TEN fun, romantic holiday novellas by ten New York Times & USA Today bestselling authors 
An all-star gathering of some of today’s most popular NYT and USA Today bestselling romance authors together in a fun-filled collection…holiday style! With the overwhelming response to the bestselling, chart-topping summer boxed set, we’ve brought together even MORE of your favorite authors for a winter compilation, and this time, we’ve giftwrapped TEN stories for your e-reading pleasure. From the funny & sweet, to the steamy & heartfelt, each novella is packed with a whole lot of romance, and hand-picked to infuse perfectly-portioned holiday cheer into your busy days this season…along with hot bursts of holiday steam for those winter nights.
If I Return — by USA Today bestselling author Sawyer Bennett
Wild Irish Christmas — by New York Times bestselling author Mari Carr
Seducing Santa — by New York Times bestselling author Janelle Denison (aka Erika Wilde)
Decking Drew — by New York Times bestselling author Violet Duke
Fairies & Wishes — by USA Today bestselling author Karen Erickson (aka Monica Murphy)
Twelve Dates of Christmas — by New York Times bestselling author Jessie Evans
Holiday Spirit — by New York Times bestselling author Cathryn Fox
Unwrapped — by New York Times bestselling author Melody Grace
A Christmas Heat Wave — by New York Times bestselling author Alannah Lynne
His Christmas Wish — by New York Times bestselling author Marquita Valentine

SAWYER BENNETT
I’m about to step outside of the proverbial box.
Pushing away from the elevator wall I had been leaning against, I walk up to Jack, bringing my body close into his. Looking into his face, I see his nostrils flare and unbidden desire leap into his eyes. It’s all the encouragement I need before I smooth my hands up over his chest, winding them behind his neck. My fingers graze over the stubble of his short haircut. I’m pleased when his arms wrap around my waist to draw me in closer. I waste no further time before pulling his head down to me, until our lips meet softly.
Despite the fact my inhibitions are lowered, despite the fact I boldly put myself in Jack’s arms, and despite the fact that his eyes were heated as our lips moved toward one another, the kiss is surprisingly sweet. It’s nothing more than a gentle meeting of our lips. Our mouths are slightly parted as we move against one another, tilting our heads first to one side, and then another as we explore.
Even though the kiss is soft and sweet, I still feel a warmth spreading through my body. It causes me to want more… to experience Jack on the next level. Tentatively, my tongue pushes forward into his mouth and at first he stills. I can feel his fingers flex into my lower back, and I push my tongue in just a little farther, taking a swipe at his.
He answers me with a groan and then he’s gripping my head, holding me in place so his tongue can take charge.
And I let him.
Letting go, for once in my life, I let Jack have his way with my mouth. He deepens the kiss and I can’t help the sigh that escapes me. He eats it up, pleading for more by the insistent way his lips move against mine.
Even though we seem to both be drowning in the kiss, I find myself wanting to submerge further into him. Desire floods my senses and my body moves without thinking. I push myself closer to him, our bodies connecting. My breasts mash into chest and I can feel his hardness against my stomach. I push closer yet, wanting—no, needing—the contact.
This kiss… this amazing kiss. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s full of passion and fire. I realize that my prior kisses have been lukewarm at best. Energy courses through me at the thought of what else I’ve been missing. The shy introvert is gone and I can feel my inner sex kitten awakening.
And I’m ready… ready to let her prowl because the passion that flows between us has firmly shut boring Hope Camden away.
MELODY GRACE
“What do you say? Ready to get to know each other a little better?” I reach over and take a sip of his drink, slowly licking the moisture off my lips.
“Why not?” he gives me a grin that turns my insides to molten honey. “This should be good.”
I have to catch my breath. All night, I’ve been at war with myself: trying not to flirt with him or make a fool of myself. But now, I’m suddenly reckless. Unleashed. Now I’ve spied a crack in his cool, collected attitude, I’m not going to let this chance slide by, not without a fight.
Daniel blinks once, then lowers himself slowly back on the barstool beside me. I have to catch my breath. All night, I’ve been at war with myself: I just want him, more than I can stand.
“You first,” I announce, slowly crossing my legs.
Daniel looks down at the fabric riding up over my thighs, then back up at me.
Of course. A guy like him is an open book: nothing to hide. “Hmm,” I muse, “That’s easy, truth.”
If I’m going to push him, it needs to be something good. “Where’s thecraziest place you’ve ever had sex?”
“Nowhere. I’ve always just done it the regular way, on a bed.”
I stare in disbelief. “Seriously? Not even in the backseat of a car? The gym locker rooms? The rooftop of the student lounge?” I prompt.
Daniel looks bashful. “I guess I’m just boring like that. Why, where’s yours?”
I think for a moment. “Backstage at a rock show, up against the amps. He lasted like, two seconds flat and I nearly went deaf… and electrocuted,” I shake my head, giving a wry smile at the memory.
“Sounds painful.” Daniel laughs, and I lose myself in his eyes. The tequila is warm in my bloodstream, mingling with desire and recklessness in one heady cocktail that’s impossible to ignore as I sit here, inches away from Daniel, his tanned forearm resting casually on the bar between us, close enough to touch…
I snap back to reality. “What?”
Daniel gives me a patient smile. “I said, why bother nearly killing yourself like that? It doesn’t sound like it was even worth your while.”
I shrug. “It was an experience.”
“Jumping off a cliff is an experience,” Daniel points out. “You going to try that too?”
“No, it’s like…” I try to gather my thoughts, “This is it, my wild adventurous youth. One day, I’m going to be settled down with a kid and a mini­van, and, and, a Costco clubcard. I want to be able to look back and say, I lived. I had adventures. You know?”
“Nope,” Daniel makes a face. “I’ve been on the same path since school, I never did anything crazy.”
My heart catches. I force myself to meet his eyes. “It’s never too late to try.”
EXTRAS: FAVORITE RECIPES
Sawyer’s Favorite Holiday Recipe
This one’s my absolute favorite holiday recipe!
Pumpkin Roll
Ingredients: 3 large eggs, 1 cup granulated sugar, 2/3 cup canned pumpkin, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 3/4 cup all­ purpose flour, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 cup pecans, finely chopped, 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for sprinkling. Two 3­ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature1 stick butter (1/2 cup), room temperature1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Instructions
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 17 1/2­ by 12 1/2­inch jellyroll pan.With an electric mixer, beat the eggs, granulated sugar, pumpkin and lemon juice until smooth. Sift together the flour, ginger, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add the sifted ingredients to the egg mixture and blend until fully combined. Spread the batter in the jellyroll pan. Sprinkle the dough with the chopped pecans. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 14 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes.Invert the cake onto a wire rack. Sprinkle some of the confectioner’ sugar on a large tea towel and carefully transfer the warm cake to the towel, folding the sides of the towel over the cake. Roll the cake up in the towel and cool in the refrigerator thoroughly for about 45 minutes.With an electric mixer, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla and beat until smooth. Carefully unroll the cooled cake and spread the mixture on top of the cake. Gently re­roll the cake up and refrigerate it until you’re ready to slice and serve. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.
Melody’s Favorite Holiday Recipe
 
One of my favorite fall/festive recipes is ‘Mom’s Apple Cake’ from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. It’s a delicious, buttery cake that’s perfect for get­togethers: just add whipped cream or ice­cream, or even eat some for breakfast like I do. (recipe courtesy of the Smitten Kitchen)
Mom’s Apple Cake
Ingredients: 6 apples, Mom uses McIntosh apples, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 5 tablespoons sugar, 2 3/4 cups flour, sifted 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup vegetable oil, 2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup orange juice, 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, 4 eggs, 1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube pan. Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with cinnamon and sugar and set aside. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated. Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely before running knife between cake and pan, and unmolding onto a platter.

Lyric Scott has always had a good life. Outgoing, spunky, and musically talented, she’s constantly surrounded by family and friends, yet she still feels there’s something missing.
Then she meets her new next-door neighbor Ayden Gregory. Mysterious, sweet, and sad, Ayden is the exact opposite of Lyric and exactly what she needs to fill the void in her life.
Ayden has been through more than most people and believes his life is always going to be rocky, so when he’s suddenly adopted by the Gregorys, he’s thrown for a turn. But even with a new, loving family, he still finds himself haunted by the memories of his old life. The only true breath of fresh air is when he’s with his best friend, Lyric Scott.
As Lyric and Ayden grow closer, the lines of their friendship start to blur. But when Ayden’s past unexpectedly pushes its way into his new life, their friendship and newfound attraction will be tested.
**A novel about Ella and Micha’s daughter and Lila and Ethan’s son from The Secret Series. However, this series can be read on its own.**

3.5-4 stars!
Whenever I pick up a Jessica Sorensen book, I know to expect the following things: damaged yet inexplicably endearing main characters, depressing storyline, and cliffhangers. That is just her storytelling trademark and nowadays I have come to embrace these aspects that when combined, make for one compelling read. I was especially excited to read this book because as a fan of her Secret series, it’s awesome to revisit those previous characters in this story plus, the hero and heroine are Lila & Ethan’s son and Ella & Micha’s daughter!
Lyric Scott is the beloved and somewhat spoiled daughter of Ella & Micha Scott. In her free time she jams out to music, plays a variety of instruments, and hangs out with Lila & Ethan’s kids next door, all of whom are adopted. Their most recent kid they take in is Ayden Gregory, a deeply troubled teenager with both physical and emotional scars acquired from his rocky childhood time. Upon seeing how bleak and sad Ayden is, Lyric promises herself to be his friend and use her positivity to influence him to live life happily and with no regrets.
Ayden is a damaged boy through and through. His memory of his childhood is foggy but he does know the scars on his body are cruelly inflicted by others. Having been ripped away from his siblings and tossed through the foster care system like a rag doll, Ayden struggles with the concept of love and shies away from intimacy, except when it comes to Lyric. Her bubbly and bright personality is like a ray of sunshine to him and her happiness is contagious. As his acquaintanceship with her goes from friendship and develops into a tender romance, Ayden finds that despite all his fears of rejection and loss, he can’t and doesn’t want to resist Lyric…
For the most part, I really liked this story! It’s a YA book that later turns into a romance between the two main characters so I appreciated that there was no insta-love whatsoever. The character development is obvious and it was a bonus to see past beloved characters become parental figures. My main complaint is the short length of the book. It read more like a big novella than a full length novel and so when the book ended, I felt like the story had just started to pick up momentum and then flat-lined with the ending. The ending is a mild cliffhanger, not one that sends you reeling but one that concludes on a high note and gives you an anticipatory feeling.
Unraveling You is the first book in the Unraveling You series focusing on the children of the characters from the Secret series. It is not a standalone and Lyric and Ayden’s story will be told over the course of three books.
ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

If I tell you right up front, right in the beginning that I lost him, it will be easier for you to bear. You will know it’s coming, and it will hurt. But you’ll be able to prepare.
Someone found him in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. They called him Baby Moses when they shared his story on the ten o’clock news – the little baby left in a basket at a dingy Laundromat, born to a crack addict and expected to have all sorts of problems. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant, but the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.
It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met Moses and my mom told me all about him, the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids, and kids grow up to be teenagers. Nobody wants a messed up teenager. And Moses was messed up. Moses was a law unto himself. But he was also strange and exotic and beautiful. To be with him would change my life in ways I could never have imagined. Maybe I should have stayed away. Maybe I should have listened. My mother warned me. Even Moses warned me. But I didn’t stay away. And so begins a story of pain and promise, of heartache and healing, of life and death. A story of before and after, of new beginnings and never-endings. But most of all…a love story.

Amy Harmon knew at an early age that writing was something she wanted to do, and she divided her time between writing songs and stories as she grew. Having grown up in the middle of wheat fields without a television, with only her books and her siblings to entertain her, she developed a strong sense of what made a good story.Amy Harmon has been a motivational speaker, a grade school teacher, a junior high teacher, a home school mom, and a member of the Grammy Award winning Saints Unified Voices Choir, directed by Gladys Knight. She released a Christian Blues CD in 2007 called “What I Know” – also available on Amazon and wherever digital music is sold. She has written five novels, Running Barefoot, Slow Dance in Purgatory, Prom Night in Purgatory, the New York Times Bestseller, A Different Blue, Making Faces and most recently, Infinity + One. Her newest book, The Law of Moses releases November 27, 2014.

If I tell you right up front, right in the beginning that I lost him, it will be easier for you to bear. You will know it’s coming, and it will hurt. But you’ll be able to prepare.
Someone found him in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. They called him Baby Moses when they shared his story on the ten o’clock news – the little baby left in a basket at a dingy Laundromat, born to a crack addict and expected to have all sorts of problems. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant, but the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.
It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met Moses and my mom told me all about him, the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids, and kids grow up to be teenagers. Nobody wants a messed up teenager.
And Moses was messed up. Moses was a law unto himself. But he was also strange and exotic and beautiful. To be with him would change my life in ways I could never have imagined. Maybe I should have stayed away. Maybe I should have listened. My mother warned me. Even Moses warned me. But I didn’t stay away.
And so begins a story of pain and promise, of heartache and healing, of life and death. A story of before and after, of new beginnings and never-endings. But most of all…a love story.

Warning: Only read my review if you want a heads up on what to expect. For those that like to be surprised or don’t want a single thing to be spoiled, just go into the book 100% blind.

First, I am a reader who needs to be given a heads up on certain things before I read about them. Call me picky, OCD, or whatever but when it’s my time and money on the line, I don’t have the patience or luxury to go into every book completely blind and expect to be happily surprised by plot twists. And especially when I draw the line at certain things and am not sufficiently warned by the author or most other reviews, that’s when I get annoyed and frustrated.

Had I known beforehand this book contained a heavy paranormal aspect with many biblical references I would’ve liked it a lot more than I actually did. In the author’s own words, I would’ve been able to prepare ahead of time. I definitely would’ve started the book with a different mindset. Instead, I spent the first 25% of the story feeling confused – was Moses insane? Did he have a mental illness? I finally had enough and got a friend to tell me what his deal was: Moses can see the dead. He sees ghosts. He hears their voices. And then he paints them. I mean, just looking from the blurb that aspect is so not obvious! After discussing with a few readers, we all agreed that seeing ghosts + dead people = paranormal. So for those that think this book shouldn’t be categorized under this genre, it’s your prerogative to think what you want, but for other like-minded readers’ reference, I feel it’s imperative to give everyone the option to fully know what to expect, not deliberately omit such a crucial aspect in fear it may ward away potential readers.

Being honest with you, it shouldn’t have to matter what ‘genre’ this book is because loyal fans of this author will still want to read her books regardless. Instead, I felt like the omission was a very subtle but manipulative marketing move, and those leave such a sour taste in my mouth.

Please don’t think I based my 2 star rating entirely on this one issue. It’s a part of the reason for the low rating but I also had major problems with the plot and characters.

Characters: Maybe it’s because both books were set in the same town but the main characters here felt like carbon copies of the characters from Running Barefoot. I had just finished the former a couple days ago in preparation for this book so the similarities are jarring. The hero Moses is a misunderstood loner with parents from different worlds and he doesn’t belong in either, sort of like Samuel Yates. And the heroine Georgia is a sweet girl loved by all who sees the hero and wants to ‘fix’ him, be his friend, and make him smile, no matter what it takes, sort of like Josie Jensen. Quite frankly, Moses was a jerk (once again, like Samuel AND is a jerk in the exact same way). He had his shining moments but when it came down to testing his feelings for Georgia, he turned chicken and used the classic ‘I’m not good enough’ excuse to step back and create conflict. As for Georgia, I do admire her resiliency and for the most part I loved her character, but she was definitely a doormat when it came to Moses and part of me really wanted her to grow a backbone sooner than later in the story.

Plot: With the story being more inspirational fiction than romance, I got bored several times in the book and had to push myself to finish. It was even tougher to stay invested because two plot devices I absolutely cannot stand were present. There is a very big time gap that I felt crippled the second half of the story. It’s tricky with time jumps because I always wonder…why that certain number of years? Why 3 or 5 or 10? The author really has to convince me time jumps serve a purpose rather than be a shortcut to a happy ending and sadly, the very long time gap in this book did nothing but piss me off. And right before the time jump, there is a quick reveal about Georgia that was a huge pet peeve. I do think blurting out what it is can be a spoiler so if you want to know, message me privately.

At times, the writing was evocative and the 5 Greats theme was wonderful. I do know fans of this author will find another winner with this story that oozes positivity. As for me, I’m just going to move on now since I’m starting to feel like the Grinch who stole Christmas…

Pressing the boundaries of both the psyche and the heart, Sam and Holden embark on a dangerous journey that will test the limits of love.
Sam Wintry’s life used to be almost perfect. She was engaged to her childhood best friend and high school sweetheart, Tyler Marks, planning an amazing cross-country honeymoon during her college break. But after a hit-and-run leaves her in ruin, she begins seeing Tyler’s fractured, ghostly presence, and her family believes she’s losing her mind. Not until she completes their journey, stopping along the way to scatter Tyler’s remains, will Tyler be able cross over. Only…is Sam ready for him to leave her?
When the black sheep of the Marks’ family, Holden Marks, returns to check on Tyler’s case, Sam convinces him to give her his brother’s ashes. Despite their shaky history, she needs him…plus, he owes it to Sam and his brother. What she doesn’t count on is Holden’s relentlessness to go on the trip.
On the road, Holden realizes just how unhinged Sam has become. Dealing with her psychosis forces him to confront his dark past, making it harder to keep secrets hidden that should remain buried. Especially from Sam, the only woman he’s ever loved. And as Sam starts to unravel the truth, she begins to question if the brother she’s unwillingly falling for again is in an even darker place than her.

3.5-4 stars!
I’ve been in a book funk lately and since none of the recently released books were appealing to me at the moment, I dug deep into my TBR list and found this little gem. The blurb really grabbed my attention: a mentally disturbed heroine who had not one but two guys in love with her, plus…they’re brothers?! Add in a ghost, a road trip, a mystery, and a lovely second chance romance and I pretty much decided that this would be my next read. Both the plot and writing were compelling and kept my attention from the very beginning to the very end and the sexual tension between the hero and heroine crackled in the air. I did, however, have some issues, like the timeline switching back and forth between past and present I wasn’t too fond of, and the ending along with the suspense aspect was a little anticlimactic but when taken as a whole, this story is a solid NA romance that I’m glad I picked up.
Sam Wintry had the perfect life: she was engaged to her childhood best friend and sweetheart Tyler Marks, settled in college, and getting ready for the road trip of her life with Tyler. All that changed when he’s killed in a hit and run and Sam’s left shattered and barely able to pick up the pieces. All her life she’s relied on Tyler: first as friends, and then when they were together, as a couple and now with him gone, she struggles with self-identity. In fact, her mind is so fragile she believes she can see Tyler’s ghost lingering on Earth and hear his voice. Her parents, friends, and doctor all are convinced she’s mentally unstable and put her on meds to stabilize her, but Sam knows she’s not crazy. She’s not lying. And she can see Tyler. See that her fiancé valued the road trip they were supposed to go on. In an impulsive gesture, Sam decides to go on the road trip and scatter his ashes at major checkpoints Tyler would’ve liked. Her plan goes off without a hitch, except for one thing. Holden Marks is back, and he’s here to stay and go with Sam no matter what.
Holden is Tyler’s older brother and the black sheep of the family. What’s gradually revealed is that Sam and Holden had a past before she was involved with Tyler, a past that includes infatuation, love, and heartbreak. For years, Sam and Holden’s relationship is strained but with Sam going on a road trip with his brother’s ashes, Holden insists on going with her to honor him, to protect her, and to solve the mystery he’s been trying to do for a while now: find the bastard responsible for the hit and run.
There is absolutely NO cheating or a love triangle. The relationship timeline between the three goes in the order of: Sam + Holden, Sam + Tyler, and then Sam + Holden again. Never did I feel like the age gap between Sam and Holden was inappropriate nor did I ever think Tyler was second place. Sam loved both of the Marks boys, but in very, very different ways and at different times of her life. Tyler was a true love. But Holden was her first love. And from early on, it was very obvious to me who she belonged with and who she had the deeper connection to.
The first couple of chapters alternated between past and present and since I’m not a fan of that kind of book setup, I was a little disconnected with the story at that time but it didn’t make me lose interest in the overall plot. There is a secondary suspense element weaved into the story and when it all came to light towards the end I was slightly disappointed with how easily all the ends were wrapped up, considering how hard the protagonists were wanting Tyler’s case to be solved for a while now.
This is a book that kept me on my toes and led me down memory lane with all the aspects of teenage life. It’s both a love after loss romance and a second chance romance, two of my favorite kind of love stories combined in one. With so many NA romances out there, it’s really refreshing to read one that’s slightly different from the norm.
The Darkest Part is the first book in the Living Heartwood series but a standalone. There is a slight paranormal aspect as the heroine ‘sees’ her dead fiance’s ghost but other than that this is very much a contemporary story.
Rating: 3.5-4 stars!

The day started like every other day…
Bianca London finds herself kidnapped and locked up in a van with a strange man. Ten hours later, they’re dumped on a deserted island. Bianca has no idea what’s going on and her attraction to this stranger is the only thing keeping her fear at bay.
Jakob Bradley wants only to figure out why they’ve been left on the island and how they can get off. But as the days go by, he can’t ignore his growing fascination with Bianca.
In order to survive, Bianca and Jakob must figure out how they’re connected, but as they grow closer, secrets are revealed that may destroy everything they thought they knew about each other.

I’m not familiar with this author’s work so I had no idea what to expect but judging from the blurb I had hoped it would be good. While the premise itself is an intriguing one, the execution fell below ground zero for me and for most of the book I was so frustrated I made mad cow sounds because of the idiotic heroine and the plot that seemed to run in circles. As for the ending, I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, but it finally made the book much more interesting. The only positive thing I have to say is that the suspense and desire to know the mastermind behind the hero & heroine’s kidnapping is what made this story a page-turner; all the other parts I had to force myself to finish.

The heroine Bianca is convinced her mother’s death wasn’t just an accident and armed with papers her late father left her, seeks out answers that lead her all the way to the elusive owner of one of the most powerful business corporations in the country. But before she can confront him, she gets kidnapped and taken to a remote island with another guy, the hero Jakob. Not knowing who he is, where they are, and why they’re there, Bianca reluctantly teams up with Jakob to get off the island and find the mastermind behind their kidnapping, all the while being ridiculously attracted to him.
Like I said before, this book was a real page turner because the suspense was solid. Other than that, however, everything else fell flat…starting with the awful heroine and her best friend. Literally every other page I could pick on something they did or say that drove me bonkers, whether it was Bianca’s terrible survival skills, her completely unnecessary spouting of random & useless movie facts, or both of their stupid commentary.
Here are but a few examples (spoiler-free quotes):
“It’s so pretty here. Whoever kidnapped us all really chose a beautiful spot.”

Isn’t the kidnapper so considerate? *rolls eyes*

“My dearest Rosie (Bianca’s best friend), you don’t know me yet, but I very much want to know you. Accept this gift as a token of my friendship.
Who’s it from?
Who knows?…Who cares? I just got a bracelet from Tiffany’s.”

………………

“You seem like you’d have a lot of ladies.
Why would you think that?
You’re so handsome. And you’re rich.”

^I need a drink.

“Let me get this straight. You told your ex-boyfriend that your father created multiple products that made his family company one of the largest corporations in the world. And then you told him you were doing research on said company, and you expected that he’d be cool with that?”

^Finally a voice of reason. At this point I just wanted to punch Bianca in the face and call it a day.

Now for the hero. I think he could almost be the saving grace of this book, except he has terrible taste in women. And by women I mean Bianca.
If she really is his match in everything, then good luck and good fortune to them both.
As for the plot, it was pretty obvious what Jakob’s role was in the whole kidnapping scheme. If the blatant clues dropped in the story don’t give it away, then the blurb for this book does (see his last name).
I will rarely rate books 1 star even if it was terrible to the point I wanted to DNF multiple times but my rationale is if the writing was solid I can give 2 stars. Sadly, not even the writing in this book is worth giving it a shot. The quotes I pulled for my graphics are the best of the crop and even that is a little amateur. I’m a reader who fully utilizes the highlight function on my iPad and normally I’d be highlighting quotes – funny, breathtaking, beautiful quotes – from left to right but in this book, I had more quotes that annoyed the crap out of me than ones that stirred any positive emotion. Maybe for longtime fans of this author, this book will be a smashing hit but for likeminded readers, perhaps it is best to skip this one, or at least until the second one releases since this first one ends on a massive cliffhanger.
Illusion is book 1 in the Swept Away series and not a standalone. There is giant cliffy at the end and the story will continue on in book 2 Disillusioned.
ARC provided by Gallery Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I think everyone has that book (or a few) that we stowed away at first glance, skipped over because of some reason, or plain just wasn’t interested in but we gave it another look, read it, and berated ourselves thinking ‘why didn’t I read this earlier??’ Believe me, I’m guilty of this and in fact, my latest TOP recommendation Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn would fall under this category. I’ve had this book for a few months now and only recently did I decide to read it, discovering a hidden gem with this one. It got me thinking….what other books did I read this year would fall under this same category? I came up with 8 of the most memorable reads and made a list here. They weren’t all 5 star reads, but they all made a significant impact on me and I think about them from time to time.

(Listed in the order I read them in)
1. Then There Was You by Melanie Dawn. Okay. Being honest here….I never, ever expected or wanted to read this book because I wasn’t a fan of the first one (both are interconnected standalones). But I gave it another glance and holy hell, that is one heck of a blurb! So yeah, I read it. I pulled an all-nighter for it. And I wanted to re-read all over again. I emailed the author at 6 AM a blubbering mess. So moral of this little story for me is to always, ALWAYS give authors a second chance. I’m glad I did. By the way, here’s my review for Then There Was You.
2. The Deep End of The Sea by Heather Lyons. At the time of reading, this author was a newbie to me so I didn’t know what to expect from her. Also this premise is mythology and the retellings I’ve read I was all pretty disappointed in…so what if she butchered it? I gave it a shot anyways and this right here is a 5 star hidden gem. I literally smacked my forehead for waiting this long to read it and messaged one of my reading buddies telling her to tell me ‘I told you so.’ By the way, here’s my review of The Deep End of The Sea.
3. Puddle Jumping by Amber L. Johnson ($.99). Okay, another confession: I can’t do novella-length books. I mean, I’m a big book lover mmkay? So the short length of this one made me skip over it but alas, a big number of friends urged me to read this one and I caved (thank god I did!!!). Another 5 star winner and this story packed an emotional punch in so little pages. Here’s my review of Puddle Jumping.
4. After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Okay, this one I first avoided for a while because of the not-so-attention-grabbing cover and the price tag!! I mean, $10 (if you include tax) for an ebook is way beyond expensive for me. It better be some Pulitzer Prize material there. And OMG it really was!!! This was a 6 star read and one of my favorites from the summer. Literally everyone who read this (married or not) can take away something meaningful from this mindblowing
5. Thin Love by Eden Butler. Another confession (sheesh I feel like we’re in church haha): I cannot stand angst. And this book has extreme angst (push/pull couple dynamic, obstacles that prevent them from being together or they’re having problems, whatever). I’ll be honest, I was never more terrified of a book than this one but one of my closest reading buddies adored it and I trust her implicitly…so I went for it. And I am so thankful I did!! This is one of the most unforgettable, unputdownable books I’ve ever read, and I couldn’t pick up another book for days after this one! Here’s my review of Thin Love.
6. With The Father by Jenni Moen. Another case of a newbie author to me, and I remember at the time of reading this book, there were so many books with great blurbs that didn’t live up to its promise for me and I was so afraid that this book would fall under that category. But I guess I was feeling bold or whatever and I went in completely blind. This is a 5 star book that made me question everything I thought I knew and it was like a story hidden within a story. Easily one of my top favorites of the year! Here’s my review of With The Father.
7. Love Like Crazy by Megan Squires. This book has one of the cutest covers I’ve ever seen, but it’s YA and I’m really picky with my YA reads. Nevertheless, I just had that ‘feeling’ that it’d be a goodie from the blurb and I read it. It had a slow, simmering start, but wow! By the end I was really feeling the emotional impact. This book was such a breath of fresh air – quirky, individualistic characters and a heartfelt romance! Though it wasn’t a complete 5 star read, the writing was amazing and I highlighted like crazy!
8. And last but definitely not least, Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn. This is my latest TOP recommendation, a 5 star read that rocked my world, and a book that I simply cannot stop thinking about. I’ve had this one for a few months as well but never thought to read it, I forgot about it and every time I saw it in my library, the, um, not so great cover made me look the other way. I am so ashamed of falling for the old judging books by the cover thing because what a gem this book was!! You might think this an exaggeration but I meant what I said with ‘if there is only one book you can get this year, it HAS to be this one.’

They say in every guy’s life there’s a girl he’ll never forget and a summer where it all began. Well, for me, 1999 is that summer, and Brooke Sommerfield is that girl. But that was nearly nine years ago. And what they don’t tell ya is that you’ll blink, and both the summer and the girl will be gone.
I have no idea where Brooke ended up. She disappeared that same summer I met her. And kind of like when you move something on a wall after it’s been there for a long time and everything around it is faded, that’s how I feel about Brooke. She wasn’t there very long, but when she left, everything around her memory sort of dimmed. That is until a letter postmarked the year she left mysteriously resurfaces. And call me crazy—everyone else has—but I have to find her. I have to know what became of the green-and-gray-eyed girl who stole my last perfect summer. I have to know if she believes in second chances—because I do—even if they do come with good-byes.

Upon reading the blurb for this book, I knew it was one I had to read as soon as I got the opportunity. Some of my favorite books are second chance romance stories that take my emotions for a spin and through the ups and downs of these characters’ lives, somehow finding their way back to each other again gets me every. single. time. So as much as I was expecting to love this one, I just couldn’t because the author employed a clichéd and unrealistic plotline that lead me to wonder just where the romantic connection was, and on top of that inserted multiple time gaps (not a fan of those) to substitute for the story. Perhaps those looking for an overly sweet and cheesy romance will enjoy this book, but as a reader who loves romances where both the ‘sweet & sour’ sides of love are portrayed in order to make the story believable, this book was a letdown.

First love, first crush, first anything usually leaves a powerful and lasting impression and that’s the case for the hero River Asher. At 13 years old, he’s sure he just met the girl of his dreams and the one who he’ll eventually marry. The same is true for the heroine Brooke Sommerfield, and in that one unforgettable summer, they spend those months together baling hay and hanging out at the creek. But when summer ends and Brooke’s family is moving, she and River tearfully say goodbye, promising to write each other and eventually meet up one day. Unfortunately, life gets in the way, letters are lost, and both move on.
The story is told entirely from River’s POV and so as the years pass, he seems to live like any normal teenager but all along, he’s carried memories of Brooke with him.
I think I would’ve been more invested in the story if not for two things: the age at which both characters professed their ‘love’ and the time gaps that gave me whiplash. I’m more of a cynical romantic and so when you have two thirteen year olds professing their love for each other after a day, talking about marriage, etc…it really makes me grimace. They didn’t talk or act like thirteen year olds, and if the author hadn’t told me their ages from the beginning, I would’ve guessed that they were both in their mid-twenties. Still, the writing was exquisite and while I wasn’t buying the love, I could still overlook the cheese and let myself be carried away by the torrent of emotions evoked from her writing.
Which brings me to #2 – time gaps.
I’m really not a fan of them. One or two is fine but when almost every chapter is ‘___ months/years later’ I want to hurl myself off a cliff. Where was the story?? The book spans 9 years but to me it honestly felt like 1. Just because a time gap is smacked at the beginning of a chapter doesn’t convince me that time has passed. The story does that. You know, events going on in these characters’ lives besides their longing for each other.
From beginning to end, this book was a big block of cheese but I admit, very well-written cheese and because the last 10% was 5 star worthy I rounded up to a 3 star rating.
This is definitely a book for hopeless romantics, dreamers, and any one just wanting a nice, sweet read with no real story. I like my stories to have an edge so unfortunately this wasn’t a winner in my book.
A copy of the book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
 
Rating: 3 stars!

Her past is a secret—even to her.Discovering it will be the most dangerous move of her life.
TV reporter Laura Nilsson, known as the “Baghdad Babe,” spent eighteen months in an Al Qaeda compound after being kidnapped live on the air. Two years later, she’s still wondering why.
No rescue mission in Javier Corbray’s fourteen years as a Navy SEAL affected him the way Laura’s rescue did. No woman has stirred his protective instincts the way she has. And he wants her more than he’s ever wanted anyone.
As Laura and Javier’s passion ignites, so does Laura’s need to discover the mystery of her past. Especially when she learns that her abduction was not random—and that she’s still a target for a killer with an impenetrable motive. Now Javier will have to rely on his skills to keep the woman he loves from being struck down before she dares uncover the truth.

Pamela Clare is an author to behold in the romantic suspense genre. Utilizing her background as an investigative reporter and adding her experiences in her stories brings a gritty realism in each and every one of her books in this series. Her swoon worthy alpha male heroes and smart, sassy heroines combined with intricate, intense plotlines are what makes her books winners for me again and again. So only being able to give Striking Distance 3.5 stars cuts me because I love her characters, I love her writing, but several clichéd moments along with a weak romantic connection and mediocre suspense crippled this book for me.

Branded as the ‘Baghdad Babe,’ renown reporter Laura Nilsson was captured on air by terrorist forces and spent the next 18 months as a captive, repeatedly raped and brutalized. After being rescued by Navy SEALs and spending time recuperating and healing, she still doesn’t know why she was targeted.

Javier Corbray has seen and done things in his 14 years of being a Navy SEAL, but no operation or event has gutted him more than Laura’s capture and later, her rescue. Having spent a wild ‘no-strings-attached’ weekend together with Laura right before her capture, Javier’s harbored immense guilt for not being able to be there for her when she was taken, and unknown to Laura, was the masked SEAL who rescued her 18 months later.
Over two years has passed since the day she’s rescued and Javier’s on a brief leave from the SEALs visiting his old friend while Laura is a reporter on the top-notch I-team for the paper and their paths collide once again. As events fast-forward with a monumental trial and social media all dying to get a piece on the Baghdad Babe’s ordeal, unknown and belligerent forces are threatening Laura’s life and the only thing standing between her and death is Javier.
This book really did have all the ingredients for a 5 star read but somehow the combination fell flat. The most prominent of my complaints is the weak romantic connection between the two main characters: I just didn’t feel it. This may sound harsh or uncaring but one no-strings-attached weekend doesn’t constitute as relationship development and enough of a thread to connect these two characters. They had sex, both had terrible ordeals for the years in between, and with one chance encounter their connection is just rekindled? Not buying it.
The first half of the book I was a little bored and while there was some suspense it was nowhere at the level of the previous books and didn’t get my heart pounding. There were also a few out-of-character descriptions about Laura that really bothered me. Near the end there was an unexpected but welcomed heart-in-throat moment that really hit me in the feels but then that part was ruined by the unrealistic and rushed epilogue ending.
This book was definitely not a bad read by any means, and I’d say it’s actually much better than most romantic suspense books I have read; however, when compared to the other outstanding books in this series, it certainly falls flat, at least for me it did. I did enjoy catching up with the rest of the gang and revisiting my favorite couples and heroes though (shoutout to Marc Hunter and Gabe Rossiter).
Striking Distance is the 6th book in the I-team series. All of the books are interconnected standalones but I highly recommend reading them in order to get the full reading experience.
Rating: 3.5 stars!