BLOG REVIEW: Once Upon a Tower by Eloise James

19y.o. heroine agrees with the marriage arrangement her father made with 22y.o. Scottish Duke whom she danced with twice at her debut ball but doesn’t remember due to her feverish condition. 
Hero wants her for his wife since the second he laid eyes on her. 
And not even her marriage conditions or her obsession with the cello could change it.  
When heroine sees him again & gets to know him, she doesn’t dispute Hero’s desire for a speedy wedding since the attraction is mutual.
When they are married, however, she realizes how ordered & crowded their life is. Their time together is relegated to bedtime, which proves to be not enjoyable for her at all. 
When Hero finds out she’s been less than honest about their marriage, he leaves her 
and tries to find out if getting more sexual experience may repair what he seems to lack in their marriage.

My kind of romance. This book was a balm to the angst-laden contemporary novels I’ve been reading lately. This James’ book was emotionally satisfying, sexually exciting, and, most of all, had likeable characters that constantly showed their love and respect for each other throughout the book.  Both Hero and heroine were virgins with each other. Hero was a brooding kind of muscular alpha male who was driven by success and order in life. He’d surpass the negative genetic predilections of both his parents (dad was a financially-irresponsible womanizer & mom was a neglectful alcoholic) and made the dwindling family estates thrive within 8 years in his care. He valued and respected himself and others. Thus, he didn’t have sex with other women just to get pleasure & relief and wanted to wait for the right woman to do it with.  He was a man of integrity who believed that how you start is how things will follow.  He desired and valued heroine and treated her as such. He may have been a stickler for order but he was a seething mass of desire for heroine.  He just took his idea of order and control too far and didn’t give himself time to freely spend with her.  He wanted to but didn’t know how.

Heroine was eccentric in her genius and obsession with the cello. She spoke her mind yet was also used to appeasing people with her family peacemaker role. She really didn’t think much of herself and others because her world was the cello. But knowing Hero gave her another interest. She was astonished that he was so enamored with her. She felt valued by him and that’s part of why she felt guilty about telling him about her displeasure when they had sex. Her POV(point of view) about her experience of sex was quite funny yet realistic. She also kept mum about her displeasure with being relegated to slot in his busy schedule. She tried fixing it with her cello-playing but it wasn’t enough. Her cello has ceased to be the be-all and end-all of her world. It showed that Hero had become very important to her. So his critical words upon knowing about how she truly felt about their sexual interactions were demoralizing to her. We get some angst when Hero left her and she’s left to figure out what that meant for their relationship. 

--------------------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if spoilers will spoil your reading-------------------

There was no cheating in this book. Hero did go to the village bar in desperation so he could learn some sexual techniques to please sexually-disatisfied heroine. But he couldn't go through with it. He couldn't bare to touch the barmaid who was willing to do what he wanted with her. He thought of watching the barmaid pleasure herself or even just asking her what pleased her but he didn't do any of these either. He realized that another woman's pleasure was not going to help him with heroine's pleasure.  He set out to learn what personally pleased heroine by talking and experimenting with each other. 

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His negative reactions to her honesty didn’t become apparent until he was confronted with them by heroine’s parents. I loved what Hero did to fight for her. His sacrifices showed her how much she meant to him. He was willing to change his life to make her happy because making her happy made him happy. 

My only complaint was how heroine became multi-orgasmic during their first make-up sex after their reunion. It was hard to believe that about sex-aversed heroine who thought sex was painful because her experiences were all painful, thought she could do without it, and tried to avoid it as best she could. It would’ve been more realistic if she had her first orgasm during their first make-up sex and then later became multi-orgasmic. Even a day later. Or their 4th time at it. But not the first try.

I absolutely recommend this book
4.5-star

BLOG REVIEW: How He Really Feels By Lisa Suzanne

It's been a year that 26y.o. heroine has been constantly lusting after her boss 32y.o. Hero.
She promised herself to be braver and do something about it in the coming New Year. 
But He preempts her with his sudden appearance at the New Year's party she was at and a quick but meaningful kiss at the stroke of midnight. 
It doesn't take long for them to succumb to their strong attraction. 
But they have to keep affair as secret due to the no-office-romance clause in Hero's work contract. The secrecy becomes a problem, though, when they get more attached to each other. When their work and their affair collide,
a choice has to be made. 

This was a good read overall. There was a blip in their wonderfully-progressing relationship that made their perfect romance not-so-perfect. But it was ultimately redeemed (not completely because I think heroine should've done more but still good enough redemption).One, because of how the author wrote it in. Two, because of Hero's love for heroine.  They both went a full year building a good working relationship due to their small work team and thinking their attraction was only one-sided. What’s awesome was that both of them were celibate for the year because neither wanted anyone else and they hadn’t even made any romantic overtures towards each other.  Their timing was right with both dropping subtle hints of more personal interests in each other. Their sexual tension built well along with their emotional connection. I really liked how smooth and unresistant they were to their mutual attraction. So, when they finally were open about their attraction to each other, it was very sexy and flirty. I loved how yummy-looking alpha Hero made himself vulnerable and open to heroine, taking the initiative to express his feelings for her.Their sex scenes were combustible.

But I knew things were too good to be true with another 100+ pages to go. Here’s the set-up to the betrayals. Hero was repeatedly making his committed feelings for her more and more apparent. He was very much into her and her with him. Heroine couldn’t believe how her previously-thought unrequited crush for Hero was being returned in spades!  They couldn’t get enough of each other and it was increasingly bothering them that they had to keep their romance a secret at work.  They’ve been snatching as much time as they could to be together. They even  made space for their closets for each other. Then the betrayals.

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

During their eagerly-awaited weekend together at the cabin, Hero suddenly and increasingly became morose and detached from  heroine. She tried to get him to share his troubles with her but he kept it to himself. Then “the talk”. He broke up with her, coldly stating that he didn’t want her anymore and  didn’t want to continue to lead  her on so he wanted out. It came out of left field for heroine who was so convinced their relationship was heading to a permanent commitment due to how devoted he was to her. She was broken and couldn’t function from her heartbreak.  So she called her longtime-best friend (who used to be her lover and former friend-with-benefits) for support that evening.  She couldn’t call her girlfriends because they were her & Hero’s fellow work teammates and were still in the dark about their secret affair. Heroin and her best friend were drinking heavily and he confessed to still being in love with her. They had sex once that night.  I really don’t like this trope (see my review of L.P. Dover's Love, Lies & Deception here). But I could understand why heroine in this book did. It was an unfortunate combination of these factors:
1.      She was emotionally eviscerated from Hero’s sudden and cruel breakup.
2.      She wanted to find comfort and escape from her great pain from somebody who constantly loved her and she trusted. Her best friend’s unexpected confession of always having loved her was filling the new emptiness in her heart.
3.      She felt somewhat obligated to her best friend’s steadfast love for her, especially when weighed against the fickle love of Hero.
4.      She wanted to take revenge on Hero’s cold rejection of her by moving on to another man.
5.      She was very drunk and depressed.
6.      While having sex with her best friend, she was pretending it was Hero who was making love to her.

Still, I didn’t like that it took her only half a day to find sexual comfort with another man. I didn’t like that she used her best friend that way and  manipulated  his love confession for her own selfish gains. It bothered me that she easily switched from Hero to her best friend on an emotional & sexual level. It made her seem like an emotional parasite, feeding off  the most attentive host. She should’ve groveled to Hero and her best friend for how faithlessly she switched between them in the span of only 4 days(!) and used them for her own comfort.  If it was Hero doing this to heroine and another woman, there would be a major  jerk-alert uproar. Well, I think heroine was a jerk in how she used her best friend to deal with her emotional pain and she was going to continue to use him too but Hero wanted back in. And she should definitely be grateful forever that Hero forgave her for quickly moving on to another man within just hours of having broken  up.  She emotionally betrayed him and their love by throwing it away as easily as Hero did. It was his fault for breaking them up(NOTE: The reason why he broke up with her was because his boss cornered him before he & heroine left for their weekend getaway and gave him an ultimatum to either give up heroine or get fired from his valuable job. He chose his job but didn’t tell her about it until he apologized later.) but it showed how destructive she can be to find emotional solace by having sex with another man within half a day of leaving the man she was supposedly so in love with.  She stayed celibate for a whole year when she met Hero because she wanted only him. But it took her mere hours to have sex with somebody else once Hero broke her heart. She really should’ve groveled for it instead of hiding it from him so as not to shake things. She also should’ve deftly apologized for using her best friend and give him the space and time he needed  to get over her. Good thing Hero was so forgiving & understanding. And you can't say he was a doormat either. He stayed away from her for 2 days to think about things and then her accident happened. He realized then that he'd rather have her flawed & forgiven than not having her in his life at all.

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

Hero groveled and I thought it was convincing. He told her why he mistreated her the way he did and regretted his choice. And he showed her he was making up for his bad choice now. He gave up something he truly loved for her sake. He did it before he apologized to her and begged her to take him back. He realized that he couldn’t live without her during the 4 days since they broke up. And he set out to show her in words and actions that he meant it. He not only resigned from his job but openly displayed his affection for heroine at work. He asked her to move in with him. He was there for her when she needed him. He forgave her for her mistakes and tried to see it from her point of view. He wasn’t a doormat because he took time away from her to think about things before he went back again to her. All he knew was that he wanted life with her and he had to let go of both of their mistakes if he wanted a future with her. That’s the kind of unconditional love he showed heroine and redeemed his previously bad choices.

I recommend this book.
4-star


BLOG REVIEW: The Only One by Magan Vernon


19y.o. college student is very focused on her academics and working to finance her own college education.
So she’s very surprised that popular tatooed frat-boy Hero would suddenly take an interest in someone as bookish and ordinary as her.  
He’s known for his man-ho reputation among the many college girls at his beck and call. The night she finally lets loose with him, 
she gets some bad medical news. It’s at her surprise that Hero actually wanted to stick around and help her get through her needed medical procedures.  She’s not sure where their relationship stands. When she wants to go further physically, he limits their involvement. 
But he’s constantly by her side and seems to care about her welfare. What’s keeping him from going further?

The Hero in this book made the romance sweet and strong. He was a man-ho who made a convincing transformation into a 1-woman-man. His constant reassurances that heroine was important to him and the only one who made him feel that way were sigh-inducing. Over and over, he proved that she could depend on him even when she rejected or diminished his caring. I loved that he saw through her emotional turmoil and was steadfast where she was not. It really was wonderful to have this partying frat-boy turn into such a responsible & supportive man, who got emotionally beat-up at times and neglected even more often by heroine.

Heroine was likeable overall. She was understandably in great turmoil because of the cancer news she was hit with. Her normally stable, organized, and quiet life suddenly changed into a scary, painful, and diminishing one. The time she decided to free herself from her self-imposed limits and have a good, uncomplicated time with Hero only lasted a few minutes before her world got overturned by cancer. Her identity and focus became wrapped up with cancer. No matter how much others tried to console or confront her about her negative focus, she couldn't get past it. Again, it was understandable given what she was going through medically. But her repetition of how broken she was, despite how others reassured her otherwise, got tiring. Maybe it would've helped me be more sympathetic with her if the emotional tone of the book pulled at my emotions. The even emotional tone of the book instead prevented me being fully immersed in what really was a poignant and emotionally difficult moments in their lives.  

The character growth of Hero and heroine was a plus. It's interesting how heroine's cancer (technically, dysplasia) changed things both in bad and good ways. It helped Hero mature, be other-focused, and become more responsible. Although heroine went downhill with her attitude and identity, she did pull herself out of her pessimistic funk with help from the tough-love of her sister and Hero. She realized how her negative self-absorption was detrimental to her relationships. And she sought out to fix them right away. Heroine became like her old self but an improved & matured version. It was just like Hero, though, to come back for her and even apologize for his tough-love with her. I didn't like him much in the beginning but Hero sure made this book worthy to read.

I moderately recommend this book.
3.5-star







BLOG REVIEW: His Unexpected Legacy by Chantelle Shaw

Physical therapist has changed her mind about informing Italian businessman Hero about their 3-year-old son and asking him for some financial support for him. 
Hero still wants to avoid commitment.
 And he prioritizes his work above all else.
So she left him 4 years ago. Now that he knows about their son son, he demands custody of him, especially when he thought that heroine was mistreating him. Although their passion is as fiery as before, 
she can’t help but wonder whether his interest in her is because he cares for her or because she’s the mother of the son he so wants with him.
Can she settle for being second place to their son?

This wasn't the most solid romance. Hero and heroine seemed to be together again out of convenience. She wanted financial help so she and her son can take a needed vacation together. Hero just so happened to be in her vicinity so she decided to finally tell him they have a son together. For Hero, it was his desire to be a father to their son.  Although they quickly succumbed to their passions at their reunion, all they really shared was a strong sexual attraction. Hero only went after heroine again to do damage control over the business deal that fell through because of heroine's public denouncement of his engagement to another woman. His work was his #1 mistress. That was a major reason why she left him 4 years ago. He put work first before her. Now, their son took its place. If it wasn't for Hero's interest in their son, they wouldn't be together.

I pitied heroine's unrequited love for Hero. But I was annoyed at her settling for less just so she could be with him. She wasn't such a doormat to let him run roughshod over her. She did leave him before when she realized their romance wasn't going to be long-term. But a little show of commitment from him, even though it was only a marriage of convenience, was enough for her to stay with him. I also didn't like her manipulative games with Hero. She was subtle about punishing him for not prioritizing her in his life. Hero was more openly manipulative. He seduced her to get her agreement about their son. He knew she was in love with him and let her go as a result 4 years ago. Now, he used it to gain her favor for their son's sake. His confession of love for her later was surprising. I don't really buy it. I think he cared for her because he realized she was a decent person but it was mostly because she was his son's mother and he might as well choose her among the throng of willing females if he was going to be in a long-term commitment. His "love" for her was convenient now. Four years ago, she was easy to let go of and forgotten. And the fact that she got pregnant and miscarried didn't even hold that much of an emotional hold for him. She really was just one of his succession of lovers. It only took him a few weeks to marry another woman after she left him.

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

The reason why I don't believe that he's been in love with her since their affair 4 years ago but let her go because he couldn't emotionally commit to women was his marriage to the other woman. Yes, it was a marriage of convenience. But it was to his close female friend who was dying of cancer and wished to be a bride before she died. He DID emotionally commit and engage in an emotionally-deep relationship with another woman. He so cared for her that he offered to marry her. He knew she was about to die but it negates his reason about not being able to have emotional commitment to any woman. 

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

The truth was he just didn't feel deeply enough for heroine to want be with her forever. The positive spin of this book is that Hero did start changing. His son softened him up and made him see that commitment could be positive. His seeing heroine as a loving mother to their son allowed him to trust her with their son and himself as well. It's a sufficient start to his loving heroine fully for herself.

I partially recommend this book
2.5-star

BLOG REVIEW: Disarm (The Complete Novel) by June Gray

26y.o. web designer doesn’t know what to make of the sexual feelings she’s been having recently for her 28y.o. roommate, Air-Force captain Hero. 
He’s been her brother’s best friend since they were teens and he was her rock since her brother’s untimely death in Afghanistan a year ago. 
When Hero confronts their mutual sexual attraction, their passion for each other combusts. 
His 6-month deployment to Afghanistan, however, came too soon.  Heroine had a hard time with the separation but his frequent phone calls & letters and promises of love and eager reunion helped. It was, therefore, baffling to heroine when he came back a bit more detached and different than he was before. 
And it stunned her when he proposed that they break up. 
Then she learns that he’s moving to Korea for a year. What hope is there for their relationship?

Even though the end has a bit of a question mark(my copy included the after-series short stories called "R and R" and excerpts from "Arrest"), this book gave me a pretty full view of Hero and heroine's romance. The way it was written gave us an in-depth look at what both heroine and Hero were going through. It’s told from heroine’s point of view(POV) but we get a good understanding of Hero’s POV from his recorded therapy sessions he had heroine listen to. I thought that was a brilliant POV strategy.  I expected some tiptoeing around their sexual tension as per usual with longtime-friends-to-lovers or brothers-best-friend romance are wont to do and then some separation given Hero’s military work. Well, we got a bit of that. Then more.  Their shying away from what they both thought was an unrequited romance spanned about 13 years. The timing was always off when the other was ready. Then her brother’s death brought on a needed friendship from their emotional dependence on each other to grieve his loss. It was mere happenstance that heroine became sexually aware of Hero’s attraction towards her. It was to his credit that he confronted their sexual attraction because a tidal wave of suppressed longing and desire surged between them. It was hot. Then Hero confessed his feelings soon after and I sighed. But then he had to leave her even sooner than was planned. Cue to some poignancy & mutual longing. So far, so good and as expected.

It was Hero’s coming back after his 6-month deployment that took this book further than I expected. It was established early on and repeatedly by Hero that he was in love with heroine, has been for a long time, and was so happy to finally be with her. This was clear among his numerous letters, emails, and phone calls to her from Afghanistan. The emotional betrayals that happened soon after were unexpected since the preceding events didn’t foretell them.

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

1. Before:
When they saw each other again after his coming back from Afghanistan, their reunion was hot and loving. Hero kept verbally and physically expressing his love for her with such sincerity.
Betrayal:
He proposed some time apart to figure himself out. This wasn’t too bad and too unexpected since it was becoming more apparent to heroine that he was unsettled by something that happened during his deployment. He wanted to go see his former therapist in California to help him with some post-traumatic war issues.  Heroine encouraged it and was fine with it. What was unexpected, however, was that he’d already planned to take 18 days off for it before talking to heroine about it. He did ask her to go with him but his doing so was sudden it didn’t give her enough time to plan some time off from work.
2. Before:
His therapy seemed to be working. He looked less stressed and he was connecting with heroine and others. Heroine’s arrival in their hometown heralded some good times with their family and old friends. Their parents were happy with their romance and so were Hero and heroine.
Betrayal:
The day after partying with their old friends Hero suddenly breaks up with heroine. He wanted to figure out his identity without clouding it with his relationship with heroine and her family. Despite heroine’s understanding of his identity crises and offering her support, he was resolute about being apart. Yet he insists that he will always love her and that will never change.
3. Before:
They’ve been broken up for 5 months and they hadn’t seen each other since but Hero left phone messages, checking in on heroine a few times. He’s also been keeping asking about her through their mutual friends.
Betrayal:
She learned from somebody else that he’s moving to Korea for a year. She goes to his goodbye party that their mutual friend was throwing for him and invited her to. He basically confronted her about why she was at his party, and told her to stop clinging to the past and get it through her head that he didn’t want her anymore. So much for his promise to always love her.

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

What made it poignant was how tough and self-assured heroine was so gutted by the unexpected betrayals. She became this blubbering mess of a girl and even went on a desperate mode to seduce him into admitting he still wanted her. She waited about 1.5 years before she dated again. She was no pining doormat though. She was very hurt but she eventually pulled through and moved on with her life. I loved her response when Hero almost made her feel bad for dating again. She slammed him with the truth of his selfish behavior that got them in their current relationship condition. I loved how she didn’t give in to his apologies and welcome him back easily. I loved how she forthrightly told him she couldn’t trust or forgive him yet. She wasn’t being spiteful or manipulative. She was just wisely more cautious with him when he asked her for another chance.

Did Hero grovel? Yes but not at first. He seemed to hope to win her back easily with his charm, his happier demeanor, and his promises to love her and desire to be with her for long-term now. But she made it tough for him because she was still hurt, angry, and cynical.  So he was forced to make some sacrifices to show her that he meant what he promised.  But it wasn't immediate. It took some complaining on his part, some confrontation and reminder on her part, and some inner wrestling on his part before he finally made some sacrifices for her and their relationship's benefit.  There were, therefore, moments where heroine thought he was just going to submit to the hardship and not even fight for her. His personal sacrifices at the end convinced me that he was genuinely regretful of his past mistakes and was in it for the long haul with her. It also helped convince me that he realized how valuable she was to him with his 1 year (or more) celibacy.  He dated a couple women but couldn't do more because his heart was with heroine.

I love that we got to see the start of their HEA(happy ever after). I thought it was realistic for them to still struggle a bit with trust and forgiveness. Hero was a huge jerk to heroine in the past and made her suffer as a result. She was only human to still have some lingering doubts and moments of insecurity, especially when she overheard his conversation with his friend about something that happened to him in Afghanistan.  I thought this was the “complete novel” but I guess there’s more to come with the full "Arrest" book released next year. I'm hoping that we'll see Hero be more open on his own initiative about his inner struggles with heroine. I'm hoping he won't leave her again (physically or emotionally) in order to figure things out.

I recommend this book (NOTE: You can only pre-order right now. See below for more info).
4-star 

BLOG REVIEW: Owned (The Billionaire Banker Book 1) by Georgia Le Carre

19y.o. heroine didn't know that when she first locked eyes with 29y.o. billionaire banker Hero it would change her life drastically. 
She's more than relieved to have Hero preempt another rich man from taking her offer of her body in exchange for money. 
She needs the money for her very ill mom’s cancer treatment and has exhausted all other financing options. Hero and heroine agree to a 3-month contract and systematically start their affair.
Hero, however, didn't bargain that his usual cold control would get shaken when he realizes that heroine is a virgin and unlike any other women he’s known. 
As much as heroine reminds herself of their sex-for-money bargain and their disparate social status, she begins to fall in love with him. 
Hero’s family and privileged social world, however, becomes concerned about their relationship. What will they do to stop their developing romance?

Let me note right away that this book ends with a cliffhanger. It’s a good one though and I didn’t expect for it to go to that direction. Overall, the story was quite intriguing. It was a bit like a Harlequin Presents(HP) book with its enigmatic wealthy Hero and ordinary virgin heroine forced to be in unseemly situations for the sake of her loved ones. However, this book was steamier, provided more details about their interactions, and had some unexpected twists  at the end.

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

The unexpected twists at the end do not get resolved in this book. Heroine’s unplanned pregnancy, Hero getting injured and unconscious at the hospital, and Hero’s fiancĂ© plotting to separate them all happen towards the end. We don't know what or if Hero remembers what happened and where heroine is off to. 

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

The twists put an unpredictable spin on my expectations for their romance. I didn't expect it because the book title and cover didn't indicate that this was book 1 or part of a series.  

The book is told from a third person point of view(POV), with the majority regarding heroine’s thoughts and feelings. So we know more about heroine than Hero. She’s sacrificed much to take care of her ailing mother after her father left them. They live in the tenements of London but have good neighbors that’s been a crucial social support for her and her mom. Having sex to help her mother survive was a more desperate but not totally shocking attempt to get their needs met. It went against the grain of her character and upbringing but heroine’s need to keep her mom alive was greater.  As humorous as it was for her to try to accept that she would have to sex with the rough & dandruffy other man, I could sense her desperation and resolve. She was fortunate that attractive Hero did step in and avoided her great dilemma with the other man. But a danger to her heart became the problem. It was interesting to see her continually remind herself of the nature of her affair with Hero because we see her falling for him more.

Hero was a harder one to connect with. He was an aloof, controlled, and exacting man. But we occasionally saw his warmer, less controlled, and caring side.  We got a few glimpses of how heroine truly affects him but he curtailed it quickly. We saw more about his behaviors and got very little of his thoughts and nonverbal details. We don’t really  know much about him.  So, when he mentioned his feelings for heroine to his brother, it really was a surprise to me that he did fall in love with heroine.  The way the book was written (i.e., some sentences and paragraphs seemed awkward/stilted and didn't flow well together) reinforced the sense of disconnection with Hero and his romance with heroine. It was disconcerting at times. But then we have moments (especially in the latter part of the book) when the writing flowed well, the main characters’ connection was evident, and the intrigue was captivating. I hope we get more of these moments in the next book.

I moderately recommend this book
3-star

BLOG REVIEW: Never Again by Theresa Paolo

It may have been hard getting over ex-boyfriend Hero's abandoning her more than a year ago but 18y.o. heroine is now pretty content with her life.
She's starting college, albeit a lesser college of choice due to her poor grades after Hero abandoned her. But she has a new boyfriend and her best friend lives with her.
It was, therefore, a shock to see 18y.o. Hero at her college, even taking the same class as her. She tries to snub him but he seems to be everywhere she is & shares the same friends she has.
He’d like to be friends again but she can’t forget how he broke his promises to love her & never let her go and the resulting pain she went through.  His kindness and caring start to break through her walls and make her rethink her feelings for him. Can they go back to how things were before?
Can she trust him with her heart again? What of her current boyfriend?

The romance between the main characters crossed over from their high-school years to their first year of college. The book was told from heroine’s point of view so we learned about her high-school romance with Hero from her reminiscing.  We felt her anguish, resentment, and bitterness with Hero. We saw her confusion about her contented life with her new boyfriend & the reappearance of her buried feelings for Hero.  She had successfully moved on from Hero and hadn’t even thought about him for months. So his coming back and wanting some kind of relationship with her was understandably confusing. Heroine typified a teenager with her first romance and first heartbreak and the resiliency to eventually move on with life as new opportunities arise. Her life was steady until Hero’s return, where she became a mish-mash of emotions. So her kissing Hero while still her boyfriend was not shocking. It took Hero’s restraint to stop and make her reassess things more clearly.

Hero was a likeable guy overall. He sounded like the perfect boyfriend—considerate, sensitive, funny, respectful,  and expressive.  He’d always been there for heroine and understood her even without her saying anything to him. So it was very unlike him to just stop calling her months after he & his family moved away & not even have the decency to break things off formally with her. He literally dumped her. And the more insulting part was how he stayed in constant contact with heroine’s brother but ignored her.  His reason of being scared did not justify the way he rejected and abandoned her. So for him to come back to town and want to be friends without explaining why he did what he did and profusely apologizing and even groveling to her was insolent, to say the least. Yes, he was only a teenager but he was a considerate & respectful person. So his mistreatment of heroine and his major omission to explain himself then apologize was glaringly out-of-character and just plain wrong.  He did redeem himself by his characteristic caring and kindness to heroine & others, including her boyfriend.  And he definitely showed his selflessness with the way he took care of heroine and facilitated things for her family when her brother got injured.  

Hero and heroine could have a HEA(happy ever after). Their separation and reunion showed them, especially Hero, how valuable their romance was.  Hero regretted what he did to heroine and I believed that he wouldn’t take their relationship for granted the second time around. 
I wish we knew more about exactly what fears he had to make him dump heroine the way he did. He mentioned being scared about their relationship in general but it wasn’t explained with more details. Was it a new fear or something he’d been wrestling with for awhile? Why stop contacting heroine cold-turkey & not end things by letter, text, or email? Did he fear that he wouldn’t’ be able to go through with it? Did he really think that his doing so would make things easier on her? Since he knew her very well and made many promises to her, did he not consider how she would react when he stopped contacting her? I also wish we knew what he did during the time they were apart. Did he date other girls or did he just regret and pine for heroine?  How, what, and when did he regret letting heroine go?  There was a clear sense that if Hero never came back to town they would probably never have reconciled. It seemed more like convenience (versus fate or destiny) to see if they could rekindle those old feelings since he was back in town. It wasn’t very romantic but it fortunately went that way for them. 

My main beef with their romance was that they didn't feel strongly enough for each other to go out of their way and fight for their relationship. The way Hero dumped her more than a year ago and wouldn't have pursued her until he came back to town showed his lukewarm feelings for heroine.  Heroine's relative steadfastness to continue her relationship with her current boyfriend (especially her resolute plans to give up her virginity to him) after having seen and even kissed Hero again showed she could take or leave her second-chance at romance with Hero. I wish her boyfriend wasn't used as a plot device to get rid of him. He was a nice but clueless and unromantic boyfriend she didn't mind having so to have him turn out to be somebody different at the very end made her choice of dumping him and taking up with Hero too easy. I would’ve liked to see heroine do the grown-up thing and make hard choices from complex situations.

I moderately recommend this book.
3-star

BLOG REVIEW: Safe With You by Kirsten DeMuzio

21y.o. heroine lives a relatively quiet life for a student in her junior year of college. 
She's noticed attractive 28y.o. “Hot Coffee Guy” for the past 2 weeks at the college Starbucks she frequents between classes daily.  
He rescues her from her pushy recent ex-boyfriend and they finally meet. 
That begins their daily meetings at Starbucks and they get to know each other. Their growing attraction is mutual and evident but heroine doesn’t understand the sadness she sometimes catches in his eyes. When they finally go on a date, things quickly heat up between them.
So it was confusing when he suddenly backs out of their date after she talked to her senator dad on the phone.  When he eventually tells her the secret he's been keeping, she feels betrayed.
What will it take for her to trust him again? 

This was a straightforward love story between 2 sweet & likeable characters. Hero revealed his big secret pretty early on in the book.  It was in his character to be honest & act with integrity.  Before he revealed his secret, he was upfront about not being able to have a romance with her even though he wanted to. He didn’t want to string her along and hurt her. His growing feelings for her were evident & we saw him torn about it. When he finally told her what he was holding back, he bore her rejection & silent treatment with patience. He didn’t manipulate her forgiveness. He really was a straight-up guy.  He was 100% taken to heroine and he showed it. Hero was alpha with a tender side for heroine, albeit a tad too weepy at times. He had some issues with his brother’s loss that he was having a hard time dealing with and that added a tortured feel to him.

Heroine may live a life of a privileged senator’s daughter but she lived a quiet life and wanted simple things. She was grateful for having the life she had with her supportive adopted parents and she was close to them. Her life before they adopted her at age 9 made her cautious with others. So her being still a virgin at 21 because of her caution with men was understandable.  Her instinctual trust of Hero was unique and her need for time & space to heal from his big secret was a given.  Once she was ready to let him in her life again, their romance was sweet, sexy, and steady.

It was refreshing to read a book where the couple is solidly together so early on. They struggled with heroine’s ex making trouble for her father’s potential presidential campaign through her and keeping their romance a secret from her parents & the public. The secret aspect of their romance made their times together hotter. The secondary characters aided their romance. Both their close friends were funny & encouraging of their relationship. Their parents respected their adulthood yet showed their concern for their well-being. This book didn’t have major complications or angst. I liked how smooth things went for them with just some minor interference from her ex. They were well on their way to their HEA(happy ever after).

I recommend this book

4-star

BLOG REVIEW: Love, Lies, and Deception by L.P. Dover

23y.o. college senior wanted to be free and have fun as a single girl again. 
She just broke up with her longtime boyfriend and she was looking forward to her impending college graduation and move to another state for grad school.  She finally meets the attractive 25y.o. neighbor Hero she’s been eyeing the last 2 years.
She hooks up with him right away.
But didn’t expect her feelings to grow so quickly for him and his demand for exclusivity only intensifies their relationship.
But he warns her that knowing his secrets may make her change her mind.  As some new threats to her life occur, Hero is forced to confess his past sooner.  It only draws them closer together. But they eventually find out that his past may very well shatter their current romance.
How is Hero's past linked to heroine?

This book was a solid 4-star rating from the get-go but it fell towards the end. The book was well-written overall. Dialogue and romance between main characters was flirty yet intense. Heroine’s relationships with her close friends were intriguing. Good emotional tone.  Story was told from heroine’s point of view & I felt both her and Hero’s connection with each other.  The suspense part was developed well. I didn’t expect it, especially since hints of it didn’t begin until a bit later in the book. The suspense was both unpredictable, seemingly came out of nowhere, and intensified pretty quickly. So it added to the book’s excitement.

Hero was a sexy& intense alpha male with secrets. He was flirty in a demanding and firm way. It was clear that he wanted heroine and he took the initiative in telling her what he wanted but he wasn’t pushy about it. He gauged that the attraction was mutual and went from there. I really liked how he didn’t resist his feelings for her, was honest about it, and made sure she knew that she was special to him like no other woman has.  He set the tone of their romance from the start.  Heroine was the more non-committal one. She wasn’t looking for romance because of where she was in her life. She wasn’t ready to settle down and wanted to be young and free and enjoy her single status. But with Hero taking strides in their relationship, she followed suit. Yet her actions showed that she really wasn’t emotionally ready to be in a committed relationship. She was more wishy-washy and let her immediate emotions take her at will. But I never thought she would be as impulsive as she was.

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

Heroine had sex with her best guy friend the day after she thought that Hero cheated on her with the hotel maid.  She was foolish, irresponsible, and self-sabotaging to do so and I didn’t peg her as one to do that, given the way she was characterized in the rest of the book. 

Before the sex-with-her-friend event, heroine was:
1. known as a prude by her close friends. She was with her ex-boyfriend for years & had a tepid long-distance relationship with him. She was faithful to him despite her lukewarm feelings for him and even stopped her wild partying ways.
2. became less inhibited when she was dating Hero. But she was wild with him and was in a committed relationship with him. She was admittedly happy & in love with him and planned on a future together.
3. responsible and focused. She had a good head on her shoulders regarding her academic and career goals, romance, sex (i.e., birth control), her relationships with her friends & family, and her overall welfare(i.e., physical safety, health).
4. kept within her relationship boundaries. She knew who her friends were and was good in maintaining those friendships. She may have viewed her best guy friend as attractive but she never thought of crossing the line with him. Even when she was already single and having a good time in her vacation with her friends in Fiji, she didn’t view her best guy friend as anything other than a good friend.

When she thought Hero cheated on her, heroine:
1.  didn’t even give him a chance to explain. Even when he did on her way out the door & in numerous texts & voicemail messages her left her, she didn’t believe him and didn’t want to hear it.
2. didn’t use her brain (like she usually does) to stop & consider the whole logic of what happened. And ask herself :
 a.) why would Hero cheat when he’d shown her time & time again that she was the only one he wanted & went out of his way to show her he meant it (i.e., spilled all his secrets on his own initiative & showed her proof via online articles of what he used to do in the past, spent all his time with her when she was free, whisked her off to hide away in a hotel with him to keep her safe from harm but made sure she finished all her exams before, cosseted her, reminded her often verbally & nonverbally how much she meant to him, was hot for her all the time even during her period)?  He’s been the one pushing them towards more commitment, while she would’ve been ok with them just having sex.
b.) why would Hero cheat on her knowing that it only takes her a few minutes to buy them breakfast and come back to their hotel room?
c.) why would she think Hero was hard up for sex just because they haven’t had actual sex (due to her period) in the last 2 days? She was doing other things to satisfy him sexually. 
c.) why would Hero cheat on her when they were together 24-7 the last 2 weeks (most of it spent having sex together) because he was keeping her safe from the would-be perpetrator ?
d.) if Hero was secretly cheating on her, why would he carelessly leave a used condom by their bed?
3. closed herself off to help from her friends & family, which was so unlike her. The only help she sought out was her best guy friend who even repeatedly encouraged her to talk to Hero & call her best friend  & sister back.
4. encouraged her best guy friend’s sexual interest in her.  ONLY 1 day of wrangling with the hurt from Hero’s supposedly cheating on her and she had sex willingly with another man. And she was planning on continuing it too, if it wasn’t for the perpetrator.  

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

The romance part of the book took a nosedive from this part of the book but the suspense at least was good.  I couldn’t believe how much and how quickly she sabotaged her romance with Hero. It took her only 1 day to destroy the intense commitment she and Hero were developing. It made me wonder how emotionally ready she really was to be in a committed relationship. Her actions made me highly doubt their HEA(happy ever after). It didn’t help that, even after Hero forgave her for having sex with another man and gave them another chance together,  that heroine would have a caveat to her I’ll-make-it-up-to-you speech by saying “just promise to keep  (my heart) safe”. I took that caveat more as a warning that she’ll do something destructive again if she thinks he’s not treating her well. Hero’s “I guess I’ll go wherever my heart takes me and right now it belongs to you” wasn’t all that romantic either.  That “right now” confirms that what they have was a HFN(happy for now) . Their HEA has a very big question mark.

I moderately recommend this book
3-star