Someone Like You by Lauren Layne

Blurb:
51dKECkN6LLLauren Layne’s bestselling Oxford Series continues with the poignant, heartwarming story of New York’s most eligible bachelor, Lincoln Mathis, a man who’s living a lie—until his dream woman takes away the pain.

Lincoln Mathis doesn’t hide his reputation as Manhattan’s ultimate playboy. In fact, he cultivates it. But behind every flirtatious smile, each provocative quip, there’s a secret that Lincoln’s hiding from even his closest friends—a tragedy from his past that holds his heart quietly captive. Lincoln knows what he wants: someone like Daisy Sinclair, the sassy, off-limits bridesmaid he can’t take his eyes off at his best friend’s wedding. He also knows that she’s everything he can never have.

After a devastating divorce, Daisy doesn’t need anyone to warn her off the charming best man at her sister’s wedding. One look at the breathtakingly hot Lincoln Mathis and she knows that he’s exactly the type of man she should avoid. But when Daisy stumbles upon Lincoln’s secret, she realizes there’s more to the charming playboy than meets the eye. And suddenly Daisy and Lincoln find their lives helplessly entwined in a journey that will either heal their damaged souls . . . or destroy them forever.

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My Review:
4 stars — This one started off *amazing*, but for me it fizzled about halfway through.  Still enjoyable, just no longer 5 star-y, you know?

It’s always hard to read a book about a character that’s really really intrigued you.  Because he probably intrigues each reader for different reasons, and as a series goes along you start to form theories in your own mind about what his story is going to be.  And Lincoln was the ultimate in mysterious characters we adore, but are mega-intrigued by.  And while I’m super satisfied by the mysterious tragedy in his past (I actually feel like I had that theory, but I’m not sure if maybe I inferred that from teasers for this book, not necessarily from previous books?), it really altered *who* Lincoln was, and it didn’t always fit with who I’d fallen in love with.  It wasn’t his unbelievable good looks (which I just can’t picture, b/c I’m a personality makes a guy good looking kind of girl, I have a hard time being into a guy based on physical appearance alone).  It was those moments of vulnerability that you spotted along the way in the series that sucked me in.  His kindness, his understanding.  And I felt like I got more of that in the first half of this book, and less in the second.  Which, due to the nature of the story and what occurs, I can kind of understand.  But I just wasn’t as in love with the real Lincoln as I was the Lincoln in my mind.  It’s just expectation vs reality, you know?

Now all that’s not to say that Lincoln wasn’t a solid book boy.  He broke my heart, made me cry, and really just gave me all the feels.  But at a certain point in Part II and beyond, I just felt like I was missing some depth or something.  The problem with maintaining a facade and putting on a performance is that I start to wonder what people liked about the real Lincoln.  Who were they friends with?  Where was the playfulness?  It was there, but it also wasn’t anymore.  Like was that who he was, or who he was pretending to be?  GAH, too much thinking!!  Honestly it had to be missing somewhat, he goes through a very big upheaval.  But…I just…wanted…something.  I needed something more, and I really can’t articulate what it was…obviously.

Daisy was a pretty solid book girl, sassy but damaged.  A good combination.  But I felt like something was missing from her too…like I wanted more depth.  I don’t know.  Maybe I was having a bad brain day?  I just had a hard time getting a super good feel for her.  Like I got a wavy feel for her, but not a solid feel for her.  I don’t even think I’m making sense anymore, I’m abandoning this line of thought.  I think I was expecting a bit more from her damaged past, and I thought I was going to get it, but then it was kind of glossed over fairly quickly and I didn’t necessarily buy her growth and change.

I LOVED Daisy and Lincoln in Part I.  I loved the way they seemed to see each other and recognized a fellow damaged person.  I felt that connection.  I also loved the banter they had together, it was so perfect!  I was highlighting sections all over the place!  I loved how Lincoln let her in, how that was safe for him.  And I enjoyed them together in Parts II and III as well, just not as much as in Part I.  Like I was missing that spark.  And not heat, b/c when we finally got to the steamy parts, my tummy was doing plenty of tingling!  I just wasn’t as invested for some reason.  And quite frankly, I wasn’t super impressed with the climax and resolution.  It was kind of meh.  Rushed and a bit cheesy (and felt like it had been done in other books in this series, so regurgitated too).

So this is a review of confusion.  It sounds like a bad review.  That’s my bad.  I really enjoyed this book and plowed through it, I just lost steam at the end, and I’m trying to explain how it went from 5 stars down to 4.  I really need to stop doing that, it’s probably odd to read about.  Maybe it should be a 3.5 in reality, but I just loved that beginning so much that I’m giving it a boost.

So there you have it.  A solid Oxford novel, and I loved getting glimpses of the past characters, even if they’re getting to be a large and unwieldy bunch.  And was it just me, or does anyone else think there was a Wedding Belles cameo in there?  Great emotions, great chemistry, FANTASTIC banter, just needed something more at the end.

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The Nanny Arrangement by Rachel Harris

Blurb:
29561320Soft-spoken and shy Hannah Fisher is determined to make the man she’s loved her entire life finally see her as a woman. With the help of a makeover, a new mission—Operation Find My Happy—and the convenient forced proximity of a tour bus, she vows to win her best friend Deacon’s heart.

Former bad boy and current fiddle player Deacon Latrell has the world at his fingertips: a new gig with a famous band, plus his best friend on tour as his son’s nanny. Life couldn’t get much sweeter. Now if only he could stop imagining kissing the daylights out of his childhood BFF…

With one friend set on pushing the boundaries and the other afraid to rock the boat, one thing’s for certain—their story would make one heck of a country song.

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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.

Mmmm, I love me a good friends to lovers story.  I was hooked from the prologue too, I just felt Hannah’s voice in her 14/15 year old self, and how much she put on the line to approach Deacon.  And I felt his overwhelming loneliness and despair.  Honestly, it was so good I was bummed for a tiny second that I wasn’t getting the young adult novel of their story.  😛  I will admit that that prologue was a full 5 stars for me, and that it was sort of on a different level.  But saying that, the story that followed was still all sorts of satisfying and grin inducing.

I really enjoy these romances from Ms. Harris.  They just have the perfect blend of sweet characters, great chemistry, steamy scenes (even if the books are fade to black, there are still tummy tingling hot spots), fabulous supporting characters, with just the right hint of strife without going overboard.  I can honestly say I was worried that Deacon’s inability to trust would wear on me…and it almost did.  It rode the edge (probably more than I would have liked, it got a bit frustrating).  But I was satisfied that the turnaround was short, so I didn’t have to be disappointed in him for long.  And it’s always so satisfying to see a reluctant hero nudged in the right direction (go Sherry and Arabella!).

I was also concerned with the kid aspect, b/c I’m not really a kid person.  And while the kid speak didn’t really work for me (sue me, I’m not won over by “wovins” and “mes a cowboy”), I did really appreciate the way Hannah was with the kids.  I respected the hell out of her, she really seemed to genuinely love the job, and it made her happy, and she treated them with respect and encouragement.  I love seeing positive adult role models…or parents…or whatever.

Hannah was a bit of a contradiction.  I loved the strong parts of her I saw, and I felt for her shyness and insecurity.  I LOVED the friendships she formed with Sherry and Arabella, it made my heart happy.  And when she finally made her move (in the limo) I loved the passion in her and the way she stood up for herself and Deacon…  I will admit that I wish I’d seen more earlier on, but I’ll take what I can get.  It seems both my hero and heroine had awesome bits, but the things that they clung to and allowed to get in the way got a bit frustrating.

As a side note, while it’s not required to read any other books in this series (or the related one), if you have read Tyler & Sherry’s story and Charlie & Arabella’s story, you will be very satisfied with the glimpses you get into their lives!!

So all in all, it was a great read!  Especially if you’re looking for a solid, Harlequin-esque romance (the Harlequin Romance line, not the Blaze line.  😛 ).  I wonder if it will be Nate or Miles next?

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Perfectly Oblivious by Robin Daniels

Blurb:
35276925Cameron Bates (Cam) could have almost any girl at Franklin High School…except for the one he wants. Unfortunately Bebe seems to be immune to his flirty charm and good looks, which means one of two things: a) she’s completely oblivious to how he feels, or b) she’s just not into him. If that’s the case, declaring his love would be disastrous for their friendship.

Bianca Barnes (Bebe) has a huge problem: the universe hates her. Every time she admits feelings for a boy, he ends up falling for her sweet, popular, and beautiful sister Beth. To avoid a broken heart, Bebe has sworn herself to secrecy. Nobody can know how she feels about Cam…Ever!

Neither person wants to confess their feelings, but the universe has its own plan. Out of the blue, Bebe is courted by a secret admirer. Cam has to step up his game and Bebe has to make a choice. Play it safe and accept the affections of her mystery man or challenge fate and take a chance on the boy she loves.

Content Description: This is a stand-alone YA contemporary romance with companion novels to follow. It contains minor language, innuendo, crude humor and steamy tension but is generally very clean. No sex. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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

This was a wonderful debut, and a super cute YA.  Honestly, if it hadn’t been for my personal tastes, I would have rated this book higher.  As you can tell from the blurb, the entire premise of this book is based on not communicating…it’s what drives the plot.  Cam is afraid to tell Bianca about his feelings for fear of losing the friendship and being rejected, and Bianca refuses to tell ANYONE about her feelings for Cam b/c of what boils down to self-esteem issues.  Both are super valid feelings for teenagers, and it definitely felt realistic.  But I still have a hard time reading it personally, b/c it can result in a really frustrating book.  As far as books with “near misses” go, this one wasn’t horrible for me.  I think I was OK with it up to about 70%, and then I started to get tired and want more.  What it can provide is some great tension between the characters, and I thought that Cam and Bebe had that.  But if I’m (personally) not given enough growth and development of the characters, then I tend to be left with more frustration than I can handle.  I need something to balance it out, you know?

Now, with all that being said, I was honestly sucked in and hooked for a good portion of the book.  I’m not sure if it was great characters, or just me loving the double unrequited love trope (where they both secretly love each other, but assume the other doesn’t feel the same), but I was invested in seeing how their story would unfold.  I found both characters to be equally ADORABLE, CUTE, QUIRKY on one hand, and FRUSTRATING as all get out on the other.  You have no idea how many times I huffed in annoyance when something would get in the way and delay my gratification.  I know a lot of readers enjoy that, so I know not everyone will feel the same as me.

Bianca had a lot of traits that draw me to a heroine…I find it so easy to empathize with heroines that have self-esteem issues, and don’t see their own worth.  What I enjoyed about her is that it wasn’t all that she was about.  I LOVED how strong and confident she was in her basketball skills, and how sassy she could be with Cam and the other people she hangs out with.  I thought the relationship with her sister, Beth, really added to Bianca’s depth…her feeling conflicted b/c Beth was her best friend, but also the source of her feelings of inferiority in some ways.

Cam could be soooooo freaking cute, and I ADORED what he did to show Bianca his feelings.  Seriously, he gave me total tummy tingles, and I just wanted to hug him so many times!!  I loved seeing what he would do next.  And the pickup basketball game scene??  SWOON!!  BUT.  But.  Sometimes when he was going overboard with his jealousy, I was a bit disappointed in him.  I had to keep reminding myself he was a 16 year old boy…  So he didn’t quite get put in my top book boyfriend lists, but he still made me smile.

There were some great secondary characters as well.  I loved that there weren’t any stereotypical bad characters either, you could see hints of depth in a few of them (I’m intrigued by Michael, and even Angelica surprised me).  So many times authors will cop out and make characters overly evil, so it was refreshing that Ms. Daniels did not go there in this novel.  And of course Brady and Beth were fantastic additions.  It would have been so easy to make both of those characters too good to be true, you know?  But they weren’t.  They had depth as well, they made mistakes (particularly Beth), and they both won me over.  I loved how each of their little stories played out.  Honestly the only characters I could have stood to see more of were parents…they were noticeably absent (both BeBe’s and Cam’s).

All in all a solid debut.  If it hadn’t been for my personal aversion to lack of communication, it would have been an even bigger hit with me.  Will definitely look forward to seeing more from this author.

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Who She Was by Stormy Smith

Blurb:
34515672Trevor Adler loathes the music he used to love, but it’s the key to his full-ride scholarship and the ticket away from his dysfunctional parents. To kick off their freshman year, Trevor’s roommate drags him to a frat party, where he ends up face-to-face with his childhood best friend and finds himself entrenched in memories he’d rather forget.

Unable to let Charlie go again without understanding the truth of why she disappeared from his life and chose to become the type of person they always hated, Trevor is relentless in his pursuit of the girl he once knew.

Charlotte (Charlie) Logan is broken. Under her perfectly-crafted exterior are the shards of a shattered heart. A handful of angry words changed her life completely and Charlie’s never been able to forgive herself for the truth she’s hidden from everyone.

While Trevor pushes Charlie to remember the music that lit her soul and the laughter they shared, they find themselves reverting to a banter-filled rhythm that feels all too familiar, yet different now. When Trevor’s own secrets come to light, it becomes clear he and Charlie both must face their tragic pasts if they have any hope at a future together.

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

There is SO much to love about this story, but the highlight for me is most certainly the characters.  They were so full of depth, quirky, EXTREMELY lovable, but also with epic flaws that made them feel real (and made you occasionally not like the things they were doing, even as you still loved them).  And since characters are a highlight for me, this played a huge part in why I enjoyed this book.

Trevor was seriously swoony.  He pursued his friendship with Charlie with a single-minded determination that had you cheering for him…most of the time.  It was interesting to see a character that put so much thought and care into another human being, but at the expense of himself and sometimes without realizing that a true friendship has the give and take, and to expect someone to let you in, you also have to let them in.  So occasionally I would want to smack him into learning that lesson faster…but again, that’s where that depth of character and flaws part comes in.  He had his own growing and learning to do (and not just because of what was happening in his own life, and the struggles he was dealing with).  But he was honestly so sweet and understanding with Charlie, and I loved the way he knew when to push her and when to back off.  And he seriously had some of the swooniest lines I’ve ever heard, I was melting right along with Charlie (and Darcy).

Charlie was strangely easy to love as well.  Strange because we don’t get to hear her thoughts much in the first half, and the way she behaved could be very offputting.  But maybe its because you get such a strong hint that something awful has happened to hurt her and force her to put on that mask.  And I will admit that I had a strong hint (and I’m not sure why, maybe it was from the first chapter, or I saw something that spoiled it?), of what might have happened.  So I was waiting to see inside her mind.  I loved the growth her character went through, and the conclusions that she comes to about what she needs.

And the chemistry between Charlie and Trev was pretty fantastic…especially friendship wise.  They had this amazing flow between them, a banter and a way of interacting that just made me want to know them in real life.  And some of the swoony moments between them gave me such freaking butterflies.  I will admit to being a little bummed we didn’t get more romance.  I’m a romance lover, and after some of that build up, I really wanted the payoff to be bigger.

Speaking of characters, Sam and Darcy were the sh*t.  Seriously.  Some of the best secondary characters I’ve seen in a while, I loved the way they were there in the background, offering support, and going through their own struggles.  They were SO fun and offered some of the best advice.  I adored them.

In the end this book delved into some pretty hard topics, but I felt like it did so with realism and heart.  My heart broke for both characters and the struggles both in their past and present.  I really thought that their personal developments moved at a real pace.  It wasn’t something that could be changed overnight, but that took time and a lot of steps.  Sometimes I feel like other books rush this, and so it was really refreshing.

So why not 5?  Some little reasons, and a bigger one that has me a bit baffled.  I can’t put my finger on why, but I kept avoiding reading this book, even while reading it.  I would find other things to do.  I even got snagged by another book in the middle.  Was it that I was avoiding the tough topics?  Maybe.  But I think I might have been a bit bored on occasion, I needed just…something more.  Or maybe that there was just SO much that Ms. Smith tried to pack into this one novel, and I felt like one or two things then got shortchanged.  In particular I felt like I needed more of a connection with the music.  It was supposed to play this large role, but often times I would find it got forgotten and then just brought up here and there.  It’s hard to explain.  I really enjoyed the lyrics that they wrote to one another nearer to the beginning, I thought those were beautiful.  I was a little confused on some of the later ones, but I’m kind of dense when it comes to lyrics, so that was probably just me.

I felt a bit let down with the ending too.  The developments with Charlie’s family COMPLETELY threw me, and I couldn’t really reconcile the changes.  It’s not that I didn’t expect some development and change, but what we got felt too neat and tidy and unrealistic (at least for me).  It sort of felt that way for a few things, like we had this real and gritty book, and then the ending fell flat (the grand gesture left me confused) and a bit rushed.  I might have just been tired though.

So there’s my novella of a review.  There were just so many things that I loved about this book, but I just can’t shake that other feeling.  I hate when I can’t articulate (even in my own head) what I’m feeling.  I sincerely hope its just a me thing, b/c this book has so much power and love to share.

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Silence by Natasha Preston

Blurb:
31676476For eleven years, Oakley Farrell has been silent. At the age of five, she stopped talking, and no one seems to know why. Refusing to communicate beyond a few physical actions, Oakley remains in her own little world.

Bullied at school, she has just one friend, Cole Benson. Cole stands by her, refusing to believe that she is not perfect the way she is. Over the years, they have developed their own version of a normal friendship. However, will it still work as they start to grow even closer?

When Oakley is forced to face someone from her past, can she hold her secret in any longer?

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My Review:
3.5 stars — Well.  Hmmm.  So the thing about this book is that I started it before bed and stayed up until 4am finishing it in one sitting…and then I felt disappointed and underwhelmed.  Which doesn’t make much sense right?  Basically there were aspects of this book that were 4+ stars, and there were aspects of this book that were 2 stars.  But given I was sucked in and just kept going and going, I figured I’d give it a slight nod above the average of 3 because I do tend to rate based on overall enjoyment, not on the actual quality of the book.

This book reminded me a LOT of The Boy Who Sneaks in My Bedroom Window.  The relationship between Oakley and Cole and how it develops, and the damage done to Oakley, were surprisingly similar in feel.  That’s another book that I can’t necessarily say is superbly well-written (lots of editing issues common in early self-publishing), but I just LOVE it, you know?  Like a guilty pleasure.  And it was the same for this book.  I was super intrigued by Oakley’s secret, and didn’t even mind TOO much the way it was revealed slowly over the course of the first half of the book, though the false leads were a bit annoying.  And I really adored the sweet nature of Oakley and Cole’s relationship, and how close they could be without her ever speaking (or communicating in any way really).  I actually really believed that he understood her based on years of paying attention to her body language and facial expressions.

But here’s where this book falls short of TBWSIMBW: the pacing.  Seriously, that is my number one issue with this book.  I found I was staying up reading just to finally find out what happened, what was going to happen, b/c we know from the blurb that her past is going to catch up with her.  Seriously, I was like “OK, more relationship, more normal everyday, more sideplot…anytime now…”  I don’t think it was until like 87% that we got even a hint of the dark turn, and that’s just not enough time to give what should be a satisfying climax a lead up and solid conclusion.  And it really wasn’t.  It was super rushed.  I’m torn about how it all happened…there is a part of me that loves it, but there is another part of me that’s wholly unsatisfied that we didn’t hear from Oakley.  And then the ending.  OMG.  I don’t think I fully realized this was a series, or maybe I thought it was a series of connected characters, but nope…the ending is abrupt and unsatisfying.  Not a cliffhanger so much as a non-HEA.

And so there I am, laying in bed, just bummed.  Because you know what?  Even not having read the second book, I can tell that it didn’t need to be a 2 part divided story.  There was so much repetition in the meat of the book that really could have been pared down.  I enjoyed getting to see the emotional impact of what Oakley went through, but I still think it could have been shaved down and still been effective.  And I didn’t mind not knowing the details of what happened, b/c that’s a bit hard to take, and I enjoyed the focus being on how it impacted Oakley’s life.  But there was so much extraneous material in the book that honestly could have been either taken out or, for goodness sake, it should have had a purpose!  Like Julian!  What the what?  What was the point of that storyline?  Either it should have had a conclusion and a development that made sense, or it shouldn’t have been that large.  And Lizzie?  What was with that?

So while I would really *like* to have the conclusion of Cole and Oakley’s story, from what I can gather from looking at the lower starred reviews of the next book (when I take out all the annoying reviews that just talk about the grammar…seriously, that’s the whole reason you rated it 1 star?  Why did even read the second book then?), the pacing is fairly similar and unsatisfying.  So it’s not really worth it for me.  Maybe if it was free, but it still costs my time, you know?

Weird review right?  It was a weird reading experience.  To have so much love for the characters and to be simultaneously sucked in and impatient, it’s just odd.  It’s happened to me before, but it is always vexing when it does.  Oh well.  *shrugs*  I don’t regret it, I just wish it had been better.  Especially because I enjoyed the handling of the tough topic.

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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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Hold My Breath by Ginger Scott

Blurb:
32869404Fractions of seconds can do lots of damage. One decision can ruin lives. A blink can be tragic. And loving a Hollister…can hurt like hell.

I would know.

They say the average person can hold their breath under water for two full minutes when pushed to the extremes. Will Hollister has been holding his for years. The oldest of two elite swimming brothers, Will was always a dominant force in the water. But in life, he preferred to let his younger brother Evan be the one to shine.

Evan got the girl, and Will…he got to bury all of the secrets. A brother’s burden, the weight of it all nearly left him to drown.

The daughter of two Olympians, my path was set the day my fingertips first touched water. My future was as crystal clear as the lane I dominated in the pool—swim hard, win big, love a Hollister.

My life with Evan burned bright. He gave me arms to come home to, and a smile that fooled the world into believing everything was perfect. But it was Will who pushed me. Will…who really knew me.

And when all of the pieces fell, it was Will who started to pick them up.

In the end, the only thing that matters are those few precious seconds—and what we decide to do while we still have them in our grasp.

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

OMGOMGOMGOMG!!!  I swear to god, I spent an enormous amount of time smiling like a moron while reading this book.  No seriously, I feel like I need to get my husband to surreptitiously (and thank god for red squiggly line internets, b/c I am failing at spelling today) take a photo of my dorky reading grin, b/c I have a feeling it’s even more epic than I thought.  And this book…this book and Will….mostly Will, but also Maddy…and occasionally Uncle Duncan…well they just brought out the huge moronic grin in spades.

OK, so I will break in here for a brief moment and say that this book started off a bit slow for me.  I don’t know if it was the book (could have been), or me and what was going on in my life, but I just had a really hard time getting sucked into this one.  BUT OH MY GOD, when I did??  I was sucked…like a Hoover.  I mean seriously, I *just* finished the book, and I actually whooped and happy sighed a little, enough to get commentary from the hubby.  It was just so good feeling and happiness inducing, that I’m just beside myself.  So while that beginning is going to force me into rounding down instead of up, that ending is making me want to say SEVENTY BAJILLION STARS!!!  All the stars!

OK, I’ve calmed down…  I will try to make some of this a bit more coherent and thought provoking (HAH).  Obviously I loved the speed swimming aspect of the story, since I pretended to be a speed swimmer in my youth…I mean, I wasn’t any good at it, but I can at least say I did a sport when I was younger.  I even won my heats on occasion.  I was a bit saddened that there was no mention of the other strokes (other than free), since I’m a backstroke girl myself, but really it was an awesome spotlight on the sport otherwise.  And Ms. Scott really knows how to make you live and breath a sport, so that you can actually feel yourself pulling and clawing and grabbing the water along with them.  I mean, obviously there is a SHITTON more to the story than just the sport, but it was there, and it was nicely represented in my opinion.

But, as I alluded to up there in my gushing, the aspect that really shines in this story is the characters.  I really enjoyed Maddy right from the very beginning, but it took me a while to fall in love with her…but I kind of enjoyed that.  It felt like she fought for my love, you know?  She EARNED it.  I have mad respect for her.  I felt like I got to know what made her up, and what made her unique, and I really loved what we got to see from her.  She is a fighter.  And she had so much to overcome in her own right in this story.  I enjoyed her relationship with her parents too, mostly her coach Dad.  She pushed him to be better.  And she pushed herself too.  I felt like all her steps on the journey were believable, and she was a fantastic counterpoint to my new book boyfriend, Will.

Will.  *sigh*  Just breathe him in folks, he’s divine.  I ADORED that he wasn’t an alpha.  He wasn’t a beta necessarily, but he definitely wasn’t an alpha male.  He was just this quiet, sensitive, melt me with his thoughts kind of guy.  I LOVED the way he loved Maddy.  How he’d always loved Maddy.  But how that love grew.  My heart is just eviscerated over the obstacles he had to overcome.  Oh Ms. Scott, you were MEAN to him.  But you got him through it, so I’ll forgive you.  And you gave him good people, like Uncle Duncan…who made me laugh and smile (moronically) over the way he would quietly push him.  And like Tanya and Dylan.  I didn’t expect them.  What an intriguing twist to a story that I thought I had figured out.

And that’s the thing, Ms. Scott gives you great MCs, but she gives you great secondary characters too.  On all sides.  Fleshed out just enough, and always adding to the story.

And while she gives you a crapload of heartache, she gives you some amazing laughs and smiles.  So she balances it all out nicely.

So yeah.  Loved it.  Loved their love story.  It may have started a bit rough for me, but it made my heart so ridiculously happy in the end.  Awesomesauce.

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To Love and To Cherish by Lauren Layne

Blurb:
28552677Sex and the City meets The Wedding Planner in The Wedding Belles, a contemporary and witty romance series about three high-powered New York City women who can plan any wedding—but their own.

Alexis Morgan has spent the past six years devoted to turning her tiny start-up into Manhattan’s premiere wedding planning company, The Wedding Belles. Now that her business is thriving, it’s time to turn towards her much neglected personal life, and Alexis approaches her relationships like she does everything else: with a plan. Not a part of that plan is Logan Harris, the silent partner in the Belles, and the one person who’s been there for her since the very beginning. But Alexis needs someone fun, and Logan’s all business, all the time—except when a late night at the office ends with an unexpected kiss that leaves the usually cool and together Alexis reeling.

Logan has lusted after Alexis since the day he walked into the tiny Harlem apartment that used to double as her office. But the ambitious wedding planner has always been untouchable…until now. Alexis has made it clear that she’s on the dating market—and equally clear that he’s not in the running. But when Alexis finds herself in need of a date for her sister’s last minute wedding in Florida, Logan knows it’s the perfect time to show Alexis that there’s more to him than numbers and spreadsheets—and beneath the pinstripes and glasses lies a hot-blooded heartthrob. As Florida’s sultry days turn into even hotter nights, Logan’s out to convince Alexis that the fling of a lifetime could just maybe turn into forever…

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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 was super weirdly reluctant to read this last installment to the series.  While I’ve enjoyed the series as a whole, I had some reservations about Alexis and how her story was going to play out.  And shit, after book 2 was so amazing, it’s hard not to wonder how this book would live up to my expectations.  So I started this one with a bit of hesitancy I guess you could say.  And then the prologue kind of blew me away.  There was so much going on in that one little chapter — I ADORED this first meeting of Alexis and Logan!  Oh dear me, Logan was just…so sweet and perfect.  And I really had a lot of hope.  Seriously, they had great bantering chemistry, and I saw so much potential.  I even saw hints at a vulnerable side to Alexis.  It was a FANTASTIC and PERFECT start to the book.

And in general, I really did enjoy their story.  I would not have anticipated Alexis’s backstory, and it kind of broke my heart you know?  I couldn’t imagine dealing with that, it was strangely unique b/c it wasn’t all scandal, it was just a strange cataclysm of life, and poor Alexis got the short end of the stick.  It was hard to hate her sister, or even blame her.  I liked that.  And at the same time, I still got Alexis’s reactions.  So I really enjoyed that aspect of Alexis’s character, and it did give you a bit of insight into who she was, and why she was the way she was…part of it was just innately part of her character, but part of it was exacerbated by these events.

I didn’t always enjoy some other aspects of Alexis’s character though.  She could be ridiculously obtuse sometimes, and I’m still not sure if that was deliberate, or if she was really just that clueless.  I never did figure out why she couldn’t see Logan’s feelings.  I mean, I guess she didn’t *want* to see them, but she really seemed genuinely clueless, and that didn’t always work for me.

Logan was a bit of a strange contradiction.  I really loved a lot of who he was, but I couldn’t always pin down who he was.  I saw someone else’s review say he was a bit of an alpha and a beta, and that was a bit strange, and I kind of agree.  But at the same time, I really loved the parts that I could figure out about him.  I actually enjoyed that he was so…observant?  That he got Alexis so much, and was patiently waiting for her.  And he could be really sassy when he wanted to be, and I really enjoyed that.  My problem is that I wasn’t always cool with his choices in how he stepped up his game.  He made some mistakes that I felt like he shouldn’t have made and it didn’t really fit all the time.

I definitely enjoyed their chemistry, though I will say I felt more of the friendship chemistry than the more chemistry with these two…not that the more wasn’t there, but it took a while to get there in the book, and I just personally wasn’t swept away in that part.

All in all it was enjoyable to see this series come to its conclusion.  Since I kind of had low expectations for this couple b/c I couldn’t figure Alexis out, I was actually pleasantly surprised in general.  It was no Heather and Josh, but it was a solid Ms. Layne showing.  And seeing the other characters make appearances was awesome.  I especially enjoyed Logan hanging out with Seth and Josh…those boys can make me laugh.  Good stuff all around.

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Lured In by Laura Drewry

Blurb:
30183695Seasick. That’s how Jessie Todd feels when her best friend and boss, Finn O’Donnell, tells her that the Buoys will be featured on a popular fishing program—which just so happens to be hosted by a guy she used to date. She’s still friendly with her ex, but her new feelings for Finn are making things . . . complicated. His life is out on the sea, and though Jessie works at the resort, her paralyzing phobia of water keeps her on land, where she’s safe. To take a shot with Finn, she’ll need to face her fears—and her innermost desires—head-on.

Finn has been nursing a crush on Jess for a long time, so when she suddenly asks for swimming lessons, he dives right in. Holding her shaking hand as she steps into the ocean makes his heart swell—despite the sinking feeling that she’s just doing it to impress that smarmy TV host. Finn doesn’t trust anyone with his bruised and battered heart, but he’ll be forced to lay it all on the line to keep Jess from being the one that got away.

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

Well that was much better than the first book for me!  As I was suspecting from their appearance in Off the Hook, Finn and Jess were more my kind of characters and so I was more easily sucked into their story.  Not only did I genuinely like both characters, but I really loved their backstories — both individually, and their history together.  They gave me so many feels and both had me crying.  And DAMN!!  Chemistry was definitely not a problem in this story!  I LOVE that the cover reminds me of a scene in the book, and I could totally picture it in my head, so when I looked at the cover again I was like “AHA!”

So what did I love about the characters?  Well Jessie was sassy and strong, never afraid to stand up to those boys and put them in their place, and I loved the way she loved The Buoys and making it a successful business.  But she was also so damaged from her past.  I was worried I wouldn’t get all my questions answered, but I totally did and really felt for how her past shaped her.  I genuinely felt her fear and terror and I loved how they worked through her fear, and didn’t minimize it.

And Finn was such a strange contradiction!!  He’s definitely not an Alpha guy, but he’s not quite a Beta boy either (which are my faves).  Is there such a thing as an Omega, or am I just making shit up?  I don’t know.  But he was so sweet and caring, and genuinely damaged in his own right.  I LOVED that Jess didn’t minimize or excuse what happened to him in the past, but just listened to him.  I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to grow up with that hanging over his head, and so I genuinely understood why he was the way he was with respect to relationships.  That was another thing I found refreshing — Finn’s aversion to commitment came from a genuine place, and what can sometimes be kind of cliché in other books felt real in this case.  And just because he was averse to commitment didn’t mean he was some playboy or manwhore either.  THANK YOU!!  I mean, maybe I’m just reading the wrong books, but usually those things go hand in hand with heroes.  But not with Finn.  And OMG did he break my heart so many times with how humbled he was to be trusted by Jess.  And I loved the way the relationship progressed in his head…it wasn’t filled with long misunderstandings or him holding on to his commitment-phobe ways, but was more about how others saw him and expected certain things of him.  Finn was a solid book boy, I genuinely enjoyed reading him.

So yeah, this one was all about the characters for me, and it definitely succeeded in that aspect.  I also pretty much squealed in delight when some of the minor secondary characters came from my city (Edmonton).  And LAKE DIEFENBAKER!!!  You can call me crazy all you like, but I grew up 30 minutes away from the river that connects to Lake Diefenbaker, so to see it mentioned in a book is just balm to my soul.  This Canadian loves to read about Canadian things, and so I always look forward to Ms. Drewry’s books.

So the question becomes — what in the world is Ronan’s story going to look like?  I seriously have ZERO clues.  Anyone else?

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Shoot the Gap by Jordan Ford

Blurb:
30779767Tyler Schumann has always been known as Nelson High’s goofy clown, the guy with the big mouth. But there’s something people don’t know: he’s tired of being in the shadows of his Raiders’ buddies, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get the one girl in school he wants to finally notice him: Roxanne Carmichael.

Sammy Carmichael is just one of the guys, known for her mad boarding skills and her razor-sharp wit. But she has a secret, too—a crush on her best friend. It’s a relationship she’s not willing to risk damaging by getting all romantic about it.

When Tyler asks for Sammy’s help, she’s stoked to be able to spend a little one-on-one time with him. Their secret mission will bring them closer together…until she realizes what he’s really after—her sister. Tired of being in the shadows herself, Sammy sets out on a mission of her own to prove that she’s the Carmichael girl he really wants.

But the secrets and lies she discovers as she embarks on her quest could tear her relationship with Tyler to shreds, and Sammy must decide which lies are worth exposing and how much damage the truth will cause.

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

OK, I’ll have to read The Playmaker again, but I think this is my favourite of the series!!  Sammy and Tyler’s story was exactly everything I was hoping for.  Not only did it answer all the questions I had, but it tied up the overarching plotline that was running in the background for most of the series in a satisfying way for me.

You know one of the strange things I love about this series?  For most of the main characters, we actually get a glimpse of the parents — and they run the gamut, some great examples of good parents, and some great examples of dysfunctional families and (sort of) bad parents.  So it really gives a lot of teens someone to vibe with in the family department.  So many times in young adult novels I find the parental figures to be just missing altogether.  It’s not that they take up a lot of time in any of these stories, but they exist, and they’ve shaped who the heroes and heroines are.  Tyler has a great set of parents that I admired as much as Sammy (though I will admit I’m confused and curious about Tyler’s family sibling-wise, b/c we’d get occasional mentions of older siblings, and so I was curious about the make up even if it wasn’t really relevant to the story).  Sammy, on the other hand, comes from a more dysfunctional family with parents that fight and bring those children into the fights.  And while her parents aren’t *bad* per se, they aren’t ideal and she struggles with them (in particular her Mother).  But I did appreciate that her Mother wasn’t just an evil character, but a misguided one moreso.

Tyler was hella interesting as a book boy for me, b/c we saw him have lustful feelings for lots of girls, but it didn’t take away from his feelings for Sammy (once he finally started to realize them).  It was a nicely realistic guy perspective in my opinion.  He was a little heartbreaking in his own right b/c he just had such skewed priorities, and so it prevented him from seeing what was important in life.  I also loved how his experiences didn’t match up with his boasting, as we’d sort of seen hints of in the previous books.  I thought his growth was really realistic and I really believed in how he fell for Sammy, and how confused he was by all that he was feeling.

Sammy was the star for me.  I don’t have a lot in common with her, but I fell for her regardless.  I loved how strong she was in wanting to be who she was inside, regardless of the pressures she felt from family to be something else (more girly).  But my heart also broke for her, b/c while she wasn’t willing to compromise herself, it didn’t mean that it didn’t still hurt that it didn’t feel like anyone wanted her for *her*.  I can vibe with that — wanting to be liked/loved, but not willing to change myself to achieve that.  So in that way she totally spoke to me.  Yeah, I don’t really know what more to say, other than I really loved who she was and totally have a girl crush on her.  I don’t tend to get a lot of book girl crushes, so she’s in a bit of an elite club.

The romance was definitely pretty slowburning b/c Tyler had to get his head out of his butt, but I loved what we did get, and I really felt like it was realistic and authentic.  And woo boy, the kisses were pretty sweet.  I definitely had some mega-grinning going on.

It was FANTASTIC to see all the characters from the series coming together in this book.  It was honestly the perfect wrap up in that way.

I was feeling a little up and down with the whole Roxy situation.  On one hand I started thinking the way Sammy was feeling and reacting didn’t fit her, but then when I really thought about it (and as the story continued at the end) I supposed I could see it.  So basically I’m conflicted.  There were parts of me that liked it, but parts that wished there was a more satisfying explanation or something.

I’m sad to see this series end, but I think it was the perfect end at the same time.  I can’t wait to find out what the next series is for Ms. Ford, I will definitely be on board for checking it out.

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