Unloved by Katy Regnery

Blurb:
35700589My name is Cassidy Porter…

My father, Paul Isaac Porter, was executed twenty years ago for the brutal murder of twelve innocent girls.

Though I was only eight-years-old at the time, I am aware – every day of my life – that I am his child, his only son.

To protect the world from the poison in my veins, I live a quiet life, off the grid, away from humanity.

I promised myself, and my mother, not to infect innocent lives with the darkness that swirls within me, waiting to make itself known.

It’s a promise I would have kept…if Brynn Cadogan hadn’t stumbled into my life.

Now I exist between heaven and hell: falling for a woman who wants to love me, while all along reminding myself that I must remain…

Unloved.

**NOTE: This book is intended for readers 18+**

images     scr2557-proj697-a-kindle-logo-w-rgb-lgAmazon link coming soon (releases Oct 8th)

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

LOVED it.  Like, LOVED it.  It wasn’t as dark as I was expecting, I don’t know why I thought it would be.  So if you’re looking for a really dark read, this probably won’t fit.  But it was an emotional ride right from the prologue (especially since I started it 2 days after Vegas, hit a bit close to home).  I bawled off and on through the first few chapters.  I really do believe Ms. Regnery is trying to collect torn out bloody hearts for her collection…maybe she stores them with the tears of her readers…

OK, so I’m not usually an insta-love kind of girl, but there are occasions where it just works for me and is kind of a guilty pleasure.  And this book contained that kind for me.  I think it’s because we start off meeting Cassidy and Brynn on their own…I got to know them, I fell in love with them, my heart ACHED for them both (for completely different reasons).  They both have such tragedy in their lives.

I truly empathized with Brynn and what she was going through post-Jem.  I can’t relate, but I can only imagine how I would react in those circumstances…and I have a feeling it would be remarkably similar.  I feel like we got a really good look into her character…even if we mostly see her in mourning.

And Cassidy…oh my sweet boy.  My heart HURTS.  IT HURTS.  He just has such a sweet nature, and it was so hard to see it constantly existing beneath a cloud.  I really ended up loving him.  And he was strangely believable.  Like I could see how he turned out the way he did.  And he just stole my whole heart with his innocence, and his longing, and his forced isolation, and just…everything.  He was almost kind of a beta boy…and we all know how much I love my beta boys.

And while I may have had to suspend my disbelief a tiny bit once Cass rescued Brynn and she woke up, I was willing to do it.  I realize in real life most people wouldn’t have reacted as calmly as she did, but I was OK with it.  And there were moments where I expected certain reactions that didn’t come to pass (like Cass using the cell phone at the store, I expected someone to question him later, but it didn’t happen).  But I was OK letting those things just sort of slide by.  Because I was absorbed in the story, and I was OK just letting it play out as Ms. Regnery wanted it to.

I will admit I expected more steamier scenes than what I got.  Again, I think I expected a more risque novel.  But the steamy scene we did get was full of love and reverence, and it totally worked for me.  And Cass and Brynn together worked for me.  I was rooting for them, and dreading the moment when I knew things weren’t going to go well.  And you know what?  The climax surprised me!  I was so certain it was going to go one way, and it didn’t!  And then there were twists!!!  Like super twists!  And while I’m not sure I buy into all that gene/DNA stuff, I appreciated the way the ending played out anyways.  And I got me a beautiful epilogue!

So yeah.  This was a Lenore book.  It just hit all the right spots with me, and parts of it were a bit guilty pleasure, and I highlighted the crap out of the book…  I always worry when I’ve been looking forward to a book, that it will somehow let me down.  So I was so ridiculously happy when this one wasn’t one of those.  Now I need to read something light so I can recover…

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The Princess and the Pizza Man by Cassie Mae

Blurb:
36255092Matchmaking, mansions, and murder – just another Tuesday for this princess. 

Twelve years of tossing pizzas in his hometown in Alabama is like a dream come true for William Monroe, but his sister is ready to leave the Podunk place, desperate to find herself a man and get hitched. He’s not too thrilled to hear about the mansion she’s dragging him to, claiming it’s haunted with the spirit of Cupid, and it’s his job to make sure she doesn’t fall for the first guy who looks her way.

Winter’s been running the Frostville Murder Mysteries ever since she inherited a hefty sum of cash, wanting to give back in a fun and profitable way for her home city. Noticing a lot of puppy-eyed patrons, she gives herself the job of matchmaking, picking out the ones who seem best suited for one another. But when the outspoken and grumpy man from Alabama arrives with his eager-to-be-matched sister, her focus starts to falter, and she wants nothing more than to prove to Will that her mansion can feel like home, too.

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

This was an adorable little story.  I will admit that I started off on the wrong foot with it…partially b/c I had a terrible cold that was making concentrating hard, and partially because I’m not really a huge fan of spelling out accents…it’s a stupid pet peeve, but there you go.  I was a little concerned that I wasn’t going to fall in love, but I got sucked in like I always do with a book by Ms. Mae.

I was concerned when we first met Will and his sister Maybelle (Bells) that they would be too stereotypically southern.  I should have had faith.  While they do have some stereotypical southern quirks, they fleshed out into really intriguing characters to me.  I loved how easily embarrassed Will could get, especially given how supposedly loud he was.  I also loved hearing the story about how his passion for cooking started…  And I really appreciated how much he loved his sister, and how he went above and beyond for her.

And Winter was just delightful to me…quirky and odd and not at all what I was expecting.  She just sounds delightful, I felt like I could really picture who she was, and I’d want to be her friend.  She has a really big heart.

And Winter and Will were so adorable together.  It was a truly sweet romance, and I loved how it played out at the end.  It fulfilled everything my romantic heart was hoping it would.

I also enjoyed the murder mystery, and the cast of goofy actors and guests at the mansion.  I will say I didn’t solve the mystery, I was totally surprised by that one!  And I didn’t quite peg what was going on with Bells…that’s one bit I wouldn’t have minded learning more of what happened.  She was a fun character in her own right, almost a caricature, but pulled back into realism with her feelings and conversations with Will and Winter.

So all in all, while it may have had a bit of a bumpy start for me, I was utterly delighted with how this little story played out in the end.  Made me a happy camper.

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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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Temporary by Sarina Bowen and Sarah Mayberry

Blurb:
36123044The most beautiful man I’ve ever seen is the same one who can ruin everything.

The first time I lay eyes on Callan Walker, I know he’ll be trouble. With his smug grin, hot Aussie accent and thousand dollar shoes, he’s just the kind of rich guy who always gets what he wants.

And he wants two things: a night of sin, and my cooperation as he outmaneuvers his powerful mother to take control of his uncle’s estate.

I can’t afford either one. I’m the only thing standing between my little sister and the foster care system. He may have money and charm on his side, but I have something even more powerful — pure desperation. This temp job at his mother’s company can become a full time job for me. It has to.

But when Callan’s eyes rake over my body, sometimes I forget my obligations. His piercing gaze finds the fun, optimistic girl I used to be and not the tired person I’ve become.

And it works–if only for a moment. Our night together was a mistake. I can’t afford to get sucked into his high-powered family’s treachery. But the closer I get to Callan, the more layers I find beneath those expensive clothes. Though I can’t forget this is temporary. He’s temporary. I have too much to lose.

Too bad my foolish heart didn’t get the memo…

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My Review:
4.5 stars — I won an ARC of this book through a contest, but this does not affect my honest and unbiased opinion.

I am a HUGE fan of both of these authors, and in a stroke of luck I threw out the wild guess that they were collaborating in a contest that probably didn’t expect winners, I managed to…well…win.  So I had really high hopes for this book, and can I just say that it lived up to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM??  This book was everything I loved about both authors, so if you’re a fan of either one, you won’t be disappointed.

The thing that has always sucked me in with both authors writing was their focus on fantastic, relatable characters.  Characters that you root for, characters that you fall in love with.  And Callan and Grace were no exceptions.

I felt the desperation and struggles that Grace faced, trying to provide for her sister and give her a stable home.  I felt her wariness of starting relationships when she’d had such a bad track record of being left behind.  And OMG, she had such a smart, sassy mouth on her…what I loved is that it was kind of subtle, not in your face sassiness.  She was strong, independent, with a big heart and a beautiful soul.

And Callan surprised the crap out of me.  My heart ACHED for his grief over his beloved uncle…so much so that *I* mourned for Uncle Jack.  I wish I’d known him.  The situations he faced at the hands of his mother, both in the past and in the book, just made me want to throw down with him and punch her in the throat.  I really understood how his experiences shaped him, and I loved getting to see that there was a LOT more there than met the eye.  And his humour and his own brand of sassiness were just infectious.  I can’t even tell you how many times he made me laugh.

And Grace and Callan together made my heart happy.  I followed them from flirting to more, and their chemistry was palpable.  I desperately wanted them to work, regardless of the odds they were facing.  Even when mistakes were made, I waited patiently for them to make it better (and they did).

I even adored Olivia, despite her teenage sauciness.  I thought the balance between teenage snark, bad attitude, vulnerability, and sassiness was perfect.  I appreciated that she wasn’t forgotten about.

So yeah.  I got “stuck in” and now I want to go listen to some Aussie accents.  And dare I hope that this is the start of a series??  Please please please please please….

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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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The Way Back Home by Carmen Jenner

Blurb:
33119387August Cotton shouldn’t be here. When a tragic accident calls him home to Magnolia Springs, this returned Veteran adds his parents to the list of things he’s lost in recent years, right along with his IED detection dog and his left leg. As the sole guardian of his four-year-old sister, August must rely on his Marine training in raising a tiny hellion who’s as stubborn as he is. But the Corps could never prepare him for this. Nor could they prepare him for Olivia Anders, a woman who’ll stop at nothing to get her way.

As owner of Paws for Cause, Olivia is no stranger to the broken men and women who return home from war. She’s no stranger to broken dogs either. In fact, she’s made it her mission to pair the two and enrich both of their lives, but pairing ornery and aloof August Cotton will take some work. The last thing August wants is some pushy southern woman occupying his parents’ bed and breakfast and forcing him to open up about the hell he narrowly escaped, but that’s exactly what Olivia intends.

They complete one another, and yet they can’t stand to be in the same room.

Can Olivia make this hardened Marine feel again and finally show his heart the way back home?

*** Intended for a mature 18+ audience only. This book may contain triggers for some readers.

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My Review:
3.5 stars — OK, first things first, YAY to the author for putting the potential trigger warning!  I don’t actually experience triggers, but I kind of thought that this one might have potential (it does deal with the difficult subject of war, ptsd, and suicide).

OK, so wanna hear the weird thing about this one?  I LOVED so much of this book, but the one thing I was meh on?  The romance.  *rolls eyes*  Like seriously, isn’t that odd?  It’s kind of a romance book.  It’s not the whole point, but it’s kind of a main point.  *sigh*  I was going to leave that til the end like I’ve been doing lately, but how about we just get it out of the way and end on a high note?

I 100% felt the lust and attraction between Olivia and August.  I did.  It made it a little frustrating that this ended up being a slow burn book, and that the author tended to rely heavily on the interruption to stop things from going in a physical direction (I can’t even tell you how many times they were about to kiss and someone/something interrupted them).  I don’t mind that in general, but if it’s multiple times, I tend to start rolling my eyes.  My problem was not in their physical chemistry, it was that I didn’t completely follow the development of their feelings and emotions.  I got some of it, but these two were just so ridiculously damaged that they were just not healthy with each other.  I mean, like I said to my husband, it was quite a bit of hate boinking (except I used a more colourful word that definitely won’t make it past the ‘zon’s approval process).  I know some people really enjoy those kinds of angsty relationships, and I honestly actually got how it made sense in some ways, given what they’d been through in each of their pasts, but it just kind of leaves me feeling icky and unsatisfied.  And it probably didn’t help that I didn’t understand the point where Olivia got fed up…it didn’t feel like it fit, I didn’t understand how she got to the end of her rope.  Oh well, sometimes I am dense.  And I *really* didn’t like how she handled the PTSD stuff with both August and Dalton.  Honestly, I was a bit surprised how often she made really silly mistakes, and then the author would excuse it away as she should know better…but for realz people, SHE DOES THIS FOR A LIVING.  She *should* know better.  I didn’t buy being distracted by her feelings for August.  It was just too much to watch her constantly putting herself in dangerous situations.

OK!  Now onto the fun stuff!!  Well, and heartbreak.  But the good heartbreak.  The elements that put this book up there for me are actually kind of diverse.  I actually thought Olivia was hilarious and sassy and in general she had an amazingly tender heart.  It’s kind of a strange mixture actually.  But I just fell in love with the way she took in strays, from animals to humans.  I loved the way she interacted with many of the strong secondary characters.  She was wonderful with Bettina (though can I just say I’m never a fan of writing out 4 year old dialogue with the lisps included?  Personal preference).  I was pleasantly surprised with the way her relationship with Josiah progressed, and my heart ached in that storyline (though I will admit I read another review that mentioned some race issues, and in the end I agree with that reviewer, even though my little white reader self didn’t completely ferret that out on my own).  I thought Josiah and Beau added to this full, hilarious household.  And, being an animal lover, I ADORED Betty, Zora, and the bit we saw of Xena.

And while I never really felt like I got to know August quite as much, and particularly not until the second half, I loved a lot of what I got to see in his story.  I felt for him with the Jude/Sav storyline.  But where he really shone was in watching him with his dogs (either Havoc or Zora).  I felt like I learned a LOT about Marine Working Dogs, and how that all works, and while heartbreaking at times, it was also fascinating and gave me EVEN MORE respect for both the animals and handlers.

So yeah.  It’s weird when you like characters on their own, but when they don’t bring out the best in each other.  Or at least not in my opinion.  So, needless to say, this book left me feeling very mixed.  The parts I loved I REALLY LOVED.  But if I can’t connect on a romance in a romance book, well…I don’t know.  It’s a bummer, at minimum.

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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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If Ever by Angie Stanton

Blurb:
35901365Fiercely independent Chelsea Barnes has caught a rare break and been cast as the first non-celebrity on the hit show Celebrity Dance Off. Chelsea is coined ‘America’s Chance to Dance,’ but her partner planned on an A-lister, not a nobody.

Clashing with her partner, she’s ready to go home; but during an emotional dance, her heart-breaking past as an abandoned, homeless teen is revealed. Not only do the viewers fall in love with her, so does the flirty British guest singer, Broadway star Thomas Evan Oliver.

Tom is struck by this feisty girl who complicates his over-structured life, and pursues her in a romantic cross-country courtship until she’s voted off and joins him. Their sexy whirlwind love affair blossoms in New York as she navigates the big city and his exhausting eight shows a week, but most important, her scarred heart begins to heal. Perhaps happily ever after might be a possibility after all.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — I received a free copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.  Though I was delayed in getting to my ARC, so I actually read the copy I purchased instead.

OMG you guys, it didn’t take me long into the book before I knew I was going to love this one.  I’ve loved so many of Ms. Stanton’s YA books, and this one felt like Dream Chaser for adults.  I honest to goodness laughed out loud, silently cried, squealed in delight, and last night before bed I got so hyped up that I was singing “Don’t Stop Believin” to my husband, and he was cursing my caffeine intake, but it was really just excitement over this book.  And honestly, if it wasn’t for the ending, this would have been at least a round up if not a full 5 stars.  The ending is the reason for rounding down.  I’ll get to that later, I want to gush first.

I will admit to being a Broadway fan (we always go to at least one show each time we visit NYC), and while I don’t watch any of those reality dance shows (b/c I’d always rather be reading), I do love the world of dancing as well…probably b/c I have like no grace or coordination myself (although I did attempt ballroom dance lessons when I was in University).  So this book really was almost tailor-made for me.  But what makes it stand out is not just that these settings were present, but that the author does an amazing job of really making you believe it, and really giving you all the little bits to immerse you into both worlds.

The book is really split into two halves, and the first half is where we’re immersed into the world of dancing, and it just made my heart so happy.  It was grueling and exhilarating all at the same time.  I felt how hard Chelsea worked, what a toll it took on her body, and how it really showed a true appreciation for dancing as almost a sport.  I was so concerned with how her relationship started with her dance partner, Dominic, and so was ridiculously pleasantly surprised with how that relationship developed.  It could have gone in a cliche direction, and it didn’t.  I LOVED that.  And I adored Chelsea’s interactions with Hank.  He was definitely another favourite secondary character.  I really appreciated that her progression through the weeks was believable too.  And I loved how we got to see Chelsea’s character really develop and become stronger in this first half.  I was so proud of her when we got to the finale and all the work she put into it.

The second half was about her time in NYC with Tom, and really the development of her romantic relationship with him.  This is where we got to dive into the world of Broadway, and what it’s like to be an actor trying to make it work on Broadway.  It honestly opened my eyes to the challenges and rewards of such a career.  And I felt the magic of his performance…I wanted it to be real!  I wanted to see him perform and hear his beautiful voice!  Damn you Ms. Stanton!  Make it real!!  I couldn’t hear him sing, but it didn’t matter…it felt like I could.  I felt Chelsea’s emotions when he finally got Stay right.  It helped me to imagine her dance as well…I felt like I could see it.  It was very emotionally impactful.

Tom was RIDICULOUSLY swoon.  Like, added to my top book boyfriends list swoon.  Like, I had tummy tingles almost from their first interactions.  And he was more of a beta boy, and you know how I love me a beautiful beta boy!!  I loved that he was technically the celebrity, but he was really very down to earth, humble, and at times insecure.  If you couldn’t tell, I ADORED him.

I LOVED their romance.  The chemistry was off the charts, and they just made me giddy and happy.  My highlight was definitely Tom’s teasing, and the way they would banter with each other.  I can’t even describe to you how many times that boy made me laugh.  I loved that we got to watch their romance go through all the stages, from crush to early relationship honeymoon phase to honest struggles and missteps.  My heart hurt for the challenges that they faced, and I thought it was very realistic.

I had a bit more of a rollercoaster ride with Chelsea.  I loved her, and my heart ached for everything she went through in her past, and how it shaped her into the woman she is today.  I really believed it too.  She was hard to read, b/c she was so insecure and damaged and afraid, and self-sabotaging at times.  I think what made her character really hard to read is that in the first half we got to see her really develop and become stronger, and I was rooting for her all the way.  But in the second half we saw her fall and fall hard.  That’s hard to take.

And this is where my rounding down comes into play: I wasn’t satisfied with how the book ended with her character.  She fell, and we really didn’t get to see her climb back up and become strong on her own again.  I needed to believe that she was going to be OK, that she was getting stronger, and without Tom.  I didn’t want her strength to be completely dependent on Tom.  It wasn’t enough to ruin the book, it just bummed me out a bit.

And honestly?  The ending was extremely abrupt.  Like turn the page and do a double take when it’s the note from the author and not an epilogue.  I’m always a sucker for an epilogue, but I really felt that this book needed one.

So, as seems to be the case with me lately, there is my short novella of a review.  While the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I wanted, it was really a small blip on what was an otherwise perfect book for me.  I’m so happy right now, and don’t even want to read another book, I just want to bask.

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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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