Smash And Grab by Joe Albanese

Smash And Grab by Joe Albanese
Publisher: Books To Go Now
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Short Story (56 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

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Wick and Kenny are both in a bind – desperately needing money but with no real way to earn it. So they hatch a crazy plan. Wick works in a convenience store, Kenny in a liquor store. They arrange for each to rob the other and share their proceeds. Can they get away with their smash and grab plan?

I found this story to be a really interesting premise – and while not all that unique, the freshness of the characters and quick pace of the storyline had me turning the pages eagerly. I really enjoyed the author’s voice – finding it modern and a little bit gritty. The characters and pace of the action made the story feel a bit too young to be described as noir – but it left me with that sort of feeling, as if the characters had been middle-aged men or the scene more grey and dreary, rainy, it could easily have been a hard-boiled, noir style of story. Regardless, Wick and Kenny were mysterious, interesting characters I found myself almost immediately curious about and the fast pace of the story kept my attention throughout.

The plot was simultaneously simple and more complicated than I originally assumed. Two young guys, broke, working dead-end jobs and desperately needing money isn’t unexpected or unique. But the fact it’s so very relatable and easy to understand is what drew my curiosity. The reasons behind why Wick and Kenny both needed the money was far more complicated and helps give depth and layers to the plot that I felt really helped round out the story into being something more enjoyable than an easy heist story. I also really enjoyed that there was a strong cast of secondary characters, all interwoven with each other. This careful meshing of various characters all with different agendas and outlooks really helped deepen the story to my mind.

This is a strong mystery-style of a story, and I felt Wick in particular was a complex and interesting character – a fairly young, regular guy caught up in a difficult situation and wanting to do his best with the hand he was dealt with. I think readers looking for a modern and well-written, quick mystery read should find this to be a good choice.

The Skeleton Lady by Tori L. Wilson

The Skeleton Lady by Tori L. Wilson
Publisher: Books to Go Now
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (64 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Oliver Adams and Kayte Westin have been best friends since the first grade, when Kayte stood up against Oliver’s bully, earning his undying loyalty. The two are neighbors and are now attending their small town of Adairsville, Georgia’s local high school together, counting down the days until summer vacation. Oliver and Kayte both have feelings for one another besides simply friendship, however neither of them have been able to summon the strength required to confess their true feelings.

One day, when the two friends are walking home together after school, they hear a chilling scream from a nearby alley. Kayte rushes to investigate the noise and Oliver follows behind her, making sure Kayte doesn’t get into any trouble. As they come to the alley, Oliver and Kayte notice something strange- there is no one around, and the alley is completely desolate.

Suddenly, everything goes black and Oliver and Kayte awake in separate rooms, chained to old beds and surrounded by concrete walls, floors, and ceilings.

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All of this changes, however, when on Oliver’s birthday, the Skeleton Lady allows him to see Kayte for the first time since they were kidnapped. Having all but forgotten their previous lives, it takes the two a moment before they even recognize each other. Once their memories come flooding back and they finally confess their attraction for one another, Oliver and Kayte realize they must escape The Skeleton Lady’s lair.
Driven by their love for each other, the two must use their mental and physical strength to escape the clutches of their captors.

Will their love be enough to break the grasp of their tormentor’s clutches, or will they die trying? Find out in this exciting tale filled with twists and turns at every corner.

If they ever want to have a chance of breaking free and going home again, Oliver and Kayte are going to have to quickly figure out what The Skeleton Lady wants from them and how they might be able outsmart her. Only time will tell if any of these things will happen for them.

Oliver was a brave guy. No matter what happened to him, he always held onto the hope that he’d figure out a way to escape his captor and find his way back to everyone who missed him. This wouldn’t be an easy attitude to cling to for anyone who went through the things he did. I admired his determination to make it through no matter how dire his circumstances became.

The plot development wasn’t as strong as I would have liked it to be. So much time was spent describing the various ways The Skeleton Lady seriously harmed Kayte and Oliver that there wasn’t a lot of attention paid to everything else that was going on in the scenes. Reading about these characters being tortured without knowing why it was happening made me less interested in finding out what their fate would be than I otherwise would have been.

This was one of the most descriptive short stories I’ve read in a long time. Everything from the outfits the various characters wore to the various ways The Skeleton Lady came up with to cause even more physical and emotional pain for Kayte and Oliver was described in vivid detail. No matter what scene I was reading, I could picture what was happening in it perfectly.

I’d recommend The Skeleton Lady to anyone who loves the gory side of the horror genre.

Not That Innocent by Angel Ray

Not That Innocent by Angel Ray
Publisher: Books To Go Now
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (39 pages)
Other: M/F, Anal Play, Rimming
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Leonardo Morgan—Leo to his friends—was known for two things: running a Website geared towards younger single men and being a notorious womanizer. Leo had affairs with many of his female assistants and he made no apologies for it. That is, until he hired his newest assistant Sara Griffith. Sara was an “innocent” farm girl trying to make it in the big city. Or so Leo thought. An unexpected night of passion between them made him rethink his first impression of Sara and that she might not have been as “innocent” as he initially thought.
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Their relationship blossoms both in and out of the bedroom. Eventually Leo realizes that his feelings for Sara go beyond merely sexual and that he has genuine feelings for her. He wonders—he hopes—she shares the same feelings for him. Can Sara tame this notorious and shameless womanizer?

Leo ran his own website and didn’t mind sleeping occasionally with her personal assistants. But these assistants were usually very young, self-absorbed and fairly useless. Interviewing for yet another new assistant, Leo had to admit there were a number with better qualifications than Sara, but with her big blue eyes, innocent air and gorgeous body Leo gave in to his baser impulses and hired Sara anyway. Leo can’t help but fantasize about the sexy woman and working so closely together he wants to be a lot more than boss and employee.

This is a super-hot short story along the fairly well-known lines of a “boss-falls-for-secretary” style. I was interested to note that it’s told from Leo’s perspective in the first person which I found to be somewhat unusual for women’s romance, but an interestingly different take on other similar stories that I’ve read before. I was a little disappointed how almost the first third of the book was pretty firmly based on Leo alone – except for the brief interview there was no interaction with Sara. While I understand the need to solidify Leo and his character to the reader it felt a little like wasted space in the short length of story. I found myself impatient to see Leo and Sara interact together and while Leo’s fantasies and masturbation scene certainly ramped up the spice factor of the story I’d have far preferred to have those pages show me Leo and Sara getting to know each other better instead.

I certainly found things progressed between Leo and Sara very quickly after that – and much like the title of the story indicates, Sara is nowhere near as innocent or shy as she first makes out to be. While I didn’t find the relationship building between Leo and Sara very romantic at all, the author did a very good job with the erotic element of Sara and Leo’s relationship and they both enjoyed a number of active and explicit scenes throughout the rest of the story.

While there is a solidly “Happy For Now” style of ending I feel this story would fare better with erotica readers and not readers who like a more emotional connection between their hero and heroine. I didn’t mind the lack of overt romance between Leo and Sara, but could understand why their very sexual and not so emotional relationship might not sit as well with more traditional romance readers. Deliciously explicit and very detailed this story won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but is a fun and quick read that is spicy enough to hit the spot when a fast and short story is needed.

The Weekend by Alan Winnikoff

The Weekend by Alan Winnikoff
Publisher: Books To Go Now
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (127 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Over a single weekend two people try to figure out if they are right for each other. In the process, they learn more than they might want to know – about each other and themselves.

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Carolyn and Jeff meet up for a weekend in a luxurious Manhattan apartment on Friday night. Although things don’t go initially as planned, the weekend moves forward and the two work out subtle differences and learn much about each other over the next few days. The story is a smooth look at how life outside of the concerns and confines of work progresses for two individuals who wish to disappear into the city.

Although the story only spans Friday evening, Saturday and part of Sunday; we get a deep glimpse into the lives and motivations of both Jeff and Carolyn. While work is discussed sparingly, we begin to see and understand their true passions and desires. Both individuals are in a time of transition in their lives, both professionally and personally and both individuals lean on each other in their quest to discover who they are as a person.

Deep reflective conversation flows smoothly, laying out the deeper plot. While there is some sex and more sexual tension, there is a stronger focus on the individuality of two people coming together as one in an undecided world. Not to give away any details, the story itself looks at more of the psychological understanding and fulfillment of two people taking time away from a world of deadlines, goals to be met and expectations. The Weekend ends as weekends often do, with a desire for more but still a satisfaction and sense of renewal. Again, just like weekends do, there is a longing for another weekend in the future but a sense that one must work and strive for that weekend if the weekend is to be enjoyed to the fullest.

I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of The Weekend for your own weekend reflection!

Heart of Ice by Sibelle Stone

Heart of Ice by Sibelle Stone
Publisher: Books to Go Now
Genre: Historical, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (213 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Will their passion for each other be a blessing, or fulfill an ancient curse and destroy them?

Lucinda Stafford is uniquely unqualified to serve as governess for the children of a handsome inventor. But, she’s determined to prove to her family she’s not a fragile, pampered heiress who can’t take care of herself. She didn’t plan to be attracted to the man who makes her furious one moment and whimper with desire the next. When danger threatens, can she save two innocent children from a terrifying nightmare?

Grayson Thorne has only weeks to prove his geothermal plant can generate electricity, or he’ll lose much needed funding. He’s desperate to hire a new governess, but shocked when his housekeeper returns home with a beautiful, educated female who awakens long dormant desires. She’s the perfect choice, if he can manage to keep his hunger for her kisses and fantasies of taking her to his bed under control.
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An ancient Icelandic curse hides in the hills, haunting the residents of Thornehús. Grayson and Lucinda may be swept away by passion, but they must face an unspeakable horror that threatens them all.

A temporary position as a governess has left Lucinda with permanent attachments.

Lucinda is a smart, outspoken young woman. Unfortunately these are not qualities that are appreciated by the other members of society. However, Lucinda just can’t imagine herself in the role of a subservient, silent wife. When presented with the opportunity for a taste of independence, Lucinda happily accepts a position as a governess. For someone with no experience with children, Lucinda sure is a natural. I love how caring and patient she is right from the start. She never treats the children like an obligation as past governesses have. Instead, she treats them with respect and gentleness. Her warmth and genuine affection wins the children over almost instantly.

Even though the children take an immediate liking to Lucinda, Grayson has a much harder time accepting Lucinda into his life. While Lucinda and Grayson are physically attracted to each other, their personalities clash frequently. The majority of their exchanges are antagonistic, and while it was entertaining to watch them irritate each other, I found myself wishing they had more positive interactions. Privately they admire, respect and even develop affection for each other. I just with this had been more clearly demonstrated in their actions rather than just their thoughts.

Heart of Ice is mainly a Gothic romance, but there are elements of steampunk present. I must admit that the parts of the tale that dealt with technology did jolt me out of the story a bit, but not enough to ruin my enjoyment.

I was expecting the paranormal element to be a larger part of the story. The curse alluded to in the blurb loomed in the background for nearly the entire book and only became a frightening force at the very end. Even then, it was wrapped up much too quickly. There is very little explanation given on what exactly was going on and why Grayson and his family were being targeted. Despite this issue, the climax of the story is chilling and does come to a satisfying conclusion.

Heart of Ice is certainly an enjoyable read. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical romance with just a dash of the paranormal mixed in.

Lightning over Bennett Ranch by Amber Daulton

Lightning over Bennett Ranch by Amber Daulton
Publisher: Books To Go Now
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (51 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Melody Bennett’s parents trampled on her teenage romance with a drifter ten years ago. He disappeared without a word of goodbyes on the night they had planned to run away together. Since then, she cast aside her foolish notions of happily ever after and worked hard alongside the hired help to care for the majestic horses on her family’s beloved ranch. She refused to give love another chance and resigned to live her life alone.

Max Fortaine returned with a heart guarded by secrets and a sizable bank account that took blood, prayers and tears to fund. The cowboy disrupted Melody’s peaceful existence with stolen kisses and a promise for more. After a lifetime of running, mistakes and regrets, he vowed to reclaim the only woman he ever loved… if only her overprotective father didn’t stand in his way.

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Ms. Daulton has written an easy romance read with a western setting. The story has a feeling of authenticity. It’s something that could happen when two people love each other and one is trying to protect the other. I found it to be an easy read and wanted to shove the two main characters together before they resolved their own issues.

Melody finds out Max is in back in town by accident. The ranch hands are sharing gossip and she knows they are talking about her. She braces them and finds out he has bought a neighboring run-down ranch. She’s still living at home but she’s become a horse breeder and is building her future stock. She works for her father to pay the costs for her and her stock. She decides she’ll go check out Max. That’s either a blessing or a big mistake.

Max has a reason he’s been away for so long but he’s hesitant to tell her. She’s demanding to be told the truth. He gives her part of his reasoning and then asks if she can wait for the rest. He wants to meet with her and her father for that part.

Mr. Daulton shows the conflicts clearly, lets you know the love isn’t dead, and even manages to help Melody convince her parents she knows what she wants. Anybody who has controlling parents will understand Melody’s predicament.

This novella is a short read but it’s worth it. It flows well, has a good story line, and ends well. Take a walk in Melody’s boots and pet her horse. It’ll make you feel better.