Discovering Rafe by Sara Blackard

Discovering Rafe by Sara Blackard
Stryker Security Force, Book 5
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Her brother’s best friend has always held her heart. Now that she has his attention, will her happily ever after be ripped away?

Piper Fields finds contentment in managing her cousin’s music career from the safety and anonymity of staying behind the scenes.
Since her parents’ death at barely thirteen, Piper’s fear of losing others has kept her focused on caring for those she loves. Meanwhile, her own dreams have been left backstage. Not that it really mattered anyway. Her dreams were out of reach and so was her brother’s friend, Rafe Malone.

Rafe Malone approached life with a firm desire to safeguard those who couldn’t protect themselves and have fun in the process. That all changed the day a mission for the Army turned south, forcing him to take the life of a child soldier. Now, the jokester mask he wears to hide his pain is put to the test when his best friend’s sister needs his help. No matter how hard he tries to convince himself he shouldn’t taint her with his tarnished soul, her nurturing presence tempts him to break the bro code of staying away from your friend’s sister.

Can Rafe keep Piper safe when the evasive threat turns deadly? Will Piper trust what she’s discovered in Rafe or is it just another childish daydream?

This is another awesome book sure to please romantic suspense readers. Rafe had a stronger role in the last story, Crashing into Jake, because it’s a tag-team setup for Discovering Rafe. In the last story, Chloe and Piper were cousins in trouble from a stalker. In the end, readers found out that Chloe wasn’t the target, Piper was. Discovering Rafe picks up from there. Interestingly enough, this book could still be read as a standalone because the first two chapters recaps what triggered book 4, but this time the hero is Rafe and it’s from his perspective. I really enjoyed the extra details that the author included this time around. It brings the enjoyment factor to a whole other level because I’m getting the whole picture. This time I got to see Piper’s point of view at my favorite bonfire scene from the previous book. It’s just as fun and yet it has a more robust feeling to it because now, I get to see inside Rafe’s head as he sees Piper for the first time in a style of clothes she’d never worn before. The password still is cute, but I got to see a tiny bit more backstory to it, which made me smile.

One of the conflicts is a well-known one – don’t break the bro-code and date or show more than brotherly interest towards your best friend’s little sister. That’s a major no-no, and it’s also one of the rules most fun to break – if done right. I believe Ms. Blackard did it right.

Like I mentioned above, the other conflict is external – the stalker that is after Piper. That’s the major mystery that causes stress, suspense and a great plot mover.

Another thing I liked about this novel, is reading all about Rafe and Piper’s childhood memories and their relationship. It made their romance that much more interesting and heartwarming. Until it wasn’t. Until the very thing Rafe worried about comes to pass. He broke the bro-code and has to face the music. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the stalker is even more tech-savvy than anyone gave him credit for. Readers are in for some intense scenes that, for me, made it almost impossible to put the book aside and go to bed at a decent time. Nope, I lost some serious zzz’s powering through this novel. I couldn’t leave myself with a cliffhanger. Who could sleep wondering if Piper would escape? Would she be rescued? Would they get to her time? Who WAS the stalker? How did he keep finding her? The answers amazed me, floored me and kept me wide awake.

As for whether I like the hero and heroine. Absolutely. Piper is loyal, caring, a bit of a worrywart and always puts other’s needs ahead of her own, including her cousin Chloe. Their relationship is more like best friends than merely cousins. Piper has a guardian-type personality and while that’s good, Rafe recognizes, eventually, that she deserved more. Who’s looking out for Piper? That’s when it solidified for me that they were perfect for each other, that their love was going to be a strong force which in turn brought out the best in each other, for the other. It’s wonderfully romantic, well, between the scenes of sheer terror, excitement, and the great climactic confrontation with the stalker.

I made light of the internal conflict of the bro-code regarding Rafe, but there is a darker issue that plagues the hero. His jokester persona has taken a hit and he’s now using it as a cover to hide behind. It is a serious conflict and I know for a fact that it’s a real thing, that it can haunt a soldier to the point of despair. It’s a bleak reality no matter that it happens in a time of war – it’s killed or be killed – but knowing that fact doesn’t make it any less painful. It’s another reason why I am so very happy that he gets his own happy ever after with Piper. If anyone can help him heal, it’s her. They are awesome together.

There’s a lot more that goes on in the story that I could go on and on about. I do have to mention secondary characters – Derrick. There’s a scene where he reminds Rafe about Hunter and his words of wisdom from the Bible. I haven’t read Hunter’s story but I’m going to. There are so many references to him throughout the series, I feel like I should know him too. Anyway, that scene with Derrick really made an impact on me. The way the author wrote it was powerful and Rafe’s response, even more so.

I simply can’t get enough of this series. Their romances are sweet, almost sensual, and the restraint the heroes and heroines practice even though passion rides them hard at times, shows amazing strength of character. It also makes a lot more sense to me than those other stories out there where, in the middle of do or die crisis situations, somehow the main characters always seem to dive into heavy-duty make out sessions. I don’t need that in my romantic suspense stories, and I’m so glad I discovered Sara Blackard’s books. They have top-notch writing, awesome heroes and heroines, and plots and stories I can really sink my teeth into. The pacing is always spot-on and never once, in any of the books I’ve read so far, have I been tempted to fast-forward. Every chapter, piece of dialogue, action scenes or passages of description and details, worked for me. Even the HEA was awesome. I am a very happy reader.

No Choice at All by Denise Carbo

No Choice at All by Denise Carbo
Granite Cove series, book three
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

One night. One choice. Changes everything.

One single moment can change a person’s life forever. Moving to Granite Cove was supposed to be Rebecca’s fresh start. She has a firm no dating rule. There’s no time or room in her life—and she has horrible taste in men.

One impulsive decision threatens all her careful planning. The handsome stranger she never thought she’d see again keeps showing up, weakening her resolve.

Love is a fairy tale only the young and naïve believe in. How will he change her mind and heart and teach her to trust?

I’m a firm believer in the statement, “One single moment can change a person’s life forever.” Let’s take that statement and apply it to reading a book. I believe a great book can influence a person’s life forever. The story No Choice at All is one of those books.

I believe in “love at first sight” and fairy tale romance. The heroine, Rebecca, has baggage. Honestly, who doesn’t these days? One night Rebecca made a choice that changed her life. She met the hero, Ian. Ian is “book boyfriend worthy”. I fell in love with Ian right away. His sense of humor was the highlight in this story for me. He had his work cut out for him to pursue Rebecca. I’m so thankful he was persistent and never gave up.

Rebecca and Ian’s love story helped pass time while I was flying and delayed at an airport. Their chemistry was a bit warm at times which made it a little awkward being in the middle seat on the plane. I was a bit worried that the people on either side of me was reading my iPad screen during a sensual scene. I wasn’t worried enough to close the iPad though… Nothing was going to stop me from reading except perhaps the plane crashing.

I had no idea this book was part of a series until after I finished it. Apparently, it’s book three of five. It’s safe to say that this book can be read as a standalone. Now that I know about books one and two, I am interested in reading them. This was my first Denise Carbo book, and I enjoyed her writing talent.

The cast of characters are relatable and well developed. I think Ian’s family sounds like the ideal family. Rebecca will fit in like a missing puzzle piece.

While this is a contemporary romance, I found it to be inspiring. It takes courage to learn to trust again. Just when you think that there is no choice at all is when you actually discover that you do have a choice. It is a leap of faith to open your heart. I appreciate books that influence me to have hope.

This book demonstrated what unconditional love really is. I highly encourage others to give this book a try. This truly is a heartwarming story.

Crashing into Jake by Sara Blackard

Crashing into Jake by Sara Blackard
Stryker Security Force, Book 4
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

An injured ex-soldier struggling with being a bodyguard. A country music darling with an eerie stalker. Can he resist her allure to get the job done?

All Jake has ever wanted was to serve his country, get married, and raise a family.
When a mission goes wrong, leaving him with a prosthetic leg and raging nightmares, his plans for the future lie shattered like his career. He joins his brothers-in-arms at Stryker Security Force to help protect others, determined to find contentment in his job as a bodyguard — until protecting Chloe Rose makes him long for more.

Chloe Rose dreams of getting her break as the next country music superstar.
Though her parents would rather she buy her way in, Chloe will make it on her own or not at all.
An invitation to a Colorado music festival has Chloe believing her time has finally come. But when frightening messages arrive on her doorstep, she’s forced to hire protection. Jake is an attractive surprise, and sparks fly when he shows up.

Can Chloe trust Jake when the malicious attacks threaten all she’s worked so hard for? Will Jake’s disability keep him from saving Chloe and the love he’s found in her?

I don’t believe I’ve ever read about a heroine who has to deal with celiac disease before. It was eye-opening for those like me who really don’t understand how it affects a person’s life. The one thing about Chloe, and it caused me to respect her character, is that she refused to dwell on what she couldn’t do, but on what she could. It helped that she had her wonderful and supportive cousin, Piper, who is an important secondary character throughout most of the book, at her side. Their relationship was a strong part of why I liked this story so much.

The first chapter delves into Chloe and Piper’s backstory and provides key information for things that happen further on. What tickled my funny bone was the question, “When have I steered you wrong?” and the other person started listing all the crazy things they did, which got me to laugh. It also dogged my memory as to where I heard that phrase before until I remembered, and I laughed all the harder. Cleo from Clifford, the Big Red Dog always said that phrase right before she did indeed steer T-Bone and Clifford into some zany escapade. Gosh, my kids haven’t watched that in years, yet I still remember. And Chloe, in Crashing into Jake, totally had those ‘Cleo’ vibes going when she suggested they have a clothing bonfire. Yeah, that didn’t go quite as planned. *insert snicker*

If Chloe is an unusual heroine, her match is the equally fascinating and unique hero, Jake. If you read the first three stories, then you know that he suffered an injury in his last assignment for the military. Readers don’t have to read the books in order since they are pretty solid as standalones, but for those that have, they’ll remember Jake lost his leg below the knee. His prosthetic doesn’t slow him down, it doesn’t stop him from being perfect hero material, but it does challenge him, and he ends up using the device in a most unusual way. It was pragmatic, but it still made me grin.

The external conflict stems from threatening notes Chloe receives. It creeps them out badly enough that when Piper’s brother calls and they fill him in, the next thing I know, guys from Stryker Security Force are at the girls’ door. That is when the story takes off and the adventure begins. It turns out that both ladies know one of the two men that respond, Rafe. He’s a secondary character in this book, but like Piper, is integral to Chloe and Jake’s story and romance. This is also the point when I realize that this book series is starting to sound like a family community, and it feels nice.

All the chapters afterwards are filled with awesome dialogue between Jake and Chloe, Piper, Rafe, Zeke, and my favorite little princess, Eva. There are balloon rides, an avalanche, and a restaurant scene that showed Jake’s hero side when the ordered food was practically everything that could kill Chloe. That’s when I think the relationship started to change, and Cupid’s little arrow started to have its effect. Then there are the scheduled ‘kissing times’. I’m not about to explain what that means – it would spoil the fun. I was entertained and I enjoyed watching their love grow, until their own internal conflicts mucked it up. Sometimes more communication leads to not enough communication. Leave it to little Eva to stomp her feet and give ‘Uncle Jake’ the what-for when he needed it most.

I enjoyed the romance, the story and all its characters. They’re really growing on me. The affirmation of Jake and Chloe’s love was very public and wonderful. I’m not sharing how that comes to pass. Also, there is an epilogue but it’s more of a teaser into the next book, which, as it turns out, is Rafe’s story. I am extremely curious what I’ll find when I read his book. He’s a jokester, the one that smiles and somehow finds the fun in any situation. But, as in real life, those that laugh the loudest and work the hardest while making it look easy in order to make everyone smile around them, oftentimes are the ones that hide deep pain. As a hook, it’s perfect. You know what I’ll be reading next. As for Crashing into Jake, it’s a great read with a wonderful romance story filled with great character development, camaraderie, dialogue from all the cast members, and a happy ever after ending that satisfies. It’s another keeper to go with the first three books, that’s for sure.

A Magical’s Gift by Maya Tyler

A Magical’s Gift by Maya Tyler
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Romance
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Rose

The feud between fairies and wizards is an ancient threat in the magical world. Yet peace is possible. The child of a fairy and a wizard could reunite the factions of The Annunaki and end the unrest.

Niall Warde had been a carefree soul trapped in the rigid, ordered life of a wizard apprentice when he discovered the girl of his dreams was a fairy. He would never know if their forbidden love could survive because she disappeared without a trace. Unable to find her, Niall blamed his father for Amelie’s disappearance and left home without looking back.

Amelie Ricard knew she had to protect the baby she and Niall created. The fairies don’t want peace and her mother, their leader, would stop at nothing to prevent armistice, including killing her own grandchild. So, she must leave her son Kurtis with his father to be raised as a wizard. She left the infant on the steps of his father’s cottage then disappeared, also leaving behind the only man she’s ever loved.

Thirty years later, Niall is called home for his father’s funeral where he reunites with Amelie. When Kurtis’ life is put into danger, Niall and Amelie must face the demons of the past to protect him.

Neither can bring back the past, but can they have a future together? Will their son unite their people in peace?

Technically this book can be read as a standalone – the story is complete in itself. I have not read the other books in the series, and I was never lost. Saying that, however, I believe this series should still be read in order, as there are undercurrents in the book that I think I would have understood better had I read the earlier books.

With that, I quite enjoyed this story of Niall and Amelie. They certainly fall hard and fast. I would have preferred a bit more set up in the development of their romance, but that’s just a personal preference.

The background concept itself is intriguing – fairies and wizards at odds with one another. It was interesting to see this take of that, and I’m interested in getting the earlier books in the series and then re-reading this one…. I would love to see more information about what happens during the years Niall and Amelie are apart, and I feel like those earlier books will help fill that time in.

Looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Celebrating Tina by Sara Blackard

Celebrating Tina by Sara Blackard
Stryker Security Force, Book 3
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

A K-9 handler determined to prove she belongs. A detective with an unwavering plan. Can they overcome their painful pasts and accept the gift of love?

Tina West has spent her life feeling like she stood on the outside, but since taking a job at Stryker Security, life seems to be turning for the better.

Tina never imagined when she took a job as a nanny she’d end up training for search and rescue. Yet, when her boss shows up with a retired military dog and the opportunity to train with him, Tina snatches up the chance to help those who are lost.
If she saves enough people, maybe she could find meaning in a life that left her with nothing but a bruised heart and a tarnished picture of family. As holiday festivities loom before her, she wonders if she’ll ever shuck the regrets that haunt her dreams and keep her from connecting with others.

Milo Bishop’s every move has been to take care of his mom and younger brother.

Since his father’s murder, Milo has worked hard to make sure his mom and brother were provided for. He joined the police force straight out of high school, took night classes so he could move up to investigator, and put his life on hold until his brother graduated from college. But when he is rescued on Thanksgiving Day by Tina West, his well-laid plans take a sharp detour.

When a series of kidnappings threaten to ruin the holidays, can Tina and Milo put aside their doubts and find the abducted children before it’s too late?

Can Tina trust her instincts when they’re put to the test or will children being harmed hit too close to her past for her to deal with? Will Milo put his desires above his family’s needs when a chance at love catches him by surprise?

When was the last time you heard of a nanny turning hero and saving the day? This is the same nanny who had the bomb under her car in Capturing Sosimo. She had guts then and she shines in her own story, Celebrating Tina.

The story opens with her in the mountains, training with her dog for mountain rescue. No fainting young miss, that’s for sure. Tina ends up saving the hero. Again, when has a story started with a heroine saving the hero? I was fascinated by this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Milo is a wonderful hero, even though he needs rescuing in the beginning. He has a chance to redeem himself and becomes integral in helping to solve a suspenseful plot of missing children in the community. One second, they’re with their parents, and the next second they are gone. A parent’s worst nightmare. Tina and Milo eventually work together as a team to try to figure it out. The final discovery was shocking. There was a clever red herring the author threw in the mix, and I was really confident about my choice. Boy was I wrong. The reality was kind of sad in a way, but crime has consequences and justice will be meted out – just not to whom I expected. That actually made this story even better, because for me, I couldn’t say “I told you so’, and I prefer it when a book can surprise me like that.

Another aspect that this romantic suspense has going for it is that Tina and Milo aren’t strangers. They have a past in the town, and yet they really don’t know each other well at all. That changes during the course of the story. Some of the revelations could be a trigger for some readers even though it’s a subject that is shared as a past event. It’s still disturbing because it again involves young children. This time around, Tina isn’t a kid, she’s not helpless and she ends up taking an active role in helping the police with her rescue dog, Scout, at her side.

It’s not all serious though. The scene when Tina meets up with the rest of Milo’s family and shares why she has the car she does, made me laugh. The writing brought their reactions to life, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her explain herself. When Milo met the men from Stryker Security, it was like having to meet the dad before taking the daughter on a date, except there were a lot of intimidating ‘dads’ facing Milo down and giving him ‘mean face’. Wow, that was fun to read. The little girl, Eva, is still as adorable and loveable as she was in the first two books in the series. I cracked up when she called “Uncle Rafe” a stinky winner. Too cute.

Through all the stress and worry about the missing kids, Milo and Tina have time to learn more about each other and slowly their love and relationship grows. When it comes time to show Tina just how he feels for her, Milo turned the romance factor up high and melted my heart. What a wonderful hero.

The wrap up was sweet and wonderful, and included a bit of a surprise from Rafe to top off the celebration. This story isn’t as action-packed as the first two, but it definitely compliments the series and was a pleasure to read. I enjoyed seeing a woman grow in strength and overcome a rough childhood only to find that her perfect partner in life had been in the same town all along. It just took a little hiking accident in the mountains to bring them together. Celebrating Tina was a good read and a nice romance story.

Capturing Sosimo by Sara Blackard

Capturing Sosimo by Sara Blackard
Stryker Security Force, Book 2
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

A billionaire inventor hiding her identity. An ex-soldier determined to protect her. Will her lies compromise their chance at love?

There’s nothing Sosimo Rivas hates more than liars.

But in his new job with Stryker Security Force as private protection for the rich, he sees his fair share of them. Sosimo spends most of his time working on old engines and keeping their clients safe. The first he loves. The second he tolerates — until he meets June.

June’s made billions inventing gadgets for the military.

But the person in the spotlight is a fake, someone she created to hide behind. Her ruse was working perfectly — until her latest invention attracted the attention of the wrong kind of people. Now, she’s forced to hire a bodyguard who tempts her from her solitary life.

Will June be able to trust her protector when all she’s built is threatened? And will Sosimo stand by the only woman he’s ever loved when he discovers the truth?

This story was a surprise. For a change, the heroine is the one with a fortune and she’s an inventor of really cool gadgets. She’s got it all together and things are good. Until the emails come. Until one of her cool gadgets in development garners interest from a mysterious and suspicious person or persons and it’s freaking her out. How do the guys at Stryker Security Force get involved? June, a/k/a Reagan MacArthur, has a dad who can pull some strings that June wants nothing to do with. The compromise? Hire security.

I ‘met’ Sosimo Rivas in the first book, Falling for Zeke, and he intrigued me. Now I get to see what makes him tick. The hero has some personal issues that stem from when he was growing up. It left a lasting impression on his sense of self-worth. You wouldn’t think so since he was and is part of such an elite team of alpha men, but no one is as they seem. The author delves into his background a little bit and I was impressed with his protective instinct. He also had a deep love and respect for his family and his heritage. I totally felt empathy for Sosimo and completely agreed he needs his own happy ever after. But what a ride to get there!

This is an effective romantic suspense that has some teeth. Speaking of which, the scene when June bites into her juicy hamburger made me snort and giggle. The author used her descriptive words and brought the scene to life to hilarious effect. It goes on for a few more lighthearted moments, then the sensual action kicks in for the next chapter. Hot Tamales – I’m not the only one who likes the candy. The plot gets hot in other ways when gunfire breaks out. I was on my seat, scrolling/flipping those pages as fast as I could. The suspense and intensity of the moment was clearly described and tight – written for the most impact. The external conflict was fascinating. The internal conflicts though – those are what grab the heartstrings. They’re the kind that can break the relationship that is slowly building between the two. Building is an apt word. The sensual tension is palpable and June and Sosimo are strongly affected.

Just when I thought there was going to be a breather, a bomb threat rolls in. Yikes! Then Sosimo and June have to go on the run, and somehow, they’re tracked. How?!? That is one of the questions that kept me glued to the novel’s pages. The story turns into a who-done-it because someone is leaking info but who and from where? The suspense was tight. Good thing they picked up a Marine to help out along the way. He was a nice character addition.

I could go on and on about the great dialogue between characters, the depth of their development, how the author gives a reader a little lighthearted breather, like biting into an apple, before sending them down another rollercoaster dip of excitement and thrills. There is so much to recommend this story that I know I have to stop before I stumble and share a spoiler. I mean, there’s a secondary character named Lena who ties in with the beginning of the security force so that link fascinated me, and June’s relationship with her dad kept me guessing if it was good or not. Then came the shocker and I was blown away.

Seriously, Capturing Sosimo is another gem and has to go on my keeper shelf like the first book. So far, the re-readability factor is high and I’m so glad I discovered this series. But like potato chips, I can’t stop at two. I hear there’s another story waiting for me in the wings. I can’t wait to read it!

Penny Gothic: A Romance of Fictitious Proportions by Shelley White

Penny Gothic: A Romance of Fictitious Proportions by Shelley White
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Gypsy magic gone awry. A dubious family legacy.

When Penelope Darling’s grandmother dies, Penny inherits much more than a used bookstore. With only clues from a stack of letters left by her great grandmothers, Penny must find her destined true love… in a book.

Penny needs to convince her hero he’s not an actual book character, while avoiding the book’s determined villain. But convincing her knight in shining armor might not be enough to make a happily ever after.

She also must decide if she’s ready to fall in line with the family legacy, or go with the equally tempting (and totally non fictional) guy next door, and forget the man fated to be hers.

Love operates on its own timetable.

Penny’s snarky personality was a hoot. Her aversion to romance, at least in this specific chapter of her life while she still had so many other goals to accomplish, made it amusing to see how she reacted to the idea that her one true love had already been selected for her without her input. The snide comments she occasionally made about what was expected of her were softened out nicely by her devotion to her grandmother and her best friend. I adored the fact that she had already created a happy, successful life for herself before any hint of romance was so much as whispered in her vicinity. She was the sort of character I’d love to go out to dinner with.

I certainly wouldn’t expect every conflict to be resolved in the first book of a new series, but I would have preferred to see a few more loose ends tied up in the final scene. It ended so quickly that I found myself scrolling through to the final page to ensure there wasn’t another chapter hidden somewhere. The way that last scene was written didn’t feel quite complete to me, although I’m still curious to see what happens next.

One of my favorite things about this story was how respectful it was of its characters. They didn’t always obey the common tropes or plot twists of the romance genre, but they were trusted to wander off into storylines that one doesn’t see in romances too often. This writing style kept my interest levels high from the first scene to the last one. I was never quite sure what the characters might do next or how they’d reinterpret their roles to better suit their personalities.

Penny Gothic: A Romance of Fictitious Proportions is one of those rare books that I’d be equally happy to recommend to diehard fans of this genre, folks who read it occasionally, and even people who may generally not be interested in romantic fiction at all. It worked on so many different levels, and it kept a smile on my face the whole time.

Falling for Zeke by Sara Blackard

Falling for Zeke by Sara Blackard
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

An ex-Army Special Operations member burned once by love. A single-mom stalked by a powerful enemy. Can he risk his heart for her safety?

Zeke has everything he could want.
A multi-billion dollar inheritance allows him to protect others…
… and with the camaraderie of his brothers-in-arms.
He spends his time growing his security firm and keeping his head down. Love is the last thing on his mind, until Samantha and her daughter are in need of his help.

Samantha used to have a comfortable life.
Now she waits tables to put food on her own.
Forced from the life she had built, Samantha works to restore what was lost. With her daughter in tow, she begins a new life in the Colorado mountains. It’s not perfect, but it’s all theirs. But when the tempting Zeke offers to help her, she begins to wonder if love could heal her shattered life.

What will Samantha do when past troubles come knocking? Will Zeke protect his heart or will Samantha shatter his defenses?

Have you ever come to the end of a story and realize you just discovered book candy? Falling for Zeke bowled me over and left me craving more. Especially if the other books are anything like this first romantic suspense story in the Stryker Security Force series; I want to meet EVERYONE on the team.

The book opens with this obviously alpha man being flummoxed and frustrated over a common accounting program. The author’s descriptions made me smile right from the start. I was left in no doubt just how disgusted he was with the whole computer program. I haven’t used it myself, but I’ve heard tell and his thoughts of revenge fit right in with what others have experienced. But none of their stories have entertained me as much as Zeke Greene’s.

The heroine is kind of typical. A single mom, trying to keep herself and her child safe, fed and housed while holding a job that a reader knows from the interchange, is doomed. The author did a wonderful job of building the sympathy for Samantha and her daughter, Eva. I truly believe readers are going to fall in love with little Eva. Sometimes, I swear she steals the show. Samantha has a serious anchor around her neck, people from her past are going to stir the plot and give the hero and his team a chance to shine. But the heroine has some remembered motherly advice from her own mother’s experiences and that plays a role in some of the internal conflict. Family has a tendency to inspire things like that.

The story doesn’t waste any time getting into the drama and suspense when someone tries to steal Eva from school. That starts the ball rolling and it puts Zeke and Samantha right in the thick of it. The pace of this novel is perfect. It more than kept my interest; I was glued to my seat and didn’t want to stop until I read the whole book. There were so many things that happened, lots of great dialogue, and a lot of people to get to know, that I had a ball. Zeke and his team showed that they were more than co-workers, they were a family. I adored how Eva wrapped all the guys around her little finger and scenes that had her and the guys interacting were some of my favorites.

This is a romance story with lots of ‘steamual’ tension … I made that word up because it just fits with how all those kisses and accidental touches affected the hero and heroine. I have no doubts that they both felt the building steam and sensual sparks that flowed between them. If this was another type of story, for sure they’d end up acting on it, but as this novel is a clean romance book, I was able to enjoy a full plot, great character development, and a romance that grew through adversity, respect and trust. Their relationship brought out the best in both Zeke and Samantha; they complimented each other. Nothing proved that better than the scene when a guy tried to once again take Eva and Samantha stepped up to the plate. It was glorious. It was perfect. It was fist-pump time.

I read Falling for Zeke in eBook format and it came with a bonus epilogue. It’s like being told you can have extra hot fudge for free in your sundae. It gave me the happy feels. I enjoyed this book so much, I am stoked to read the next book in the series. If you’ve never read a book by Sara Blackard, then you are in for a treat. This is an awesome introduction to this author’s wonderful writing style. Try it out and see for yourself.

Lucky In Love by Carlene Havel and Billie Houston

Lucky In Love by Carlene Havel and Billie Houston
Texas Brides series, Book 3
Publisher: Chavelbooks, LLC
Genre: Historical, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Recipe for Trouble
Begin with the year 1922, in south Texas ranch country. Take Lucky Livingston, one devil-may-care cowboy bent on revenge. Add Bridget McGuire, a frightened young woman desperate for a place to hide. Stir in a dangerous outlaw, a marauding band of Ku Klux Clansmen, and three inept matchmakers. Spice the mixture with a bank’s missing loot and one dishonest deputy sheriff. Pepper with humor, bring to a rolling boil, and stand back!
Will too many cooks spoil the broth?

Carlene Havel and Billie Houston are new authors for me and taking a chance on them turned out to be a blessing. It’s always a joy to add a new author to my ‘follow the author list’. This book was on my ‘to read list’ for a long time. It is book three of three in the Texas Brides series, but it can be read as a standalone. I enjoyed the story, Lucky in Love, that they created together.

From the first page to the last I was captured, or maybe just wished I was, by the hero, Lucky Livingston. He was dream-worthy, and the heroine, Bridget McGuire, was most definitely in need of a hero such as Lucky. Together they made an entertaining read. Their romance was mostly sweet and endearing. Bridget and Lucky made me chuckle a few times with their bantering. There wasn’t any doubt that they had more than just chemistry between them. They were in love at first sight.

There is mild suspense threaded throughout the plot which made for a quick pace to see what happened next. Trust me, there was a lot happening between the cast of characters.

Speaking of the characters, they were well developed and easy to bond with. What I don’t understand is how this is book three of three when Lucky has two brothers that are available. I would love to read Charlie and Zeke’s story. I did go look up book one and two to read the synopsis to see if they were about Charlie or Zeke and they were not.

Anyway, I have three more books on my ‘to read list’ and I hope they are at least half as good as this one was. Lucky in Love was a fortunate hit read for me. I can easily recommend this story to other romance readers. Happy Reading.

Christmas in Blue Dog Valley by Annie England Noblin

Christmas in Blue Dog Valley by Annie England Noblin
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Welcome to Blue Dog Valley. Home of the Fighting Elk. Population 3,411.

When Goldie McKenzie, DVM, vet to the L.A. pet stars, arrives from Los Angeles to Blue Dog Valley she realizes three things.

Never agree to upend your life when you’re hungover

Pot-belly pigs are not true farm animals

She’s going to need a warmer coat

At first Goldie is nothing more than a fish out of water, with few clients and few friends. But after a less than pleasant encounter with a man whose dog is suffering from a possibly fatal case of bloat, she’s finally earning the trust and goodwill from her fellow Blue Dog Valley citizens. Her clientele grows to include the many farm animals in the town, including a horse named Large Marge, a cape-wearing therapy alpaca, and a yardful of sweater-wearing goats. Add in Kevin, the “worst sheepdog in Blue Dog Valley,” and a Sphinx cat named Airport, and Goldie is having the best time a vet can have. . . aside from the annoying attractive town grump, Cohen, who seems intent on making sure she always feels like an outsider.

With her newfound goodwill, Goldie comes up with an idea to reinvigorate the once flourishing Blue Dog Valley: a Christmas carnival. A petting zoo, pictures with Santa, a baking contest, what more could they want? After only some brief resistance from Cohen and his father, they begin the great plan to reinvigorate Blue Dog Valley.

Will Christmas be enough to salvage this dying town—and be enough to bring Goldie closer to a certain grumpy man?

This was the cutest romance ever. I totally fell in love with this story. The synopsis says it best, “Christmas in Blue Dog Valley by Annie England Noblin is a delightful small-town holiday novel that’s bound to warm your heart with hilarious animal antics and Hallmark movie charm.” Christmas in Blue Dog Valley is the perfect feel-good holiday novel that readers won’t want to miss. It’s the perfect addition to any upcoming holiday or Christmas-in-July roundups!” I couldn’t agree more with those statements. Whoever wrote those remarks were spot on.

I personally love Hallmark movies, so this book was my cup of tea. Speaking of tea, I wish I could sample some of Cohen’s cider. It sounded delicious. Cohen is the hero, and he is kind of standoffish but in a comical way. Goldie, the heroine, has no problem speaking up for herself, especially when Cohen is in a ‘grumpy’ mood. Together they make Wisconsin warm and fuzzy. The winter setting with all the snow was refreshing to read since it’s currently toasty where I live.

The prologue immediately caught my attention making me continue onto Chapter one and so on. I actually couldn’t stop until I reached the end of the story. It was that good. The cast of characters in the small town wee well developed and relatable. In fact, I wish I could meet them and all their pets too. I’d love it if book two came out quickly since I fell in love with everyone in the small town of Blue Dog Valley. If this was a real destination, then I’d put in on my list to go visit someday.

The plot was creative, original and genuinely heartwarming. I personally felt there was an inspirational message of forgiveness threaded throughout the story. The acts of the townsfolk made for the perfect Christmas message, Peace on earth and goodwill to all men.

I’ve never read a book by Annie England Noblin but after reading this story, I’m interested to read another book by her. What else can I say other than this is a must read. I hope you love it as much as I did.