Jacob’s Ladder: Gabe by Katie Ashley

Blurb:
36287261As the lead songwriter for Jacob’s Ladder, the last thing Gabe Renard needs is a debilitating case of writer’s block. After years of meaningless one night stands, he’s finding it hard to pen the love-filled ballads the label is requesting. In an effort to clear his mind, Gabe takes his jeep off-roading in the North Georgia Mountains. When a wrong-turn leads to him getting stuck more than just creatively, he’s forced to call for help. To his surprise, the “Ray” who has been sent by Hart Wreckers to his aid is actually “Rae”—a sexy-as-hell spitfire in a pair of tight-as-hell jeans. The combination of Rae’s sassy mouth and rocking body might be the inspiration Gabe needs. But for the first time since becoming a rock star, his advances have been shot down.

Reagan Hart has never been a fan of musicians. In fact, just the mention of one might cause her to throw a tire tool. Her disgust for them started when she was just eight and her mother ran off with a traveling country singer, and it only worsened when at seventeen, her rocker boyfriend knocked her up before blowing out of town. As a single mother taking care of her family’s collision business, Rae doesn’t have time for hook ups, much less a relationship. And if she did make time, a musician would be last on her list, even one as good-looking as Gabe Renard.

Can Gabe find the words to prove not only to Rae, but himself, that she’s the only one for him?

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

I’ve never read a book by Ms. Ashley, and I have a feeling we are just not a match.  It happens.  I do believe she’s a very popular author, so take my review with a grain of salt.  From what I could tell, this appears to be a spin-off book of another series of hers, so for fans I’m sure this is much anticipated!  I just can’t help but be sucked into celebrity stories, so that was my draw and the reason I requested.  Especially celebrities that fall in love with “normal” people.

In the end I didn’t really like either character that much.  Don’t get me wrong, they both had great moments, but in general I just couldn’t empathize with either.  And oddly, the sweet moments felt inconsistent with the other moments where Gabe seemed like a huge egotistical self-absorbed entitled dick, and Rae seemed like an overreacting irrational witch with a b.  I think I’m just not meant to read books about characters with volatile emotions.  I also tend to prefer more subtle characteristics, occasionally they felt like caricatures if that makes sense.  Just a bit too over the top and didn’t strike me as completely realistic.  Or maybe it’s just that these are not the type of people I would want to hang around with.  Again, this is really just a personality conflict between me and the story.  Won’t necessarily be a problem for others.

There were a few moments where I really felt the chemistry between Gabe and Rae and it worked for me.  I LOVED the scene where they were baking brownies, and everything that happened afterwards (other than the overreaction).  But that was about it for me.  The book felt very sex focused.  I didn’t really feel the falling in love part as much.  I didn’t swoon over the comments that Gabe made, quite the opposite…which is probably why the steamy stuff didn’t really work as well for me.  Again, just not a good fit.

One thing that actually really surprised me is that I LOVED Rae’s son Linc.  I’m not a kid person usually, but he came across sweet, but still a realistic 9 year old.  I loved how he colluded with Gabe, and I really loved some of the scenes at the end (especially the first epilogue).  Rae’s sisters also seemed pretty cool, as did her Aunt Sadie.  And while I’m not interested in reading any more in this series, Eli intrigued me.  I’m sure fans of this author will look forward to his story.

I will note that my advanced copy was LITTERED with mistakes, it did not read like a final copy.  And while ARCs aren’t always the final copy, this felt *quite* rough.  There is the possibility that after sending out the ARCs, the author sent this to a proofreader and the final copy will be more polished.  But I feel like that’s unlikely.  So if this kind of thing really bothers you, proceed with caution (maybe try the sample).

So yeah.  I know this seems like a really bummer review.  I was kind of bummed.  But it wasn’t a horrible book, it just wasn’t a me book.  It wasn’t a book I devoured.  And it wasn’t a book where I fell in love with my main characters, which I kind of need to truly enjoy a book.  But it was also not awful by any stretch, hence the rounding up.  It really was mostly just a case of the reader not matching up with the author’s writing.  I hope others have more luck.

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Merrily in Love by Melissa West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just One of the Boys by Leah and Kate Rooper

Blurb:
36224817Alice Bell has one goal: to play for the elite junior hockey team the Chicago Falcons.But when she’s passed over at tryouts for being a girl, she’ll do anything to make her dream a reality…even disguising herself as her twin brother. With her amazing skills on the ice, Alice is sure she’ll fit in easily. That is, until she starts falling for one of her teammates…

Hayden Tremblay, star of the Falcons, can’t keep himself out of the penalty box. Constantly living in the shadow of his older brother, Hayden’s losing his passion for hockey. But when he gets shown up on the ice by the Falcons’ new rookie, Hayden’s determined to teach the kid a thing or two. Little does he guess that “Al’s” surprises on the ice are just the beginning…

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush title proves that wonderful things can happen when you’re brave enough to go after your dream. Dream hockey player, that is! Warning–a few locker room scenes are included.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — Well, I decided to start this one at midnight because I wasn’t quite tired yet…next thing I know it’s 5:30 am and I’m finished.  If that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what will.  I was sucked right in, it was very compelling for me.  If you’re a fan of Twelfth Night type retellings (and I just now realized I didn’t know how to spell Twelfth), and particularly if you loved She’s The Man, you’re probably going to love this one.  I saw some reviewers complain that it was exactly the same, but I felt that while it may have started pretty similarly, there was enough development with the characters to stand out from it.

What I find the most interesting about this read is that I wasn’t impressed with either character initially.  Alice seemed like a selfish brat, and, honestly, I could say the same for Hayden…not to mention his almost bully-like behavior.  And while a small part of me wishes they’d seen a bit more consequences for those early behaviors, I really appreciated their growth otherwise and the development of their relationship.  It kind of surprised me.  That growth even took a bit longer than I normally would have liked, but at that point I was enthralled with the hockey, their backstories, and the friendship that was developing between Hayden and Al.  And I guess it was kind of refreshing to have characters that were truly flawed, but whose growth I totally bought into.

I felt Alice’s frustration at being past over because she was a girl.  I was bummed that she was so wrapped up in what she wanted, that she didn’t even acknowledge internally that she wasn’t *really* using the deception for her brother, but for herself…and I kind of wish she’d owned up to that a bit more bluntly in the end.  But she was such an intriguing character in her own right, a true tomboy…more comfortable pretending to be her brother and feeling like she could be herself then.  I loved the struggle she had with her own identity…it really added depth.  And my heart broke for the way she’d closed herself off to emotions because of her father leaving, and how she really didn’t know how to deal with them when they came.

I felt for Hayden too!  I can’t even imagine what he was going through after the loss of his parents, but you could really feel his rage and disillusionment.  I was worried he would be a bully, but I loved how Al just got through his defenses, and then he ended up finding that true friend who he could let in.

Strangely, the romance was only OK for me.  It’s not that I didn’t feel chemistry between them, but I was much more sucked in by their friendship, and we got to see a lot more of that than romance in the end.  That, along with needing a bit more from Xander to explain his extreme attitude (like, I sort of get his motivations, but I could have used a bit more of a resolution since it was such a big looming thing in the background), are the reasons I rounded down instead of up.  That and I will admit, there were a lot of little tiny believability flaws in this story.  But I loved everything else so much it just didn’t affect my enjoyment that much.

For me this book excels in showcasing their friendship.  I REALLY felt that chemistry.  I LOVED the way they could rely on each other and how Al was there for Hayden.

It also excels in the hockey aspect…it really showcased the sport (minus the part where they mentioned an end zone).  And as a fan of hockey, I really appreciated feeling like I was on the team.

Some other little delights: the little hints of Canada, and jokes about it; Madison was awesome; Hayden’s up and down relationship with his brother; the imperfection of Al’s family, but you could still feel the love.

So yeah.  It was a hit for me.  But I really should have known better than to start this one at midnight, especially given how much I was looking forward to it.

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The Jingle Bell Bride by Scarlet Wilson

Blurb:
36183707New York wedding planner Jessica Christie always goes above and beyond for her clients. So, stopping in Alaska to pick up the famed Jingle Bell flower for her famous client’s bouquet doesn’t seem too outrageous–until she ends up stranded there.

Matt Holden has spent the last five years since his fiancée died, living in a virtual bubble in Alaska. His research work as a botanist and assistant at the local reindeer farm keep him busy during the holidays.

But when Jessica Christie bursts into his life, all bets are off. Her stay is definitely temporary, but the feelings she ignites aren’t. Could Ms. Oh-So-Wrong actually be Mrs. Right?

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

Hmmm…well, this one started off pretty good.  I was intrigued, I thought the premise seemed interesting.  But at some point my interest waned.  And I never really got it back.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it was very very meh.  If I wasn’t reading towards a challenge and this wasn’t a NetGalley ARC, I probably would have just abandoned it in favour of something that would better keep my attention.

In the end I think I just wasn’t that enamoured with our characters.  Maybe I just didn’t quite understand what made them tick.  I just wasn’t able to fall in love with either of them.  Jessica was SOOOOO high strung, and I couldn’t understand the disconnect between her celebrity wedding planner life and her supposed dream of a bookstore.  Like they were pretty far apart, so she kind of felt like 2 different people.  I did like when she was sweet, and how understanding she could be with Matt.  And she felt very child-like at times.  I just don’t get how that child-likeness remained in the life she led.  *shrugs*

And Matt had his own good moments, but he was also kind of dismissive of certain things about Jessica, poo-pooing her job and certain aspects of her personality.  I get that that wasn’t necessarily the “real” her, but then again, it has to be somewhat her.  Just seemed kind of dick-ish.

And their chemistry was only OK for me.  It was slow slow slow, and then all of a sudden it kind of turned really fast.  And while they acknowledged that the love was fast, that just felt like lampshading…saying it was fast doesn’t discount that it was honestly unbelievably fast.

I liked the magic of Alaska though, and that atmosphere.  I enjoyed the reindeer, though I can always stand for more reindeer…as my husband said, could use more ungulates.

So yeah.  Not a terrible book by any means, just didn’t capture my attention.

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Deck the Halls by Donna Alward

Blurb:
35965582With shades of It’s a Wonderful Life, one man must face his past to find his future this Christmas.

In the last year, George’s life has drastically changed. The formerly homeless veteran now has a job he likes, a family in the residents of Darling, VT, and for the first time in years, a home. But while his present is good, he’s still haunted by the past, a past that appears shortly before Christmas when the older sister of his brother-in-arms hunts him down and finds him in Darling, working at the Ladybug Garden Center.

Amy’s looking for closure for her family after her brother’s death in the Middle East, but the serious man she finds working in Vermont doesn’t resemble the soldier she remembers from years before. This man is hardened and yet somehow fragile, too, and in her desire to find out what really happened to her brother, she learns more about George than she ever expected.

With a little Christmas magic and the whole town supporting them, can these two bruised hearts make a future together?

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

I have never read any books by Ms. Alward before, and thus none in this series.  But I had no problems following along with everything.  I will say that if you are a fan of the series, I think you’ll love this book too as many of the other couples appear in it (and it sounds like George made appearances in many of those books as well).

This was a solid Christmas romance, with a great redemption plot.  It touches on many serious subjects, from what it’s like for returning veterans, survivor’s guilt, homelessness, and the struggle to climb out of being homeless.  I especially enjoyed that last bit, as I think we forget that there’s so much to overcome mentally and emotionally.  We really got to see how being homeless affected George’s self-esteem and his sense of self-worth.

George was a bit of an oddball hero for me.  We meet him when he’s so very damaged, and he came across quite meek a lot of the time.  Sometimes I just had a hard time getting a read on his personality outside of his damage, if that makes sense.

Amy, on the other hand, was very straightforward!  I loved how strong she was in so many things, how she wouldn’t give up on George no matter how many roadblocks he tried to put between them.  And I liked that when they would have disagreements, she never held onto a grudge, and she was quick to try to see things from his perspective and adjust her expectations.  But at the same time, she wasn’t afraid to push him a bit.  I also appreciated that she had her own bit of damage, but that she was a bit further along the healing path…not healed, but with more mental tools I guess.

All in all this was a sweet love story, with a very satisfying ending.  I was a bit bummed that there wasn’t more to the “It’s a Wonderful Life” bit that is mentioned in the blurb, but there was enough else in the story to make up for it.

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Love in the Friend Zone by Molly E. Lee

Blurb:
35683226The only thing worse than not being able to tell your best friend you’re head over heels in love with him? Having to smile and nod when he enlists your help to ensnare the girl of his dreams.

Braylen didn’t even want to go to Lennon Pryor’s epic graduation-night party, but when Fynn begs her to be his “wingwoman,” she can’t deny him. Talking up her BFF—how he’s magic behind a camera, with a killer sense of humor and eyelashes that frame the most gorgeous blue eyes in the history of forever—is easy. Supporting his efforts to woo someone so completely wrong for him? Not so much.

Fynn knows that grad night is his last shot before leaving for college to find true love. And thanks to Bray, he gets his chance with the beautiful Katy Evans. But over the course of the coolest party of their high school careers, he starts to see that perhaps what he really wants has been in front of him all along. Bray’s been his best friend since kindergarten, though, and he’d rather have her in his life as a friend than not at all.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains one epic party, complete with every high-schoolers-gone-bad shenanigan, and two best friends whose sexual chemistry is off the charts…if only they’d succumb to it.

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

I don’t know what it was about this book, but I just kind of loved it.  Was it flawless?  Nope.  But I loved all the little things that surprised and delighted me along the way.  And despite the times I wanted to smack them both, I really kind of loved both Braylen and Fynn.  They were a bit oblivious, but such is the nature of many a friends-to-lovers story.

All of the characters in this book very much felt their age.  I kind of liked that.  So often you read young adult novels and they’re just not believably 18, you know?  I don’t mind that either, but I do like variety.  And the book takes place over one night (basically), and mostly at a house party that honestly sounded like a fairly realistic house party…not that I’ve ever been to any like that.  But there were reckless decisions made, poor choices, and a lot of immaturity, but it was often in the background.  And while my poor heart hated seeing, for example, the drunk driving stunt, I realize that this happens in real life.  All this to say, this one towed the line between young adult and mature young adult, so be warned on content.

As I said above, I kind of loved both Braylen and Fynn.  I loved how authentic they both felt…towing the nerdy line without being total social outcasts (I can vibe with that).  A bit more on the innocent side of the high school spectrum.  And I loved how their passions really came into play in their personalities…I loved that Braylen’s journalistic tendancies and Fynn’s photographer tendancies weren’t just throwaway characteristics, but you could see their minds spinning in those directions occasionally (either with story ideas for Bray, or seeing shots for Fynn).

And I loved the way they interacted with each other.  You could really feel how well they complemented one another, and how they genuinely cared for the other.  I didn’t once doubt that they were truly best friends, regardless of Bray’s secret love for Fynn and Fynn’s obliviousness.  I know some may have a problem with Fynn’s obliviousness, but sometimes people choose to see what they want to see, you know?  They convince themselves of something SO MUCH that nothing can sway them.

And can I just say that while I had to wait for it, I really did feel their “more than friends” chemistry as well?  Bonus when I actually buy the transition from friends to more.

As with many a friends-to-lovers story, this one did get bogged down in a bit of repetitiveness with the “I should tell him”, “No I shouldn’t”, “The Universe is telling me something”, “Why am I feeling this way about her suddenly?”, etc.  It happens.  It was drawn out a bit longer than I had hoped, so despite all the other things I loved, it accounts for the full star loss in my rating.  I also got a bit tired of the convenient interruptions, but at least the author tried to make them look natural, so it was kind of a wash.

But there were a lot of other little things that I really ended up enjoying.  I loved seeing the other stories weave in and out of this book.  I could totally see the setup for at least 2 other stories, and I’m so happy that it looks like I’m going to get them!  I loved that Katy was a bit more dimensional than I was anticipating.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and the stereotypical mean girl crap, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Ms. Lee managed to make her “not the one” without making her completely horrible.  And I LOVED Blondie Bear, aka Randy.  He was such a strange character, but I really loved what he added to the story.  Is it too much to ask for his story as well??

So yeah.  This book was by no means perfect, but I loved it despite its flaws.  Characters I loved (including secondary ones) and who felt realistic will always put it over the top for me.

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The Perfect Couple by Ginger Scott

Blurb:
36442861The perfect couple.

Nicole Laramie and Chase Pennington would forever be called that in their home town of Rider Springs. Chase’s grandmother, Evelyn, thought her neighbors’ only daughter and her grandson were made for each other ever since the two of them were kids.

When Chase climbed a tree, Nicole climbed it higher.
When Nicole fell from her ten-speed and skinned her knee, Chase carried her home.
And when Chase took the field for Little League, Nicole cheered the loudest.

Inseparable.

Until they were strangers.

While Chase climbed the social ladder in high school, Nicole climbed the academic one. Two best friends became enemies. And when the senior class voted them MOST PERFECT COUPLE in the yearbook, it was meant as a joke.

Only Evelyn, she never thought it was funny. She thought it was fate. And she was willing to wait 10 years just to prove she was right.

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

This was surprisingly satisfying for a novella!  I’m always on the fence about standalone novellas for exactly that reason, usually they’re too short to really get you invested in the characters or to feel like you have a complete plot.  I love them for bonuses on series though.  This is a complete standalone however, and I ended it with a smile on my face.

I will say that the blurb is a bit misleading…we didn’t get to see the childhood friendship that’s described there.  Some of it, yes, but Chase and Nicole seem to have had a bit of an unusual childhood friendship.  I did love the flip through the photo album though, to fill in a few of those gaps.  To be honest, I forgot what this story was supposed to be about, so I kind of forgot they were childhood best friends until at least a third of the way through the story.

I was completely sucked in, and while I hadn’t intended to read it all last night when I started it after midnight, I found I couldn’t stop once I’d started.  I was sucked in by the interactions between our characters.  They both felt very real, and like people I would enjoy hanging out with.  Nicole was harder to pin down at first, b/c she’s described as very awkward, and I almost got the mistaken impression that perhaps she was on the autism spectrum.  But no, just socially awkward.

I loved the way Chase took care of Nicole when she was sick, and while the date kind of came out of nowhere for me, I did enjoy how the relationship developed into more.  And while I really felt Chase’s remorse in his POV, I wouldn’t have minded a more frank apology to Nicole for the way he behaved (though I might be misremembering).

And strangely enough, while the ending came a bit quick, I loved how unconventional it was!  Showed strength of character by both of them.  Would love to see an epilogue short story with these two!

 

Hooking Up by Helena Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The First Kiss Hypothesis by Christina Mandelski

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

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

She needs to get rid of him, and fast.

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

Game. On.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Offsetting Penalties by Ally Mathews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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