunity to infiltrate Crazy for Cake. He sleeps, eats, and breathes his personal security firm and is on an assignment to stop at nothing to make sure his client wins the Trio Trifecta baking competition, even if that means acing out Sarah’s bakery. What Gavin doesn’t see coming could cost him. Will personal feelings rise above professional obligations?

Sarah Zion co-owns her own bakery – Crazy for Cake – with her best friend, Fiona. Sarah’s delighted when the most edible man she’s seen in months comes into the store, and not even the small disappointment of his not being a fan of chocolate can dampen her appetite for him. Gavin is pleased to find his numerous attempts to get Sarah’s attention have finally paid off. His millionaire boss sent him down on assignment to infiltrate Crazy for Cake and find out some of their secrets. Gavin’s boss and wife were chagrined to come second in the national bake off to the small-timers, Sarah and Fiona, and are determined to beat them at any cost this year. But the more Gavin tastes Sarah’s mouth-watering treats, and gets to know the woman herself, the more he finds himself divided over work and his growing emotional attachment. Will he pick the right side of this food fight?

This is a fun, lighthearted story that I mostly enjoyed. The major plotline of Gavin being “undercover” to discover Sarah and Fiona’s cooking secrets was interesting, but I found it quite difficult to push past it and warm up to Gavin. He’s a charming character, full of good humour, self-analysis and a sexy smile, but knowing from the start that he was there (albeit in a friendly, non-threatening manner) to commit industrial espionage and steal Sarah’s cookery secrets really dampened my enthusiasm for him. The deception lasted a short while (approximately a third of the book) and I have to be honest, Sarah’s reaction upon discovering his secret was really well handled to my mind. But at heart, the deception was a wedge I, personally, just couldn’t get past. I couldn’t make myself relax and go with the flow, to trust in the happy ending when I knew Gavin had purposely tracked Sarah down, connected with her and flirted up a storm simply to steal from her.

I want to point out that other readers may feel vastly different to me. Sarah is not a stupid heroine, and Gavin never let the flirtation go too far beyond the line. I don’t feel he had any desire/intention of breaking Sarah’s hard or really toying with her emotions. So possibly this is just a peeve of my own. It’s not common for me, however, to not warm up to the hero, so it was a different experience for me. I really struggled with this, especially as I enjoyed so much of the rest of the story.

I think it’s also important to point out that despite my lack of warmth for Gavin, this is still a fun, addictive read. I absolutely turned the pages of this story eagerly, devouring the scenes and desperately wanting to know what happened next. There were a few times I had to mentally stretch reality (like when she guessed Gavin’s phone password) but overall I found the situations they were presented with fun and understandable. The authors have done an amazing job with a good story, vibrant and interesting characters and a serious, meaty plot that kept my attention. I found there was a high degree of chemistry between Gavin and Sarah, and a number of steamy kisses, enthusiastic embraces and sexual tension strong enough to melt iron. Apart from a few bumps in the road I really enjoyed this story and will happily try others by these authors.

The Fearful Heart by Cherry Christensen

HEART 2
The Fearful Heart by Cherry Christensen
Publisher: esKape Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (178 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

The heart must be protected at all costs… but will Cassidy be able to afford the price?

Cassidy has distanced herself from childhood friend, Tristan. She’s moved on from their days of best friend-hood and is attending college. And dating one of the most eligible males on campus. Life couldn’t be better. Really.

Tristan has devoted himself to Cassidy since they were children together. But no matter what he did, she’s never treated him like more than her best friend. He knows they can have something deeper. If only he can find the key to unlocking her fearful heart.

Cassidy is finally ready to risk her heart, but is she too late?

Cassidy is a sweet young woman with a beautiful Christian faith that she demonstrates simply by the way she lives. Cassidy is smart, but seems to have poor judgment where men are concerned. Her past boyfriends have been a string of losers. Tristan has always been there to pick up the pieces of her heart. While Cassidy privately acknowledges Tristan’s importance to her, she refuses to take the step toward a romantic relationship with him. However, what Cassidy doesn’t see is that her reticence is pushing him away and she just might end up losing him anyway. In the midst of Cassidy’s turmoil, Keefe blows into her life and immediately begins pursuing her heart. No matter who Cassidy chooses, someone’s heart is bound to be broken.

The love triangle between Cassidy, Tristan, and Keefe is very well done. I really had no idea who Cassidy would choose. Both men are smart, attractive and completely devoted to Cassidy. Keefe is sweet and romantic. Tristan has known Cassidy most of her life and they share a deep bond of friendship that has always hovered on the edge of romance. It is clearly a tough decision, and I was really looking forward to reading how she would choose between men who seemed evenly matched. Unfortunately, something happens towards the end that makes Cassidy’s choice incredibly easy. In fact, I’d say that the actions of one of the characters took the decision out of her hands entirely. I found this a little disappointing. However, I will say that I think she ended up with the right guy, and the ending was very romantic.

The Fearful Heart has several entertaining secondary characters. I particularly enjoyed Cassidy’s roommate Billie and her odd romance with Ethan, a very large football player. I do wish that Ava, Cassidy’s nemesis, had been a bit more rounded. Most of her exchanges with Cassidy didn’t feel natural, and I thought the dialog between them was a little stilted. I will say that the end of the story hinted at more depth to Ava’s character, but it was almost too little too late.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Fearful Heart. Cassidy is a lovely young woman I’d be proud to call my friend, and I truly enjoyed watching her try to sort out her relationships with two interesting men. Fans of contemporary romance might want to check it out.

Her Sister’s Wedding by Jane Ainslie

SISTER
Her Sister’s Wedding by Jane Ainslie
Publisher: Decadent Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (153 pgs)
Heat: Sensual
Rated: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

She’s hungrily pursuing a dream…

Food journalist Mandy Evans is headed for Paris to fulfill her life-long dream of studying art, but not before she has to be a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding.

He’s nursing a burning ambition…

After setting up his latest restaurant, renowned American chef Jake Pearson has a big project booked in Miami, but not before he’s best man at his friend’s wedding.

Is there a wrong time to meet the right person?

Partnered at the wedding, Jake falls for Mandy’s sassy, natural style, and she can’t get enough of his passion for food—and for her. But when it’s a case of finding love at the wrong time, can they find room on their plates for each other?

Ms. Ainslie’s Her Sister’s Wedding is a zippy contemporary romance with a great lead character, Mandy Evans. Mandy does not impress as an exceptionally nice person, yet… her circumstances are intriguing. We quickly discover that she considers herself a journalist though she seems more of a restaurant critic. She dresses well but is underprepared–not impressive.

Still, she has friends. She can rely on her pal Dario, who teases but will help her out. Conversations are quick, witty and believable; typical party fair. Mandy seems a bit like a fish out of water, yet it’s fun to follow her around this restaurant’s big opening party. She becomes a bit more human, especially after we learn she’s agreed to be a last-minute bridesmaid for her sister, and suddenly the whole dynamic changes.

Mandy, we soon discover, is more than the glamor gal we see on the outside, and chef Jake Pearson gains a little inkling of the same thing. Their meeting includes a funny little twist (no spoilers here…but it IS a case of serendipity) but this matters little: by this point, we readers are truly hooked. Mandy may be able to carry off the black dress and stilettos, but she’s also got good intentions, and dreams for the future–dreams that include Paris. A certain coincidence might help out the ‘love story’ but at the same time…those very dreams threaten the whole thing.

Her Sister’s Wedding is a great story, a look at a certain sophisticated lifestyle, and the discovery of some very ‘real’ and engaging main characters. The story line is quick and unpredictable and in many ways just plain fun. The use of incredibly long run-on sentences may be a stylistic choice but are occasionally mind-boggling enough to test your attention span- my one complaint. 4 stars, for a good overall read.

Clockwork Heart by Jeffery Martin Botzenhart

HEART
Clockwork Heart by Jeffery Martin Botzenhart
Publisher: Luminosity Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (60 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Until the end of time…and then beyond…

Would it be a crime against nature to help those in need by the use of unusual and possibly illegal medical procedures? Victoria begs her father, a brilliant physician, to commit such a crime for the man who she has forever fallen in love with. Trevor was critically injured by enemy artillery while fighting on the Western Front. Victoria hopes that through the restoration of his damaged body, their love will flourish once he is well again.

Unforeseeable revelations and unimaginable confrontations create havoc for the lovers. Will Victoria and Trevor find a place where their love will last for eternity…or has time run out?

Medicine has its limits, but sometimes a great doctor can push past them.

This story blended romance and science fiction together seamlessly. It took a little while for the latter to show up due to other subplots that needed to be explored first, but it was well worth the wait. One of the things I enjoy about steampunk is how flexible it can be about borrowing intriguing concepts from other subgenres of science fiction, and there was definitely quite a bit of that going on here.

There was one scene in the middle of this tale that I would have liked to see addressed again in the climax. A character in it mentions something that I also wondered about as a reader. While this issue was discussed a little bit, I think it would have made more sense for it to come up again naturally later on. This is a minor criticism, but I would have easily bumped the rating up to five stars had it been mentioned at least one more time in the plot. I was otherwise thrilled with how everything was woven together.

The biggest reason why I chose such a high rating for this book was due to what happened in the last few pages. This section tied together all of the themes of the plot beautifully. I was especially moved by the imagery in the final scene, and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to end it. It was an excellent introduction to Mr. Botzenhart’s work. I’m excited to see what he’ll come up with next!

Clockwork Heart was fantastic. I’d heartily recommend it to fans of science fiction and romance alike.

My Fair Vampire by Sally Max

FAIR
My Fair Vampire by Sally Max
Publisher: Breathless Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (16 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

What happens when one vampire becomes accustomed to another?

Marion has always reminded Vlad of Miss Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady. Everything from her hair to her accent, and especially her fiery temper. When Vlad’s Eliza quits after being pushed too far, what is he to do without her?

Can an old vampire change his ways?

Vlad and Marion have had an interesting and antagonistic past. From the few brief glimpses I had of their time together, I got the impression that Marion has put up with an unbelievable amount of bad behavior from Vlad. He really takes her presence for granted. I honestly can’t believe she didn’t walk out on him before now. Will Vlad realize just how important Marion is to him before it’s too late?

I do wish the relationship between Marion and Vlad had been explored more. While I was able to get a fairly good sense of their personalities and their relationship, I was left wanting to know a little more about their shared past. Despite this issue, I think that Vlad and Marion make an interesting couple. Marion strikes me as a no nonsense sort of woman whose patience can only be pushed so far. Vlad seems a little arrogant and entitled, but I have a feeling that Marion knows just how to get under his skin. Her reaction to his declaration of love had me laughing out loud.

I think that the conflict between Marion and Vlad was resolved too quickly. Given the way Vlad had been behaving, I definitely think that Marion should have let him stew a while longer. This would have drawn the tension out and added just a bit more suspense to the story. As it was, everything was wrapped up very quickly and felt a little rushed.

Overall, I enjoyed reading My Fair Vampire. Marion and Vlad are fun, and their story is quick and easy to read. Anyone looking for a fast paranormal romance to fill up a few spare moments should check it out.

Naturally Yours by Adele Downs

YOURS
Naturally Yours by Adele Downs
Publisher: Boroughs Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (98 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Who will save a man who saves the world?

Paramedic Mickey Kendall hasn’t slept a full night since his return from Iraq. He rescues victims by day and protects the innocent after dark. Mickey doesn’t do it for glory; he wants absolution, not admiration. He lives by the rule: No personal contact after a rescue. That code meets the ultimate test when Mickey saves a child’s life on a roadside and declines the parents’ invitation to dinner at their upscale restaurant.

Master chef Amanda Greer lives by the principle that delicious food and good company build bridges. When she learns Mickey has refused her business partners’ hospitality, she persuades him to change his mind. The handsome paramedic visits her restaurant and Amanda joins him at his table. Their unexpected chemistry turns kinetic and leads to a passionate kiss.

In Amanda’s arms, Mickey finds relief from the stressors that haunt him, but resists falling in love. When Amanda challenges him to face his demons and accept the love she offers, Mickey arrives at a crossroad. The war-weary paramedic must first save himself to claim the woman who reignites his passion for living and revives his wounded heart.

Mickey is a trained paramedic and stops to help a distressed woman with a child who is choking. Little does he know this will lead to his meeting the woman of his dreams.

Both Mickey and Amanda have trauma in their recent past. When the son of Amanda’s business partner is saved by Mickey he agrees to come to their restaurant for a “thank you” meal and the attraction between them is instant.

I found the interaction between Mickey and Amanda so believable I could see them in the various situations. Mickey, so uncertain of himself that he wouldn’t cross the line and tell Amanda his real feelings and why he was afraid to take the next step. Amanda, thinking Mickey hadn’t found her as attractive as she’d found him. Usual non-communication but done in a way that I could see and believe the thoughts going through their heads.

When at last Mickey gets ready to address his feelings he gets it wrong again. Poor innocent male!

Loved this book. Short but full of emotions and confusion. It brings in the anguish of the past to be smoothed by the romance of the here and now. I found it very enjoyable to read. A book that stands on its own without being rushed or shortened to make it fit.

Chaysing Destiny by Jalpa Williby

 

DESTINY
Chaysing Destiny by Jalpa Williby
Chaysing Trilogy Book 3
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (342 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Will you find your destiny? Or will destiny find you? Lesson One: Follow your instincts. Lesson Two: Trust no one. Lesson Three: Don’t hesitate. Truth is nothing but lies. Light is overshadowed by darkness. Hope is replaced by despair. Innocence is lost. Only anger and bitterness remain. Don’t miss this final installment as destiny’s path is ultimately unraveled in Chaysing Destiny.

A twist that readers will love to hate and but ultimately love!

First of all, I would very much recommend readers to start this series from the first book, Chaysing Dreams. Yes, the first book may not be what you expect but patience pays off. In this case, the second and the third books are very good in every way. I completely devoured them.

The third starts two years after where the second book ends. A lot has happened but to explain it here would spoil the second book’s ending. It’s exciting and shouldn’t be missed.

Tess is in a place in her life where she has to strengthen her resolve and herself for the protection of those she loves. She has great motivation for becoming stronger and more independent.

More than a year later she goes on a mission. A whirlwind of a mission that would give more questions than answers. There’s so much action, so much that happens in this final chapter of the trilogy but it brings the story to satisfying end.

For a lot of readers, this book would probably only be classified as a Contemporary Romance and Mystery. However, in my opinion there is a little bit of Sci-fi in it.

Chaysing Destiny is full of twists and turns and mystery that any reader with a love for the genre will be glad to read.

Cupcakes and Crushes by Keri Ford

CRUSHES
Cupcakes and Crushes by Keri Ford
Turtle Pine Book 1
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (160 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Sometimes there is enough sweet to make up for the bitter.

Years ago, a broken heart sent Annie Cookie running from home, and she’s never looked back—until now. Her grandpa’s broken wrist means the family bakery is at risk of losing two big orders.

Reluctantly, Annie returns to Turtle Pine to help out, only to discover it’s not just seven hundred cupcakes she has to bake, but also a wedding cake for the half-sister who stole her high-school sweetheart. Annie left town to get away from her sister. No way is she getting mixed up with her again. Once the cupcakes are done, she’s outta there.

Back in high school, Cade Revlin hid his crush on his brother’s girl, but when his brother dumped Annie for another Cookie sister, Annie slipped through his fingers and out of town. Now that she’s back, he’s determined to give her a reason to stay.

He’s got one week to change her mind. Or she’ll be gone in a cloud of powdered sugar.

Cupcakes and Crushes is aptly named.

Though Annie has some very fond memories of childhood and school, there are some people she has no intention of meeting with after she graduates and moves away to not only start her career but also to protect her heart from more damage.

When Annie left town Cade was left with a broken heart which Annie had no idea of and when she returns to help her grandfather, Cade has resolved to give Annie cause to stay in town this time around.

Cupcakes and Crushes is not only about a budding romance but it is also about family and community. Miss Ford created characters each so different and yet so perfect for each other.

Annie has three half-sisters, two of them whom live in town. All the sisters are different from each other but I would have liked to know more. Annie despised Tina (one of her half-sisters) and does not seem to think that there are any redeeming qualities in her compared to the others. At times I felt that Annie’s mind is stuck in child mode when it came to her sisters, however I would say that the ending was beautiful and made up for any of that. This is the first book in the series so hopefully the other books to come will feature the other sisters.

Annie and Cade had chemistry and a lot of it but they also had a lot of understanding between them, their relationship was well balanced in every way.

I would recommend it to any contemporary romance lover.

Werewolf Wedding by Lynn Red

WEDDING
Werewolf Wedding by Lynn Red
Publisher: Yellow Moon Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (187 pgs)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

“His voice, Dilly, it was… growly. Like real growly. It got me tingling.”

Life for curvy, witty, just-fine-by-herself-thank-you-very-much Delilah Coltrane has fallen into a slightly boring, but comfortable routine. She runs stadium stairs, she drinks a little too much and is a karaoke master. But for Dilly, a reluctant ice sculptor, the routine is starting to turn into a rut.

Jake Somerset is a man caught between two worlds. When his father died, he inherited both his spot as head of a massively successful tech company… and as the alpha of a pack of rowdy, half-crazed werewolves. Jake figures the best way to say “I’m The Boss” is to get a giant statue made of himself. He walks into Delilah’s studio, and straight into her heart.

The big, growly, adorably cocky billionaire is exactly what Dilly never knew she wanted, until he walked through her door with his dark curls, steely silver eyes, and shoulders broad enough to stop her dead in her tracks. And yeah, his voice is growly enough to get her tingling in all the right places.

While the two indulge in a whirlwind romance, a threat brews on the fringes. Jake’s brother – the exiled alpha-wannabe Dane – wants to take back the pack. Once he finds out about Delilah, Dane won’t stop with controlling the pack… he’s gunning for his brother’s mate.

Will the unlikely pair survive a war with the brutal and murderous rogue wolf? Or will their match made in heaven turn into a match made in hell?

Nothing makes me grin ear to ear than the use of Shatner and Hasselhoff. Ms. Red has a tendency to make me laugh whenever I read one of her books and Werewolf Wedding is no exception. The clever quips and comments she graces her characters with always keep me coming back for more.

This story is kind of typical for a werewolf romance; they eat a lot, growl a lot and have hot tempers. Jake’s werewolf isn’t quite as hot headed as is tradition however and believe it or not, that is one of the conflicts. How can an alpha be so level headed? When he has great character. That’s the conclusion I came to.

Delilah is part delightful and part fluff. She’s truly the kind of a person who I’d want as a friend because she’s steadfast and loyal and she has a quirky sense of humor. She also has a very accepting nature which is fortunate as she has a ton of new information to accept about her life and her future role as a werewolf’s wife. I enjoyed the snippet about the ice dolphin.

Overall, Werewolf Wedding was a fun read. I was entertained, it kept my interest and for the most part I liked getting to know the characters.

I’ve enjoyed most of Ms. Red’s books that I’ve read so far but this one had a few things which made my eyes roll and my breath huff out in exasperation. First, the villain, Jakes brother – he’s either bad or redeemable – there has to be something that gives a reader a clear picture and I got a waffle. The heroine kept noticing details which could have lent credence to a redeemable character but the guy’s words, actions, treatment of Delilah and unrepentant brutish arrogance blew that idea of redemption out of the water and into the stratosphere. I absolutely despised his character. That Delilah’s friend kept making certain types of comments about him made me angry. I didn’t find him alluring or sexy and I absolutely felt no sympathy for him whatsoever. When he had a hold of the heroine’s wrists, the dialogue that occurred thereafter really got my back up. It was out of place and it made the heroine sound like a … I’m at a loss for words. All I can say is, it didn’t complement the storyline. What it did do, and was quite effective, was paint Jake’s brother as a first class villain and he deserved it with a capital V.

Fortunately, there were other secondary characters that I truly enjoyed and respected, like Jake’s mom. She’s a wonderful asset to this book and I wish I could have seen more of her. She has hidden depths and nothing showcased that more effectively than the one sentence after Jake left the room. I can see which side of the family Jake took after. Then there was Barney, the butler. I have fond thoughts for his character, as well as Jeanette, despite her taste in men. They were the bright spots in the novel in addition to Delilah and Jake.

Be ready to use some ice cubes however, because when Jake and Delilah finally, finally finish all the steps of their mating, it was quite steamy and sexy, hence the hot rating.

Werewolf Wedding has its solid moments of pure perfection and fun, making it worth reading. The not-so-great stuff didn’t detract from the romance – it was solid enough to retain my interest as well as keeping me amused and smiling for most of it. I’m glad I read it just because it had a lot of things I do like to see in a romance and Ms. Red made sure they were there for me to find. Because of that, I’d recommend this little nugget to other paranormal romance fans for them to read too.

Echoes by Laura K Curtis

ECHOS
Echoes by Laura K Curtis
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (282 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Who is she?

A single photo of herself as an infant on a beach, taken before the date on her birth certificate, throws everything Calliope Pearson knows about herself into question. Hoping to find answers, she takes advantage of her job as a travel writer to make a reservation at the Caribbean island resort in the picture.

Resort security chief Mac Brody distrusts Callie on sight. After all, she looks exactly like his deceitful missing wife, Nikki, who owns half the resort. But when Nikki’s found dead, Mac’s facing murder charges, and he’s sure that Callie must hold the key to proving his innocence.

The deeper Callie and Mac dive into the mystery of her past, the more bodies surface. And they’ll have to learn to trust each other, or become victims of a dark danger neither could’ve imagined…

After her father’s death, Calli finds a photo hidden behind another when she changes frames. The problem she has with it is that it shows her as a baby in her mother’s arms and it predates her own birth certificate. How did that happen? Were her parents lying to her? Why would they be at that Caribbean resort anyway? She has the perfect excuse to visit the resort; she’s a freelance writer that does articles about vacation spots.

Ms. Curtis writes a fast paced story with a complex plot. She combines gun running, genetics, a secret agency, and a madman all together in a mix of a search for answers and danger. Her characters are real, some a little too real. It didn’t take me long to read this entire book. I didn’t want to set it down and do something else, I wanted to see what was going to happen.

Calli didn’t expect to make an enemy as soon as she stepped in the hotel, but that’s what happened. The chief security guard thought his wife had sent her. After all, she looked like her but was a bit more filled out. Callie had no idea what Mac was talking about, but she knew she didn’t like him and his pushy ways.

As the story goes along, Ms. Curtis introduces you to the madman. You don’t know who he is and you aren’t quite sure what he’s trying to do but he still manages to scare you.

The author paces the story well, keeps spiking your adrenaline with the close misses, and it’s only with the help of the high level security agency that they have a fighting chance. She gives you strong characters and a romance to keep the story interesting. Ms. Curtis did a very nice job on this one.