Merrily in Love by Melissa West

Blurb:
36313195The Littleton brothers are as much a part of Crestler’s Key as the sun and surf, living the single life without a care. But love has a way of changing even the most determined bachelor’s mind . . . 

Brady Littleton has left his reckless youth behind to become a man his brothers can count on. When the family dive shop needs to expand, he’s got the answer: buy the Christmas shop next door. Except the retiring owner’s goddaughter, Kylie Waters, has come back to town. She was Brady’s first kiss—his first everything—and she doesn’t want to sell. He’s got a solution to that too. Whoever makes the most sales by Christmas Day can take over the shop, fair and square.

Kylie resolved to put the youngest, wildest Littleton brother out of her head when he abruptly ended their relationship years ago. But the steady, gorgeous man he’s become is impossible to ignore. Especially once reminiscing leads to a kiss as hot and heady as mulled wine. Their deal means that one of them is going to lose out on a dream…unless Christmas Day brings the gift of a sweet, surprising second chance…

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

This one had its ups and downs for me, but I finished it with a smile on my face, and shed a few tears (well, more than a few, but I’m blaming PMS for the overreaction), so I’m calling it a win.

Both Kylie and Brady spent a lot of time aggravating me.  But I also felt for both of them.  Kylie with her fear of abandonment issues.  Brady with his over the top sense of guilt when it came to his family.  So while I wanted to smack them for some of the decisions they made, and how long it took for them to grow, I also felt for them and how their past and choices had scarred them.

And even as aggravating as they both were, they were also really endearing!  They could be really sweet, and some of the moments when they were together actually had me sighing in happiness and swooning.  You can’t go wrong with swooning.

Honestly, the only reason it’s not a full 4 stars is that I always find it aggravating (jeez, is that like my word of the day or something?) when authors elude to something in the past, but don’t just explain it to the readers.  Like in this book, we know something happened to break up our characters, break both of their hearts, have them each blame the other, and develop some animosity.  But the author just kept teasing us with it, occasionally dropping breadcrumbs.  Eventually it was basically explained, but it’s the kind of literary technique that just makes me want to abandon a book…because I spend so much time wondering what happened, that I just want to skip pages to find out.  Not always, I do get that there are certain instances where it makes sense, but I honestly don’t understand what the point was of keeping the reader in the dark in this case.  But I’m about to get ranty about something that’s really rather small, so I’m gonna stop.

I must say, I did NOT like either of Brady’s brothers…they were kind of selfish and not understanding.  I got their worry, but they were kind of dicks about some stuff.  However, Brady’s parents were da bomb.  And Franny and Ally rounded out our fabulous secondary characters nicely.

So yeah.  Some aggravation, but a WHOLE LOT of swooning too.  I mean come on, the whole ending was one big swoonfest.  So all in all a winner.

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Hooking Up by Helena Hunting

Blurb:
35048632Amalie Whitfield is the picture of a blushing bride during her wedding reception–but for all the wrong reasons. Instead of proclaiming his undying love, her husband can be heard, by Amalie and their guests, getting off with someone else. She has every reason to freak out, and in a moment of insanity, she throws herself at the first hot-blooded male she sees. But he’s not interested in becoming her revenge screw.

Mortified and desperate to escape the post-wedding drama, Amalie decides to go on her honeymoon alone, only to find the man who rejected her also heading to the same tiny island for work. But this time he isn’t holding back. She should know better than to sleep with someone she knows, but she can’t seem to resist him.

They might agree that what happens on the island should stay on the island, but neither one can deny that their attraction is more than just physical.

Filled with hilariously scandalous situations and enough sexual chemistry to power an airplane from New York City to the South Pacific, Hooking Up is the next standalone, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy from Helena Hunting, the New York Times bestselling author of the Pucked series and Shacking Up.

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

I think I wanted to like this one more than I actually did, mostly because I know people who loved it.  But in the end I try to look at how sucked in I am by a book, and if I don’t find myself clamoring for any spare minutes to read, then it’s not likely a “loved it” book.  I will note that I have not read Shacking Up yet, and while this book is not listed as being part of a series, it does appear to be an unofficial series (in that our hero and heroine were likely introduced in Shacking Up, and the hero and heroine of Shacking Up appear quite a lot in this book).  So do with that information as you will.

Can I just say that I find it really silly to request that the hero’s name not be mentioned in the review?  I mean, what’s the likelihood that’s actually going to work?  If it’s not a series, then what would it matter if people knew his name?  Aha!  Caught you.  😛  I shall call him Hottie Hook-up, but honestly, others have already mentioned his name, so it seems a pointless exercise.

This book started off really good actually.  I LOVED the prologue, loved the way Hottie Hook-up and Amalie first meet, and thus am heartbroken when stupid Armstrong gets his claws in there.  And for the first half of the book, I actually was pulled in by the chemistry between Amalie and Hottie and the humour, even if I had other qualms.  But as the book went on, my qualms remained (and got worse) and I became concerned with the lack of development of an emotional relationship between Amie and Hottie.  Honestly, I became frustrated with their relationship in general.  I guess I just didn’t like how it all played out in the end, and I wanted things that weren’t happening.  And then the ending left me ridiculously confused.  Like, the last chapter before the epilogue, I thought they were sort of breaking up…ish.  And then I turn the page and it’s the epilogue.  And then I get a glossed over recap of what’s been happening, and how things developed and were “resolved”, and basically I was soooooo unsatisfied.  And that’s when my rating changed from rounding up to rounding down.  Perhaps it’s even just a solid 3 star at this point, but I still enjoyed Hottie, so he earns the half a star.

So what were my qualms?  Uh, am I the only one that basically felt that Armstrong was really mentally/emotionally abusive?  Telling her what to wear, how she should appear in public, basically planning her whole life around him.  I mean, there’s bad guys and then there’s Armstrong.  He was too evil.  Why?  Because he should be getting psychiatric help, and no one seems to want to do that.  You can have him be a dick and have that relationship dissolve without making him out to be what is essentially a sociopath.  And because I felt that he was abusive, while I applaud Amie for sticking to her guns and getting out of the relationship (showing strength at each turn that he screwed with her), she was still IN an abusive relationship for what sounds like at least a year, and so she probably could have used some counselling.  Or someone who understood that.  I don’t know.  I was really disturbed, and I just felt like the matter wasn’t treated with the gravity it deserved.  Either it needed to be toned down, or it needed to be addressed.  At least in my opinion.

And in a similar vein, I never really felt I saw Amie’s growth.  I’m not sure she did grow.  We’re told she did, but I didn’t see it or feel it.  I also really don’t know all that much about her.  I mean, she’s sassy, she has a healthy sexual appetite and a sense of adventure (which again, just goes to show how abusive Armstrong was), and apparently she has some aptitude for makeup.  But what else was there?  Did I miss it?  She wasn’t really my favourite.  She does a lot of running, a bit of using of Hottie, and by the end she’s still kind of uncertain and insecure.

Hottie was a more likeable character for me.  I was still fairly unimpressed with his history with Armstrong, and his inability to do something about Armstrong (well, for his whole family’s inability to just draw a line in the sand with that sociopath…like, really, they’re still going to invite him to functions?  No).  Basically Armstrong brought out the worst in Hottie.  And quite frankly, I wasn’t always impressed with the way his own desire for Amie would result in him pushing her past her comfort zone with basically no regard for her mental well-being.  At least he actually showed growth in those things though.  BUT, when you remove those two aspects, Hottie was actually super sweet, dirty, sarcastic, thoughtful, hardworking, and we actually got to see his personality a bit more.  He saved a lot of this book.

As for their relationship, well it was very sex-focused.  We were told they had lots of moments where they just talked and basically dated, but we, the readers, didn’t actually get to see any of that happening.  And so I don’t quite understand what they love about each other.  They definitely love the sex.  But isn’t that just lust then?

So yeah.  Bummer.  I was really hoping to love this one.  I’ll still give Shacking Up a try, as it seems that a few other reviewers who didn’t see the emotions in this one enjoyed that one more.  This book excels at the sex scenes, and the dirty humour (though I tend to cringe with certain terms, like taco), so I can definitely recommend it on those aspects.  But if you NEED a bit more emotional connection, personally it just didn’t work for me.

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The First Kiss Hypothesis by Christina Mandelski

Blurb:
36453287Nora Reid believes scientific laws control everything, even love. With her grandparents’epic first kiss story cemented in her brain, Nora develops a hypothesis she’s determined to prove:for each person in the world, there is exactly one other person, and at first kiss, they’ll experience an immediate and intense reaction.

But after four years of zero-reaction kisses, she comes up with a new theory: maybe that pesky crush on her stunningly hot best friend Eli Costas is skewing her results.

She needs to get rid of him, and fast.

Eli Costas is an injury-prone lacrosse star with a problem—the one chance he had at winning over the girl next door resulted in the most epically sucktastic first kiss ever. And now she’s…trying to get rid of him? Hell no. It’s time to disprove her theory and show her exactly what she’s missing.

Game. On.

Disclaimer: This book contains a stunningly hot lacrosse player who isn’t above playing dirty to win over the stubborn girl-next-door of his dreams.

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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.

Well that was an up and down ride!!  It started off really strong, I absolutely adored the author’s voice in this one.  There was a bit of sassiness and snark that was delightful.  I spent time both loving and hating BOTH characters, but in this case (unlike my previous read), I’m happy to say they redeemed themselves and showed those two words I love in characters: GROWTH AND CHANGE!

Nora was an intriguing, if frustrating, heroine!  It’s funny, b/c at first I thought she was going to be really snarky, but that didn’t really last.  I felt for the damage she sustained from her divorced parents, and their rather toxic relationship.  I also liked that it wasn’t something we saw that much (as we never met the father), but you could see the damage in so many subtle little ways…not the least of which was her ridiculous hypothesis.  As a reader, I found it really hard to watch her hang onto her theory with such a tightfisted grip.  But I guess she really wanted to believe she could avoid her mother’s mistake.  I sometimes think the smartest people can just not see the most obvious things sometimes.  Hence the frustrating part of Nora.  She also had a bit of high school damage.  By holding on to this theory, and testing it out on all the boys, she’d kind of alienated herself from many of her fellow students…and my heart broke for her trying to navigate that.

Eli was just as intriguing, and honest to god, just as frustrating…but in a completely different way.  I had completely different expectations for this story, and particularly for Eli.  I honestly thought he was always in love with her, and figured this was his chance.  But it’s not quite that.  Quite frankly, that confused and frustrated me.  If he just knew he loved her and was finally making his move, I’d have been immediately on board (I love those stories).  But he was so confusing!!  And confused!  He wanted to get another chance with Nora and he wanted to prove her hypothesis wrong using himself as an example, but he kept initially framing it as though that was all he wanted…like for her own good, so she wouldn’t be lonely.  But dude, that’s kind of dickish.  And so I was confused how that was going to go.  And worried.  But I’ll get back to that in a moment.  I was also startled by his personality and attitude sometimes.  I expected a more laidback sweet guy, and he wasn’t quite that.  Honestly, he actually felt like a really realistic depiction of a teenage guy.  He had all this anger bottled up sometimes…which from what I understand from my husband is a common teenage boy problem, testosterone and all.  He didn’t always appreciate his parents.  He wasn’t the most tactful with Nora.  It was odd.  And yet I still liked him.  He still had these great moments.  And I guess I kind of liked that he was a bit oblivious to his own feelings, at least it was different.

I was honestly REALLY concerned when I got to what I thought was the climax.  Eli behaved VERY BADLY.  Like, a total jerky douchebag.  Like, yelling and sneering.  I was ready to wash my hands of the story, I didn’t think it could turn around.  But there was more story left than I had anticipated.  And you know what?  To my GREAT surprise, I actually appreciated how the story played out afterwards.  I’m still not super impressed with how Eli handled that particular moment, but I actually felt like I saw him go through all the emotions after that.  I saw him grow up a bit.  I saw him make realizations.  And Nora too!  I was freaking ecstatic with the final scene!  Like it was actually everything I was wanting!  I was shocked!  I’m not saying everyone will be happy with it…just like I’m not saying everyone will have as big a problem with the climax.  But it worked for ME.

As an aside, can I say that I really liked a lot of the secondary characters??  The parents were actually pretty great.  Flawed, but great.  Eli’s friend, Koviak, was cooler than I was expecting…  And even Tex was an OK character.  Abby was meh though.  BUT the secondary character star for me was Eli’s little brother (who is on the autism spectrum).  Both Eli and Nora showed their best selves with Ari.  And he was just kind of delightful.

So yeah.  I thought this was going to be a 3 star.  But I’m even rounding up!  Just shows how important a great ending is.

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Offsetting Penalties by Ally Mathews

Blurb:
36430566Isabelle Oster has dreamed of being a prima ballerina her entire life, so when the only male dancer backs out of the fall production, she’s devastated. Without a partner, she has no hope of earning a spot with the prestigious Ballet Americana company. Until hot jock Garret practicing stretches in one of the studios gives Izzy an idea, and she whips out her phone. But does she really want this badly enough to resort to blackmail?

All-state tight end Garret Mitchell will do anything to get a college football scholarship. Even taking ballet, which surprisingly isn’t so bad, because it means he gets to be up close and personal with the gorgeous Goth girl Izzy while learning moves to increase his flexibility. But Izzy needs him to perform with her for the Ballet Americana spot, and he draws the line at getting on stage. Especially wearing tights.

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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.

OK, you know exactly why I requested this book if you know anything about me.  The premise was tailor made for me!  I love dance books, and love them even more when the hero dances!!  And the dance stuff was fantastic!  And there was a lot of it!!  You can’t even imagine how happy that made me.  I’m not a dancer, whatsoever, but I appreciate it and envy those with that much dedication, athleticism and grace.  And honestly, the dancing was my favourite part of this book.  Seeing Garret learn about stretching, positions, pirouettes, and then seeing Garret and Izzy tackle lifts just filled my heart with happiness!

As for the rest of the story, and particularly the characters, I thought this book started off really strong!  I was drawn into the challenges of both characters, and I thought they both seemed like good kids struggling to work through what life had handed them.  I felt Izzy’s loneliness and isolation, and her struggle to do things on her own and prove her worth without her father’s influence.  And Garret had a lot to work through with an unsupportive (and possibly alcoholic) dad, and the struggles that come from a low-income family.

And I really enjoyed their initial interplay with each other…like they had their own impressions of the other, but they could see that there was more to the other.  I liked the way they started becoming friends, but you could see them wanting more.  And I liked the way they became more!

But somewhere along the way, the characters seemed to stop growing.  I know they’re teenagers, but I honestly expected them to start showing some empathy towards the other’s situation.  But the selfishness, in general, persisted.  Moreso in Garret than Izzy.  I actually grew annoyed when Izzy would immediately apologize for her assumptions about what Garret would struggle with and downplay her own struggles, and there would be crickets from Garret’s side.  Apparently money really is more valuable than close family, at least according to this book.  As a reader, I thought they both struggled equally, but I don’t think Garret ever really understood the negatives about Izzy’s life.  All he saw was the wealth and material things.  And thus, I became less enamoured with our characters, particularly the hero.

And then we get to the ending…which felt kind of rushed, and left me a bit unsatisfied.

So yeah.  Full marks for the dance component, and a fantastic first half!!  But alas, I need a good closer to make me round up instead of down, which is a bummer.  This one had so much potential.  Perhaps the ending won’t bug others as much as it did me.

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Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox

Blurb:
31567740A Toronto Connections Novel

While on holiday in Toronto, Evie Whitmore planned to sightsee and meet other asexuals, not audition for a dance competition. Now she’s representing Toronto’s newest queer dance studio, despite never having danced before. Not only does she have to spend hours learning her routine, she has to do it with one of the grumpiest men she’s ever met. Tyler turns out to be more than a dedicated dancer, though — he might be the kind of man who can sweep her off her feet, literally and figuratively.

Tyler Davis has spent the last year recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship. So he doesn’t need to be pushed into a rushed routine for a dumb competition. Ticking major representation boxes for being trans and biracial isn’t why he went into dance. But Evie turns out to be a dream student. In fact, she helps him remember just how good partnering can be, in all senses of the word. Teaching her the routine, however, raises ghosts for him, ones he’s not sure he can handle.

Plans change, and people change with them. Learning a few steps is one thing; learning to trust again is another entirely.

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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.

As is hinted at in the blurb, trigger warnings for descriptions of emotional/transphobic abuse and the aftermath.  Not being trans, nor having experienced emotional abuse, I cannot speak to how that is handled.  From an outsider perspective, I thought it was fine, but I’ve seen reviews from abuse survivors that suggest otherwise, so perhaps read those and decide for yourself.

I was attracted to this book for several reasons.  First, it’s a cornucopia of diversity…and not only that, but it has LGBT+ characters of the lesser explored variety, so I was intrigued.  Especially with Evie, as I identify on the gray spectrum.  I even chose to read it this month because one of my diversity challenge themes is intersectionality, and since Tyler is trans and biracial it totally fits.  Second, and this cannot be understated enough, I LOVE dance books.  I’m not a dancer myself, I’m just constantly in awe of the dance community, which I feel is the perfect marriage between athletics and art…both of which I do not excel in.  😛  And third, it’s set in Canada!!  I love reading books set in my country, so that definitely played a factor.  And honestly, on the whole I was fulfilled!  I wasn’t blown away or anything, but it satisfied my desire for diversity, dance, and Canadianism!

Like I said, I cannot speak to the realistic representation of Tyler as a trans character, but I felt like the author explored some of the challenges of being a transgendered man, and the horrible experience of transphobic/emotional abuse.  I will admit that while I appreciated some of the observations Tyler had in his journey, this was not a great example of someone healing from an abusive relationship.  It was kind of glossed over and shallow, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in the wrong place.  This book was more about the relationship between Tyler and Evie, with Tyler’s fears used mostly as a roadblock to that relationship.  So more heavy on the romance, less on depth of an emotional journey.  That was fine for me, but may not work for everyone.  In general I liked Tyler, but I felt like his character could be a bit inconsistent.  And since we didn’t really get to see in depth healing, the constant roadblock from the aftermath of his ex became a bit overused without satisfying growth and change.

I really loved Evie’s character, and her representation for the gray spectrum.  I realize not everyone will appreciate it if they’re looking for the quintessential asexual character, which she is not.  But as someone elsewhere on the spectrum, I was super excited to see a character very much like me represented, as the gray spectrum really is vast.  We got to see her fall in love with different things about Tyler that had nothing to do with sexual attraction.  Ace stuff aside, I thought she was really funny, forthright, and a good mix of sweet and sass.

I loved that we got a good amount of dancing as well…it satisfied my wannabe dancer’s heart.  And watching Tyler and Evie crush and flirt with each other while dancing was the highlight of this book for me.

On the not so good side of things, there were a lot of little threads left hanging and not dealt with…I don’t understand why an author would introduce something and leave it unresolved.  The biggest was Evie’s relationship with her mother.  It was constantly in the background through emails, and quite frankly it was kind of toxic.  But we never see the resolution in that relationship.  Perhaps if we were told she had a bad relationship, that she couldn’t come out to her family, but left it at that, I would have been OK having it glossed over at the end.  But to see the quietly toxic relationship consistently in the background, complete with fat-shaming remarks, and to then see no resolution was unsatisfying.

I was also really unimpressed with Gigi in this story…he made fat-shaming remarks of his own that made me uncomfortable, and he was really allowed to be fairly mean throughout the story without consequences.  And I wasn’t impressed with his side story, especially if he’s going to get a book of his own.  I would have liked more Tyler/Evie time.

And quite frankly, none of the friendships were super awesome.  They could have good qualities, but there was a level of care missing at times…just a lot of meddling without thinking of consequences.

There were a lot of terms used in this book that went unexplained…from the tumblr things Evie and Sarah connected with, to dance terms, to whatever fujoshi is (still need to Google that).  And it took me a bit to figure out that Bailey is nonbinary, and that when the author used they/them they were just talking about Bailey, and not Bailey and Sarah or something.  I liked having another lesser explored LGBT+ character represented, but it was too bad that it took me so long to understand that.

So yeah.  Like I said, not blown away, but still enjoyed myself (rounding up for the dance aspect alone).  It wasn’t a book I gobbled up, but it did have some great aspects that I personally really enjoyed!  As an aside, am I the only Canadian that doesn’t actually consume a lot of maple syrup?

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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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Fake Fiancée by Ilsa Madden-Mills

Blurb:
34129618Fake engaged to the hottest quarterback in the country? SCORE.

They say nothing compares to your first kiss,
But our first kiss was orchestrated for an audience.
Our second kiss . . . that one was REAL.
He cradled my face like he was terrified he’d f*ck it up.
He stared into my eyes until the air buzzed.
Soft and slow, full of sighs and little laughs,
He inhaled me like I was the finest Belgian chocolate,
And he’d never get another piece.
A nip of his teeth, his hand at my waist . . .
And I was lost.
I forgot he was paying me to be his fake fiancée.
I forgot we weren’t REAL.
Our kiss was pure magic, and before you laugh and say those kinds of kisses don’t exist,
Then you’ve never touched lips with Max Kent, the hottest quarterback in college history.

Three months. Two hearts. One fake engagement.

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My Review:
3.5 stars — This one started off with a LOT of promise, but inevitably it just left me wanting more.  Bummer.  I’m thinking perhaps Ms. Madden-Mills just isn’t for me, this is the second book that had good bones, but just didn’t fulfill me in the end.

I loved the set up in the past and that first meet.  I was sucked in by their first encounter at University, and could see the initial chemistry they had together.  I was intrigued by Max, and loved the complexity of his character at first…a bit alpha with some vulnerability.  And I thought Sunny was nicely sassy, and independent and strong.

I adore fake relationship stories…I don’t know why, they just always suck me in.  And this one started off really well, and had good bones for that part of the story.  And I enjoyed the way their relationship continued to develop.

But then things just started to fizzle.  Sunny kept avoiding Max, and so I had a hard time understanding how they fell in love.  Max was a bit more boneheaded in some of his decisions than I normally like.  I still liked them both, but I wasn’t in love with either of them.

The major problem for me though, and what has me rounding down instead of up, is that I felt like a bunch of plot points just kind of fizzled or were dropped.  I stopped being intrigued.  I expected to learn more about Sunny’s father, and to see more resolution there (though we did get some).  I kept waiting for the first chapter to come back into play, and when it finally did it was kind of a let down (not bad, I just wanted more).  There didn’t even seem to be much of a climax, the book was more a hill than a mountain, you know?  And then the Felix/Bianca stuff.  That just left me confused.  I expected some big thing, with clarity, and we never got that.  Just a throwaway explanation in the epilogue.  None of these things are necessarily horrible, it’s just not my personal preference for a story arc, you know?

So yeah.  Bummer, I do have reviewers I follow who love her, but apparently Ms. Madden-Mills is just not for me.  Ah well!

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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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#FinishLine by Cambria Hebert

Blurb:
34384215
Every race has a finish line.

Where you go after you cross it is what matters most. And sometimes, that’s the most intriguing.

Here at GearShark, we’ve featured lots of drivers. All of them are well acquainted with the finish line. And as race fans, we’re well acquainted with cheering as they cross it. What we aren’t privy to is riding shotgun, seeing where they drive once the race is over.

Our interviews barely scratch the surface, offering just a glimpse of the men and women behind the wheel. The discovery of vanished Motocross sensation Jayson Hamilton, who has been right under our noses for years, proves secrets abound.

It’s time to dig deep. Look beyond the racetrack at the drivers who continue to pique our interest. In addition to scoring an exclusive, all-access interview with the elusive Jayson Hamilton (his first and only since the death of his fellow racer and partner Matt Lewis), we’ve caught up with some of our most popular featured men and women in the racing world.

Where are they now?

Who are they now?

What do these hot commodities do when they escape the spotlight?

Rumors of weddings, babies, and new tattoos swirl through the media on a weekly basis. And though we’re headlining the hashtag #Finishline, we’re far from finished. In fact, we’re just getting started.

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My Review:
3.5 stars — I think I might have enjoyed this one a bit more if I’d had dedicated time to read it, instead of it being broken up in little pieces whenever I had time in between other stuff going on in my life.

That being said, remember how I LOVED #Bae because it was so much more than *just* a huge epilogue??  Well, this one is basically just a huge epilogue.  I kept waiting for twists and turns and more character development, and I really didn’t get it.  We did get a few answers about Hopper’s past, but in general I felt underwhelmed…like I wanted more.

And honestly, while I love Hopper and Arrow together, things got a bit overdramatic in their relationship…over the top declarations and stuff like that.  And I couldn’t help but be a bit uncomfortable with the co-dependency that was their relationship.  In some ways I can see how these two damaged characters might form that kind of relationship, but it’s not my favourite, if that makes sense.

Now, it was not all over the top and crazy, don’t get me wrong.  If it was, I wouldn’t be rounding up.  I do LOVE epilogues, so it was super fun to see them together, loving each other, putting each other first, and actually getting to see the happily ever after.  I loved Hopper and Jace’s conversation near the beginning, I loved the proposal, I loved Arrow’s surprise for Hopper in Las Vegas…well surprises (honeymoon too).  I loved the wedding.

I do remember seeing people mention that this was not just an Arrow/Hopper story, so I wasn’t completely taken by surprise when their story finished at 70%…I kind of still wanted more, but I was satisfied.  And I do remember people mentioning that there is no more Trent and Drew story (though they do have cameos), so I wasn’t surprised about that either (though there was a tiny piece of my heart that held out hope for some reason).

And I actually enjoyed Josie and Jace’s extra bit of story.  I thought they had a bit more to say, and I actually almost got more out of their story than I was expecting.  Though their little bit of conflict was resolved fairly quickly in the end, but I still appreciated that we got to see them hit a stumbling block.  I loved the proposal, I loved Jace’s conversation with Josie’s Dad and the way it played out after that, I LOVED the wedding (and seeing Josie get some girlfriends in Rimmel and Ivy, Trent’s da bomb), and I thought that the hospital scene at the end was hilarious and a perfect end to their story.

So yeah.  I enjoyed it.  Just not as much as I was hoping to.  Trent and Drew remain my faves, but I’m glad that Ms. Hebert didn’t just slap something together for them just because fans were asking.  I hope she gets inspired, but I will wait for gold if it comes, and be satisfied if this is all I get if inspiration doesn’t strike.

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Misconduct by Samantha Kane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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