Eye Candy by Jessica Lemmon

Blurb:
34317683Don’t trust lust at first sight. One woman chooses reality over fantasy in this friends-to-lovers romance, a steamy standalone by “an author to keep your eye on” (Katee Robert).

Jacqueline: As an adult woman–and the vice president of a marketing firm–I shouldn’t be waiting by my office window to ogle the mystery man who jogs by every morning at 11:45. Sure, he’s a gorgeous, perfect specimen of the human race, but I can’t bring myself to hit on a total stranger. However, my best friend-slash-colleague Vince Carson thinks I should do more than talk to the guy. In fact, he’s borderline obsessive about “getting me laid.” (His words.) But the more time we spend together, the more it’s clear: The one I’m falling for is Vince.

Vince: Jackie Butler’s got it bad for some pompous, over-pumped A-hole who struts his stuff past her window. That doesn’t bother me. I know she deserves nice things. What does bother me is that she friend-zoned me big-time last year, so I can’t ask her out myself. But what if I set her up with Mr. Steroids? Then, when he breaks her heart, I can swoop in and save her like the nice guy I am. Everything’s going according to plan . . . until we share a ridiculously epic kiss. And suddenly anything is possible.

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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 started off AWESOMELY!  The humour and wit was just spot on, both characters were just my kind of hilarious and snarky and sassy, and I just fell in love!  Seriously, I was smiling to myself and giggling at some of their inner thoughts right from the start.  Jackie was an intriguing mix of sassy and reserved…it was a strange mix that didn’t always work for me, but I really loved her drive and how her meticulousness could be seen in who she was both at work and at home.  And Vince was a strange book boy too, he was such a guy guy sometimes, but I loved that he wasn’t the typical ultra-successful businessman.  His work wasn’t his life, but he enjoyed it all the same.  And I really appreciated seeing him admire Jackie at work, and acknowledge that she was on another level from him.

As the book progressed I felt like we got to see more of what made each of them up as individuals, and normally I love that extra depth…but these two were a bit too human at times, and I became somewhat less enamoured with them.  I didn’t fall out of love per say, I was just disappointed in some of their childish moments, and the usual introduction of the lack of communication trope.  And honestly, there were a few moments where I felt like both characters got a bit hypocritical (Jackie with JT, and Vince with Jackie at the end), and so it ended on a lower note than it started.  BUT!!  While this all bummed me out, the rest of what I fell in love with was still present…  It made for a bit of a quandary in my feelings for them both, because I still loved them, I just didn’t always like them.  Like real people I guess.

I will say that their chemistry was freaking SMOKING.  Like honestly, I had all of the tummy butterflies, and the wave the hands on my face-ness.  Like that scene on the stairs is responsible for a happy hubby…tmi?

I kind of wish we’d seen more friend interactions for Jackie, with either Bethany or Kayla…didn’t really get to know much there.  BUT I LOVED what we got to see of Davis, and I’m very intrigued about his story.  He’s an odd one.  But I appreciated his friendship with Vince, it felt very real.

So yeah.  Basically this was mostly a 4 star read, it just lost some verve in the latter half of the book, and hence the bump down a half a star.  I have a feeling Ms. Lemmon is an author I would enjoy reading more of.

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Cross Check by Kelly Jamieson

Blurb:
32934382A party girl and a clean-cut college hockey player discover that they’re not so different in this sexy, soulful Bayard Hockey novel from the bestselling author of Shut Out and the Heller Brothers series.

Ella Verran has three goals this semester: get off academic probation, repair her relationship with her friend Skylar, and take some responsibility for her life. All of which are hard enough without hot, snobby hockey player Ben Buckingham around to distract her. Ella can’t stand Ben, and she knows the feeling is mutual. But he’s best friends with Skylar’s boyfriend, so he’s always around—taunting and tempting Ella in ways she never thought possible.

As the star forward of the Bayard College hockey team, Ben has goals too, like playing well enough to land a spot on an NHL roster. Ben is perfectly poised on the ice, so why can’t he keep his cool around Ella? Her wild behavior rubs him in all the wrong ways—and a few of the right ones. But as they skate around each other, Ben learns that there’s more to Ella than her bad reputation. And when the line between love and hate starts to blur, he can’t resist crossing over and sweeping her off her feet.

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

I love it when an author surprises me with a character!  We didn’t really get that great of an impression of Ella in the first book, but I really enjoyed her in this one.  I thought she really redeemed herself and getting a look inside her head made me understand her more.  Plus we just got to see more of what she’s about, you know?  I really appreciated her storyline of going off the rails after her friend’s suicide, and then having to rein it in and settle down after going on academic probation.  I enjoyed how Ms. Jamieson took a hard look at slut-shaming, and while Ella regretted some choices she made in partying/sleeping around, it wasn’t all “down with the promiscuous girls” as you often see in some books.  Ella really struggled with the labels she was given, and I thought we got an honest and refreshing look at the double standards between men and women, and how it’s not the actions that she regretted so much as the reasons she was doing it, and how it made her feel.

I also really loved that the author took a good hard look at mental health, and that we got to see Ella’s sessions with her therapist.  I will admit that while I LOVED that this was all looked at, occasionally it felt a little heavy-handed.  Which is funny, b/c this issue is really important to me.  Or maybe not heavy-handed so much as not as natural to the story…I don’t know, I don’t know how to explain it.

Ella was spunky, but also really vulnerable and insecure.  I really did feel for her, even if her penchant for pushing people away made me want to throttle her.  It made her growth more satisfying though.

And then we get Ben!!  We also got to see the slut-shaming from his perspective, and I loved that it really opened his eyes as well.  I honestly thought we were going to get more from his background and past, but that wasn’t as prominent as I’d expected.  But I loved how we got an even deeper look at what it might be like for a hockey athlete looking to get drafted.  I loved how vulnerable and scared and overwhelmed he was, and I guess that’s sort of where we see the effects of his past.  He felt so alone at times, and my heart broke for him.  But I also really admired his dedication and determination, and I loved how Ella really showed him parts of himself to be proud of.

Their romance was cuter than I expected.  I guess because I never really understood why they were enemies, since it was based on assumptions about the other person.  But Ben was so adorable in his pursuit of Ella.  He kind of made me swoon at times.  Maybe because he was kind of vulnerable, but he still put himself out there.  And I really loved their chemistry…holy heck could you feel it right from that dance scene!

I loved having more fun scenes with their group of friends!  They often made me laugh out loud at their strange conversations and antics.

I will admit that occasionally certain transitions didn’t feel smooth to me…but that could be in my head too.  (Like those strange conversations with their friends didn’t always flow as naturally for me)

So yeah, I was surprised that I enjoyed this one even more than the previous book!  And again, if you love hockey, or love sports romances that actually showcase the sport, I think Ms. Jamieson is one of the best I’ve ever read for that!  And now she’s made me want to check out her Aces series!!

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Shut Out by Kelly Jamieson

Blurb:
28473716From the bestselling author of the Heller Brothers Hockey series comes the first novel of a new hockey romance series featuring a college team whose players are heating things up both on and off the ice.
 
The Bayard College hockey team isn’t where Jacob Flass thought he’d be a season ago. He was a rising star in the Canadian major junior league, cruising toward a spot on an NHL roster—until a single disastrous night on the town brought it all crashing down. Now he’s out of options, except for playing well, studying hard, and staying away from girls. He’s not supposed to be flirting with the hottest, sweetest chick he’s ever met. But how could he possibly stay away?
 
Skylar Lynwood knows that Jacob is out of her league. She’s just trying to go with the flow, which isn’t easy when six feet and four inches of total hockey hunkiness is making a play for her one moment, then giving her the cold shoulder the next. Skylar’s head tells her that this rugged athlete isn’t worth her time, but her body says something altogether different. Risking her heart for Jacob may be the craziest thing she’s ever done . . . but she won’t let him shut her out.

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My Review:
3.5 stars — Do you ever finish a book and just have no idea how to rate it?  I’m a gut feeling rater, and this one left me a bit jumbled.  There were a lot of things about this book that I absolutely LOVED!!!  But at the same time, it took me like HOURS to just finish the last like 10%.  I lost my verve for it somewhere along the way.

Let’s talk about about the things I loved first for a change (b/c I usually lead with the bad).  I adored all the little conversations this book ended up having with the reader about very important topics, and I loved the way they were brought up in the book and addressed.  From rape culture to intimate relationship abuse to actual sexual violence for both females AND males to sexual consent to even slut shaming.  I just loved that the conversations were happening in the book, were very important to the story of the characters, but felt natural at the same time.  And we got to see some very different perspectives surrounding this really broad topic, and how confusing it can be, but how important having the conversations and moving our society forward is.  Especially in the context of a college campus.  We even got to see some of the skewed mentality surrounding athletes and how they are treated by the opposite sex, as well as how that can lead to a feeling of entitlement.  The book didn’t provide a bunch of easy answers, but just took a frank look.  And it wasn’t too cheesy, and not too in your face either.  In the end, this was my favourite part of the book.

I also LOVED the bantering between our hero and heroine.  You could feel their chemistry right from the beginning, and I loved that you could see their friendship grow even when they were both consumed with feelings of lust.  But seriously, they were really pretty cute together, and they definitely made me laugh at times.  They did get a bit cheesy at the end, I struggled through some of the dialogue at times when they were professing feelings, but that could have been just me.

And I enjoyed both characters in general.  I wasn’t necessarily in love with either of them, but neither did they annoy the crap out of me.  Not a ringing endorsement, I know, but it’s just the way I felt.  Basically for all the things I loved about each of them, there was something else that bugged me.

For example, I really enjoyed that Skylar was struggling to follow in her sisters footsteps, and had a bit of a crisis over what she wanted to do with her life (balancing parental expectations with her own passions).  BUT it kind of annoyed me that she didn’t talk to them.  I guess that’s kind of realistic, young adults can make some pretty silly assumptions sometimes.  But still.  At the same time I was really impressed with her work with SAPAP and I loved how passionate she was about it.  She really broke it down and made it less awkward, and she was pretty frank about how she was feeling.  I also loved that while we didn’t see her journey with her therapist, you could see some of the positive influences it made on her.  BUT!  I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with the way she handled the aftermath of Brendan’s suicide…and all that shiznit with Ella.  AGAIN, it was probably pretty realistic, but I guess I was wanting something there.  That’s probably more on me than her though.

As for Jacob, well, I had mixed feelings about how he responded after the “incident” that the book opens with.  BUT part of that was because the author chose not to go into details about what happened until MUCH later in the book, and so as a reader you’re left to try to guess at what happened, and so it made it hard to understand his reactions.  At the same time, I LOVED the way he developed as a character wrt all that, and how he responded to the training he underwent, and how he really took that on and allowed it to impact his life in a positive way.  And I loved how dedicated he was to his hockey career, and I really appreciated the conversation he and Skylar had about while he may have talent, he still works really hard to be that good.  I think people forget that about naturally talented athletes.

Things I disliked: how Skylar reacted to Jacob’s secret (not listening to his side is just a big NOPE); the sudden introduction to more of Skylar’s story than I was expecting (kind of came out of the blue, wish there had been hints); some of the talking during sex really ruined it for me (I just can’t read a character saying “Yeah. Oh yeah.” and not want to giggle, it doesn’t feel natural).  Which is not to say the steamy parts weren’t deliciously steamy, I just wish the talking had felt more natural.  Also, they occasionally felt older than 19/20.

I LOVED the guys Jared lives with, and I enjoyed seeing him develop friendships with them.  They were so funny and cute, and I hope to see their stories.  At the same time, maybe due to the nature of Skylar’s story, I was disappointed in the lack of female secondary characters to love.  There were a lot of tiny female parts, but the only major one was Ella, and it was kind of hard to love her.

As an aside, I LOVE reading books by Canadian authors, or about characters that are Canadian…I love seeing things I recognize.  My hubby laughed at me and said now I know how minority groups must feel when they read diverse characters that represent them.  BUT, as a good ole Saskatchewan girl, born and raised, I must say that Saskatoon’s team is the BLADES, Moose Jaw is the WARRIORS.  Tsk tsk.  😛

So yeah.  See?  Conflicted.  Do I round up or down?  I DON’T KNOW!!!  I’m going to round up and say that the awesome amount of *actual* hockey in this sports romance put it over the top for me.  😉

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Trust by Kylie Scott

Blurb:
35157260Being young is all about the experiences: the first time you skip school, the first time you fall in love…the first time someone holds a gun to your head.

After being held hostage during a robbery at the local convenience store, seventeen-year-old Edie finds her attitude about life shattered. Unwilling to put up with the snobbery and bullying at her private school, she enrolls at the local public high school, crossing paths with John. The boy who risked his life to save hers.

While Edie’s beginning to run wild, however, John’s just starting to settle down. After years of partying and dealing drugs with his older brother, he’s going straight—getting to class on time, and thinking about the future.

An unlikely bond grows between the two as John keeps Edie out of trouble and helps her broaden her horizons. But when he helps her out with another first—losing her virginity—their friendship gets complicated.

Meanwhile, Edie and John are pulled back into the dangerous world they narrowly escaped. They were lucky to survive the first time, but this time they have more to lose—each other.

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

Well shit.  That was just awesome.  I’m so sorry people, but this is going to be a fangirl review.  And not because I’m a Kylie Scott fangirl, b/c to be honest?  This is actually my first read of hers, even though I have been collecting some of her other books since they sound like my bag.  It’s a fangirl review b/c I just loved this book so much.  I was sucked in and just freaking enthralled.  It’s funny, b/c I really do rate just on overall pulled-from-the-gut feeling.  So was this book perfect?  Nah.  But by the time I finished, I had 5 star glasses on my face…  I don’t think that even makes sense.

I’ve been having a hard time staying focused on words lately, and I will admit that right at the very beginning I was having a hard time focusing as well.  But Edie’s voice just pulled me in, and the intensity of what she was going through in the robbery had me paying more attention to the book and forgetting to adjust my bike resistance (bad for my physical health, but good for my soul).  I just felt all of her emotions with her, even if I didn’t always understand them all.

And the book is about so much more than the robbery; it’s more about watching Edie struggle to deal with the aftermath and changes those events wrought in her personality and attitude.  All of which is conveyed in the blurb, but I guess I just never imagined what that would entail.  It’s not just about dealing with PTSD type symptoms (though those are there).  It’s that she honestly had a hard time finding importance in so much of life.  I will admit that I didn’t find her new self to be that wild.  Wild for her maybe, but not actually *that* reckless…or maybe it’s that her new friends and John helped to temper that wildness.

Edie was just everything for me.  You know how as a reader you just gravitate towards certain types of heroines?  Edie embodied so much of what I gravitate towards.  I could see some of myself in her.  She’s a bigger girl, and she was this perfect mix of content with her size most of the time (and how the choices she’s made in her life led to that, and not wanting to change those) and yet still damaged by her experiences being bigger (low self esteem, believing she wasn’t good enough, basically allowing the bullies to affect her).  I can totally vibe with that.  It’s a bit schizophrenic in some ways, b/c you’re both confident and insecure at the same time.  I thought those elements of her personality were portrayed beautifully, and that the development of her character as she navigated her relationship with John moved at a realistic pace.  And it wasn’t really the focus of the book AT ALL, but it was an element that just existed and influenced things.  I liked that.

And she was so beautifully snarky and sassy!!  GAH!  Love that so much.  I can’t tell you how many interactions I highlighted b/c they just delighted me to no end.  And part of that is that she ended up surrounding herself with some fabulous people.  I LOVE when a book has a great secondary cast (and a diverse one at that).  From her new BFF Hang, to Carrie and Sophia, to Anders…I just wanted them all to be real.  I was so glad that Edie had them in her life, even if it took her awhile to trust them and let them in.

I enjoyed the fact that there could have been incidences of horrible slut-shaming, but that the girls tried to cut it off at the pass.  I actually liked that the opportunities were presented, b/c I think it’s really hard as a society to change and get past slut-shaming, so the girls weren’t perfect, but they tried to adjust their attitudes.  It made them more real.

And then we get to John.  Oh what I wouldn’t give to be in his head…PLEASE LET THERE BE A BONUS SCENE FROM HIS POV, please please please!!  He was swoony in such a weird way.  He definitely wasn’t perfect, there were times when I thought he was a bit harsh on Edie, even if his heart was in the right place.  But my heart just broke for all that he had to struggle with.  I can’t imagine how hard it would be to overcome your own reputation and keep striving forward when everyone already judged you and painted you with one brush.  And even though it was only from Edie’s POV, you could really see how her friendship and love changed him…how unused to it he was, but how he craved it in some ways.

And their romance was just butterfly inducing.  Epic slow burn, but it really allowed you to become invested in their friendship as it developed and grew.  And there were lots of tummy tingles when things started to heat up.  *sigh*  *swoon*

So yeah.  Did I convince you?  You should totally read it before you get attacked by a rabid Pekingese.  😛  Insider book joke for the win.

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The Perfectly Imperfect Match by Kendra C. Highley

Blurb:
35496084Pitcher Dylan Dennings has his future all mapped out: make the minors straight out of high school, work his way up the farm system, and get called up to the majors by the time he’s twenty-three. The Plan has been his sole focus for years, and if making his dreams come true means instituting a strict ” no girls” policy, so be it.

Lucy Foster, needlepoint ninja, big sister to an aspiring pitcher, and chicken advocate, likes a little mayhem. So what if she gets lost taking her brother to baseball camp…at her own high school? The pitching coach, some hotshot high school player, obviously thinks she’s a hot mess. Too bad he’s cute, because he’s so not her type.

Problem is, they keep running into each other, and every interaction sparks hotter than the last. But with Dylan’s future on the line, he has to decide whether some rules are made to be broken…

Disclaimer: This book contains a crazy night of moonlit skinny-dipping, a combustible crush, and kisses swoony enough to unwind even the most Type A athlete.

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

Before I get into the meat, as an aside: Covers don’t make or break a book for me, but can I just say that this cover is absolutely perfect for this book?  I love it when a scene from the book is represented, it always makes me auto-smile and squeal when I get to it!!

Ahem.  Anyways.  I am falling in love with Ms. Highley.  She writes just my kind of cute YA books.  I’ve said it in previous reviews of the other books in this series, I’m NOT a baseball fan.  But Ms. Highley makes me want to be a baseball fan (until I watch it on TV and remember that I don’t have the attention span).  And she did it again in this book.  It’s not that there’s an overwhelming amount of baseball in the book, but it’s prominent enough that it makes me feel like I understand the passion Dylan has.  I actually prefer when my sports romance books ACTUALLY have some of the sport in it (and not just have it be a small aspect of the character).

Dylan was such an intriguing hero!!  I can’t help but wonder how he came to be so rigid and structured and goal-focused.  But while sometimes a lack of “past incident explanation” can kill a book for me, the way it was done in this book I really felt like I could see how someone could just have that be an aspect of their personality.  Like being shy, or extroverted, or a daydreamer…sometimes you’re just born a certain way.  And I kind of loved how he’d allowed this one aspect of his personality to take over his WHOLE LIFE, and that was the cause of his stress.  It was so gratifying to see Lucy open him up, make him relax, show him there’s more to life.  I also loved the conflict with his parents.  Again, Ms. Highley writes great families too — not evil ones, or uninvolved, but ones that have their own set of problems even though you can feel the love.  I loved how that all resolved too, how blinded Dylan had become in his focus.

And he was SO CUTE!!  I love the heroes in these books.  They have a healthy set of hormones, but none of them are dogs (though far from perfect either).  They are all very 3 dimensional, and I love how shy and awkward Dylan could be in relationships!  SWOON!! (a unicorn just got his wings!)

And I LOVED how different Lucy was from the other heroines in this series!  She was kind of a rebel rouser, and just marched to the beat of her own drum, but with lots of confidence.  I loved how seriously she followed her passion, and how some might see her as flighty, but if you paid attention she was really focused as well.  She just knew better how to have some fun.  And I loved her family dynamics as well, and how the pressures of stepping up and being responsible in her family were really wearing on her.  Her relationship with both her Mom and her brother felt very real, full of love but also struggles.  And I loved the military Dad aspect as well.  How it didn’t overtake the story, but was an underlying heartache.

And these two together were YA gold.  So many tummy butterflies, they really had great chemistry.  And I really could see how they sort of brought the best of each other.

So yeah, another YA success!!  And a PERFECT read for the summer, I just got all those summertime vibes!!

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Pounding Skin by L.A. Witt

Blurb:
35101031A Skin Deep, Inc. Novel

Fighter pilot Jon Russell never sleeps with the same man twice. Known for his lack of shame when it comes to hooking up, Jon has no interest in commitment—even friends with benefits sounds like too much work.

Matt Huffman has slept with lots of women. He’s had loads of girlfriends. So why does the hot as hell pilot getting a tattoo as the result of a lost bet stop his breath? And how come he can’t stop thinking about him, even after he’s gone?

When Jon returns to Skin Deep the second time, he doesn’t want another tattoo. He wants to hook up with the gorgeous artist he spent hours agonizingly close to, and Matt wants to explore some curiosity about men. Fulfill the desire he can’t stop fantasizing over. And he wants to do it with Jon.

As their casual hook up becomes more than just skin deep, both Matt and Jon are faced with questions they don’t want to answer. Matt understands he’s bi—but are these feelings he has typical of hooking up with a man? Or is it only Jon that can make his heart pound? If Jon wanted nothing more than a fling, why does he find himself needing not just Matt’s body, but all of him? And can their relationship withstand the hardships that makes Jon avoid them in the first place?

The Skin Deep, Inc books can be read in any order—come enter a world where gorgeous tattoo artists and hot Navy men find passion, pleasure, and a happily ever after together.

L.A. Witt also writes under the name Lauren Gallagher.

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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 finished this one last night, but was just so freaking tired I just sort of stream of consciousnessed out some thoughts before going to bed.  Now I need to figure out what I wrote and make it make sense.  All of which I really didn’t need to include in this review, but in case I miss something and it sounds jumbled, that would be why.

This was a solid read, definitely leaning more towards the erotica end of the spectrum…  I can never figure out what the line in the sand is for when a romance is labeled an erotica.  Like, this book definitely had romance, but there is a LOT of sex in it.  I actually forgot just how much sex was in the first book, so it caught me off guard in the beginning of this book.  And funny story, I always bring my Kindle everywhere, and when I was on the bus taking me to the football game on Friday, I pulled it out, but forgot I was in the middle of a sex scene and I had to keep tilting it away from the guy beside me.  I took a picture to show my hubby (because he was standing near the back), and he laughed and told me if they peak over my shoulder, they get what they get!  And what they would get is a LOT of c*ck!!  ROFL.  OK, enough of these asides…

Let’s talk characters!!  I felt a stronger connection to Matt than Jon in this particular story.  I did feel like we jumped into his story at a weird point, I almost wish we’d actually seen the scene where he has the threesome, instead of seeing him ponder it.  Even if it was a flashback.  Then again, maybe not.  It just felt like we jumped into the middle of a story sometimes.  BUT!  I loved how Ms. Witt portrayed Matt’s struggle with coming to terms with his newly discovered bisexuality.  I loved the way his past played into him being in the closet for so long, and being so genuinely surprised when he figured it out.  I loved the discussion about how his father’s toxic masculinity really influenced him heavily.  I also liked that they addressed how his constant vehement denial could hurt people (like Troy).  I will say I was not too keen on the fact that it seemed no one was surprised when he came out.  Not that that isn’t necessarily realistic, but we never really find out what exactly gave it away for them.  Having SOMEONE be surprised would have been nice.  Or at least not sitting there saying “we were just waiting for you to say something.”

I felt like Matt’s financial struggles were added in at the beginning, and then didn’t really go anywhere.  Like the story got too cluttered, so that thread just got dropped unsatisfactorily.  I really hate that, because I was interested in seeing how it was going to be resolved because it seemed to be building up to something, but then it just…fizzled, I guess.  So then why was it there at all?

On to Jon!  Jon was harder to warm up to.  I never could figure out where he got his negative view on relationships.  I guess some people just are that way, but in books it’s nicer to read them having some incidence that leads to it (a rough childhood, divorced parents, no good role models, bad early breakup, SOMETHING).  So that was a bummer.  However, I loved that he was so confident in his sexuality, and very forthright about what he wanted, and very comfortable in his own skin.  I loved that he was very good at his job and loved it, and they conveyed how smart he was.  I also loved seeing some of the interactions with his squadron, but that fizzled a bit too…would have liked even more.

And Matt and Jon had amazing chemistry, and the steamy scenes were spot on (if prolific).  I really did feel their connection and insatiability in the bedroom.  But not at the expense of other connections.  I felt friendship, and even romance too.  I liked that we got to see their relationship slowly developing over time.  You could tell they cared about each other.  Frankly, it made the constant talk of casualness really grating on this romance reader.  I think that was the point, but it’s not something that this reader enjoys.  I get it was the whole conflict of the book leading up to the climax, but it got tiring.  And the turnaround in the end was a mite quick.

As for side stories, the subplot with Nate and his husband really broke my heart.  It kind of threw off my mood, and if you know me as a reader at all, you know I HATE cheating.  So it was hard to see it happening to a secondary character that was so important to one of our heroes.  I get now that it was setup for book 3 though.

I liked getting glimpses of Colin and Daniel, but still wish we knew what happened to Daniel’s family (particularly his relationship with his sisters).  I guess nothing.  That’s the impression we’re given.  And I hated how they made Daniel sound like he was always so calm and cool and there for Colin, when often I felt like he was oblivious to Colin’s problems.  But that’s a problem with a different story in the end.

All in all a solid romance that leans more towards the erotica end.  I think the relationship was more satisfying than Colin and Daniel’s from book one, but I enjoyed the extra elements in the first book’s story a wee bit more, so they kind of balance out in the end.  I will say I’m looking forward to the next book in the series though!  That sneak peak was tantalizing!

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Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Blurb:
34223444A basketball game changed both their lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Home by Melissa Pearl

Blurb:
26026392Rachel Myers never meant to stay in the small town of Payton. Her eyes are set on bigger things than waitressing at Clark’s Bar. She wants to perform on a stage of her own with bright lights, fame, and fortune. But her dreams seem too far out of reach and so she stays put, content with the love of her boyfriend, Joshua Clark. He’s a good man, a solid rock she can depend on. She wants that to be enough, but it hasn’t quelled her yearning for the big city.

Josh has never loved anyone the way he loves Rachel and he dreads the day she might leave him. He’s happy in his small town home. Running the bar that has been in his family for two generations is a dream come true. He couldn’t be happier with his life… until one night, a city boy from Hollywood promises Rachel a record deal and destroys everything.

Jumping at a chance she never thought she’d have, Rachel leaves Payton. And Josh. But the sparkle of Los Angeles is not all it’s cracked up to be, and Rachel quickly figures out that some sacrifices are not worth the risk. Is she too late? Will Josh forgive her, or has her desire for fame ruined the best thing she’s ever had?

Sometimes you have to say goodbye before you can say forever.

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My Review:
3.75 stars — While these books are all standalone, you do get something a bit extra when you read them all.  And I actually skipped over 2-4 the first time around, so after reading True Love and Rather Be, I was hella interested in finally reading Josh and Rachel’s story.  And it’s funny, b/c while I’m a romantic at heart, this wasn’t a typical love story for me.  Which is not a bad thing, it’s more that there were many other aspects that drew me into this story, and for once the romance wasn’t the biggest part.

Both of our characters are hecka flawed, with a lot of growing to do, and in this story we see them as an established couple at the beginning, and then they end up on separate paths to do their own growing before finding their way back to each other.  The problem with this is that I didn’t necessarily feel *quite* the same investment in them as a couple as I normally do in my romance novels.  It wasn’t that they weren’t super cute together, or they didn’t make me smile…or that I wasn’t rooting for them.  But it just felt a bit different than my normal romances.  I was rooting for them not because I knew much about what they were like together, but because I believed them when they told me that the other was their “person” and that they were their true love, and so I wanted them both to find their happiness.  Does that make sense?  Probably not.

As with most of the Songbird novels, I felt a smidgeon more for Rachel’s story than for Josh’s.  It wasn’t that Josh didn’t have his own path to go on, but I just felt more invested in Rachel’s path.  Maybe it’s because Josh was so bad with open emotions, I always felt like I wanted just a bit more from him.  BUT he really was the perfect big intimidating man with a marshmallow center.  I loved that he was so quiet and reserved, but would not take crap from anyone.  I loved the way he was protective of Rachel.  So many of his reactions felt just very young.  He was an interesting dichotomy in that sense, in that he had all this responsibility with the bar, but I felt like he still had a lot of growing to do with relationships.  Not that I could blame him with the heartaches he experienced in his past.  I really did understand why he was so quick to jump to conclusions, and why he turtled to protect himself.  And while I wouldn’t have minded a bit more groveling on his part for the mean words he said to Rachel, as a man of few words I understand that was probably more than could be asked for.

Rachel also suffered from being young and naive.  It was PAINFUL to see her get taken for a ride…it’s so hard being a reader and seeing all the pitfalls, and wanting to yell at your character “OPEN YOUR EYES!!  DON’T SIGN THAT!!!  WHAT ARE YOU DOING???”  But I could totally see how this probably happens every day to young girls with more dreams than common sense…  But it hurt to read.  And while it sucked to see her believing the threats, they felt real to me, and I could see how she would assume she didn’t have another out.  I felt like the time it took her to figure things out was realistic too, even if it sucked.  I was happy with the turns that story took, and it was actually really gratifying to see her figuring herself out, what she was capable of, and what she wanted from life.

And I think that’s where this story wins.  It’s a love story where the couple really *needed* to separate and learn to stand on their own, so they could really understand what they needed from each other.  And it made that moment where she sings, and then the whole phone call part just so gratifying, I wanted to whoop out loud!!  I love when a climax is that satisfying.

I also ADORED the cameos from Jody, Leo and Angel.  That was so satisfying.  I’m sure it would be interesting even if you’d never read Everything, but it was like awesomesauce after reading it.  AND!  I loved seeing more of what happened between Nessa and Josh!!  That always felt a little bit unfulfilling in True Love, so while these are all truly standalones, you really do get more out of the experience if you read them all (and in order).  Now I’m going to reread til the end of the series!!  It’s so fun seeing the little glimpses of where characters weave in and out of each book, connecting them all in some way.

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Everything by Melissa Pearl

Blurb:
25384042Jody Pritchett had a dream…but life had other plans. Instead of singing and dancing on Broadway, Jody’s a twenty-year-old single mom, living at home with her disapproving father and overbearing sister. The choice to keep her little Angelia came with a high price and although she adores her baby girl, it doesn’t take away the sting of kissing goodbye her chance at a career on the stage.

Leo Sinclair had his own dream…but got lost along the way. After a failed marriage that left him hollow and downtrodden, the Australian songwriter wonders what joy his future could possibly hold. Encouraged by the one family member who doesn’t think he’s a failure, Leo decides to stop living the life everyone expects him to and start chasing his dreams again.
When the perfect opportunity comes knocking, Leo leaves Australia behind and hops a flight to LA. With his sights set on selling a musical to a Broadway producer, Leo is determined to finally realize his life-long dream. But life gets in the way again, when he spots a young mother outside his apartment in tears. He never realized how one person, one voice, and one Angel could have him contemplating abandoning his dreams once again.

As these two burned hearts wrestle to overcome their past struggles, Leo and Jody must decide what dreams are worth clinging to…because, sometimes, everything you want is not everything you need.

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My Review:
4 stars — Ah, another sweet sweet love story!!  I loved how this one turned out, and the hea we got!!

I wasn’t sure how I was going to like Jody’s story, b/c Jody herself gave me some reservations, particularly in Bulletproof.  And while she was still a bit of a drama queen for me, we did get to see her grow up a bit over the course of the book.  I wouldn’t have minded a bit more growth with her, but I think she just might not be my favourite heroine, and that’s OK you know?  While it was hard to see her act so naively even at the beginning of the book, it really made her growth as a mother so much more impactful.  I found myself rooting for her and the strides she was making in her independence.  I think the nature of her personality will always have her feeling a bit young, but it worked for her, especially as a match to Leo.

Leo was extra adorable, he was so my kind of hero!  I loved how sweet and kind he was, and he really reminded me of my Dad.  We always used to joke that my Dad always had a song for everything, and he would break out into songs all the time…it was one of my favourite qualities about him, so of course I loved that aspect of Leo as well.  I will admit that I didn’t really feel like his background made much of an impact on who he was, and I kind of wanted some of that to come into play, or to learn more about it.  I feel like he had a really unique past in Australia, but it was kind of just glossed over, so I wondered what the point was.  Not that it was a big deal, but I guess I kept waiting for his parents to have an impact, or to just dive in a wee bit more to why he got married so young.

Leo and Jody brought out the best in each other.  I loved the way Leo brought the sunshine back to Jody…how they connected so perfectly over music.  They brought happy smiles to each other, and thus brought happy smiles to me.  There were so many cute scenes that I fell in love with, especially the Dance With Me Tonight scene.  That was just gold.  And I loved how he called her foxy pants!  I didn’t feel their sexual chemistry quite as much as say Morgan and Sean, or even Cole and Ella, but their romantic chemistry and friendship chemistry was fantastic.

And I ADORED the way Leo was with Angel.  While I’m not huge on kids, I really felt like Jody’s struggles raising Angel, and how that impacted her romantic relationships was well portrayed.  And you could really tell that Leo was falling in love with *both* his girls.

I will say, the highlight for me in this book was the musical.  I really loved that we got to learn what it was about, and see bits of the lyrics of some of the songs.  I kind of want to see this musical!!  Ms. Pearl needs to write it!  😛  You know, in her spare time.  *rolls eyes*

The climax and resolution of this book was spot on…I was crying and crying and then smiling so big!  And the epilogue was gold.  Time to continue my read-a-thon!!  I can’t wait to reread Rather Be now that I’ve truly met Leo and Angel!

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