RECIPE: Bacon Cheddar Scones (Gluten-free option)

Bacon and cheddar cheese on a scone. I thought it was a brilliant combination. 

I was looking for something that I could eat for a meal that was satisfying, small enough to hold, and not messy to eat. So why not a scone? With meat and cheese. It's like an individual-sized pizza on a thicker dough.

I had to make this recipe three times to get it right. The first batch was too flat. It looked like a pizza. The second batch was too bland. It needed more flavor. 

The third try was just right. Smoked cheddar flavor on a buttery crust, with hearty bites of bacon. One scone was pretty filling for me. But the taste was so good I had to eat another one. 

Bacon Cheddar Scones (Gluten-free option)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour  (to make gluten-free: 2 cups GF flour. Add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum if not yet in mixed in the flour.)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoon cold butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1/2 cup cold milk
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup bacon bits (cooked bacon broken into bits or  from this ready-made package)

1. Preheat oven at 350
2. In a bowl, combine flour (plus xanthan/guar gum, if gluten-free), baking powder, and salt.
3. Add in the small pieces of butter. Use your fingertips to lightly mush the butter into the flour blend until you get coarse crumbs. 
4. In a small bowl, mix milk and vinegar. Let set for 5 minutes.
5. Pour in the milk-vinegar mix and egg into the flour blend. Mix until just combined.
7. Mix in cheese and bacon and spread it evenly into batter
8. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
9. Pour dough into a Silpat-covered or buttered cookie sheet. Pat into a 8-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick. Use knife to cut into triangles and separate them about 1/2-in. from each other.
10. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.
11. Store in fridge what you won't eat overnight in a tightly-covered container. Reheat when ready to eat.


BLOG REVIEW: Sweet Ness by Terra Lorin & P.S. Love

18y.o. heroine has been living a secluded life in their woodlands property because of her loner dad. She’s thrilled to be stumbled upon by 20y.o. Hero who was hiking by their property. 
Hero has been searching for his twin sister who’s been missing for the past 2 months and sees heroine as a welcome distraction. 
Heroine accepts his companionship and hopes for a romance that’s been whetted by the steamy romance novels she’s been reading over the years.  As they get to know each other and enjoy some time together, their mutual attraction becomes more evident.
Soon, they give in to it with deliberation and eagerness.  It’s cut short when her dad finds out about them and forbids their relationship. Then he locks her up when she resists.  
Does Hero ever find her? What about his missing sister? Could there be a link between the two?

I enjoyed the story. It’s told from alternating POVs(point of views) of Hero and heroine. We get to know what they were thinking and feeling about each other and their life situations. And this was key to making some outlandish parts of the book look plausible to me. Take heroine, for example. She hasn’t had much social contact most of her life, especially since after age 15 when she became homeschooled. For her to spend a lot of time alone with stranger Hero and get intimate with him and profess to love him in less than a week seemed na├»ve & foolish of her. But her POV showed us that she had carefully assessed Hero and the things she did with him. She set out to grab what could be her only chance at romance due to her life with her father and Hero fulfilled much of what she looked for in a romantic partner.  She wasn’t looking to marry him but to be free to love and be loved back by a young & attractive man, even for a short time. 

On his part, Hero wasn’t looking for romance as he was searching for his missing sister and he was still young & in college. But meeting heroine made him re-evaluate his life. She became important to him as he got to know her and he recognized that she may very well be his life partner but that time will tell. I liked the level-headedness of both Hero and heroine.  They may have a potent attraction to each other but they didn’t let that solely determine their decisions. They talked about birth control & emotional readiness before they took the intimacy plunge further.  Hero was a considerate, sweet, and patient guy who made sure that heroine was certain about her decisions. He didn’t push & was willing to wait for her. Heroine was the impatient & more impulsive one in their relationship, which was ironic given her sheltered life. This included their sexual activities. She was an eager virgin who wanted to experience what she learned from her steamy romance books. What I also liked about their relationship was that the time they spent having fun together, whether innocent & sexual fun. They laughed together and laughed at each other. It’s part of what helped quickly build their trust and intimacy with each other.

As simple and sweet as the romance was, the more outlandish parts of the book were the unexpected twists that happened later. I loved how the secondary characters & subplots were pulled together in a coherent story. It was ingenious.  

--------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details----------------

1.  Heroine's father secluded both of them from everyone, especially his relatives.  He even locked her up in her room for hours frequently when she was younger. We find out that he did it to protect heroine from painful knowledge about his mom and her parentage. It was also partly due to revenge and his admitted selfishness.
2. Hero believed the man he saw going into another cabin just 3 miles from heroine & her father's house was heroine's dad. We find out that it was her dad's estranged twin brother.
3. Hero was prepared for the worst regarding his missing sister. He suspected she was likely in the vicinity by heroine's residence. She was. But she wasn't dead but amnesiac.
4. Heroine was told her mother died when she was 3 and only had her father as her family. We found out she had an uncle, her dad's twin.  But, we later find out, that her uncle could possibly be her biological father. And her mother is still very much alive.

------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-----------------------------------------------------------

The dysfunctions of Hero and heroine's family members got revealed. What was great was that they all got the help they needed.  It's part of what made the unexpected drama more realistic. We had imperfect characters who made some regrettable choices but apologized and got some help when they realized how horrible the consequences were for them and their loved ones. There were no quick fixes. They had a long road ahead to health and they were taking steps towards it. 

I recommend this book

BLOG REVIEW: Unexpected by Faith Sullivan

September 11, 2001 changed 19y.o. heroine’s driven focus to attend NYU to be a success in the film-making. 
Being the midst of the terrorist attack of New York’s Twin Towers paralyzed her and made her quit college and move back home to Pennsylvania. 
24y.o. bar-owner Hero managed to coax her into going back to New York city to work as a waitress at his bar. 
He was there during the attack too and lost his firefighter best friend.  
They are both trying to cope with the trauma of the attack in their own way. Their attraction is mutual and growing but there’s too much heaviness within them to be in a romantic relationship. 
It doesn’t help that both are trying to fix each other while still reeling from their own undealt-with emotions. When will it take for them to be ready for romance? Or is there too much water under the bridge?

An interesting New Adult story dated more than 10 years ago. The NYC terrorist attack was the catalyst to the main characters current problems.  But it also was the reason they met. Their story showed the hold that attack had on the NYC residents who experienced it.  Hero and heroine both suffered post-traumatically, causing them to shut down in different areas of their lives. They also shared the tendency to not deal with the trauma by not talking about it and running away from it. Hero found hope in his frozen state of depression by taking on the role of heroine’s rescuer.  His goal was to to make her go back to school in NYU and continue where she left off before the attack.  He was going to make her snap out of her doldrums and go back to NYU to pursue her dreams.  Since he couldn’t get his friend back helping heroine get her life back would be a restitution for his loss.

What I liked about heroine was that, as much as she resisted, she was courageous enough to take small risks to face her fears. So she moves back to NYC to try it out and works as a waitress instead of going back to school. Hero, on the other hand, was more fearful & doing some major avoidance of his problems. He didn’t want to talk about it or deal with it. He wanted to play it safe & do what was familiar. The problem was the familiar held too many painful memories of his best friend. He was trapped between wanting to run away from his pain and staying where he was needed. Hero’s vacillating also extended to his attraction to heroine. He’d be hot for heroine then avoid her and be seen flirting with other women.

------------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-----------

Hero didn't sleep with other women since heroine worked for him. He went home with a couple women but couldn't have sex with them. He did it more to make heroine think he was with other women to change whatever hopes she had of their romance.  He promised her parents he wouldn't touch heroine while she was living with him (He and heroine lived in separate living areas above his bar). So he was celibate for at least 4 months.

--------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-------------------------------------------------------

Although heroine was willing, he ran away from their romance most times. Heroine didn’t know him enough to call him on it. And she tended to run away from problems.  She did do her own rescuing of Hero & made him go to a therapy group with her.  And this is the essence of their relationship for most of the book: one tries to fix & the other  relents a bit but resists more and vice versa. 

Heroine broke their cycle of rescue & retreat by running away from Hero. The last ¾ of the book was decidedly different than the previous parts. It was as if moving away from their place of trauma set them free to live their life differently. To no longer be crowded by painful memories, fears, and regrets. And it allowed their romance to FINALLY come together. I liked the realism of Hero and heroine struggling from starting over in a new place. They had to figure out their finances & their short-term life plan.  Interestingly, these added stressors made them closer instead of putting more barriers in their relationship. I liked that they didn’t rush things and we see them gradually settle into their relationship over the course of a few months. Their romance was able to survive their major life changes and that’s a good ingredient to their HEA(happy ever after).

Although emotions abounded in the story, I didn’t really feel it. The words told me of the characters’ fears, uncertainties, desires, and frustrations but they didn’t grab my emotions. I would’ve liked to be gripped by the bubbling cauldron of emotions ascribed to Hero and heroine. Unique story and decent romance though.

I moderately recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: In Harmony by Helena Newbury

Ever since she was a little girl, 21y.o. cellist's main life focus has always been attaining a position with the New York Philharmonic orchestra.
Her impending graduation from music school depends on her final recital. Her world comes crashing down when she loses her recital partner. Her last resort is to ask almost-failing 22y.o. senior Hero to be her substitute partner. 
And she was surprised he accepted. She doesn’t know how her cello & his electric guitar combination will sound in harmony. 
Just as she doesn’t know how her infatuation with someone as hot and earthy as him could be reciprocated. But she’ll make it work or else lose what she’s sacrificed so much for. Distractions in the form of Hero’s ex-girlfriend, her exacting father, and her increasing fantasies about him are keeping her from focusing on their music. When Hero lets her know that he returns her attraction, her priorities change.  
How much will their romance interfere with their music?

The greatest strength of this book was how music was conveyed.  The writing made the music Hero and heroine were making almost palpable.  As if I could really hear it and feel. The description of their recital duet was just beautiful.  The messages Hero and heroine were sending about each other and their relationship through their music were personal. The fact that their music composition told the story of their romance was a unique quality of this book. Hero and heroine lived and breathed music. It was a language they often used & not many understood.  As different as they appeared to be (with tattooed devil-may-care Hero versus organized & geeky heroine), they shared a love for and understanding of music. And desperate straits about being able to graduate. Once they got to know each other, they became each other’s support.  Heroine’s insecurities regarding Hero reciprocating her interest were funny at times. She had a self-deprecating view of herself as klutzy & unsexy.  Her accumulating sexual fantasies of Hero were a mix of laughable, cute, and steamy. She had a wonderful group of girlfriends who educated her on sexual matters via their own sexual escapades with their boyfriends. 

We don’t know as much about Hero since this book was told from heroine’s POV(point of view). The only ‘friend’ he had was his ex-girlfriend who had her sly motives. We don't get to know much of their history. All we know is that they both have tattoos of each other's name on their arms & that his ex left him 6 months ago. I would like to have gotten Hero' s POV. He was more intense & seemed to have an interesting past. I wanted to know what those smoldering looks and meanigful pauses he gave to heroine meant. His POV would've heightened the book's overall emotional intensity.  Hero and heroine's romance wasn’t as intense as the main characters in Dance For Me  (see review here). There really wasn’t  much angst in this book. There was a slight big misunderstanding regarding Hero’s school motivation that got resolved pretty quickly. 

------------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details------------

Hero was having problems with the writing assignments at school. So he wouldn’t do them or show up in class. Thus, his low school marks and the impending threat of getting kicked out of music school.  Heroine realized that his problem was due to his undiagnosed dyslexia, after she saw accidentally read his writing. When she told Hero about it and planned a strategy to help him with his class essays, the problem was solved. My question is how was senior-student Hero able to successfully finish each consecutive school year with him skipping the essay assignments?  Granted it was music school and the rules may be different there than traditional college. 

-----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS------------------------------------------------------------

There was more drama in her friends' lives, two of which were the main characters of Dance For Me. Interestingly, the reappearance of Hero’s ex-girlfriend caused only a bit of disturbance between Hero and heroine. His ex did some subtle sabotaging, which caused more problems for Hero's academic performance than his relationship with heroine. Heroine didn’t seem very jealous of his ex sleeping at his tiny apartment for a few weeks. She  trusted Hero well enough. They were comfortable with each other and came to depend on each other. They spent most of the time together honing their recital performance and had an intuitive musical partnership. And that's basically the nature of their romance: trusting, comfortable, and passionate in the midst of their marathon music practices. 

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Moan For Him by Terry Towers

19 y.o. heroine has been fantasizing about 35y.o. covert CIA-agent Hero for years.
She sets out to turn her wild imaginings into reality when she finds out that he’s in town for a visit.
They quickly indulge in a hot and heavy affair. 
However, it has to be kept a secret. They expect people to be shocked  & upset about their new relationship because Hero is her father’s adopted brother.  When they announce their engagement and their romance becomes public, their eagerness for their marriage is darkened by the knowledge that they can’t get married because Hero is still married.  It doesn’t help that they only get to spend a weekend every 2 months because of Hero’s constant travel for his CIA work. He can’t disclose what he’s doing and where he’s going. And heroine is increasingly worried about how long their relationship and his life will last due to his dangerous job.  How can their relationship withstand all these trials?

Clever yet straightforward writing. I liked how this book immediately drags you into the thick of things—emotional, sexual, and  relational. Towers doesn’t mince words and just gives it to you straight but with lots of excitement and action. Since it’s an erotic romance, we get plenty of steamy and detailed sex scenes. But it’s wrapped in the strong emotions Hero and heroine have for each other. So emotional and sexual tension between  them  is resonant all throughout the book. The forbidden aspect of their relationship certainly heightened this tension. What makes the writing clever is how it tackles the forbidden. It looks like it's forbidden but when you examine it closely it really is not. It flirted with some taboo topics enough to titillate but without crossing those boundaries.

--------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details ----------------

1. the pseudo-incest
She basically grew up thinking that Hero was her uncle. Then, at age 16, she finds out he’s adopted & had no blood ties to her.  So her hero-worship of him turned into a lusty infatuation.  What didn’t make it so icky to me is that they didn’t spend much time together at all when heroine was growing up.  Hero worked as a field officer for military & CIA since heroine was a year old and was mostly overseas. He came to visit them only a handful of times. What she knew about him was from stories their relatives regaled about his James-Bond-like exploits from letters & postcards he sent them.

2. the  pseudo-cheating
Hero married his former partner years ago for work and security reasons. Their covert identity was that of a married couple & they had to legitimize it as part of their dangerous operation. He thought the CIA took care of the divorce proceedings of which he signed but it evidently fell through the cracks.  So he was still married to his ex-partner (who was also his ex-lover) on paper and was technically cheating with heroine.

------------------------------------------------------ENDS SPOILERS---------------------------------------------------

As Hero and heroine progress in their relationship, these taboo issues interestingly diminish. The strengthening of their bond as they go through the various trials together becomes the central focus. We see Hero cherish and protect heroine, constantly ensuring her happiness and safety.  He was caring and sweet with her. It made whatever sugar-daddy or perverted-uncle questions I had fade away. With heroine, I had  some questions about her motives & maturity level (i.e., rebellion, Electra complex, boredom).  But we see her become a partner to Hero and  not just somebody he was babying or protecting. I liked her inner strength, assertiveness, & protectiveness over him.

There was a lot of excitement in their relationship. It made me wonder how their relationship would fare without those external excitement and once the taboo stuff is removed when  they get married. Towers begins to answer it towards the latter ¾ of the book. It was the first time ever that they spent more than a weekend  every 2 months together.  But it was still filled with unusual happenings, with people kidnapping them & trying to murder them. At this point, Hero and heroine are solidly in love and want permanence with each other. They’re getting to know more about each other but still have a good bit to go, especially with Hero used to not disclosing much due to his covert work. When everything settles down & they’re married, what will their relationship be like? Will they still be as hot for each other? What will Hero do after resigning from his CIA job? Is heroine going back to school? How will their baby affect their relationship, especially their insatiable sex life?  I hope Towers answers these questions in the subsequent books in the series.

I heartily recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Right Now by Marie Hall

21y.o. heroine is almost unrecognizable now from her geeky, shy, & conservatively-dressed self in high school. She has tattoos, piercings, and works as a body piercer at a tattoo parlor.
It's no wonder that 23y.o. slightly-drunk Hero doesn't recognize her at all. In fact, he doesn't remember ever meeting her & she tries to not be to affected by it. He's drunk, unsure about either getting a tattoo or a body piercing, and he’s hitting on her. She knows he’s still a player and takes his flirtations lightly. 
Hero may be slightly drunk but he is overwhelmed by his powerful attraction to heroine. There’s just something about her that captivates him. He wants her in his life but doesn’t know how to go about it. 
And he doesn’t know if he really wants her to know the full truth about him. It doesn’t take long before his long-held family issues interfere with their budding relationship and he resorts to his usual escape pattern.  She’s always known there was something dark he was struggling with since high school and she doesn’t want to be used to help him forget. How much will Hero share with her and can she handle it?

There were many different facets to the story and characters. Yet it was written in simple language that was easy to follow. The writing was insightful and allowed us to get to know the main characters' well. The dual POVs(point of views) of heroine and Hero helped. I liked how the characterization was woven into the romance. It was like a graceful dance, where the change in one flowed with a change in the other. Let's take the sex scenes, for example. The first one had no details and just general info that Hero and heroine had sex. At this point of the book, Hero was using sex to escape from issues that were triggered by contact with his parents. There was very little or no emotional intimacy on his part, including sex for the first time with heroine. When he later face his issues & emotions more, the sex scenes were more detailed & showed their emotional intimacy. Hero and heroine were connecting on all kinds of levels & not just sexual. And the way it was written extended this connection to us, the readers. We got to feel their love for each other. 

Hero and heroine had a solid romance. A lot of this was due to the growing up they had to do along the way. Both of them had family issues that shaped their young lives. Hero battled some major issues since childhood that drove him to escape in different ways (i.e., humor, sex, alcohol, playing around).  He was focused on escaping in high-school so heroine’s uniqueness passed him by. Now that he was ready and starting to face his issues in therapy his emotional eyes were opening up, so to speak. That’s likely why he now noticed heroine. Heroine also underwent some changes since high school. In high school, she was hiding parts of herself to please her perfectionistic mom.  Since she broke free and became independent, she embraced the wild and creative side of herself and that’s a big part of Hero’s attraction towards her. Their sexual tension heightened and changed in quality as their emotional connection deepened and Hero’s psychological health improved.  

I just wanted to savor this book. It had great emotional depth and character growth.  He abstained from sex weeks wit heroine beyond what his therapist recommended. He wanted to prove to her and himself that his love for her was beyond the physical and from the depth of this being.  I loved that.  And I loved how realistic the changes in him and their romance was portrayed.  It was gradual and with some imperfections. Even the villains in the story didn’t get their just punishment perfectly.  Some things didn’t change because of the choices the characters made. But some things did and life got better. It made Hero and heroine’s HEA(happily ever after) not only more certain but also real.  

I whole-heartedly recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: True Love Story by Willow Aster

24y.o. writer is taken aback to see her her ex-fiance again. 
She’s unsuccessfully tried to forget 34y.o. musician Hero since she broke their engagement almost 3 years ago, 
after he confessed to cheating on her with his cousin’s wife. No other man has been able to surpass the love she still has for him. She’s loved him since the day they met when she was age 18. Although their romance was uncertain during those initial months, they did eventually succumb to their strong attraction. 
They were able to sustain a long-distance relationship, with her in college in New York and him traveling to different cities.  She thought their impending marriage meant they were on their way to a happy life together but his confession changed things.  His constant letters and presents the following months couldn’t repair her broken trust.  
Will the passage of time heal her wounds and allow her to give him another chance?

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the writing was pretty good. Good emotionality, characterization, and sexual tension. Held my attention. But the betrayal did me in. It was huge. Heroine was betrayed. I felt betrayed. The writer did such a great job of convincing me of Hero and heroine's love for each other when they were together. I felt their love and believed they were as devoted as they said they were to each other. So, when heroine found out Hero was cheating on her the majority of the time they were together, it was jarring. Even though we're already told in the beginning that infidelity was a factor, it was still shocking to see how it played out in their romance.  I couldn't believe that all those love and commitment declarations Hero told heroine was not what it seemed.  It made me re-read the portions of the book when the cheating took place. It put a different spin on their romance. And it allowed me to see how much Hero lied, deceived, and cheated heroine. 

------------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details------------

Hero cheated on heroine with his cousin’s wife (OW=other woman) ever since he and heroine started having sex. That's 1.5 years worth of cheating, lying, and deceiving! In fact, the first time he cheated was within the same week after he and heroine first became lovers. He pursued her and planned a secret romantic getaway with heroine. You'd think after a weekend of finally being together in the way they wanted, he'd be confident and satisfied in their relationship. I guess not. And his reasons for cheating? Weak.

1. He knew he tended to self-sabotage the good in his life. Instead of talking to heroine about it, he kept it to himself and had no accountability for his actions.
2. He believed he was undeserving of good (i.e., heroine loving him) because he’s been so bad. Instead of fighting it & doing something to deserve the good, he readily gave in to his negative belief “lots of times”. 
3. His reason for kissing OW that last time when he and heroine were already engaged was to prove to himself that he could be the kind of husband worthy of heroine.  Instead of telling OW “no” and being firm to avoid any sexual contact with her, he lets her kiss him(!) but stopped before they could have sex. And he proudly told heroine of this accomplishment.

-----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-----------------------------------------------------------

Hero sounded very sincere, in love, and deeply devoted to heroine based on his words and actions when he was with her.This book is told from heroine’s POV(point of view) so we see what she sees. I never would’ve thought that he was repeatedly cheating on her the whole time their romance was building up towards marriage. He purposely lied and deceived her with no intention of ever telling her the truth. He went from playing the loving boyfriend to her to a weak-willed, excuse-making saboteur with OW. He was like 2 different people. 

It's a testament to Aster's writing to make me believe (about 70%) that Hero did change after heroine called him on his infidelity.  That was his moment of revelation. He realized that  his self-sabotaging through cheating could really make him lose heroine forever.  All the actions  he should’ve done before (i.e., being held accountable, openly discussing his fears with heroine) he only started doing after he was caught & she dumped his sorry rear. But, as honest and devoted his letters to heroine seem to be, they were more to ease his guilt and to get her to forgive him and take him back. There was a huge element of self-focus on those love letters. He was confessing his issues and self-realizations to her and she was like his priest who he needed words of absolution from.  His promise of eternal devotion towards her lasted only about a year when he decided to move on by dating another woman. He was big on exaggerating how he felt for her because the actions that followed were much more minimal. Despite all this, he did become less selfish and did some maturing. His almost-3-year celibacy and open vulnerability attest to this. 

Interestingly, Hero and heroine switched in their roles. Before the cheating confession, heroine was the one who was emotionally open, devoted, patient, and let Hero set the pace of the relationship. Hero held many things back from her, contacted her at his convenience, and had no qualms kissing and flirting with other women. After the confession, Hero stayed celibate for heroine, laid his heart out to her, and waited for her. Heroine, on the other hand, set the pace of their relationship, contacted him at her whim, and had "lots of sex" with other men. A switch of power. I liked that there was an epilogue. It gave us some idea of how they're doing a year later. I'm still not sure about their HEA(happy ever after) though. The trust issue and the switch of relationship power can go either way.

I somewhat recommend this book

BLOG REVIEW: Dead Right by Cate Noble

33y.o. heroine can't believe her former lover 36y.o. Hero is alive, after being told he died along with 3 other CIA agents 2 years ago.
Hero has been looking for her ever since he escaped the Thai prison he was tortured in a few months before.
He believes she betrayed him, after being forced to watch a video of her informing her lover of Hero's activities, and wants vengeance.  He knows she's an expert in disguise and won't probably look the same as she did during their lusty affair.
But he can always recognize her by the unique perfume she wears. With a lot of help from his friends, he locates her in Brazil looking very different & doing the most menial work.
It soon becomes apparent that she suffered just like he did. What he doesn't know is that she endured 2 months of torture & rape under the hands of the vengeful Russian villain to protect their baby, whom he didn't know existed. Has too much damaged been done to repair their relationship?

This was a fast-paced & exciting book. It's told in different time sequences of the main characters' past and present. The flashbacks alternating with the present plot made it suspenseful yet still easy to track.  Hero and heroine's undercover work was thrilling in its variety and danger. The way the romance was woven into their work placed a sense of danger & time limit to their affair, making it that much more exciting. I could feel Hero and heroine's angst towards what they thought was a one-sided love affair. They both thought the other was satisfied with only sex and was concerned about pushing for more in their relationship. Things became even more poignant when each thought the other betrayed them & caused the horrific experiences they went through for the past 2 years. I could really have done without the rape. It was stomach-turning with the details and just the very idea of what heroine and her friend went through. It would've been a better romantic suspense without it for me. Still, the romance was good and I believed they'll have their HEA(happily ever after). Once the betrayal misunderstandings were cleared, Hero and heroine were open and honest about their feelings for each other.

I recommend this book with CAUTION: rape & torture scenes.

BLOG REVIEW: Popping the Cherry by Aurelia Rowl

17y.o. heroine is glad she didn't go through her plans to have sex with her boyfriend of 3 years since he just dumped her.
Her close friends, however, see her virginity as a problem and they give her a list of guys to choose from. She didn't feel any rush to have sex before but her friend's "intervention" makes her think twice about it.
Trouble ensues from her very first date off the list. And it’s her best friend’s 21y.o. brother Hero who saves her.  
The time they spend together, watching movies & talking,
opens her eyes to how great he is and how manly he’s become.  
However, she notes that her best friend isn’t pleased with her spending time alone with her brother. Even though Hero volunteers to teach her to drive, they decide to keep it a secret from her best friend.  But in doing so, it forces them do things they don’t really want to do like date other people. Separating them even more. At what length will they go to please her others? When will they choose each  other?

I wasn’t sure whether this book was YA or NA because heroine’s age & the British education system is different than the US.  My online research showed me that 17-year-old British heroine technically belongs in the new-adult age group. Note: In England, age of mandatory schooling is up to age 18/drinking: age 18/driving: age 17/consent: age 16 with exceptions. Heroine attends sixth-form college, which is like junior college here in the U.S. but in a high-school-like setting Thus, the lockers & cafeteria scenarios with their teen cliques and their conversations that's very reminiscent of American high school.  Her friends' ganging up on her to pressure her to get rid of her virginity with the unspoken threat of her rejection is a classic example. It was brought up in quite a degrading, dehumanizing, and crude manner. I cringed at the pressure heroine was put on.  I felt bad for her caving in to  peer pressure but understood her desire to belong. She was in no rush to have sex but this threat changed things. She responded passive-aggressively as a result. She went on dates just to show her friends that she was following their plan. Yet she secretly knew she wasn't going to have sex with them. Her secret relationship with Hero was another passive-aggressive act. She met with him secretly yet denied anything more than friendship with him. She was so scared of losing her best friend who didn't want her dating her brother. Yet there was a part of her that didn't want to easily let go of Hero. Thus, the passive aggression.

Hero was a nice & respectful guy. He was a tad too passive though. He also let his younger sister dictate his relationship with heroine. He submitted to heroine’s fears about his sister’s rejection instead of being assertive and talking to his sister directly about wanting a relationship with heroine.  It wouldn’t have directly jeopardized heroine’s relationship with his sister and it would’ve shown how much he cared for her. He did redeem himself later. It took time & heartache for him to muster up the motivation and courage to man-up to his sister. Actually both he and heroine were finally forced to make the more harder choice once they were miserable enough.  But those were their growing pains. All the trouble they went through to pretend, keep secrets, & do things they didn’t want to did motivate them alter to change & make harder adult choices.  The fallout was bad and life was worsening for awhile. But it’s what allowed Hero & heroine to finally be together. So, although their initial actions & decisions were immature & fear-based, they did some growing up. It motivated to make more difficult but better choices. I liked how we get to see the process of their maturity—the stumbling, bumbling, and righting itself process of adulthood.

Good writing & overall emotional tone. Some angst from their inability to be together & the misunderstandings they had. Secondary characters (i.e., family members, friends) provided humor, drama, and support to the main characters, making their coming-of-age journey realistic and engaging. Sexual tension between Hero and heroine was subtle but developed as their attraction grew through their secret meetings. I liked how the sex scene was generalized. It helped balanced out the degrading way that heroine’s sexual life was publicized. The generalized sex scene between Hero & heroine gave her the privacy & respect her sex life deserved.

I moderately recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Stay With Me by Elyssa Patrick

18y.o. famous actress-singer is done being on the spotlight and living a public life of a Hollywood celebrity.
She wants a different life. An ordinary life. And moves to Vermont be a full-time college student.
She meets 21y.o. Hero at a college party and fights their mutual attraction. 
She's been hurt before and doesn’t trust men easily and she wants to focus on figuring her new life direction.  Hero isn’t easily discouraged by her rejection and lets her know he's there for her. As their social sphere crosses more, they get closer. 
Heroine finds it harder to resist him.  And soon she doesn't.
She is, however, afraid that he'll want nothing to do with her once he finds out her shameful secret. And her attention-hungry mother might just be part of her downfall . Do her fears come to pass? 

I like it when the writing centers me on the romance. Characterization, emotional tone, sexual tension, and plot helped develop Hero and heroine's romance. It was sweet and sexy. Sexual chemistry and sex scenes were good. Hero's close friends and family were good supportive characters who encouraged Hero and heroine in their romance. Hero and heroine came from very different ways of life that converged in the present. Heroine had a colorful past as a celebrity and we get some info about it. But it didn't dwell in her past but was used to help us understand her motives for living her life as she is now. She's not only an emerging adult at 18 but drastically transitioning her lifestyle, which include physically leaving glitzy Hollywood for a small Vermont town. She's figuring out her new identity and isn't certain about anything beyond that. She knew herself well enough to know she needed time and space before adding romance in her life. So her resisting her strong attraction to Hero was a big step towards living life more wisely & with more discipline. But when their path crossed again and again, she had to choose between safety and love. Lucky for her that her choosing love put her in the emotional safety she longed for.

Hero was great. He was not only hot to look at but was a solid guy. He pursued heroine enough that she knew he wanted her in his life but not in a pushy way. He respected her need for space to figure out herself and didn't make her feel bad for needing it. He made it clear, however, that he wanted to be constant in her life & be a support to her.  He made himself open & vulnerable to her, telling her how he felt. I liked how honest he was. He held a secret from her for a bit but disclosed it during their first date. His words were consistent with his actions, making it easier for heroine to trust him. It also helped that she got to observe his good relationships with his family and friends. He was an alpha Hero who was also a sweetheart. 

I would've liked more drama when her secret unfolded. It ended up being anti-climactic. 

---------------------SPOILERS: Don't read  below if you don't want to know the book's details--------

All that anticipation built about her secret (she had an abortion at 15 from an affair with her producer who she didn't know was married) was deflated with how casual Hero responded and how quick it was all resolved. I get that Hero understood why she did it and loved her regardless of her past. It wasn't a big deal to Hero but it was a big deal to her. She held that secret for so long and was anguished by it  So for heroine to just dust off her hands after Hero told her he still loved her after her confession didn't seem sufficient. A bit more discussion about how she felt about it & what keeping her secret had been like for her would've been a more fulfilling closure to her big secret.

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I recommmend this book

BLOG REVIEW: One Perfect Night by Bella Andre

Heroine is an office manager for a bustling company in Seattle and has her life in order. 
But, ever since she came back from her short vacation in Lake Tahoe, she can't seem to stop thinking about the man who rescued her from a potential skiing accident.
She regrets walking away from their mutual attraction and she has no way of contacting him. She realizes that her life will be monotonous if she doesn’t ever take risks. She goes to a bar & serendipitously sees software-company owner Hero there. 
Their connection is even stronger and he lets her know what he wants. 
Will she take a risk with him now or will she continue to let her past hurts rule her life?

Andre pulled off a sexy, romantic, and believable in only 59 pages! What's amazing is that Hero and heroine didn't spend much time with each other at all. Their first conversation probably lasted 15 minutes. With their second one, they exchanged only a few but meaningful & honest sentences before they kissed. It may have been brief but those 2 moments together were intense and honest. And it really was enough for both to decide on their romance. Their nonverbal connection was powerful, magnetic, and clear.  

We get both of their POVs(point of views) so we know exactly what they’re thinking & feeling. What’s great was that Hero knew what he wanted and voiced it out right away. His certainty was very alpha-Hero like and sexy. He laid himself out there for heroine and risked rejection. And it did happen. Yet he didn't let her rejection bring him down or change his feelings for her. He respected her limits & let her leave him. But he couldn't stop obsessing about her and didn't let another woman replace her. I loved that he wasn't going to sit around pining or feeling sorry for himself. He planned to begin searching for heroine in Lake Tahoe. He was gonna do his best to find her. A Hero who persists through barriers to be with heroine is definitely sigh-worthy in my book. He just knew she was the one for him after only knowing her for a few minutes. He wasn't usually an impulsive & fickle person. He had a good head on his shoulders and owned a successful software company. He had a good background and got along with his family. He wanted marriage and a family one day but didn't settle for just any woman. So his instant draw towards heroine was in no way an impulsive act on his part. 

Heroine was more unsure about herself & Hero. She was betrayed by her ex-boyfriend and didn't want to risk another heartache. She was independent and strong-minded and was used to being in charge in her career & her romantic relationships. She and Hero were well-matched. Their sexual chemistry and sex scenes were sensual and were enhanced by their emotions. Hero's dominating personality fulfilled her secret wish for a commanding yet sensitive lover. Hero took the lead in their relationship and made himself vulnerable by disclosing his feelings and desires for her. It helped her trust him and laid a good groundwork for an honest relationship. I would’ve liked an epilogue though. Maybe 2 or 3 pages to assure us that they’re still happy together months or years later. That’s all it would’ve taken to pushed it towards a 5-star read for me. 

I recommend this book.