Dark Wine at Midnight by Jenna Barwin

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The beings referred to as the Lux are not actually human and very few know they even exist. Their goal is to protect the human population from war and extinction by an equally hidden vampire population.

Although the vampires try hard to prevent overpopulation since their food source, humans, would be depleted, there is a constant political push and shove. Some vampires feel there are too many rules, such as no one being allowed to create another vampire for the most part, no legal hunting of humans, and lots of meals courtesy of a blood bank. The Lux has discovered there is a group planning to topple their somewhat fragile government and return to their old ways.

Dr. Cerisse Patel lives with her people at the Lux Enclave. She prefers to think of herself as a scientist, but her superiors prefer she be a spy, even though she is pretty sure she lacks the talent. Vampire Leopold knows Cerisse as a human hired to be his envoy. This means she will live amongst vampires for many years, as she will be a daytime employee; the eyes and ears for Leopold. At the same time, she will watch out for the rebel vampires on behalf of the Lux.

After months of training and learning vampire protocol, Leopold sends Cerisse to the vampire community, Sierra Escondida. She is to seek out a certain property for him, where they hope to build a research lab that will benefit all vampires. Hopefully, the community will be willing to financially support such an endeavor. At the same time, she is to watch for the rebel vampires. She hadn’t expected the vampires to like her presence right away, but she is unprepared for the open dislike she faces.

The vampire hierarchy is extremely strict and immovable. Slowly, she approaches individuals to find they are not amenable to the research lab in their community. They dislike the thought of humans being employed and working on their turf. The strictly upheld law of no unmated humans in their midst is taken seriously.

Henry Bautista is one of the original founders of the town and he and the others created the basic laws and, as the years pass, have changed them as needed. Cerisse, an unmated human, is right in the heart of them. Henry is disturbed by her entrance as Leopold’s envoy and even more so by his attraction to her.

I found the story interesting. The first chapter starts with the Lux. Basically, I was left in the dark about them and confused about their abilities and differences from humans. The author mentions Cerisse’s abilities as if the reader is already aware of them. I had to turn back a page looking for a paragraph where I must have missed the ‘and here it comes’ moment. It was several chapters before I acquired any significant knowledge of Cerisse as a Lux, and I felt like the author didn’t have a finished product with this character, that it would have been helpful to the story if more information had been given. As it is, Cerisse has several interesting and handy skills, making her the latest in super-women. I thought Cerisse needed to have a more mature personality, being a Lux of substantial years. Also, the ending is quickly rolled up, as if the author was racing towards the finish line.

The grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – Romance/Fantasy for adults.
  • Level of sexuality – Graphic.
  • Is there graphic language? Yes, but definitely milder than a lot of books.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? This is book one in the Hill Vampire Series, complete with a cliffhanger.
  • Level of character development – They did not change or mature.

I rate this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

Careen by Kerri Ann

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This book does a wonderful job of prepping any readers who have not read the first two in the series, but I sure am glad that I read them first. They give this book deeper meaning and I was able to enjoy it so much more. So, while I highly suggest this story for all romance readers, my advice is to start with book one.

This one picks up right after book two, with the humorous introduction of our couple. It was a fantastic start that only got better. Officer Risen arrests the darling of  the Crown empire, China. You can’t get better than that. Through a heartbreaking, yet entertaining encounter at the courthouse, he’s assigned to be her jailor for a month. Needless to say, that leads to a lot of tension, both emotional and sexual.

I had already fallen in love with China through the other books, but picking this one up without prior knowledge will not stop readers from appreciating her fiery attitude and her desolation over the tragedies that have befallen her family. Careen follows her in the immediate aftermath and how she copes, and doesn’t cope, with her hardships. Risen is fantastic. He’s a mystery and has more depth than is originally alluded to. He knows when to give her distance and when to push her towards addressing her problems. They are truly a perfect match. Unlike in many other novels, their friends are more than simple walk-on-walk-off characters. Her girlfriends are funny and touching, while his best friend is a riot. They all added beautifully to this story.

While this book is not the end of the Anchor & Crown series, it is a fantastic happily-ever-after for China. I love the book and the strength of the characters. The build-up is wonderfully done, providing background and personality to the main characters. Their relationship is electric and is more than lust-at-first-sight, although there is a lot of references to excited nether regions upon their meeting and subsequent interactions. I was so involved that I hated for the story to end, and end it did. Very abruptly. It felt a bit rushed and tied up too nicely at the very last second. I would have loved to see more of what became of them after her house arrest and his duty as her jailor was finished, but the future is not seen past a few weeks of increasing infatuation and, dare I say, love.

For the grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – Romance and only for mature adults. If it was a movie it would be NC-17.
  • Level of sexuality – Extreme. Not only are there many lustful moments that require cold showers, but the actual deed is graphic and beyond steamy. This is one story that made me blush while reading it.
  • Is there graphic language? Of course. China swears like a sailor and Risen mumbles obscenities under his breath throughout. It’s built into the rough exteriors of the characters.
  • Did I cry? No, but my heart hurt for her.
  • Did I laugh? I chuckled a few times. It’s extremely entertaining, but has serious undertones that make it more drama than ha-ha.
  • Is this part of a series? This is book three in the Crown & Anchor series. Next up, Whiskey gets his turn.
  • Level of character development – Both of the main characters are highly developed. They are loveable and remain consistent all the way through. It would have been great to see a little more of Risen and his decision about what his future holds beyond the story, but watching China accept what has happened and try to move on was a joy. She goes from a spoiled kid to a more mature adult who is ready to listen before making judgements.

Out of the three books currently available, this is by far my favorite. I’m relieved that I read the others and I believe other readers will find a greater appreciation for China if they read those, as well. That said, it is a wonderful book with characters that are relatable, aside from the obscene wealth, and are a pleasure to watch evolve. If there had been just a little more end to the ending it would have been a solid five. Even though I could have stood more, I’m happy to award it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars. All romance readers, especially those that love the hot moments, should pick this up.

Available here on Amazon

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Mended: A Sweet Home Dixie Novel by Kayla Marie

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Ashley Thomas is a beautiful, emotionally traumatized widow with an equally traumatized son, Emmett. By the time he is thirteen, he has decided that school and family have nothing left to offer him. He’s been in trouble more than once, sent to juvie, and is on probation. At her wit’s end, Ashley decides they need a change, so she packs them up and moves from New Jersey to Alabama. Immediately, she likes the slow drawl in their speech and the kindness they show her and her son. On the other hand, Emmett is not impressed and doesn’t care who knows it.

Emmett develops an explosive attitude and brings his mother to the brink of tears on multiple occasions. He drinks, smokes, ditches school, and thinks he’s an all-around badass. If only his mother would leave him alone and stop letting him know that she won’t protect him from the law anymore. Of course the first time she lets him out by himself, he finds an open garage door and must sneak in to find something to steal. This is how he meets Wade Hudson, a kind man who would rather help than condemn Emmett.

The local diner is where everyone meets and it’s also where Wade immediately falls for Ashley. She doesn’t want a relationship, so he pretends that he never met Emmett. In a small town like Mason, everybody knows everyone else or is related to each other. Therefore, they are stealthily aware of everyone’s private matters. Ashley prefers that Emmett’s troubles not be broadcast, nor the gloom that weighs her down over the death of her husband. It’s hard to remain aloof, though, when she needs a friend so badly and the people care so much.

This is a well-written romance, however, it is a typical one. The characters are sweet and Emmett is the only one who has a dark side until Wade unsurprisingly takes him under his wing, opening the door for a relationship with Ashley. Overall, it’s a rather bland story. There is very little conflict, if any, and none of the characters reveal any doubt, disappointment, bitterness, joy, relief, etc., all the emotions that make life interesting. There are usually emotions I can do without in a story, but it would have been great for these characters to show something.

A small amount of the story is dedicated to Wade, his brother who is in prison, and their father. There is some intimation of the ugly side of prison life and I feel if the story has this smidgen of grit, why isn’t there more exposure in the lives of the characters? As it is, the relationship with Wade and his family stick out like a sore thumb. In conclusion, the author shows real talent, but the characters don’t support it.

The grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – As I stated, it is romance for teens and adults.
  • Level of sexuality – The love scenes are far from what is now considered “normal”. They are the now-unheard-of “fade to black”. It was actually a relief that I didn’t have to deal with explicit sex.
  • Is there graphic language? Not much.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes, the Sweet Home Dixie series.
  • Level of character development – These characters do not evolve. They are basically happy most of the time.

I give this book ⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

Forbidden: Better Wear Your Flak Jacket by F. Stone

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October 2047. Eliza Ramsey is a paramedic, and although she has never been to the Republic of Islamic Provinces and Territories (RIPT), she is excited when she is asked to accompany a group of Americans traveling for Habitat for Humanity. At first, she doesn’t feel comfortable waiting at Samarra’s International Airport for the others to arrive and, unfortunately, as time passes she catches the attention of Security and spends a nerve-wracking time being questioned. Finally, she is informed that the rest of the team will arrive that evening.

After waiting for hours, she spots fifteen Americans. She introduces herself and they all toss their luggage into the back of a large truck and climb aboard their waiting bus. After her ordeal with Security and her long wait, she is exhausted and looks forward to a relaxing two-hour ride to their camp. She is jolted awake when the bus pulls into a gas station; time for snacks, drinks, and restroom breaks. Knowing this is a break in their expected schedule, Eliza feels uneasy and moves into the truck holding their belongings, hoping to calm her anxiety.

As the vehicles travel through Samarra, Eliza’s nervousness increases, noting they are off track. She is confused when they pull into the local police compound and soon after she hears loud voices and screaming. Deafening gunfire drowns out the screams and just when she thinks it is over, more shouting ensues and she realizes the police are in the middle of a gun fight. Racing from her hiding spot, she notes that none of the Americans have survived. It is in the midst of this chaos and fear that Eliza meets Captain Hashim Shariff, the police commander, and the one person who can ensure she survives her trip to RIPT.

This is a story of a Canadian woman and a Muslim man carefully feeling their way into a relationship in a tale ripe with action, loyalty, love, treason, and murder. I enjoyed this book immensely and it is definitely not a run of the mill romance. I remained on high alert throughout, watching for the next betrayal, murder, or finally the first kiss. The author presents a well-informed story of the morals, beliefs, and dress code of this Arabic society. It was utterly engrossing!

The grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – As I said, it’s not just a romance. This book is more suspense than anything else. The age is geared towards adults and there is a political aspect, many characters to juggle, and the need to understand how religion can engulf a people and their society, making this a more mature read.
  • Level of sexuality – Mild.
  • Is there graphic language? I think I have read too many books that have graphic language as a given, so I didn’t really notice it. However, the author warns of the violence and vulgar language, so I’m pretty sure she’s spot on. Therefore, she recommends 18+ and I agree.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No. Far too much suspense for that!
  • Is this part of a series? I have not heard of a sequel, but it does have a cliffhanger at the end, so I hope to see more.
  • Level of character development – These characters were highly developed and never let the story down.

It is with great pleasure that I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

The Lucky One by Sylvie Stewart

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The premise of this romance is one that all romance readers have encountered before. While the basis of it is not particularly original, the writing is witty and hilarious, making it definitely worth the read. It may not have any surprises, but the delivery is a wonderful surprise of its own.

It begins with the typical gorgeous girl who thinks she is unattractive and unworthy of love. It also has the typical gorgeous guy who is obligated to convince her of her delectable sexiness. Of course, the reasoning behind her hang-up is eventually cleared up and then you understand why she thinks so little of herself in comparison to his Adonis-state. There are a lot of stereotypes in this story, such as her girlfriends all calling each other bitch and squealing like little girls, and guys who are macho and cannot show their feelings. Thankfully, Bailey is anti-girly and fights hard to maintain that status. Jake also tries to break the mold by being the guy who is in touch with his feminine side and acknowledges his emotions. They balance out the side characters to a certain degree.

The story is told first-person and it is that fact that makes it so enjoyable. All the entertainment comes from the inner dialogue, some of which is directed right at the reader. If I had not been able to hear what Bailey was thinking I would have viewed her as a girl who likes to make a guy work a little too hard for her attention. No matter what I would have liked Jake. He does work hard to get her attention. It is a refreshing break from so many romances where the guy must “own” her. I love having a male lead who is a down-to-earth guy instead of a pompous showboat who tosses her over his shoulder and takes her back to his cave.

While I enjoyed the main characters immensely, I had some difficulty with one aspect of the writing. The style is wonderful, but there is an overload of cultural and/or social references that went right over my head. I have never encountered a book like this, where I had to google terms, some of which I couldn’t locate. Perhaps they were too obscure, but I was supposed to get it right off the bat. Just one example is dead rabbit pregnancy. That reference threw me for a loop and was a shock. There are numerous phrases that are intended to be funny, but when even my auto-correct cannot figure it out, it’s simply frustrating. While reading this story I was forced to learn what French bowling is and that apparently it is also referred to as boules, bocci ball, and cornhole. YouTube was the only thing that answered my question there. I also had to look up IPA, because the context was barely there and all I garnered was that it was alcohol. Too many phrases were stated with the expectation that the reader is up on all things cultural and an avid lover of the Urban Dictionary.

This book could have been a hard one for me to read. I’m not easily impressed with romance since they all tend to follow the same formula. This is no exception, but it was consistent with its sense of humor and the characters never strayed. It was strongly written and overall I’m impressed with how well the author made a typical romance truly stand out.

Now, for the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Romance for adults only.
  • Level of sexuality – It’s graphic when it’s there. It is surprisingly low considering how they met and the entire beginning of the story, but when it happens there are plenty of juicy details.
  • Is there graphic language? Of course. No contemporary romance is complete without a good dose of swearing.
  • Did I cry? Nope.
  • Did I laugh? Not out loud, but I chuckled inwardly all the way through.
  • Is this part of a series? The characters are definitely interwoven in other stories. In fact, the end of the book lets readers know to expect the next character’s happily-ever-after later in 2017.
  • Level of character development – Bailey and Jake are well done. Considering they somewhat follow typical romance leads, I was delighted with how well it was handled, making them stand out amongst the rest. The side characters were a boost to the story and did not disappoint.

The actual story itself is nothing new. It is the genius of the writing that makes it stand out. The first part of the book was a little slow, but at the halfway mark it picked up and I couldn’t put the book down. It might have taken a while for it to grow on me, but I’m glad I stuck with it. I highly suggest it for all romance readers who want a well-written, hilarious tale of insta-love. I gladly give this ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars.

Available here on Amazon

Available here on Barnes & Noble