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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Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Blurb:
34223444A basketball game changed both their lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Home by Melissa Pearl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Everything by Melissa Pearl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vanishing Act by A.M. Madden

Blurb:
32502728In this captivating standalone romance from the USA Today bestselling author of Stone Walls, Hollywood’s hottest actor meets his dream woman: a free spirit who has no idea who he is.

After personal heartbreak and professional setbacks, Landon Price is running on empty. If he doesn’t take a break from the public eye soon, he’ll risk becoming another cautionary tale in a town that’s full of them. So in between film projects, Landon asks his agent to clear his schedule and then he simply . . . vanishes. Renting a discreet home on a remote Hawaiian beach for the summer, Landon begins to recharge. And in the process of finding himself, he meets a beautiful, feisty local who challenges everything he thinks he knows.

Zara Jobert has no interest in being a conquest for a cocky playboy from the mainland—even one with undeniable charisma and movie-star good looks. So she’s pleasantly surprised when the handsome newcomer’s persistent advances mellow into cozy banter and a sneakily seductive intimacy. When Landon reveals his true identity, Zara’s hurt that he lied, but she doesn’t care that he’s famous. Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way. And falling for Landon might come with a heartbreaking choice—between Zara’s old life, and a new love.

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My Review:
DNF @ 40% — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

I really tried with this one.  I will say one thing right from the start, this was not a *bad* book.  It just wasn’t capturing my attention AT ALL, and I just have too much to read to spend my time reading something that’s not captivating me.  Basically I was bored.  And when I looked at my Kindle’s prediction of time left in this book and it said 4.5 hours, I said I’M DONE!

If the book kept going as it was going, I probably would have given it a 3 star.  Like I said, it wasn’t bad.  But I’m behind on things as it is, so I gave up.  The first bit until we meet Spike/Marshmallow was really slow, and I did not get a great feel for Landon at all.  He didn’t have personality traits that bugged me, but I really had no idea what he was like, other than self-important.  There really just didn’t feel like there was any depth there.  I was already considering DNFing it at that point, b/c I think the writing style just wasn’t jiving with me either.  I know it was just an ARC, but the tenses felt funny, and I kept getting tripped up on sentences because of the weird way the words were organized sometimes.

BUT!  Then we met Spike/Marshmallow.  AND OMG HE STOLE THE SHOW!  And it wasn’t just because he was freaking ADORABLE, but b/c he brought out something that I had been waiting for in Landon — a personality!  Landon was HILARIOUS when he was interacting with Spike.  Like, he was funny, and sassy, and I just started to love him!!  Things were looking up!!

And then we met Zara.  And again, nice girl, but she felt a bit flat.  And part of that is because Landon concentrated so much on how beautiful/hot she was, it really felt like the physical aspects were the main ones in their attraction.  And even at 40%, I still wasn’t feeling them together.  We were *told* that he liked other aspects of her, but not shown really.  I enjoyed his teasing, and I thought we were getting a wee bit more depth, but for some reason I was just bored.  Too slow?  I don’t know.  But I wasn’t even remotely invested.  OK, I was like 1% invested, b/c that part of me wants to know what happens.  If anyone wants to spoil it for me, please feel free.

Honestly, in that entire 40%, the bits where Spike/Marshmallow were present were the absolute highlights for me.  But an awesome dog is not enough to make a book great.  Good?  Yes.  Great?  No.  And so I gave up.  Ah well, they can’t all be matches right?

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Good Boy by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

Blurb:
30747137Hosting her brother’s wedding for an MVP guest list is the challenge of Jess Canning’s life. Already the family screw-up, she can’t afford to fail. And nobody (nobody!) can learn of the colossal mistake she made with the best man during a weak moment last spring. It was wrong, and there will not be a repeat. Absolutely not. Even if he is the sexiest thing on two legs.

Blake Riley sees the wedding as fate’s gift to him. Jess is the maid of honor and he’s the best man? Let the games begin. So what if he’s facing a little (fine, a lot) of resistance? He just needs to convince the stubborn blonde that he’s really a good boy with a bad rap. Luckily, every professional hockey player knows that you’ve got to make an effort if you want to score.

But Jess has more pressing issues to deal with than sexy-times with a giant man-child. Such as: Will the ceremony start on time, even though someone got grandma drunk? Does glitter ever belong at a wedding? And is it wrong to murder the best man?

Caution: May cause accidental aspiration of tea or coffee. Do not read in a public place where loud laughter is inappropriate. Contains hot but hilarious hockey players, puppy cuddling and a snarky pair of underwear.

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My Review:
4 stars — These books by Ms. Bowen and Ms. Kennedy are just endless boodles of entertainment.  And not just laugh out loud funnies, but heart too you know?  They always have an amazing balance.  And this book is non exception.

Blake is such a bizarre creature, I had no idea what I was going to find in this book.  He’s really…almost, eccentric?  He’s hilarious, but just so freaking weird too!!  He’s like this big teddy bear that you just want to hug, but that could also annoy the bejeezus out of you.  But I think the love always wins out in the end.  He was kind of a different book boy than I’m used to falling in love with, b/c he is just so…hard to define.  It’s not your normal kind of sexual intensity, you know?  Not like he’s not sexy, but he’s goofy sexy.  He’s make you laugh during the steamy moments sexy.  And that’s hella fun too.  And in spite of all his goofy qualities, he’s just such a great guy with a big heart.  I loved how sweet and considerate he was of all his friends and his family.  I loved that he really saw Jessie, and what she was going through, and always had the most thoughtful advice and observations and pick me ups waiting in his own unique Blake way.

Jessie took me a bit longer to warm up to.  It’s funny, b/c at the beginning I was worried I wasn’t going to love Jessie.  Because she really had a LOT of growing up to do, and the way she saw Blake and the way she almost…lashed out? at him because of her own insecurities hurt my heart.  I felt so protective of Blake, so I was quick to frowny face all over her actions.  But of course Ms. Bowen and Ms. Kennedy would not stand for that!  Nope, they had to make her learn and grow and change.  It’s almost like they’re good character writers or something, right?  So Jessie definitely grew on me.  I started to feel for her and the pressures she was feeling, even if I wanted to smack her for her insecurities, I still GOT it.  Sort of.  Mostly.  And I LOVED seeing her come into her own, and really start to understand her value.  It might have been nice if she could have gotten there a bit more on her own, without Blake, but I’m not going to complain too much.

I loved how well they complemented each other too.  How they both contributed to the others growth and healing.  How Blake showed her a different side of herself, and how Jessie stood up for him and took care of him.

And obviously the secondary characters were pretty sweet.  They didn’t necessarily have huge roles, but they played their parts.  From Mama Riley, to the WAGs, to Leila…actually, writing that out, my favourite secondary characters all played a role in Jessie’s growth.  But I guess Blake still had Wesmie and some of his other fellow hockey players.  I wouldn’t have minded a bit more on the support front.

Anyways, thoroughly entertained.  Can’t wait to dive into more of these Toronto hockey players stories!!

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Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino

Blurb:
13561898Brad is great at meeting other people’s expectations. But his own? Not so much. Take the gay thing. Okay, so yeah. It took a morning meeting with a frat brother’s hairy, naked ass for him to admit it, but he knows the truth about himself now. Let the gay life commence.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. He hasn’t quite determined how to come out to anyone, even Sebastian, the geeky-hot TA in his history class. Sebastian is everything Brad is not. Intellectual, suave, hairy. Out. And he doesn’t seem interested in Brad, even when Brad makes a fool of himself trying to catch his notice.

Score one for foolery: Sebastian does more than notice Brad; he takes him to bed. Brad’s been with plenty of girls, but with Sebastian, the sex is something else entirely—hot, mind-blowing, affirming, and a little domineering in a way that drives him wild. But when great sex turns into something more—dare he admit the “L” word?—Brad must face the crushing realization that Sebastian doesn’t feel the same. Unless, of course, he does. After all, even grad students can be idiots about matters of the heart.

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My Review:
ORIGINAL REVIEW: 4 stars — Was better than I was expecting…not saying I was expecting it to be bad, but it was like deeper than I expected. Now I sound like a valley girl. *sigh* Basically I wasn’t expecting much for story, but there was a romance flavour to it all. And I LOVED Brad. He was a really interesting male hero — so many contradictions to him. Loved his story, loved his passions, loved his approach to this new insight into his life. Sebastian was a great complement for Brad too — though I would maybe like to have learned a bit more about him. We got hints here and there, but not enough I guess. The frat boy friends amused me, especially Kyle…

ON REREAD: 4 stars — It’s been a while since I read this one, but it looks like I concur with my past self.  Brad was the real winner of this story for me, we saw so much more development in his character.  I loved learning about how his experiences as a teenager sort of forced him back into the closet, and it broke my heart b/c it left him so confused and unsatisfied with life.  I love how he was never truly ashamed of being gay once he figured it out, it was more that he thought he wasn’t supposed to be.  And once he figured it out, he accepted it pretty quickly, and was only really mitigating the fall out from there on out.  He was kind of a sweetheart, and I loved that he was so different from what people expected, when you really got to see the real him.  I felt sad that people had pigeon-holed him, and made him feel as though who he really was wasn’t ok somehow.  It was so satisfying when he started going for what he wanted, and learning about love and pleasure for the first time.  I loved that he owned up to his bad choices in the past, and felt bad for not realizing how he was hurting girls along the way.  I LOVED that his family was so supportive and a non-issue.  I LOVED that his best friend was freaking hilarious and shocked, but then all in ready to fight for him.  I appreciated him having someone like that in his corner.

Sebastian had growth too, but I can’t say I fell as in love with him.  We just didn’t get to see inside him enough, except near the end when he has his epiphany.

I love that the author challenged the expected roles in our lovers, having Sebastian top and Brad bottom.  And I will say the steamy sections were definitely hot!  But there was definitely more story, and more romance than I had remembered.

All in all, a solid M/M.  Maybe a 3.5 star instead of full 4, but I enjoyed myself, so I’ll go all in, what the heck, why not…

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Royal Treatment by Parker Swift

Blurb:
34323416All this duke needs is his duchess…

For five blissful months I’ve been engaged to Dylan Hale, the most handsome, commanding, and wickedly sexy duke in England. For five months I’ve woken up next to the man I love, indulged in secret trysts, and submitted to every delicious desire. Even better? We’ve managed to keep it hidden from everyone. That means no paparazzi scandals, no snide comments from Dylan’s mother, and no harsh public scrutiny. It’s been heaven, but with Dylan’s royal responsibilities looming, our time alone is running out. And while I can’t wait to be Dylan’s wife, I’m terrified that becoming Dylan’s duchess might mean losing myself.

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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 LOVE it when a series gets better as it goes along!  I don’t know if it was just me, but I enjoyed this one a lot more than the previous two books, it was a fantastic finale to the trilogy.  And I think that surprised me a little, b/c I honestly had no idea how we were going to get a whole other book out of Dylan and Lydia’s story, and the previous two had been good, but a bit long and occasionally boring.  I honestly can’t tell you if I was just in a different mood this time, or it really was better, but we’re going to go with the book being better.  Benefit of the doubt and all that.

I can honestly say that by this point in the trilogy, I was already in love with Dylan and Lydia.  They had the most fantastic banter, I can’t tell you how delightful it was to see them sassing each other back and forth.  And while they had a highly sexual relationship, I really could see more to their relationship than just that.  And I felt like we just got to see more of them together (without just sex) in this book.  The thing I loved about this book is that while they hit roadbumps along the way, they weren’t drawn out, and I was so proud of them for not taking to long to work things out together.  They didn’t frustrate me as characters.  They still had some growing to do, but I felt like even in all that I could already see how far they’d come together.  And so this book gave me ups and downs, but never made me feel anxious or annoyed (which can be hard to do).  I was fully invested in their romance and love and was so happy with the way things were resolved along the way.

I loved that we got both Lydia *AND* Dylan’s POVs throughout the whole story.  I really felt like we got to know Dylan just a bit more that way.  And I really did end up loving both characters.  But most of all, I LOVED them together.  I loved the way they complimented each other.  I loved how thoughtful Dylan was of Lydia, and how she showed him how to feel love and learn more about the man he was and who he could be.  And I LOVED that Lydia was so strong and challenging to both Dylan and the world in general.  I loved that we got to see Lydia’s Brooklyn life.  I will admit I still kind of wanted to know more about Lydia’s mother.  It just seems so bizarre to not know anything about her, but that’s just me being greedy.

And I was still in love with the secondary characters, particularly Emily and Will in this book.  Can we say spin off book?  😛

So yeah.  Great finale.  Love seeing an author develop over time.  Surprisingly really appreciated this last story in the trilogy.  They’ve become characters I really enjoyed reading about, I was so happy I stuck with them.

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Bulletproof by Melissa Pearl

Blurb:
23846788Morgan Pritchett doesn’t need anyone. Strong-willed and confident, she’s the master of organizing and looking after everyone around her. In her mind, she’s bulletproof.

But she has one weakness – men. She can’t seem to live without them, yet is unable to find her perfect match. After yet another break up, Morgan promises her sister and best friend that she’ll write off men for the rest of the year…but then she meets Sean Jaxon.

Sean Jaxon has worked hard to become a Hollywood actor, scoring minor roles and slowly making a name for himself as an action sidekick. After a chance encounter with the stunning Morgan Pritchett, he decides to take a risk and put his dancing skills to the test by signing on for the lead role in Superstar, a TV musical. He never thought he’d reconnect with the girl who urged him to ignore his manager and be honest with himself, but when Morgan shows up on the set as a production assistant, he realizes he’s found his ultimate weakness – her.

Their passion for dance and music will bring them together, but will their relationship be able to withstand the forces determined to pull them apart? As Morgan comes face-to-face with her long-buried demons and Sean decides just how much he’s willing to risk for love, these two songbirds discover something…they’re not as bulletproof as they thought.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — OMG, I was sucked into this one right from the start.  I had just finished trying to read a different book and was super frustrated and cranky, so even though it was after midnight I knew I needed a different taste in my mouth in order to fall asleep, so I started Bulletproof.  MISTAKE!  Then began an endless stream of “just one more chapter, just one more chapter.”  GAH!  And while my tired eyes failed me and I only got a few hours in, I gobbled the rest of the book up the next day.

Morgan intrigued the heck out of me in Fever.  She was this strong, forthright girl who seemed very confident in everything she did.  And she honestly was everything I thought she was, but she was also more.  She is honestly one of the most unique heroines I’ve read.  She was vulnerable in a way I don’t think I read about a lot.  We really get a great glimpse into what has made her into the girl she is today, someone who honestly feels as though they have to be “bulletproof”, has to contain their emotions, and who went from having responsibility thrust upon them too young to not being able to function without taking charge.  She was so conflicted within herself, so damaged, but so determined that that was her lot in life.  I also enjoyed that she was a very sexual girl who truly enjoyed sex, but also used it as a means of feeling self-worth.  Because I honestly think that a girl can be both of those things; so often we see the damage, and it makes it seem as though a girl can’t enjoy sex.  I wish she’d had a smoother road on that one, but then it wouldn’t be Morgan you know?  She really had a crazy journey to go on, and my heart ached for her.  She made some very poor choices in this book at times, but that just made her more real I guess.  I think her one choice near the end would have turned me off in any other book, but for some reason I was ok with how Morgan got to that point.  It fit her character, as much as it pains me to say that.  She was flawed.  And maybe she needed to hit that point in order to wake up and confront her demons.

Wow, sorry, that got long.  All that to say, while I really am nothing like Morgan, I really loved her in the end, despite all her flaws.  And as a fellow tall girl, I LOVED having a tall girl as a heroine.  We have our own unique challenges, and I loved that she wasn’t self-conscious about it.  I also loved that she was a dancer, and a great one, because so often dancers are always petite.  Nicely done Ms. Pearl.

And then we get to Sean.  Damn, but he had his own flaws too.  I feel like again, as in Fever, I felt more for the heroine’s journey than the hero’s.  He did have his own journey to go on, but I felt like we didn’t get to dive quite as deep with him.  I loved that we got to see him struggle with his poor upbringing, and that he was easily swayed and influenced about his own worth in the industry.  It shows that while he may look confident to the outside world, he is struggling to believe in himself as well.  He disappointed me as well, but like with Morgan, I kind of understood why he made certain poor choices.  He had his own journey to go on, to grow and come into his own.

And I ADORED their courtship.  I loved that circumstances meant they actually were forced to go slow and get to know each other.  I LOVED how nervous Sean was, but how instantly drawn to Morgan he was.  And holy cow, their chemistry!!  Seriously, reading about them dancing was just hot (even if I couldn’t always picture the moves that were described)!  But yeah, you could really feel what drew them together, and while there was a strong physical attraction component, I felt their connection in other ways too.

I can’t decide how I feel about Rhonda and Travis.  It’s not that I don’t honestly believe there are people out there like that, but occasionally they felt a little over the top.  I believed Rhonda a bit more, but with Travis, I couldn’t help but wonder why no one else wanted to intervene.

I LOVED seeing Ella and Cole happy together.  I’m very intrigued about Jody’s story, and I appreciated how Morgan had to deal with stepping back from her usual Mother role as well.  And I LOVED Isabella, for both Sean and Morgan!!  I also loved the advice that Morgan got from Grandma Deb, and Sean got from his Mom.

So yeah.  Definitely a hit.  This book may have had its moments that broke my heart, made me cringe for the characters, but I think that made the end of the journey that much more satisfying!

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