Imperfect Monster – Jennifer Bene

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Imperfect Monster
320 pages

4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

After her brother is beaten and put in the hospital, Nicky is desperate to clear his debts with cartel boss Paulo Garcia. Not realizing that she’s walking into a lion’s den, she shows up with the money and demands her brother be left alone. But she’s unknowingly $5000 short, and Paulo doesn’t plan to let her go. One of his henchmen, Andre, finds himself drawn to Nicky and can’t stand the idea of sharing her with the others. So in exchange for covering her remaining debt, Nicky now belongs to Andre with the caveat that if Paulo ever wants her, he gets her.

The plot follows the usual sex slave falls in love with her hated torturer theme, but it was still so much more. Living in the house with other men, men that wanted to rape her, Nicky was always on alert and that translated well to the page. Any time she wasn’t alone with Andre in his room, my stomach cramped with dread knowing that eventually Paulo was going to come for her.

I loved Nicky. She was strong and defiant, but knew when to play scared. Andre was harder to get a read on. Sometimes, he was almost like a knight in shining armor… if your knight was keeping you against your will and raping you.

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Other times, I hated how weak he was. How he just did Paulo’s bidding, no questions asked, and would then take his aggression out on Nicky made me want him to suffer, just a little.

The ending was what’s keeping this from being 5 stars. Keeping it vague to prevent spoilers, Nicky goes through something pretty terrifying and life-changing. But literally the next day she seems all hunky-dory and comforts Andre, not the other way around. It just seemed too fast and dismissive of her experience.

Trigger warning: dubious consent, rape, violence, and some violent rape that may or may not include a gun.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


The Rebound – Winter Renshaw

the rebound

The Rebound
Full-length novel

1 ⭐


*Spoilers throughout*

Nevada and Yardley meet in high school. They date for a couple of years and are madly in love with each other. Nothing in the world is more important than their love. But Nevada is a year ahead of Yardley, and when he gets offered a basketball scholarship to a school hundreds of miles away they promise to make things work. Until one day Nevada gets a text from a friend back home informing him that Yardley broke her promise and is cheating on him. Broken hearted, he refuses her calls and denies her the chance to explain. Ten years later, he returns to his hometown, now a widower and single father to two little girls. And he absolutely, 100%, wants nothing to do with Yardley, the one that broke his heart.

I hated this book. There, I said it. And I hate saying it because I am a fan of Renshaw’s, but this plot was such a clusterfuck, I couldn’t stand it.

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First issue: The main conflict of this book is instigated by a MC’s unwillingness to communicate resulting in a massive misunderstanding, and I loathe plots that use that device. I see it as a cop-out; an easy way to create drama without having to really provide a reason or purpose. And in this case, I just don’t get it. He gets a text from some acquaintance, takes that guy’s word as truth, and never speaks to the love of his life about it? His justification is that if he did listen to her, he would forgive her and look like a fool for taking her back. BUT HE HAD ABSOLUTELY NO PROOF THAT IT EVEN HAPPENED! JUST ONE GUY’S WORD! It’s ludicrous.

And then all Yardley does is send a letter? And he sends it back? If I was desperately in love with a man that hated me due to a misunderstanding, I don’t care how far away he lives, I’d be on his doorstep ASAP demanding he have the decency to at least listen to me.

Second: Use of the “man moves on and woman pines for him and remains celibate” trope. Not long after breaking up with Yardley he meets another woman, falls in love, marries her and has two beautiful children. Yes, he loses his wife, but at least  he experienced her love. All the while Yardley marries a friend for altruistic reasons, never consummates the marriage, and never sleeps with another man in the ten years she’s apart from Nevada.

Third: The timeline is confusing. She’s 16 in 2008, but present day she’s now 28. That doesn’t add up.

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Fourth: There was no reason for Yardley to have to marry Griffin. He was 18, legally an adult. If he didn’t want his parents making life-or-death decisions for him, all he had to do was get a living will outlining his requests and give Yardley POA. No marriage needed. He could’ve googled it and found that out.

The story’s foundation is too unstable, the characters are irrational, and the ending sprints from the final confrontation to HEA. And it’s exhausting.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


The Road to You – Melissa Toppen

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The Road to You
240 pages

5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

While spending the summer at her aunt’s house, 15 y/o Elara meets and befriends a neighbor boy named Kam. They quickly become best friends, but both secretly deny their deeper feelings for the other. Seven years later, their friendship was stronger than ever until they’re tragically torn apart. Consumed with grief and guilt, Elara manages to find comfort and friendship with Kam’s older brother, Kane. And just like with Kam, she manages to find love as well.

Elara and Kam’s friendship is unique and beautiful. The timeline jumps back and forth between past and present, giving little snippets of their best memories and they’re so innocently cute together, it’s unbearable. It’s so easy to fall in love with Kam that when you learn about Kane, the older “asshole” brother, I had my hesitations that anything he could have with Elara would be as special. But then I realized it was like comparing apples to oranges, and I loved them both.

I have to keep this review vague, because personally, I think spoilers will affect the emotional impact of the story. And emotional it was. Maybe my hormones are out of whack, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that I haven’t ugly cried this much since the first time I saw Sophie’s Choice. The characters are so real and familiar that I’m still tearing up thinking about the pain they experience.

This story will gut you, but still you’ll smile and your heart will feel warm. It’s a risk worth taking.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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She Asked For It – Willow Winters

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She Asked For It
300 pages

3 ⭐⭐⭐

Allison and Dean are both students in university. Dean has a temper issue and goes to anger management for it. Allison is… well, complicated. She’s flirty, but closed off; comfortable in her sexuality, but also gets easily intimidated by men. There’s clearly something in her past that has turned her into a lonely conundrum. So when Dean does his best to break down her walls, to truly get to know her and be what she needs, she does her best to run away.

I’ve actually been stewing for days how I would rate this, and I’m still not sure. This story is engaging, and the emotions carry the plot, but I wasn’t as attached as I expected. There’s a lot of internal dialogue, especially with Allison, that was so shrouded in mystery for so long that I just kept thinking “what the hell is going on?”.

Both Allison and Dean have had difficult pasts, but there’s something particular about Allison’s that leaves questions. It’s clear from the prologue that something happened between her and her best friend back in high school, and that it was in some way related to sex, which keeps you guessing. …and guessing. And then scratching your head because damnit, you just want to know what the hell her deal is. And when you find out, you’ll probably be a little surprised. I was. And as intriguing as that endless curiosity was, it created a problem for me. Taking so much time for the story to explain what all of Allison’s secret thoughts were about and realizing that often times, they were misleading, kept me from connecting to her. I didn’t have that problem with Dean. His past was out there and I was able to empathize with him. Allison’s mystery and sadness was appealing, but so much time was spent on it that by the time I understood her, the book was over. I never had the chance to accept her secrets and motivation. And I could believe Allison’s and Dean’s intense attraction, but since I could only connect to one of them, I couldn’t really feel their love.

Everything else aside, She Asked For It has a pretty significant message that is just now being openly spoken about. So even if the story left me confused, I do respect the intent and the attention Winters has given it.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Keeping It All – JJ Bella

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Keeping It All
297 pages

2 ⭐⭐

Mary’s studying in London for a semester when she meets playboy Sam. They start dating and Sam isn’t quite the knight in shining armor he first appeared to be. He has no ambitions, is messy, drinks too much, flirts too much and adores the attention of women despite Mary’s discomfort with it. So, when Mary catches Sam in the very same spot he first hooked up with her about to kiss another woman, she runs and they never speak again. Fast forward five years and Mary has just been hired at a prestigious firm that does I have no idea what as an executive assistant to one of the partners, and life is looking good. Until- wait for ittttttt- Mary finds out her new boss is- keep waitinggggggg- SURPRISE! SAM!

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The same irresponsible douche that would’ve cheated on her had she not caught and broken up with him first. But things are super different, like, bizzaro-world different. Sam’s divorced and a single dad to a four year old girl and he’s all, like, super changed and responsible. He’s so responsible that he refuses to let anything happen between him and Mary despite their attraction and despite the fact that he has her move into his condo with him. You know, because most bosses think ‘Damn, this project sure will keep us busy, and my EA really shouldn’t be inconvenienced by having to go back and forth between the office and her apartment and the airport. No, now she can just go between the office and MY apartment and the airport. It’s genius!’.

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Yep, genius.

Mary and Sam have no chemistry. They’re basically Sam the boss and Mary the EA that has a crush on her boss. There’s a big lack in sexual tension and the love scenes are almost clinical. There’s a whole lot of internal thinking on both characters’ accounts, but while Mary swoons over Sam in her head, Sam seems pretty immune. I mean, he even entertains the idea of getting with his ex-wife for longer than the idea of getting with Mary. So with that kind of mindset, what happens? Well, Mary catches Sam making out with his ex in the home they’re sharing. Just days after they slept together so of course Mary leaves the next morning and will only deal with Sam for professional reasons. Go Mary! But then something stupid happens and Sam ‘rescues’ her and BOOM! All is forgiven. Well, apparently Sam explains to Mary how he was like all down with sexing his ex – because alcohol- but then he kept thinking of Mary which was a major boner killer but he swears it wasn’t going to go any further than what she walked in on.

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But we’re told that they reconcile, not shown. So I’ll step aside from the whole “Sam is an idiot that thinks with his dick” train for a moment and point out my biggest problem with the story: it’s a whole lot of telling and very little showing. And drizzle that with some surface-deep characterizations sauce, and you got yourself a lackluster sundae.

It’s an underwhelming romance with almost no romance. The hero’s a jerk that’s supposedly been redeemed because he finished school and settled down and the heroine is a naïve fool that fails to see that that’s just not enough. He couldn’t keep it in his pants five years ago, and he still can’t. The only reason they’re together is because they’re around each other constantly. If they didn’t work with each other, neither would care enough to look the other up and try to fix things. Heck, Sam even mentions several times that he’s disappointed things didn’t work out with his ex. That’s why he entertained the idea of sleeping with her after sleeping with Mary: it was easier for him to go back to her than it would’ve been to traverse the oh so painful difficulties of sleeping someone that works with him. That’s not romance, that’s settling. And sad.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Lost For You – Jayne Frost

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Lost For You
303 pages

3 ⭐⭐⭐

I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, so I felt lost at times. But overall, it can be read as a standalone.

Taryn is a music manager for some of the country’s biggest bands. Chase is a bar owner/businessman/music producer/secret musician with a history of drug abuse. When they meet, sparks fly and things get intense, fast. But like fame, if secrets are involved, love can be just as fleeting.

Much of the plot really centers on Taryn’s and Chase’s relationships, so there’s a lot of drama and reasonable angst. I liked Taryn, but she needed to put her foot down about her friends, especially Beckett, and it drove me insane that she didn’t. Stay friends with your cheating ex? Sure, that’s unlikely, but possible. Stay BEST friends and keep his stuff at your house and chill in the same bed together and maybe kiss a little bit? Hell. No. He was a tool, we all saw it. She didn’t have to cast a voodoo spell against his life or anything crazy like that, but it would’ve been nice if she put him in his place from the beginning.

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And to risk her chances with Chase for golden boy Beckett, just irked me.

Chase. God, he was such a stupid man at times. He has an issue with self-destruction that tends to hurt those closest to him. I liked him, but I lost some faith in him and I wasn’t given enough time with sober Chase to feel he was redeemed by the end. A little more time spent with Taryn and Chase figuring things out and a little less of Beckett doing anything would’ve went a long way. As it is, I just couldn’t connect with them.

Safety Heads-up: It’s safe with exceptions and the H/h are separated for 6+ months.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


Mancave – Jo Raven


189 pages

3 ⭐⭐⭐

This book is really more of an extended epilogue to Caveman. It follows Matt and Octavia’s story, so it’s helpful to read that first.

Now married and with a baby on the way, Matt and Octavia are pretty happy. Matt has his own business, Octavia’s just graduated, things are going good for them. So when Matt’s friend Evan reaches out asking for help, they’re more than willing to lend a hand. Leaving the kids with family, Matt and Tay travel back to Destiny, the town they just escaped from, and encounter some minor drama in the meantime.

The story is sweet and heartwarming, but also slow and uneventful. It was nice getting a deeper look into the HEA of Matt and Octavia, but it’s not very exciting and not much happens. And with the exception of Mary’s problem (vague to prevent spoilers), nothing else gets resolved. It just – stops.

This is a nice story that would probably be best attached to the end Caveman and maybe shortened a bit. I love Jo Raven’s writing, and this story was cute, but a little unnecessary.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Buying Beth – Izzy Sweet

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Buying Beth
288 pages

3 ⭐⭐⭐

Beth sneaks out of her controlling father’s house and goes to a dive bar with her three best friends. While there, she catches the eye of the owner, Johnathan. They flirt with the promise of meeting up again soon, but Beth and her friends are abducted in the parking lot while leaving. Well now someone’s gone and done it. Johnathan’s p-o’ed that not only did someone have the nerve to abduct the girls on his property, but that they dared take something that belongs to him. That something being Beth, the girl he met twenty minutes ago. …just saying.

First things first, the F word or some variation thereof is used 674 times in this book. 674. That’s a lot of F bombs. I’m not the kind of person that gets offended by ‘bad’ words, but I don’t like when words are used to excess, diminishing its effect. And this is an example of that.

Secondly, I love alpha, jealously possessive heroes. They just do it for me. And Johnathan fits that category, but he goes farther than I think’s healthy. For example, *SPOILER* he rescues Beth and Charlie from the auction, brings them to his home, shows a terrified Charlie his room and then expects Beth to bounce on down the hall with him to get down and dirty. BUT, considering there’s a terrified 6y/o boy in the room, and both he and Beth have just been saved from being purchased as sex slaves, she refuses. Phew, thank Go- oh wait, a couple of hours passed and Charlie fell asleep and Johnathan now demands it and she gives it up?

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The story is engaging and it was hard to put down, but since this is the first book I’ve read in the series, I felt a little lost at times. Johnathan and Beth weren’t quite insta-love, but close. They get intense pretty fast and make good use of their bed, but I had a hard time connecting with them. I just wanted a little more real when it came to handling such sensitive situations and a little less bodice ripping. The more Johnathan pushed and pushed, and the more Beth caved, the less I liked the story.

The subject matter is dark, and there are several violently gruesome scenes. Keep that in mind if it’s not your thing.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Mr. Ruin – Maya Hughes

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Mr. Ruin
447 pages

4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Rachel is executive assistant to philanthropic billionaire, Rhys Thayer. When Rhys finds out someone is trying to dechair… dischair?… unchair? Uh, when he finds out someone is trying to get him kicked off the boards of several charities he puts his trusty EA to work at finding out who the culprit is. Rachel discovers it’s a man named Killian Thorne, someone Rhys went to high school with, but he can think of no reason for Killian to be doing this and presses her to find out more. Thanks to Rachel’s 100% incompetence in the stealth department and lacking any sort of investigative background she’s quickly made by Killian because, duh, of course she is. But Killian takes a liking to the determined brunette and offers her information in exchange for playing his game. AKA sex, his game is to have sex with her whenever he wants. Never one to refuse a challenge, she accepts and their ridiculously intense ‘lust-distrust’ relationship begins.

Admittedly, Killian isn’t very likable in Mr. Control, so my expectations weren’t too high. And thank goodness for that, because he starts out a pretty big a-hole. The more interaction he has with Rachel though, the more he starts to doubt his true motivation and he actually starts to exhibit human emotions. And since this story roughly follows the ‘commitment-phobic jerk and innocent Disney princess’ trope, Rachel is a bit door-matty at times. BUT, she thankfully stands up for herself when it really counts, which leads to some serious groveling by Killian that is just, oh so satisfying.

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Mr. Ruin mostly runs concurrent with the timeline of Mr. Control, so a few scenes from that are referenced and breezed over. I don’t personally think it affects the reader’s understanding if read as a standalone, but reading Mr. Control would certainly help.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ever After – Roxie Noir

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Ever After
464 pages

5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

*Ever After is the third book in the Dirtshine series, but can be read as a standalone.*

After getting kicked out of his band, drug-addicted and suicidal Liam drunkenly stands on a bridge with the intention of jumping in front of a train. A year later, a familiar face walks into the bar he now works at. He immediately recognizes the woman from that night, the pretty one with the American accent that begged him not to jump. The woman that saved his life.

Frankie’s stuck staying with her stuffy, insulting, aristocratic, soon-to-be in-laws for two weeks. They find everything Frankie is and does to be beneath them, and they don’t try to hide it. So some nights, Frankie escapes to the only pub in town where she can clear her head, feel human again, and find some comfort in the barkeeper, Liam.

Liam and Frankie start out platonically despite their mutual attraction. Neither is willing to disrespect the fact that Frankie’s engaged *Small Spoiler* (too bad I can’t say the same for her fiancé). When things finally, sort of, fall into place, their chemistry is electric and never dwindles.

It’s hard to describe when a writing style catches my eye, so the best I can say is that Noir’s is clever. The banter is funny and comfortable, especially between the band members. It’s impressive how well she writes both Americans and Britons, highlighting their differences without being stereotypical.

Ever After gives a believable portrayal of the daily struggles of addiction and recovery. Liam still has his a-hole ways, but sober Liam is finally aware of how his behavior was destructive to so many. And with Frankie in his life, he has all the more reason to become a better man/friend/person, and it’s both sad and inspiring to watch him evolve.

Everything about this book just felt right and I’m actually sad it’s over.

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I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.