Take the Lead by Alexis Daria

Blurb:
35832861The first book in a sizzling duology about dancers who find love from #OwnVoice’s Alexis Daria.

Gina Morales wants to win. It’s her fifth season on The Dance Off, a top-rated network TV celebrity dance competition, and she’s never even made it to the finals. When she meets her latest partner, she sees her chance. He’s handsome, rippling with muscles, and he stars on the popular Alaskan wilderness reality show Living Wild. With his sexy physique and name recognition, she thinks he’s her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up.

Stone Nielson hates Los Angeles, he hates reality TV, and he hates that fact that he had to join the cast of the The Dance Off because of family obligations. He can’t wait to get back to Alaska, but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to his bubbly Puerto Rican dance partner. Neither of them are looking for romantic entanglements, and Stone can’t risk revealing his secrets, but as they heat up the dance floor, it’s only a matter of time until he feels an overwhelming urge to take the lead.

When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance, the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy. Gina and Stone will have to decide if their priorities lie with fame, fortune, or the chance at a future together.

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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.

There were a few things that stood out and made this a must request book for me, and it was those things that I enjoyed the most in this story.

First, I’m a sucker for a book about dancing.  I’m really not a very good dancer myself (though I still try, I have, like, ZERO grace), so I ALWAYS admire dancers of all types, from ballet to ballroom and beyond.  And it boggles my mind how anyone can not understand the athleticism involved.  So I loved seeing the bits of dancing thrown into this story.  Strangely, having just read another book based on a dancing with the stars type show, I will say that while the dancing bits were good, they didn’t live up to that other books inclusions somehow…  Maybe because Stone was so large and strong, you didn’t get to see his struggle enough.  The author made it look easier than I think it is…and I just didn’t *feel* the dancing quite as much…  BUT if I didn’t have the other book to compare to, I probably would have loved it more.  And there was the practice with the Argentine Tango…that was pretty awesome.  Maybe it’s that the dancing was more glossed over in the second half, and I just wanted to bring back more of my own memories learning ballroom dance.  Huh.  This was a part I thought I loved, and I *did*…just maybe not as much as I thought.

OK, SECOND: Ms. Daria NAILED the diversity component.  I think this is what you get from #ownvoices…because the author is latina, you get a very realistic latina heroine.  I loved that aspect of Gina’s character, and seeing her fight to not be viewed as a stereotypical oversexualized latina was just so well done.  And you know what else I loved?  It wasn’t just one heroine that was hispanic!  There was actually a lot of diversity in the whole cast of characters (and not just hispanic)!  From other dancers to production staff to judges to hosts…it was just so real, you know?  I don’t understand why more authors don’t diversify the whole cast more.

And the great thing about this book is that the author doesn’t just tackle the issues surrounding Gina being latina…she also tackles how women in the entertainment industry are treated differently than men, particularly in regards to romantic relationships with other people in the industry.  AND we also get to see some of the effects of sexualizing men through Stone, and how he’s portrayed and what producers want from him (just take his shirt off).  I really loved that those things were all silently woven into the plot, but weren’t too preachy.

This review is already getting long, and I haven’t even gotten to characters, which is what I tend to focus on.  I enjoyed Gina for the most part, and while I understood her reasons for how she approached her relationship with Stone (wanting to keep it secret), I did start to lose my patience with her…  It started feeling really selfish the longer it went on, and like she didn’t even try to understand it from Stone’s perspective.  So in the end, I had a hard time believing her love for him.

Stone, on the other hand, was pretty adorable.  Don’t get me wrong, he had his own selfish moments…but he was kind of a beta boy, and you know how I love my beta boys.  He may have the appearance of an alpha, but his personality was anything but.  He was sweet, considerate, respectful…he made me swoon with how much he cared for Gina, and how, once he changed his tune, he was willing to do so much to make her dreams come true.

In the end, the reason I’m knocking it half a star (but still rounding up) is that I just felt like I was missing some magic…  There was just something missing in the writing…something I can’t put into words…that just kept me from getting sucked in and getting my emotions fully involved.

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Blood Guard by Megan Erickson

Blurb:
34444705Enter a world of immortal danger and desire—and discover an incredible fate borne of blood.

Tendra: One minute, I’m a bartender in gritty Mission City; the next, I’m whisked away by a vampire named Athan who tells me that I’m the lifeblood of his clan. It sounds unbelievable, but he’s got evidence I can’t deny. Turns out, Athan belongs to an underground society of vampires who feed only on humans with their consent. Their enemies have no such qualms, and they want me dead. The only thing standing in their way is strong, sexy Athan. And the closer we get, the more tempted I am to let Athan feed. . . .

Athan: How could I have known when I snatched this snarky, beautiful human off the streets that she would change mydestiny? As a loyal soldier, I must deliver Tendra to our future king—my brother. Empowered with the blood of ten generations of the Gregorie breed, she is fated to rule as our queen. But there’s something between us that’s so intoxicating, so carnal, I can’t help wanting Tendra for myself . . . even if it’s treason.

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

OK, this book had a LOT going for it, but honestly the thing the one word that stands out for me is SEXY.  Like holy bleeping sexy.  Athan and Tendra had loads of chemistry, and the steamy scenes were super delicious (at least in my opinion).  And dude, some parts were way more risque than I was expecting (club scene anyone?).

I really enjoyed Ms. Erickson’s version of vampires.  The thing about paranormal books, and well known creatures, is that they all take on their own qualities.  For the most part the vampires in this book were pretty standard (drink blood, can be turned, no sunlight, immortal-ish), but then there are all the little details that set them apart.  In this case there was clan stuff, a prophecy, the specifics of how you’re turned into a vampire, the whole Somnus thing (I liked that), and running with the whole feeding and lust thing (holy sexytimes).

I remember reading an excerpt on this author’s newsletter, which is what drew me to requesting the book in the first place, because Tendra came across as hella snarky.  I’d expected a bit more on that front, but I thought she was still a nice little spitfire who definitely threw Athan for a loop.  And Athan was unexpected himself!  I loved his soul/humanity, and he was actually really sweet and endearing in parts (you know, mixed with the badassery).  You could really feel how important his duty was to him, even in the face of it not feeling quite right.  He was extremely loyal, but that did lead to some blindness at times.

I really appreciated that there were many opportunities for the author to fall into tropes, and the characters even sort of acknowledged the “typical” responses.  But then the characters just wouldn’t follow that path…like Athan could have held onto his standoffishness at times or continued to be a dick.  It’s kind of hard to describe, but I just really appreciated that the author didn’t choose the easy/typical path/responses.

And can I just say that I ADORED Zeb, and even Idris eventually…makes me excited about next book.  Neither character had a large role, but they still managed to endear me to them.  I also loved the kitty, Brex…though I was really hoping to learn something more concrete about him.

I will admit that sometimes all the walking got a bit boring.  And I can’t confirm in the final copy, but in the ARC copy my beta brain would occasionally notice some continuity errors or things that could be clearer.  Like why didn’t Athan carry her and run?  I know there’s a reason, but I wouldn’t have minded knowing it.

All in all it was nice being in a paranormal world again, and I’m totes looking forward to Idris’s book (which I’m assuming is next).  Definitely recommend diving in, especially if you like your paranormals a bit racier.

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Rebel by Rebecca Yarros

Blurb:
34032529She’s Penna Carstairs.
The Renegade they call Rebel.
FMX-treme Magazine’s sexiest female athlete of the year.
There’s no rule in extreme sports she hasn’t broken,
No gender barrier she hasn’t demolished.

She’s the woman I met in a bar in Vegas.
The woman I illegally BASE jumped for.
The woman I spent one insane, incredible night with.
But now I’m screwed.
Or rather…not screwed.

Because the woman I can’t get out of my head is the one woman I can never touch again.
I’m Dr. Cruz Delgado—the youngest professor on this campus,
And Penelope Carstairs just walked into my class.

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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.  Though in all fairness I didn’t get to this one before release, so I actually read my preordered copy instead.

Welp, this was definitely my favourite of the series!!  It’s like they just kept getting better and better!  I LOVE it when that happens.  I’m not the type of reader who’s particularly drawn to forbidden romances (such as student/teacher in this case), but I don’t shy away from them either.  Basically if enough else draws me in, then I’m totally in.  And that was most definitely the case in this story.

This one started off beautifully.  I was already mega intrigued by Penna, not only as this badass extreme athlete who was every bit as enthralling as the boys she calls friends, but also as the damaged woman we got to see glimpses of in Nova.  And Ms. Yarros totally fulfilled all my wishes in her story.  We really got a glimpse of how her sister’s actions had broken her, and got to delve into the mental aspect of recovering from an accident.  I thought Penelope was exactly as strong inside as she appears on the outside.  She has an inner core of strength that just shined through, even as she struggled with figuring out who she was.  She was sassy, she stood toe to toe with everyone, and she was wicked smart.  She was a heroine it was so easy to fall in love with.

And I ADORED that Cruz didn’t want to squash her fire/strength/attitude, but recognized what a privilege it was just to keep up with her.  And at the same time, we still got to see a bit more of what it’s like to love someone who is addicted to adrenaline and always pushing the envelope.  It was beautiful.  He was awesome.  I LOVED that he matched her in strength and stubbornness, and that he really pushed her when she needed to be pushed, and was there for her with no strings attached at other times.  He was also really easy to fall in love with.  Dedicated, sassy in his own right, and also wickedly smart.  So hot.  Honestly, I know lots of people love the whole muscles and shiznit, but every time Penna described his muscular arms, I just wanted her to talk about his dimples, his accent, and hear more of the things that came out of his mouth and the thoughts in his head…but I am a bit weird that way.

And if you couldn’t tell from all that, they were perfect complements to each other.  They pushed and pulled and fought but inevitably brought out the best in each other.  And it was so awesome to watch.  And while I probably should have been more bothered by the student/teacher relationship aspect, apparently this reader was fully able to buy into the inevitability of it, and the measures they took for Cruz not to be biased, and all that jazz.  *shrugs*  Honestly, there was so much else going on, it really didn’t remain in the forefront except when they brought it up.  It was more them keeping it a secret at times.

As with all the other Renegade books in this series, I desperately wanted to visit all the places they were seeing, and go on my own world cruise.  I loved learning little tidbits here and there about the places they were seeing.  And I also fell in love with the sports aspect…I think one of the things that I loved about this series is that it is true sports romance, in that we actually get to delve into the sports, not just have them be some background aspect.

And I was so on the edge of my seat throughout much of this book!  GAH!  So much action and suspense!

Honestly, I think my only real problem with this book is that I noticed quite a few instances of repetition.  Like I had so many moments of deja vu, where I felt like Penna had described something in the EXACT same way a few chapters earlier.  Or Cruz and Lindsay would have the EXACT same conversations in two different places.  And that led to some little bits where I’d be wondering why the result of the previous conversation didn’t follow through in the future.  Or why Penna got away with not talking to Rachel OVER AND OVER even though she constantly said they’d talk later, or that night, etc.  These aren’t huge things, just a bit of a bummer because it took me out of the story.

All in all, this was a SMASHING finale to the series.  The grand gesture at the end was everything I was hoping it would be and more, and the epilogue was perfect!  You have no idea how happy I was with it; not just its contents, but the fact that it existed…I needed that final wrap up/glimpse into the future.  Now I’m off to dream about dimples…does it for me every time.

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Kissing Max Holden by Katy Upperman

Blurb:
33797128Equal parts swoonworthy romance and deeply affecting family drama, this debut novel about the boy next door turned super hot bad boy will have readers hooked from the very first kiss.

After his father’s stroke, Max Holden isn’t himself. As his long-time friend, Jillian Eldridge only wants to help, but she doesn’t know how. When Max climbs through her window one night, Jill knows she shouldn’t let him kiss her. But she can’t resist, and when they’re caught in the act by her dad, Jill swears it’ll never happen again. Because kissing Max Holden is a terrible idea.

With a new baby sibling on the way, her parents fighting all the time, and her dream of culinary school suddenly up in the air, Jill starts spending more and more time with Max. And even though her father disapproves and Max still has a girlfriend, not kissing Max is easier said than done. Will Jill follow her heart, and allow their friendship to blossom into something more, or will she listen to her head and stop kissing Max Holden once and for all?

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

This book started out as a solid 4 star, and just kept slowly motoring downhill from there.  I honestly was sucked in by the storyline, and I thought Jill was an interesting heroine.  And I was pulled in by the initial chemistry and connection between Jill and Max.  And there were glimmers of goodness, don’t get me wrong.  I did enjoy some aspects, but on the whole I ended the book on a heavy sigh.  This review is probably going to focus on the negative aspects way too much, but I really did enjoy the few cute moments, hence why it’s not lower than 3 stars.

In the end, I didn’t really enjoy either Jill or Max.  They both had good qualities, but they were HEAVILY overshadowed by their bad qualities.  Or rather, I don’t feel like they redeemed themselves.  Jill was definitely better than Max.  I felt like I would start to like her, and then she would disappoint me and annoy me…then I would be impressed by some decision or choice she would make, then she would disappoint me again.  I can chalk up a lot of her annoyance as being a fairly stereotypical teenager, so I guess I gave her more of a pass than Max in the end.  But I still felt like I was shortchanged on her growth.  As an example, I didn’t necessarily buy her change of heart about the money.  I certainly wouldn’t have forgiven so easily, so it didn’t feel authentic.

Max’s journey was more of a deep valley of not good stuff, with a little blip of goodness occasionally.  I get that he was screwed up and acting out badly, and that’s fine.  I mean, it doesn’t leave me too impressed with him, but I get that was his storyline.  But other than occasionally being sweet to Jill, when he dived back down, he REALLY dived back down.  Where was his redemption?  Maybe it’s because we don’t get to see inside his head, so while he says he’s trying to get better, you sort of see it, but as a reader I just didn’t buy it.  I didn’t want to give him a pass.  And he was so hypocritical!  After all the crap he did, he totally jumped down Jill’s throat without giving her much time at all to grow as well!  Not impressed.  Gee, could you tell?

Inherently my problem with this story lies in the presence of a lot of one of my major button issues: cheating.  I’m sorry folks, it’s just not for me.  Maybe if it was just that first kiss.  Maybe if he hadn’t stayed with his girlfriend time and time again, while simultaneously trying to explore a relationship with Jill as well.  I could even forgive a little bit of Jill’s bad judgement, and her having to live with her decisions.  But we’re given hints that there is more to Becky’s story, and then what we’re given just didn’t seem like enough, and as with most YA’s, we’re made to dislike her because she’s a bitch and a mean girl.  It was a shame, it would have been more interesting if there was a hint of depth there.  It definitely doesn’t show Max in a good light then.  And it was like I was told about Jill’s emotional journey over how she feels about participating in cheating, but I didn’t feel it.  AND THEN there’s her Dad.  It was too much.  Too many truly reprehensible characters with no redemption.

There were bright spots.  I LOVED the development of Jill’s relationship with Meredith (and Ally to a degree).  That truly surprised me in a good way.  I enjoyed Jill’s passion for baking, and how she tried to figure out her future.  And I loved the little bits we saw of Marcy and Bill.

Honestly, I could probably pick apart a few more tiny things (like I wish there was more from the friend side of things, Kyle or Leah), but it’s just not that important.  This was a book with a lot of potential that just fell short in the end, and was tainted for me personally by the cheating topic.  I recognize it’s hinted at in the blurb, but if I’d known the degree, I would have steered clear.  Ah well.

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One True Pairing by Cathy Yardley

Blurb:
30174469They couldn’t be more opposite, the Hollywood actor and the hometown girl, but all they need is a little convention magic to become the perfect ship in Cathy Yardley’s One True Pairing.

Jake Reese needs a decoy girlfriend. Fast. The lead actor of the popular TV show, Mystics, is tired of losing his shirt to overeager fans. Literally. Which is why a chance meeting with gothabilly bookworm-slash-barista Hailey Frost seems almost too perfect to be true. Hailey is not impressed with his TV fame and is desperate to save her family’s bookstore. It’s a match made in Hollywood, but as the two pretend to date, fan fiction becomes reality. Can this OTP become canon?

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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.

Yup, that was a whole lot of perfect for Lenore.  I was sucked right in, and entertained from start to finish.  I loved the humour, I loved the characters, I loved the romance, I loved the geek stuff, I loved the celebrity aspect…  Seriously, it was just my kind of book, you know?

Hailey was all sorts of unique as a heroine.  Not just because she embraced her rockabilly style, but because she was hiding a childhood growing up with grifters, and damage from time spent in the foster system.  I liked that she was both tough and independent, but she was also using her sisters as a crutch to avoid being vulnerable.  It was surprisingly easy to love her.

Jake was just uber adorable.  I just wanted to hug him.  He was so sincere, and kind, and caring, and passionate about what he loved.  I will admit that I saw the Susie thing from like a mile away, and so just kept waiting for him to figure things out.  I actually anticipated that resolving with Hailey as a catalyst, but I was satisfied with the way it went anyways.

And I liked the two of them together…you could really feel their draw to each other, and the chemistry and sexual attraction.  Seriously, it was hot.  But, even though it was hella fast, I still really enjoyed the development of their relationship due to spending so much time together in a short span of time.  And I found it amusing how tongue in cheek Ms. Yardley was having Hailey despise insta-love in stories and then giving Hailey a fast love story herself.  I’m sure it will bother some people, but I loved it.  I’m not an insta-love hater though (not a lover, just not a hater).

And the secondary cast was pretty great too, from Hailey’s sisters to Jake’s co-stars.  It’s definitely setting up future stories, you can totally tell.

Honestly, other than totally guessing the Jake side story, the only other thing I was meh on was the stalker storyline.  It felt a little thrown in last minute, and like just a plot device.  But I loved so much else in the story, I don’t even care.

Any book that can make me tempted to fight through sleep and keep reading, even though it’s 3 am, is my kind of book.  I did manage to resist, but I was epically tired.  Can’t wait for more in this series.  Gotta go back and read Level Up now, though those characters are only loosely mentioned in this one…it stands alone pretty well.  I concur with the title: Jake and Hailey are my OTP!

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Misconduct by Samantha Kane

Blurb:
33100746The Birmingham Rebels play both sides of the field, proving that the hottest action isn’t always in the arena.

Rookie running back Tom Kelly loves the perks of football stardom. Men, women—there’s no shortage of companionship for a pro athlete who’s hot, young, and willing, and Tom is definitely willing. But deep down he wants a committed three-way relationship, especially if the female in the middle is Carmina de la Cruz. The undeniably sexy Army veteran may not say much, but her body speaks loud and clear.

After a traumatic tour in Afghanistan, Carmina is struggling to regain her speech and rebuild her life. More than anything, she wants to feel like a woman again. Tom may be a wholesome All-American, but he knows just how she needs to be touched—and he’s not the only Rebel who arouses her interest. With his scorching intensity, Tom’s best friend leaves her wondering if two players might be better than one.

Danny Smith is no stranger to his team’s kinky reputation. He gave in to temptation once, but he’s not going down that road again. Sure, Carmina’s curves promise pleasure, but her eyes guarantee it comes with baggage—and Danny has enough of his own. Still, giving up control can feel so good. And when it comes to everything Danny craves, Carmina and Tom make the perfect team.

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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.

*heavy sigh*  So, I enjoyed this book.  I enjoyed it more than the previous book in the series (and I’ve only read books 3 and 4, not the first 2).  I came out at the end of it entertained, I thought the character development was pretty good, and I thought the steamy scenes were deliciously…well…steamy.  I even initially pegged this one as a 4 star for me.  And I’m going to round up, b/c I’m trying to keep true to *my* personal feelings at the end of it.

I thought all the characters had something to offer, and I particularly liked the goofiness and just, well, like-ability of Tom.  Like seriously, I really loved him, and his humour, and he was just so adorable.  And I loved the way he pushed both Danny and Carmina, recognizing what he wanted was a relationship with both of them (all three of them together), and after recognizing interest from both of them, I enjoyed how he pushed them out of their comfort zones to get them to that place together.

I thought Carmina’s storyline was interesting, particularly since I didn’t see her past with Richie coming.  I had been looking forward to learning more about her brain injury, b/c she fascinated me in the previous book, and I was a bit bummed that besides putting herself down about it, we didn’t really get as much out of that as I’d wanted.  But I did like seeing her grow more confident, and I appreciated a glimpse into some of the challenges that she faces (particularly in trying to reenter the workforce, and dealing with well-meaning friends/family).

I thought Danny was probably the one I learned the least about, and probably had a few reservations about.  He came across kind of homophobic (even though he ended up being bisexual), and while I understood his hangups about his sexual preferences in light of his past with Marian, I still had a hard time with it…I always have a hard time reading about characters that feel ashamed of what they like, even though I think it’s a valid storyline b/c I’m sure many people go through this.  I’m not sure how much I liked the scene between Tom and Danny in the hotel room, particularly consent-wise, but I let it pass…and I’m not sure what that says about me.

And here’s where the sigh comes in.  I decided to glance at other reviews of the book.  And I realized that, as a white woman, I didn’t see a lot of things surrounding the race of Danny and Carmina that others might.  I subscribe to the philosophy that everyone’s a little bit racist, and I was bummed that I had yet again failed to see the far reaching consequences of some of the elements in the story.  Also, while I am trying to be more conscious of slut-shaming, consent, and all the other little sexual tidbits that crop up in books, I tend to forget about them in eroticas sometimes…is it suspension of disbelief?  I don’t know.  So I guess what I’m trying to say is that while reading other critical reviews, I could see some of the points that they were making, but they hadn’t bothered me while reading, and so I’m going to maintain my rating, b/c it’s how I felt and I’m reviewing my personal experience.  But if you are sensitive to these issues, then you might want to read some other reviews to help you make a better decision.  And hopefully you won’t judge me too much.

Anyways, I do want to say that I did enjoy how the football game against the Rough Riders went at the end there.  I was proud of all the boys for growing and learning and eventually helping each other to do the right thing in such a hard situation.

So yeah.  There you go.  I enjoyed the book.  *shrugs*  I guess I just don’t think as hard as other readers, especially when it comes to eroticas.  And here I was excited that we got so much diversity in this story.  Whatcha gonna do?  Learn and grow I suppose.

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Eye Candy by Jessica Lemmon

Blurb:
34317683Don’t trust lust at first sight. One woman chooses reality over fantasy in this friends-to-lovers romance, a steamy standalone by “an author to keep your eye on” (Katee Robert).

Jacqueline: As an adult woman–and the vice president of a marketing firm–I shouldn’t be waiting by my office window to ogle the mystery man who jogs by every morning at 11:45. Sure, he’s a gorgeous, perfect specimen of the human race, but I can’t bring myself to hit on a total stranger. However, my best friend-slash-colleague Vince Carson thinks I should do more than talk to the guy. In fact, he’s borderline obsessive about “getting me laid.” (His words.) But the more time we spend together, the more it’s clear: The one I’m falling for is Vince.

Vince: Jackie Butler’s got it bad for some pompous, over-pumped A-hole who struts his stuff past her window. That doesn’t bother me. I know she deserves nice things. What does bother me is that she friend-zoned me big-time last year, so I can’t ask her out myself. But what if I set her up with Mr. Steroids? Then, when he breaks her heart, I can swoop in and save her like the nice guy I am. Everything’s going according to plan . . . until we share a ridiculously epic kiss. And suddenly anything is possible.

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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.

This one started off AWESOMELY!  The humour and wit was just spot on, both characters were just my kind of hilarious and snarky and sassy, and I just fell in love!  Seriously, I was smiling to myself and giggling at some of their inner thoughts right from the start.  Jackie was an intriguing mix of sassy and reserved…it was a strange mix that didn’t always work for me, but I really loved her drive and how her meticulousness could be seen in who she was both at work and at home.  And Vince was a strange book boy too, he was such a guy guy sometimes, but I loved that he wasn’t the typical ultra-successful businessman.  His work wasn’t his life, but he enjoyed it all the same.  And I really appreciated seeing him admire Jackie at work, and acknowledge that she was on another level from him.

As the book progressed I felt like we got to see more of what made each of them up as individuals, and normally I love that extra depth…but these two were a bit too human at times, and I became somewhat less enamoured with them.  I didn’t fall out of love per say, I was just disappointed in some of their childish moments, and the usual introduction of the lack of communication trope.  And honestly, there were a few moments where I felt like both characters got a bit hypocritical (Jackie with JT, and Vince with Jackie at the end), and so it ended on a lower note than it started.  BUT!!  While this all bummed me out, the rest of what I fell in love with was still present…  It made for a bit of a quandary in my feelings for them both, because I still loved them, I just didn’t always like them.  Like real people I guess.

I will say that their chemistry was freaking SMOKING.  Like honestly, I had all of the tummy butterflies, and the wave the hands on my face-ness.  Like that scene on the stairs is responsible for a happy hubby…tmi?

I kind of wish we’d seen more friend interactions for Jackie, with either Bethany or Kayla…didn’t really get to know much there.  BUT I LOVED what we got to see of Davis, and I’m very intrigued about his story.  He’s an odd one.  But I appreciated his friendship with Vince, it felt very real.

So yeah.  Basically this was mostly a 4 star read, it just lost some verve in the latter half of the book, and hence the bump down a half a star.  I have a feeling Ms. Lemmon is an author I would enjoy reading more of.

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Cross Check by Kelly Jamieson

Blurb:
32934382A party girl and a clean-cut college hockey player discover that they’re not so different in this sexy, soulful Bayard Hockey novel from the bestselling author of Shut Out and the Heller Brothers series.

Ella Verran has three goals this semester: get off academic probation, repair her relationship with her friend Skylar, and take some responsibility for her life. All of which are hard enough without hot, snobby hockey player Ben Buckingham around to distract her. Ella can’t stand Ben, and she knows the feeling is mutual. But he’s best friends with Skylar’s boyfriend, so he’s always around—taunting and tempting Ella in ways she never thought possible.

As the star forward of the Bayard College hockey team, Ben has goals too, like playing well enough to land a spot on an NHL roster. Ben is perfectly poised on the ice, so why can’t he keep his cool around Ella? Her wild behavior rubs him in all the wrong ways—and a few of the right ones. But as they skate around each other, Ben learns that there’s more to Ella than her bad reputation. And when the line between love and hate starts to blur, he can’t resist crossing over and sweeping her off her feet.

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

I love it when an author surprises me with a character!  We didn’t really get that great of an impression of Ella in the first book, but I really enjoyed her in this one.  I thought she really redeemed herself and getting a look inside her head made me understand her more.  Plus we just got to see more of what she’s about, you know?  I really appreciated her storyline of going off the rails after her friend’s suicide, and then having to rein it in and settle down after going on academic probation.  I enjoyed how Ms. Jamieson took a hard look at slut-shaming, and while Ella regretted some choices she made in partying/sleeping around, it wasn’t all “down with the promiscuous girls” as you often see in some books.  Ella really struggled with the labels she was given, and I thought we got an honest and refreshing look at the double standards between men and women, and how it’s not the actions that she regretted so much as the reasons she was doing it, and how it made her feel.

I also really loved that the author took a good hard look at mental health, and that we got to see Ella’s sessions with her therapist.  I will admit that while I LOVED that this was all looked at, occasionally it felt a little heavy-handed.  Which is funny, b/c this issue is really important to me.  Or maybe not heavy-handed so much as not as natural to the story…I don’t know, I don’t know how to explain it.

Ella was spunky, but also really vulnerable and insecure.  I really did feel for her, even if her penchant for pushing people away made me want to throttle her.  It made her growth more satisfying though.

And then we get Ben!!  We also got to see the slut-shaming from his perspective, and I loved that it really opened his eyes as well.  I honestly thought we were going to get more from his background and past, but that wasn’t as prominent as I’d expected.  But I loved how we got an even deeper look at what it might be like for a hockey athlete looking to get drafted.  I loved how vulnerable and scared and overwhelmed he was, and I guess that’s sort of where we see the effects of his past.  He felt so alone at times, and my heart broke for him.  But I also really admired his dedication and determination, and I loved how Ella really showed him parts of himself to be proud of.

Their romance was cuter than I expected.  I guess because I never really understood why they were enemies, since it was based on assumptions about the other person.  But Ben was so adorable in his pursuit of Ella.  He kind of made me swoon at times.  Maybe because he was kind of vulnerable, but he still put himself out there.  And I really loved their chemistry…holy heck could you feel it right from that dance scene!

I loved having more fun scenes with their group of friends!  They often made me laugh out loud at their strange conversations and antics.

I will admit that occasionally certain transitions didn’t feel smooth to me…but that could be in my head too.  (Like those strange conversations with their friends didn’t always flow as naturally for me)

So yeah, I was surprised that I enjoyed this one even more than the previous book!  And again, if you love hockey, or love sports romances that actually showcase the sport, I think Ms. Jamieson is one of the best I’ve ever read for that!  And now she’s made me want to check out her Aces series!!

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Trust by Kylie Scott

Blurb:
35157260Being young is all about the experiences: the first time you skip school, the first time you fall in love…the first time someone holds a gun to your head.

After being held hostage during a robbery at the local convenience store, seventeen-year-old Edie finds her attitude about life shattered. Unwilling to put up with the snobbery and bullying at her private school, she enrolls at the local public high school, crossing paths with John. The boy who risked his life to save hers.

While Edie’s beginning to run wild, however, John’s just starting to settle down. After years of partying and dealing drugs with his older brother, he’s going straight—getting to class on time, and thinking about the future.

An unlikely bond grows between the two as John keeps Edie out of trouble and helps her broaden her horizons. But when he helps her out with another first—losing her virginity—their friendship gets complicated.

Meanwhile, Edie and John are pulled back into the dangerous world they narrowly escaped. They were lucky to survive the first time, but this time they have more to lose—each other.

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

Well shit.  That was just awesome.  I’m so sorry people, but this is going to be a fangirl review.  And not because I’m a Kylie Scott fangirl, b/c to be honest?  This is actually my first read of hers, even though I have been collecting some of her other books since they sound like my bag.  It’s a fangirl review b/c I just loved this book so much.  I was sucked in and just freaking enthralled.  It’s funny, b/c I really do rate just on overall pulled-from-the-gut feeling.  So was this book perfect?  Nah.  But by the time I finished, I had 5 star glasses on my face…  I don’t think that even makes sense.

I’ve been having a hard time staying focused on words lately, and I will admit that right at the very beginning I was having a hard time focusing as well.  But Edie’s voice just pulled me in, and the intensity of what she was going through in the robbery had me paying more attention to the book and forgetting to adjust my bike resistance (bad for my physical health, but good for my soul).  I just felt all of her emotions with her, even if I didn’t always understand them all.

And the book is about so much more than the robbery; it’s more about watching Edie struggle to deal with the aftermath and changes those events wrought in her personality and attitude.  All of which is conveyed in the blurb, but I guess I just never imagined what that would entail.  It’s not just about dealing with PTSD type symptoms (though those are there).  It’s that she honestly had a hard time finding importance in so much of life.  I will admit that I didn’t find her new self to be that wild.  Wild for her maybe, but not actually *that* reckless…or maybe it’s that her new friends and John helped to temper that wildness.

Edie was just everything for me.  You know how as a reader you just gravitate towards certain types of heroines?  Edie embodied so much of what I gravitate towards.  I could see some of myself in her.  She’s a bigger girl, and she was this perfect mix of content with her size most of the time (and how the choices she’s made in her life led to that, and not wanting to change those) and yet still damaged by her experiences being bigger (low self esteem, believing she wasn’t good enough, basically allowing the bullies to affect her).  I can totally vibe with that.  It’s a bit schizophrenic in some ways, b/c you’re both confident and insecure at the same time.  I thought those elements of her personality were portrayed beautifully, and that the development of her character as she navigated her relationship with John moved at a realistic pace.  And it wasn’t really the focus of the book AT ALL, but it was an element that just existed and influenced things.  I liked that.

And she was so beautifully snarky and sassy!!  GAH!  Love that so much.  I can’t tell you how many interactions I highlighted b/c they just delighted me to no end.  And part of that is that she ended up surrounding herself with some fabulous people.  I LOVE when a book has a great secondary cast (and a diverse one at that).  From her new BFF Hang, to Carrie and Sophia, to Anders…I just wanted them all to be real.  I was so glad that Edie had them in her life, even if it took her awhile to trust them and let them in.

I enjoyed the fact that there could have been incidences of horrible slut-shaming, but that the girls tried to cut it off at the pass.  I actually liked that the opportunities were presented, b/c I think it’s really hard as a society to change and get past slut-shaming, so the girls weren’t perfect, but they tried to adjust their attitudes.  It made them more real.

And then we get to John.  Oh what I wouldn’t give to be in his head…PLEASE LET THERE BE A BONUS SCENE FROM HIS POV, please please please!!  He was swoony in such a weird way.  He definitely wasn’t perfect, there were times when I thought he was a bit harsh on Edie, even if his heart was in the right place.  But my heart just broke for all that he had to struggle with.  I can’t imagine how hard it would be to overcome your own reputation and keep striving forward when everyone already judged you and painted you with one brush.  And even though it was only from Edie’s POV, you could really see how her friendship and love changed him…how unused to it he was, but how he craved it in some ways.

And their romance was just butterfly inducing.  Epic slow burn, but it really allowed you to become invested in their friendship as it developed and grew.  And there were lots of tummy tingles when things started to heat up.  *sigh*  *swoon*

So yeah.  Did I convince you?  You should totally read it before you get attacked by a rabid Pekingese.  😛  Insider book joke for the win.

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The Perfectly Imperfect Match by Kendra C. Highley

Blurb:
35496084Pitcher Dylan Dennings has his future all mapped out: make the minors straight out of high school, work his way up the farm system, and get called up to the majors by the time he’s twenty-three. The Plan has been his sole focus for years, and if making his dreams come true means instituting a strict ” no girls” policy, so be it.

Lucy Foster, needlepoint ninja, big sister to an aspiring pitcher, and chicken advocate, likes a little mayhem. So what if she gets lost taking her brother to baseball camp…at her own high school? The pitching coach, some hotshot high school player, obviously thinks she’s a hot mess. Too bad he’s cute, because he’s so not her type.

Problem is, they keep running into each other, and every interaction sparks hotter than the last. But with Dylan’s future on the line, he has to decide whether some rules are made to be broken…

Disclaimer: This book contains a crazy night of moonlit skinny-dipping, a combustible crush, and kisses swoony enough to unwind even the most Type A athlete.

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

Before I get into the meat, as an aside: Covers don’t make or break a book for me, but can I just say that this cover is absolutely perfect for this book?  I love it when a scene from the book is represented, it always makes me auto-smile and squeal when I get to it!!

Ahem.  Anyways.  I am falling in love with Ms. Highley.  She writes just my kind of cute YA books.  I’ve said it in previous reviews of the other books in this series, I’m NOT a baseball fan.  But Ms. Highley makes me want to be a baseball fan (until I watch it on TV and remember that I don’t have the attention span).  And she did it again in this book.  It’s not that there’s an overwhelming amount of baseball in the book, but it’s prominent enough that it makes me feel like I understand the passion Dylan has.  I actually prefer when my sports romance books ACTUALLY have some of the sport in it (and not just have it be a small aspect of the character).

Dylan was such an intriguing hero!!  I can’t help but wonder how he came to be so rigid and structured and goal-focused.  But while sometimes a lack of “past incident explanation” can kill a book for me, the way it was done in this book I really felt like I could see how someone could just have that be an aspect of their personality.  Like being shy, or extroverted, or a daydreamer…sometimes you’re just born a certain way.  And I kind of loved how he’d allowed this one aspect of his personality to take over his WHOLE LIFE, and that was the cause of his stress.  It was so gratifying to see Lucy open him up, make him relax, show him there’s more to life.  I also loved the conflict with his parents.  Again, Ms. Highley writes great families too — not evil ones, or uninvolved, but ones that have their own set of problems even though you can feel the love.  I loved how that all resolved too, how blinded Dylan had become in his focus.

And he was SO CUTE!!  I love the heroes in these books.  They have a healthy set of hormones, but none of them are dogs (though far from perfect either).  They are all very 3 dimensional, and I love how shy and awkward Dylan could be in relationships!  SWOON!! (a unicorn just got his wings!)

And I LOVED how different Lucy was from the other heroines in this series!  She was kind of a rebel rouser, and just marched to the beat of her own drum, but with lots of confidence.  I loved how seriously she followed her passion, and how some might see her as flighty, but if you paid attention she was really focused as well.  She just knew better how to have some fun.  And I loved her family dynamics as well, and how the pressures of stepping up and being responsible in her family were really wearing on her.  Her relationship with both her Mom and her brother felt very real, full of love but also struggles.  And I loved the military Dad aspect as well.  How it didn’t overtake the story, but was an underlying heartache.

And these two together were YA gold.  So many tummy butterflies, they really had great chemistry.  And I really could see how they sort of brought the best of each other.

So yeah, another YA success!!  And a PERFECT read for the summer, I just got all those summertime vibes!!

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