Keepsake, by Sarina Bowen


Grade: A

Doing it at: 50%

Catnip: Male Virgin, Farmer Boy, Strapping Men, Sexual Healing, Cults, Food Porn, Dual Narrative, Kidnapping, Pickup Truck Sex, PTSD, Seasonal Romance, Autumn, Beta Hero

Shame Scale: 0%, you can tell people what you’re reading and be like “it’s about developing nations, America’s farming crises, PTSD, religious cults, and apples”

What Does He Taste Like?: The cool night air, the outdoors, and a hint of sweat.

Fantasy Cast: Ryan Gosling, Rosario Dawson

Book Description:

Lark Wainright used to be fearless. Her life was a series of adventures, each one more exhilarating than the last. But her recent overseas adventure was one too many. Now she’s home and in one piece. Mostly. But her nights are filled with terror.

When her best friend offers her a stay at the orchard in exchange for help at the farmers’ markets, Lark jumps at the chance to spend fall in Vermont. But her nightmares don’t stop. Desperate to keep her fragile state a secret, she relies on the most soft-spoken resident of the Shipley Farm to soothe her when her dreams prove too much.

Zachariah is a survivor, too. It’s been four years since he was tossed aside by the polygamist cult where he grew up. He’s found a peaceful existence on the Shipley’s farm, picking apples and fixing machinery. But getting thrown away by your own people at nineteen leaves a mark on a guy. He doesn’t always know what to make of a world where movie quotes are the primary means of communication. Before hitchhiking to Vermont, he’d never watched TV or spoken on the phone.

Actually, there are a lot of things he’s never done.

Zach and Lark slowly grow to trust one another. One night they become even closer than they’d planned. But Lark may still be too broken to trust anyone. When she pushes Zach away, he will have to prove to himself that he’s good for much more than farm labor.

Cleone: Mary and I have some very specific catnips, that do not always overlap, so when we stumble on a book that hits so many sweet spots for both of us, we know things are going to be good.

Mary: There’s a virgin beta hero fresh out of a cult, strapping farmers, it’s Vermont in  Autumn, and they talk about pie all the time. If you asked me to describe the perfect October book, this one pretty much nails it.

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The Strongest Steel, by Scarlett Cole

strongest steel

Grade: B+

Doing it at: 51%

Catnip: Beta Hero; Tattoos; Stalker; PTSD; Deep Dark Secret; Office Sex

Shame Scale: The cover is ab-tastic, but we get a real plot with this one. Low shame.

Fantasy Cast: Liam Hemsworth; Leighton Meester

What do we taste like: Coffee and red licorice

Book Description:

Harper Connelly never expected to find herself outside of a tattoo parlor at one in the morning, summoning the nerve to take back her past. She’s determined to forget her old life and is looking for an artist who can tattoo over the scars on her back.

Trent Andrews, local legend and owner of the Second Circle tattoo studio, has his own reasons for specializing in inking over scars. And in spite of her mysterious past and the difficult road ahead, he quickly realizes that Harper is funny, smart, and–under her ridiculously oversized clothing and SPF 100 sunscreen–totally hot. He’s happy to take on the challenge of designing a meaningful and deadly full-back tattoo for her.

But when cryptic messages start appearing on Harper’s phone, strange deliveries arrive at her door, and Second Circle is vandalized, Harper is convinced that her ex-boyfriend has tracked her down, and worse, that he knows about Trent. Running was the only thing that saved her last time, but now that she’s started to put down roots in Miami, she’ll have to decide if she can finally fight back instead.

We received The Strongest Steel as an ARC from St. Martins Press, we try to divide up the ARCS by catnip, and taking turns, and magical bookshame friendship knowledge. After reading the synopsis Mary and I knew this one would be right for me. While the publishing house provided the book to us, we were under no obligation to say nice things about it, these raves are all my own.

Harper fled to Miami four years before our story starts, after her ex boyfriend brutally attacked her with fists and a knife to her back. In her previous life, in Chicago, she was an English teacher named Taylor, with a family she was close to. In Miami, she’s a barista named Harper who can’t bear to be touched and only one close friend who knows her history. Harper lives a quiet life, terrified that her ex is going to find her and finish the job, or have someone else finish the job. In her whole time in Miami, she’s never taken a swim in the ocean because of the scars on her back. They’re gnarly and I don’t want to spoil anything but there’s a really good reason why she doesn’t want anyone seeing them– beyond the whole scars are an ugly thing.

Since Harper is so loath to talk to new people or draw attention to herself it takes her some time to work up the courage to go meet with the local tattoo artist who has a reputation for being incredibly skilled at tattooing over scars. In fact, she waits outside the shop for him after closing — which seemed unlikely to me, because hanging outside a closed business at one a.m. is a terrifying prospect — and catches Trent on his way out the door. Trent can tell right away that Harper is skittish, he’s a gem of a book boyfriend and immediately tries to put her at ease. He’s patient, calm, and works on building trust with her as he examines her back and talks about ideas for tattoos. He also thinks she’s mega hot, but keeps that to himself in order to not scare her away before they even get started. When Harper almost hyperventilates at another person being so close to her he handles it perfectly:

“Put your head down between your knees. It’s either the presence of my greatness — which happens all the time so don’t feel bad– or the adrenaline. Take some slow, deep breaths. What we’re doing tonight is a huge step.”

I probably can’t do full justice to how much I liked Trent, he was unfailingly sweet with Harper, happy to wait for her to acclimate to being touched by another person. He’s a beta with swagger; confident without being pushy and grown up enough to know that waiting for sex from someone you really like is worth giving up hook ups with randos. Both characters are older than a lot of adult romance characters, and as a lady rapidly barreling towards true middle age this was a nice surprise. I adore New Adult romance, but sometimes its refreshing to have all the characters be old enough to drink AND rent a car.

Harper’s delighted to find that she’s attracted to Trent, after the horror with Nathan she wasn’t sure those parts of her emotions still worked. Every encounter feels like a victory and she starts to loosen up in other aspects of her life as well, helping a fellow waitress with some continuing education assignments and joining coworkers for outings to places that would have previously set all of her nerves on edge.

The black cloud flying over all this is that Nathan is up for parole, and Harper has been receiving texts of anagrams. I know, I know, texts of anagrams don’t sound like they should be scary, but that was Harper’s thing and only Nathan would know that. He used an anagram to tell her he loved her for the first time. So, even though he’s still in prison the first time she receives one of these messages, there’s little doubt that it is him sending the messages. She’s terrified, but she’s brave as well, she keeps pursuing her relationship with Trent, increasing her level of intimacy steadily.

Without saying a word, he came to stand right before, practically toe to toe. He knew his height gave him a huge advantage, and he grinned as she leaned backward to look up at him.

“Just kiss her already!” Pixie called with a whoop.

Harper laughed, the sweetest freakin’ sound, and Trent couldn’t hold out any longer. Bending, he wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her until their faces were close to level, her legs still dangling down.

As his lips touched hers, the burning he had for her flamed hotter. Without stopping, he reversed them out of the main studio toward his office, flicking the bird at Cujo, who was staring at them with his mouth open.

Pushing up her dress, he wrapped Harper’s legs up around his waist, backed her into the door of his office, and locked it.

The sex is really well written in this one, there’s no weeping parts or internal cock twitching monologue. No cringing – only bookmarking of the good parts.

Reading the Strongest Steel was well-timed for me, I had a bad traumatic thing happen a few weeks ago and have been a jumpy mess.This was a definite example of right book, right time. I had tons of sympathy for Harper and her fears, when Trent tried to push for something that she wasn’t ready for as far as exposure to the world and of herself, I was fully on her side. Nathan brutally abused her and is now mentally torturing her from afar, there’s no reason she should be keeping her cool. Trent realizes this too after a brief moment of douchery, because he’s a genuinely good guy, who is madly in love with her.  They’re really adorable-y in love.

I read the Strongest Steel in the middle of hanging out with my friends during a 4th of July party, I couldn’t put it down once the suspense portion of the story line started to amp up. This book boasts a tight plot, a sweet romance, hot sex, and delightful banter. Trent and Harper’s story comes with a two thumbs up and a snap recommendation.

two thumbs

And the author has assured me, via twitter, that more Second Circle books are on the way. I just need to talk my way into some early release copies, maybe she needs a beta reader…

Check out The Strongest Steel on Amazon.