Bookpushers Joint Review – Marked by Lauren Dane, Vivian Arend and Kit Rocha

Marked cover image
Publisher: Self
Publish Date: Out now
How we got this book: ARC from the authors

BP Note: The Book Pushers are huge fans of Dane, Arend, and Rocha so when we found out they were plotting together for a self-published anthology we couldn’t wait. As they continued to work on their individual projects and started tweeting things about how they were blushing as they typed, how this was potentially the hottest thing they had written to date, and how good the stories from their co-conspirators were the wait seemed endless. It was a great relief to finally get our hands on this anthology and see for ourselves if our anticipation was worth it.

ALL THAT REMAINS

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Lauren Dane takes you into a brand new world in ALL THAT REMAINS. Summer Killian falls fast and hard when Charlie arrives in Paradise Village. But the heat turns all the way up when she learns Charlie is also with Hatch – the man she loved three years before. While she’s not sure she’s cut out for a triad, neither man is going to give her up.

Has: Out of the three authors, I’ve only read a handful of books by Lauren Dane. “All That Remains” is the start of a brand new series set in a post apocalyptic world where society has changed drastically. I am a huge fan of post apocalyptic settings, but Dane has approached this premise with a different twist which I liked. It is set a few centuries after a catastrophe and humanity has evolved into different norms and mores, where men far outnumber women due to the calamity. Instead of having a darker edged and tone like The Handmaid’s Tales sort of stories of women being oppressed, it is the other way round where they’re respected and have more agency and power. I really liked how she depicted this new world and the characters who resides in them especially the heroine Summer, who is open and upfront and enjoys and owns her own sexuality.

However one day her tranquil existence is turned upside down with the arrival of two men to her village, and they both challenge her in every way. She is reluctant to embark on a long-term relationship. Hatch and Charlie who are both deeply attracted to her as well being in their own relationship see that she is perfect to form a triad relationship and are willing to put down roots down. But Summer finds the dynamic of being involved with a triad relationship difficult, because of her own issues with a past relationship and her sister’s experience in one which left scars. I loved that Dane has created a true menage relationship instead of just focusing on the heroine, the focus of the romance is very much between Charlie and Hatch. Their dynamics in their relationship was interesting because while Charlie was easy-going and relaxed, Hatch was more alpha and demanding, which Summer found at times hard and there were real problems and kinks to work out within their relationship. It definitely heightened the tension in the romance and I liked how it played out. Although I wished we got to see more of the world-building, which didn’t go into much depth or the backdrop of the big catastrophe. Nonetheless, this was a solid introduction to this new world, with hot love scenes.

E: While I haven’t read everything that Dane has published, I have read a lot. She has several series I continue to love so when I saw she was starting a new series, Metamorphosis, set in an entirely new world I was even more curious. As I gathered, well as Dane released, information about her contribution it started looking like her story was going to hit several of my love to read buttons; post apocalyptic, shortage of women, second chance at love, and an overall slower lifestyle. “All That Remains” managed to eek out a standing as my favorite in this anthology.

I loved how Summer had rebuilt herself and created a life full of happiness when the life she planned altered abruptly. She had no shame about enjoying men nor did she depend on them for her quality of life. She felt an instant attraction to Charlie but when she discovered he was with her former love she was ready to end what might have been. Somehow Charlie and Hatch convinced Summer to give them a chance. So many times I thought Hatch was going to ruin it by his apparent unawareness of the multitude of levels his actions as a young man had hurt Summer. Each time Charlie was able to smooth things over but it was up to Hatch to prove he had learned, changed, and was someone Summer could trust to stick around.

As much as this story focused on Hatch and Summer’s second chance Dane provided equal attention on the growing relationship between Charlie and Summer. Yes, Charlie was the peacemaker but Summer valued him for more than that role, she liked him for who he was. Charlie also adored Summer for who she was and what she brought out in Hatch as he consciously matured. I also found that the sexytimes between Charlie, Hatch, and Summer regardless of the combination were extremely intense and hot. There was a balance between one on one and the trio as a whole which made me think the individual connections were just as important as the overall relationship.

Since this was a novella, the supporting characters were not as fleshed out as Dane’s novels but some significant time was spent with Summer’s sister, Dulce who was the catalyst for Summer’s fresh start. She has a tragic backstory and I can’t wait to see her find happiness again. With the depth of emotion and complicated world-building Dane provided I really didn’t miss learning more about the supporting characters. I am sure that information will come as Dane continues to write in this world.

Meka: “All That Remains” is a sizzling story of second chances, owning up to what you’ve done, and taking a chance with the idea that your heart may be torn in two. Dystopian novels are not my theme because they tend to be a little too dark for me, but this setting showed a different take. Paradise Village isn’t the gritty, everybody-for-themselves type of place that it could be, namely because we are also about 300 years beyond the fallout resulting from the apocalypse. The beauty of this story is that it focuses on the here and now and relationships that people have with one another.

Summer and Hatch used to be an item before Hatch left. This resulted in Summer having to hold herself together and continue living life without him even though her heart was broken. Four years later, and we see a very different Summer from the type of person that she used to be. I could likely gush on and on about what happens in this particular novella, but I want to focus on some key points.

Lauren Dane can write relationships, whether it’s a romantic one or friendships. She has always impressed me by pulling in the side characters and not allowing anyone to be a lonely island where their world only revolves around their significant other. This makes her writing layered and nuanced, bringing the characters to life in a way that makes me wish I knew these people for real. I’m so glad that Lauren said there’d be a book about Summer’s sister, because I need this in my life like right now.

By the time we meet these characters, summer has moved on as best she can, and Hatch is now in a relationship with Charlie. For me, the beauty of this story was watching them navigate the treacherous waters of someone being betrayed. Hatch was arrogant and knew what he wanted, Summer was passionate and yet cautious, and Charlie was the one who could soothe the both of them. I really loved that Summer could stand up for herself and refused to be run over roughshod just because Hatch wanted everything. She made certain he understood how much his leaving hurt, and that she wasn’t the same person that she used to be.

None of these characters are perfect, but they are all three worthy of love if they can give it a chance. Summer’s resistance to Hatch was understandable. Hatch’s need to get things back to the way that they used to be could be understood too. Both of them could rub each other the wrong way in any moment, but together as a triad, it really worked. Dane writes these characters in a realistic manner and makes me want to delve more in to this new world that she has created.

ROCKY RIDE

Take a ROCKY RIDE with New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Vivian Arend as she leads you back to the Six Pack Ranch. Anna Coleman might be the law around Rocky Mountain House, but bad boy Mitch Thompson knows that under the stiff RCMP uniform is a woman with a passion for speed and pleasure that matches his own, and he’s not giving up until she’s his.

Has: I think “Rocky Ride” was my favourite story of the anthology, although the other stories were great, but I was really engrossed with Anna and Mitch’s romance which was sweet but very very sexy. The opening chapters were beyond scorching and the chemistry between Anna and Mitch was on fire. Anna is a RCMP officer while Mitch is a mechanic/biker and even though they’re jobs and roles are poles apart, their attraction has driven them to go on a red hot affair. Mitch soon realises this is much more than great sex and goes on a mission to woo Anna that they could have something more permanent. Although things don’t go smoothly with Anna’s boss, Nick who disapproves of their relationship and her own reluctance to open up.

But I loved that Mitch managed to get Anna to explore more of her wild side, and to break out her inhibitions because of her job and her own reserved nature. It was fun to see her break out of her walls and that was really part of the charm of the romance, also the sexual chemistry was smoking hot which added another layer to the story which I enjoyed immensely. While this story was a spin-off from Arend’s Six Pack series, it was also cool to see some cameos and scenes featuring some of those characters.

Overall, I was left very satisfied with this novella, because even though it was a short-length, the romance, the love scenes and the introduction of series was just perfect. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series because this was a wonderful and sexy start.

E: Arend is another of my auto-buy authors. “Rocky Ride” is the first of her Thompson & Sons series which is a spin-off of the Six Pack Ranch series. I was very excited at the possibility of starting this new series because the area around the Six Pack Ranch is packed full interesting characters. The inhabitants do not shy away from enjoying each other and when they find love, they hold onto it regardless of public opinion. However, Anna as a member of the RCMP did need to maintain a certain level of public decorum and getting involved with one of the crazy Thompsons certainly didn’t seem to match that expectation. So as the story opens Anna and Mitch have an arrangement. They meet, have an extremely enjoyable time, then Anna leaves, and they act like nothing has ever happened but Mitch wants more. He was tired of being Anna’s dirty little secret so he created a plan that would result in everything he hoped for or the end of an enjoyable interlude and a broken heart.

I loved watching Mitch and Anna take things outside of secluded meetings. Anna did have some valid reasons for wanting to keep her relationship quiet because Mitch had a well earned reputation. She was supposed to uphold the law and Mitch had a habit of stretching if not breaking the law. It took Mitch a little bit to realize how to walk the line between coaxing Anna out of her shell and indulging in activities that pushed her away. While Anna was struggling mentally she also had to deal with a partner who seemed determined to make Anna doubt her own judgment. If that didn’t work he was completely willing to use other techniques to keep her doing exactly what he wanted, which was not happy with Mitch Thompson. It was a lot of fun to watch Anna and Mitch worth through their issues both within their relationship and with outside interferences. I think my favorite scene here was a certain nighttime dirt bike race. That scene said so much about Anna’s personality when she wasn’t dealing with fears about her professional future and Mitch’s enjoyment of life. “Rocky Ride” was a great introduction to the Thompson & Sons series and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Meka: I have not read this series yet, but it was not difficult for me to keep track of what was happening. I feel curious about the characters that I have been missing out on and plan to read their stories, because after this one, I am totally hooked.

This novella is not just about a good girl falling for a bad boy, but the vulnerabilities that they both share, and the biases and judgment calls that we make every day about other people. Anna is portrayed as a woman who likes to live on the wild side but is often too afraid to really let that side of her out. When Mitch, the man that she’s been having a fling with, decides to push her a little harder because he’d like more, Anna is nervous but is more than ready for the challenge.

Watching this story unfold was such a treat. Being able to see Anna, a constable and someone who works really hard at what she does, take chances and defend what she wanted was incredibly special. Watching her own up to how she’d been unfairly stereotyping Mitch was even better. Seeing her pal around with his family, go biking, and just totally be with Mitch and give him more of her heart was totally sweet.

Can I keep Mitch? He only wanted the best for Anna and longed to see her shed her inhibitions and just fly. He wanted to take their relationship to the next level, but was also full of vulnerability that we got to see. Oh, and let us not forget absolutely sexy. He was ready to take Anna anywhere she wanted to go fantasy-wise and Vivian Arend pulled no punches in that department.

As they learned to navigate the waters of what they wanted, we got to see a couple truly worthy of their HEA. Anna truly blossomed once she was able to simply let go, and Mitch learned that he had someone in Anna that he could depend on and trust. Even after Mitch did a bone-headed move, I was still cheering for things to work out. And the last surprise that Anna had for Mitch wrapped that story up with a nice little bow.

BEYOND TEMPTATION

Kit Rocha returns to Sector Four in BEYOND TEMPTATION. A promise to a dying friend backfires when Noah Lennox finds that the girl he was supposed to rescue is all grown up–and wearing O’Kane ink. He wants to protect her from the secrets of their past, but she wants him. And an O’Kane woman always gets what she wants.

Has: I always look forward to a Beyond book by Kit Rocha, and I was definitely eagerly waiting for Emma and Noah’s story which was touched briefly on in the last book by setting up their story. Noah has finally tracked down Emma who he has lost track of the past few years but is surprised and happy that she’s safe and made a real home with the O’Kanes. Emma is happy to be reunited with Noah and their feelings for each other are instantly rekindled although the secrets of their past threatens their tentative new relationship.

I think with each new installment, the Beyond series gets better and better. I love the world-building and the cast of characters which all share an amazing chemistry with each other. In “Beyond Temptation” establishes another tantalizing plot thread which will intertwine with the ongoing arc that was set up in the previous book. But the real focus is on the romance between Emma and Noah which develops beautifully. I was really happy how Kit Rocha maintained the tension between them and their sex scenes were beyond blazing hot which ratcheted their sexual chemistry.

While I loved the romance, I found the plot-line that connects Emma and Noah’s past to the current issues the O’Kane clan will face left me wanting. In a lot of ways this felt like a mini-episode of a huge saga that is playing out and I wanted to see more of this plot being expanded because it was more like a teaser rather than a sub-plot involving them. However I am definitely looking forward to the next installment which promises to be explosive in so many levels.

E: “Beyond Temptation” took two supporting characters with a complicated past and gave them a chance to smooth it out. Emma, now an O’Kane, who was Ace’s apprentice and a generally sweet girl had been in love with her brother’s best friend almost her entire life. When he practically disappeared from her life she never quite felt the same way about anyone else. She had a home with the O’Kanes, and while she shared their love of pleasure, she never paired off with anyone. Then she discovered Noah was still alive. Noah thought Emma was safely away from the sectors and happily married until he received a note saying she needed him. When he found out she was an O’Kane he knew that he needed to get revenge on the woman who lied to him and to see if Emma needed rescuing. He was not prepared to see grown-up Emma who was no longer sweet and innocent. He was also not prepared for the depths of his feelings towards Emma and what more he would do to keep her safe.

I loved how Emma had to push to get Noah to open up to her and prove to him what love meant. She also had to prove she was grown and didn’t need someone to make her decisions for her. Noah had to learn to open up and to trust that Dallas and Lex really did care about the O’Kanes. But when their mutual past resurfaced Noah had to make a hard decision. This was another fun read but it felt more like the installment of a serial instead of a complete story. There was a conclusion but I am hoping more of their story shows up as the series continues because there is a lot hanging on the results of Noah’s decision.

Meka: I could not read this story straight through. At first I thought it was because of the raw sensuality of this dark and gritty world, but now I realize that might not be entirely accurate. It was because we see the stark reality of these characters and practically every scene is intense. We get to feel their emotions, their desperation, their simply trying to live and make a life for themselves. So I had to read this one in fits and spurts, because such stark depictions were hard for me to swallow at once.

I have not read all of the books in this series (a normal occurrence if you know anything about my reading quirks), but I did read Beyond Shame which I loved. In this novella, Emma is an O’Kane and has been inked. It’s four years since she found herself in their territory and she’s a different woman than she was when she lost her brother with no word from his best friend. In the meantime, Noah, her brother’s best friend, is fighting guilt over his death and nursing a need for revenge that has left him room for precious little else.

What he gets is a different Emma, one who is confident with herself and her life. She’s a fighter, someone who can be straightforward and give him everything he wants while demanding her own needs and the truth.

Emma’s life of practically everything and then the return of Noah made this a heart-wrenching story to read. Watching her come to terms with Noah, and then the truth of a secret that he’d been hiding was both devastating and wonderful.

Watching Noah’s reactions to the new Emma through his eyes was a treat. We got to see him slowly open up to her and come to terms with his guilt that life hadn’t gone the way that he had expected it to for Emma. His grief, his anger, his need for revenge were all real things.

Let’s not skip the sex, either. This novella was filthy and I loved every sordid detail. If the Apocalypse happens, I’m finding a Sector Four.

All in all, I cheered for these characters and the ones that I remembered from book one. It was great to see how far they all had come.

Final thoughts

Has: The Marked anthology definitely delivered fantastic installments of erotically charged romance. I think with certain scenes if I held a thermometer close to my kindle while reading this book, the mercury would definitely have exploded due to the heat level. The Kit Rocha story was a fantastic entry to their post apocalyptic MC romance, and Lauren Dane’s entry was a great introduction to her new series. But I think the story I really fell in love with was Vivian Arend’s which just hit the sweet spot for me. Overall, you cant go wrong with a book full of bad boy heroes, hot, scorching love scenes and romances that really satisfy you at heart.

I give Marked an overall fiery B+

E: Marked is certainly a successful anthology with all three authors providing memorable enjoyable stories. Like always I didn’t like them for the same reasons or in the same way but it was certainly worth the anticipation. I think Dane, Arend, and Rocha need to conspire more often and continue trying to out-dirty the others because I think they all brought it to a new level. One of the things I love about all three of them is how their sex scenes are an organic part of the story not just thrown in to have a scene. Rocha provided a very interesting connection between two side characters and the greater battle for stable power in the sectors. This was a great interlude and I hope we get future installments of Noah and Emma. Arend introduced Thompson & Sons a Six Pack Ranch spin-off with a slightly wild RMCP and her bad boy. I think the Thompson clan is going to be a lot of fun. My favorite out of this anthology is Dane’s contribution which also introduced her new Metamorphosis series. I certainly recommend Marked to anyone who wants to read a smoking hot erotic romance anthology.

I give Marked a B+

Meka: I love the idea of anthologies. Who doesn’t want to read a bunch of stories with similar theme? But usually, only the title story captivates me. Rarely do I enjoy all of them. When I heard that Lauren Dane, Vivian Arend, and Kit Rocha were doing an anthology together, I could not understand how so much awesome could be packed in to one single book, but now I do.

The overarching theme is tattoos, something I’m too chicken to ever get. There were other themes as well. Strong heroines, persistent and sigh-worthy men, the joys of friendship, and people who did not hold back. I loved this entire anthology from front page to back and I wholeheartedly give Marked an A.

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