Spies Never Lose (Banana Girls: Book 3) by M. Taylor Christensen

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Publisher: Zoom Press

Date of publication: November 10th, 2022

Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Spy

Series: Banana Girls

Spies Never Quit—Book 1 (review here)

Spies Never Swoon—Book 2 (review here)

Spies Never Lose—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Hannah’s new husband is going to drive her absolutely crazy.

Never having been married before, Hannah McCarthy doesn’t know if what she’s feeling is normal. Even though she has to pretend to be madly in love with her fake husband, she really just wants to wring his neck. But her annoyance and frustration would all be worth it if it means putting a stop to the illegal international adoptions they’ve discovered.

Can Hannah and her fellow agent set aside their differences and work together to track down the mastermind of the adoption operation? And, perhaps more importantly, is Hannah willing to let her incredibly condescending yet aggravatingly adorable pretend-husband actually get his way?

If you enjoy kick-butt spy-girls and enemies-to-lovers, you’ll love Spies Never Lose. This stand-alone novel is the third book in the Banana Girls series. As always, the romance is sweet and the suspense is cozy.


First Line:

A loud bang shattered the stillness of the scrubby Georgia woods.

Spies Never Lose by M. Taylor Christensen

I was super excited when I got the invite to review Spies Never Lose. I had read the previous two books and enjoyed them. So, I jumped on the invite. I am glad that I did because this book was fantastic.

Spies Never Lose has a fast-paced and exciting plotline. Hannah has been assigned to work with one of the most infuriating men she has ever met, Special Agent Jason Briggs from Homeland Security. Their job is to infiltrate an international adoption agency suspected of kidnapping children from their families in China and adopting them into families in the United States. Hannah and Jason are posing as social media influencers looking to adopt. The closer they get to exposing the agency, the more dangerous it gets. The only thing is Hannah can’t stand Jason, and it isn’t easy for her to pretend to like him. Can Hannah and Jason put aside their differences and work together? Or will they fail their mission?

Spies Never Lose is the third book in the Banana Girls series. While the readers can read it as a standalone, I recommend reading the first two books before reading this one. That way, you can get the background on why the Banana Girls were formed, who the other team members are, and the relationships the previous two girls found themselves in.

Spies Never Lose is a fast-paced book that takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, and the surrounding areas.

I like characters that grab me from the get-go. I get a better connection with them if they do that. Thankfully, both Hannah and Jason were able to do that.

  • Hannah—-I was thrilled that Hannah finally got her book. My opinion of her has been rocky because of how she acted in the first two books. She was a jerk, and I was praying that she wasn’t written that way in this one. Well, she wasn’t. All those jerky traits were toned down and morphed into qualities that complimented her. I loved it. I also liked how single-minded she was in her hate of Jason. I knew it would turn to love at some point, and when it did, I loved how Hannah showed it.
  • Jason—I did not like him at first. He came across as a cocky, misogynistic man who told Hannah she was privileged to work with him. But, as the book went on, the author revealed a man who cared deeply about his case and Hannah. I also loved his explanation about why he came off the way he did. By the end of the book, I was 100% team, Jason.

The former characters from the previous books did make appearances in this book. The author, though, kept them in the background. Other notable characters (the two influencer families and the adoption coordinator) added extra depth and character to the book.

Spies Never Lose has a hybrid of genres. It is a combination of young adult, suspense, mystery, thriller, and a little bit of romance. As with his other books, the author was able to meld all of those genres together in a way that caught and kept my attention.

There was one major storyline in Spies Never Lose. It was Hannah and Jason infiltrating and taking down the international adoption ring. It was slow-moving at first (with all the talk of influencers and an adoption camp), but the pace did pick up. I enjoyed trying to figure out who was behind the buying of the children.

There were secondary storylines, and they complemented the main one very well. I loved the storyline with the influencer families that Jason and Hannah had to make friends with. I was dying laughing. Mainly because the representation shown was 100% what I imagined those people would be like.

The end of Spies Never Lose was standard. I was surprised by who was behind the adoptions. I also liked the HEA for Jason and Hannah.

Three Reasons You Should Read Spies Never Lose:

  • Great storyline
  • Readers can read it as a standalone
  • Great melding of genres

Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Read Spies Never Lose:

  • Jason at the beginning of the book. I wanted to strangle him.
  • The influencers. As much as they amused me, I didn’t like them.
  • The kids are being stolen from their families and adopted.

I would recommend Spies Never Lose to anyone over 16. There is mild language, violence, and no sex (some kissing scenes).

A Maiden of Snakes by Jane McGarry

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Publisher: JM Books

Date of publication: August 28th, 2022

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

When Marchioness Lamberico fails to conceive a child, she solicits the help of Imelda, the village witch. Nine months later, she gives birth to a baby girl. Biancabella. Though perfect in every other way, the infant is born with a snake wrapped around her neck. To the relief of the marchioness, the creature vanishes at once and, in the joy of motherhood, is soon forgotten. When Biancabella is a young girl, the snake reappears and explains their uncommon sisterhood. Samaritana helps Biancabella unlock her magical gifts and asserts that so long as they are together, all will be well. Their close, though secret, relationship unites them above all others. Years pass, the sisters contented, until the day King Ferrandino of Naples arrives, seeking Biancabella’s hand in marriage. What follows shatters the sisters’ bond, leading to misfortune and betrayal, which forces them to grapple with not only the loss of their connection, but leaves each fighting for her life. Loosely based on the Italian fairy tale Biancabella and the Snake, the story explores how the love can transform from a domineering and covetous power to authenticity and, ultimately, redemption.


First Line:

The day was perfect, a warm spring sun in a cloudless sky.

A Maiden of Snakes by Jane McGarry

When I got the invite to review A Maiden of Snakes, I hesitated to accept the invite for the review. The blurb didn’t stand out to me. After taking a couple of days to think about it, I accepted the invitation. My reason was this: My blog started off reviewing indie authors, and I have made it a point to accept any/all invites that come across my inbox. Well, I am glad I accepted because this book was excellent!!!

A Maiden of Snakes had an exciting storyline. Biancabella is the much-loved child of lesser Italian nobility. A miracle child, she was born with a snake wrapped around her neck. When she was ten, she met with her snake sister (Samaritana) and completed a bonding ritual. But that ritual comes with a price. Biancabella must always stay with her Samaritana. If she does, life will be great. But if they are separated, then bad things will happen to Biancabella. Biancabella doesn’t heed Samaritana’s warning and is married to the King of Naples. Intrigue follows her to court, where her stepmother-in-law looks at her as someone to get rid of. When a deadly sickness overtakes the city, her stepmother-in-law jumps, she has Biancabella kidnapped and leaves instructions for her to be killed. Samaritana interrupts Biancabella’s killer, but it is almost too late. The assassin had cut off her hands. What will happen to Biancabella? Will she and Samaritana make up? Or will Biancabella live with the kindly woodcutter and his family forever? And, more importantly, will the evil stepmother get away with everything she has done?

A Maiden of Snakes is a fast-paced book set in medieval Italy. This book takes place in Monferrato and Naples. I enjoyed seeing glimpses of what these cities were like back in medieval times.

The characters of A Maiden were Snakes were interesting. But I did find them a little underdeveloped.

Biancabella: I liked her but found her almost too innocent and trusting. I also didn’t like that she could easily brush off Samaritana’s concerns because “she was in love.” Towards the end of the book, I found her character much more engaging than the innocent little miss portrayed until the assassin took her from the castle.

Samaritana: I liked her also and thought she was very wise in some ways. But her jealousy when Biancabella met and married Ferrandino got on my nerves. I had wished that elder snakes had stayed to advise her. I also felt that her jealousy caused a lot of Biancabella’s issues when she was in Naples. But Samaritana did come through when Biancabella needed her.

Ferrandino: He annoyed the ever living out of me. How could he not see what his stepmother was doing? How could he not see what she did to his father? And when faced with Biancabella’s stepsister (who was forced to take her place), why didn’t he SAY SOMETHING!!! I was so annoyed with him; it wasn’t even funny. Of course, he did make up for it in the end.

The Stepmother: She was one of the evilest, vile villains to grace the pages of a book. Everything she did in A Maiden of Snakes was for her. She showed no mercy to Biancabella when the plague hit the castle. She knew Biancabella was pregnant and STILL told the mercenary to kill her. She got what she deserved and then some at the end of the book.

The Woodcutter and His Family: Besides Biancabella, he was one of the book’s only good people. He found a critically injured and maimed young woman and brought her back to his house to nurse her back to health. They were prepared to take care of her for the rest of her life (even if Biancabella did have other plans). And when the author revealed Biancabella’s identity (along with Samaritana), they helped to get Biancabella back into Ferrandino’s life (and get rid of the stepmother). They were the MVPs of this book.

A Maiden of Snakes has many secondary characters that flesh out the storylines. They made the scenes more enjoyable (and sometimes sad) to read. There were some that I wished stayed in the story (the elder snakes, for one).

I wasn’t entirely sure what genre to put A Maiden of Snakes. I decided upon Young Adult (Biancabella was around 18), Fantasy (Samaritana did have magic, as did Biancabella), and Romance (Biancabella’s love for Ferrandino and his for her). Romance, I am still undecided. I want to say yes because of the love they had for each other, but at the same time, I want to say no. I do feel that this book fits very well into the young adult and fantasy genres.

Oh yes, before I forget, this entire book was based on the Italian fairytale (Biancabella and the Snake) by Giovanni Francesco Straperola for his book The Facetious Nights.

I liked the storyline with Biancabella and Samaritana. I wish more time had been spent with them, not apart, but I understood the author was following the fairytale.

The storyline with Ferrandino, Biancabella, and his stepmother was sad. There was a point in that storyline where I thought Ferrandino wouldn’t get his HEA with Biancabella. I felt the stepmother got everything coming to her and then some. So, yes, I was thrilled when everything came to a head at the end of the book.

Some trigger warnings do need to be discussed in A Maiden of Snakes. They would be infertility, abandonment (Samaritana’s elder snakes), child abuse (stepmother beating her daughters), a graphic scene where Biancabella’s hands are cut off, and she is beaten, and what happened to the stepmother. If any of these triggers you, I recommend not reading this book.

The end of A Maiden of Snakes was your typical fairytale ending. Everyone got their HEA. I am hoping that Samaritana gets hers in another book.

Three things I liked about A Maiden of Snakes:

  1. It takes place in medieval Italy
  2. Biancabella and Samaritana’s relationship
  3. Based on a fairytale

Three things I didn’t like about A Maiden of Snakes

  1. Samaritana’s jealousy
  2. The stepmother
  3. The blurb/cover

I would recommend A Maiden of Snakes to anyone over 21. There is no sex or language but graphic violence. Also, see my trigger warnings.


If you enjoyed reading A Maiden of Snakes, you will enjoy reading these books:

Death in a Dark Alley (Spectrum Series: Book 2) by Bradley Pay

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Publisher:

Date of publication: April 30th, 2021

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Suspense

Series: Spectrum Series

The Killings Begin—Book 1 (review here)

Death in a Dark Alley—Book 2

A Body Washes Ashore—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Bradley Pay is back with a jaw-dropping sequel to The Killings Begin! Travel across the world and dive into the complex hearts and minds of Tracey Lauch and a cast of unsuspecting new characters in Death in a Dark Alley. Boasting the Spectrum Series’ iconic fusion of contemporary romance and psychological suspense, Bradley Pay has created another tangled web of love, loss, and an insatiable desire to kill.

Tracey Lauch may be a murderer, but he is still a man. Although his childhood abandonment trauma began decades ago, now his compulsion to strangle women who resemble his mother has begun to evolve. Outrunning his past, embracing love in the present, and creating a future free of investigation proves increasingly complicated.

Isabelle’s life in Brazil is burdened with mistakes and abandonment, too – but not in the same way. She falls in love with all the wrong men at all the wrong times, and her best friend Frank shows his true colors when, over and over again, he is not there for her when she needs him most. Aside from the stark difference that Isabelle is not a murderer, she and Tracey both desire love, a life partner, and the warmth of a family. 

But what does Isabelle’s story have to do with Tracey? How can an innocent trip to Strasbourg, France, become a heart-stopping event that changes their lives forever?

Peek behind the curtains of this cold-case investigation and catch an intimate glimpse inside the characters’ lives.


First Line:

“Alone time with you is always nice,” he replied as he look down at her leg and ran his fingers suggestively along her silky thigh and under the edge of her skirt.

Death in a Dark Alley by Bradley Pay

When I got the paperback for Death in a Dark Alley, I expected this book to pick up after the murder of Mari. Instead, the authors did something interesting. They backtracked the story to the late 1980s (when Tracey killed his mother) and introduced two new characters, Isabelle and Frank, while giving more detail about Tracey’s previous murders in Raleigh. At first, I was a little confused and wondered why these two characters were so special. But, the authors did tie Isabelle and Frank to Gia (and her friends) and Tracey. Once I figured that out, it made reading the rest of the book much more enjoyable.

Death in a Dark Alley is the story of Frank and Isabelle. Isabelle is a woman who dreams of being the captain of a steamboat or cruise ship. Frank is her best friend who has the reputation of a playboy. While close growing up and throughout college, they drift apart after Frank discovers Isabelle’s relationship with his uncle, Victor. Frank is also going down the wrong path, and Isabelle and Victor want nothing to do with it.

Intertwined in this story is Tracey’s. Once he kills his mother, he is careful with who he kills. Wanting to stop, Tracey starts taking cruises with Spectrum Cruise lines…where Isabelle is a captain. How do Isabelle and Tracey’s paths meet? What will happen when they do? How does Frank figure into this?

Death in a Dark Alley is the second book in the Spectrum Series. While this could technically be read as a standalone book, I highly suggest reading The Killings Begin first. It gives more background into some of the relationships mentioned in the book and Tracey’s reasons for killing his mother.

This book takes place all over the world. Besides taking place in the United States (mainly NYC but some scenes in Texas, Washington DC, and North Carolina), it takes place all over Europe and in Brazil. I loved seeing the different locals! Some people might find it busy, but I didn’t. I loved that each chapter (or a couple of chapters) was in various settings.

The main characters (Isabelle, Frank, Tracey) were well-written and well-fleshed out. The secondary characters (Victor and Lydia) added depth to the story. I particularly liked Lydia’s character because she dealt with everything life had thrown at her.

  • Isabelle—She was my favorite character in the book. While she had terrible taste in men, she did have a good head on her shoulders. She worked hard to get to where she was. I loved reading her chapters because while they could be sad, they were also joyful (like when she found out she was pregnant with Frankie).
  • Frank—While I felt terrible for him at first (very domineering father, permissive mother), I started not to like him when he brought Isabelle to New York City when they were 18. The more I read about him, the more I disliked him. He was selfish and thought of no one but himself. Instead of being happy for Isabelle and Victor, he flipped out. And he took advantage (at first) of Lydia. I wasn’t surprised when things started to go south for him, but I wasn’t expecting what happened to happen.
  • Tracey—I liked a brief look into Tracey’s earlier life (after he was adopted). For a serial killer, he was a pretty nice guy. I also liked the look into the cold cases that went along with his storyline. Honestly, I was rooting for him not to kill the entire book and was disappointed when he started back up in Russia.

Death in a Dark Alley fits perfectly in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres. While it wasn’t a mystery about Tracey being a killer, I did wonder what Tracey and Isabelle had to do with each other. That led to the suspense angle. I was kept on the edge of my seat, wondering when it would be revealed and why. Also suspenseful for me was watching Tracey fight his demons. The thriller angle came into play at the end. Because of spoilers, I won’t say what it was, but it was a good one!!

I love Isabelle’s storyline. I liked seeing her growing up. Her storyline was so rich and detailed that I felt like I was there and wasn’t expecting the ending. There were parts of that storyline that didn’t make sense (her abortion and its aftermath) at the time but made perfect sense once she and Victor got together.

While I didn’t like Frank (see above), I did like his storyline. I saw how he grew (or didn’t grow) as a character. I didn’t understand why the authors wrote him the way they did at first (spoiled man baby), but it made sense as the book continued. I wish the author talked about more of his criminal exploits (I was very interested), but I get why they weren’t.

Tracey’s storyline was the most interesting to me. As I mentioned above, I was rooting for him not to kill (while understanding that he had to). I also was on pins and needles, trying to figure out the connection between Isabelle, Tracey, and Frank.

The end of Death in a Dark Alley was explosive. I was not expecting what happened to happen. I had to take a break and process it for a minute before continuing with the book. It was that good. The authors did not wrap up any storylines (instead added to them). I cannot wait to read book three because I want to see where everything is going.

Three things I liked about Death in a Dark Alley

  • The characters (they were well fleshed out)
  • The storylines (were amazingly detailed)
  • The ending (took me by surprise)

Three things I disliked about Death in a Dark Alley

  • Frank. I thought he was a waste of space for most of the book (well, until the end)
  • Tracey gave into killing when in Russia. I was so upset about that.
  • What happened at the ending.

I would recommend Death in a Dark Alley to anyone over 21. There are sexual situations (not graphic), language, and some mild violence.


If you enjoyed reading Death in a Dark Alley, you will enjoy reading these books:

Shadowed Intent (The Guardians: Book 5) by Reily Garrett

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Publisher:

Date of publication: October 28th, 2022

Genre: Suspense, Paranormal, Romance

Series: The Guardians

Shadowed Horizons—Book 1 (review here)

Shadowed Origins—Book 2 (review here)

Shadowed Passages—Book 3

Shadowed Spirits—Book 4 (review here)

Shadowed Intent—Book 5

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Detective Wade’s search for her sister leads to an abandoned building and a man with two teens, a fierce battle where light poles bend like pipe cleaners, and twenty-six unmarked shallow graves.

A sibling addicted to extreme sports used to be her biggest challenge. Now fate has chosen to widen her horizons and test her unique psychic skill set. With her Bernese mountain dog by her side, they must fathom friend from foe while staying one step ahead of the organization responsible for kidnapping those with psychic abilities.

Parker Ratham’s goal of locating psychically talented teens and adults held prisoner takes him deep into the Connecticut forests. On a stormy night, he crosses paths not only with a serial killer, but also a young teen running from unknown assassins.

Each must learn to trust and work as a unit while staying ahead of those seeking to capture or kill.


First Line:

A midnight hike through thick, forested land ending with a creepy abanonded insitution would be less unnerving without slivers of moonlight casting phantom shadows across broken windows.

Shadowed Intent by Reily Garrett

I love reading series. I mean, who doesn’t? I love seeing new characters get their romance (if I am reading a romance) and minor updates on older characters. So, I always say yes if I have been reading/reviewing a series and an author asks me to review the next book. That was the case with Shadowed Intent. I am glad I did because I got to see Parker get his romance and see what twists this book would bring to the continued storyline of finding the gifted people. I wasn’t disappointed.

Shadowed Intent had an exciting plotline with more twists and turns than a mountain road. Detective Wade is out in the woods searching for her missing sister when she accidentally runs into Parker and Casper. They are with another teenager who has just been saved from being abducted by the organization they have been fighting with. After discovering that Wade has powers like Keira, Parker brings her to their home base. Can Wade help Keira’s found family? Can she help the imprisoned people before more die? And more importantly, can she find her sister before something horrible happens to her?

Shadowed Intent is the 5th book in the Guardians series. It can be read as a standalone book. But, I suggest reading from book 1. That way, you get why Keira and her group are fighting the people they’re fighting. You also will get the background on the different family dynamics and romantic relationships between background characters.

Shadowed Intent takes place in Connecticut with side trips to Texas and Pennsylvania. The author doesn’t get into much detail about where in Connecticut this book takes place. But, if I had to guess, it would be in the western part of the state.

The main characters of Shadowed Intent had some unique abilities. I loved reading how their characters interacted with each other as well as the other members of the team.

  • Parker. I was super excited when it became clear that this was Parker’s story. The author got more into his background and how his power manifested (the tragic drowning of his older brother). I did think that he was a little too patient with Wade, but given what they were up against, it made sense. I also loved his banter with Casper!! It had me cracking up laughing. His ability was also showcased more in this book. I wish that I could slow down time.
  • Wade. I got a little irritated by her at first. She refused to listen to Casper when told what was going on. Instead, she brushed her off and treated her like a kid (well, she is, but Casper is much more than that). When confronted with the truth, she didn’t believe it until Casper morphed her and Parker through the abandoned facility. When her power was revealed, I was impressed. Her ability to talk to animals surpassed Keira’s. And her secondary ability was flipping awesome!!! It was something new, and it was scary.
  • Casper. I loved this spitfire. She was determined to bring down the organization that killed her parents. She was also more powerful than the author lets on. There were glimpses in this book and the previous one. She was also a perfect foil for Wade and Parker (her defacto parents).

The secondary characters (including Wade’s sister, Silver) were just as well fleshed out as they always are with this author. They all brought added depth to the book. While I know Silver will probably be featured in an upcoming but, I hope another character is also featured. I was fascinated by this character and his ability (slow aging).

Shadowed Intent is a romantic suspense novel. It fits those genres well. The romance between Parker and Wade is low-key and kept in the background. But, the author did work in some kissing scenes and one or two nongraphic sex scenes towards the end of the book. This book also had a ton of suspense. I couldn’t put my Kindle down because I had to know what would happen next.

There are two main storylines and a bunch of smaller ones in Shadowed Intent. The main storyline runs throughout this series: Find and defeat the people kidnapping and experimenting on people with abilities. The author did branch off this storyline for several secondary ones (like the serial killer, the kidnapped kids/murdered adults, and how people were being forced into their abilities). The other main storyline centered around Wade, Parker, and Wade’s kidnapped sister. Both of those storylines (and the secondary ones) were well written.

I am going to include a trigger warning in this review. I usually don’t, but I felt that, in this case, it is warranted. The triggers are torture, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, and mass murder. If any of these trigger you, I recommend not to read the book.

The end of Shadowed Intent was terrific. I loved the final fight scenes with the serial killer and his accomplice. There were things revealed that I didn’t see coming, and there were reunions that touched my heart. The author did wrap up Wade and Parker’s storyline in a way that I loved. Now, I am wondering who will be next. Dacian and Silver? I also want to know who is watching the group but staying hidden. I have a feeling I know who it is, but I don’t want to stay.

Three reasons why you should read Shadowed Intent:

  • Amazing characters
  • Great storylines
  • It can be read as a standalone (see above)

Three reasons why you shouldn’t read Shadowed Intent:

  • Does have triggering content (see above)
  • The romance was almost too low-key.
  • The serial killer. He was pure evil.

I would recommend Shadowed Intent to anyone over 21. There is graphic violence and language. The sex scenes are nongraphic too.

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

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Publisher: Atria Books

Date of publication: May 5th, 2020

Genre: Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Chick Lit, Mystery, Romance, Contemporary, Adult, Adult Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Thriller, Mystery Thriller

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Indigo | Indigo | Kobo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Six years after the fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks back into her life, looking as lovely and successful as ever, with a massive favor to ask. Daphne hasn’t spoken one word to Drue in all this time—she doesn’t even hate-follow her ex-best friend on social media—so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the society wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless.

Drue was always the one who had everything—except the ability to hold onto friends. Meanwhile, Daphne’s no longer the same self-effacing sidekick she was back in high school. She’s built a life that she loves, including a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Letting glamorous, seductive Drue back into her life is risky, but it comes with an invitation to spend a weekend in a waterfront Cape Cod mansion. When Drue begs and pleads and dangles the prospect of cute single guys, Daphne finds herself powerless as ever to resist her friend’s siren song.

A sparkling novel about the complexities of female friendship, the pitfalls of living out loud and online, and the resilience of the human heart, Big Summer is a witty, moving story about family, friendship, and figuring out what matters most.


First Line:

By the second week of September, the outer Cape was practically deserted.

Big Summer by Jennifier Weiner

I was excited when I saw that Jennifer Weiner had a new book. I had read Mrs. Everything and enjoyed it. I figured Big Summer would be just as good as Mrs. Everything, and guess what? I was right!! Big Summer was a perfect mix of mystery, thriller, and romance.

Big Summer had an interesting storyline. Daphne is an up-and-coming social influencer who has overcome body image/weight issues in high school/college. She is surprised when her ex-best friend, socialite Dru Cavanaugh, asks her to be in her wedding. Ask is not the correct word. Dru begs Daphne to come and offers to pay her. When Daphne agrees, she is immediately thrust back into the role of Dru’s best friend. But things aren’t what they seem with Dru. As the wedding draws closer, Daphne starts to see cracks in Dru’s flawless veneer. And when a murder happens the night before the wedding, Daphne is considered one of the main suspects. Can Daphne find the murderer and prove her innocence?

I liked Daphne, but she got on my nerves during the book. I liked that she had risen above the bullying and comments about her weight and turned it into something positive. But I wouldn’t say I liked that when Dru came back into her life, she immediately fell back into her old role as a sidekick. It made all that progress that she had made go down the drain. Daphne was also blind about Dru. I saw that Dru had something else up her sleeve when she begged Daphne to be in her wedding. It took Daphne until the wedding to realize that maybe Dru was using her again. Other than her willful blindness, I enjoyed Daphne’s character. She was positive, down to earth, and she knew she had come a long way from the girl she used to be.

I was not too fond of Dru as an adult and despised her as a tween/teenager. Let’s talk about Dru as a teenager first. Ever see the movie Mean Girls? She reminded me of Regina (the head of the group, The Plastics). She treated her friends, Daphne mostly, horribly. She would take pictures of kids and post them to an online burn book. She would alternately be all over Daphne or treat her like crap; there was no in-between. I did feel a little bad for her when the author revealed that her home life sucked and that she envied Daphne for her relationship with her parents. But still, it didn’t excuse what she did. Posting that video of Daphne freaking out at the club was unacceptable. Adult Dru was just as bad in my eyes. She used people to further her brand and didn’t care if it hurt them or the ones they loved. Dru was an actress who knew how to reel people in and get them to do what she wanted. She used even her ex-boyfriend (the one that Daphne found).

There are several triggers that I need to let you know about before continuing with the review. The author tackled issues such as fat shaming, online bullying, self-esteem, and body positivity in this book. The author doesn’t hold back regarding Dru’s treatment of Daphne or the video that resulted. It was raw and authentic, and unfortunately, keyboard warriors still think it’s ok to comment/make fun of another person’s weight. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading this book.

The main storyline, Daphne being in Dru’s wedding and the backstory of their friendship, was well written. I could see why Daphne was so taken by Dru. She was a new girl in a new school and had no friends. I also could see how Dru kept stringing Daphne along until college. When she showed up at Daphne’s nannying job and begged her to be in her wedding, I was shocked by how ballsy Dru was. And I wasn’t surprised with how that storyline ended up. What did surprise me was Daphne’s dedication to finding who and why. At that point, I would have washed my hands of everything.

The storylines with the mystery woman and the little boy were left in the air for 75% of the book. It wasn’t until Daphne was in the Cape for Dru’s wedding that the storyline got rolling again. Once it was revealed who the little boy was and how the police handled the case, I felt awful for everyone involved. I also didn’t blame the officer for telling Daphne what he did. That was the one case he couldn’t solve, and he wasn’t going to allow a 2nd case to go cold either.

The storyline with the murder didn’t start until halfway through the book. I was gut-punched at who the murder victim was and how that person died. Daphne’s reaction was typical, but I loved how she got herself together and decided to investigate the case. Being the main person of interest did have something to do with it. I was shocked at who the murderer was and was sad about the motive. That was a twist in that plotline that I didn’t see coming, and the reason was awful.

There is a romance angle that I wasn’t a big fan of. I was thrilled that Daphne hooked up with someone who liked her for who she was. But that person ghosted her after their night together. Not a great way to start a relationship. Also, figure in Instalove. Daphne was head over heels for this guy, and she didn’t even know who he was!!

The end of Big Summer felt a little rushed, but the author did a fantastic job with the reveal of the killer. She also tied up the remaining storylines and gave them all great endings.

I would recommend Big Summer to anyone over 21. There is moderate language, moderate violence, and some explicit sex scenes. Also, see my trigger warning paragraph above.


If you enjoyed Big Summer, you will enjoy reading these books:

Goodreads Monday: Druid’s Moon by Deniz Bevan

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Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press

Date of Publication: September 20th, 2022

Genre: Romance, Fairytale Retelling, Fantasy

Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N

Goodreads Synopsis:

Beauty to his Beast…

Lyne Vanlith, an archaeologist who seeks a logical explanation to any mystery, discovers an ancient Druidic curse on her first dig. When the signs foretold by the curse descend on her, Lyne can’t find a reasonable interpretation.

And that’s even before a Beast rescues her from a monstrous sea-creature. She drops a grateful kiss on the snout of the Beast, who transforms into a man, Frederick Cunnick, Baron of Lansladron. Lyne is meant to be Beauty to his Beast—and break the curse forever.

Now both spell keeper and monster are targeting Lyne. She must take up her legendary role, to defeat the curse and save Frederick—and herself. Instead of logic, for the first time, Lyne must trust her heart


“The Curse of the Octopus,” Lyne read, translating the Middle English script.

druid’s moon by deniz bevan

I didn’t pay attention when I read the blurb for Druid’s Moon. I skimmed it and accepted the book because it was a fantasy romance. But then I started reading and realized that it was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. When that lightbulb flashed over my head, I did get excited. I have read many fairytale retellings, but I haven’t read one about Beauty and the Beast. So, I settled back and let myself be taken away by a tale as old as time.

Druid’s Moon, as I mentioned above, is a modern-day retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Lyne is an archaeologist who is excavating a cave on the shores of England. On her first day, she finds and sets loose a Druidic curse. She also discovers a giant Beast who lurks in the coast and wooded areas, preying upon sheep and campers for his Mistress. But it is who the Beast is that shocks her. Determined to break the curse, Lyne must battle an unseen horror that lurks beneath the ocean as well as a Druidess, who is determined to keep the Beast as is. Will Lyne win? Will the curse be broken for good? Or will Lyne fail?

Druid’s Moon is a medium-paced book with a flowing plotline. There were some areas where the book did lag a little, but it didn’t affect my reading.

I thought that Lyne was an interesting character to read. Her character growth throughout the book was excellent. She went from a sheltered woman who relied on logic to explain things to a woman who wasn’t as sheltered and understood that there was mystery, magic, and reasoning. I loved watching her gradual acceptance that she was Beauty. But once she accepted who and what she was, she was all in.

I didn’t connect as much to Frederick as I did to Lyne. He came across as too nice (if that is such a thing) when he was in human form. He also came across as resigned to going back to being the Beast. He didn’t even try to fight when the Druidess recaptured him. But he did show Lyne where the counterspell was, so, in his way, he did fight back.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I haven’t read a retelling about that particular fairy tale, so I was pretty excited about it. I will say that it was an exciting and imaginative retelling. I would have never expected a werewolf/Druid spin on fairytales. It did make it more interesting to read.

The fantasy angle of the book was well written. I wish that the author had gotten more in-depth about who Octopus/The Mistress was. The brief glimpses that the author gave weren’t enough for me!! The same goes for the Druidess and her spell. The author presented the background, but nothing gave me anything. I wanted meat. I wanted a reason more than what was provided. Instead, I had to settle for something that made me wish for more.

The romance angle also left me wanting more. It started as a semi-triangle that morphed into Instalove. I am not a fan of Instalove (even with this particular fairytale), and I felt that the romance did seem forced at times.

The end of Druid’s Moon was interesting. I liked how the author wrapped everything up. I was pleased with what happened. But I felt that some plotlines were left hanging. I was also not a fan of the epilogue.

I would recommend Druid’s Moon to anyone over 21. There is violence, mild language, and mild sexual situations.

First Love: The Art of Making Doughnuts by Linda Budzinski, Melissa Maygrove, Sylvia Nay, Katie Klein, Michael di Gesu, Templeton Moss, S.E. White, Denise Covey, and Sammi Spizziri

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Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press

Date of publication: September 6th, 2022

Genre: Romance, Anthology

Purchase Links: Amazon | Alibris | Indigo | Kobo | Apple Books

Goodreads Synopsis:

The sweetness of first love…

Could a fiercely independent cop’s heart be stolen by the guy who makes her favorite doughnuts? Will a maid who used deceit to snare a mail-order husband get a dose of her own medicine? Can her handsome neighbor rescue a modern-day “princess” from a tenacious ex-boyfriend? Can two strangers in a rideshare be honest enough to fall in love for real? Can you remember your first love? How about your second? Third? Fourth?

Featuring the talents of Linda Budzinski, Melissa Maygrove, Michael Di Gesu, Sylvia Ney, Katie Klein, Kim Elliott, Templeton Moss, S.E. White, Denise Covey, and Sammi Spizziri. Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these ten tales will touch your heart and rekindle lost feelings. Prepare to return to that first love…


First Line:

“You ever been in love, McAllister?”

The Art of Making Doughnuts by Linda Budzinski/First Love: The Art of Making Doughnuts Anthology

I normally do not review anthologies. Because they are made up of short stories, I find them hard to review. But, there are exceptions, and First Love: The Art of Making Doughnuts falls under that category.

The tricky thing about writing reviews of anthologies is that I need to be able to keep track of what short story I am reviewing. Sometimes the stories blur together for me, and I can’t tell them apart. But, in First Love (I am shortening the title for this review), the stories were different enough to keep my attention. They also did not blur together (because they were different). This alone made this anthology very pleasurable to read.

All of these authors are new to me authors. Based on what I have read in this book, I am looking forward to reading more works by them!!

Now, onto the review of the stories. I am going to do the reviews a little differently than usual. I hope you like them. Before I get into the reviews, I want to add that all of these stories are clean. There is no sex in any of them. There is kissing, but that’s the extent of it.


The Art of Making Doughnuts:

What I liked:

  1. I enjoyed the back and forth between Gina (aka Mac) and Pete (aka Gus). The sparks were immediate, even if Mac didn’t want them.
  2. I loved that Mac played hard to get. She made Pete work for that first date.
  3. I loved how nerdy both Mac and Pete were. Mac was a history/jigsaw nerd, and Pete was a history nerd. It was awesome to read.

What I didn’t like:

  1. Pete hiding who he was. Not a great way to start a relationship.
  2. Mac after she found out who Pete was. He did try to apologize, and she was like, “NFW
  3. How Pete explained why he hid his identity. I was like,Nope; you need to apologize, boyfriend” (which he did)

My Heart Approves

What I Liked:

  1. I liked that Addy took the time to get to know the servants and understood how hard it was for them to get ready for a party at the last notice.
  2. How friendly everyone was to Addy. They made her feel at home.
  3. John’s declaration of love (and his observations) at the end of the book.

What I Didn’t Like

  1. Addy pretending to be someone she wasn’t. I got why she did it, but I wondered how long it would last (and the answer to that…not very long).
  2. Addy resorting to becoming a mail-order bride. I know it was a thing in the 1860s, but I can’t imagine marrying a man unseen.
  3. Instalove. I know it was common for the era, but I don’t like Instalove. It just doesn’t ring true to me.

How to Save a Princess

What I Liked:

  1. I liked that Laurette was thirsting over her next-door neighbor, Harrison. The scenarios she ran through in her head at the beginning of the book were pretty funny.
  2. How she dealt with her ex, Josh. She was firm, and she didn’t cave (even though he was embarrassing her)
  3. How Harrison saved her. He was amazing, and I loved that he was quick thinking (the whole improv conversation had me in stitches).

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Josh. He was one of the most annoying short story characters that I have read in a while.
  2. How Laurette initially dealt with Josh at the beginning of the story (including the story of their break-up)
  3. How Laurette didn’t take Harrison’s cues and almost ruined his rescue of her. I was internally beating my head off a wall and saying, “Laurette, you idiot, LISTEN to him.

My First Loves

What I Liked:

  1. The memories that Audrey and her boyfriend were remembering. They were so similar yet so different.
  2. It made me laugh and think about my relationship.
  3. Audrey having to sit through her boyfriend’s very poor memories of different girls at various points in his dating history.

What I Disliked:

  1. Audrey had to sit through her boyfriend’s memories and then correct him. I know I would have been a little peeved if that was me (considering all the other girls were her)
  2. Audrey having to tell her boyfriend nicely to be quiet at various points in the story. That irritated me.
  3. That was told in 2nd person. I just don’t like that writing style.

The Real Thing

What I Liked:

  1. Lola’s optimism about meeting Maxon for the first time.
  2. Jessalyn. She was the MVP of this story.
  3. Nando and his instant connection with Lola.

What I Disliked:

  1. Lola thinking that she had to hide who she was from Maxon.
  2. The Uber driver. The dude almost killed Nando and Lola during the ride to O’Hare Airport.
  3. Maxon. Uggh, he was so self-centered; it wasn’t even funny. I’m glad that Lola realized that.

Paper Faces

What I Liked:

  1. I haven’t read anything about the early 1900s (before the Wall Street Crash). So it was interesting to read what people were like back then.
  2. Helen’s loyalty to her family and friends….even when pressured to give up secrets.
  3. Helen working in what people at that time considered a man’s job (journalist).

What I Disliked:

  1. George pressuring Helen to find dirt on James and then throwing a fit when she refused to turn it over.
  2. James’s initial treatment of Helen at the beginning of the story. He was kind of a d-bag.
  3. How Helen’s cousin reacted when she heard what Helen found out. Back then, that was a big deal, but still. Grrr.

Oliver’s Girl

What I Liked

  1. Oliver’s relationship with his great-granddaughter. It was sweet to read.
  2. Oliver’s story about his first love with Francesca. It was adorable.
  3. The end. Oh my heart, I loved it

What I Disliked:

  1. Nothing. This story was one of the sweetest ones in the book.

Clyde and Coalesce

  1. Lizzie and Jane’s friendship. They were truly best friends, and I loved how they were always there for each other.
  2. The chemistry between Lizzie and Fitz. It was hot, hot, HOT!!
  3. The song at the end. I loved it!!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The band manager. He was a sourpuss who fed Charlie lies about Jane.
  2. How Charlie blew Jane off.
  3. Fitz and Lizzie’s confrontation. It needed to be done, but still, I didn’t like it.

Marmalade Sunset

What I Liked:

  1. Cora. She made the entire story.
  2. That it took place on the Greek Islands.
  3. The HEA.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The immediate backstory (Cora and Damon losing almost everyone they loved to COVID)
  2. Damon for the first half of the book. I get why he acted the way he did but still.
  3. What the author made me feel at the restaurant. I was ready to think one thing, and bam, a twist.

The Castle of Ohno

What I Liked:

  1. That Hippolyta took a chance. It is explained fairly early in the story but tied to the ending, so I can’t explain.
  2. Konrad. The author didn’t hide why he acted the way he did. Instead, it was explained (and it will be part of what I didn’t like). He was very damaged, and Hippolyta knew that.
  3. The ending.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Hippolyta’s backstory. I didn’t understand why she said she needed to escape. But the author did explain why at one point during the book.
  2. Konrad’s backstory. I was in tears reading it. A child with a deformity (he has a lobster hand…can’t remember what it is called) and who was sent to live alone. He lived with servants until he was 14/15 (might be younger), and then they took off. No wonder he acted the way he did!!
  3. The people of the village. They treated both Hippolyta and Konrad poorly. I didn’t like it.

I would recommend First Love: The Art of Making Doughnuts to anyone over 16. There is mild violence, mild language, and no sex.

Shadowed Spirits (The Guardians: Book 4) by Reily Garrett

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Publisher:

Date of publication: August 19th, 2022

Genre: Paranormal, Romance, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

Series: The Guardians

Shadowed Horizons—Book 1 (review here)

Shadowed Origins—Book 2 (review here)

Shadowed Passages—Book 3

Shadowed Spirits—Book 4

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

One man’s curse is another man’s weapon.

Genetic engineer Neah Haversham thought unlocking the code to her psychic gift would ease the way to blocking it, something she’d wanted since puberty.
Unable to turn off heightened senses means experiencing life on a different level. Shiya, her golden retriever, is the only companion tolerated.
Within months of finishing her studies, she learns the life she planned has vanished with the rescue of a sarcastic, hardheaded teen with an unprecedented ability.
Ouray Bernard is a healer and warrior, a Native American who uses his skills to train other uniquely talented individuals. When called to help the woman invading his dreams, he can’t refuse.
Loyalties collide as each defends their position in the battle against a secret society determined to dominate them all.


First Line:

Concrete is porous. Most people think it’s the same as cement.

Shadowed Spirits by Reily Garrett

I was immediately sucked into the book when I started reading Shadowed Spirits. I was thrilled that Ouray was getting his HEA, and I couldn’t wait to see who Neah was and what abilities her character would have. I wasn’t disappointed!!

Shadowed Spirits are the 4th book in The Guardians series. Technically, readers could read this book as a standalone mainly because the author does go over what happened in the previous books in the beginning. I would, however, strongly recommend reading the first three books before reading this one.

As noted in the first paragraph, Shadowed Spirits are the love story between Neah and Ouray. This book starts shortly after the last book’s events and introduces Neah. Neah is a genetic engineer coming close to cracking the code of not only her psychic gift but everyone like her psychic gifts. But Neah is on a mission from her mentor when the book starts. That mission is to rescue a gifted teenager from people who wish to harness her ability. But that mission goes sideways, and Neah finds herself joined to Ouray’s group. Determined to keep the teen safe and finish her research, Neah doesn’t have time for romance. But as she gets to know the group, Neah realizes that maybe her research wasn’t for the greater good and was selfish. When her research is stolen, and the teenager kidnapped, Neah must put aside everything she thinks about her gift and use it. Will Neah and the group be able to rescue the teen? Will Neah come to terms with her gift? And more importantly, will Neah and Ouray recognize their feelings for each other?

I liked Neah. From the minute she was introduced in the book, I was fascinated with her. Her gift was unique, and I could sympathize with her frustration with it. It must have been not very good to live with heightened senses. I understood why she went into genetic research. She wanted a way to turn it off. It made sense to me. She mildly annoys me when she refuses to listen to reason with her research (it could put people like her at risk). But other than that, I enjoyed her character.

I was super happy that Ouray got his love story. A little of his background was released, and I wish the author had released more of his background. He was a stabilizing force with Caspar and Neah once they overcame their initial distrust of him. Plus, he trained them (which they both needed). I enjoyed his character a lot.

I wasn’t expecting Caspar and her abilities. Just for the record, Caspar is not her real name. She got the nickname because of her ability. Caspar can phase through inanimate and animate objects. She reminded me of my almost 17-year-old daughter: headstrong, spunky, and with a heart of gold. She cared more than she let on. I also was in awe of her ability. The more the author released, the stronger it got. She phased through a mountain to escape the bad guys while holding Neah in one memorable scene. In another memorable scene, she could phase her hand through a chest and grab a heart in her hand as an intimidation tactic. I cannot wait to see where her story ends up.

The romance angle of Shadowed Spirits was very slight and almost overlooked. I didn’t feel Neah and Ouray liked each other that way until nearly the end of the book. And that was only after Christine’s vision that Neah saw herself with a black-haired toddler boy.

There were zero sex scenes in Shadowed Spirits. Ouray and Neah kiss, but it is towards the end of the book. Honestly, I liked it like that. I felt that sex would have taken away some of the storylines with everything going on.

The author very well wrote the plotline regarding Neah, her research, the two groups helping her, and the group kidnapping people with abilities. Some of those scenes were gripping, and I couldn’t put my book down. I also loved what happened with Pandora towards the end of the book. Let’s say that she deserved what she got.

The plotline centered around Neah; her background and her abilities were interesting. I did figure out who Neah was related to by the middle of the book. But, I was still surprised when the author made the grand reveal at the end. It did make sense.

The plotline centered around Caspar, her background and her abilities were well written. I enjoyed watching her character flesh out during the book. As I mentioned above, I was in awe of her abilities. She was one of the more powerful, gifted people I have read in the series. Her background is revealed at the end of the book. She found out where she came from and how she ended up in the foster system. The only thing that the author didn’t release was her true name.

The end of Shadowed Spirits was terrific. The author wrapped up Neah and Ouray’s storyline and part of Caspar’s. But she left all the rest open and threw in a shocking bit of information that made my mouth drop. I have a feeling I know who the next couple will be, but I’m not going to say.

I would recommend Shadowed Spirits to anyone over 21. There is no sex. There is language and violence. There are also scenes of people being held against their will and drugged and kidnapped.

Crosshairs by Felicity Ribero

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Publisher: Brushfinch Publishing

Date of publication: August 15th, 2022

Genre: Romance, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

They were from two different worlds.

Like two trains never crossing paths, they would have gone on without any shred of their lives coinciding. Until a late-night encounter brings them crashing into each other’s lives.

Cole, a small-time New York gun trafficker who has been unlucky for the better part of his life knows better than to dream of a better life. Jaded, exhausted and down on his luck, he struggles to deal with the reality of his choices.

Amidst dodging the keen attention of the authorities, and evading the sly notice of his crafty companions, he certainly has no patience to indulge a spoilt busy-body reporter with peas for brain and a hankering for danger. He thinks she’s crazy and wants nothing to do with her even if her smile takes his breath away and her presence soothes his wounds.

Samantha, on the other hand, is not letting go. She is a shark who has smelt blood and is honing in for the kill or the caresses.

But one thing is certain; Cole is a puzzle she is determined to unravel.
As the web of dark schemes and mysterious ploys thicken around them, passion flares to life, and so do other threats. These two are utterly defenseless against the attacks or the kisses.

Will they survive the imminent explosion that draws ever nearer or will these two finally get a chance to go after their fairytale romance?


First Line:

Oh no. Not today! I glance at my gold watch for the umpteenth time. 9:41 a.m.

Crosshairs by Felicity Ribero

When I read the blurb for Crosshairs, the blurb caught my interest. I was interested in how a romance between a small-time reporter and an arms dealer would turn out. I wasn’t disappointed. This book took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

Crosshairs had an exciting plotline. Samantha is a reporter trying to get her big break. But her boss (and the other reporters) are holding her back and forcing her to do fashion articles. So, when she notices a black van being loaded by two shady individuals late at night, she starts investigating. Cole is an arms dealer who is tired of everything and wants a better life. But he knows that a person like him could never have a better life, so he keeps doing the one thing he knows, trafficking guns. A dirty ATF agent approaches Cole and pushes him between a rock and a hard place. Cole and Samantha’s paths cross when Samantha tracks Cole to his apartment and then to a bar. She convinces Cole to let her do an expose and expose the ATF agent. But what she (or Cole) was expecting was their instant attraction. Soon, it becomes a race against time when they discover the ATF agent’s true agenda. Can they stop him? Or will they become pawns in a much bigger game?

I am going to put up a trigger warning. I usually don’t do these, but I think there are some aspects of this book that warrants it. The triggers are parental death, drugs, prostitution, and child abuse (physical and emotional). So, if these trigger you, I suggest not reading this book.

Crosshairs had dual POVs. The chapters would flip between Samantha and Cole. The author did a great job of keeping the flow of the book constant throughout the POV changes. Another huge thing was that I didn’t get lost at any point in the book, even when the insane stuff started. Sometimes, I have difficulty following dual POVs, and I can get lost. So this was a huge thing for me.

I liked Samatha. She was stubborn as heck, and she was determined to get a story that would get her on the front page. She followed her instincts when she saw the black van and Cole loading boxes into it. She investigated and followed the clues to Cole’s apartment and then the bar. I loved how she automatically believed Cole and used her skills to dig up dirt on that agent. She was just amazing throughout the book.

I loved Cole. His backstory was sadder than Samantha’s, and the author didn’t hold anything back. His mother ran a brothel out of their house, and his father was a small-time crime lord. After his mother’s overdose, his father and his father’s clients abused him. Fast forward to the present day, he was dealing with the aftershocks of his childhood and his own decisions. From the minute he met Samantha, he was all about protecting her. But, at the same time, he realized that he couldn’t hold her back, and he let her do her investigating.

There is Instalove in Crosshairs. I am not a fan of Instalove, and when I encounter it in a book, I eye-rolled…hard. Usually, Instalove takes away from the book for me. But, in this book, there was so much going on that it didn’t. Did it annoy me? Yes, but it didn’t take away from the plotlines.

Cole and Samantha’s chemistry (sexual and otherwise) was off the charts. They had a spark from the first time they saw each other, and the author kept building it up until it exploded. That explosion led to one of the hottest sex scenes I have read to date!!

The main storyline in Crosshairs was the dirty ATF agent and how he targeted Cole and Samantha’s investigation. That agent gave me chills when reading his scenes. I didn’t understand why he had targeted Cole until the book’s end. That was when he let drop a couple of bombs that took my breath away.

Samantha’s reporting (and her use of spyware) was truly amazing. The dirt she was able to dig up on that agent was amazing. I liked that she did have a friend who was an ace hacker. That friend was able to fill in the blanks that Samantha’s investigating couldn’t uncover. It did put a huge target on her back, but that was something she was willing to do to help Cole.

I loved the ending of Crosshairs. The author threw in a couple of twists that hurt my heart because of what was implicated. After those twists, the author did wrap up Cole and Samantha’s storyline in a way that I loved. I loved that everyone nasty in the book got what was coming for them. But more importantly, I loved that Cole and Samantha got their HEA.

I would recommend Crosshairs to anyone over 21. There are graphic sex scenes, violence, and language. There are also scenes of remembering child abuse and a remembered drug overdose.

Once and Always (Blackhawk Security: Book 6) by Margaret Watson

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Publisher: Dragonfly Press

Date of publication: August 2nd, 2022

Genre: Romance, Suspense, Mystery, Thriller

Series: Blackhawk Security

With One Breath—Book 1 (review here)

Once Removed—Book 2 (review here)

Once Burned—Book 3 (review here)

Fool Me Once—Book 4 (review here)

Just This Once—Book 5 (review here)

Once and Always—Book 6

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Zoe was still in high school when she saw her father shot dead by a classmate obsessed with her, and then still a kid, witnessed the killer’s sentencing. A horrible tragedy, but now, thirteen years later, she’s thoroughly rebooted her life.

She’s the CEO of her own cyber security company, a celebrity in her field, and a speaker in high demand.

She’s just the kind of strong, self-reliant woman who can take care of herself in any situation.

Except the one she’s in.

She’s got a stalker.

And she already knows he’s a killer.

Given her background, Zoe knows instantly that she needs protection and she knows how to get it—her sister Mel’s the owner of Blackhawk Security.

But trust Mel to send Spence Flynn, the one agent Zoe can’t be alone with, but not because they don’t get along. It’s because attraction sizzles between the two of them like runaway electricity. And because they both know the last thing a body guard should do is get into a relationship with his principal.

It’s unethical and dangerous.

But how are they supposed to fight this thing? Spoiler: Good intentions suffer a knockout in the first round. And then, to the delight of the reader, the earth moves in the most delicious way.

Meanwhile, Zoe’s stalker is still sending her charms from a bracelet he stole from her thirteen years ago, the scariest being a heart he’s had engraved with both their names. Unnerving enough– and then he starts dropping off lunch for her, tailing her in a white Subaru, and trying to break into her condo.

Spence has his hands full in more than one way. And Zoe has a public appearance coming up. The perfect time for a stalker to strike.


First Line:

His heart racing, Ethan Davies slowed his steps as he neared Zoe’s locker.

Once and Always by Margaret Watson

If you have been following my blog long enough, I have a few authors I review regularly. Margaret Watson is one of them. I am a big fan of her books, and I always accept the invitation to review them when it comes to my email. When the invite for Once and Always appeared in my inbox, it was a no-brainer that I would accept.

Once and Always had an exciting plotline. At 18, Zoe witnessed her father killed by an obsessed classmate, and then she had to go through a trial. Thirteen years later, she has moved on with her life until she starts receiving packages. Those packages contain charms from a bracelet she lost around the time her father was killed, and only one person could have it—Ethan, her former stalker who killed her father. Contacting her sister, who owns Blackhawk Security, she is assigned a bodyguard until Ethan is caught. But when she sees who it is, she is slightly concerned. Zoe has been thirsting after Spence since he helped Nico the year before. The feelings are mutual, but Spence is there for a job: to protect Zoe from Ethan until he is caught. Will that happen? And will Zoe and Spence give in to their mutual attraction?

Once and Always is book 6 in the Blackhawk Security series. Once and Always can be read as a stand-alone book. But I suggest reading the first five books before picking this one up. That way, you know who the secondary characters are that are mentioned in Once and Always.

I will put a trigger warning on this review. The author did take great care to show sympathy and understanding for Ethan and made several references to mental illness reform (mainly about the facility he was held at for five years) and knowledge. There are mentions of attempted kidnapping. There are also talks about Ethan’s mental illness, and the author does show how he spiraled back into his delusions after his mother died. But, if these trigger you, I suggest not reading this book.


I did not expect to find sympathy for Ethan. The villains in most books are pure evil. But Ethan, well, he was different. The things he did to Zoe were terrible; there is no question about that, but knowing that he suffered a relapse after his mother’s death did soften my stance on him. The scenes in the cabin only cemented my opinion of him. I also liked that Zoe and Spence understood that after the fact. Their actions at the end of the book (which was discussed after the cabin) were proof of that.

I liked Zoe. She was a strong, opinionated, outspoken woman who knew her worth. Being a tech company CEO in an industry with few women shaped her. What also shaped her was what happened to her as a teenager. How could it not? I loved reading her scenes because she was always on point. She wasn’t afraid to share her feelings, even if she knew that the other person didn’t return them (the scene with Ron comes to mind, and a scene with Spence towards the end of the book).

I liked Spence, but I wanted to smack him at various times during the book. He was great at his job and would do anything to keep Zoe safe. But he wasn’t too good with personal skills or sharing his feelings. I did agree with him that they (him and Zoe) needed space, but I didn’t agree with how he phrased it. Also, I didn’t particularly appreciate how he treated Zoe after the scenes at the cabin. I talked out loud to the book and said, “Dude, you seriously didn’t say that to her!!” Spence had a lot of baggage he needed to lose, and I was afraid he would miss that ship with Zoe.

The secondary characters did make the book. These secondary characters flushed the book out and made the plotline more interesting to read.

I enjoyed the romance angle of Once and Always. There was a bit of Insta Love, but it was easy to overlook. It was an easy romance to read, and I liked knowing (well, for the most part) how Zoe and Spence would end up.

The sexual tension between Zoe and Spence was immediate from the beginning. It didn’t take long for them to end up in bed. The author raised the pressure by just having them look at each other. I loved it. I was a little meh about Zoe being a screamer during sex. She made Spence’s ears ring the first time she climaxed and every time after that. All I could think was, “What was her downstairs neighbors thinking” and “I hope the apartment is soundproof”….lol.

The mystery angle of Once and Always was also well written. It wasn’t too much of a mystery about who was sending the charms and why. The mystery, to me, was if Ethan would grab Zoe and when. The author gave several false leads, and I was kept on edge, wondering if it would happen.

The suspense angle was intertwined with the mystery angle. The author did a great job of keeping guessing at when (and if) Ethan was going to capture Zoe. I also was kept on edge by Spence and his decisions.

The end of Once and Always did bring tears to my eyes. While I was sad about how it ended, I loved how Zoe and Spence brought awareness to mental illness. I loved how the author wrapped up Zoe and Spence’s storyline. I am not sure who will be featured in book 7 (if there is a book 7), but if I had to guess, it would be Mel and her business partner. Either way, I am looking forward to it.

I would recommend Once and Always to anyone over 21. There are graphic sex, language, and violence. There are also the trigger warnings that I posted above.

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