It Had to Be You by Lizzy Charles

Blurb:
34995954James Parson has a problem. His military dad is going to yank him out of his expensive boarding school if James doesn’t prove he’s no longer hooking up, pulling pranks, and charming his way out of consequences. What better way to show he’s now responsible than becoming the committed boyfriend of a U.S. diplomat’s daughter?

Level-headed, book-smart Edelweiss may have traveled the world thanks to her dad’s job, but when it comes to friends and boys, she knows exactly nothing. Newly enrolled in boarding school, Edel is now on a mission to learn it all. James says he’ll help her experience the ultimate high school life—if she’ll be his fake girlfriend. And fake is perfect, because he’s exactly the kind of player she’d never date.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains red-hot romance, all the feels, and a soul-mate bad boy.

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

I will wholeheartedly admit that there were a few things in this book that on another book would probably have bothered me more, but I just couldn’t help but devour this book and end it with a big smile on my face.  And I think that’s because there were just that many things to love, and that I got enough pleasant surprises that it made me gloss over the things that usually annoy me.

So let’s get the lamesauce stuff out of the way.  The niggles:
a) Lack of communication.  Yeah, there was some of that, but it didn’t bother me quite as much for some reason, maybe because I was getting other stuff from the romance, and it didn’t last like the whole book?  But it did bother me a little…it’s frustrating when assumptions are made on both sides and that’s what prevents the couple from getting together.
b) Over the top evil/witchy with a b girl.  Emma was seriously over the top.  I’m not a fan of that.  I didn’t even see any depth in her to explain why she was that way, she was just a straight up mean girl.  I guess those girls exist in real life, but I’m kind of tired of that.
c) The situation with Emma became a bit implausible, and I’m not sure I enjoyed how that all played out and was handled.
d) A few little things were dropped or not followed up with how I expected.  Like we’d suddenly be a week later, and I kind of wanted to know how things developed in between time (like after the hair, or even right after they agree to fake date).
e) Some of the twists felt a bit convenient, especially since we’d find them out at convenient times as the story went on (Julie, some of the Ainsley stuff including the Foster Mom).

OK!  That’s done!  I know that seems like a lot, but please remember they were little niggles that only slightly detracted from the awesome.  So what was the awesome?  Great characters that surprised me at different turns!  I enjoyed the fact that James wasn’t a horrible bad boy, but more of a guy who made some poor choices, or got pulled into the “need to impress” that many teenagers feel in high school.  He was seriously so much deeper than I had been anticipating.  I LOVED that we got to see how his family life affected him (having a military father, no mother), how his race affected him, how being biracial with a white father affected him.  I appreciated those little touches and that they weren’t glossed over.  I loved that we got to see real emotion in him, particularly wrt his father.  I loved that he made some monumental mistakes, which I know sounds weird, but I loved that he owned up to them and tried to make amends.  I loved that he really was genuinely trying to change.  I LOVED that he was a literature nerd, I would have enjoyed even more from that.  Basically he really impressed me with how much we got from him in just a short novel.

Then there’s Edel.  Not to be left out, Edel was pretty well rounded as well!  I enjoyed her unique situation, and how her life growing up shaped her, and how she desired normal teenager experiences.  I loved that she was pretty naive, it really fit with what I expected from her.  But she was also brave and strong at times too, and I thought she grew as the book went on.  She had typical teenage girl feelings, and they still existed right to the end.  I loved that we got to see bits of her relationship with her parents.  And she also made mistakes, one big one in particular.  I did enjoy how she stepped up and did the right thing eventually, and didn’t shy away from it.

And the two of them together were super adorable.  I LOVED the tummy tingles I got just from the hand holding.  And I loved the way they stuck up for one another, particularly how Edel championed James.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters, though I wouldn’t have minded a bit more.  But I wonder if we didn’t get more because this is going to be a series and we’ll eventually get their own stories?  I sincerely hope so.

So yeah.  May have had a few pitfalls, but the good just made me so happy that it was a success!!

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Tanner by Sarah Mayberry

Blurb:
34682642He’s used to risking it all in the ring, but nothing prepared him for love…

After flying half-way around the world to surprise her boyfriend, Evie Forrester finds herself heartbroken and stranded in a strange city. What could be a total disaster becomes something else when a tall, dark bull rider turns out to be a white knight in disguise. Evie isn’t sure she needs saving, but Tanner Harding is a difficult man to deny. He’s even harder to resist…

Tanner Harding can tame a monster bull with ease, but he never expected to be floored by someone like Evie. Sparks fly between them until injury threatens to end Tanner’s career –and suddenly he’s the one in need of a rescue.

Evie can’t turn her back on her wounded hero and, as Tanner struggles with his recovery, she’s not sure she can guard her heart against him either. Tanner knows Evie has slipped under his skin, but she lives in Australia and his future is under a cloud. Can two people with too many reasons to walk away make the bold decision to stay?

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

I have made it no secret that I am a huge Sarah Mayberry fan.  Back when I was reading Harlequins like they were going out of style, I found her to be a refreshing voice full of humour and sass, and always unique characters and situations.  And I’ve read a few of her books outside of the Harlequins (she’s had a few with Tule publishing), and she always just feeds my happy romance reader heart.

I was worried that I wasn’t going to fall in love with Evie at the beginning of the book.  She just struck me as really naive, and I couldn’t help but groan at the decision she had made and how she couldn’t see how it was going to end up, you know?  But somewhere along the way, Ms. Mayberry made me love her anyways.  I can’t say I completely understand why she decided on the surprise trip, but I can accept it I guess, you know?  I was OK with what we got from the fallout of that decision (how she dealt with it), and surprisingly didn’t end up hating Troy (the boyfriend).  I kind of feel like that’s a miracle.  And the way that all went down helped to make me believe in her developing relationship with Tanner…I think if it had been any different, it would have rubbed me the wrong way you know?  That was an intriguing balancing act by Ms. Mayberry.

And Evie was just so sassy, I loved her dry sense of humour.  I LOVED the way she handled Tanner after the turning point, she was just perfect.  And you really could see her kindness and stubbornness.  And I loved that we got to see her depth, and I really believed in her love of animals and such.

I’m not always a huge fan of taciturn heroes, but Tanner was so much more than that.  Sure, he could be gruff and grumpy, but he could also be sassy and teasing and he made me swoon with how he stepped in right away with Evie.  He had his lower moments, of course, but I was satisfied with how that all played out.  I kind of wish we could have seen him deal with the plot twist…we got some of it at the beginning, but then it faded a bit.  I just wanted his feelings revisited a bit, it was overshadowed by the romance.

But damn people, the romance was smoking.  I really did feel the chemistry and the steamy scenes were very hot.

The other thing I really appreciated about this story is how well she can drop you into an environment and really make you feel it and understand it.  I’ve never had any interest in bull riding, but I felt like we got a realistic glimpse of what the sport is like, with both the challenges and the highs.  I really appreciate that, because then it doesn’t feel like a gimmick, but something that is a really big part of the heroes life.

All in all it fulfilled my romantic heart, as Ms. Mayberry’s stories always do.  And the epilogue gave me just enough to have me grinning from ear to ear.

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Confessions of a Former Puck Bunny by Cindi Madsen

Blurb:
34733602Confession #1:
I used to be a puck bunny, but after a hockey player broke my heart, I gave up all things hockey. Now I’m just focused on finding a way to pass my math class so I can graduate college.


Confession #2: Ryder “Ox” Maddox’s deep, sexy voice sends fuzzy tingles through my entire body, and I’m powerless to stop it. Which is a big problem since the hot, surprisingly funny hockey player is my new math tutor.

Confession #3: I can’t stop thinking about how ripped Ryder is from all his hockey training, and how fun it’d be to cross lines with him.

Confession #4: I kissed a hockey player and I liked it.

Confession #5: If I’m not careful, I might relapse and fall for Ryder, and then I’ll be totally pucked.

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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.

OK, so I will admit that because of shifting priorities in reading, I have not yet had a chance to read books 2 and 3 of this series, but other than getting spoiled that those couples have a HEA (which duh), I don’t think it spoiled my reading experience in the slightest.  All it did is make me want to go back and read those books NOW NOW NOW, so let’s hope that I can fit them in before the year is out (especially Dane, he made me laugh).  And quite honestly the “family” of players and girlfriends added so much to this story, I LOVED having them there.

Now that that’s out of the way, OMG SWOON!!!  And you know who that swooning is for?  Oh yeah, it’s all for Ryder.  That boy is a perfect mix of sweet/funny and sexy/aggressive.  Like could there really be a more potent combination??  I love me a beta boy, and while I would NOT call Ryder a beta boy in the slightest, I felt like he had some of those qualities you know?  He was just so sweet and attentive and I felt like he surprised me at many turns (just as he surprised Lindsay).  And the way he pursued her with such single-minded determination?  Holy hot balls!!  (is that a saying?  I’m making that a saying)  ANYWAYS, he was the perfect omega boy, with a healthy dose of alpha traits mixed in as well.  I honestly can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with him.  Or maybe I just can’t get out of my own head, and I’m in love with him.

I also really enjoyed his backstory, and how it shaped him and the decisions he made.  I thought that his growth was realistic, because while I was in love with him, he did need a smack or two along the way.  But it made it satisfying to see him do what he could to prove his feelings.  And that was another thing I enjoyed, I appreciated that the forgiveness wasn’t easy (because he really did f* up), and he had to fight for her a bit.  That paint gun scene was immensely satisfying, as was the way the ending played out (sorry can’t elaborate, it would be spoilerific to the extreme).

Now don’t be fooled, I’m not done with my gushing.  Why?  Because we don’t just get a smoking hero, we also got a fabulous heroine to match him.  Lindsay was sassy, and vulnerable, and had a lot of depth.  I LOVED being in her head and seeing her fight through her instincts honed by her bizarre upbringing.  She had such a journey to go on, I can’t even tell you.

And this brings me to the most surprising thing about this book that seriously just won me over, mostly b/c I was expecting something different.  This book totally could have gone down judgemental lane, but Ms. Madsen hit it out of the park by avoiding that pitfall.  I mean, come on people, Lindsay was a former puck bunny!!  And so many authors just love to throw those girls under the bus, but Ms. Madsen tried to give us a different perspective of why they might do what they do.  And not only that, but Lindsay even admitted that they all had their own motivations, and she tried hard not to fall into the trap of judging girls who might enjoy one night stands.  I know I can fall into this trap myself, even if I try not to, so I just really appreciated this sooooo much.  Lindsay was unhappy with her former life because of her *own* reasons, not because it’s inherently shameful.  I loved the lack of double standard that showed.  Right on Lindsay, right on.

So I’ll end this review with a Confession of my own: I watch quite a bit of hockey (heck, my Oilers are in the playoffs as we speak and I’m GLUED to the TV for it), so I love a good hockey romance.  But damn, do these books give an unrealistic representation of the number of good looking hockey players.  I’m not saying they don’t all likely have amazing bodies, but when I look up and down the bench, I’m really not seeing teamfuls of gorgeous guys…or at least not gorgeous to me.  No offense hockey players, I’m sure it’s me and not you.  😛

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Remember Me Forever by Sara Wolf

Blurb:
32507774Isis Blake hasn’t fallen in love in three years, forty-three weeks, and two days. Or so she thinks.

The boy she maybe-sort-of-definitely loved and sort-of-maybe-definitely hated has dropped off the face of the planet in the face of tragedy, leaving a Jack Hunter–shaped hole. Determined to be happy, Isis fills it in with lies and puts on a brave smile for her new life at Ohio State University.

But the smile lasts only until he shows up. The menace from her past—her darkest secret, Nameless—is attending OSU right alongside her. And he’s whispering that he has something Isis wants—something she needs to see to move forward. To move on.

Isis has always been able to pretend everything is okay. But not anymore.

Isis Blake might be good at putting herself back together.

But Jack Hunter is better.

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

Huh, I just read my review for book 2 and realized I’m feeling the exact same way!  I really really enjoyed the book, but I don’t have an immediate gut feeling for rating.  I don’t get it.  It’s so weird.  This time I assumed it was just my mood, but maybe it’s just something about these books.  There’s just so much to them, and they’re kind of odd, and so they don’t give you that immediate feeling for how to rate them.  Or maybe it’s just me.

So yes, babbling concluded, I really did enjoy the finale to this trilogy.  Isis was still the Isis we fell in love with in the first two books.  She is so wonderfully odd, like so odd you can’t even describe her (b/c you know I totally tried to describe her to my husband), but she just enchants me with her wit mixed with horribly childish humour.  I know, it’s a terribly weird combination.  And then you add in her vulnerability and totally skewed sense of self, and she just gets to me you know?  She made me laugh laugh laugh, and then cry too…

And we got just a wee bit more of Jack than even in the second book.  I shouldn’t love that boy, he is his own realm of broken.  Like he should have a whole planet to hold his broken.  But maybe that’s why he gets to me too, you know?  Because you see how the choices he’s made really have affected him too.  And even though he kept making HORRIBLE choices, I still rooted for Jack and Isis.  I still wanted the ending that I got.  OK, I will admit there was a moment where I kind of wanted a super big twist ending with Kieran, but it was like a fraction of a second.

The plot type things that happen in this series can be a wee bit outside of believability, but they entertain me anyways.  I had a bit of a hard time with the revenge aspect.  Don’t get me wrong, what happened totally fit with Jack’s and Isis’s personalities, it was VERY CONSISTENT with what we knew about both of them.  But it doesn’t make me feel good.  I think that’s what makes this book (and this series) so odd too.  Isis and Jack aren’t the most morally awesome characters.  It makes it hard to cheer for everything they do, you know?

I enjoyed some of the new secondary characters, and I’m so glad we still saw Wren and Kayla a bit.  Again, as with the rest of the series, the secondary characters play a role, but not as big as I sometimes like.  It’s like we get teased with them, but I’m always left wanting a bit more.

I found a few little things got dropped in the narrative.  Like Isis’s Mom.  I needed more there.  And the plane ticket.  What was the point of that?

But yeah, I’m super satisfied.  I’m so happy that it really lived up to what I was expecting of it, even if I had no idea where it would go.  I’ll definitely be looking for more by Ms. Wolf in the future.

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Pipe Dreams by Sarina Bowen

Blurb:
31820744A goalie has to trust his instincts, even when taking a shot to the heart…

Mike Beacon is a champion at defending the net, but off the ice, he’s not so lucky. A widower and a single father, he’s never forgotten Lauren Williams, the ex who gave him the best year of his life. When Lauren reappears in the Bruisers office during the playoffs, Beacon sees his chance to make things right.

Lauren hates that she’s forced to travel with the team she used to work for and the man who broke her heart. There’s still undeniable sexual tension running between her and Mike, but she won’t go down that road again. She’s focused on her plans for the future—she doesn’t need a man to make her dreams of motherhood come true.

Lauren plays her best defensive game, but she’s no match for the dark-eyed goalie. When the field of play moves to Florida, things heat up on the beach.

One of Mike’s biggest fans doesn’t approve—his teenage daughter. But a true competitor knows not to waste the perfect shot at love.

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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 one is going to be a hard one to review.  Because I loved so much of it, even if I can see potential pitfalls for others.  There’s a teeny tiny part of me that thinks that things progressed too smoothly, or worked out too well, or was just too convenient at times.  But you know what?  I found I just didn’t care.  Because sometimes life does just work out at the right moments.  It doesn’t have to be all super angsty, sometimes relationships can move forward without huge devastating roadblocks.  Which is not to say that Mike and Lauren didn’t have roadblocks, it just seemed like some of the turns in the plot felt a little convenient.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Lauren.  I mean, she really comes across as a witch with a b in the other two books.  And I’m not entirely sure I buy the transition to the Lauren we discover in this book, but, again, I’m not sure how much I care.  A part of me wishes I’d known more of what was going on in her head when she was being not so nice to the girls.  There were definitely explanations given for her uptight attitude, and they worked to an extent, I just wanted a wee bit more.  BUT if you ignore her from the other books, then just Lauren from this book was actually pretty awesome.  I hated to read about everything that happened to her as a result of her relationship with Mike and subsequent breakup.  I could totally see it happening too, and how it would irrevocably change her.  But I loved that she was so smart and really went after the things she desired in life.  And I loved that she didn’t compromise those aspects of herself when things started to change with Mike.

Regardless of the bad choices Mike made surrounding the breakup with Lauren, I can still sympathize with him while still thinking he was a bit of a bonehead.  Just like with Lauren, despite how much you hurt with her about the past, he still manages to bulldoze his way into your heart.  He was such an intriguing hero actually.  Such single minded determination yo.  Once he got his head out of his butt, he really turned on the charm and went after what he wanted.  And he was funny, and sweet, and charming, but not in a smarmy way you know?  You just couldn’t help but love him.  He made me laugh, and as such he got away with some pretty outrageous behavior at times.  I keep shaking my head at him, but I’m still sold.

Their chemistry was seriously solid too, making for some epic steamy scenes.  You really just wanted to root for them, you know?

And there was lots of delicious hockey in this one.  As a hockey fan who is currently entrenched in playoff season, this was a perfect read for me.

Fabulous secondary character support as usual.  Loved Hans.  Nice to see all our favourite past characters making appearances as well.  And just so you know Ms Bowen, that wasn’t enough for Nate & Becca.  I still politely plead for at least a novella.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!  In fact, I wouldn’t mind a Silas book too…just saying.  You know, not being greedy or anything, noooooo….

So yeah, even though some things felt a little too smooth in the plot, I was still a happy little reader.  Sometimes you just want to read about love winning, you know?

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180 Seconds by Jessica Park

Blurb:
32739485Some people live their entire lives without changing their perspective. For Allison Dennis, all it takes is 180 seconds…

After a life spent bouncing from one foster home to the next, Allison is determined to keep others at arm’s length. Adopted at sixteen, she knows better than to believe in the permanence of anything. But as she begins her third year in college, she finds it increasingly difficult to disappear into the white noise pouring from her earbuds.

One unsuspecting afternoon, Allison is roped into a social experiment just off campus. Suddenly, she finds herself in front of a crowd, forced to interact with a complete stranger for 180 seconds. Neither she, nor Esben Baylor, the dreamy social media star seated opposite her, is prepared for the outcome.

When time is called, the intensity of the experience overwhelms Allison and Esben in a way that unnerves and electrifies them both. With a push from her oldest friend, Allison embarks on a journey to find out if what she and Esben shared is the real thing—and if she can finally trust in herself, in others, and in love.

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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.

WOW.  Seriously, wow.  I knew I was going to enjoy this book, but I’m not sure I entirely realized HOW MUCH I was going to enjoy this book.  I was sucked in right from the start, and my love just grew in intensity as I continued to read it…  It was one of those books where you resent your life for interfering with your reading…or at least it was for me.

I am a sucker for a damaged heroine.  I wasn’t quite sure how damaged Allison would be, and while some of my suspicions were way off base, I really appreciated that we got to see some different effects of just being in the Foster system and bouncing around from home to home without an added other huge trauma.  Not sure if that makes sense, but sometimes I think just that basic concept of feeling unwanted and unloved and too much rejection does not get enough attention.  Allison honestly brought out all the feels for me, I HURT for past and present her.  I felt how much she wanted to close off the world, and how afraid she was of letting people in.  There’s a teeny tiny part of me that wonders if her transition was too fast, but that’s partly b/c there were time jumps in the story.  But quite honestly?  I was getting so much out of the story, I didn’t even care.  I LOVED seeing Allison slowly open up and accept love.  It was beautiful.

There were two shining stars for me in this story (besides our heroine of course).  Obviously there is Esben.  I wondered if he would be too good to be true, and I debated about whether that would annoy me, but you know what?  It really didn’t.  Especially because despite being such a good and kind and generous soul, we did get to see into his own damage, and see what shaped him into the person he was.  And he was not without his own flaws and bad decisions.  But I ADORED him.  EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.  I really expected a much different hero after reading the blurb and seeing social media star, and the glimpse we get before the experiment.  My preconceived notions were blown away.  He made me feel so many emotions all on his own, and he is totally my kind of book boyfriend material.  I want an Esben.

And I loved the way they grew together.  Their chemistry was palpable, and sweet, and slow burning, and gave me so many tummy tingles.  I ADORED the way their relationship progressed, it was all so satisfying for me.

The other star for me was Simon.  I’m not sure if it’s just because he’s a Dad, and I’m missing my own, but I LOVED HIM SO MUCH.  He made me cry in so many unexpected moments, just by being himself.  He was vulnerable, and honest, and tried so hard, and I was just always so happy that Allison had him.  And OMG, did he make me laugh!!  Right from that first chapter!!  I’m not sure I’ve ever loved a secondary character in quite this way before.  He added so much to the story.

Steffi was another intriguing character.  I knew there was more to her story, but for some reason I was still caught off guard.  I enjoyed what we learned about her, and what she brought to Allison’s own growth.

I did end up losing some of my steam nearer to the end, but I was also interrupted so many times, that I think that hurt it too.  If you can read it all in one sitting, I highly recommend that.

All in all this book made me laugh, smile big grins, get tummy tingles, silently cry some tears, and bawl like a baby.  That’s a pretty great spectrum.  Definitely one of my favourite reads of the year, it just hit all the right places for me.

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Walk of Shame by Lauren Layne

Blurb:
32491187Sparks fly between a misunderstood New York socialite and a cynical divorce lawyer in this lively standalone rom-com from the USA Today bestselling author of Blurred Lines and Love Story.

Pampered heiress Georgianna Watkins has a party-girl image to maintain, but all the shopping and clubbing is starting to feel a little bit hollow—and a whole lot lonely. Though Georgie would never admit it, the highlights of her week are the mornings when she comes home at the same time as her uptight, workaholic neighbor is leaving to hit the gym and put in a long day at the office. Teasing him is the most fun Georgie’s had in years—and the fuel for all her naughtiest daydreams.

Celebrity divorce attorney Andrew Mulroney doesn’t have much time for women, especially spoiled tabloid princesses who spend more time on Page Six than at an actual job. Although Georgie’s drop-dead gorgeous, she’s also everything Andrew resents: the type of girl who inherited her penthouse instead of earning it. But after Andrew caps one of their predawn sparring sessions with a surprise kiss—a kiss that’s caught on camera—all of Manhattan is gossiping about whether they’re a real couple. And nobody’s more surprised than Andrew to find that the answer just might be yes.

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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 book was so much of what I love about Lauren Layne.  It gave me butterfly tummy tingles, it made me LAUGH OUT LOUD, it made me giggle quietly, and it gave the mouth hurts from grinning too wide.  And not only that, it gave me frowny faces, and tummy hurts, and chest tightening too.  So basically all the good things for a great book.

I wasn’t sure how I would like Georgie, but it turns out a lot.  She’s nothing like I’m usually familiar, a wealthy socialite whose life involves brand names and high end shopping and perfect makeup and being seen in the best restaurants and partying most nights until the early hours.  And I’m SOOOO not that kind of girl.  But here’s the thing: she’s also really sweet and kind and big-hearted and a lover of the HEA.  And *that* I can relate to.  Her vulnerability and sensitivity really hit me hard too.  I reacted pretty much the same to everything that she encountered in this book.  But she was also strong, and not willing to bend for the wrong reasons.  Sometimes I wish we could have seen more development of her character, and seen what happened with her restlessness with her current lifestyle.  Did she look into a job?

Andrew surprised me in a good way too!!  Having an enemies to lovers story, I was worried that he was going to be a dick or something.  But he wasn’t!  Or at least not intentionally.  He was so much deeper than I had been anticipating, and I hadn’t quite realized where his animosity…well, not quite animosity, but his rigidness came from.  I really appreciated that.  The problem honestly is that I wanted MORE from Andrew.  We get a lot of hints, but because we only got maybe a third of the book in his head, I felt like I didn’t really get him as much, and I ended the book with questions.  We get hints, and I can make up my own answers, but I’d much rather know, you know?  Like why a divorce lawyer?  Why his rejection of marriage?  Was it just the logical stuff?  Was there more?  I really really really wanted more.  Because his vulnerability and desperation and confusion with Georgiana was just freaking adorable and made me want to hug him.  But I am pretty greedy with my heroes, so even without all the questions I had, I still would have liked more in his head, b/c I love equal time if I’m given dual POVs.

I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, but one thing it does bring you is a lot of sexual tension and fun banter at times.  And it was done so well in this book.  And when they finally collide, DAMN girl!!  Just, woosh.

And I even enjoyed the secondary characters in this one, though none of them really got a lot of screen time.  But they were diverse and I enjoyed their interactions with our MCs.

So yeah, total hit for me.  Honestly the only reason I’m rounding down is because I’m a greedy SOB and wanted more from Andrew.  😛

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Back Piece by L.A. Witt

Blurb:
34442289Colin Spencer is a tattoo artist with a past he’d prefer to keep a secret. Actually, he has a few secrets that he’d rather people didn’t know about, which is why Colin doesn’t do commitment. But when a shy sailor approaches him at the gym, Colin finds this guy pushing all his buttons.

Growing up in a conservative family, then escaping with the Navy, Daniel Moore is an unsure virgin who feels like he can’t share his true self with anyone. Seeing Colin—and his tattoos—at the gym are the sign Daniel needs to finally get those tattoos he’s always wanted, and maybe try his hand at flirting.

As Colin and Daniel spend more time together, their awkward hesitations turn into a deep passion neither expected. But with both men harboring secrets, will their relationship be able to survive their insecurities and become something beautiful?

Back Piece is a sexy, emotional journey of two people learning to love and finding acceptance for who they really are.

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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.

I have lots of mixed feelings about this one.  I honestly finished it and was just completely uncertain how I felt.  And not necessarily in a bad way, there was so much I genuinely enjoyed.  I just knew there was another part of me that was hankering for a bit more.  But I think the things I enjoyed outweighed my nitpicks this time so I’m totally rounding up.

This book dealt with a crapload of odd and intriguing issues.  You have Daniel, shy, sweet, and incredibly naive.  A virgin in SO MANY ways, occasionally his naivete would make me a bit skeptical, but at other times I felt like it was intriguing and refreshing.  I could really feel his panic and worry about not knowing what to do.  It wasn’t the sex naivete that threw me off, I totally got that and thought it was handled really well.  It was the relationship stuff.  It was so odd that he felt so unsure about how relationships worked.  I’m not entirely sure I buy into that, but I can’t completely convince myself that it couldn’t happen with the way he was brought up…that he would somehow assume that gay relationships would work any other way than every other romantic relationship.

I really appreciated the struggles he went through with his parents, and that the author showed that just because they were homophobic didn’t mean they didn’t have great qualities.  And inevitably Daniel had to make the decision about what was important to him.  I thought that was handled rather well.

And I even enjoyed his introduction to sex, and the strange amount of detail we got as a result (about pitfalls of bottoming or topping for the first time).  To be frank, there was a LOT of sex in this book, but I didn’t mind that so much as that I wanted a bit more on the relationship side.  The steamy scenes were quite delicious, and the chemistry between Daniel and Colin was awesome.  I just found myself occasionally puzzled about the relationship progression, and why some choices were made, and even if I guessed the reasons, why did they not ever discuss it and any hangups they might have had?  I needed some more depth there.

And then there’s Colin.  I can’t decide if I want to spoil the “secret” or not, I’m not sure if it really affects the enjoyment of the book to know here…you find out pretty early on (or at least there’s hints from the first chapter).  So if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip to the next paragraph in this review.  Still with me?  OK, I LOVED that Colin struggled with an eating disorder.  I felt like it was given so much authenticity and realism, and I could really FEEL his struggle.  I thought it was respectful, and I appreciated its addition to the story.  I also LOVED that his being a former porn star wasn’t some horrible shameful thing.  It added a strange layer onto the story.  I will say that while I LOVED Daniel’s reactions to learning these secrets, I kind of wished he considered Colin’s struggles more often.  I know he was overwhelmed with his own issues, but Colin was there for him with his family and thinking about him, why didn’t Daniel give more thought to how he could help Colin cope?  I wanted some development there that I didn’t get.

There were the occasional parts where some of their conversations got a little repetitive.  I’d be thinking “didn’t they have a similar conversation” (like Daniel comparing Colin’s situation to friends who came home with PTSD), and I get that that happens in real life especially with important stuff, but in romance books it feels kind of odd and unnecessary.

I enjoyed the tattoo stuff, and the meanings behind the back piece.  I would love to see it, even as I understand it doesn’t exist in real life.

My only other nitpick is that I would have liked to see more of an epilogue.  I was totally anticipating seeing how things fell out with Daniel’s family, and particularly the sister and maybe other siblings.  I’m not sure if the next book will be Daniel and Colin again or other characters.  If it’s other characters, then I definitely wish we’d gotten that bit more since the ending came kind of quickly.

So yeah.  It was a mixed bag, but definitely more to love.  Will be intrigued to see what’s next in the Skin Deep Inc series.

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The Baby Bombshell by Victoria James

Blurb:
34455448Lily Cookson has a few rules for the New Year, the most important being don’t fall for Jack Bailey. The gorgeous, rugged man returned with a new look and a determination to win her back, catching her off guard. After a forbidden night in his arms, she vows never to let it happen again. But when morning sickness kicks in a few weeks later, Lily realizes staying away from Jack just got a whole lot harder.

Jack Bailey left Shadow Creek behind five years ago when his world imploded around him, knowing it would be best for everyone if he was gone…including Lily. It took him a long time to get his life back on track and grow into the kind of man she needs him to be. Now he’s determined to prove to Lily that he’s back for good and ready to commit, but the secrets she’s holding onto are nothing compared to the bombshell he drops…

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

OK, am I just confused?  Or misremembering?  But wasn’t Lily like super shy in the first book?  Damn, I might have to go look it up, b/c it’s killing me.  Well Lily was definitely not shy in this one.  She really didn’t feel like the girl I remembered at all, but perhaps it’s how other people see Lily versus how she sees herself?  I’m not sure.  Not saying she wasn’t an interesting character, she just wasn’t what I was anticipating and looking forward to, and so I probably didn’t connect with her as well.

This book was a solid romance, I just felt like I was left wanting a bit.  Like it didn’t give me the same emotional impact as the first book.  But it might just be the mood I’m in.  It’s like it had all these potentially gut wrenching circumstances, but I just wasn’t connecting with the characters and their grief as much.  Maybe b/c we didn’t really get flashbacks?  Maybe I just wanted more?  I don’t know.  It’s not like we didn’t get told how Jack was having a hard time coping and there was the whole beard thing.  That was heartbreaking…but at the same time, I didn’t really feel it as much as I expected.

Part of my problem with this book is that it was a very fast read, which can be nice and devoury…but I also kind of felt like things moved at a very fast pace and didn’t give me enough time to understand the depths of emotions of either character.  I *think* I got a bit more from Lily.  But given that Jack left, I guess I kind of wanted to know what finally made him come back.  What helped him get through his grief?  What was different, what changed?  Why could he suddenly deal now?  Maybe it’s because I’m someone who struggles with depression, the fact that his obvious emotional problems weren’t really addressed, and what he did to work through his grief was just kind of glossed over, it was just very unsatisfying for me.  And quite frankly, I was NOT impressed with the extra tidbit we learned about him wrt Lily’s secret, and I felt like the letters weren’t enough.  I needed more.  Maybe I’m just being picky and greedy.

I was also not super into the climax.  That seemed kind of over the top.  Maybe I’m cynical?  I don’t know.  I’m also not huge on the whole faith and signs thing, but that’s 100% a personal taste thing.

So yeah.  I enjoyed myself, but definitely not nearly as much as the first book.  That one just felt like so much more.  I can’t decide if I’ll try to catch Gwen’s book.  Part of me is intrigued, but I’m not sure if I’m invested enough.  I guess time will tell.

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Pillowtalk by Cassie Mae

Blurb:
33401722In this heartfelt romance from the author of the All About Love series, two people who thought they’d given up on passion turn to each other for emotional support—and maybe something a little more physical.

 
Kennedy Walters has had a tough year. Now she’s come to the lakeside town of Lyra Valley to finally say goodbye to the memory of her first love. But while she’s staying at his sister’s B&B, Kennedy is shocked to find herself undeniably drawn to a handsome local heartthrob—especially since she isn’t  sure if she’s ready to move on.

Aaron Sheppard returned to Lyra Valley because he was fed up with the big city and everything it didn’t have to offer—like the beautiful, down-to-earth girl staying at the B&B. Aaron’s enjoying a little flirtation until he realizes that she’s Kennedy Walters, the girl who was dating his best friend. But after a power outage strands them together, Aaron and Kennedy wind up sharing some intimate conversation. And over the course of a night that neither will ever forget, they learn just how compatible they could be—if only they knew how to let go and fall into each other’s arms.

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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.  (and actually, I sort of alpha/beta read this story as well)

I was kind of worried about rereading this one, just because it does pack an emotional punch, and sometimes when I know that going in I’ll avoid it (I do this with movies and TV shows too — *cough*Season 3 of Rectify*cough*).  But I hadn’t written a review after beta-reading this one (which I normally do), b/c I knew parts of the story were going to change and I wanted to read the final version before giving my final thoughts.  I’ve also been in a really picky reading mood, so I didn’t want that to affect my reading either…but alas, with release day coming up (and being here today) I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer! Unfortunately I feel like my mood did affect my reading a tiny bit, so I’m trying to channel my earlier thoughts as well to compensate.  Because I truly adored this story BOTH times I read it, and I want to do it justice.

So that sounds like I’m going to say something bad about this book, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Ms. Mae is one of my favourite authors because she always manages to give me very *real* characters, and she has done it once again with Kennedy and Aaron.  What I mean by real is that I feel like these are real human beings out in the world, that they are inherently flawed, but are the kinds of people I’d like to know.  And in this story they BOTH go through a whole gamut of emotions, and some of the most difficult ones: grief, betrayal, and guilt.  Ms. Mae didn’t just sluff off her responsibility while giving them the love story they deserve, she sucked out all my feels.

I could understand Kennedy’s grief so much.  Even just imagining losing the love of my life to that hateful disease, I’m not sure how I’d ever pull myself out of that grief.  I felt like the road that she traveled in this book was one that I could empathize with.  Yeah, she’s under a very silly misapprehension for much of the book, but I can honestly see my brain making such weird assumptions when in the thick of that grief.  Perhaps if you’ve never experienced grief, you might not understand how consuming it can be, but as someone who’s lost her father as a teen, I can wholeheartedly say that it can mess you up big time, and that everyone deals in different ways and at different speeds.  And so I felt for what Kennedy was going through, and how much she struggled between what she thought in her head and what she felt in her heart.

When I first heard of the concept of this story from Ms. Mae, I hadn’t understood just how impactful *Aaron’s* story would be.  I kind of thought the heartache would mostly be centered around Kennedy’s side.  But oh no, we get so much more in this story.  I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be Aaron and living with his own guilt and remorse and never feeling like he had the chance to resolve it.  I felt just as many feelings for him as I did for Kennedy.  And I felt his grief over the loss of his best friend too.  I thought it was kind of perfect that they were able to share that, it wasn’t something I had anticipated, but it was something that I loved about their dynamic.

And hoo boy, Aaron is MEGA book boyfriend.  Quiet, unassuming, a bit more nerdy?  DAMN.  I want him.  I do.  I want him.  And his dog, Charlie, too.  And his glasses.  GAH!

And their chemistry together really worked for me.  Not just in the steam section (which OMG, from the laundry room to the boathouse to the bedroom, DAMN), but I really felt their connection as friends too.  I felt the intimacy of their bond.  It happened pretty fast, but it worked for me somehow.  But I don’t mind insta-love sometimes, especially when people are older and know what they want.

There were a million favourite scenes in this book for me.  From the tree party to the dirt biking to the lake party for making me smile and swoon.  And then there’s the moment in the closet and on the dock for making me cry.  I felt everything, from light to heavy.  And it flowed seamlessly in the book, just as it did for Kennedy and Aaron.  And the ending was sweet and perfectly satisfying.  Which pretty much sums up how I feel.  It may have taken me on a rollercoaster of emotions, but it left me feeling sweetly satisfied.

And that’s what I have to say about that.

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