Rock by Anyta Sunday

23159305Blurb: Igneous.

When Cooper’s parents divorce, he finds himself landed in Week About—one week with his mum and one week with his dad.
Only, it’s not just his dad he has to live with. There’s Lila, too: The other woman, the one who stole the rock-solid foundation of his life.

And then …

There’s Jace. Lila’s son. Lila’s smug, regurgitated-fish-scale-blue eyed son.

All Cooper wants is to have his family back the way it once was, but there’s something about this boy that promises things will never be the same again.

Sedimentary.

Resisting the realities of his new life, Cooper and Jace get off to a rocky start. But rocky start or not, after hundreds of shared memories together, they forge something new. A close … friendship.

Because friendship is all they can have. Although it’s not like they are real brothers…

Metamorphic.

But how does that friendship evolve under the pressures of life?
Under pressures of the heart?

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4 Stars ~I’m a huge fan of Anyta Sunday so its no secret I was gonna love this book too.

This story took quite a bit of time to get to where it was going.  And I felt the climax was a but overdone.  But the love story was incredibly intense and deep.

I totally identified with Cooper’s reaction to his parents divorce.  I was thrown back in time feeling all those overwhelming emotions. I really got caught up in it in the beginning. But I never really understood his instant dislike of Jace in the beginning.  Nor did I understand how he didn’t know how Jace felt about him when they were younger.

This story takes place over many years so the background was a good half of the book. Honestly, I could have done without so much of it and I still would have been able identify with the characters.

Cooper used rocks as a way to ground himself when things got out of control for him. I really liked that.  He would be able to choose a rock and remember what memory it held or what he felt at the time he picked it.  A cool tangible way to recall memories.  He had a hard time with confidence and becoming comfortable in his own skin.  I think it helped that his HS friends really just rolled with the punch’s when it came to his sexuality.

Jace was a bit odd to me.  Sometimes they were so in sync that he was able to read Cooper’s mind but then others they were so far apart it was almost like, “What do they even have in common besides sharing a family?”  I think Jace overthought his feelings and couldn’t get past what some people would think.  I didn’t like him when he was in college. I felt he wasted time and allowed fear to get in the way of what could have been a great experience.

Then I think they each had to go it alone for a while because that’s what growing up is all about. Taking the journey.  So then my mind went all abstract on me and I understood why Jace was so withdrawn.

Honestly, I could go on and on about the nuances of this book!  Just, go read it!

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The Bad Boy Bargain by Kendra C. Highley

Blurb:
30415027Baseball player Kyle Sawyer has many labels: bad boy, delinquent, ladies’ man, fearless outfielder… Only one of them is actually true. But then sweet ballet dancer Faith Gladwell asks him to help wreck her reputation, and everything goes sideways.

Faith knows a thing or two about love, and what she had with her cheating jerk of an ex wasn’t it. When he starts spreading rumors about her being an Ice Queen, Faith decides it’s time to let a little bad into her life.

Lucky for her, Kyle Sawyer—dark, dangerous, totally swoonworthy Kyle Sawyer—is landscaping her backyard over Spring Break. Shirtless. And if she can convince him to play along, “dating” Kyle will silence the rumors.

But Faith’s plan threatens to expose Sawyer’s biggest secret of all…and that’s a risk he’s not willing to take.

Disclaimer: This book contains drop-the-book-and-fan-yourself kisses…and touches. Fall in love with a bad boy at your own risk.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

OMG, this one sucked me in so much at the beginning!  I was reading and just grinning from ear to ear!  Kyle is SOOOO my kind of book boy — a beautiful beta boy!!  AAHHHH!!!  I honestly didn’t know how his story was going to play out, but I really felt for him and all the background we got to see how his reputation was shaped, and why he let it happen.  It was so sad though b/c he really ended up being a loner, with only his Dad and Grandpa to rely on for love and guidance.  It was really a heartbreaking tale, and yet one I could so easily imagine happening to a sensitive guy like him.  Seriously though, SWOON!  Give me a shy nervous guy any day of the week, and I will be swooning.  And a gentleman to boot!!

Faith was a seriously solid heroine too!  I loved that she was kind of hard to pinpoint — she had so many strong points, and she was such a hard worker and so focused on her dreams, but she was also really vulnerable.  And I didn’t blame her one bit for being so confused with Kyle’s hot and cold moments.  I’m not sure what I would have done with the conflicting signals he was giving off.

It actually went in a bit of a different direction than I was expecting after Spring break ended.  I still really enjoyed it though, and it had a very satisfying “big moment”.

One of the things that really added to the story was both friends, Violet and Cade.  I wouldn’t mind a story for each of them!!  And the parents were actually pretty great too — I love it when the families aren’t completely buggered up, you know?  Like Faith’s parents were pretty solid, and I loved their reactions to Kyle.  And while Kyle’s Dad was pretty absent, Kyle’s Grandpa was a great influence for Kyle, even if he didn’t always get it exactly right.

All in all LOVED this one!  It was just what my heart needed!!

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J.C. and the Bijoux Jolis by Katy Regnery

Blurb:
26853609Jean-Christian “J.C.” Rousseau’s reputation as a charming flirt has been well-established in Philadelphia, and he’s never had trouble winning a woman’s heart. So, when Libitz Feingold, the best friend of J.C.’s sister-in-law, Kate, comes to Philly over the holidays to help out during Kate’s final weeks of pregnancy, J.C. is shocked to discover that the prickly New York-based gallery owner and jewelry designer is completely immune to his charm. Recruited to help her set-up a local gallery during her visit, it’s not long before he starts to fall for her, but he’s going to have to rely on more than mere flirtation if he wants a shot at winning her heart.

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My Review:
4 stars — I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

That was a delightful ending to the Rousseau phase of the Blueberry Lane series!!  I didn’t really have any leanings one way or another about how I would feel about J.C. or Libitz, though I really enjoyed the brief glimpse we got of Lib in Kate and Ten’s book…and she lived up to those few expectations I had of her.  She was feisty and blunt and really took no prisoners, but with a soft heart beneath it.  Honestly, I really loved her, but I didn’t feel like I got to know her as well…I didn’t really get glimpses into her past as much as I might have wanted to.  Not that they weren’t there, but they didn’t have as big an impact on me.  It was almost like she held herself apart from even the reader a bit.  And I was less than impressed with her handling of the Nice Neil situation…but that’s because it’s a bit of a button topic for me.  It was definitely not as bad as I was expecting when I saw it being set up, and obviously I still enjoyed myself immensely reading this romance, but it’s the kind of thing that I’m just never going to be super satisfied with so it probably affected my enjoyment a bit.

I had no expectations of J.C.  I know that he was alluded to as being a bit of a playboy wastrel in previous books, but I hadn’t really formed any solid opinions on him (not like I had his brother).  So my impression of him was all clear and ready to be made based on this book alone.  I mean, I did enjoy his bantering with his siblings in the previous 2 Rousseau books, but that was about it.  And he kind of starts off the book with a bit of a typical playboy vibe, a wee bit smarmy…but almost immediately we get glimpses into why he is the way he is, and how his childhood shaped him and the way he views love and relationships.  And quite frankly my heart just broke.  I do not have similar experiences, but I just really felt for him.  I could see how he would make those choices, and how confusing it would be to be surrounded by people who believe in HEAs and then faced with someone who makes him want his own.  He was a delightful character from start to finish, and I really felt like his growth and struggle was realistic and well paced.

I thought J.C. and Lib had amazing chemistry together, and although it took time for them to get to the steamy bits, it was worth the wait.  One of the things I loved most about them as a couple is that they had similar playing the field type histories…it was nice to have a girl who was comfortable in her sexuality, and was kind of an equal to all the playboys we read about so often.  It made it so that I really believed how they could understand one another, and they sort of went on this journey into love together.  I really really loved that.

I will say that while I adored the prologue and epilogue, I was a bit disappointed not to get a bit of closure with Kate and Ten before that epilogue…that’s what I had been anticipating would be in the epilogue, so while I loved it, I did want just that little bit more in the HEA of J.C. and Lib.  Maybe it’s because it felt like the ending was a bit unbelievable given both of the characters, like it was a bit rushed…I couldn’t help but wonder how they would resolve some of their issues (including religion, culture, etc), but I guess I will have to be satisfied with perhaps an occasional glimpse of them in the upcoming Story and Ambler phases.

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Jonquils for Jax by Katy Regnery

Blurb:
30129056Did you fall in love with The English Brothers? Were you hot for the Winslows? Katy Regnery’s Blueberry Lane series continues with The Rousseau siblings in Summer 2016!

Jacqueline “Jax” Rousseau is vivacious, rich, smart and beautiful…but that doesn’t mean she’s lucky in love: she’s dated doctors, lawyers, actors and politicians who’ve all managed to end up disappointing her. In fact, she’s on a self-imposed hiatus from love when she has an unpleasant run-in with her neighbor’s gorgeous new landscaper, Gardener Lenox. Jax is not accustomed to gruff, ill-mannered men that can’t be charmed, but when he saves her skin, she realizes that something about Gard intrigues her…and if she can find her way through the armor that surrounds his heart, she might finally find a love that won’t let her down.

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My Review:
4 stars — I received a free copy through the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

Oh how I’ve missed Katy Regnery’s romances.  I’ve read all the English BROTHERS stories, which are sort of Phase One of her Blueberry Lane series, though I haven’t yet read Kate’s story (which is too bad, since her beau ends up being one of the Rousseau brothers).  I’ve also read the first in her Winslow Brothers stories, but need to get back and read the rest.  But when I saw an opportunity to join the release tour for J.C. and the Bijoux Jolis (book 3 in the Rousseaus), I jumped on it.  And imagine my delight when there was also the opportunity to review books 1 and 2!!

And so here I am, immersed yet again in Ms. Regnery’s beautiful romances that always give me a Harlequin vibe (and I was a huge Harlequin fan/reader), but like the best of Harlequin, you know?  Her romance stories always find the best balance of fantasy characters and realism, of romance with conflict, but not so much that you get frustrated.

And it was that way with Jax and Gard.  They were such intriguing characters.  I loved how we’re told Jax is the sassy brassy one, and I thought she might be stuck up, but she wasn’t at all!  She definitely had the sass in her, but she was also very vulnerable, and quite frankly a lot lost.  I don’t know if we see hints of her story in previous books (I either don’t remember, or they were in the books I haven’t read yet), but I really had no idea what to expect from her, and I got so much more!!  I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with her.  Mad?  Yes, definitely, I fully anticipate falling for her.  But I thought Jax wouldn’t be quite my kind of girl.  But she was.  I really did love her.

And GARD!  OMG, I honestly had no idea what to anticipate there!  He had he own set of vulnerabilities and tragedies to overcome.  I even enjoyed seeing how his unique upbringing shaped him.

And the two of them together were a delight…you could really feel the chemistry between them, and I enjoyed the way they sort of pushed and pulled at each other, and how they were like two lost souls that were meant to meet and help each other find their way.

The other thing that I truly adore about Ms. Regnery’s romances is that the misunderstandings and angst doesn’t get drawn out and overplayed.  Like they have their struggles, but they work through them, and you don’t want to smack people all the time and roll your eyes.  Does that make sense?  It’s just watching a beautiful relationship develop and change and work through to where we all want it to go.  I love that.  And not in a boring way.  It’s just reasonable.  I’m probably not making any sense.  *sigh*  Oh well, c’est la vie.  😛  (Look at me, pulling out the french)

So yeah, highly recommend any of the Blueberry Lane series books, and the Rousseau phase started off with a bang with Jax and Gard.  And can I just say the Gardener/gardener joke did not get old with me either?  I loved how Jax just kept beating that dead horse for a while, I laughed right along with her.  Now to find out about Mad and Cort!

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Secrets & Surrender: Part One (Secrets & Surrender #1) by L.G. Castillo

secrets-surrenderBlurb: She should’ve walked away.
She should’ve kept her secrets.
But she didn’t.
And now, they both have to pay the price.

Keeping secrets was Mandi Ruiz’s specialty. Guarding her heart and staying hidden in the shadows was all she’d ever known. But when Nic Marcelli comes crashing into her life, Mandi’s life is turned upside down. He’s everything she can’t resist, but should. Cocky, handsome, and downright irresistible, Nic comes from a lifestyle Mandi can’t even begin to fathom: designer clothes, luxury cars, and wealth at his fingertips. His world is one she could never understand–one that would never accept someone like her.

Lying to herself, Mandi swears that it’s just a fling until graduation–a way to kill time. But with someone like Nic, graduation is only the beginning.

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3 stars

I think everything in this book happened too quickly for me.  Their romance was not believable to me because I felt the depth of feeling wasn’t there.  He cared and was in love with her but we never really got to see why or how he came to those feelings.  They just were.  A big no no for me.  I need to see how they connect otherwise the feeling seems shallow.  Which is how it looks to me here.

And I never did understand her denying her feelings just because they come from different socioeconomic classes.  If he was willing to ignore it, why couldn’t she?  Because of some secret she is keeping for her family?  She clearly likes him, but won’t act on her feelings. And I thought that was a bit childish and judgmental.

It looks a bit like he just wants what he can’t have when she consistently refuses his advances, and I find that a bit unattractive for my tastes.  I will say that Nic’s parents were beautifully written as the hoity toity rich folks.   They came of super assholish.  (Its a word!)

I get cliffy’s, I do.  But we need some type of closure and in this volume there was none.  Just more questions.  Which is why I won’t be reading the rest of this series.  Sounds harsh right? It may be, but I dedicate a lot of my time to reading and reviewing and this book didn’t hold my interest enough to find out any of the answers to the questions the author asked.

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Cinder & Ella by Kelly Oram

Blurb:
14495341_10154103515169353_1987216987004450545_nWhat would you do if your anonymous Internet best friend turned out to be Hollywood’s hottest celebrity?

It’s been almost a year since eighteen-year-old Ella Rodriguez was in a car accident that left her crippled, scarred, and without a mother. After a very difficult recovery, she’s been uprooted across the country and forced into the custody of a father that abandoned her when she was a young child. If Ella wants to escape her father’s home and her awful new stepfamily, she must convince her doctors that she’s capable, both physically and emotionally, of living on her own. The problem is, she’s not ready yet. The only way she can think of to start healing is by reconnecting with the one person left in the world who’s ever meant anything to her—her anonymous Internet best friend, Cinder.

Hollywood sensation Brian Oliver has a reputation for being trouble. There’s major buzz around his performance in his upcoming film The Druid Prince, but his management team says he won’t make the transition from teen heartthrob to serious A-list actor unless he can prove he’s left his wild days behind and become a mature adult. In order to douse the flames on Brian’s bad-boy reputation, his management stages a fake engagement for him to his co-star Kaylee. Brian isn’t thrilled with the arrangement—or his fake fiancée—but decides he’ll suffer through it if it means he’ll get an Oscar nomination. Then a surprise email from an old Internet friend changes everything.

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My Review:
ORIGINAL REVIEW: 5 stars — UNPUTDOWNABLE. Seriously. I started reading this b/c I was at the release party for it and there was a part where the author posted a video of her reading the prologue and first chapter of the book. Well, when I started bawling at the end of the prologue, I had to put aside the book I was currently reading and start reading it for myself even though it was after 10pm….ended up being up til 5am glued to my kindle. So does that tell you something? It tells me it was awesome. And then I proceeded to not write my review right away and thus this will not be up to my normal babbling standards….well, maybe.

LOVED the characters. Loved the whole very loose retelling of Cinderella. There was actually more to that than I was expecting. Loved how broken and yet strong Ella was. Loved watching her struggle in her new life, and struggle to survive. LOVED the heartbreaking themes that the story touched on (bullying, grief, survival, depression…I have more but I can’t think of them). Gosh, even Brian was so much more complicated than I was expecting. Ms. Oram’s characters are always so well-developed and three dimensional. Even the side characters were amazing and believable (yes, even Anastasia….I actually had a harder time justifying some of Jennifer’s (the stepmom) behavior from the beginning).

And I kind of wanted The Druid Prince to be real.

ASE is still probably my favourite of Ms. Oram’s, but let me tell you — this put in some amazing competition for top spot.

ON REREAD: 5 OMG OMG OMG stars!  We reread this book as part of a read-a-long in the Kelly Oram Reader Squad in September in preparation for the new cover and 2 year publish-a-versary.  And it was MAGICAL!  Everything I remember this book being.  I then didn’t write up my review YET AGAIN, so it will be lacking.  But I will say that I was reminded of one of my FAVOURITE scenes from a book of ALL TIME (for those who’ve read it, it’s the FantasyCon moment where realizations occur).  I could read that scene OVER AND OVER AND OVER again, kind of like how I could watch the end of Never Been Kissed OVER AND OVER AND OVER again.  It’s *that* good.  Seriously, “say car for me”…it shouldn’t produce chills, but it does.

And the pièce de résistance of the read-a-long?  Having conversations *with* the characters ABOUT the book they are in.  Seriously…made my whole day.

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Grin and Beard It (Winston Brothers #2) by Penny Reid

23337863Blurb: Sienna Diaz is everyone’s favorite “fat” funny lady. The movie studio executives can’t explain it, but her films are out-grossing all the fit and trim headliners and Hollywood’s most beautiful elite. The simple truth is, everyone loves plus-sized Sienna.

But she has a problem, she can’t read maps and her sense of direction is almost as bad as her comedic timing is stellar. Therefore, when Sienna’s latest starring role takes her to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park she finds herself continually lost while trying to navigate the backroads of Green Valley, Tennessee. Much to her consternation, Sienna’s most frequent savior is a ridiculously handsome, charming, and cheeky Park Ranger by the name of Jethro Winston.

Sienna is accustomed to high levels of man-handsome, so it’s not Jethro’s chiseled features or his perfect physique that make Sienna stutter. It’s his southern charm. And gentlemanly manners. And habit of looking at her too long and too often.

Sienna has successfully navigated the labyrinth of Hollywood heart-throbs. But can she traverse the tenuous trails of Tennessee without losing her head? Or worse, her heart?

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Favorite Quotes: 

I swear, at this rate of staring and grinning, Jethro and I were in serious danger of going steady and holding hands.

“You’re a movie star. A celebrity with millions of fans.” “And you’re a wildlife ranger who traps giant, dangerous black bears for a living and acts like it’s no big deal. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a heaping helping of crazy, with bizarre gravy, and a slice of mashed loco for Cocoa Puffs.”

“And you are more than the mistakes of your youth. You are more than the label you’ve been assigned by people who might love you, but don’t really know who you are anymore.”

“Think of how much better the world would be if people craved compliments about the beauty of their heart rather than the beauty of their face.”

“don’t ration the passion, i.e. put your best fuck forward.”

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5 Stars!

Oh dear lord this book!  This series!  This cover! This author!  I could be easily convinced that PR sold her soul to the devil.  She is so good at her craft it’s almost outside the realm of reality.  (That’s a compliment)

I was waiting impatiently for Cletus’ book, but damn if I didn’t fall for the eldest Winston brother.  Jethro is confident in his work, but he is insecure in his role as eldest brother. You can feel the guilt that settles heavily in his heart for not being a good brother, something that he attempts to make up for constantly.  His character has such a contradiction of traits, it gives him depth and dimension.

And Sienna, god I loves her. Not only is this book a surprise diverse read for me.  She is also a plus size MC.  A woman like me!  Its lovely to see characters in books that we can relate to physically.  She is a successful actress, writer and comedian but she seems to lose her cool whenever Jethro shows up, making their interactions even more enjoyable.

The dialogue is consistently humorous, clever and sexy.  The family is pretty close knit and I love how they all live together.  I myself am the oldest of seven siblings so I get their dynamic so much.  I gobbled this book up in a day and am now suffering from withdrawal. Its a good thing my husband has a beard. 😉

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Steady Stroke by A.M. Arthur

Blurb:
30309403After a tragic accident, Lincoln West’s dreams of making it big as a guitarist fell apart. Unable to play music, he’s battling a hopeless downward spiral, and takes his friend’s offer to stay at their beach house for the summer. While at an open mike night at local bar Off Beat, he locks eyes with a busboy who doesn’t make Linc feel so broken anymore.

Emmett Westmore lives for the anonymity of busing tables in his aunt’s quirky bar where no one pities him for the fire that killed everyone he loved. He blames himself for the fire, and he doesn’t want anyone to see him—except for Linc. Emmett’s walls drop when he’s around the gorgeous blue-eyed guitarist, but he has a secret that could destroy his budding relationship with Linc.

Both Linc and Emmett are looking for a way to live again…will they let their fears control them or take a chance on something real?

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My Review:
3.5 stars — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

So I finished this book with a fairly solid 4 star feeling…but the problem is that there were a few things that bothered me, and I made the mistake of going to read other reviews to see if other people were equally bothered, and suddenly I was more bothered.  GAH!  I have to stop doing that!  So now we’re at a 3.5 stars and I don’t know whether to round up or down.  I think I’ll still round up since that was my gut feeling upon finishing the book, and I shouldn’t be so easily swayed.

So the good: I really enjoyed both characters.  I felt like they each had quite a bit of depth, and their own interesting story to tell about coming to terms with being gay and all that good stuff.  I also really enjoyed the romance in this one, I could really feel the chemistry between the characters.  They were playful at times, and seemed to bring out good things in each other, encouraging each to be themselves and reach for goals.  I loved how sweet they could be to each other (Emmett taking care of Linc with the migraines and his more recent trauma, and Linc being there for Em with his past struggles, and his current struggles accepting his homosexuality and exploring it).  I really enjoyed the addition of so many intriguing secondary characters…they felt real, had depth, and added to the story, added to our view of the characters in general (though I do have a counterpoint later).  Also, I will note that I didn’t read the first book in this series, and though some of the plot was given away, it did make me intrigued about picking up Dom and Trey’s story and reading it.

And then there’s the things that bothered me: first, and FOREMOST, the secret.  OK, so this is the first A.M. Arthur book I’ve read, and from some of the reviews I’ve seen, it seems the author is a fan of angst.  I’m only a medium fan of angst, so maybe it was a bit of a mismatch for me.  The problem for me is that there was SO MUCH of it.  I mean, each character individually had enough personal strife to satisfy any craving for angst.  And quite honestly, if that was all we had to deal with, I would have enjoyed this book so much more.  The problems they were dealing with were intriguing, and heartbreaking, and more than enough to make a great plot and provide conflict and resolution.  But the author had to one-up it or something.  And so came Emmett’s secret.  I was not a fan.  I think I might have blinked in disbelief.  It’s not that I haven’t read books with this twist in it, but they usually aren’t accompanied by a bevy of problems that precede it.  The problem lies in that with so many issues being addressed, none of them really got the love and attention and respect that they deserved.  I became desensitized, and I didn’t truly believe in the resolutions then.

(This might get a little plot spoilery in this paragraph, be warned) And it wasn’t just that this additional secret existed, it was that it was introduced to Emmett early on in the book, and then he kept it a secret from Linc until towards the end.  And I’m not entirely sure I believed in the purpose for him keeping it a secret, and so I felt myself disliking Emmett for making that choice.  And then it was just there, causing him guilt, and making me want to know how Lincoln would react.  And then when that finally came to a head, it was so close to the end, I didn’t really get the believable resolution I wanted.  I know…I’m being vague.  But I really have to be in this case.

So back to the other issues.  Wasn’t really impressed with the resolution to the issue Linc deals with wrt Tom.  Too serious of an issue to be handled so flippantly in some ways.  I try to tell myself that everyone deals with things differently, and this very well might be how someone would deal with it, but it became a tiny subplot compared to everything else going on, and so it really didn’t need to be there if it wasn’t going to be treated with respect and sensitivity.

Wasn’t really impressed with the additional diversity added for Emmett/Emilio.  Could have been so good, and I LOVE diverse books, but making him Muslim felt like a plot device to address the fear, but we got nothing from his religion (and having grown up so devoutly, I would expect to learn more about it regardless of how he feels now).  It was a topic that was added, but not given enough time or, again, respect.

I’m hoping that Van and Melody get their own book, and that the author actually deals with their sexual challenges with more insight and respect.  They were an intriguing addition, but again not really given time or weight (but at least in this aspect I’m assuming it’s because they will be getting their own book, otherwise I don’t see the point in adding yet another topic to this overloaded story).

And that’s the basic jist of it for me.  The story was overloaded.  I feel like the author could have done a much better job if she’d pared down the trauma each character (and the secondary characters) experienced and given more weight and thoughtfulness to any of the gagillion topics she chose to address.  By adding so many, she kind of watered it down and missed some great opportunities.

So how the hell can I justify a round up to 4 stars now?  Hmmm…good question.  See?  That’s the thing.  These things that bothered me really did bother me.  But the good stuff of the romance and the character interactions cannot be undervalued.  They made for a very enjoyable read for me.  So I guess the written part of my review is where I rant about those bad things, but the star part of my review is where I convey how much the good parts weighed in the grand scheme of things for me.  Well, if nothing else, this book made me think a lot about what I like and all that…  (And I thought my last review was long…*rolls eyes*)

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The Hard Count by Ginger Scott

Blurb:
30827273Nico Medina’s world is eleven miles away from mine. During the day, it’s a place where doors are open—where homes are lived in, and neighbors love. But when the sun sets, it becomes a place where young boys are afraid, where eyes watch from idling cars that hide in the shadows and wicked smoke flows from pipes.

West End is the kind of place that people survive. It buries them—one at a time, one way or another. And when Nico was a little boy, his mom always told him to run.

I’m Reagan Prescott—coach’s daughter, sister to the prodigal son, daughter in the perfect family.
Life on top.
Lies.
My world is the ugly one. Private school politics and one of the best high school football programs in the country can break even the toughest souls. Our darkness plays out in whispers and rumors, and money and status trump all. I would know—I’ve watched it kill my family slowly, strangling us for years.

In our twisted world, a boy from West End is the only shining light.
Quarterback.
Hero.
Heart.
Good.
I hated him before I needed him.
I fell for him fast.
I loved him when it was almost too late.

When two ugly worlds collide, even the strongest fall. But my world…it hasn’t met the boy from West End.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

Oh yeah.  This is totally my kind of book.  I mean, it hits so many of my buttons!!  It has the kind of YA romance that just makes me want to happy sigh and get tingles all over (though it’s not all PG, there’s a bit of PG-13).  It has a great chunk of diversity, and it wasn’t just a character trait, but something that really affected the story.  It was a fantastic sports romance where the sports part actually really played into the storyline A LOT.  It even brought me to bawling at one point.  So let’s just say I’m one happy little reader.

Now as everyone who reads my reviews should know by now, my bread and butter with books is great characters.  If you don’t have that, then you’ll probably lose me.  And Reagan and Nico were FANTASTIC.  I don’t know if I could just vibe with Reagan or what, but I really loved her as my heroine.  She wasn’t the popular cheerleader, but she wasn’t some bottom of the totem pole girl either.  She was a bit of a loner, but that’s just what fit her personality you know?  I loved that she saw so much of what was going on with the politics in a private school, and could see how her family was being pulled apart b/c of those politics (and the strange American fanaticism with football…).  But she wasn’t some meek flower, she totally stood up for herself and got herself into the mix of things trying to help out her family.  I loved that she had this strange relationship with her twin brother, where there was a mix of love and hurt and former hero worship, and how she was adjusting to the changes even he was going through.  I mean, she really comes from a strange home life.  And I liked what Ms. Scott did with that.  I liked that she and Nico both had challenges growing up, but that they were offset by good things (in her case privileges, in his case a caring family and community despite the gangs and stuff).  Anyways, I seem to be getting off on a tangent.  What I’m trying to say is that I really enjoyed who Reagan was, I thought she was a bit unique, and I liked watching her grow and change and learn and all that good YA stuff.

I definitely adored Nico, but there’s a tiny part of me that would have loved this book to be in dual POV so I could have learned even more about Nico.  He was just so strong and principled I guess….he was such a hard worker, and so determined to do the right thing and take advantage of whatever opportunities presented themselves.  And he was so smart.  Seriously, he was just such a great character, I LOVE a book boy that has all those qualities.

And then there’s all the things that make him an ideal book boyfriend — I LOVED the way he flirted with Reagan, and the way their romance developed.  And he was so freaking sweet sometimes!!  You could really feel the chemistry between them.

And great supporting cast as well…from the parents (both Reagan’s parents who had a surprising amount of depth, and Nico’s Mama) to the best friends (Izzy was fantastic, what an interesting foil for Reagan, and Sascha made me want to hug him), to Noah (who, again, had a lot of depth and grew throughout the book), to the whole football gang, from players to trainers.

And speaking of football, it was definitely on point.  Had me on the edge of my seat at times.  And Ms. Scott mixed it with the serious topics (prejudice mostly, with a hint of nepotism) perfectly.  I’m a sucker for those kinds of stories (especially movie wise), and I thought Ms. Scott really made it her own and gave us great characters to root for.

So this review went super long.  Sorry, my brain is kind of scattered and I’m having problems getting all my thoughts sorted.  But basically if you love a classic YA romance, this book hits the mark.  If you love sports romance, this book hits the mark.  If you love those Remember the Titans type movies, this book hits the mark.  Highly recommend.

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Keeping Her Secret by Sarah Nicolas

Blurb:
31573044Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains drinking, sexual situations, and a fairy-tale romance sure to make your heart melt.

The last person Riya Johnson expected to run into at her new summer camp is Courtney Chastain—her childhood best friend and the girl who broke her heart after a secret, mind-blowing, life-altering kiss. She definitely didn’t expect to be sharing a bunk bed with her for four long weeks.

Courtney has what every girl wants—she’s beautiful, rich, and the object of every boy’s desire at Camp Pine Ridge. Too bad none of them make her feel an iota of what Riya’s kiss did all those years ago. But Courtney needs to uphold appearances at all costs—even if it means instigating an all-out prank war with Riya as her main target.

Neither girl can stop thinking about the other…but that doesn’t mean they can give up past hurts and take a chance on a future together.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

This is my first F/F read!!  I read a lot of M/M, but haven’t really sought out many F/F reads up to this point, probably b/c I love my book boyfriends and with M/M you get two.  But I read the blurb for this book and just couldn’t resist.  And I’m so glad I did, because out of the 3 books I got from Entangled Crush this month, this one ended up being my favourite by far!!

I’m not sure what all contributed to my enjoyment, but I will try to shed some light.  Part of it was that I loved the straightforward way in which it was written.  It’s not something I can really pinpoint, but it was smart but simple.  I really felt like I could understand both character’s perspectives, and since they were such different girls in some ways, that can be hard to do.  Riya was pretty easy to love…she has a beautiful soft heart, and you can’t help but admire how she’s not afraid to be who she is…  And there was just something about her personality that spoke to me…maybe it’s the clumsiness?  That she doesn’t have natural athletic ability but actually has to work hard to be as good as she is at volleyball? (not that I ever worked hard at athletics, but I can appreciate the lack of natural talent… 😉 ).  It’s funny, b/c this book was sort of a diversity double whammy, since Riya appeared to be part Indian…though it really didn’t come into play in the storyline at all, and wasn’t made clear until the end what race she was.

Courtney was a bit of a different bag as a character.  It’s strange, b/c there are so many things about her that should have made me hate her in some ways, b/c she’s kind of a weaker character that cares so much about what others think about her.  But Ms. Nicolas does an amazing job of showing how Courtney’s been shaped into the girl she is, both through being in her head in Courtney’s POV, and through some of the conversations with her twin Colt.  So while I was frustrated with her and the choices she made, I actually felt for her and how she came to be who she was, and why she struggled so hard.  It’s that tricky balance in so many YA books, b/c so many teens make some frustrating choices b/c of peer and family pressure, but how do you still make them sympathetic, even when part of you wants to smack them.  And I personally felt that the author achieved that balance in Courtney’s case.

And I really loved the way each girl had such different experiences with their sexuality…and how that became a point of contention in some ways in their secret relationship…  So even at the end when things come to a head, you can see both of them making mistakes, it wasn’t one girl being the “douche” (though I felt more for Riya than Courtney, even if I did understand Courtney’s fear).  So I felt like the book really addressed concerns that many LGBT teens might face.

Then there were all the little things, like great secondary characters.  I loved that there were so many different characters, but most of them were likeable even as they were different.  Other than Bridget, I thought all the girl campers were great.  And Colt was fantastic, if a little too good to be true sometimes.  But it was so nice to see so many people in Riya and Courtney’s corner, knowing they would need the support.

So yeah, I love it when a book hits all my buttons.  Makes me want to happy clap.  😉

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