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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Fake Fiancée by Ilsa Madden-Mills

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

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

Three months. Two hearts. One fake engagement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One True Pairing by Cathy Yardley

Blurb:
30174469They couldn’t be more opposite, the Hollywood actor and the hometown girl, but all they need is a little convention magic to become the perfect ship in Cathy Yardley’s One True Pairing.

Jake Reese needs a decoy girlfriend. Fast. The lead actor of the popular TV show, Mystics, is tired of losing his shirt to overeager fans. Literally. Which is why a chance meeting with gothabilly bookworm-slash-barista Hailey Frost seems almost too perfect to be true. Hailey is not impressed with his TV fame and is desperate to save her family’s bookstore. It’s a match made in Hollywood, but as the two pretend to date, fan fiction becomes reality. Can this OTP become canon?

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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.

Yup, that was a whole lot of perfect for Lenore.  I was sucked right in, and entertained from start to finish.  I loved the humour, I loved the characters, I loved the romance, I loved the geek stuff, I loved the celebrity aspect…  Seriously, it was just my kind of book, you know?

Hailey was all sorts of unique as a heroine.  Not just because she embraced her rockabilly style, but because she was hiding a childhood growing up with grifters, and damage from time spent in the foster system.  I liked that she was both tough and independent, but she was also using her sisters as a crutch to avoid being vulnerable.  It was surprisingly easy to love her.

Jake was just uber adorable.  I just wanted to hug him.  He was so sincere, and kind, and caring, and passionate about what he loved.  I will admit that I saw the Susie thing from like a mile away, and so just kept waiting for him to figure things out.  I actually anticipated that resolving with Hailey as a catalyst, but I was satisfied with the way it went anyways.

And I liked the two of them together…you could really feel their draw to each other, and the chemistry and sexual attraction.  Seriously, it was hot.  But, even though it was hella fast, I still really enjoyed the development of their relationship due to spending so much time together in a short span of time.  And I found it amusing how tongue in cheek Ms. Yardley was having Hailey despise insta-love in stories and then giving Hailey a fast love story herself.  I’m sure it will bother some people, but I loved it.  I’m not an insta-love hater though (not a lover, just not a hater).

And the secondary cast was pretty great too, from Hailey’s sisters to Jake’s co-stars.  It’s definitely setting up future stories, you can totally tell.

Honestly, other than totally guessing the Jake side story, the only other thing I was meh on was the stalker storyline.  It felt a little thrown in last minute, and like just a plot device.  But I loved so much else in the story, I don’t even care.

Any book that can make me tempted to fight through sleep and keep reading, even though it’s 3 am, is my kind of book.  I did manage to resist, but I was epically tired.  Can’t wait for more in this series.  Gotta go back and read Level Up now, though those characters are only loosely mentioned in this one…it stands alone pretty well.  I concur with the title: Jake and Hailey are my OTP!

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Shut Out by Kelly Jamieson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It Had to Be You by Lizzy Charles

Blurb:
34995954James Parson has a problem. His military dad is going to yank him out of his expensive boarding school if James doesn’t prove he’s no longer hooking up, pulling pranks, and charming his way out of consequences. What better way to show he’s now responsible than becoming the committed boyfriend of a U.S. diplomat’s daughter?

Level-headed, book-smart Edelweiss may have traveled the world thanks to her dad’s job, but when it comes to friends and boys, she knows exactly nothing. Newly enrolled in boarding school, Edel is now on a mission to learn it all. James says he’ll help her experience the ultimate high school life—if she’ll be his fake girlfriend. And fake is perfect, because he’s exactly the kind of player she’d never date.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains red-hot romance, all the feels, and a soul-mate bad boy.

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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 will wholeheartedly admit that there were a few things in this book that on another book would probably have bothered me more, but I just couldn’t help but devour this book and end it with a big smile on my face.  And I think that’s because there were just that many things to love, and that I got enough pleasant surprises that it made me gloss over the things that usually annoy me.

So let’s get the lamesauce stuff out of the way.  The niggles:
a) Lack of communication.  Yeah, there was some of that, but it didn’t bother me quite as much for some reason, maybe because I was getting other stuff from the romance, and it didn’t last like the whole book?  But it did bother me a little…it’s frustrating when assumptions are made on both sides and that’s what prevents the couple from getting together.
b) Over the top evil/witchy with a b girl.  Emma was seriously over the top.  I’m not a fan of that.  I didn’t even see any depth in her to explain why she was that way, she was just a straight up mean girl.  I guess those girls exist in real life, but I’m kind of tired of that.
c) The situation with Emma became a bit implausible, and I’m not sure I enjoyed how that all played out and was handled.
d) A few little things were dropped or not followed up with how I expected.  Like we’d suddenly be a week later, and I kind of wanted to know how things developed in between time (like after the hair, or even right after they agree to fake date).
e) Some of the twists felt a bit convenient, especially since we’d find them out at convenient times as the story went on (Julie, some of the Ainsley stuff including the Foster Mom).

OK!  That’s done!  I know that seems like a lot, but please remember they were little niggles that only slightly detracted from the awesome.  So what was the awesome?  Great characters that surprised me at different turns!  I enjoyed the fact that James wasn’t a horrible bad boy, but more of a guy who made some poor choices, or got pulled into the “need to impress” that many teenagers feel in high school.  He was seriously so much deeper than I had been anticipating.  I LOVED that we got to see how his family life affected him (having a military father, no mother), how his race affected him, how being biracial with a white father affected him.  I appreciated those little touches and that they weren’t glossed over.  I loved that we got to see real emotion in him, particularly wrt his father.  I loved that he made some monumental mistakes, which I know sounds weird, but I loved that he owned up to them and tried to make amends.  I loved that he really was genuinely trying to change.  I LOVED that he was a literature nerd, I would have enjoyed even more from that.  Basically he really impressed me with how much we got from him in just a short novel.

Then there’s Edel.  Not to be left out, Edel was pretty well rounded as well!  I enjoyed her unique situation, and how her life growing up shaped her, and how she desired normal teenager experiences.  I loved that she was pretty naive, it really fit with what I expected from her.  But she was also brave and strong at times too, and I thought she grew as the book went on.  She had typical teenage girl feelings, and they still existed right to the end.  I loved that we got to see bits of her relationship with her parents.  And she also made mistakes, one big one in particular.  I did enjoy how she stepped up and did the right thing eventually, and didn’t shy away from it.

And the two of them together were super adorable.  I LOVED the tummy tingles I got just from the hand holding.  And I loved the way they stuck up for one another, particularly how Edel championed James.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters, though I wouldn’t have minded a bit more.  But I wonder if we didn’t get more because this is going to be a series and we’ll eventually get their own stories?  I sincerely hope so.

So yeah.  May have had a few pitfalls, but the good just made me so happy that it was a success!!

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Incriminating Dating by Rebekah L. Purdy

Blurb:
30413700Ayla Hawkins is ready to stand up for change in her high school. But winning the election for class president against popular Jenna Lee will be impossible without a miracle. When she stumbles upon Mr. Perfect Luke Pressler defacing public property and catches it on camera: cue miracle. Ayla’s got the dirt she needs to get Luke on Team Ayla—in the form of her new fake boyfriend.

One mistake. All Luke wanted was a night to goof off, to blow off steam. The pressure of maintaining the perfect facade when his reality was crumbling around him had become too much, and next thing he knew, he was pretending to date Ayla Hawkins. But his little blackmailer turns out to be kind. Honorable. Opinionated. And just the breath of fresh air he didn’t even realize he was suffocating for. But Luke and Ayla come from different worlds, and once the election is over, their fauxmance will be, too.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book features adult language, sexual situations, and plenty of girl power. Reading may result in swooning, laughing, and looking for a Luke of your own.

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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’m…not sure…exactly what I thought.  I enjoyed myself thoroughly.  It was what I was looking for, something a bit lighter with swoony moments.  But it did have some other depth that I hadn’t been expecting but still found very intriguing and gut-wrenching.  But at the same time there were a few things that bugged me, and it was a bit more obviously predictable.  I mean, it’s not that I don’t often pick up these books knowing that they will be predictable, because that also means that I get those predictable good feelings.  But there was just something a bit more that didn’t work for me…or maybe it’s that there were a few things that went off book that didn’t necessarily fit for me.  Huh, so did I find it too cliché or not predictable enough?  I don’t even know.

OK, good stuff.  In general I really enjoyed both our MCs.  At the core of Ayla, she was a sassy personality who believes in noble things and desires fairness and opportunities for everyone.  I enjoyed that while she was a curvier girl, she was OK with who she was most of the time…I actually liked that it wasn’t 100% of the time, b/c it’s something I think people have to work at and takes time.  Even I try to accept myself, but it’s not that sometimes things people say can’t still get to me.  So I felt like that was very real, and so she was a good role model.  And I didn’t even mind that what we got with her was the typical nerdy girl who hates judgement, but does a bit of her own judgement about the popular kids/jocks.  It’s a good lesson to learn, to give EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt, not just the ones like you.  And I didn’t even mind that she resorted to blackmail, though I wish I felt the desperation more to justify it.  It seems like she only just decided in one day to run, and suddenly she’s resorting to shady means to win.  It was OK, but could have been fleshed out better.

Luke was even more interesting in some ways.  Because we end up with a guy who is afraid to upset his current status by being himself, and who’s both vandalized and either called people names (according to Ayla’s friends), or at minimum stood by while his friends were dicks.  I felt like these things weren’t given enough time or thought in the book though, and that was kind of a shame.  Did he really never feel bad about Jack being such a dick to other people in school?  What led him to the vandalism?  I mean, we kind of get some of it, but I would have really appreciated a bit more growth there.  It was kind of swept under the rug (except for that one part with Isaac).  It was an opportunity missed in my opinion.  And I get why, there was just so much else going on with him.  But it’s not an excuse you know?  So did he honestly just have so little compassion?  Or was he just not aware?  I don’t know…

But on the other side of the coin, I (like Ayla) really fell for the “real” Luke that we got to see outside of school.  Landon’s big brother.  He was really rather sweet, and it almost seemed like maybe he was just coasting, and needed someone to give him a reason to stand up for something.  And that someone was Ayla.  And he really was dealing with soooo much at home.  The twists were a bit unexpected, and honestly I’m still not sure how happy I am with the realism of them.  Like they live in one town, and he never saw or encountered those people (trying to be vague)?  That’s kind of unrealistic, isn’t it?

As for secondary characters, they were occasionally a mixed bag.  I wanted to see more of the friendships with Brady and Chloe.  Because I think they could have added even more.  I wanted them to, from what I saw of them.  But for Chloe, I wasn’t sure what brought her and Ayla together…what they were like together.  We didn’t really get to see them hang out, she was just kind of ancillary to the plot.  I got a bit more from Brady, but I kind of wanted him to be more involved with Luke.  Like he lived on Mansion Hill, did he not notice those people?

Landon and Ayla’s parents were awesome though.  Awesome awesome awesome.  Added good stuff, made me happy.  Awesome.

I was a bit bummed with the way the whole Jenna thing worked out too.  I saw it coming from a mile away, but it would have been cool to have been surprised, you know?

So yeah, it was a solid cliché YA.  They’re good to have.  I just felt like it could have given me a bit more and I would have been a bit more satisfied.

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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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Operation Prom Date by Cindi Madsen

Blurb:

33224662Kate ships tons of fictional couples, but IRL her OTP is her and Mick, the hot quarterback she’s crushed on since, like, forever. With only one semester left of senior year, it’s now or never if she wants to land him in time for prom. Since she’s flirtationally challenged, she enlists Cooper Callihan, the guy who turned popular seemingly overnight but who used to be a good friend.

Cooper lives and breathes rowing, but his partner just broke his wrist. When he remembers Kate’s good with a set of oars, he strikes a deal: help him train, and he’ll make sure her crush notices her. Only he didn’t know how addicting spending time with her would be. Or how the more successful the Operation is, the more jealousy he experiences.
The mission has been set. The troops have their marching orders. But what if the target is the wrong guy all along?

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains stargazing, accidental swimming, and poker swindling. This kissing practice will melt your ereader…and give you a new couple to ship.

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

I am shipping Kaper so freaking hard, I can’t even tell you.  Like seriously, this book was just everything my little YA-loving heart was looking for.  It was fairly light, with just enough depth to give it interest.  And while I don’t think you have to be a fandom lover to enjoy this book, if you are, I think you will definitely fall in love with Kate.  I’m not even a major fandom lover, but I totally get shipping couples, and wanting them to be together, and being angry at the writers for drawing it out.  And in some ways Ms. Madsen kind of fulfilled that longing and irritation and GAHness with Kate and Cooper.  You could just tell that they were perfect for each other, but of course she had to put them through the wringer on the way to HEA.  I’m not always a fan of misunderstandings and all that jazz, but it really fit in this storyline and worked for the story that was being told (if that makes any sense at all)…or at least it did for me.

And you know how my favourite part of any story is the characters?  Well Kate and Cooper were amazeballs.  Not without flaws for sure, and not without feeling like authentic teenagers, but I just really loved them both.  My heart broke for Kate and how she came to be the person she was.  Not just with her father, but also the circumstances with her friends.  I’ve been that girl with no friends b/c I wasn’t willing to change myself to fit in.  It’s all well and good to be solid with who you are and to put that above other things, but it can be very lonely.  And she was just so freaking quirky and adorable!!  She made me laugh so much.  Seriously though, she really reminded me a lot of myself (right down to the lost father).  And I enjoyed that what really drew her to Mick was her perception that he was more sweet than he seemed, based on his moments of kindness.  It was a bit of a bummer that she didn’t catch on as quickly to how changing herself wasn’t the way to go, and that maybe he wasn’t worth it, but sometimes we see what we want to see and we want things so badly that we don’t make the connections until later.

And then there was Cooper.  OMG, book boyfriend city man.  He was just so sweet and thoughtful, and dealing with his own set of struggles, and just trying to survive in a way.  I loved being in his head and reading about his thoughts.  He was an interesting guy b/c he had this popularity in some ways, but didn’t seem to realize it.  And I adored his little bit of nerdiness, talk about swoon!!  My only real complaint with his story was the resolution with his father.  It didn’t feel authentic, b/c his father really felt borderline mentally abusive to me…or just too toxic anyways.

Honestly though, the star of this book was Kate and Cooper together.  Seeing them experience the tummy tingles for each other, and those breathless moments, and the friendship that developed…GAH!  It was just perfect.  My romance loving heart was so freaking satisfied, I had tingles just reading about them.  And the climax was perfection.  It just read exactly as I wanted it to.  And then we even got some delicious epilogueness!!  I love epilogueness.  It was so satisfying.

So basically this story was just tailor made for me.  Love.  Adore.  So much shipping.

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More Than Friends by Jody Holford

Blurb:
33245968Owen Burnett planned on a quiet, easygoing Christmas, hanging out with his best friend and neighbor, Gabby Michaelson. So when his mom pressures him to come home for the holidays, he tells a little white lie…that he’s spending the holidays with his new girlfriend. But when his family shows up unexpectedly, Owen pulls the best friend card and asks Gabby to play his fake girlfriend.

Gabby’s been hopelessly in love with her best friend Owen for what feels like forever, but playing his “fake” girlfriend when the entire boisterous Burnett clan visits is easier said than done. The more she tries to deny the attraction between them, the more obvious their chemistry becomes. But even though she’s not the only one feeling it, putting their friendship on the line is a risk she can’t take.

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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.

So I’m the kind of reader that loves to get absorbed into a book, and read in a pretty short time period.  And thus this read kind of suffered for me b/c I read it with a big interruption in the middle (I was on vacation).  So on a different occasion, this might have been a solid 4 star read, but I’m going to stick with my gut on this one anyways.

First of all, I will say that the cover is completely misleading.  I totally thought this was going to be a small town type of Christmas read, and this one was actually set in Boston.  Not really a big deal, but it’s nice when the cover actually gives you a feel for the book, and after reading it, I just don’t feel like this one is accurate at all (doesn’t really represent the characters either).

Gabby was pretty freaking adorable.  I was torn on Gabby’s background with her parents.  It gave me tears sometimes when she was enjoying Christmas with Owen’s family and missing hers, but the whole not wanting to lie because of it felt tacked on as more of a plot device.

Owen was pretty awesome too, if a bit oblivious.  And he made some monumentally stupid decisions, but I still thought he was pretty awesome overall.

I was surprised by the short length of their best friendship.  Usually when I think of best friends to lovers stories, it’s with friends who have been friends for a LONG time, and these two only knew each other for like 2 years.  Made me wonder more about how the friendship developed and what it was like before this wrench was thrown in.  I almost would have liked a bit more background or something.

They definitely had great chemistry, though this was a sweeter book than I had been expecting…which isn’t a bad thing, I just hadn’t anticipated that, so I was kept on tenterhooks for most of the book.  But I will say I loved the ending I love you scene!!  So many feels.  It was just perfect.

Owen’s family was da bomb.  Truly.  I loved them in all their quirkiness.  Made it a bit hard to understand Owen’s reluctance to spend Christmas with them, but then I had to remind myself it was all the strangers that he was mostly opposed to.

Definitely some intriguing secondary characters in the building….made me want to read both Wyatt and Brady’s books, assuming they both have them.  But at times it did feel like some of those secondary plot lines didn’t fit with the rest of the story, and were mostly there to drive intrigue for the next stories.  The whole Jake (his name was Jake right?) stealing thing and the police just felt so out of place…it didn’t add ANYTHING to Owen and Gabby’s story.  I don’t mind learning about the other tenants so I’ll want to read the next book, but I prefer it when it’s more seamless with the main storyline so it doesn’t feel tacked on.

All in all a great Christmas read.  One I probably would have enjoyed even more if I had been able to stay absorbed in the story, but alas, Disney was calling.  🙂

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The Bad Boy Bargain by Kendra C. Highley

Blurb:
30415027Baseball player Kyle Sawyer has many labels: bad boy, delinquent, ladies’ man, fearless outfielder… Only one of them is actually true. But then sweet ballet dancer Faith Gladwell asks him to help wreck her reputation, and everything goes sideways.

Faith knows a thing or two about love, and what she had with her cheating jerk of an ex wasn’t it. When he starts spreading rumors about her being an Ice Queen, Faith decides it’s time to let a little bad into her life.

Lucky for her, Kyle Sawyer—dark, dangerous, totally swoonworthy Kyle Sawyer—is landscaping her backyard over Spring Break. Shirtless. And if she can convince him to play along, “dating” Kyle will silence the rumors.

But Faith’s plan threatens to expose Sawyer’s biggest secret of all…and that’s a risk he’s not willing to take.

Disclaimer: This book contains drop-the-book-and-fan-yourself kisses…and touches. Fall in love with a bad boy at your own risk.

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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.

OMG, this one sucked me in so much at the beginning!  I was reading and just grinning from ear to ear!  Kyle is SOOOO my kind of book boy — a beautiful beta boy!!  AAHHHH!!!  I honestly didn’t know how his story was going to play out, but I really felt for him and all the background we got to see how his reputation was shaped, and why he let it happen.  It was so sad though b/c he really ended up being a loner, with only his Dad and Grandpa to rely on for love and guidance.  It was really a heartbreaking tale, and yet one I could so easily imagine happening to a sensitive guy like him.  Seriously though, SWOON!  Give me a shy nervous guy any day of the week, and I will be swooning.  And a gentleman to boot!!

Faith was a seriously solid heroine too!  I loved that she was kind of hard to pinpoint — she had so many strong points, and she was such a hard worker and so focused on her dreams, but she was also really vulnerable.  And I didn’t blame her one bit for being so confused with Kyle’s hot and cold moments.  I’m not sure what I would have done with the conflicting signals he was giving off.

It actually went in a bit of a different direction than I was expecting after Spring break ended.  I still really enjoyed it though, and it had a very satisfying “big moment”.

One of the things that really added to the story was both friends, Violet and Cade.  I wouldn’t mind a story for each of them!!  And the parents were actually pretty great too — I love it when the families aren’t completely buggered up, you know?  Like Faith’s parents were pretty solid, and I loved their reactions to Kyle.  And while Kyle’s Dad was pretty absent, Kyle’s Grandpa was a great influence for Kyle, even if he didn’t always get it exactly right.

All in all LOVED this one!  It was just what my heart needed!!

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