Campaigning for Christopher by Katy Regnery

Blurb:
26159697Christopher Winslow, the youngest of the four Winslow brothers, was born with a silver spoon in his privileged mouth, which has made it difficult for him to establish his credibility in the fast-approaching congressional race. Working against the clock to assure Pennsylvania voters that he is forthright, trustworthy and able has been an exhausting challenge, but Christopher’s chances at beating the incumbant look good.

Julianne Crow, a plus-size model struggling to make ends meet, jumps at the chance to make a little extra cash on the side. What does she have to do? Slip something into Christopher Winslow’s drink and take some very naughty pictures with him.

But Christopher is nothing like Julianne expected, and when her actions sabotage his hard-earned campaign only a month before the election, her guilt is overwhelming. She offers Christopher her help in an effort to repair the damage she’s caused, but can anything change the fact that he sees her as an opportunist and a mercenary? When she starts campaigning for Christopher, he may find out there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Return to the world created in the English Brothers books with this fresh foursome of scorching hot Winslow Brothers!

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My Review:
3.75 stars — OMG you guys, I was having such a hard time coming to terms with how I felt about this book, and honestly my skepticism started with the Note From the Author at the very beginning.  She talks about doing research and choosing to go with American Indian or Indian to refer to Julianne based on what she learned, and my whole being just rejected that.  I wondered if she actually talked to anyone, or if she’d had someone of that race read the book and gut check it.  And even though it’s really not super important to the overall story, it caused me to do my own research after I finished the book.  And I discovered one VERY important thing (besides discovering that it’s an extremely complicated issue, and that Ms. Regnery did not make a bad choice as I’d thought): the term Indian is considered much more offensive in Canada (where I live) than in the US.  AHHHH!!!  I feel so much better!  So my whole being rejected it b/c it’s different up here!!  I wish I’d looked into it right away from the beginning, b/c I’m not sure how much that coloured my reading, you know?   But anyways, you gotta love when a book causes you to learn something new for yourself.  Yay for knowledge!

ANYWAYS.  As seems to be the case with so many of my reviews for this series, I start off with a related, but not necessarily helpful piece of babbling.  The thing is, I really love reading diverse books, but I’m often wary of them as well, particularly when the author does not share that diversity…can I trust that they got it right?  As a white woman, will I even know?  But at the same time, I WANT to see this diversity.  I want to see characters that reflect the varied world that we live in, so I applaud Ms. Regnery for giving us Julianne, of the Lakota tribe of South Dakota.  And for not just having it be a throw away element of her character, but something that really defined her and the story that she tells.  I felt for her and all that she went through growing up, and I thought that while she had her struggles, she was also a very strong and admirable character.  Which is funny considering how the story begins.  She’s not so admirable at the start.

I can honestly say that I was SOOOOO leery of this aspect of the story (that’s hinted at in the blurb).  Maybe it’s because drugging a person is so anathema to everything in me, that I could not imagine what would transpire to make it OK for Jules to resort to that.  And the great thing is that while we saw her motivations, it *wasn’t* a good enough reason.  Why is that great?  Because she doesn’t excuse it for herself.  She made a HORRIBLE mistake and decision.  And she never backs down from that or plays it off.  From the moment she gives herself time to think, and then investigate, she does what she can to make it right.  Because you know what?  People do make very bad decisions from time to time, based on a multitude of reasons, but still bad decisions in the end.  And every time she lifted her head and sucked it up and quietly apologized and forged ahead, but also didn’t take too much sh*t as time went on, I just wanted to applaud.  Because I can love a flawed character that understands their flaws and works on them.  I admire that.  She was honestly my favourite character of this story, I LOVED her growth and change, I loved that she was forthright about her feelings, I loved that she didn’t play games.  And I loved that she respected herself and made hard decisions that were right for her.

Christopher wasn’t bad either, but I’m not entirely sure I had the same level of connection to him.  He had so much rage after being taken advantage of, and honestly, RIGHTFULLY SO.  But it was hard to fall in love with him.  Because *we* as the readers could see inside Jules’s heart, but he couldn’t.  So when he would snipe at her and same horrible things, it was just hurtful and hard to remember the context of where he was coming from.  I wanted him to be better.  And don’t get me wrong, he did get better.  But it was hard to reconcile his own development with the development we were seeing in Jules.  And I’m not sure what you could have done to make that work better, b/c it made sense.  But maybe I’m just not cut out for the enemy to lovers trope.  I don’t deal well with conflict.  Especially when it’s not born of sexual tension, but where the tension is there in spite of the conflict.  It was hard to get into.  And I kind of wanted to know more about Christopher’s campaign…or maybe not that so much as to see HIS passion.  We saw Jules’s passion, and we saw how much she admired his passion based on his platform.  But I wanted to see him get all riled up and passionate about things he believed in.  I think that would have endeared him earlier.

OK, so we have a heroine that I adore, and a hero that I liked, but took me longer to love.  Which would probably have had this book at a solid 4 stars for me (what? it’s my review, I’ll rate how I want).  But there were some niggles, hence the loss of a quarter star.  Who was the black hat man?  Why was that never resolved?  And why bother making Jules plus-sized if it’s never going to come into play?  I mean, it’s nice to have a plus sized girl, but it’s honestly mentioned like twice the whole time, so why put it there if you’re not going to give it some play.  Heck, we never even know if Chris likes plus sized girls.  It’s not bad, just a bummer.  And where was Alex?  I LOVED seeing Elise and Preston, and even a bit of Margaret and Skye.  But why was Alex never with his wife?

So that’s it, that’s all folks.  Imma gonna go pre-order me a set of Winslow Brothers paperbacks for the signing in May.  As much as I dissect these books and how I feel, I really do enjoy them.  They entertain, they give me a solid romance, and sometimes they even make me think and learn.  Sweet.

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Crazy About Cameron by Katy Regnery

Blurb:
25848928Crazy about Cameron is the third of four books about the Philadelphia-based, wildly-handsome Winslow brothers who are all on the look-out for love.

(Say what? Not so much…Brooks and Pres are OFF. THE. MARKET, and Chris is so distracted with his campaign, he can’t see what – or who – is right under his nose.)

With her stiff posture, black-rimmed glasses and chestnut waves in a tight bun, Cameron Winslow’s downstairs neighbor, Margaret Story, has long been the unaware star of his filthiest dirty-librarian fantasies. But with a floundering business eating up all his time, Cam doesn’t have the open road he’d need to date a lady like Margaret.

Margaret, who grew up down the road from Cameron, has always thought of him as a cross between a bully and a tease, as likely to pull her braids as pull her leg. But he’s grown up to be a smokin’ hot businessman, and Margaret can’t help daydreaming about what it would feel like to be under, um, with someone like him.

When hot-headed Cameron and buttoned-up Margaret start using the same shady contractor for apartment renovations, Margaret may find herself in some unexpected trouble, which forces long-hidden feelings to come out of hiding…and might just make way for two unlikely fantasies to finally come true.

Return to the world created in the English Brothers books with this fresh foursome of scorching hot Winslow Brothers!

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My Review:
4 stars — OK, because I can’t seem to get over it, I’m going to get one of my annoyances out of the way at the beginning, and then commence the gushing.  If you choose to binge read this series (The Winslow Brothers section in particular) as I’m doing since I have the box set, and you have a mind for details, this series is going to bug you at least a little bit.  Because there are continuity errors.  A few little, one a bit bigger.  I first noticed one in Proposing to Preston, when the age of Preston was wrong and inconsistent with what we learn in Bidding on Brooks (he should have been 31 in Part One and 33 in Part Two).  But I didn’t say anything in my review, b/c it’s only something someone who pays attention to details would really notice, and really didn’t influence the story.  But the bigger continuity issue we run into in this book is kind of annoying since it’s what had me anticipating this story in the first place.  We first glimpse Cameron and Margaret in Bidding on Brooks at the auction, and there seems to be this playful war going on wrt the contractor.  Margaret even has a conversation with Brooks before the auction.  That part of the timeline in this book goes QUITE differently.  We never see her talk to Brooks, Cameron is not hiding from Margaret (and actually purposely approaches her), and the whole signing for tiles things doesn’t ever happen.  In fact the contractor war really doesn’t happen how I anticipated.  And there were a few other little ones (like when they moved to England)…  So if you have a mind for details and this kind of thing would annoy you, I suggest spacing out the reading of this series so that you forget that stuff by the time you get to this book.  Or at least be forewarned and forearmed.

OK.  Sorry.  That was a big ole pile of word vomit.  But I needed to get it off my chest before I could get to the good stuff, b/c my brain is, quite frankly, stupid.  It doesn’t help that I’ve recently finished two beta reads, so that switch was still on in my brain.  And, shake it off…

So while this book did not go how I was anticipating, I really actually LOVED the way direction it took instead!!  Like I would have enjoyed the story that was hinted, but I was equally enamoured with the story I got.  And part of that is just good ole likable characters.  Cameron was NOT what I expected.  Not that I knew much about him, but he was…DIRTY, and thoughtful, and FOCUSED (on Margaret), and vulnerable, and initially unhappy, and so sweet!! and protective, and even his impulsiveness came out in ways I wasn’t expecting.  Because he may have been impulsive, but it was like he wasn’t afraid to go after what he wanted once he figured out what that was…  And he went for it WITH ALL ENGINES FIRING.  Sexy as f*ck.  Like seriously, I just loved the way he saw Margaret, and wanted her, and how he resolved the things going on in his personal life, and how involved he became with the new direction and with his new relationship.

And Margaret broke my heart in places.  I’m a sucker for a shy, vulnerable, somewhat wounded heroine that has a core of strength, and we definitely get that in Margaret.  OMG, I had not anticipated her Father, and I seriously cried for her in places.  And while I may not have understood her desire for approval in spite of certain things, I bought it from her.  And I really appreciated that we saw how she would be when she could be the self she wanted to be.  I loved her passion for wine (even though GROSS), and just all the little bits that made up the real her.  She wasn’t what I was anticipating either, but I loved her all the same.

And I really enjoyed the romance that played out between her and Cameron.  It may have been fast at times, but it developed at a pace that made sense for these characters and their histories.

The bit of suspense and mystery that played a small secondary part really didn’t work for me, as it was fairly obvious from the start, and easy to put the pieces together.  And, I don’t know, I guess I was less impressed with the way it played out.  Not sure if it was necessary.

So honestly, despite the few little things that might have brought it down, the characters just drove this story home.  One more book!!

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Proposing to Preston by Katy Regnery

Blurb:
25361685Proposing to Preston is the second of four books about the Philadelphia-based, wildly-handsome Winslow brothers who are all on the look-out for love.

(Except Brooks… he’s probably sailing around the world with Skye by now. And Christopher, who’s only on the look-out for a congressional seat and absolutely. nothing. else.)

Preston Winslow has a heart as open as the sky and room in his life for someone special. When he falls in love with Broadway actress, Elise Klassan, he holds nothing back.

Elise, who has made tremendous sacrifices to forward her career, is swept off her feet by handsome, charming Preston…but the stage has been her first love for so many years, she doesn’t know if there’s room for Preston in her life. When the day comes that she must choose between her ambition and her heart, she profoundly hurts the one man who could have made her happy.

Two years later, Elise has become a world-famous actress and Preston is a very successful lawyer. But fame has not equaled happiness for Elise, and Preston is much too bitter and cynical to ever consider falling in love again.

Is it possible that the only person who can mend Preston’s heart is the one who originally broke it? Only if Elise can figure out a way to make him believe in love all over again.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — THIS!!!  After being a bit bummed about not enjoying the Modern Fairytale books I’ve attempted by Ms. Regnery, I decided to go back to the series where I fell in love with her and read my box set of the Winslow Brothers from her Blueberry Lane series.  I’d already read the first book a while ago, but I reread it first (and was reminded of my love), and then I started on this one and was just utterly captivated…much like Preston was with Elise.  There’s just some magic there, you know?  I felt all these feelings of attraction at first sight, and just how bewildered Preston was when presented with those immediate feelings.

And OMG, these two were so adorable together!!  There was just so much chemistry!!  And it was sweet, and I appreciated the backstory that came with Elise and how her upbringing shaped her.  So her reactions often felt very authentic, and I could just imagine how overwhelmed she was when faced with so many of her dreams coming true, but also with the exhaustion of all the work that went into making her Broadway dream come alive…and how conflicted she was with how she felt about this new love of hers.

And Preston was just so unbelievably sweet, and he tried so hard.  He was so patient, it was just…GAH!  I really loved him.  But I’d seen glimpses of him in Bidding on Brooks, and I knew that something happened to take him from this sweet endearing boy, to a jaded cynical man (even though it was only 2 years), and so I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know?  Like I couldn’t fully relax, wondering what was going to happen.  And I just kept thinking, OK I’ll read until the end of Part One and then go to sleep, and read the second half in the morning.  And then HOO BOY, we got there, and I just had to read a bit more, until my eyes wouldn’t cooperate.

I LOVED the way that all played out.  Even though it was heartbreaking, it honestly fit with who they each were, and I could just see them both making those horrible mistakes and reacting badly, b/c in so many ways they were just so young.  Not in age, but in experience.  I really appreciated that.  I really appreciated that while I wanted to smack them both, I could accept the way it played out.

And Part Two really compelled me right away too.  My heart was sooooo broken for Preston, I could just feel how broken he was.  And Elise too.  To realize what you’ve done, and not understand how to fix it.  And I was a bit concerned when Elise seemed to be the only one who had thought of the mistakes she’d made, but thankfully Preston didn’t let me down…though I wish he’d expressed to Elise what mistakes he made as well, so she wouldn’t feel the burden of all the blame.  But at the same time, their reconciliation was very satisfying and I enjoyed the way they worked things out every step of the way.  And I liked the development with her family as well, even if that all made me cry.

All in all this book was super satisfying for me.  Both characters were very sweet and earnest, but also very flawed, and so it was so rewarding to see them grow and eventually grow together.  I will say, the epilogue was NOT satisfying for me.  It’s just not my style, and it didn’t give me enough of them, which is what I loved.

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The Vixen and the Vet by Katy Regnery

Blurb:
22888713In this modern-retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” Savannah Carmichael, betrayed by an unreliable source, returns to her hometown of Danvers, Virginia with her once-promising journalism career in ruins. Given the opportunity to get back in the game by writing a patriotic human interest piece, Savannah turns her attention to the town hermit, Asher Lee, a wounded veteran who returned to Danvers eight years ago, and hasn’t been seen since.

After an IED explosion in Afghanistan took Asher’s hand and disfigured half of his face, he’s lived a quiet life on the outskirts of Danvers where the locals respect his privacy…that is, until Savannah Carmichael comes calling in a borrowed sundress with a plate of homemade brownies. When Asher agrees to be interviewed by Savannah, he starts feeling things for the beautiful reporter that he hasn’t felt in years.

Misfits in small-town Danvers, Savannah and Asher create a bond right away, touching each other’s hearts in ways neither thought possible. When a terrible mistake threatens to drive them apart, they’ll have to decide if the love they found in one another’s arms is strong enough to fight for their hard-won happily ever after.

** Contemporary Romance. Due to profanity, realistically depicted scenes of war and very strong sexual content, this book is not intended for readers under the age of 18.**

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My Review:
3 stars — I thought now would be the perfect time to finally read Ms. Regnery’s Beauty and the Beast retelling, what with the new movie out…and crap on a cracker, it just didn’t work for me.  It’s so weird, b/c I really enjoy her Blueberry Lane books, but this is now the second of her wildly popular Modern Fairytale stories that I just didn’t connect with.  Quite frankly, this book left me extremely underwhelmed, especially given how outrageously popular it is.

It was so odd, b/c I started this book before bed one night, and just really wasn’t sucked in right away.  I wasn’t too sure about Savannah, and I really wasn’t enamoured with her sister Scarlet, so I put it down and went to sleep.  Then the next day I was reading while exercising, and I was wholly sucked in!!  I was just super excited and thinking “OH!!!  This is what they were talking about!”  I loved the beginnings of Savannah’s relationship with Asher, and how they met, and there was just some magic in their developing friendship and more.  I even highlighted things!  And then I had to do real life things, and when I got back to it today, I was bored.  Like wth?  I can admit that there might be a small mood component to my enjoyment, because I was having a really hard time articulating (even in my own head) what exactly went wrong.  But I’ll give it a try.

On the surface, I really enjoyed the way Ms. Regnery’s chose to portray our Belle and Beast.  I could totally see a reporter from a small town not fitting in, and a veteran with terrible disfigurements feeling ostracized by that same small town.  But I’m not sure I fully bought into their roles…more Savannah than Asher.  I could actually really understand Asher’s backstory and what he went through and how he came to be who he was, and I really felt like he stayed true to his character for much of the book.  And while his actions at the climax were harsh, I could kind of get it even if it made me disappointed.  But Savannah really did NOT act like a reporter.  It was like a character trait that she was just supposed to have that kind of facilitated the plot, but I don’t really feel like I understood much of her.  She uses her past betrayal and disgrace in so many aspects of the story, but I just didn’t know much about what happened, and I just didn’t really feel anything towards her and the decisions she made.  I didn’t empathize with her character nearly as much as I needed to.  I needed something more for me to understand why she would make such a big mistake at the climax, b/c she really came off as selfish, self-serving, and really not very in touch with people’s emotions.  So to say I was disappointed in my Belle would be a bit of an understatement.

And while I enjoyed their initial chemistry and found that spark and magic quite exciting, somewhere along the way I got really bored with it, and wasn’t feeling the steamy scenes…I honestly thought “oh, here they go again.”  I enjoy steamy scenes, but apparently there wasn’t enough keeping me interested in these ones, but that honestly could have been just me.

So the other thing that really didn’t work for me had a lot to do with how this “Southern” town was portrayed.  Are they really like that?  It felt like a stereotype was taken as fact and embellished upon.  It’s not that I don’t understand elements, but I wanted a bit more nuance I guess.  This is not the first time I’ve been insulted by the portrayal of a region that I don’t even live in, so perhaps *I’m* the one who has it wrong.  I don’t know.  But it influenced how I enjoyed Miss Potts (which was sometimes I did, sometimes I really didn’t).  It influenced how little I enjoyed Savannah’s sister Scarlet.  Though honestly, there were many more problems with her.  Both she and her fiance Trent were downright mean.  And I just did NOT buy the turnaround.  I’m glad it was there, I wanted to buy it, but I needed an apology and some humility I guess.  And don’t get me started on the Lance business, and dealing with it in a Southern way.  NOT a fan of that tiny side plot at all, and how it played out.

OK, enough complaining Lenore.  Let’s end with a high note.  I really enjoyed Savannah’s Mother, and the story she told of her relationship with Asher’s Mother.  I really thought it added to the story, and gave depth.  I know she had her own elements of caricature, but I didn’t mind them…maybe because she was kind.  I needed that kindness.

And I really thought the description of Asher’s injuries, and the bits of detail that we saw on how he coped with only one hand, and the look into things that could help him were well placed and added to the story.  It was a really good read for my diversity challenge in that way.

So yeah.  I’m bummed.  I take it really hard when I don’t enjoy a book that’s so highly recommended.  But apparently I’m a special snowflake that just can’t conform.  Oh well.  I’m going to at least give her Hansel and Gretel retelling a try, and if that one doesn’t work either, I’m totally calling it a flatline and sticking with her other series.  Sometimes we’re just not a match.

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Forever Mine by Erin Nicholas

Blurb:

31684529Maya Goodwin doesn’t believe in holding back. Ever. As a cop, she never hesitated to throw herself into harm’s way to save someone. Even after an injury on the job forces her to retire, she’s not afraid to keep risking it all to get the life she wants. With a new career teaching martial arts to kids already underway, she’s looking forward to the future – and taking a chance on the unbelievably hot Dr. Alex Nolan.

Maya – daring and spontaneous – is the exact opposite of what Alex always thought he wanted. But when a nine-year-old daughter he never knew existed shows up on his doorstep, Maya is the one who helps them hold it together. With love on the line, will the guy who’s always played it safe be willing to take the biggest risk of all?

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

OK, this was a fantastic addition to this series!!  And no, you most definitely do NOT have to read the first book to enjoy this one, but it’s super adorable as well, so I definitely recommend it.

I can honestly say that I loved both characters, and thought they both had some really unique aspects to their personalities, and were really well developed.  Both Maya and Alex were extremely likable, but not without flaws.  And because of those two aspects, it was so satisfying to see their growth over the course of the story, even if there were the occasional bits I wish we’d seen more of.

Maya was seriously badass, but also so satisfyingly nerdy.  She was just ridiculously one of a kind…I can’t even figure out how to describe her.  She’s completely unlike me, but I could really see liking her.  And admiring her.  I kind of wish we’d seen a bit more of her development wrt her future goals…because they kind of changed over the story, but we didn’t see her working that out, it just kind of happened along the way…one of those things that disappointed me.

And Alex was so cautious and meticulous, and eager!  He just kept surprising me along the way.  I loved seeing the little steps he was making forward, even if he was moving a little slower than I’d like, and even if occasionally I wanted to smack him.  But I kind of liked that he was not quite alpha, but not quite beta.  He had his strengths and weaknesses, and he admired the crap out of Maya’s strengths.

And the chemistry between Maya and Alex was smoking and very enjoyable.  But I could also see the relationship that developed between them that was more than just chemistry and lust.

I loved the nerd aspect, and loved some of the introspective commentaries made about the nerd community and why we love superheroes and all that stuff.  It just really felt…I don’t know, intelligent?  Is that insulting to other books?  Or maybe it’s insightful.  Like not just the nerd aspect, but the story as a whole — looking at why people help others, what that says about them, overcoming perceived weaknesses, all that good stuff.

I also really loved the secondary characters in this one.  I loved Maya’s group of friends, and that they are important to her and an integral part of her life.  I enjoyed Rachel, and was surprised that I did.  She was a bit too good to be true at times, but I actually enjoyed that it wasn’t a big dramafest and she really added to Alex’s life.  And Charli was pretty cool.  I loved how important she was to Alex, and how he was just so enthralled with her, but he eventually learned the importance of the dad role.

I did notice that occasionally things would happen that didn’t make sense in the timeline that was in my head, but perhaps that will change in the final copy.  It’s just that sometimes some events would be only days apart when I’d been given the impression it was more like a few weeks.

On a weird side note, I was surprised that none of the girls knew what hemophilia was, since I did…but I did an internet poll, and while the majority of my friends did know, there were a few that didn’t so I can accept it.

All in all I’m really loving this series.  I sincerely can’t wait for Sophie’s story if it’s anything like the first two.

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Stripped Bare by Heidi McLaughlin

Blurb:

31358845They don’t call it the Strip for nothing. . . .

In this sinfully sexy Las Vegas romance from bestselling author Heidi McLaughlin, a man who has it all reunites with a woman who takes it all off.

Living in Sin City, Finn McCormick is no stranger to one-night stands, but the last person he expects to find losing big on the casino floor is a former high school fling. Even though Macey Webster’s clearly down on her luck, she’s still a knockout, and she’s dressed like a stripper—because she is one. Drunk off an unfamiliar cocktail of lust, pity, and compassion, Finn offers to pay Macey’s debts if she cuddles up to him around town . . . and does whatever he wants between the sheets.

Macey came to Vegas for one reason only: money. She’s got a young daughter to support, and the tips really are bigger in Vegas. But when she blows her earnings on blackjack, her guardian angel is the rich boy who once stole her heart and never called her back. Although Macey would love to turn the tables on Finn, she can’t afford to refuse his proposition—and soon she’s enjoying herself much more than she cares to admit. Macey’s used to baring her flesh, but baring her soul will take far more courage.

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

OK, this one was a hard one to rate for me.  Because there was a lot that just rubbed me the wrong way entirely and made me grimace when I ended the book…but at the same time, I read this all in one afternoon and couldn’t put it down.  I’m not sure if it was like a bad car accident, or if I was just sucked in enough despite the things that didn’t work for me, or if I just needed something with a familiar plotline and was curious enough to find out where it was going and if it would get better.  So I’m rounding up to 3 stars…I just can’t deny that I was enraptured regardless of the reasons.

So…what were my problems?  *sigh*  I didn’t particularly like the characters, ESPECIALLY our hero Finn.  He was, quite frankly, a self-absorbed dick.  I mean seriously, he looked into a mirror and thought about what woman wouldn’t want him.  I know some people like those alpha guys, and I can sometimes, but they have to have some likable qualities, and I just didn’t see enough of it from him…he just wasn’t redeeming in my opinion.  I don’t mind a guy who is confident in himself, but like I said he came across more as just self-absorbed and self-important.

And Macey wasn’t terrible, I just didn’t really get much of a feel for who she was.  I know her daughter is really important to her, and I was intrigued with the storyline of a woman willing to strip to get her and her daughter out of the slums and away from her alcoholic mother (that has some sort of unsafe house).  But other than that, what interested her?  I did get some sparks of sass to her on occasion, but then they would be missing at other times with weak excuses for why she was allowing Finn to treat her a certain way.  I guess I was just confused.

And then there was the romance.  Am I the only one who wants there to be more than sex in a relationship?  I mean, if this was an erotica maybe (though even then some eroticas have more to their romance than this did).  But seriously, what drew these two people together?  What in the world did they love about each other?  Every time I saw a glimmer of something more, it would come back to sex.  I mean, I guess I know that there are couples out there where their relationship is mostly based on sex, but that’s just not as interesting for me.  I want to see friendship, and just some activities together that are outside that.  Heck, even Macey said on more than one occasion, there’s more to love than sex.  But then why didn’t I see that?

And am I the only one that felt like their relationship was kind of unhealthy?  Finn was downright mean to Macey on occasion, and she would excuse it.  The whore thing came up I don’t know how many times.  And I wasn’t even taken in by what Finn was thinking about Macey in his own head.  And every time they had an argument or something, he would like command her to strip and start trying to get busy, and then that would be that.

So yeah.  I was curious how the daughter thing was going to play out, and I was fairly ok with that aspect of the story.  Morgan really didn’t feel 10, but the author did occasionally say she acted young for her age…but I guess I don’t know why.  And otherwise it kind of played out like a mediocre Harlequin, which was probably why I was entertained.  It also had really strong Pretty Woman tones, but occasionally too strong…like I might as well just put on the movie and actually get some magic and conversations between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

The one bright spot for me was Lamar.  That guy was awesome.  But since the series is about billionaires, I doubt he’s going to get his own book.  A shame, he was the only character I really ended up loving.  Ah well.  I have other books by this author on my Kindle, so hopefully this was just a one-off, and not indicative of her characterizations in general.  Cause if it is, then we’re just not a good fit.

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The Opposite of You by Rachel Higginson

Blurb:
33932353I’ve sworn off men.

All men.

Famous last words, right? You’re expecting some epic tale of reluctant love and my dramatic change of heart? Well, you’re not going to get it.

I’m stubborn. And headstrong. And I’ve just survived the worst three years of my life. After escaping an abusive boyfriend to live in hostels and cheap hotels while I worked my way across Europe, I’ve come to two conclusions.

The first? Now that I’m back home, I’m going to squander my expensive culinary degree on a food truck that caters to the late night drunk crowd.

The second? I’m going to prove to the bastard across the plaza that my street food is better than his fussy five course monstrosities.

Killian Quinn might be Food and Wine’s Chef to Watch Out For. He might have a Michelin Star. He might have every food critic in the city wrapped around his too-large fingers. But he’s also pretentious and unbearably arrogant and the very opposite of me.

So he can keep his unsolicited advice and his late night visits and his cocky smiles. I want none of it. Or him.

I want the opposite.

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My Review:
4.95 stars — I got to beta read this book!!!  And I was seriously just floored, I have SO MUCH LOVE for it, I can’t even tell you.  My hubby would come home from work to find me in my reading chair, with the biggest grin on my face.  Like seriously you guys, I could have highlighted all of the dialogue in this book…it was just everything I love about a Rachel Higginson book.

And the thing is, it’s not just the smart witty banter.  (but I will come back and rave about that in more detail in a second)  Ms. Higginson also writes some of the most beautiful lines I have ever read…even just a sentence that captures my imagination and really brings home whatever she’s trying to convey about how Vera is feeling and seeing the world and herself.  Because while I would say the predominant emotion I felt in this book was snortfully gleeful happiness and so much giddiness, there is a darker undertone to the story that addresses an important topic that face so many people (often women) — mental/emotional abuse in a relationship (that can bleed into domestic violence on occasion).  I think it’s something that is hard for people who don’t experience it to understand, and even harder for the victims to understand and make sense of.  And I really believe that Ms. Higginson gives it a voice in Vera.  While I don’t personally have experience with this, I felt like Vera’s journey was an authentic one.  It was hard at times to be in Vera’s head, and see how she felt about herself, but I thought it felt realistic.  As with any story dealing with hard topics, it won’t be everyone’s journey, but one possible journey.

So that was long.  ANYWAYS…what I think I was trying to say is that the story had a really nice balance between heavy topics and glorious light and sassy interactions.  They blended perfectly, giving us a story that GIVES SO MUCH.  And don’t even get me started on the romance!!  Seriously, I was gleeful.  I’m neither here nor there on “enemies to lovers” type stories, but this one just…seriously, I can’t even…it was just…LIKE SO MUCH tension and laughter and sass and adorableness and did I mention tension??  AHHHH!!!!

I wasn’t sure what to think of Killian when we first met him, b/c wow…first impressions were not strong with this boy.  But OMG, when you start to figure out as a reader what is going on with him, and where his heart is at, it’s just so swoony!  Especially b/c Vera is kind of oblivious (but it fits with her history and where her self esteem is at).  But I so wanted to hug the crap out of that boy so many times.  He’s not my typical book boyfriend, but I’m seriously in love.  What an odd, stoic, somewhat closed off, but capable of so much feeling guy….

It’s funny, b/c I am a die hard lover of dual POV stories, but Ms. Higginson somehow manages to make me love a story with just one POV.  I think a lot of that is because Vera has such a journey to go on, and so we needed to see her take that journey.  But the other major part is that she’s able to convey to me enough of what Killian is feeling that I don’t feel like I missed too much not being in his head.  Does that mean I don’t want bonus scenes from his POV?  Heck no!  I DO.  I REALLY REALLY DO.  But they weren’t necessary for me to fall in love and get where he was coming from.

And if you couldn’t guess from all of the above, the star really is Vera.  She made me laugh.  She made me ache.  She made me want to high five her all over the place.  She made me want to hit my head against a wall.  She made me love her.

The supporting cast in this story really helped in Vera’s growth too, it wasn’t just Killian.  Her family is amazeballs, you could just feel the love.  And Vera and Vann were such perfect siblings (again, so much laughing).  And then there’s Molly, the BFF.  Oh Molly, you are da bomb.  I am so intrigued where your own story will go, but I loved what you added to this story.  And then there’s Wyatt.  Oh Wyatt, you freaking killed me.  ❤ ❤ ❤

So why not full 5 stars?  Just a tiny personal preference.  I’m super greedy and impatient about wanting to know everything IMMEDIATELY.  And the details of her previous relationship were given in tiny bits as the story went along.  Which is a valid storytelling choice, just not my personal preference.

(Oh, and this book had one of the best descriptions of how hard reviews are for the creator, regardless of whether they know that reviews are subjective and affected by the consumer’s personal experiences/preferences).

And damn!  The food!  I don’t even like peppers and I wanted those tacos (though she had me at grilled cheese).  I know that makes no sense, but I totally believed the foodie stuff in this book.  And at this point I’m just talking about everything.

So yeah, I know, gushy review.  It’s my right, I am a mega fan.  But I’m an honest mega fan, and I can honestly say that this is everything I love about Rachel Higginson.  And….mic drop.

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One Wild Night by Melissa Cutler

Blurb:

33025544Get ready for the ride of your life…

A cowgirl at heart, Skye Martinez has a rebellious streak she’s determined to shake. Especially since she’s poised to take the reins of her family’s business at Briscoe Ranch Resort. It’s time for her to settle down and get serious about her future…right after one last night of fun with a handsome stranger she meets in the resort’s stable. But when a midnight horseback ride turns into a red-hot weekend with one of country music’s biggest stars, Skye’s world is rocked beyond her wildest dreams…

Gentry Wells rode his bad boy image all the way to the top of the country music charts. But churning out hits has dried up his creativity, and he can’t remember the last time his life was his own. Skye is a sexy distraction he can’t resist, especially since she breathes new life into his music. They bring out the wild side in each other, which is great for Gentry’s career–but a major threat to Skye’s. Too bad he’s fallen in love with her. With their hearts and futures on the line, can Gentry convince Skye to turn their joyride into a real chance to ride off into the sunset together?

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

This is going to be another review that’s kind of choppy b/c it’s based on bulletpoint notes.  But basically the jist is that this was just not a book for me.  I have read one other novella set in this world, and I enjoyed that one, but this one did not have that same magic (and no, it is not required to read other books in the series, this one can stand alone).  I did not like the characters, I did not like the plot, and really, this book felt like a mediocre Harlequin.

The characters did not feel consistent AT ALL.  I mean, I didn’t like them that much either, but I really just didn’t believe their growth.  They both felt superficial and shallow, lacking the depth that really sucks me in.

I really did not appreciate the Catholic guilt in this book.  I get that they really feel that guilt and families are like that, but Skye’s mother was not even remotely redeeming.  It made it hard to understand why family was so important to Skye when you didn’t see that… Well, a little.  One good moment with Gloria, but for it to be so important to Skye, I expected to see it more.  Her father was awesome too, but I just felt sorry for him.  I REALLY needed the Mom to have more dimension so that I could understand why Skye felt so strongly about her family and the values she was raised with.

And the conflict Skye was under…I just didn’t quite get it.  I knew where the author was going in broad strokes, but I don’t think it was effectively achieved.  I guess I just didn’t feel her inner struggle, or understand how it all played out inside her head.

I didn’t get Gentry at all.  Maybe if we got to know his past a bit more, I would have known what drove him to be who he was.  It was like the author had these broad strokes ideas of who these characters were, but didn’t take the time to flesh them out and make them believable.

And I did NOT feel the spark between them past the first night in the stables (that night was hot).  In fact, the sex scene really didn’t have much emotion, it felt like an erotica scene (which is fine, but not how this book is marketed).  I want a connection between my lovers.  *shrugs*

And finally, I know this was an ARC and not the final copy, but it was riddled with mistakes.  Typos, wrong names, timeline inconsistencies…I sincerely hope that it had a major clean up before release.  Usually ARCs only have a few typos left to clean up, this one felt like an earlier copy.

So yeah.  It sounds really bad, but it was mostly just disappointing and meh for me.  Like I didn’t hate anything, I just wanted MORE from like EVERYTHING.

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Catch and Release by Laura Drewry

Blurb:

31572324The irresistible O’Donnell brothers return in a charming novel from the bestselling author of Off the Hook (“The perfect balance of sweet, sexy, and wonderfully romantic.”—Lauren Layne).

Hope Seaver is an up-and-coming TV producer tackling the hardest gig of her career: a reality show set at the Buoys, a scenic fishing destination owned by three handsome, stubborn brothers. Liam and Finn O’Donnell are willing to tolerate her crew for the sake of the business, but Ronan would rather chew off a limb than open up on camera. Somehow Hope has to convince him of her good intentions—and stop herself from swooning every time Ronan walks into the frame.

Ronan knows that he’s the reason his brothers gave up their old lives to run the Buoys, and he needs to make it worth their while. So if this out-of-towner with the kind eyes and dazzling smile wants to give them the free publicity they desperately need, Ronan can’t say no. He just won’t let himself get burned again by a double-dealing woman. But what if Hope’s good-girl routine isn’t an act? When Ronan lets his guard down long enough to catch a glimpse of the real Hope, he likes what he sees—enough to give love another shot.

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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.

I did not expect Ronan’s story to be my favourite.  And I’m still not entirely sure he does beat out Finn, but holy cow did he at least tie Finn.  I really couldn’t get a feel for Ronan at all, in the previous books, and so I guess I didn’t quite know what to expect.  Not only that, but you don’t meet the heroine until this book, so I was just coming in blind to this story.  And I ended up with the sweetest romance that just had me grinning all over the place.  And then, because that’s the way Ms. Drewry rolls, she had to get me crying at the end too.

Hope sold me on this story from the first line.  And it wasn’t just that it was because she was referencing a town in my home province of Saskatchewan, it was all her nervous fact-spouting.  She was just quirky and adorable, and I could really vibe with her.  I liked how she was an intriguing mix of shy and unsure at times, but bold and take charge/go after what she wants at others.  I know that sounds too contradictory, but it really worked for her.  It was like she wasn’t afraid to acknowledge what she wanted, and then pull on her big girl panties and give it a go.  And it made sense given her backstory.  And she maintained that inner conflict right to the end.  I wanted to stand up and cheer with how she dealt with Ronan at the end…Hope is my hero.

And Ronan.  Yes, Ronan was gruff and grumbly and a bit short-tempered, and inarticulate…but OMG, he was just so freaking adorable inside.  He made you want to hug him.  You could almost feel his confusion, and the inner conflict going on inside of him.  Each O’Donnell boy just surprises me with how much hurt they held inside, and I guess I just never really anticipated how hard it was for him as the eldest.  And I LOVED that he was the cook!!  I could just picture him in that apron, baking pies, and *drool*  And then there’s the addition of JD.  Could you get any cuter??

But it was how he felt about Hope that really sold him for me.  He was just as enthralled with her as she was with him, and watching them dance around each other, and blush and get flustered, and just GAH!  It’s everything I love about a sweet romance you know?  And it’s not that we don’t get some steamy stuff, but it actually takes them quite a while to get there, and you really feel the love that develops between them.  I think that moment on the boat fishing is what sold it for me.  Well, the whole fishing scene.  It really showcased who they each were, and how they would work together.

And it’s funny, I wasn’t getting too choked up with the backstories and was wondering if this would be less angsty (I do kind of wish that Hope’s backstory had gotten more time or something…it was heartbreaking, but it was told so quickly that it wasn’t as impactful).  So I’m going along, and then BAM!  Ms. Drewry hits you right between the eyes and I’m crying away (much to my husband’s dismay and worry).  So wait for it readers, it’s a doozy.  And I loved the way that twist hit.  I didn’t see it coming, and yet it was so necessary for the whole series.  And I loved the explanation.  It confirmed my suspicions, and was so real and accurate and heartbreaking.

So yeah, while this series may not have grabbed me from the first book, it really ended with a bang.  My only complaint is that the cover does not look like the Ronan in my head at all…too young or something.  😉

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Jordan Reclaimed by Scarlett Cole

Blurb:

31688253Jordan Steele’s life began when he was ten. When he was taken from his parents and a house that was never a home. When he met his brothers, the other lost and abandoned boys in his group home. When he learned what friendship and family and love looked like.

Now he’s made good, touring the world with the band he and his brothers formed in that crowded group home. No one but his found family really knows the man under the fame and fortune, the scars he hides behind the rockstar lifestyle. Until he sees her through the windows of the National Ballet, dancing, and suddenly the world doesn’t seem so dark.

Aleksandra Artemov ticks all the ballet boxes. Father a legendary Kirov dancer. Check. Prepping since birth for classical ballet. Check. Compulsive control over the food she eats. Check. Principal dancer at The National Ballet of Canada. Check. But what she craves is freedom.

She craves Jordan.

Everything about him should terrify her. His size, his tattoos, his edge. But he doesn’t. He stirs her very soul. Jordan has nothing but himself to offer her, and he’s never been good enough for anyone. Can he figure out how to face his own demons before he loses his light for good?

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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.

While you can totally read this without reading the Second Circle Tattoos series that this series spins off from, I will say that I regret not reading Dred’s book before starting on this one (I’ve read 1 and 4, but not 3).  Not that I won’t likely still go back and enjoy that book, but you do get little mini spoilers in this book.

This was so much more…heartbreaking and involved and sweet and uplifting than I was expecting.  I mean, yes and no.  It’s not that I don’t know that Ms. Cole can write stories with harrowing backstory.  But both Jordan and Lexie really got to me.

Since I hadn’t read Dred’s book, I didn’t quite know what to expect from Jordan, but his backstory is just gut wrenching.  And the ways he copes now, and how it has affected him…it just felt so real, and sucked me in and gave me all the feels.  He was an extremely interesting character.  Because he could be both sweet and innocent as well as dirty and even volatile.  He was kind of a conundrum.  Sometimes I wondered at the many aspects of him, but I can’t decide if it his growth was too much too soon, or just right.  Sometimes life gives you a trigger that your brain has been waiting for, that allows you to see more into yourself and finally get over your stumbling blocks.  And occasionally I wanted a deeper look into how it is affecting him now, but maybe the bits we got at different times were just right.  But anyways, regardless, I definitely wanted to hug the shit out of him.

And while Jordan’s story is perhaps a bit more heartbreaking, Lexie has her own horrible issues to deal with.  You feel it right from the start, and you just feel sick for her, and what she’s living with, and how it has affected her.  I was worried, at one point in the story, that her own struggles would be minimized, or not dealt with in the appropriate way and with sensitivity…but I should have trusted Ms. Cole.  And in the end, the way that all went really made sense for her and Jordan.  I kind of wished I’d been able to read more of how she was going to cope, but that’s probably just me being greedy.

I did absolutely adore the look into the ballet world, even if hers was a bit skewed by her father.  I’ve always admired the crap out of dancers, and my hubby and I have season tickets for our provincial ballet.  I have the grace of a bulldog, so it’s something I always envy…but I definitely don’t envy the toll it takes and the hours of hard work they put into their craft.

And their chemistry together was pretty fantastic.  It was a lot more blunt and straight talking than I was expecting at times, but it worked for them.  I loved seeing Jordan struggle with how to have a relationship, and how he second guessed everything he did.  Again, so sweet.  And then he’d say something dirty, and it just balanced.

AND I LOVED THE BITS OF CANADIANNESS!!  I mean, YES!!  I’ve never lived in Toronto, but I did recognize street names, and stupid little things like the No Frills grocery store, the Canadian Tire bag, and shopping at The Bay, and Karen Kain, and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa (been there)!  It’s the little things that make this girl happy.  *high fives Preload for being Canadian*

And finally, there was the secondary cast.  While they weren’t there all the time, the scenes where they were just showed me the connection between the guys, and how they lean on each other in small ways.  And OMG, they brought such levity!  “She’s the phone!”  Just so much love.  Cannot WAIT to read more books of these boys.  Though I am scared, b/c if Lennon is more f’d up than Jordan, I just don’t know if I can handle his story.

Honestly, the only reason I’m rounding down instead of up is just a me thing…I’m still in that strange bubble where I’m not quite getting sucked into the books fully.  Were I in a different mood, I can totally see myself rounding up.  OHHH!!  And there were some areas where the POV changed without a break.  I’m not a fan.  Especially since it was pretty consistent throughout the rest of the book, so it was what I had come to expect.

If you’re a medium angst fan like me, who likes some heart wrenching, but not too much to be overwhelmed, then you need this series in your life.

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