Hot Water (Heart and Endurance, 3) by J.S. Marlo


Hot Water (Heart and Endurance, 3) by J.S. Marlo
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (198 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Can Agent Sullivan repress his feelings for the woman he secretly loves and use her as bait to catch a serial killer?

Nineteen-year-old varsity swimmer Maxime Tremblay is leery of the string of fatal accidents involving female athletes, but after she thwarts an attack, she can no longer ignore the connection between the victims.

Special Agent Ross Sullivan investigates the deadly events on campus only to discover they are not accidents, the athletes are not targeted at random, and the killer is only warming up.

To protect his only witness, he goes undercover as Maxime’s boyfriend, but as pretense and reality begin to blur, Sullivan faces the dilemma of putting her in harm’s way to stop the killings.

This is my second J.S. Marlo book yet my first book in the Heart and Endurance series. Even though this happens to be the third book in the series, it can be read as a standalone.

I enjoy reading contemporary novels that are relevant to me in some manner. The last ten years my sons have swum competitively, therefore I was excited to read a story about a heroine who was a varsity competitive swimmer in college. Maxime Tremblay was a brave, caring and sweet yet fiery red-headed nineteen year-old woman.
The hero, Special Agent Ross Sullivan, was competent, confident, safe and of course, handsome. He was also slightly older than Maxime. This age difference between Ross and Maxime was an internal conflict between the characters. As a mother of an almost nineteen year old I personally felt the internal conflict but from a parental perspective. Trust me when I tell you that it took an exemplary writing style to enable me to connect with this couple and their budding romance considering my ideal age expectations of a hero and heroine. I honestly struggled a tiny bit with Ross’s nicknames for Maxime. They made me feel he was a father figure at times more than a boyfriend. However they were appropriate in the context.

Maxime was very mature and responsible for her age. It was amazing how she balanced all her obligations while her life was in danger. The suspense/mystery plot made for a rapid paced page turner. It was unpredictable and the twists were clever. I’m not sure how realistic it all was but I was definitely entertained.

Over all I was pleased to read Hot Water. The ending was nicely wrapped up giving me complete closure which resulted in a satisfying sigh. I agreed with Maxime’s father when he gave Ross and Maxime his blessings. This was a clean romance with just enough chemistry that made it a heartwarming love story with well-developed characters that will linger in my mind for days to come. I wish them all the best as they go on in their life journey.

The Last Gift by Chrissy Munder


The Last Gift by Chrissy Munder
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (48 pages)
Other: M/M
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

College student Nick Reed works late shift at a convenience store and dreams of graduation, a job he can be proud of, and finding the man of his dreams.

But the man of his dreams is about to find him.

A change in his lab hours forces Nick to swap shifts with a coworker. But no one prepared Nick for Mr. 5:25—Aaron Hampton—a beefy blond who’s Nick’s perfect guy, but professionally and socially out of Nick’s reach. Soon Aaron becomes the highlight of Nick’s workday, and when the overly focused lawyer needs Nick’s help with holiday gifts, Nick is eager to spend time with Aaron.

They become friends, share book recommendations, and are surprised to find themselves at the same charity run. But is that all? When Aaron learns Nick is heading back to his old shift, will he find the courage to ask for one last, very special gift?

Nick knows he is in a rut. With a huge study load at college, crazy shifts at the local convenience store he had no time for anything else in his life. Struggling to find his new routine after changing shifts at work, Nick can’t deny that the dead-sexy, cheery Aaron – Mr 5.25am – who comes in each morning for coffee is quickly becoming the highlight of his day. When Aaron arrives frantic one morning and pleads for Nick’s help, the besotted man is helpless to resist.

I found this to be a fun and interesting short story. I really loved the pacing, finding it perfect for the length of the story. Nick and Aaron move seamlessly from that whole casual “see you daily” type routine into a “crisis occurs so change from acquaintances to friends” then deepens into more of a proper relationship. Despite the short length of the story Nick and Aaron’s evolving relationship didn’t feel rushed or forced to me, neither did I need to suspend disbelief too hard – as one of the critical meetings that helped deepen their relationship was a chance meeting at a large fun-run which seemed completely reasonable and not at all like some random plot device to further the story.

I could understand if Nick’s dry self-depreciation might not be every readers cup of tea. Personally I felt the Nick had a very realistic perspective on his own situation (being broke, an overworked student and only at the very beginning of his “adult” life) but at times I did wonder if the dryness of his self-analysis flirted just a little too close to low self esteem and him putting himself down. While this aspect of the story didn’t bother me exactly, it occurred frequently enough – especially in the first half of the story – that it rang a warning bell in my head and made me stop and think, analyze his behavior and really wonder if he put himself down a little too much. I admit that I decided I was being too picky and over-thinking it a little, but this isn’t a “normal” thing for me to wonder in an M/M romance.

I found this to be a delicious and slow-moving romance short story. Readers should be aware that there’s no sex – but there’s a ton of chemistry and a very Happy For Now style of ending that I found satisfying. Readers looking for a hot or explicit story might be disappointed, but I felt the sparkling chemistry and slow-build of the relationship between Nick and Aaron well worth the read. I thought this was a fun and interesting story which I greatly enjoyed.

Candy Canes and Cappuccinos by Elizabeth Coldwell


Candy Canes and Cappuccinos by Elizabeth Coldwell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short story (24 pages)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Kyle is struggling to run his coffee shop on his own after his partner walked out on him. He has his eye on Steven, who comes into the shop each day, but hasn’t worked up the nerve to express his interest. When Steven asks Kyle to help out with Christmas lunch at the homeless shelter where he works, Kyle is too exhausted to agree. He donates his tips but still feels he’s blown his chances with Steven and made himself look like a selfish jerk.

On Christmas Day, Kyle sees a way to make amends—to both Steven and the needy people depending on his kindness. It’s the right thing to do, and Kyle hopes he can clear up the misunderstanding and show Steven the type of man he really is. Maybe then they can consider some dessert when the lunch at the shelter is over….

When Kyle had been betrayed and dumped, he wanted to curl into a ball and close out the world. Instead, he threw all his efforts into proving his ex wrong and make their joint venture – a small coffee shop – a roaring success. Steven has been a regular at the coffee shop for a while now, and Kyle is interested but too shy to make the first move.

I really enjoyed this Christmassy, super short story. Kyle and Steven have plenty of chemistry, but I loved how they didn’t simply jump into bed with each other. The author did an excellent job in my opinion of balancing the start of the two men’s relationship, while still managing to keep the sexual tension and physical awareness between the men front and center of the story. I felt this really made the pacing of the whole short story feel like the relationship moved along at a good, realistic and quick pace without being a “sex for the sake of it” style of erotic story.

This is the sort of short story I feel people can enjoy reading privately on a train trip, or as a quick “before going to sleep” sort of happy story that’s quick and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. It could also be a great way to introduce reader-friends to M/M as there’s nothing kinky or over the top about the story and even the sex scene is somewhat brief and not explicit enough in my opinion to be a turn-off for more traditional spicy romance readers.

With plenty of Christmas cheer, a lovely romance and a little bit of spicy love this is a great story and one I can happily recommend.

Nicholas: Lost Innocence, The Demon Series Part 6 by E.H. James


Nicholas: Lost Innocence, The Demon Series Part 6 by E.H. James
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (83 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

On a September night, in 1962, five-year-old Nicholas Starke finds himself alone on a street in Fairfield.

Confused and frightened, he is rescued by a kind couple. When that same couple adopts him, he is able to move on with his life…Only the people in the town of Fairfield won’t let him. And when met with angry and frightened stares, wherever he goes, his parents decide it best to move. But where can you go, when strange happenings follow your every move?

Will Nicholas hold on to what is left of his innocence, or will his brother’s influence be his downfall?

Nobody chooses the circumstances of their birth or what kind of childhood they had, but everyone always has a choice when it comes to how they behave.

The world building in this series keeps getting better the further along in it I go. It was very good in Beyond The Red Door four year ago, and it’s only gotten better since then. There were a few scenes in the beginning that are only now starting to pay off fully for the characters. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the author has developed this universe so far, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

I would have liked to see more character development for Nicholas Starke. He had a lot of exciting, frightening, and unexpected things happen to him in his life, but I didn’t see many examples of him changing as a result of these experiences. It was also difficult at times to get a feel for his personality. Other than him having a tendency to be cautious, I was never quite sure what other words could be used to describe him.

The creative plots twists are one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy this author’s stories so much. Nicholas: Lost Innocence was just as full of surprises as I expected it to be, especially once the main character grew up and began to explore who he really was and where he came from. I was so interested in finding out where those moments would all lead to that I couldn’t stop reading.

This tale is the sixth in a series. I’d recommend reading the first five before moving onto this one due to how much backstory was covered in them.

Nicholas: Lost Innocence, The Demon Series Part 6 should be read by anyone who enjoyed the first five installments of the The Demon Series.

O Hell, All Ye Shoppers by Louisa Masters


O Hell, All Ye Shoppers by Louisa Masters
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (26 pages)
Other: M/M
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Ethan Hall plans to fill Saturday, December 23, with junk food and bad TV, a day just for him amid the holiday chaos… until his baby sister calls and begs him to go collect a present for her. At the biggest shopping center in Australia. On the busiest shopping day of the year. Hell no. Right?

Ethan’s soft heart gets the best of him. He battles through the parking lot, and in the main shopping concourse, he’s trampled, elbowed, and bombarded with terrible holiday music. Then he enters hell itself, a specialty store aimed at women… where he meets Ty. They bond in a sea of estrogen and manic shoppers, fighting together to attain freedom, only to find they’re not quite ready go their separate ways.

Ethan had some serious plans for relaxation for just one day before the Christmas madness set in. Only his sister called, pleading for him to go to the biggest and busiest shopping complex around and brave the hoards of crazed pre-Christmas shoppers. After risking life and limb to get through the crowds, Ethan finally tries to get the present off hold, only to bump into a fellow shopper, Ty. After helping Ty select a gift, Ethan eagerly agrees to let Ty buy him a drink – far far away from all the other shoppers.

I found this to be a delightfully fun, somewhat sarcastic Christmassy short story. I have to admit, I selected this because of the title. I loathe doing last minute Christmas shopping – even just getting the perishable groceries a day or two before the Big Day. It’s a nightmare and I can’t understand people who actually enjoy rolling with that mayhem. So this story really was right up my alley.

While the brief length of the story meant there was really very little time for Ty and Ethan to get to know each other before the chemistry exploded between them, I really liked how the author dealt with this. It made the story feel very realistic to me (although slightly too serendipitous) but overall I found it clever and believable. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t too much description in the sex scene – readers looking for a spicily erotic scene might not find this satisfying. There’s tons of chemistry between Ty and Ethan though and plenty of romantic feelings that grow very quickly between the two men. I feel this would be a wonderful story – perhaps to gift a reader friend with – to help introduce a reader unsure about M/M romances as a gentle, romantic story to show the appeal of M/M stories.

Lighthearted and fun, I feel this is a great short story, something that could easily be read quickly to help you get into the holiday mood or as a short indulgence over the holidays. Sassy, fun and romantic this appealed to me and the Happy For Now ending rounded out the story well, to my mind.

A Different Kind of Therapy by Charlotte Howard


A Different Kind of Therapy by Charlotte Howard
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (48 pgs)
Other: M/F, BDSM, Spanking, Bondage, Toys
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Psychology student Hayley has always been intrigued by sexual fetishes, so when the chance to be mentored by renowned sexual therapist, Adrian De Silva comes up, she jumps at the chance. It soon becomes apparent that the kind of therapy Adrian offers is far from mainstream, and Hayley is introduced to the world of domination therapy. As her training begins, Hayley finds herself falling for her boss and dreaming of being his submissive. Then she meets her new client, and it is Hayley who must be the dominant one.

Will Hayley take to her new role? And how will her personal feelings affect her work? Can Hayley really provide A Different Kind of Therapy?

Hayley and Adrian are an interesting couple. He’s a therapist and she wants to be one. There’s only one problem—he deals with clients who need to be dominated as part of their therapy. He does the regular therapy role, too, but his emphasis is on the sexual side—without having sex. It’s an interesting theme for a book.

I did have a few quibbles. Her reaction to initially being called a Domme wasn’t what I’d expected and made me wonder if she could do the job she’d been hired for. Another thing that bothered me was how quickly she jumped into the situation with Adrian. I get that she’s wanting to help in his line of work, but they moved into the D/s relationship rather fast. While I get that she liked what they were doing, it just seemed…too fast. Like there should’ve been some more build-up. This was her first time having this kind of relationship and she threw herself into it, but it felt odd.

I liked the power exchange and the story is certainly hot. The ending is a tad blunt, but overall this is a sexy read that will certainly singe the screen.

Addicted To His Touch by Sam Crescent


Addicted To His Touch by Sam Crescent
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (88 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Jared has wanted Freya for a long time, and he knows the beauty she is inside and out, even if she has a bit of an attitude. That’s all for him, and he wants every inch of her.

Freya’s had a crush on Jared all of her life. Only she doesn’t believe any man can be faithful. She’s witnessed it through her mother—men only use women, and so the crush she has on Jared must stay that way. However, she’s no longer a little girl, and that crush grows into an attraction that’s getting harder to deny.

Jared knows that once Freya is in his home, and in his life, all it will take is time. He’ll prove to her that he wants more than her body. He wants her love, her heart, her mind, and her soul. He’s not a gambling man, but he’ll take a risk for her, because that’s what true love is all about. Can Freya get over her insecurities for a chance to be happy?

Freya had known Jared for most of her life. She also knew he had craftily orchestrated her life to be at the stage it was – he’d helped organize her apartment, created the perfect job position for her in his company…she knew he had shifted things around and made them just so for her. And she just couldn’t be mad at him for it. Despite a large part of her wanting to give in to him and his desires, she still held back. She knew it would be hopeless though, that eventually she’d become addicted to his touch.

I found this to be an interesting and somewhat intense story. Freya is not your typical heroine – feisty and fun on the one hand but also quite riddled with self-doubts and insecurities. Her parents had somewhat warped her views on relationships and sex, to the point where Freya was a virgin, despite her often bold exterior. I found myself quite drawn to her, sympathizing and empathizing on quite a few levels and this really had me invested into the story early on.

I’ll be honest, Jared could have come off as a complete jerk. For me, he didn’t, I could see through to the man who truly wanted to just shower Freya with all her hearts desires and give her the things she craved, but in a different authors hands this could have been quite the train wreck. Readers who are sensitive to over-bearing heroes or characters who like to be in control (Jared installed cameras inside Freya and Sophia’s apartment “for their own safety”) still might not feel the same attachment to Jared in particular that I did. I don’t think this story will be everyone’s cup of tea – Jared flirts a little too close to the edge for it to suit everyone’s tastes – but I do think it’s worth taking a chance on. I personally enjoyed it, mainly I think because Jared makes it crystal clear that he’s not interested in just anyone, that he’s not wanting to conquer “a woman” or rise to a challenge. It’s Freya – specifically and only Freya – that he is interested in. That made up, in my mind at least, for a multitude of sins and made the story romantic and Jared just a fairly different, incredibly determined hero.

I was really impressed that Jared didn’t rush Freya either. I feel this helped make the story more romantic – that he didn’t just want to push her straight into bed and consummate their relationship. I honestly feel Freya’s emotional doubts (her fear of being tossed aside when Jared was “done” and her worry about being hurt and cheated on) were the main reason Jared worked hard to not hustle her into bed. So when they finally did make it there it felt extremely important to me – like a milestone they had reached together. Erotica readers will also, I think, be impressed with the sex. While there’s clear emotional attachment between Jared and Freya, the sex is a little dirty and a lot hot. Spicy and explicit, I don’t think readers who like some heat in their reading material will be at all disappointed.

With interesting characters and a whole bunch of emotion in the blossoming relationship between Freya and Jared I feel this story will be addictive for a wide range of readers. While certainly not to everyone’s tastes, I personally really enjoyed this story and found it different enough to be refreshing and hot enough to certainly earn it’s hot and sexy labeling. Recommended.

Bel, Book, and Scandal by Maggie McConnon


Bel, Book, and Scandal by Maggie McConnon
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (249 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Maggie McConnon rings in Christmas in Bel, Boiok, and Scandal, the third adventure for everybody’s favorite Irish-American culinary artist turned amateur sleuth.

Bel McGrath tries her best to keep herself on the straight and narrow but she just has a taste for trouble. This time danger arrives in the form of a newspaper left behind by visitors to Shamrock Manor―and a photograph that jolts Bel out of the present and back into a dark chapter from her past. The person in the photo is Bel’s best friend Amy Mitchell, long gone from Foster’s Landing, at a commune in upstate New York shortly after her disappearance. The picture, and Bel’s burning desire to find out what happened to Amy―and whether she may still be alive―is the catalyst for a story in which old secrets are revealed, little by little…and certain characters are shown to not be as genuine as Bel once thought.

A really fun mystery including a chef but not one that gives you recipes!

I really enjoyed this mystery. Its main character is named Bel (short for Belfast) and she is a chef; come home to live with her parents after what to most would be called a culinary disaster. She is chief cook and bottle washer somewhat at Shamrock Manor. Shamrock Manor is their lovely old Irish home; one which has been restored to hold banquets and parties. I loved all of the cooking jokes and food preparation talk but this is not one of the trendy new mysteries that has a recipe at the end of every chapter; for that matter, it has no recipes at all.

What it does have is excellently described characters and a really good storyline. I would call this a cozy. I liked reading the interplay amongst the McGrath family, the few tussles and aggravations of living all together, with a healthy dose of genuine love mixed in. Definitely a storyline involved enough to make you think. I was surprised at the end just as we all want to be with a good mystery.

This is Book 3 and the series is called the “Bel McGrath Mysteries”. This third book can easily stand alone. I enjoyed it without ever feeling confused because of not having read the first two books. On the other hand, it did make me want to read Books 1 and 2.

Run So Far by Elizabeth Monvey


Run So Far by Elizabeth Monvey
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (78 pages)
Other: M/M, Anal Play
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When Kyle stumbles into a truck stop diner, he just wants a bit of time to try to remember the weekend that has changed his life. He meets trucker Delaney Vance and when the older man invites him to travel with him across the US, Kyle thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to relax and find his memories. As the two men start to get comfortable with each other, unexpected emotions start to develop on both sides.

Del is a man trying to forget the past and he’s done a pretty good job of it away from people, trucking for a living, and forgoing personal relationships. But all of that changes as Kyle worms his way into Del’s heart.

The past is about to catch up with both of them. With Kyle’s memories come a difficult and scary decision to make…ruin his family or hide the truth. Can Del help him navigate a future when he himself can’t shake the ghosts of his own past?

Kyle is running and ends up in a truck stop diner to try and decide if he really wants to go through with his half-baked idea to ruin his family. While there he meets Del and they both surprise each other by agreeing to continue along Del’s way and go together to his next trucking stop. Kyle had no idea he would run so far, nor what he’d find when he reached his destination.

I found this to be a well-plotted, interesting story. Kyle knows that he’s seen something terrible, something that can ruin his family, but the trauma has given him a sort of block to help protect him from the true depths of what he’s facing. Running seems like the only option available and so he takes it, albeit with no real planning or forethought. While it seemed incredibly convenient that he met Del at the diner (and that they were so strongly attracted to each other) they both quickly realize they can help each other. The sizzling sex doesn’t hurt, either.

I liked how we, the reader, only got to learn about the plot as Kyle remembered it in bits and pieces, but I couldn’t help and feel that this made the story seem a bit choppy. It also seemed slightly weird to me that while Kyle is recalling all these traumatic, emotional memories he’s having hot and sweaty sex with Del. I’m not sure how these two polar-opposite things could have been balanced better, but it made the whole story feel a little uneven for me, bouncing back and forth from erotic sex to intensely emotional recollections about a possible murder. It just felt quite uneven to me.

The drama was very well written and I felt incredibly connected to Kyle and his plight. I eagerly turned the pages, wanting to see what he’d recall next and how the pieces would fit together. In this respect I feel the author did an amazing job with the writing and this really made the story well worth reading to me. With interesting characters and a gripping plot I would happily try more stories by this author.

The Nanny and the Playboy by Sam Crescent


The Nanny and the Playboy by Sam Crescent
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (140 Pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Tulip

Wayne Myers is a playboy, and doesn’t have time in his life for children. When a little boy is handed to him with the claim to be his son, Wayne knows without a doubt that he’s not the father. Until he can prove it, though, what the hell is he to do with a damn kid?

Temperance Michaels has been a nanny for twelve years, and she’s tired of the constant heartache when she has to walk away. She knows she has to find something else to do with her life, so when she gets a call from Wayne, her first instinct is to turn him down. But after hearing about the young boy who has lost his mother, she caves.

Now that Wayne has a nanny, he intends to lead his own life again. But he didn’t anticipate being attracted to the raven-haired beauty. Temperance is not like any of the women he’s ever been with, and she’s getting under his skin. With Temperance and Timothy in his life, Wayne has the chance to find out what it’s like to have a family of his own, at least for a while. After temporarily enjoying having a woman and a kid, he intends to give them both up.

Will this playboy take a chance or return to his womanizing ways?

This was another great book from Sam Crescent !

This book had a solid plot that immediately grabbed my attention along with my heart. Wayne knew beyond any doubt that Timothy wasn’t his son so he planned on giving him back to the social workers as soon as possible. Then he hired Temperance Michaels and found himself helplessly drawn to the curvacious nanny. Temperance blew into his life and paired up with the tiny tot to thaw out his cold heart. Their story was romantic, sexy and emotional.

Temperance, Wayne, and little Timothy were awesome characters who won my heart in this touching romance. Like most of Sam Crescent’s characters they were vivid, so it was easy to connect with them, especially after Wayne finally opened up to Temperance about his past. I really wanted to smack him at times but forgave him for some of the things he did. Temperance was super nice but never let anybody run over her either. They were just perfect together and had me cheering for them all the way.

The Nanny and the Playboy kick started a new series by Sam Crescent. I loved this one and can’t wait to read the next book in The Nannies Series.