Sweetest Obsession by Ann Mayburn

sweetest

This is a STANDALONE insta-obsession erotic romance set in the Cordova Empire series (no cheating-HEA-no cliffhanger).

Ramon
In my family, there’s an old story going back generations about love at first sight. I used to think it was a fairytale, until I met my sweet Joy. The more I got to know her, the more I wanted her. But the world of the cartels is a dangerous place, so I watched her from afar, wishing things were different and I could claim her for my own. Despite my best efforts to keep her safe, evil found Joy. After she endured a savage beating at the hands of a rival cartel, I vowed to do everything in my power to make her mine and win her heart. I can only pray that when she finds out the truth about me, and the things I’ve done to bind her to me forever, that she’ll be able to love the monster I really am.

Joy
Without a doubt, Ramon Cordova is one of the biggest jerks I’ve ever met. He’s egotistical, bossy, and seems to know how to push all my buttons. Too bad he’s also sinfully handsome, utterly charming when he wants to be, and is the only man I feel safe with. After the attack, I’ve become afraid of the world outside of my home—afraid of crowds, afraid of loud noises, afraid of everything. When I’m in Ramon’s strong arms, those fears melt away. I know there’s a darkness inside of him that he tries to hide, and I’m afraid that when I finally find out the secrets he’s been keeping, he’ll destroy what’s left of my battered heart.

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Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Sweetest Obsession is the second book in the Cordova Empire series. It is an erotic romantic suspense novel that has some dark moments but is not – in my opinion – a dark romance. You can read my review of the first book here.

Oh man, I wish this book was longer! I know I said that with the first as well, so it seems like these books are just going to be shorter than the other series written by Ms. Mayburn, but I love the characters and am a greedy reader so I will probably still say on book three that I want more!

The Cordova Empire books are character-driven, and feature dark, dangerous, honourable men who balance the evil they encounter at work by worshipping their chosen woman. Roman is a freak in the bedroom and a bit of a stalker for the woman he has fallen in love with. Sweet Joy is torn between the role that she wants to assume in life – that of a mother, wife and homemaker – and one that she has been shaped from childhood to assume, one of a professional in the workplace.

Through Joy’s journey, the author explores the meaning of feminism and how it should really stand for a women living the life she dreams for herself, and not assuming certain roles simply because previous generations of women have won the right for her to fill them.

Joy is an extremely forgiving, kind and caring individual who fits right into the Cordova Family. I hope in the next book, the word count will be expanded and also that we will see that heroine interact even more with her new family than our first two heroines have. Each of the characters, especially Roman’s parents and brothers, add new perspectives and depth and I would love to see these relationships expanded upon.

If you are familiar with the author, you will notice that there is a lot less detail regarding the running of the “family business” in this series than in some of her others. For some this will be great, others may see it as a detriment. I don’t particularly care either way, as I just see these books as unfolding of the characters rather that being driven by complex plot points and political intrigue.

D128, the mind control drug that was so key to the plot in book 1 is barely a factor in Sweetest Obsession, so if that turned you off of the first book, I would recommend you still give this one a chance.

Sweetest Obsession is another five star book that whets the appetite for more to come in the Cordova Empire.

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Obsession

obsession

Hannah

All my life, I’ve only wanted one thing: someone to love me and someone who will let me love them in return. This seems like a simple request, but I was born to parents who wished I had died of childhood leukemia, instead of my younger sister, and who have ignored me no matter how much I’ve tried to please them. I’m starved for affection, addicted to the feeling when someone cares about me, which has led to a love life filled with either boys I’ve scared off, or men all too eager to take advantage of me. I thought I would never find a man who could feed my craving for constant attention—and then I met Leo. He fills the void inside of me, haunts my dreams, and does things to me in bed that are so good, they’re probably illegal. I can only pray I don’t scare him off once he figures out just how needy I really am.

Leo

There are very few people in this world I’ve ever been able to form an emotional attachment to, but the moment I saw Hannah, I knew she was mine. We were bound together by fate, our paths crossing first as children, then as adults, each time marking me. She doesn’t know it but I’ve been watching her for a year now, studying her, stacking the deck so when I do make my move, there’s no way she’ll ever escape me. But my world is a harsh, cruel place, and the cartel I work for demands absolute loyalty and trust…a loyalty Hannah has yet to earn in the dangerous eyes of my employers. There is only one way to ensure Hannah’s absolute devotion, and I hope that she doesn’t hate me forever when she finds out that not only have I brainwashed her into loving me, but that I don’t feel an ounce of guilt about doing it. She’s mine, only mine, and I’m keeping her forever.

Warning: This story features a rough and demanding Dom who’s completely devoted to bringing his baby girl pleasure through such unconventional means as spanking, mild BDSM, D/S, roleplaying, and various other forms of wicked kinkery.

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Hannah and Leo’s story is hot and sexy! It is the first book in the Cordova Empire series by Ann Mayburn and it is dark “ish”, but not as dark as many of her other recent series. I think of it more as a “grey” romance if those even exist. There are a few elements that I think will push buttons for some readers, but they worked for me.

First-off, there are elements of a captive romance in Obsession. While Leo never stoops so low as to kidnap Hannah, he does watch her from afar for a long period of time and researches everything there is to know about her before inserting himself into her life. He uses this knowledge, and his worldly experience to overwhelm her defences and bind her to him emotionally.

Leo, who is like a son to the head of the Cordova Cartel, is their master torturer for the and my heart was racing at the knowledge. It wasn’t a big part of the story though and Hannah is kept well away from cartel business for the most part – she never stumbles upon him torturing a person, that’s for sure! I actually wish his profession had been played up more, but then, I like dark romance. *insert wolfish grin*

Everyone in the cartel has major trust issues, especially the inner family who run it, because in the past, a woman married into the family, bore a child and then sold her son for money to a rival cartel. The child was tortured to death before his father found him.

Fast forward one year to our present love story and the Cartel has developed a sort of truth serum that enables them to bring a person into a drug-induced, relaxed state, almost as if they were hypnotized. Leo uses this drug on Hannah to insure her loyalty to him forever, although he routinely points out that you cannot change anything fundamental to someone’s personality using it … therefore, he cannot force her to fall in love with him or anyone else.

Luckily for Leo, Hannah is desperate for someone to love and to love her back unconditionally, and is also into his particular brand of rough kink. Hannah and Leo’s bedroom play is a cross between bdsm and daddy/lg play and it is sexy as hell!

In any story you have to suspend disbelief somewhere, and this can be hard to do. In this case, the author asks the reader to believe that the Cordova Cartel are sheep in wolves’ clothing. To believe that they only torture, extort, kill people who deserve it and would help out another person without expecting anything in return in many cases. Bullshit. They are a criminal empire, one of the most powerful in their region apparently, and to be successful they must be ruthless.

This is why I wish the Cartel business and Leo’s “services” had been utilized more throughout the book and that the story had been darker, to be more realistic. To compare to the author’s Submissive’s Wish series about the Russian Bratva, even though each of those Mafia Men fall in love with the woman of their dreams and would never hurt her, they sure as shit do bad things to everyone else. They are the ultimate anti-heroes. At the end of the day, I am never going to buy that a guy involved in organized crime, particularly the Torture Master, is a really good all-round guy.

Despite this little hiccup, I loved Obsession and would highly recommend it!

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Bound Together by Christine Feehan

bound

The Sea Haven series comes to a climactic end as the mysterious man from Blythe Daniels’ past re-enters her life.

For five years, Viktor Prakenskii has put his life on hold in order to take down the world’s most feared motorcycle club from the inside. But carrying out the insane violence and seeing the club’s exploitation of the innocent has brought his traumatic past roaring back. And there’s only one cure: to see the wife he left behind…

Blythe Daniels thought she’d never see Viktor again after he murdered her stepfather and left without a word. She rebuilt her life without him, becoming a personal trainer and physical therapist…becoming strong enough for others to lean on. But when Viktor comes back to Sea Haven, he’ll make Blythe question everything she thought she knew about good and evil—and the dark desires of the heart…

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Bound Together is the final chapter of the Sisters of the Heart series as well as the prequel to the Torpedo Ink series that will debut in 2018. It felt like a reunion novel in many ways; so many threads and characters were brought back from previous books in this series, and also from the Drake Sisters series.

There were a TON of expectations for Bound Together. And I think overall that the author did a pretty good job of bringing everything “together”, a task that I can only imagine seemed insurmountable at the start. There were lots of points that I loved in this novel, but there were also a few things that I found myself to be very skeptical of or opposed to. One thing that I’m not even going to touch on further is that there were a few continuity issues between BT and the previous books in the two series, and that the plot line was fairly predictable for anyone familiar with Feehan’s work.

This review is going to have major spoilers, which is one of the reasons I have waited a month to write it. Fair warning…

Ms. Feehan was able to impressively weave together the old characters from the Drake Family and the farm (about 25 people) with Viktor and his MC (another 9 characters on page), plus children they’ve rescued, background peeps from the village and a horde of bad guys. That is a lot of people who need “page time” and distinct voices! No wonder the author was hard-pressed to wrap everything up in one book.

Now, before I sound too critical of her efforts, I want to point out that I think Ms. Feehan did the best anyone could have done considering the massive amount of material to be covered in a minimal number of pages. That being said, I believe that it was more suited to two tomes released back to back as many romance authors have been doing lately (looking at you Ann Mayburn!) or working with the publisher to write a book that is much longer than the others in the series.

Now as much as I wanted to meet the MC members who are a part of Torpedo Ink, they should have been left behind to show up in the first book in the next series instead. As it is Ms. Feehan only introduced half and left the others off-page. Their inclusion led me to feel that some of the others didn’t have their stories finished. Lexi in particular, I wanted to catch up with and see her adjustment to Gavriil’s announcement that he wanted to join the outlaw MC!

There is almost no interaction between Viktor and the other Sisters of the Heart throughout all of Bound Together, and there is no interaction between him and their children. Many of those “sisters” are only mentioned in a couple of chapters but Blythe was a strong supporting character in each of their backstories.  I also was desperately anticipating the meeting between (a very pregnant) Joley and the Prakenskii brothers but this is not included in Bound Together which made me feel cheated as a reader.

I don’t want this review to reiterate the entire background of the Torpedo Ink members, but suffice it to say that they have no idea how to interact in society nor do they realize the limits of normal relationships. Fair enough, considering how they were raised, but Blythe fits in a little too easily with them. I understand that forgiveness, compassion and acceptance are her dominant personality traits but she accepted Viktor and co a little too easily in my opinion. She seems to go from literally physically struggling to get away from Viktor to solidly having his back in all situations, and reflecting his exhibitionist tendencies.

Ms. Feehan has continually painted each new hero in her books as the “baddest of the bad”. Well, at some point you reach the ceiling and there is nowhere else to go. She asks the reader to suspend their belief, and accept that each new group is that much more skilled. And I’m not buying it anymore.

In Bound Together, the Torpedo Ink members are described as being more dangerous than any of the other survivors of the program our earlier heroes emerged from. I think Torpedo Ink can be slightly more dangerous in that they don’t even want to try to live within the constraints of normal society, to “fit in”, and that they are totally willing to kill innocent people to protect themselves from perceived danger, a step that none of the others has taken thus far. Perhaps their only redeeming qualities are that children are off limits and that these actions are done out of an all-consuming fear. Fear that one of their own will die or otherwise be taken from them.

But I heartily dispute the idea that these men and two women have skills that far exceed the other Prakenskii brothers (and Aleksandr). They were all “trained” in the same schools. In fact, the point is continually made that the T. Ink crew weren’t trained so much as incarcerated and tortured all their lives, and that they didn’t start running missions until their twenties, compared to the others who had the best training in the world and started running missions as teens.

Who do you really think is going to be more effective? More skilled? More experienced?

Ya, not the new boys on the block.

I also don’t think they would have easily taken to playing with the children, and caring for them, as happens in the end of the book. These are men and women who never had a childhood. They don’t know how to play, or even how to laugh, points that are made repeatedly throughout the story. They are not well-suited to immediately adapt to parental roles, and certainly wouldn’t know how to entertain and play with children of different ages, or know what is age appropriate for each. Viktor is the only one of them who I believe would have a chance, and that is because of his experience with Blythe and that he was the oldest when he was taken, rather than a baby or a toddler.

So these are all the main points that I dispute or had issue with while reading Bound Together. Each is relatively minor overall, but stayed with me after finishing the story, especially when taken together.

That said, I did enjoy the book, and it met many of my expectations, but for the author to expect that one regular-length book could culminate in a thorough and fan-friendly reunion story for 12 previous books and introduce a new cast of characters for the next series is far-fetched and laughable. For what it was, it was good, but I wish the author and publisher had been more flexible, and willing to think outside the box to make Blythe and Viktor’s story fantastic.

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xx

My (Not So) Perfect Life…

my not so perfect life

Katie Brenner has the perfect life: a flat in London, a glamorous job, and a super-cool Instagram feed.

Ok, so the real truth is that she rents a tiny room with no space for a wardrobe, has a hideous commute to a lowly admin job, and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t really hers.

But one day her dreams are bound to come true, aren’t they?

Until her not-so perfect life comes crashing down when her mega-successful boss Demeter gives her the sack. All Katie’s hopes are shattered. She has to move home to Somerset, where she helps her dad with his new glamping business.

Then Demeter and her family book in for a holiday, and Katie sees her chance. But should she get revenge on the woman who ruined her dreams? Or try to get her job back? Does Demeter – the woman with everything – have such an idyllic life herself? Maybe they have more in common than it seems.

And what’s wrong with not-so-perfect, anyway?

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Sophie Kinsella is my favourite British writer by far. Her novels are always on-trend with modern-day life and completely relatable to me, as a woman and a young professional. Her books are laugh-out-loud funny and a great way to cheer up. Considering I usually read dark romances or heavy erotica, it is a lovely treat to sit down and read something completly different when Kinsella releases a new novel.

My (Not So) Perfect Life is the most recent book to be released and one that I have devoured. Kinsella’s books are fast-paced page-turners, filled with good feels, awkward situations and a happy ending.

When Katie is laid off from her job in London she is devastated. It may not be the perfect position, but she is starting out in the field of her dreams, living in the “best” city in the world and learning loads everyday. The last thing she wants to admit to her beloved father is that she has failed, especially since he is all too eager to have Katie move home and live locally.

This experience is similar to one I went through a couple of years ago. I was working a shitty job in the field of my dreams, learning and putting in time until I could rise up in the ranks. Then I was laid off (five days before Christmas mind you!) and absolutely devastated. Looking back, I can say that it is one of the hardest – and best – things that I have ever been through because it made me grow as a person and I have ended up in a better place. But at the time, I thought the world was ending and that I was the biggest failure going, much as Katie does.

My (Not So) Perfect Life was a real win for me. I am a country girl at heart and totally into the organic and environmentally-friendly lifestyle that is trendy at the moment. The fact that this was so heavily favoured in Katie’s branding of her parents’ new glamping business, and the fact that most of the book took place in the country, made this country-girl shine.

Some of the plot is overly predictable, but that isn’t what you are reading a Sophie Kinsella book for. This isn’t a book full of mystery or intrigue. The story is character-driven, as the author unravels new layers of each of the characters and focuses on the relationships between them.

If you are a fan of Kinsella and think you have read all of her books, check out the ones under her pen name of Madeleine Wickham.

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xx

Sarah MacLean: Insight From A Romance Author on Being a Woman “Out” in This Industry

I just read this article from Sarah MacLean on slut-shaming romance authors and bullying. She discusses the bizarre biases other authors and average citizens have against authors of romance and erotica, as well as some of the more shocking comments she has received, online and from friends and family members.

I found this article to be insightful and interesting!

You can check out her article right here:

https://www.bustle.com/articles/186881-sarah-maclean-bashing-romance-novels-is-just-another-form-of-slut-shaming

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Brighter Than The Sun by Maya Banks

Brighter Than The Sun is the 11th book in the contemporary romance series KGI.

banks

As the last unattached member of the Kelly clan, Joe is more than ready to risk life and limb on any mission he’s assigned to, but when it comes to love, he’ll keep his distance. He’s content to watch his brothers become thoroughly domesticated.

Zoe’s had nothing but heartbreak in her life, and she’s determined to start over with a completely new identity, thanks to her college friend, Rusty Kelly. But it’s the gorgeous smile and tender words of Joe Kelly that begin to weaken her resolve to never risk her heart again. And Joe will have to put everything on the line to save Zoe, when secrets of her past resurface—and threaten to tear them apart…

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This book reads quite a bit differently than most of the others in the series, in my opinion.  Earlier books in the series were intensely-action based, and usually revolved around the missions that KGI members make, whether it is a hostage rescue, investigation or taking out a crime lord. The characters themselves poke fun at how many members met their spouse on an op!

In comparison, the romance in this story has nothing to do with a KGI mission. And although their skills are used briefly for an action scene near the end of the book, it is certainly much more of a background subplot that merely serves to identify some character traits for the hero and his family.

Brighter Than The Sun has a sweeter tone to its romance. Joe is gentle with and sensitive to his beau, realizing that she has been abused and is a complete flight risk. He is careful not to scare her away and really takes the time to sweet her off her feet with wholesome, country experiences that she has never had. They go fishing, and boating and play in the creek. It really is the perfect country romance! Many of the previous heroes had multiple moments where they acted overbearing and I like that in my story. So it is good that the author takes this story in another direction, it just wasn’t one that worked for me as well.

Probably due to the lack of action, BTTS is pretty wordy. It is uncharacteristic for a KGI novel, but many of the characters make long speeches – basically a soliloquy – throughout the book. I mostly skipped over these, because the story would start to lose my interest. And it is overwhelming for a paragraph to take up an entire page. The author would have been wiser to break up the text, even if the speaker isn’t interrupted by another character, just by adding descriptors such as, ‘she shifted restlessly’.

One thing that I did love in the background of this story was learning more about the relationship between Rusty and Sean now that Rusty is an adult. She has grown up from a troublesome runaway teenager taken in by the Kelly family to an intellectual, highly educated young woman. But despite her academic accomplishments, she still doesn’t feel fully accepted by the KGI family (other than by her adopted parents) and lacks confidence in herself within the family unit.

A large part of this is due to Rusty’s complicated and difficult relationship with Sean. Clearly they are meant to be together, and it seems like the next book in this series will finally be the one where they find their HEA!

My heart broke for her by the end this story though, so I hope it is not too long of a wait!

In some ways, BTTS read like a reunion novel. There was a heavy focus on the background characters and catching the reader up on where they are now. In particular, there are a lot of updates on Rusty/Sean, Sam/Sophie and Nathan/Shea.

I haven’t been too fond of several of the more recent novels in the KGI series. Brighter Than The Sun was more entertaining than those, but I don’t think any book will reach the same level as the first three in the series did, at least in my opinion.

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xx

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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The Lovely Bones is a beautifully written and utterly gut-wrenching story. It is about the life, death, and after-life of a young girl, as she watches her family from Heaven.

Susie Salmon was lured into a field one afternoon on her way home from school, by a neighbour who had built an underground bunker hidden among the corn stalks. In that place, he rapes, murders and dismembers Susie. Later he disposes of her by locking the pieces of her body into an old safe and dumping everything into a sinkhole outside of town.

The identity of Susie’s murderer is not a secret to the reader. We experience the story from her perspective as she watches from Heaven, following Mr. Harvey, as well as her family and friends, watching them deal with the immediate news of her death and on through the years.

The Lovely Bones takes place over a period of 15 years or so. Initial chapters follow Susie’s parents, sister and brother over the course of a year. During this period, Susie is both watching events unfold on Earth and exploring the afterlife.

In her Heaven, a person can have almost anything they like. It is a peaceful place that is safe, comforting and in a way, timeless. But spirits are trapped there until they learn to let go of those still on Earth. As long as she is tied to her loved ones and to her murderer, and desires answers to burning questions – like why me – Susie will not be able to move one to what is next.

The remainder of the story unfolds with increasingly large leaps in the timeline. Susie is learning to let go of her Earthly life and death and so is her family. By the end of the book, they don’t often think or speak of her. Not because the pain of loss is removed, or because they love her any less, but because she is no longer there. The living have to keep living. This change isn’t sad. Susie wants her loved ones to be happy and truly live, and she delights in experiencing things she missed through others.

One of those moments is when her younger sister has sex for the first time. Susie is so happy for her sister, that she had a special connection with a boy she loves and that her first time is so gentle, romantic, and a tender moment of connection between two individuals… everything that Susie herself was robbed of.

This story is understandably tragic just from the material that is discussed, but the author’s rendition of the events is chilling. She isn’t too graphic in her description or Susie’s rape or murder but her understanding of the grief that envelopes each person that Susie knew is astounding. Between her disappearance and the memorial service three months later, this loss is viewed from the perspectives of her parents and siblings, her grandmother, her teacher, her crush, a classmate and a neighbour.

So many people are affected by her loss, and the reader can’t help but experience it with them. I felt like it was my cousin, my classmate, my neighbour going through such a tragedy.

One of things in this book which really stuck out to me, is that the people whom you expected to feature prominently didn’t always. Very little is discussed about Susie’s best friend and Susie doesn’t follow her life the way she does another classmate whom she barely knew, but who was so changed by this life experience. And although Susie does haunt her murderer Mr. Harvey, as time drags on, years go by without her checking on him.

It has been a very long time since a story has touched me so deeply throughout the entire book. I don’t know if I have ever cried this much through a story. The fact that this was the author’s first novel is crazy. I definitely plan to read more of what she has written. But at the same time, I don’t think I will ever be able reread The Lovely Bones.

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Post-script spoiler

The ending of this book was surprising to me. I really thought that Lin would eventually catch Mr. Harvey. I still felt he got what was coming to him in the end, but it burns that he lived his whole life as a pedophile, a serial rapist and a serial killer, without ever paying for his crimes against so many women and children. I was also devastated that no one ever found Susie’s body. With all the talk of fixing the sinkhole and building a subdivision over top, I truly thought that eventually someone would make that gruesome discovery. I wanted that closure for her family.

xx