#Swag by Cambria Hebert

Blurb:
30367827These drivers got #swag…

Racing is in her DNA.
Right alongside money and power.
When you’re the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the country,
you have to work harder for success.
Joey Gamble’s a girl on a male-dominated track.
With a daddy who can buy whatever she wants.
But she doesn’t want anything… except to EARN her reputation.

Racing is his passion.
Trouble follows him everywhere. Some even say he invites it.
When you’re nipping at the taillights of the best driver in the new NRR,
you have to fight and claw for each and every success.
It’s never been easy for Lorhaven.
That’s why he doesn’t play by the rules.
He’s a man with a serious chip on his shoulder against the pro racing circuit.
We at GearShark want to know what’s up with that.

We’ve also been hearing rumblings…
of a pro who wants to go indie.

We’ve invited racing royalty and the driver from the wrong side of the tracks to sit down and talk to us about a possible crossover.
We expected sparks to fly when Joey and Lorhaven crossed paths.
Will those sparks ignite into a full-on inferno?
Read the full feature article inside…

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My Review:
4 stars — This book had an up and down vibe for me.  There were parts where I felt like it dragged a bit, but then there were parts that were just over the top amazing for me.  So perhaps it’s really a 3.5 star read, but I just loved the ending so much, and it’s amazing how much the way a book ends can affect your opinion of it, you know?  So I’m going with full 4 stars anyways.  I rate on gut feeling anyways, so I guess I should go with my gut.

I will say that I’m not convinced that the Lorhaven we met in this book matched the Lorhaven we saw in #Junkie and #Rev.  Which is I guess sort of the point, we’re supposed to look at him more closely and see him more deeply.  And I totally did!  I really actually fell in love with the Lorhaven we meet in this book…but we didn’t meet Lorhaven did we?  We met Jace.  And I will caveat that I feel like there’s a disconnect between the two, there’s something missing from really allowing me to mesh these two together.  It’s not that you don’t see the ruthless side of him.  But I felt like his reasons for the illegal betting/gambling were just kind of glossed over, and weren’t enough for me.  And I can’t figure out why the man we meet in this book would have chased after Drew in #Junkie…but I might be forgetting an explanation that occurred in Trew’s books, since it’s been a few months since I reread them.  Basically what I’m saying is that if I look at him as a character solely from this book, I have no problems.  But if I look at him as a whole, I don’t feel like his character arc is believable.

Those stipulations aside, I LOVED Jace.  I loved the way he cared for his brother, how fiercely he loved him.  I loved that he made no apologies for his asshole-like nature, and that we did get to see how much of his personality was a front to maintain control.  I loved that while we got to see his good qualities, Ms. Hebert didn’t make all his bad qualities magically disappear.  And while I wasn’t completely won over by the speed and reasons he fell for Joey (or Josie as he calls her), I LOVED the way he fell in love with her…the way he cared for her, and how he is fierce in his love for her as well.  He was just very no-nonsense, and straightforward, which kind of surprised me.

Joey tried my patience at times.  There was a lot to love about her as well, she was a passionate woman dealing with so many struggles, both internally and externally.  My heart broke for her and how she saw her relationship with her father, and how she struggled to prove her worth in the face of insurmountable odds.  I LOVED how comfortable she was in her sensuality, and yet how innocent she was in love.  She was a strange mix of strong and vulnerable, and in general I thought it was done very well.  The climax of her story had my heart aching, and I loved the way she learned to lean on Jace, and open up to him and her father.

BUT.  But.  I’m the kind of girl that doesn’t believe it’s OK for women to hit men without provocation.  And there was a part earlier in the book that just tweaked me.  She slams her pointed heel into Jace’s foot and slaps him across the face for his asshole nature (“calling her sweetheart”).  Maybe it’s just me, but that is NOT a good enough reason to resort to violence.  And that bothered me.  To a lesser degree, there is another moment where I’m not thrilled with her physical violence, but I could give more of a pass (the street race).  At least there she had slightly better reasons, but I honestly hate it when a woman can physically assault a man and no one chides her, but when the man comes after her, everyone talks about how it’s wrong to hit a woman.  Uh, it’s kind of wrong to hit anyone, regardless of gender.  I get not everyone feels this way, and it’s not an issue I’m super passionate about (not enough to ruin a book for me), but it is something that bugs me.  (and no, I had no problems with the stuff in the climax…totally different circumstances)

The chemistry between Jace and Josie was fantastic.  You could really feel their attraction, and the steamy scenes were awesome.  And I really felt the development of their feelings for each other.  I thought the progression was natural and I loved getting to really see it happen.  I loved how they understood each other intrinsically, and how in most cases they brought out the best in each other.

And I loved getting to see so many characters that we already love, and ones I can already see myself falling more in love with.  This book sets up nicely for Arrow and Hopper’s book, I can’t wait to dive into it!

I can honestly say I enjoyed this story more than I had anticipated.  And while it was not all rainbows and unicorns, the things I loved outweighed my niggles this time.

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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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I Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren Layne

Blurb:
31306110New York City’s hottest bachelors are stirring up trouble in this fun, flirty Oxford Novel, as a love triangle forces a feisty beauty to choose between winning back Mr. Right or giving in to Mr. Wrong.

Taylor Carr has it all—a sleek job in advertising, a stunning Manhattan apartment, and the perfect man to share it with: Bradley Calloway. Even after Bradley dumps her for a co-worker on move-in day, Taylor isn’t worried. She’ll get her man eventually. In the meantime, she needs a new roommate. Enter Nick Ballantine, career bartender, freelance writer—and longtime pain in Taylor’s ass. Sexy in a permanent five-o’clock-shadow kind of way, Nick knows how to push Taylor’s buttons, as if he could see right through to the real her.

Nick’s always trying to fix people, and nobody could use a good fixing more than Taylor. Sure, she’s gorgeous, with mesmerizing silver eyes, but it’s her vulnerability that kills him. Now that they’re shacking up together, the chemistry is out of control. Soon they’re putting every part of their two-bedroom apartment to good use. Then Taylor’s ex comes crawling back to her, and Nick figures she’ll jump at the chance to go back to her old life—unless he fights for the best thing that ever happened to him.

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

This one honestly is probably even maybe a 4.5 stars (rounded down), but for reasons I cannot explain, I just was not having a good reading day today, and so I kept getting drawn out of the book.  I honestly don’t think it was the book this time, but I still rate based on personal enjoyment, hence I’m sticking with 4 stars.

OK, weird caveat out of the way, I LOVED Nick and Taylor!  I had no idea what to expect from them given the few glimpses we got from them in Someone Like You, but I do suppose I expected a bit more animosity.  And we did get a bit of that enemy vibe, with them snarking back and forth.  But it didn’t go on too long.  It was always mixed with curiosity and good feelings.  It was like they needed to each be smacked.  Yet somehow they managed to smack themselves, without too much help.  What I found interesting about their “dislike” is that there was, sort of, a bit of meanness there.  It wasn’t intentional necessarily, it was like bantering gone too far, or barbs that unintentionally hit too close to home, you know?  I’m not always a huge enemies to lovers trope reader, but I appreciated that it wasn’t fake animosity, you know?  Unintentional, yes.  Fake, no.

I feel like we got a bit more from Taylor than Nick in this book.  And I really ended up feeling a lot for Taylor, she really broke my heart.  She had kind of a tragic upbringing, in a totally different way than I’m used to reading.  And it really damaged her, despite good intentions.  And I think that’s where the real heartbreak comes in, her Aunt wasn’t trying to damage her, and with no other influences, Taylor was really left floundering, unable to fully conform to who her Aunt tried to raise, but not feeling as though she should be pursuing anything other than what she was used to.  Not sure if that makes sense.  But I really did hurt for her, and while I cannot personally vibe, I felt like Ms. Layne really exposed Taylor’s underbelly and made you understand her.  Taylor really ended up being such a strange heroine, because she was part strong, snarky, forthright mixed with vulnerable, damaged, and with so much love to give.  My only gripe is that I wanted to see more done to showcase her turnaround on the major obstacle in her and Nick’s relationship.  I didn’t quite buy it, and I feel like there was a bit of a missed opportunity there.

And while we didn’t get quite as much from Nick, he really did have his own damage to overcome.  Perhaps it’s that we didn’t learn he had damage until maybe the middle of the book, and so we kind of didn’t get to know all of Nick up until that point.  It doesn’t really leave a lot of time, you know?  But I did enjoy his gruffness, his cockiness, his sweetness.

And I truly felt like they complimented each other as a couple.  I loved their interplay, I loved how they didn’t let each other get away with shit.  And I definitely felt their chemistry, though honestly their steamy scenes were some of the moments where my mind wandered as mentioned above.  So take from that what you will.

And I can honestly say that I appreciated the climax and resolution more in this book than in the past few.  It felt less campy, and while still quick, I didn’t feel quite as rushed.

I loved that we got to see a few of the characters we’ve fallen in love with (the Lincoln, Cassidy and Nick exchange in Lincoln’s office was gold), but that we weren’t overwhelmed by the whole cast of characters.  AND I loved that we got new characters to fall in love with!  My fingers are crossed for a Brit & Hunter novel, and I would personally love to see Ms. Hayes get a HEA as well.  She deserves it after Bradley the douchecanoe.

So yeah.  Thoroughly enjoyed myself, despite my brain’s efforts to derail me.  🙂  You can always count on Ms. Layne for solid romance goodness.

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Wild Reckless by Ginger Scott

Blurb:
25059516Kensington Worth had a vision for her senior year. It involved her best friends, her posh private school in downtown Chicago and time alone with her piano until her audition was perfected, a guaranteed ticket into the best music programs in the world.

Instead, a nightmare took over.

It didn’t happen all at once, but her life unraveled quickly—a tiny thread that evil somehow kept pulling until everything precious was taken from her. She was suddenly living miles away from her old life, trapped in an existence she didn’t choose—one determined to destroy her from the inside, leaving only hate and anger behind. It didn’t help that her neighbor, the one whose eyes held danger, was enjoying every second of her fall.

Owen Harper was trouble, his heart wild and his past the kind that’s spoken about in whispers. And somehow, his path was always intertwined with Kensington’s, every interaction crushing her, ruining her hope for any future better than her now. Sometimes, though, what everyone warns is trouble, is exactly what the heart needs. Owen Harper was consumed with darkness, and it held onto his soul for years. When Kensington looked at him, she saw a boy who’d gotten good at taking others down when they threatened his carefully balanced life. But the more she looked, the more she saw other things too—good things…things to admire.

Things…to love. Things that made her want to be reckless.

And those things…they were the scariest of all.

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My Review:
3.5 stars — Well, this book left me really torn.  The good stuff was REALLY REALLY GOOD.  Like really good (in case the capital letters didn’t sell you).  But the stuff that didn’t sit right with me is just hovering at the back of my brain, disallowing me from loving this book.

So what let’s do good stuff first.  I really love this author, and I love the way she can just drag out my feels and rip up my heart at times.  And she decided to go for the jugular right from the prologue.  I thought that the way she addressed Owen’s grief over his father, and the issues that he dealt with with his older brother was done REALLY well.  I really felt his confusion, and loss, and could kind of understand why he was such a dick and how he cultivated the attitude that he did, especially in the town he grew up in.  And my heart broke for everything that he was trying to do to protect his family.  And I could FEEL his pain.  Even though we don’t get in his head, I could feel it through Kensi.

I LOVED the way Kensi grew a backbone and remained steadfast with Owen through the tough times.  Even when her heart was breaking over things he was doing, she was still trying to be there for him, to try to pull him back.  And Owen was there for her too, trying to push her and not let her lose herself.

And I loved some of their sweet moments.  Particularly some of the sweet moments Owen had with Kensi, he could be so adorable because he just wasn’t used to normal relationships.  And hoo boy, when I eventually got on board with their chemistry, it was freaking hot!

I will also give a shout out to Grandpa, he was da bomb.  I wish we’d seen more of him.

OK, so that was all awesome.  I really did feel sooooo much with this book, and I enjoyed the moments when the characters surprised me and didn’t do what I expected.  BUT.  But…  *sigh*  While I *get* why Owen was a dick, some of the things he did to Kensi went too far for me to come back from, and I just couldn’t put him on my book boyfriend list.  It’s funny, b/c it’s not that I didn’t expect some of those bad things…he wouldn’t be an authentic “bad boy” if he didn’t have some slip ups, and people are complex creatures, so it’s reasonable to assume that he wouldn’t get it right all the time.  But I didn’t get to see enough of his transition, where he started embracing more of the sweet side and letting it shine through.  I didn’t get to see his regret over some of those bad decisions, some of those dickish moments.  And I needed that.  I really really needed more than we were given.

And along those same lines, b/c of the horrible initial encounters between the two, I didn’t understand what drew them together.  I get that she thought he was cute, but she was also terrified of him, so I needed some moment or action from him that changes her mind.  And not being in Owen’s head, I honestly don’t know WHAT he was thinking about Kensi.  I don’t know what attracted him to her.

And there were other little things.  Like Kensi’s side story was actually really heartbreaking, but I felt like it fell to the wayside in favour of the Harper story.  Which is fine, but then why have it at all?  It felt like it was unnecessary if you weren’t going to give it time and attention.  And while I get that she’s a teenager, I didn’t always appreciate how she talked to her Mom and didn’t seem to care about her, and I guess I just needed her to apologize and grow in that relationship.  It’s not that I didn’t agree wholeheartedly with Kensi, but there should be some respect there, or it should at least develop.  And I was kind of disappointed with how focused Kensi was on Owen, to the exclusion of her new friends.  It didn’t really feel healthy.  I guess that’s it, a lot of the things that bothered me were because they didn’t feel healthy.  Which happens in real life, but then I want some resolution to them, you know?  I want my characters to realize it’s not healthy and grow.  And I kind of felt bad for Morgan.  If you don’t remember who she is, then that’s exactly my point.  Why introduce an element, and then let it flounder.

I did really love Andrew though, so I’m excited to read his story.  *fingers crossed* that the little things don’t get in the way of my enjoyment on that one too.  I actually can’t decide how to round this one.  Up because I love the author and I loved all the feels and the chemistry?  Or down because the unhealthiness was too much?  Hmmm…

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Walk of Shame by Lauren Layne

Blurb:
32491187Sparks fly between a misunderstood New York socialite and a cynical divorce lawyer in this lively standalone rom-com from the USA Today bestselling author of Blurred Lines and Love Story.

Pampered heiress Georgianna Watkins has a party-girl image to maintain, but all the shopping and clubbing is starting to feel a little bit hollow—and a whole lot lonely. Though Georgie would never admit it, the highlights of her week are the mornings when she comes home at the same time as her uptight, workaholic neighbor is leaving to hit the gym and put in a long day at the office. Teasing him is the most fun Georgie’s had in years—and the fuel for all her naughtiest daydreams.

Celebrity divorce attorney Andrew Mulroney doesn’t have much time for women, especially spoiled tabloid princesses who spend more time on Page Six than at an actual job. Although Georgie’s drop-dead gorgeous, she’s also everything Andrew resents: the type of girl who inherited her penthouse instead of earning it. But after Andrew caps one of their predawn sparring sessions with a surprise kiss—a kiss that’s caught on camera—all of Manhattan is gossiping about whether they’re a real couple. And nobody’s more surprised than Andrew to find that the answer just might be yes.

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

This book was so much of what I love about Lauren Layne.  It gave me butterfly tummy tingles, it made me LAUGH OUT LOUD, it made me giggle quietly, and it gave the mouth hurts from grinning too wide.  And not only that, it gave me frowny faces, and tummy hurts, and chest tightening too.  So basically all the good things for a great book.

I wasn’t sure how I would like Georgie, but it turns out a lot.  She’s nothing like I’m usually familiar, a wealthy socialite whose life involves brand names and high end shopping and perfect makeup and being seen in the best restaurants and partying most nights until the early hours.  And I’m SOOOO not that kind of girl.  But here’s the thing: she’s also really sweet and kind and big-hearted and a lover of the HEA.  And *that* I can relate to.  Her vulnerability and sensitivity really hit me hard too.  I reacted pretty much the same to everything that she encountered in this book.  But she was also strong, and not willing to bend for the wrong reasons.  Sometimes I wish we could have seen more development of her character, and seen what happened with her restlessness with her current lifestyle.  Did she look into a job?

Andrew surprised me in a good way too!!  Having an enemies to lovers story, I was worried that he was going to be a dick or something.  But he wasn’t!  Or at least not intentionally.  He was so much deeper than I had been anticipating, and I hadn’t quite realized where his animosity…well, not quite animosity, but his rigidness came from.  I really appreciated that.  The problem honestly is that I wanted MORE from Andrew.  We get a lot of hints, but because we only got maybe a third of the book in his head, I felt like I didn’t really get him as much, and I ended the book with questions.  We get hints, and I can make up my own answers, but I’d much rather know, you know?  Like why a divorce lawyer?  Why his rejection of marriage?  Was it just the logical stuff?  Was there more?  I really really really wanted more.  Because his vulnerability and desperation and confusion with Georgiana was just freaking adorable and made me want to hug him.  But I am pretty greedy with my heroes, so even without all the questions I had, I still would have liked more in his head, b/c I love equal time if I’m given dual POVs.

I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, but one thing it does bring you is a lot of sexual tension and fun banter at times.  And it was done so well in this book.  And when they finally collide, DAMN girl!!  Just, woosh.

And I even enjoyed the secondary characters in this one, though none of them really got a lot of screen time.  But they were diverse and I enjoyed their interactions with our MCs.

So yeah, total hit for me.  Honestly the only reason I’m rounding down is because I’m a greedy SOB and wanted more from Andrew.  😛

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Campaigning for Christopher by Katy Regnery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Opposite of You by Rachel Higginson

Blurb:
33932353I’ve sworn off men.

All men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want the opposite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All Laced Up by Erin Fletcher

Blurb:
32057127Everyone loves hockey superstar Pierce Miller. Everyone except Lia Bailey.

When the two are forced to teach a skating class to save the rink, Lia’s not sure she’ll survive the pressure of Nationals and Pierce’s ego. Not only can’t he remember her name, he signed her bottle of water like she was one of his groupies. Ugh.

But if there’s one thing Lia knows better than figure skating, it’s hockey. Hoping to take his ego down a notch—or seven—she logs into his team website under an anonymous name to give him pointers on his less-than-stellar playing.

Turns out, Pierce isn’t arrogant at all. And they have a lot in common. Too bad he’s falling for the anonymous girl online. No matter how much fun they’re starting to have in real life, she’s afraid he’s going to choose fake-Lia over the real one…

Disclaimer: This book contains a swoony hockey player (and his equally swoony friends!), one-too-many social media accounts, kisses that’ll melt ice, and a secret identity that might not be so secret after all…

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

Well that was apparently JUST what I was in the mood for!  After a few meh books, I took to this one like a fat kid on a smartie — I devoured it right up!  I stayed up way too late last night reading it after getting started, and then gobbled the last half up in no time this morning.  I even didn’t want it to end.  I just wanted to keep reading about Lia and Pierce.  I don’t know if it was just the mood I was in, or if it really was just that fantastic, but whatever it was it was awesome.

So what was great about it?  Well it was a nice classic YA contemporary romance.  A couple of fantastic characters going through their own individual struggles…and I really liked that their struggles didn’t automatically fix right away, but was something they had to keep working through through most of the book (even if we got an unrealistic climax resolution, I just didn’t care and actually craved it).  Both characters were both genuinely good people who made mistakes here and there, but had some great personality and sass.  I felt like they stayed pretty true to who they both were throughout it.

And the bantering and development of their relationship, both online and in real life, was so satisfying!  It gave me some great cute/sweet/awww moments, and that first kiss was very gratifying!  I don’t know, maybe it’s that while I have no skills on the ice whatsoever, I love both sports (hockey and figure skating) and have always admired the athletes that pursue those sports.  And while there were no sports crossovers (ie they didn’t try out each other’s sports), I do love the idea of a hockey player and a figure skater together, ever since my early days of watching The Cutting Edge over and over.

I think the only thing I would have liked more of would have been depth on secondary characters.  I mean, we actually got some great depth with both families (LOVED the relationship between Pierce and his brother Carson), but I was hoping to learn a bit more about each of their friends.  Especially since this appears to be the start of a series, I was surprised that I didn’t really crave anyone else’s story, so I have no idea what’s going to be coming next.  I mean, don’t get me wrong…I will be looking forward to more, it’s just that this story was very focused on Pierce and Lia, and we didn’t really get as much from the friends in their lives as I would have liked.

I probably should round down because of that, and because I’m usually not big on miscommunication plots, but I just ended it feeling such a high that I’m going with my gut.  Love it when a book pushes all of my own personal buttons.  🙂

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For Better or Worse by Lauren Layne

Blurb:
28236391.jpgWill a budding wedding planner and her bad boy neighbor stop banging heads and start hearing wedding bells in the sexy second novel in USA TODAY bestselling author Lauren Layne’s irresistible new series that marries Sex and the City with The Wedding Planner?

When small-town girl Heather Fowler finally gets promoted from assistant to actual wedding planner, she’s determined to make it as one of Manhattan’s elite Wedding Belles. Unfortunately, her first client demands an opulent black-tie affair at the Plaza…in five months’ time. Heather’s days quickly become a flurry of cake tastings, dress-fittings, RSVP cards, and bridal tantrums. But what she’s really losing sleep over is the live music blaring from her playboy neighbor’s apartment all night.

Five years ago, Josh Tanner was an up-and-comer on Wall Street, complete with the penthouse and the migraines. But a grim cancer diagnosis made him realize there is more to life than the corner office. If only he could convince his pretty, workaholic neighbor to let loose, too. As Heather lets down her guard, Josh is surprised when he starts falling for the sweet, vulnerable woman hiding beneath those power suits. Soon, it’s Heather’s turn to convince Josh to take the biggest risk of all: love.

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

Oh heck yes!!  The chemistry and bantering between Josh and Heather MADE this book amazing, from start to finish.  I can’t even tell you how many times I laughed.  I mean, mostly it was at the outrageous things that came out of Josh’s mouth…any man that can make me snort is a winner in my book.  But honestly, Heather and Josh just fit so well together.  She was sassy and held her own against him in their many battles of words.  The two of them together were just packed full of chemistry, so when we got to the sexy times, it was totally hot.

I enjoyed their own individual stories as well.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Heather and her Mom dynamics.  I was sad for her at Thanksgiving, but I kind of understood what her Mom was getting at when they had their conversation at Christmas.  I still thought her Mom could have shown a bit more effort at enjoying Heather’s life with her, even if Heather had her own things to work out besides all that.

And Josh had a bit of a heartbreaking story of his own.  I really enjoyed his family dynamics, and how his history had affected them.  He had his own figuring out to do, and growing and developing.  Occasionally it was frustrating to watch him dig in his heels, but at the same time it felt realistic for what he was going through and I really felt his fear.  (but seriously, what is with me finding these Cancer books right now?  Is there a conspiracy?)

All in all this has been my absolute fave of the series so far.  I’m still unsure how I’m going to enjoy Alexis and Logan’s book next, I really can’t get a feel for how that’s going to work and what kind of character Alexis actually is.  But in truth, Heather’s book was the one I was most looking forward to, and it totally lived up to my expectations.  Even though Josh had a bit of a player start, I totally fell in love with him and his smart mouth.  I could read so much more of him.

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Turtle Bay by Tiffany King

Blurb:
24988193If you’re a teenager in a small, rural area, how do you exist when your eccentric, free-spirited parents are the town freaks everyone laughs at?

For sixteen-year-old Rainbow Honeywell—or Rain, as she insists on being called—the answer was to become the queen of all pranks. She never wanted to be a troublemaker, but the label quickly stuck when everyone in Huntsville, Kansas, became a target. All she wanted was to deflect the negative attention off her parents, but Rain’s plan backfired to the max, landing her in a heap of trouble with the local authorities and expelled from high school.

An unexpected inheritance offers Rain an opportunity for a new beginning when she and her family move across the country to the quaint beach community of Turtle Bay, Florida.

Determined to make the best of her second chance, Rain vows to walk the straight and narrow, hoping her parents will fly under the radar while she soaks up some fun in the sun, sandy beaches, and hot, tanned guys. Unfortunately, she picks the wrong new friends, and a late night party lands her back in the kind of trouble she had been hoping to avoid. As the newbie in town with a record, Rain takes the brunt of the punishment when an unforgiving judge chooses to make an example out of her and slaps her with enough community service hours to keep her busy until she is old and gray.

Facing the harsh reality of paying for the actions of others while atoning for her own past sins, Rain is paired up with Josh Shaw, a judgmental local lifeguard whose love for the beach and the environment is eclipsed only by his distaste for those who trash it. As far as Josh is concerned, Rain is guilty and got what she deserved, regardless of her side of the story. To make matters worse, a tropical storm sits in the Atlantic, threatening to wreak havoc on the small beach community.

Things slowly change as Rain begins to appreciate her surroundings through Josh’s eyes, proving she is not the person he thinks she is. Their feelings for one another blossom as the tropical storm grows into a hurricane and bears down on Turtle Bay. With impending danger looming, the small beach community must come together in order to ride out the storm.

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My Review:
4 stars — I absolutely adore Ms. King’s YA contemporary books, they are some of my favourites in this genre.  And for some reason while I bought this book immediately when it came out, I didn’t get to it right away.  But it was exactly what I always love about her books, so I shake my head at myself for leaving it so long. (also, it’s currently only 99 cents people — if you love YA contemps, I recommend checking it out)

This is probably going to be a bit of a lackluster review, b/c I finished this book 2 days ago, and have read 2 more books since then…I hate doing that, but travel always screws me up.  What can I say?  The romance was definitely sweet, and I liked how the relationship progressed from intrigue to “sort of” hate to understanding to crush to more.  It was the perfect YA romance in my opinion.  And we definitely got enough of it to keep me satisfied.

I really enjoyed both Rain and Josh, though this was really Rain’s story.  Rain could have easily annoyed me with her viewpoints on Josh and the aftermath of the party, but I thought in the end she was written very authentic teenager, and it didn’t last so long as to drive me nuts.  Just enough to make her believable, but then give us some growth.

There were some tiny side plots that I was a bit confused about.  I felt like Farrah was going to have a bigger part in the story, and then she just didn’t.  I really feel like she has more to say.  Maybe there was an initial thought to write more books and make it series-esque, and then it just didn’t pan out?  That makes me sad, b/c I would love to learn more of Farrah’s story.  And then there was the Evan storyline.  Part of me liked what was brought there, but I felt somehow off about it.  Like I wasn’t quite sure what all it brought to the story as a whole.  But I also read this book off and on with a big break in the middle, so that sometimes messes with how I see the story as a whole.

In the end the part that stood out to me the most and just totally made me love this story were Rain’s parents, Butch and Buttercup.  I LOVE when YA’s actually have parents that EXIST and are important to the story.  So many times they’re just written around and it’s just not realistic.  And while Butch and Buttercup were unbelievably unique and different, they were great parents and I really loved what they brought to Rain’s growth.

All in all, it was exactly what I was looking for from Ms. King.  She writes a lot of different ages, from YA to Adult, but for me it’s her YAs where she shines.

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