Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Blind Kiss by Renée Carlino

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A powerful story of two people who spend years denying their scientifically-proven chemistry.

Penny spends her afternoons sitting outside a sandwich shop, surrounded by ghosts. Fourteen years ago, this shop was her childhood dance studio... Now she’s a suburban housewife, dreading the moment her son departs for MIT, leaving her with an impeccably decorated McMansion and a failing marriage. She had her chance at wild, stars-in-her-eyes happiness, but that was a lifetime ago. After The Kiss. Before The Decision.

The Kiss was soulful. Magical. Earth-shattering, and it was all for a free gift card. Asked to participate in a psych study that posed the question, “Can you have sexual chemistry without knowing what the other person looks like?” Penny agreed to be blindfolded, make polite conversation with a total stranger, and kiss him. She never expected The Kiss to change her life forever and introduce her to Gavin: tattooed, gorgeous, and spontaneous enough to ask her out seconds after the blindfolds came off.

For a year, they danced between friendship and romance—until Penny made The Decision that forced them to settle for friendship. Now, fourteen years later, both of their lives are about to radically change—and it’s his turn to decide what will become of their once-in-a-lifetime connection."

Source: advance copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

How do I rate a book that had me equal parts distressed and riveted? My first attempt at reading this had me setting it aside after the first chapter because it was intense. Penny came off as unhinged and there wasn't enough context yet to put her behaviour in perspective. I picked it up a couple of weeks later and with a clearer head on my part, I found a page-turning, heartbreaking story about so many "should have beens" between two people who for some reason or another just couldn't get it together.  

The story is split between the present and 14 years ago when Penny and Gavin first meet in the psych study where they kiss as strangers. It's an instant attraction that has Gavin fawning over her and Penny, who's focused on dance and her future, flattered and overwhelmed by his attention. She offers a compromise that they should just be friends. Gavin reluctantly agrees though is hopeful that he can change her mind. Thus begins this complicated relationship that while they're not "together" together, the reality is that there's no room for anyone else to get close to them either. The hold they have over each other is so strong that it becomes problematic because of the lack of typical boundaries between friends. And it's confusing to anyone else they might try to date.

I can't say that Penny or Gavin's decisions made sense half the time because their actions would often contradict their words. She absolutely refused to get serious with Gavin either due to fear or that he wasn't what she needed at that moment. She hated labels and didn't want anyone to put her in a category or control her. Yet I found her to be the controlling one most of the time. To be fair they were there for each other through some of the toughest moments of their lives. That commitment just emphasizes the fact that they should have been together from the get go and in doing so, they would have avoided drawing other people into their drama. 

Intense is the best way to describe Blind Kiss as it does require some emotional stamina. I'm glad I stuck with it because Renée Carlino is one hell of a writer. I know that the themes in this book may not appeal to everyone so my recommendation is that when you read it, make sure you're feeling up to it. 

~ Bel

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Last Wolf (The Legend of All Wolves #1) by Maria Vale

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For three days out of thirty, when the moon is full and her law is iron, the Great North Pack must be wild.

If she returns to her Pack, the stranger will die.
But if she stays…

Silver Nilsdottir is at the bottom of her Pack’s social order, with little chance for a decent mate and a better life. Until the day a stranger stumbles into their territory, wounded and beaten, and Silver decides to risk everything on Tiberius Leveraux. But Tiberius isn’t all he seems, and in the fragile balance of the Pack and wild, he may tip the destiny of all wolves…

Source: purchased ebook and also borrowed audiobook from Hoopla

I've just read a book that I normally wouldn't have chosen on my own were it not for a glowing recommendation from another author I like. The Last Wolf is not my typical fare but I was ready for something different and I got an amazing story out of it!

Silver is a runt in her pack because she was born with a lame leg. But don't feel pity for her because she has learned how to survive with what she has and surprisingly, she does pretty well for herself. She may be physically slower than the rest of her pack but she has a smart brain and keen senses that have kept her alive this long. Tiberius stumbles upon them one night and starts a chain reaction that will affect the entire pack down the road. Since he's a shifter he cannot be trusted but he's wounded and without help, he'll die. Silver, at the risk of her own safety and guarantee of belonging to a pack, offers to help this stranger. What begins as an odd pairing ends up being one of the strongest relationships of the pack.

It took me about a quarter of the book to truly get in to the story. I think it's because it's a genre that's unfamiliar to me so I spent some effort trying to understand this world and make things fit my expectations. At some point Silver finally got my attention with her astute skills and observations, and then I began to notice all the many details that Vale has infused into this story. The world-building is fascinating from the centuries-old social hierarchy where the wolves are divided into echelons, to the culture of the Great North Wolfpack to which Silver belongs, how they've adapted to the modern world, to the myriad of differences between human and animal nature. Social networking and interactions for both wolf and human are detailed in such a way that also had me realizing that I've never noticed those particulars about people before. It was incredibly fascinating to me to read how the wolves established bonds and respect, also how they enforced discipline. I think one of the biggest "aha" moments for me was when Silver talks about the differences in communication. That wolves talk and move with meaning whereas humans tend to talk a lot but not really have anything to say half the time. Silver encourages Tiberius to get in touch with his wild side, to trust his animal instincts, while he helps her to understand her own human side. There is a funny sequence where she and Ti go into town and she tries to engage in conversation with the townsfolk that winds up going awry. It is hilarious! 

The Last Wolf is an enthralling debut from Maria Vale. On a side note, it still has me considering all the nuances of how we communicate with each other, and I love when a book has that kind of impact on me!

~ Bel

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Boy Toy (Man Hands #3) by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

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A brand new romantic comedy from your favorite snort-laughing duo!


The moment Sadie Matthews walks through the daycare center door, I feel my world tilt in her direction. Again. I fell for her when I was fourteen, and I'm still not over her. Problem: she still thinks of me as a teen she used to babysit. But I've learned a few things about pleasing a woman in the last fifteen years. I can't wait to show her how good it could be. I need to move quickly before I lose her again. This is more than a game to me, but I still plan to win.


I've just survived the worst year of my life. As a single mom of twin toddlers, I don't have time for a man. I barely have time to finish a thought. Who knew that Liam McAllister would grow up to be so devastating? He's everything my husband was not: tall, built, and willing to have a tea party with my girls.

I can't possibly get involved with him. He's too young for me. Too handsome. But he's so persuasive...

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

This is one adorable story! A divorcée in her thirties meets her twins' daycare provider who just happens to be the kid she used to babysit when she was younger. Now he's all grown up and still has a massive crush on her. Two worlds collide bringing with it lots of laughter and sexy times!

I love this story for a number of reasons, first and foremost that it accurately and hysterically describes the harrowing life of a mom with little kids. There were a few instances that instantly brought me back to when my kids were that age. I remembered the frenzy and that feeling of my brain constantly being in frazzle mode. I can laugh about that now but back then life was insane so I definitely feel some solidarity with Sadie. Second, Bowen and Eby realistically show what life for a single mom is like. She's hesitant to date because her kids must come first. Anything she does for herself is considered selfish and brings with it much guilt. Mom guilt is a bummer. Then there's also her low confidence thanks in part to her ex who made her feel inadequate. It's hard to remember your own sex appeal after you've given birth and are covered in baby food and what other kiddy mess gravitates to you. Naturally, Sadie is confused that a younger man wants to get with her. Aside from the small age difference there's also that awkward I-used-to-babysit-you-and-now-you're-freaking-hot sensation Sadie has. Reason number three why I love Boy Toy: Liam, Liam, Liam. He's all grown up but 15 year-old Liam manages to pipe up every now and then when he gets all horny for Sadie. It's hilarious! Liam is just too perfect and is every single mom's wet dream of a Prince Charming - patient, loves kids, makes delicious pancakes, works out, takes care of his woman. This boy should be cloned (though it would help if he were real first). Sigh.

I had a blast reading Boy Toy. It had me laughing and of course weak in the knees any time Liam did or said something wonderful to Sadie. Complications obviously come in to play because Sadie and Liam are at different stages in their lives and have their responsibilities. But never fear, Bowen and Eby give us our much loved HEA and Sadie and Liam so deserve it!

~ Bel

Available Now!


I messed up. Big time.
These are my thoughts as I rush into the bathroom for the world’s fastest shower. The hot spray of water judges me as I hastily wash Liam off my thighs.
A better mother wouldn’t let this happen. I shouldn’t have a younger lover. If I didn’t, he wouldn’t be so deliciously appealing. I couldn’t lose my mind, wake him up out of a sound sleep to ride him like a pony. And then collapse beside him in peaceful, sated slumber.
Seriously, how did I let that happen?
You know how, my hormones scold me. Because he’s the hottest thing you’ve ever tasted.
Oh yeah. That.
After showering I get dressed at top speed. Poor Liam is currently shouldering all my parental responsibilities. Throwing on yesterday’s sundress, I pause for a moment to pop a birth control pill, because that’s one thing I won’t goof up.
Then I hurry downstairs.
The sight in the kitchen gives me heart palpitations. But not because there’s flour dusting much of the countertop. Rather, it’s the hot, shirtless guy holding my toddler and making a dump truck sound as Amy tips the measuring spoon over a bowl.
“Yes! Well done, little miss,” he says, relieving her of the spoon. “Batter up!” he says, easing her to the floor and catching Kate, who’s trying to climb him like a tree.
Aren’t we all.
Liam easily rests Kate on one of his perfect arms, measures a half teaspoon of baking powder one-handed and then hands the spoon to Kate. “Beep beep beep,” he says, making the sound of a truck backing up. “Look out below!”
Kate dumps the spoonful into the bowl and giggles.
“Awesome. Who wants to add the milk?”
“My do it!” Amy yells.
Boy, I need another minute of alone time to compose myself. Because I love this picture a little too much. I love Liam’s ease with my girls. I love how calm he is at the center of toddler-induced mayhem.
It causes a little pain in my heart as I allow myself one more comparison to my former life. The truth is I never once saw Decker elbows-deep in kitchen chaos with a kid on one arm. Starting breakfast with twins in tow? He was more likely to captain a NASA expedition to Mars than he was to do this simple Saturday morning thing.
I feel like crying for no reason at all. Clearly I’m on some kind of emotional overload. Maybe coffee will help.
Sliding into the kitchen, I go right for the coffee grounds.
“Mama!” Amy says. “Wiam making pancakes.”
“That is amazing,” I say in a wobbly voice. “What a lucky girl you are.”
“Sorry about the mess,” he says, casting a glance in my direction. And I know he doesn’t just mean the flour on the counter, but the bigger mess of waking up naked in my bed.
“You know,” I say with a small sigh. “Messes shouldn’t scare me so much. It’s going to be fine.”
Liam’s smile is so filled with relief, that I now feel like an ogre. This man wants to make pancakes with us on Saturday morning, and I said no to that before? I’m clearly insane.
“Which frying pan should I use?” he asks, casting an eye on the cookware hanging from the rack over the sink.
“Oh, no. You want this.” I pull a double-burner griddle out of a lower cabinet.
“Oooh,” he says. “Mommy has the fancy pancake griddle.”
Kate giggles. She’s gazing at Liam as if he invented fun.
And in my life, I guess he did.
Here’s the tricky thing about being a shrink—sometimes you notice that you’re doing something that’s exactly contrary to the advice you’d give your patients.
I’m having one of those moments right now.
If I had a single mom in my office telling me there was a lovely guy in her life who was kind to her kids—and yet she was giving him the stiff arm? I’d tell her: “Be kind to yourself. Don’t push away the good people in your life, especially if you think you don’t deserve them. Let people surprise you.”
I’m such a hypocrite.
Also, I need caffeine.
Ten minutes later I’m sipping from a mug of coffee, but Liam’s is cooling on the countertop. The man has his hands full right now as he puts pancakes on the griddle with “help” from my daughters.
“How about a few of these?” he asks, holding up a bag of chocolate chips. Meanwhile, Kate waves the spatula around like a ninja. “A guy needs to make smiley faces in his pancakes sometimes.”
Good. Lord. It’s a miracle I’m not just a puddle of my former self right now. This is some serious mommy porn I’m watching. Shirtless guy feeds toddlers before eight a.m. I walk over to the high cabinet where I keep the ramekins. “We could make smiley faces with dried organic currants,” I say, just to be a pain in the ass.
Liam makes a face of disgust as I take the chocolate chips from his hand and pour some into a ramekin. “Joking! Here.”
He gives me a big, hot smile. Okay, it probably wasn’t meant to be hot, but I feel flutters down below.
“Choc-it!” Kate yells, grabbing for the ramekin.
“Easy,” Liam says with a laugh. “That’s for my artwork. Come here and I’ll show you.”
I set the table and pour the sippy cups of milk. And Liam manages to serve up two smiley pancakes—one for each girl—at exactly the same moment, in exactly the same size. This is a man who knows his way around toddlers.
“Not cut it!” Amy yells when I approach her plate with a knife. She picks up the pancake in two hands and takes a bite right out of the side of its face.
“Okay, right.” I back away. Forks are optional today, then. No big deal.
Liam takes advantage of this moment of quiet to quickly pour six more pancakes onto the griddle. He leans over his work, dotting them with chocolate chips.
I step closer to him and put a hand on his lower back. “Thank you,” I whisper.
“For trashing your kitchen?”
“No.” He glances at me and I give him a shy smile. “For being so amazing all the time.”
His eyes get very warm, and I just want to stay right here in that blue-eyed gaze as long as I can. “This might be a good time to confess that I didn’t make smiley faces on my own pancakes.”
“No?” I look down at the griddle. Side by side, two of them have a different design—little bullseyes in their centers. “Those are…?”
“Boobs,” he whispers. “My inner fourteen-year-old has a dirty mind. He can’t shut it off sometimes.”
“Drink your coffee,” I whisper, handing him the mug. “Sit down. Let me finish these for you. Or go put on a shirt because my inner fourteen-year-old has her tongue hanging out all the time, too.”
He gives me a wicked, wicked smile and then runs upstairs to find his shirt.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A Wolf Apart Spotlight

We're spotlighting the release of A WOLF APART by Maria Vale!

It's the second book in The Legend of All Wolves series and is a follow up to the imaginative and spellbinding first book, The Last Wolf. You guys, I was beside myself when I finished it and couldn't wait to read the next book. Now if you haven't read The Last Wolf yet, you're in luck because Sourcebooks Casablanca is giving away 5 copies and you could win one of them! And since we're celebrating its release, we have a special excerpt from A Wolf Apart for you to enjoy!  ~ Bel

 Can a human truly make room in her heart for the Wild?

Thea Villalobos has long since given up trying to be what others expect of her. So in Elijah Sorensson she can see through the man of the world to a man who is passionate to the point of heartbreak. But something inside him is dying…

Elijah Sorensson has all kinds of outward success: bespoke suits, designer New York City apartment, women clamoring for his attention. Except Elijah despises the human life he’s forced to endure. He’s Alpha of his generation of the Great North Pack, and the wolf inside him will no longer be restrained…

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Here Elijah visits Thea’s isolated cabin. He comes to the realization that his usual posturing isn’t going to work on her and he decides to try something else.

“Here’s the truth. I didn’t do anything. The letter you wrote for Liebling? The one that you showed me in New York? It would have been just fine as it was. A change or two maybe to make it stronger. Our letterhead, sure. But it was fine as it was.”
“So why did you say it was more complicated?” The smell of coffee hits the back of my throat as she spoons the grounds into the filter.
“Because I wanted to see you again.”
She stops for a moment before screwing the lid back on and returning it to the cold box.
“That’s kind of pathetic.”
“I know. I’m not used to being pathetic, but there it is.”
A thin wisp of steam starts to curl up from the kettle.
“And why are you here now?”
“Same reason. I wanted to see you again, and after yesterday…I wasn’t sure you would.”
“You’re right. I wouldn’t have.” She raises her arm, stroking her cheek with the back of her hand. “Your skin is so soft,” she whispers, low and deep and urgent [imitating me]. “You should never wear anything but silk.”
If I weren’t so humiliated by the words, the sound of her voice would have made me come right there.
She grins and hands me the mug and a spoon.
“When you’re done with that, give it back.”
“The spoon. I’ve only got one.”
She pours milk into the bowl in front of her and then coffee, and then taking the spoon from my hand, she swirls the clouds of milk through her bowl of coffee.
It is so terribly, achingly intimate.
There is, I realize, looking over the rim of my mug, only one of anything here. A single cup. A single bowl. A single small skillet. A single pot. A single chair. A single plate. A single towel hanging from the bathroom door.
The only thing that might accommodate more than one is the bed with its thick duvet and four pillows.
Doug wanted to expand Thea’s cabin. Install a refrigerator, a sofa, a TV. What did he say? “That’d be nice, right?” He wanted more. More noise, more stuff, more him.
But he missed the point of this place. Thea’s cabin isn’t just a shelter that could use modernizing and expanding; it’s a bulwark protecting her solitude. And no matter what he thought could be done, should be done, it would not be done, because there was no room here for more Doug or more of any man.
But…I am not any man. I am not a man at all. And as wolves, we understand what it is to be wordless. We understand the primal importance of silence.
She stirs distractedly, staring at the silence beyond the window.
“How long have you been here?”
“Four years,” she says, “give or take.”
“That’s a long time to be in the middle of nowhere. Do you ever get bored?”
“Bored? Never. I like the quiet. Helps me focus. For me, things get muddled when there are too many voices telling you what to do or how to be. Can I warm you up?”
You have got to be kidding me.
I glare down at the mountain ridge in my pants, pointing out that the only thing this woman with a steaming pot in her hand is offering to warm up is my coffee.
My…brain suddenly goes all curious about whether Doug is out of the picture. Because I don’t want him or anyone else offering to refill her.
“You don’t get lonely?”
“Sometimes. Not a big deal. Then I just make more effort to see friends. But most of the people I see need me. I like it. It feels more real than when someone’s squeezing you into their schedule, praying that you’ll cancel at the last minute.” She taps at the window with her finger, then wags the same finger. Even I, who am a creature of the forest, can’t see who she’s reprimanding. “Do you?” she asks. “Get lonely, I mean.”
“Me? Pffft. I see people all the time.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
I think of all the clients I have spent time with, laughing and impressing and cajoling. And all the women I have spent time with, laughing and impressing and seducing. And in the end, have come home, vomited, and crawled into bed with a wolf-shaped hole in my chest.
“Yes. Sometimes.”
About the Author

Source: Goodreads

Maria Vale is a journalist who has worked for Publishers Weekly, Glamour magazine, Redbook, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. She is a logophile and a bibliovore and a worrier about the world. Trained as a medievalist, she tries to shoehorn the language of Beowulf into things that don't really need it. She currently lives in New York with her husband, two sons and a long line of dead plants. No one will let her have a pet.

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Down With Love (Love Wars #1) by Kate Meader

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Sparks fly when the hot-shot divorce lawyer meets the high-powered wedding planner. The only question is, what kind?

If you ever get married, remember my name: Max Henderson. In my line of work, you acquire a certain perspective on supposedly everlasting unions. . . .

1. Pre-nups are your friend. 
2. The person you married is not the person you’re divorcing. 
3. And I hope you didn’t spend much on the wedding because that was one helluva waste of hard-earned cash, wasn’t it? 

But some guys are willing to take a chance. Like my brother, who thinks he’s going to ride off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams in a haze of glitter on unicorns. And the wedding planner—the green-eyed beauty who makes a living convincing suckers to shell out thousands of dollars on centerpieces—is raking it in on this matrimonial monstrosity. 

The thing is, Charlie Love is not unlike me. We’re both cogs in the wedding-industrial complex. As the best man, I know her game—and I can play it better than her. But after one scorching, unexpected kiss, I’m thinking I might just want to get played.

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

I think enemies-to-lovers might just be one of my favourite tropes as I'm sure is the case for so many romance readers. I enjoy the "showmanship" between the characters as they try to one up each other and try to squash any hope of a truce. On the flip side, I also enjoy that moment when well, the switch flips in the other direction and they don't obsess over hating each other as they have been. It's their reaction to this new knowledge that always gets me -- horror, embarrassment, disbelief -- and then they don't even recognize themselves. That anticipation leading up to when they finally admit that something is there is what I love so much.

Down With Love draws two opposites together thanks to a sudden wedding announcement. I don't think there could be a truer demonstration of opposites than Charlie, the wedding planner who wants nothing more than to create the most magical and memorable of days for her clients, and Max, the divorce lawyer, who sees the downside of marriage where that most magical day becomes the most painful memory for his clients. He sees Charlie's job as the ultimate lie that requires him to eventually swoop in to pick up the pieces at the other end. If only they could avoid each other, but no, the smitten groom happens to be Max's brother. Despite their opposing views on marriage, and Max's conflicted feelings about being both happy and weary for his brother, Charlie still gets under his skin. She may have a romanticized view of wedded bliss but she's also quite grounded in general and there's so much there to fall for. Same goes for her.

I had a blast reading Down With Love. Charlie and Max have that chemistry that made me smile and swoon. I've gotten a bit tired lately of uber alpha male heroes and their testosterones so I've have taken a break from those storylines. I was thrilled that Max is not like that. In fact, Meader does a fun thing with Charlie and Max's personalities when it comes to their views on hooking up and trust. I liked that little touch a lot and it just made them more appealing. The other star of the story is Chicago where you're taken on jaunts to the Peninsula, a Cubs game, and other cool areas around town.

Down With Love is a splendid start to the Love Wars series. Meader's side characters are just as fun which is great because they tend to be hit or miss for me. I know I'd like to get to know that cheeky Brit, Lucas a bit better ... nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Congrats, Kate Meader on another sweet, hot and entertaining romance!

~ Bel