Spotlight Review: SCANDALIZED by Ivy Owens

August 23, 2022

From the publisher:

A one-night stand between two old childhood friends turns into something more, but when a scandal threatens to tear them apart, they must decide how hard to fight for love—a steamy romance debut perfect for fans of Tessa Bailey and Kennedy Ryan​.

Exhausted and on deadline with a story that could make or break her career, investigative journalist Georgia Ross is on the verge of a meltdown when a cancelled flight leaves her stuck in the airport overnight. But when a familiar face appears—the older brother of her childhood friend—and offers help, Gigi seems to have caught a break.

Alec Kim is handsome, humble, and kind—exactly the sort of man that Gigi has forgotten existed after her own painful heartbreaks. An evening of reconnection followed by a night of no-strings-attached passion with Alec feels like a gift—that is, until Gigi finally realizes that their childhood connection isn’t the only reason he seems so familiar to her.

Alec is determined to prove to Gigi that he is truly the man she thinks he is, even if it means coming clean about his fame—and his family’s connection to the story Gigi’s been working so hard to break. But as their feelings for each other grow deeper, Gigi and Alec must navigate a new reality…one where both of their hard-won careers are put directly in the path of an international scandal.

“Ivy Owens’s debut brings the perfect amount of humor and heart to the story of childhood friends reunited under unusual circumstances. Scandalized imbues a fraught situation with more humor than angst, and readers will fall instantly for the charming, charismatic characters. The heated love scenes and intense emotional connection between the leads are sure to win Owens legions of fans.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Owens’s spectacular debut is beautifully written and a fun read. Fans of Suzanne Park’s So We Meet Again and Katie Delahanty’s “Brightside” series will have a hard time not consuming it in one sitting.” —Library Journal (starred review)

https://amzn.to/3TekEMz

I love finding a debut novel that is this good – it’s rare and wondrous, especially when it is also a super steamy romance! The chemistry between Gigi, a badass journalist, and Alec, a movie star, is so hot I’m surprised the book didn’t just incinerate in my hands.

Gigi is on her way back to Los Angeles from London, where she broke a story about an exclusive club where the owners/members drug women, rape them, and video the whole thing. Her connecting flight from Seattle to L.A. gets canceled. Gigi is so tired, and all she really wants is a shower and some clean clothes. Then she spots Alec, and with a flash of recognition, she realizes he is her middle school best friend’s older brother. She approaches him, and he remembers her as well. When the closest hotel to the airport is full, he offers her the use of his shower. Turns out Alex has the presidential suite and lots of room to share.

You can guess where it goes from here, but there is also a lot of intrigue about that London club. Turns out Alec may know something, but eventually, it all goes sideways despite the connection these two have. This book really does have it all; suspense, a sweet connection between these characters, not to mention some seriously steamy scenes. I loved it and if you can handle the sex, trust me when I say you will not regret reading this book. I couldn’t put it down and I hated turning that last page. Can’t wait to see what this debut author does next.

8/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SCANDALIZED by Ivy Owens. Pocket Books (August 23, 2022). ISBN: 978-1982199852. 320p.

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HONOR ‘N’ DUTY by Tee O’Fallon

July 22, 2022

Federal K-9, Book 6

From the publisher:

Two years after his brother’s murder in jail, Department of Homeland Security K-9 Officer Kade Sampson is still haunted by guilt. No man should ever have to arrest his own brother, even if he is laundering money for a drug cartel. Fortunately, Laia Velez—his brother’s gorgeous widow—never learned the truth about Kade’s involvement. But when she asks him for help, he knows that trouble with the cartel is far from over…

Kade is the last person Laia wants to call. But between her house being thoroughly trashed and the uneasy sense that she and her young daughter are being watched, Laia isn’t taking any chances. The cartel wants something from her. And Kade and his K-9 partner, Smoke, are her only chance to survive whatever fresh hell is coming their way…

Now Laia and Kade are trying to stay one step ahead in a game that’s growing more deadly by the minute. But what the cartel wants, the cartel gets. And Kade is running out of time to save the woman he loves from the same fate that killed his brother…

https://amzn.to/3cvuM2I

I read the first book in this series but missed the rest until this one. I’m sure they are better read in order, but from what I can tell from the two books I’ve read, they easily stand alone. This is a fast paced book with lots of suspense, a bit of violence, and at the heart of the story, a romance.

Kade and Laia met when they were stranded in an elevator for forty minutes. There was such a strong attraction that Kade asked her out, but when they step off the elevator, he finds out why she said she can’t. Laia was engaged to Kade’s brother, Josh.

Kade figures the best way to handle his attraction to his sister-in-law is to avoid her. He attends the wedding, and he’s there for his brother’s funeral, but other than that, he ghosts her. He spends as much time as possible with his niece when she visits her grandparents, and that seems to work for him.

Six years have gone by and Kade still struggles with his guilt over his brother. Josh was a successful accountant, but turned out that much of his success came from laundering money for a drug cartel. Eventually he gets caught, but is killed on his first day in prison. The cops take everything they own, leaving Laia and her daughter to struggle on their own.

All these years later, Laia comes home to find that her house has been trashed. Every piece of furniture is destroyed, and she can’t understand why nothing is missing. She calls the cops, but she also calls her brother-in-law, Kade, thinking he probably won’t come. But he does.

Kade shows up in full protector mode, along with his K-9 partner, Smoke. He hustles Laia and her daughter out of there, quickly realizing that this wasn’t an ordinary robbery. The cartel is after something.

I don’t want to give anything away, so let’s just say the pages fly by as the attraction between Laia and Kade reaches the boiling point, with each of them thinking the other just isn’t interested. Plus the cartel is obviously interested in Laia, so Kade hides her as best as he can. But spending all that time together is just making it harder and harder to pretend they don’t have strong feelings for one another.

I really enjoyed this fast paced romantic thriller. I was very invested in these characters and their story. Highly recommend!

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HONOR ‘N’ DUTY by Tee O’Fallon. Entangled: Amara (July 18, 2022). ASIN: B0B54LBPD2. 356p.

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GRACE UNDER FIRE by Julie Garwood

July 22, 2022

Buchanan/FBI, Book 14

From the publisher:

Michael Buchanan will need every bit of his extensive skill set when he appoints himself as bodyguard to a woman determined not to need one in this thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Garwood.

Grace Isabel MacKenna has a hundred things to do today. Killing someone isn’t one of them. It is supposed to be a quick visit to Boston for the Buchanan anniversary party, then on to Scotland to collect an inheritance. She checks into her hotel and then decides to go for a brisk walk. But after getting lost, she ends up with a wounded man stumbling into her arms—and his shooter coming after them both. When she fires back in self-defense, she doesn’t expect him to drop dead. After Isabel endures an interrogation by police, she is free to go, thanks to the Buchanans dispatching former Navy SEAL and now lawyer Michael Buchanan to assist her.

Isabel knows she should be grateful for Michael’s help, but since she’s harbored an extreme dislike for him for years, gratitude is difficult to muster. Michael has appointed himself her de facto guardian, and she’s stuck with him despite their constant bickering and sizzling attraction. Even when Isabel goes to Scotland to claim her inheritance, Michael follows her—but he isn’t the only thing she can’t shake. Mysterious threats against Isabel surface, and before they can deal with their growing feelings for each other, Michael and Isabel must first survive.

“Garwood delivers plenty of twists to keep the suspense brewing and a subplot about Grace’s potential music career adds color. Readers will be hooked.”—Publishers Weekly

“Fans of the series will clamor for this book, which can also be read as a standalone.”—Library Journal

https://amzn.to/3ArEyNf

This is only the third Garwood book I’ve read, and I’m not sure why because I really like her books. I will have to be more diligent, and I will go back and read some more of this series, which I think is actually called Buchanan-Renard, but Amazon turned into Buchanan-FBI for whatever reason – maybe her publisher? Either way, this is the 14th book of the series, and the only other one in the series that I’ve read was The Ideal Man, the 9th book, so lots more to discover.

Michael is your typical romantic hero; tall, dark, and handsome, sure, but also a former Navy SEAL and a lawyer. His career goal is the FBI, like two of his brothers. Isabel is a dreamer and a song writer, and on her last night out with her friends before graduation, she sings one of her songs at a karaoke bar and it goes viral, attracting the attention of Xavier, or XO as his friends call him. So her career is about to take off, even if she doesn’t realize it.

Isabel is attending a family party in a secluded island near Boston before she heads over to Scotland. She has inherited a large, valuable property from an estranged relative, but the will stipulates she needs to be there in person on or after her next birthday, a week away. She is being harassed by a developer who wants to purchase the property.

Things take a turn for the worse when she arrives at her hotel and goes for a walk. She gets lost in her head, writing a song, while wandering the streets of Boston and before she knows it, she is lost. She is about to turn around when she hears gun shots and sees a man fall. She rushes to help him and when the shooter approaches, she manages to grab a loose gun and kills the shooter.

Turns out that it isn’t as random as it appears, and therein lies the suspense. Michael is entrusted to keep her safe, but he has a bad habit of not listening when people talk to him; he tends to cut them off and assume the rest of the conversation. So when his brother says Isabel loves to drive, that’s all he hears and he lets her drive. Some of the comic relief is in her driving – she is a super crazy driver and scares her passengers to death, if the are brave/stupid enough to let her drive.

With her new found fame, Isabel realizes she hates being in the spotlight but that doesn’t make it go away. Michael protects her as they try to resolve the shooting and the upcoming trip to Scotland, and soon they can’t stop their attraction and they end up in bed. Repeatedly. But Michael has plans and they don’t coincide with Isabel’s lifestyle, and she braces herself for the end. It wouldn’t be a romance without the happily ever after, so after quite a bit of suspense, they finally get there.

This was a real page turner for me. The romance was still front and center though, despite all the suspense, and the combination is terrific. If you like suspense with your romance, then this is the book for you. It definitely can be read as a standalone – I quickly realized that there were probably books that came before but it didn’t impede on this story at all. Garwood’s years of experience really show here, and she never phones it in. Very well done and a terrific read – don’t miss it.

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

GRACE UNDER FIRE by Julie Garwood. Berkley (July 19, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593546291. 448p.

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MANSPLAINER by Avery Flynn

July 8, 2022

The Last Man Standing Series, Book 3

From the publisher:

As the only Beckett cousin who is still unattached, I’m a shoo-in to win the bet with my cousins to be the last man blissfully not in love by Christmas. Of course, I know they’re still going to make me follow the rules of our bet and go on six dates with the same woman—but I’ve figured out a way out of that too. I’m getting married. Is it love? Not even close. Chelle Finch needs a temporary husband and I need to win this bet. We agree to put a ring on it knowing that in six months this marriage of convenience will end in divorce. Except, somehow dating my wife has me realizing that I don’t ever want to take this ring off if it means losing her.

What does the guy who can talk his way out of anything have to do to sweet talk his temporary wife into forever?

https://amzn.to/3NpXE9l

I actually read the first two books in this series (applause, please!) so I was eagerly anticipating this one. I don’t think it was quite as good as the first two. I have to give it extra points for the cute title and cover though.

Beckett comes from a super competitive family, but they are all really close. When their grandmother dies leaving behind a Christmas gift, the three cousins decide to bet on it. Whoever goes on six dates of the other cousins’ choosing with the first woman who responds to their dating app profile, and doesn’t fall in love, wins the bet. The first two books were the first two cousins’ stories, and they both fell in love and were happy to lose the bet. But now it’s Beckett’s turn, and he has a plan.

Chelle comes from a dysfunctional, misogynistic family. She runs the family foundation, but her father’s will explicitly states that if she isn’t married, she’s out and her slimy uncle will take over, and run it into the ground. So when Beckett’s mom works up an introduction for them, they both realize they can help each other out. The will doesn’t say how long she has to be married, and Beckett figures if he’s married and not in love, he’ll win the bet. Then he can get a divorce and the mystery Christmas gift.

It’s a bit convoluted but fun nonetheless. There is definite heat between them, and I liked that Chelle is a plus-sized woman, dealing with those insecurities compounded by her miserable family. But no worries, they find their happy ending and the mysterious Christmas gift gets opened. I wish there was a bit more to this story, it was a bit too short to really get me invested, but because I read the earlier books, I was all in anyway. It’s fun, it’s sexy, and it’s a quick read, so perfect for an afternoon on the beach.

The series in order:

  1. Mama’s Boy
  2. Neanderthal
  3. Mansplainer

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MANSPLAINER by Avery Flynn.  Entangled: Amara (June 27, 2022). ISBN:‎ 979-8835428281. 260p.

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CRUSH IN THE CASCADES by Lisa S. Gayle

July 1, 2022

From the author:

Reality TV, riches, and a race for romance! What’s not to like?

For Easton Cooper, everything—except a chance at one million dollars. Desperate for cash, he’ll even compete on an outrageous action-adventure reality show, and he hates reality TV. As luck would have it, he’s thrust into his element, a series of outdoor challenges in the Oregon Cascade Mountains. But there’s a catch—he’s staring across the meadow at his partner—a tan, hot, out-of-place California girl, wearing heels and a formal dress in the middle of freaking nowhere—and she will not bring him down! Even if he has to drag her across the finish line.

Amity Rose wants an adventure. No one told her that “dress accordingly” meant deck out in hardcore mountain gear. So she wore strappy heels and a fancy dress to the opening scene. So she hates bugs, cold air, tents, campfires—must she go on? Now all the contestants think she’s a pampered princess—and to add to her bad luck, her partner is the worst—a gangly, overconfident, know-it-all mountain trail guide. Did the directors just add a romantic twist to the drama? Sure, why not? Maybe she’ll leave the race with something more valuable than money. Just not with him!

Crush in the Cascades is a full-length contemporary romance that can be read as a standalone. It features an emotionally-charged, enemies-to-lovers romance weaved into an action-packed, fast-moving plot.

https://amzn.to/3I2qg7F

Even though I’m not a fan of reality TV (aside from Top Chef,) I still found a lot to like here. Easton & Amity meet as contestants on a “Survivor” type reality TV show. Or maybe it’s more like that race one, what do I know. Basically the contestants have to team up as boy/girl couples for challenges. Is that really a thing in reality TV? The ones who come in last are out, and the couple that wins gets an advantage. It’s set in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon (I’m assuming that’s real, but what does this geographically challenged east coast girl know?) The challenges are things like chopping wood, racing on a trail, starting a fire, etc. Outdoorsy stuff.

Easton has a big advantage here – he is a mountain climbing tour guide from Aspen, Colorado. On the other hand, Amity shows up in designer duds and high heels, earning her a few not-so-nice nicknames. Easton is here for the money; his best friend and business partner has some sort of rare heart disease that can be treated, but not through insurance. So Easton wants to win the money to save his friend’s life.

Amity isn’t as bad as she seems. Turns out she is a runner, and that gives her a leg up more than once. She’s also good at doing puzzles, another plus for her, and her balance is nothing short of amazing – but her true skill is that she is terrific at thinking outside the box. She is here because she lost her father, and he always wanted her to travel and go on adventures. So she is here for the adventure.

Amity is a beautiful girl, and somehow she gets under Easton’s skin, despite her lack of skills. This is a sort of enemies to lovers trope; they start off hating one another and eventually fall in love. But there are many hurdles (no pun intended) to get through before they find their happily ever after. There is a super cute ending as well, which hopefully will lead to another book, making this a series? We shall see.

All in all, this was a fun read, especially I imagine, if you love those outdoorsy sort of reality TV shows. It’s light, funny, and sweet, making this a winner and a terrific escape. And since these past couple of weeks have been just brutal, it was much appreciated.

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

CRUSH IN THE CASCADES by Lisa S. Gayle. ASIN:‎ B09Z9LBHHS. 324p. 

 


SOMETHING WILDER by Christina Lauren

June 24, 2022

From the publisher:

The “reigning romance queens” (PopSugar) and New York Times bestselling authors of The Soulmate Equation and The Unhoneymooners present a charming and laugh-out-loud funny novel filled with adventure, treasure, and, of course, love.

Growing up the daughter of notorious treasure hunter and absentee father Duke Wilder left Lily without much patience for the profession…or much money in the bank. But Lily is resourceful, and now uses Duke’s coveted hand-drawn maps to guide tourists on fake treasure hunts through the red rock canyons of Utah. It pays the bills but doesn’t leave enough to fulfill her dream of buying back the beloved ranch her father sold years ago, and definitely not enough to deal with the sight of the man she once loved walking back into her life with a motley crew of friends ready to hit the trails. Frankly, Lily would like to take him out into the wilderness and leave him there.

Leo Grady knew mirages were a thing in the desert, but they’d barely left civilization when the silhouette of his greatest regret comes into focus in the flickering light of the campfire. Ready to leave the past behind him, Leo wants nothing more than to reconnect with his first and only love. Unfortunately, Lily Wilder is all business, drawing a clear line in the sand: it’s never going to happen.

But when the trip goes horribly and hilariously wrong, the group wonders if maybe the legend of the hidden treasure wasn’t a gimmick after all. There’s a chance to right the wrongs—of Duke’s past and their own—but only if Leo and Lily can confront their history and work together. Alone under the stars in the isolated and dangerous mazes of the Canyonlands, Leo and Lily must decide whether they’ll risk their lives and hearts on the adventure of a lifetime.

From the author of the “heartfelt and funny” (Publishers Weekly) sensation The Unhoneymooners, this page-turning adventure full of second chances, complicated relationships, and the breathtaking beauty of the American Southwest will take fans on one wild ride.

“Writing duo Lauren Billings and Christina Hobbs strike gold again in this thrilling contemporary romance set in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Equal parts exhilarating puzzle-filled adventure and steamy second-chance romance, this cinematic wild-west rom-com is a must-have.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Fans of Christina Lauren, known for their delightful rom-coms, may be surprised by this shift into the world of adventure romance. It should be a pleasant surprise, though, given that the story is fast-paced, exciting, and still full of that classic Christina Lauren swoon (in between the danger, occasional violence, and plot twists). Lily and Leo’s romance is plenty steamy, but the real star is the landscape, which is described in sweltering, dusty detail. A vivid escape that’s perfect for romantic thrill-seekers.” Kirkus (starred review)

https://amzn.to/3zJZRJM

I’ve included two quotes from starred reviews in authoritative journals because I didn’t love this book. I don’t always agree with other reviewers, so I think it only fair to show another point of view.

This was no rom-com, the subgenre of romance that these authors generally write, despite what Kirkus said. A rom-com is light and frothy and most of all, funny – the “com” in rom-com stands for comedy. This was also labeled as “adventure romance,” a subgenre I’m not familiar with at all. To me it was romantic suspense, which I enjoy now and then. The suspense is definitely there; it is enough to keep the pages turning for sure.

My issue with this book is the romance and the main characters. There is very little in the way of character development. We learn that Leo and Lily spent a couple of months together ten years earlier, and somehow they are still madly in love. They’ve not been in touch nor seen one another in that time, so I just found it very hard to believe. This is a second chance love story, and usually I like those, but I didn’t buy their story and I didn’t feel especially drawn to these characters. If I’m not invested in the characters, I’m not invested in their story.

I did like the setting a lot. The basic plot is Lily is eking out a living by taking tour groups on a treasure hunting adventure through the Utah desert. Her father, Duke Wilder, was a world renowned treasure hunter, and Lily has all his maps and uses them to help her tourists find “treasure.” When Leo shows up with his friends, he is just as shocked to see Lily as she is to see him.

The premise of the book is that Butch Cassidy hid much of his bank robbery earnings throughout the Utah desert, and Duke supposedly knows where, so people want to come on these tours. However, the group with Leo’s friends are sketchy at best, and that’s where the suspense comes in. Unfortunately, the characters are very one dimensional including Leo and Lily.

I put this book down several times – I think I read four other books while reading this one because I just couldn’t get into it. It probably would have been a DNF for me if it wasn’t by Christina Lauren – I have loved all their books until this one. I understand they wanted to try something new, but for me it was a disappointment. Please see starred reviews above for a different point of view!

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SOMETHING WILDER by Christina Lauren. Gallery Books (May 17, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1982173401. 384p.

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CHASE WILDE COMES HOME by Jennifer Ryan

May 6, 2022

Wyoming Wilde, Book 1

From the publisher:

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Ryan begins a brand-new series with a western set romance between a former soldier and the mother of his child. Perfect for fans of Diana Palmer, Linda Lael Miller, and BJ Daniels.

They’re tough, tender, and sometimes tormented; they’re the Wildes of Wyoming, three brothers whose family ties are as strong as their wills.

Chase Wilde never expected to fall in love, especially with Shelby Payne. Years before, one passionate night had drawn these two lost souls together. Then Chase left on deployment with the Army, while Shelby raised their baby alone. Now he’s back, a wounded warrior determined to turn his life around. Shelby knows what it’s like to lose everything, including her own family. So she offers him a bargain: if he can prove himself to be the man he says he is, she will let him into their daughter’s life…and maybe even into hers.

Chase knows it will take a lot to prove to Shelby that there’s more between them than the single night they spent together. She’s everything he’s ever wanted, including the voice of reason he needs to reconcile his past and be the man he wants to be for them both. But just as their lives come together, she’s torn away from him by a dangerous person from her past, and saving her means saving himself . . . because he can’t live without her.

https://amzn.to/3ycmVjr

Ryan writes good romances with interesting characters, and this is no exception. This is the first book of a new series, and it looks to be a really good one. There are three Wilde brothers, and this story centers around the eldest, Chase.

Talk about a damaged character; PTSD from a stint in the armed services, and a painkiller addiction. Just to make matters even worse, right when Chase is about to be released from rehab, a friend ODs in front of him and he uses mouth-to-mouth to try and save her. Instead, he ends up with the drugs in his system from touching her, and extends his stay in rehab another week.

Chase’s family is mad at him to begin with because they feel like he helped their mother end her life when she was dying of cancer. There are a lot of hard feelings all the way around, so when he finally is released, he’s not even sure where he’ll stay. To his surprise, Shelby is waiting for him as he walks out.

Chase and Shelby had a life-changing one night stand before he left for the army. They met in the bar in town, and the next morning went their separate ways. But Shelby got pregnant, and Chase takes that responsibility to heart.

Shelby is another damaged character. She is the result of her mother’s being raped, and as an infant, her mother tried to drown her then committed suicide. Her grandparents raised her but Shelby knew that every time they looked at her, they saw what happened to their daughter. She grows up the talk of the town and very much alone.

Shelby and Chase have strong feelings for one another, but there are so many hurdles in the way of their happily every after. There is also quite a bit of suspense running through this romance because the man who raped her mother has been released from prison. He stalked her mother until he kidnapped her, and now he seems to be just as obsessed with his daughter and granddaughter.

Ryan touches on a lot of serious issues, making this much darker and deeper than many romance novels. She does a really good job building the suspense of the stalker/rapist and the romance, but rules are rules and a happy ending is reached. I am looking forward to the next book in this series – some breadcrumbs were laid so we can see where it is going and I can’t wait!

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

CHASE WILDE COMES HOME by Jennifer Ryan. Avon (March 29, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0063111400. 400p.

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WATCHING OVER YOU by Lori Foster

January 14, 2022

The McKenzies of Ridge Trail, Book 3

From the publisher:

Mysterious, unpredictable and most definitely scorching hot

While investigating a criminal network, Detective Crosby Albertson keeps crossing paths with members of the highly trained, suspiciously well-informed McKenzie family. They’re always one step ahead of him—especially their alarmingly attractive intel specialist, Madison. And Crosby needs to find out why.

Madison McKenzie is the tech and surveillance whiz of her family’s operation. A recent case introduced her to Detective Albertson. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to the sexy and mysterious cop. There’s just one problem. He’s a detective and her family’s work is secret. When Crosby starts digging for information about the McKenzies, Madison’s got to get him off the scent…while keeping him at a safe distance.

https://amzn.to/3GhIPmB

The McKenzie family business is vigilantism. There are two brothers, Reyes and Cade, their sister, Madison, and their father, Parrish, a former surgeon who runs the business. Reyes owns a gym in a seedy part of town, and Cade owns a bar on the opposite side of town, giving them access to lowlifes who like to talk. And they like to listen. Madison is their tech guru, and she has some serious skills. She also has a massive crush on a local cop, Crosby Albertson, but she doesn’t think he’s interested. He is, it’s just that he is unsure about her family – they always seem to be one step ahead of him on sex trafficking cases, and he isn’t too fond of their penchant for taking things into their own hands.

Crosby has a daughter, Hallie. and he is extremely protective. In his line of work, that should be a given. His nanny is Silver, a woman that he rescued from an abusive marriage, and while they are very close, she is like a grandmother to his daughter, and Crosby is fiercely protective of them both. But his job as a detective involves very long hours, often seven days a week, for not a lot of money. So when Parrish offers him a job, he decides to take it. The money is great and his hours are better. The only hitch is working with this family who sometimes steps outside the law.

Crosby is invited to the family compound, and Madison quickly realizes that he is more than just an employee to her father. In fact, there seems to be a bit of matchmaking going on. And an interesting side romance develops between Parrish and Silver.

Madison can’t help but throw herself at Crosby but he is slow to respond. His other responsibilities weigh on him. But working together brings them closer, and eventually they find their way together but there is a lot of action before that happens. This is romantic suspense, and Crosby and the McKenzies are after a human trafficker that escaped an earlier raid. He’s back in town and creating havoc, and there can be no happy ending until he is taken care of.

I thought this book was a terrific ending to a trilogy, but Lori told me that she is writing another book featuring one of the secondary characters from the series. I can’t wait! This was one of my favorite series in 2021 so I’m thrilled it will be continuing. I think these books can stand alone, but are best read in order. If you like romantic suspense, steamy love scenes, and hot alpha men, you won’t want to miss this.

1/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

WATCHING OVER YOU by Lori Foster. HQN; Original edition (December 28, 2021). ISBN: 978-1335620989. 352 pages.

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LOCK ‘N’ LOAD by Tee O’Fallon

October 12, 2021

Federal K-9, Book 1

From the author:

Crack CIA analyst Trista Gold is a whiz with the computer, but not so much with people. She hides behind her job, analyzing Top Secret code and making recommendations on national security. She doesn’t need a man in her life. But she will, very soon…

CIA K-9 officer Sgt. Matt Connors suspects that beneath Trista’s uptight appearance, there’s a sexy woman itching to cut loose. But he doesn’t dare act on his attraction. He’s a loner and always will be. Keeping away from Trista is a must-do directive. Until he doesn’t have a choice…

During a routine assignment, Trista stumbles across a cryptic exchange. She doesn’t think much of it…until someone tries to murder her—twice. Both times, Matt had been there to save her. But now she has to hide. And her new bodyguard, Matt, and his K-9 are the only hope she has against the powerful forces that want her dead.


I was on Twitter and stumbled across an offer for a free book, and this was it. This is a very fast paced romantic suspense with some heat.

Trista is brilliant, except socially, she is inept. She grew up being teased as the “brainiac” and never really had any friends or dated. Now she has her dream job with the CIA and she manages to track a Russian spy on the black net. But unbeknownst to her, she is discovered and two attempts on her life make things difficult, to say the least. This is a woman who works on computers all day long, she doesn’t know how to deal with people trying to kill her.

Luckily, CIA K-9 officer Matt just happened to be around the first time, and he saved her. Then he learns about the possibility of a second attempt, and saves her again. She is forced to stay in a safe location and is not happy about it, even though Matt is the best looking man she’s ever seen.

There is a lot of action and suspense here, especially towards the end. But it is the romance that is at the heart of this book. Matt lost his best friend when he was a teen, and he has been punishing himself ever since. He opens up to Trista more than any woman before, but she realizes she can’t help him; he needs professional help.

Meanwhile, Trista is staying at Matt’s house, and they grow closer every day. But then the FBI insists on moving her to one of their safe houses, and she can’t bear to stay another day with Matt when he won’t get help, so off she goes. Until Matt has to rescue her again.

I really enjoyed this book. The characters were interesting, and I especially loved Sheba, the K-9 cop. If you like animals, that is just an added bonus here. This was a fun read.

10/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

LOCK ‘N’ LOAD by Tee O’Fallon. Entangled: Amara (May 28, 2018). ASIN: B07CWRYKPV. 370 pages.

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NO HOLDING BACK by Lori Foster

October 6, 2021

The McKenzies of Ridge Trail, Book 1

From the publisher:

Introducing The McKenzies of Ridge Trail, an all-new sexy contemporary romance series from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster.

Not needing him won’t stop her from wanting him…

Trucker Sterling (Star) Parson is no stranger to the challenges a woman faces, both in her industry and in life. But she can take care of herself. She’s never needed—or wanted—a man around…until she meets Cade McKenzie. The take-charge bar owner sets off all kinds of alarm bells for Sterling, but he also sets her heart racing.

Cade’s lived in Ridge Trail long enough to know trouble when he sees it, and the moment Sterling—Star—walks into his bar, he knows trouble’s come to call. Secrets run deep in the small town and Cade can tell Star’s got as many as he does, leaving him itching to uncover every last one. But finding common ground will mean trusting one another, further feeding an intense attraction that’s growing impossible to resist.


I’m glad I got to start this series with the first book because it is a complicated and worthwhile story. The McKenzie family business is vigilantism. There are two brothers, Reyes and Cade, their sister, Madison, and their father, Parrish, a former surgeon who now runs the business. Reyes owns a gym in a seedy part of town, and Cade owns a bar on the opposite side of town, giving them access to lowlifes who like to talk. And they like to listen. Madison is their tech guru, and she has some serious skills.

Star drives a big rig, but likes to stop at Cade’s bar when she’s in town. She has a habit of napping in the corner, but she’s hyper-alert, and the bar is a good place to find out what’s going on in the underworld. Star is also a bit of a vigilante, helping women who have been trafficked. She’s rescued some and helped them move on. She is self taught and doesn’t have the training or experience of the McKenzies, but she’s also very much a loner. So when Cade offers her his office to nap in, she is touched. No one has ever looked out for her, and as she gets to know him, and they start working together. feelings start to emerge.

Cade has never wanted a relationship, but there is something about Star that really draws him in, but she constantly pushes him away and he really likes her independent streak. When they do get together, their chemistry is just scorching hot. It’s not easy chasing down bad guys when you’re worried about your partner, but they work well together and Star feels respected, which is very important to her.

This is a fast read with a lot of suspense and steamy love scenes, and some violence. I can’t wait for the next book in this series, and luckily, I don’t have to – Stronger Than You Know came out in August, and the third book, Watching Over You, comes out in December.

10/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

NO HOLDING BACK by Lori Foster. HQN; Original edition (January 26, 2021). ISBN: 978-1335668509. 352 pages.

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