Falling From The Sky by Nikki Godwin

Blurb:
23463189All stability in sixteen-year-old Ridge McCoy’s life crashed and burned in the plane crash that killed his dad. This summer-long basketball camp is his chance to improve his skills and escape his problems back home. But his summer plans take a turn in an unexpected direction when he meets Micah Youngblood, the guy who runs the carousel at the local mall and has a reputation for devouring straight boys’ heterosexuality for breakfast, alongside his chocolate chip pancakes.

Ridge needs a way to avoid the guys at camp, whose only quest for the summer is to drown in beer and hook up with girls. So when Micah offers to explain how the ten unique horses on the carousel are significant to his tribe, Ridge takes him up on it. Still, Ridge can’t decide if this is a bad thing or not. All he knows is that he hasn’t felt this alive since his dad fell from the sky, and as the horse adventures come to an end, Ridge finds himself falling as well – for Micah.

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My Review:
3 stars — I will admit I’m a bit torn on this book.  I actually liked quite a bit of it, but I still felt like there was just something lacking…like it could have been so much better, you know??  And I keep going back and forth on some of the other things that bugged me.  Like they seriously bugged me, but there’s a part of me that can see how characters (especially 17 year old characters) would behave in such a way.

I’ll start off by saying that I chose to move this book up in my queue to fulfill a diversity challenge theme for this month, focusing on Native American History Month.  And this is one of the first parts that both bugged me, but I could maybe see it.  Ridge (our main hero, the only POV we read) is kind of a dick and maybe a bit of a bigot about Native Americans.  Some of the comments he makes/thoughts he has early in the book made me uncomfortable.  But then I kind of thought he’s not praised or shown in a good light for that…so it kind of just shows the kind of prejudices that are pervasive in our society, especially about Native Americans…though while he’s not shown in a good light, he’s not smacked down for it either because it’s in his head.  But how many people out there think the same things?  And we do get to see those things fall away, though it’s never overt.  And overall, I thought that Micah, and his family, and the bit we saw of his (made up) tribe weren’t negative.  Not being Native, I honestly can’t tell you if they’re positive, but they didn’t feel negative to me.  And most of the Native characters were kind of awesome; I really liked Micah, his sister, his nieces, his stories of his Nonna, his Poppa, even his cousins.  So yeah, torn on the representation of this particular diversity, since we never see inside Micah’s head.

And on a similar note with Ridge, this is a bit of a “gay for you” story, and he’s a bit of a bigot about homosexuals too…he has some thoughts that made me uncomfortable here as well (like his comparison to prison inmates being “gay for the stay” — ick).  Part of me gets this, it’s very realistic I think for many young adult males to be terrified of being gay, even if that makes me RIDICULOUSLY SAD.  So I’m torn here…he made me want to smack him, but was he a realistic depiction?  I think I would have been happier here if SOMEONE would have freaking brought up bisexuality ANYWHERE in the freaking book.  Um, hello.  Like seriously.  That’s why this lands more in the irks me category, it doesn’t get as much of a pass as the race stuff.

And since I’m getting things that bug me out of the way, there’s the cheating crap (might be minorly spoilery).  I hate cheating stuff.  I sort of get how confused Ridge was, both about his new feelings for Micah, and how he was just wanting to get away from all the things at home that had become status quo.  But grow some balls.  It shouldn’t take the whole freaking summer to break up…and she didn’t need to be a mean girl in the end, like I’m supposed to accept his behavior cheating with Micah because of that?  Nope.

Well shit, I have more complaints…so I just had to downgrade this from a 3.5 star to a 3 star.  Bummer.  Really, so many of them just revolve around Ridge’s characterization.  So much of him just wasn’t a very sympathetic character…he fell a bit flat a lot of times.  He made decisions that made me not like him, I didn’t really understand what he was really like.  And OK, one last one: I wanted resolution with his family.  I felt like that was so weird that we didn’t ever see them, and it was all very in the background.  So much of this book had a coming of age feel, but for it to truly be, I feel like we’d need to see him with his family.

OK, so things I liked!!  And crap, even the things I liked are with caveats.  This was a bit of a slow burn romance, and I appreciated that it wasn’t fast (especially with all they were dealing with).  Sometimes it would jump around a bit fast, like Ridge would be horrified about a kiss, and then still sleeping over.  I think I think too much.  But I did really think they were cute together.  In general I really liked Micah…he was kind of an oddball, and I really did feel for him and what all he was dealing with.  He felt like a pretty authentic 17 year old gay guy in a smaller town.  I wasn’t always happy with the way he pushed Ridge, but that could be just me.

I did GENUINELY love that we got to see Ridge showing emotions, and feeling things, and crying.  So many times guys aren’t allowed to cry, and that just sucks.  I really loved Zoey and her twins…I thought they added something to the story, and Abby and Jade amused me (I could so picture their very different approaches to Ridge, right to the end).  I thought the little bit we saw of Tuck was cool, I really liked the painting thing…  While I was initially confused about the carousel horses thing, I was so happy with the fact that that was explained in the end…and I appreciated the little things those adventures taught us about our heroes.  And I LOVED Terrance.  We needed more Terrance.  He was pretty much the one character who was 100% awesome in this book, and I think he was underutilized.

So yeah.  Reading all that, I really did have a lot to complain about eh?  Well crap.  I did enjoy myself.  Like I say, I just had reservations.  I’m probably not properly expounding on the good parts of this story.  I’m just conflicted, and it’s always so much easier to talk about the things that didn’t work than the things that did, you know?  So there you go.  My beautiful review.  You’re welcome.

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Chance of a Lifetime by Marissa Clarke

Blurb:
26136108Sometimes the biggest risk is playing it safe…

Gen Richards is tired of living down to her family’s expectation of the helpless blind girl. Resurrecting her high-school bucket list that begins with “kiss a total stranger” seems just the thing until she finds herself in a panty-melting lip lock with her big brother’s best friend.

Chance Anderson thrives on adrenaline, but Genny’s the one risk he’s not willing to take. His recklessness a decade ago landed her in the hospital and ejected him from her life. He’s bad for her and everyone knows it—especially her big brother.

Chance reluctantly helps Gen complete her bucket list in order to keep her out of trouble. Running through a freezing fountain, playing Spin the Bottle while fending off a mad horde of stinging insects, and skinny dipping with homicidal attack swans don’t hold a candle to the real danger: falling for the one person he can never have.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — SQUEEEEEE!!!!  This was totally my kind of book!!!  I loved the characters, I loved the chemistry, I loved the steaminess!!  It just totally worked for me.

I actually put it higher on the reading queue b/c it fit for a Diversity Challenge theme this month, and I absolutely LOVED what Gen being blind added to the story.  It felt really authentic, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Ms. Clarke managed that…  I was just so immersed!  All the descriptions of sounds and smells and the feeling of things just really added to the authenticity.  AND OMG I grew frustrated not being able to “see” things that were happening when we were in her POV!  Isn’t that crazy??  There was this one scene at the beach house where they walk into a discussion between Chance’s brothers and Claire, and I just wanted to see their body language and facial expressions!  It felt like it really gave me great insight into the life of a blind person…at least, to a certain extent.  So well done on the diversity front.

As I said, I loved both characters, and I loved the growth I saw with each of them throughout the story, but especially at the end.  I appreciated each perspective on how the climax would play out, but I also appreciated what they wanted from the other…and that they each found their way to the middle and each other.  I love it when a book really satisfies that for me.

I loved Gen’s sassiness and sense of adventure, and I really appreciated her journey.  But the star for me was Chance.  I loved his caring nature, and how much empathy he had.

I loved the two of them together most of all though!  They were fun and sassy and the banter was great!  I loved the way they loved each other, and how that love persisted through time and heartache.  And their chemistry was fantastic!!  Like, I can’t tell you the number of times I got huge tummy tingles!!

Honestly, the only part that has me not going full 5 is the resolution with Walter.  Walter felt almost borderline emotionally abusive, and either he should have been toned down, or there should have been more there…because that all was not cool.

So yeah.  I devoured it.  It was good stuff.  Definitely recommend!

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The Feeling of Forever by Jamie Howard

Blurb:
33284471Juliet St. Clair has spent her life under Hollywood’s spotlight. While being America’s favorite girl next door has had its perks, having to testify against her stalker to put him behind bars certainly wasn’t one of them. But when she thinks about walking away from it all, she can’t help remembering the enormous pile of medical bills her family is drowning under. Bills that just keep on coming.

Felix Donovan had it all–stunning good looks, gorgeous women, and a spot as the drummer to a band that’s sitting pretty at the top of the charts. Until one life-altering decision left him paralyzed from the waist down. He doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he wins this year’s Sexiest Man award, but the one thing he immediately does is send out a Non-disclosure agreement. Hiding his condition from the public is hard as hell, but he’s not ready to face the world while he’s still struggling to accept his new reality.

Except this year’s Sexiest Woman–Juliet St. Clair–never looks at him with pity, only desire. But falling for Juliet means a permanent spot in the tabloids, a decision Felix isn’t sure he’s ready to make. And when Juliet’s stalker re-emerges from her past, Felix’s secret isn’t the only thing at stake, it could cost Juliet her life.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — OMG you guys, I was sucked into this one from the first chapter all the way to the very end of the epilogue.  I didn’t want it to end!!  And this love mostly came down to the characters.  I am in love with both Juliet and Felix!!  I tend to develop book boy crushes on a regular basis, but my girl crushes are more rare…so I adore it when it happens!!

I’ve wanted to read this book since I first saw a review on one of the blogs I follow.  I mean, a celebrity romance and the hero is paralyzed (yay diversity!)?  Sign me up!  I know that sounds silly, but I was just so intrigued!!  And this book totally lived up to the expectations I had for it…actually it surpassed those expectations.

I actually read it this month specifically for one of my diversity challenges, and it fit that bill perfectly.  We got to see some of the struggles that Felix faces (physically, with society, and most of all mentally) as he continues to learn to deal with being a paraplegic, but we also just got to have a fantastic hero who just happened to be in a wheelchair.  Kind of the epitome of a great diverse read, where the diversity does come into play, but it’s not all that the character/story is about.

And Felix was just a fantastic hero.  Definitely flawed, and my heart broke for the Felix we first meet, but then soared as we watch him get back to himself, and really grow into a better, stronger man.  And really learn all that he has to offer, and that it’s not wrapped up in whether he can physically protect Juliet.

Juliet was just EVERYTHING.  Like I said, TOTAL GIRL CRUSH.  You get a hint in the blurb that she’s not a typical celebrity, but she just isn’t a typical ANYTHING!  I fell in love with her right from the photoshoot.  She was just so down to earth and straightforward, which don’t sound like sexy qualities, but when you watch her just go after what she wants, and not accept less than she deserves, it’s just…GAH!  LOVE IT!  And she’s delightful!  So fun and knows how to embrace happiness and sunshine and light!  Obviously not all the time, she does have her own struggles, what with the stalker and all, but…I don’t know.  I just wanted to be her friend.  I wanted to know her in real life.

And the two of them together were just magic.  I loved that when they had some struggles, they weren’t typical, and they didn’t end the way I expected.  I love it when couples embrace their love and fight for each other.

There was a pretty big element of suspense/mystery to this book that I guess I kind of wasn’t expecting.  Not a bad thing, though I did figure out who the stalker was pretty early on, so it was frustrating to have Juliet and Felix not see it.  But that’s the thing about books, it’s so easy to see things when you’re on the outside looking in.

The other major coup for this book was the secondary characters.  I am in love with Gavin…I just saw that his book is next, and I cannot wait.  Actually, I can’t wait for all the band member books, and I really want to go back and read Ian and Bianca’s book RIGHT NOW, even though I have other reading priorities.  We’ll see if I last.  The band members were total stars, and I loved the friendship they had with each other.  I loved how they were with Felix too…supportive and pushing at the same time.  And while we didn’t see much of Juliet’s sister Elle, I really loved the relationship Juliet had with her, and well her whole family.

So yeah.  Totally loved this book.  The only reason it’s not full 5 is because I grew frustrated with the stalker angle.  But everything else was so amazing, I almost don’t even care.  I seriously, 100% happy sighed when I finished this book.  If that doesn’t tell you something, well…

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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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Juked by M.E. Carter

Blurb:
30625212Juked: verb.
/jook-t/
A slang soccer term meaning: faked out, deceived, confused your opponent
See examples Daniel Zavaro and Quincy Watson:

As the rising star in Houston, Daniel has found fame as Captain of his Pro soccer team and the city’s most eligible bachelor. Daniel has everything – except someone special – and that suits him just fine. He doesn’t want, or need, complications.

Quincy has baggage, and lots of it. After a tragic accident spins her world on its axis, she finds herself as a single mother, raising a newborn nephew she never knew she had. Between parenthood, her full-time job, and dealing with the suffocating grief of losing her sister, every day is a struggle.

When they begin to cross paths unexpectedly and often, an unlikely friendship starts to evolve. Feelings change. Lines get crossed. What happens next surprises them both…

Before they know it– they’ve been Juked.

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My Review:
4 stars — Loved it!  I read this one in a day you guys.  It was just an easy, fun read, but with its share of drama and heartbreak as well.

What’s funny is that usually it’s characters that put me over the top on a book, and while I enjoyed both characters, individually they weren’t what stood out to me in this book.  It was a bunch of other things that mixed together made for a very enjoyable read.

As a lover of sports romance, I thought this one did a pretty good job actually including some sport in the story.  I loved that while Daniel was a sports celebrity, he wasn’t some rich guy necessarily.  I know next to nothing about soccer, and honestly find it kind of boring, but I thought it was funny that they didn’t shy away from the dramatic acting that happens on the field and is apparently part of the play (with injuries to get penalties).

This book actually made me really happy with its diversity!!  I actually felt like it wasn’t just token, you know?  Like I couldn’t just imagine Daniel as white and basically nothing would change.  I LOVED his big Mexican family, and I really enjoyed that we got to see their dynamics, and the struggles they all faced after his father’s betrayal.  It’s really interesting to see how that doesn’t just affect young children, but adult/young adult children as well.  I appreciated that they weren’t perfect.

I also really appreciated a lot of the frank internal and external observations/conversations Daniel had about sex.  It felt more realistic than so many other playboy heroes.  And not only that, but he acknowledged that there was a difference in being able to separate your emotions from the act, and…I don’t know…  It just worked for me.  And I appreciated the conversations that Daniel had with his nephew Nicky, and how he navigated being a role model and giving good advice to a teenage boy.

On Quincy’s side of things, I really loved the whole story with baby Chance, and navigating becoming an emergency caregiver.  I really felt for what she was dealing with, and it felt so real…  I hurt for her, I felt her fears and feelings of inadequacy.  I loved the way the custody storyline played out, it took some interesting turns I wasn’t expecting.

And I LOVED Quincy and Daniel together, they made me laugh!  They had fantastic chemistry, and I felt their draw to each other.  I also enjoyed their friendship and how it developed (though sometimes it was a tiny bit showy instead of telly).  And I appreciated that the conflict of the story and the climax wasn’t a LONG drawn out misunderstanding.  It felt real, again.

I ADORED the way Daniel was with Chance.  I’m not a kid person you guys, and a lot of times I don’t think kids/babies are depicted realistically in books (the struggles are glossed over).  I thought the author nailed a lot of this, and I really could imagine so many of those situations.

So those are all the pros.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.  I wasn’t as excited about them both not wanting to define their relationship.  I understood where Daniel was coming from, but not as much with Quincy.  And my biggest pet peeve was the slut shaming that occurred.  Now, luckily, it was mostly from Quincy’s best friend Geni, and less so from Quincy herself, but it still kind of annoyed me.  Now, I realize it’s sort of setting up for Tiffany’s book and showing how she’s viewed by so many, but I just really wanted Quincy to get more mad at Geni (though I suppose the author kind of made Geni look bad for doing it…).  Strangely, there was even a degree of guy-type slut shaming.  I’m not saying I don’t find some sexual things people engage in to be…well, not to my taste.  But I felt a bit of judgement from Daniel towards his teammates.  This wasn’t a major part of the book, but if slut-shaming is a 100% no-go for you, well, there is a bit…

So there you have it.  I seem to be getting more and more verbose as time goes on.  I always feel like people are going to think books are bad based on my reviews, but I just really like hearing myself talk…and I’m picky.  I note things.  So always look at the star rating…the star rating tells you how much my cons actually play a part in the whole shebang.  And obviously they played very little part here, there was just too much else to love…

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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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Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Blurb:
34223444A basketball game changed both their lives.

When they were only teenagers, Axel and Caxton were caught making out in the woods at church camp. And afterward, Cax had disappeared from all the youth group activities.

Six years later, Axel is astonished to spot his first love’s face in the crowd of a college basketball game he’s watching on TV—at a school which has just offered him a job. It’s a thousand miles away, in a tiny rural town. But suddenly, he can’t wait to get there.

Cax can’t believe his eyes when Axel appears in the same Massachusetts town where he now lives. And he’s still just as drawn to Axel as ever. But he can’t let himself go there again, because loving Axel will mean giving up everything else he holds dear.

Both men have so much to lose. But as far as their love is concerned, it’s Hello Forever.

Hello Forever was previously published as It’s Never Over. This is a stand-alone novel with no cliffhangers. Readers of Goodbye Paradise will get to check in on Caleb and Josh and their clan.

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

Another solid M/M romance from Ms. Bowen!!  While I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as Goodbye Paradise (which is a really hard book to live up to since it was a 5 star read for me and contained so many little things that made it a perfect Lenore book), I was still sucked into this story and stayed up until 2:30 in the morning finishing it.

The POVs in this story weren’t structured in the same way as the previous book, this one was more close to alternating chapters (with some exceptions, as it made sense for the story).  I didn’t mind the change.  It made more sense for Cax and Axel’s story, and I felt like I got what I needed as a reader as the plot progressed.

There’s something about the different struggles that LGBT folks face when deciding when to come out that just rips open your heart, you know?  And Cax in particular had a tough road to walk.  I can’t imagine having to survive an abusive father no matter who you are, but especially as a gay kid when he is ridiculously homophobic and bigoted.  And I really got how his upbringing and experiences and the state of his family influenced his choice to remain mostly in the closet, especially if he wanted to maintain a relationship with his brothers.  Do I believe that he couldn’t have found another way?  I’m not sure.  But for who Cax was, it made sense…he was flawed, but doing the best he could with what he knew.  I enjoyed seeing him grow stronger over the course of the book, with setbacks here and there, but eventually standing up and accepting himself with no apologies.

While Cax’s journey was perhaps more heartwrenching in some ways, I felt closer to Axel in this story.  It wasn’t that he didn’t have his own struggles to go through, even as someone who was able to come out of the closet with support from his Mom.  He really showed that you can be “out and proud”, but still fear the backlash that may come from people he meets.  And how that fear can make for a lonely existence sometimes.  AND how loving someone in a closet can really have adverse affects on you as well.

I loved Cax and Axel together, and loved hearing about their past as children.  If I had one complaint, I wish we’d gotten a bit more from the romance.  It’s not that it wasn’t deliciously steamy, or that they didn’t have chemistry, but it just felt like something was missing to really push it over the top for me.  Honestly, it could just be that it’s hard to follow up the love of Caleb and Josh from the previous book.

The plot took a few twists and turns I wasn’t expecting.  Like, something would happen and I would assume that I knew how it was going to play out, but then it would go in a slightly different direction.  I like that, it felt authentic to the characters.  That’s not to say that there weren’t some things that were definitely foreshadowed and didn’t shock me, but it was nice to be surprised on some things.  Wow, that was really vague and confusing, sorry.  😛

Again, this story is strong in secondary characters, with so many playing important roles.  And I loved so many of them, from the reappearance of Caleb and Josh (squee!), to Boz who was so funloving, to Amy (though I wish we could have seen her a bit more), to Jason (perhaps we’ll see his story in the future?), to even Cax’s brothers.  I love when a book has a great supporting cast.

So yeah.  I always hate writing these last paragraphs, I never know how to end a review.  Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and what more can you ask for?  OH!  And can I just say that Caxtastrophe and Axeldental were the most hilarious email names??  Loved it!

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Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen

Blurb:
34527470Most people called it a cult. But for twenty years, Josh and Caleb called it home.

In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world.

But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves.

It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.

Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires.

Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels?

Warning: Contains a hot male/male romance, copious instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain, and love against the kitchen counter. This book was previously released under the title: In Front of God & Everyone.

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My Review:
5 stars — OMG guys, I don’t even know what to say except this was so my kind of book.  Like you know how you have those specific kinds of things that just shoot a book over the top for you?  Well this book had them all.  I have an unhealthy fascination with books about characters from religious cults.  I love best friends to lovers stories.  And I adore male/male romances.  Plus a million little things that I could never put into words.

I fell in love with both characters, obviously, but perhaps more for Josh than Caleb.  Josh had such a sweet naivety to him, and he was just so damaged from living in fear that someone would find out his “sinful” thoughts.  The compound did a real number on him, from the doctrines that they were taught, to the people who mentally abused him by tearing him down at every chance, to the family that basically abandoned him.  At times I was flabbergasted at the stark difference between Josh and Caleb, because even with Caleb’s ability to leave the compound, I didn’t understand how he was able to see the compound for what it was so much more than Josh.  But as I went on with the book, I could really tell how the differences in their family situations growing up could make an impact, could allow Josh to believe it more fully with less skepticism.

And Josh just developed even more fully in their time outside the compound, and my heart ached for how lost he seemed.  How everything that drew him in reinforced the horrible things the bullies made him feel about himself.  I was so invested in his growth, in watching him love his new jobs, and eventually come to understand that that was OK.  And seeing him stand up for himself against Caleb was both heartbreaking and rewarding.

Since a larger part of the book was in Josh’s POV, I did feel I got to know him a bit more, but I fell in love with Caleb all the same.  It’s funny, b/c I felt like we got to see more of his damage in the second half of the book, and the effects of the compound on him were more subtle perhaps.  But I loved that he wasn’t as strong and together as we might have thought at first glimpse.  I wasn’t expecting it, I thought his contributions to the story would be more wrt the romance, but it’s funny how those we see as so together can sometimes be hiding great strain and sorrow.  There’s a TINY part of me that perhaps wanted more from him, but I’m also OK with it because I loved the story we got.

The romance was amazing.  Seeing them figure things out together, and struggle against their upbringing and their fears to embrace what they desired was very fulfilling.  Obviously the steam factor was amazing, right from the first kiss.  It’s kind of funny, b/c it’s like taking the fears of most LGBT folks and magnifying it a bit.  Fear of being discovered, shame of their feelings, fear over being accepted by their loved ones, fear of losing their loved ones because of who they love.

And then to top off this amazing story of Josh and Caleb, we got a FANTASTIC set of secondary characters, some of whom we got to see a bit of their own story as well (Maggie and Daniel).  I LOVED the dynamic of a runaway from the cult wanting to help other runaways from the cult.  I truly believed in the bond they shared from their shared experience, and how they became a family.  And I appreciated that Ms. Bowen added more to the story in little bits, like Maggie’s struggle after Chloe’s birth.  I loved how much love they had to give to each other.

And it wasn’t just these more major secondary characters, I also loved the minor ones.  From Washington, to the tiny glimpse of Trey, to Caleb’s work buddies.  They all added something to the story.

So there’s my gushing review.  When this first came out, it pained me that I didn’t have time to read it right away, b/c I had a feeling I was going to be in love.  Thank the baby jesus that Ms. Bowen republished it under her name, b/c what if I’d never discovered it otherwise?  That would have been a travesty.  A travesty I tell you!

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Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino

Blurb:
13561898Brad is great at meeting other people’s expectations. But his own? Not so much. Take the gay thing. Okay, so yeah. It took a morning meeting with a frat brother’s hairy, naked ass for him to admit it, but he knows the truth about himself now. Let the gay life commence.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. He hasn’t quite determined how to come out to anyone, even Sebastian, the geeky-hot TA in his history class. Sebastian is everything Brad is not. Intellectual, suave, hairy. Out. And he doesn’t seem interested in Brad, even when Brad makes a fool of himself trying to catch his notice.

Score one for foolery: Sebastian does more than notice Brad; he takes him to bed. Brad’s been with plenty of girls, but with Sebastian, the sex is something else entirely—hot, mind-blowing, affirming, and a little domineering in a way that drives him wild. But when great sex turns into something more—dare he admit the “L” word?—Brad must face the crushing realization that Sebastian doesn’t feel the same. Unless, of course, he does. After all, even grad students can be idiots about matters of the heart.

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My Review:
ORIGINAL REVIEW: 4 stars — Was better than I was expecting…not saying I was expecting it to be bad, but it was like deeper than I expected. Now I sound like a valley girl. *sigh* Basically I wasn’t expecting much for story, but there was a romance flavour to it all. And I LOVED Brad. He was a really interesting male hero — so many contradictions to him. Loved his story, loved his passions, loved his approach to this new insight into his life. Sebastian was a great complement for Brad too — though I would maybe like to have learned a bit more about him. We got hints here and there, but not enough I guess. The frat boy friends amused me, especially Kyle…

ON REREAD: 4 stars — It’s been a while since I read this one, but it looks like I concur with my past self.  Brad was the real winner of this story for me, we saw so much more development in his character.  I loved learning about how his experiences as a teenager sort of forced him back into the closet, and it broke my heart b/c it left him so confused and unsatisfied with life.  I love how he was never truly ashamed of being gay once he figured it out, it was more that he thought he wasn’t supposed to be.  And once he figured it out, he accepted it pretty quickly, and was only really mitigating the fall out from there on out.  He was kind of a sweetheart, and I loved that he was so different from what people expected, when you really got to see the real him.  I felt sad that people had pigeon-holed him, and made him feel as though who he really was wasn’t ok somehow.  It was so satisfying when he started going for what he wanted, and learning about love and pleasure for the first time.  I loved that he owned up to his bad choices in the past, and felt bad for not realizing how he was hurting girls along the way.  I LOVED that his family was so supportive and a non-issue.  I LOVED that his best friend was freaking hilarious and shocked, but then all in ready to fight for him.  I appreciated him having someone like that in his corner.

Sebastian had growth too, but I can’t say I fell as in love with him.  We just didn’t get to see inside him enough, except near the end when he has his epiphany.

I love that the author challenged the expected roles in our lovers, having Sebastian top and Brad bottom.  And I will say the steamy sections were definitely hot!  But there was definitely more story, and more romance than I had remembered.

All in all, a solid M/M.  Maybe a 3.5 star instead of full 4, but I enjoyed myself, so I’ll go all in, what the heck, why not…

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Undercover Fan by Jennie Bennett

Blurb:
34025880A Stand-alone Novel from the BESTSELLING Kpop romance series.

Corrine Miller-Hayden has a secret. As captain of the cheer team and a Texas beauty queen, she wouldn’t dare tell anyone about her closet K-pop music obsession.

That is, until she runs into her Minji, her ultimate bias, at a fan gathering. She never dreamed she’d touch Minji, let alone accidentally take his phone.

When they meet again at a pep-rally, it’s not like Corrine imagined. She thought she’d be showing off, but instead she becomes the target of a dye-filled water balloon attack. Abby was supposed to be her best friend, not the girl who openly shamed her in front of the whole school.

Minji saves her, not only from embarrassment, but from her own stuck-up self.

Can she love Minji openly, and keep her fangirling a secret?

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My Review:
4 stars — OK, I’m totally reading these backwards, but I don’t even care.  I just had to dive into another of these K-Pop romances because they’re so cute and fun.  And this one felt really different from Kidnapped Idol too!  Less danger and villains, more of an authentic YA feel with some Korean flare.

Before I go further, can I just say I liked the old cover better?  This one feels…sexier or something.  The old one had a more cute YA feel somehow.

OK, cover aside, I loved this one too.  It was fun, and the romance was freaking on point!!  That was the highlight for me for sure.  I loved Corrine and Minji even more than Woon and Jemica!!  I just really felt their chemistry, and I could feel the way their feelings developed.  How Corrine went from a secret crush/obsession to really falling in love with the real Minji.

I was a bit worried that I wasn’t going to like Corrine.  I mean, I liked her at first, but then a bit of her mean girl came out and I was disappointed, and I had a hard time judging her sincerity, but then I felt like I believed in her growth, you know?  It’s kind of a weird life that she lived.

I will say that the friendship with Abby, and how that all played out didn’t work for me.  I don’t think I really understood why Abby went that far, it was really really mean.  I feel like as a reader I didn’t get enough to figure out how she could go that far in the prank, and so I had a harder time with how that worked out than Corrine did.

BUT, since I was so in love with Corrine and Minji, I didn’t care that much.  If I didn’t have that adorable romance, I probably would have been more bothered by that side plot, but I’ll give it a pass.  Seriously, the whole Galveston Island outing was like romance gold.  LOVED IT!!

If you’re looking for something light and quick to read, that gives you good feelings, I definitely say give these a try.  They’re a tiny bit cheesy, a little hard to believe, but at the same time really satisfying.

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