Offsetting Penalties by Ally Mathews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Difference Between Us by Rachel Higginson

Blurb:
35002568I’m cursed.

At least when it comes to finding Mr. Right.

I’m tired of men that only want one night stands or blind dates that are nothing but awkward and uncomfortable. I’m tired of avoiding inappropriate text messages and the constant disappointment of always meeting Mr. Wrong.

After all these years of dates that lead nowhere, I can admit that it’s me. I’m the problem. I’m shy and picky and cursed. Definitely cursed.

So I’ve decided two things.

The first? I’m giving up dating and relationships and men in general. Maybe, possibly, forever.

The second? I’m going to have to try harder to avoid Ezra Baptiste.

If I couldn’t hack it in the kiddy pool of dating, I certainly can’t swim in his deep end. He’s too successful. Too intense. He’s all man when I’m used to nothing but boys pretending to be grownups. He’s everything I’m afraid to want and so far out of my league we might as well be different species entirely.

So he’ll need to find a different artist to paint his mural. And a different graphic designer to help him with his website. He’ll need to find someone else to glare at and flirt with and kiss.

It can’t be me.

We’re too different.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — I did receive an earlier copy of this book as a beta, in exchange for my oh-so-amazing opinions, and stellar typo catching (yes, there is some sarcasm there).  But I’m obviously going to write out my honest opinion, b/c I have one of those too (and it’s wholeheartedly unbiased).

There’s a reason Ms. Higginson is one of my favourite authors of all time.  While there may be elements here and there that don’t always jibe with me personally, I ALWAYS get a story where I fall in love with the unique and VERY REAL characters, and where I spend an inordinate amount of time smiling unexpectedly, truly laughing out loud (usually accompanied by snorts), and swooning left, right and center.  And isn’t it weird how you forget all about that enchantment in between your favourite author’s releases?  Like, you convince yourself that they’re not as good as you remember, or you’ve blown the memory out of proportion.  And then you get a few paragraphs in and it’s like coming home to an old friend.  THAT is what this book was for me.  I totally get that I *just* read The Opposite of You a mere 4 months ago, but from that first snort of laughter, I’m right back where I want to be.  And where I want to be is in Molly’s head.

I have wholeheartedly admitted in the past that my heart generally lies in dual POV books, so it always amuses the crap out of me that one of my favourite authors writes almost exclusively in single POV.  But again (because I feel like I’m repeating myself from my review of TOOY), she manages to convey so much through the heroine’s story, that I don’t even feel that gypped.  I’m still absolutely able to fall in love with the hero too, even without being in his head (though I would never sneeze at a bonus POV scene, *hint hint*).

Molly is exactly as hilarious and sassy and snarky as I expected her to be, but she’s also so much more.  Honestly, I really connected to her because I feel like she is a soul sister.  She’s a bit shyer, outside of her inner circle she prefers to blend into the background, she loathes confrontation, and she has a hell of a case of imposter’s syndrome (which my hubby constantly tells me I have).  And you know what?  I wanted to high five her for each of those characteristics, because she really felt like me.  I know strong forceful heroines are all the rage, but there is also something to love about a girl who has moments of meekness and insecurity.  And I really loved the glimpse we got into her family, and how her upbringing influenced her in so many ways.  It made it so that at parts where I was cringing for her decisions, I also got how she got there.  You know?

Molly’s story has so many elements, and not all of them were easy to read.  Particularly the sexual harassment she endures at work.  It’s so easy as a reader to be able to see what’s going on, but it’s SOOOO much harder to deal with it in real life when you’re faced with consequences and uncertainty when it involves your livelihood.  I had a REALLY hard time with that part, I wanted to scream at Molly so many times and it all made me feel very uncomfortable.  But at the same time I felt like it was really brave of Ms. Higginson to confront this issue, and shine a light on how complicated it is…and have Molly NOT make the black and white decisions.  It made the situation more REAL you know?

And then there’s the romance, which was a slam dunk for me.  I absolutely loved that Ezra managed to bring out a completely different side to Molly.  Their courtship made me laugh, it made me swoon, and it tugged at my heartstrings.  It was seriously just so odd you guys, but I was in love practically from the first e-mail.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of Ezra, b/c he’s kind of hard to pin down…but I thought Molly got to the heart of him, and we got to see what made him tick, and why he appears the way he does.  And their chemistry was amazing.  My only niggle is that I’m not huge on the flip-flop, and Molly did have a bit of that.  That would be what caused the half star loss for me.

Of course the secondary characters were beyond amazing.  My heart was so happy with the reappearance of all my favourites (Vera, Killian, Wyatt, and Vann), and I totally fell in love with Ezra’s half-sister Dillon as well.  Their addition just takes a great story and levels it up.  I tried petitioning for a certain pairing, but apparently I got the matches wrong.  To say I’m excited for more from this crew is an understatement.

And there you have it.  Essentially a fangirl review.  What are you gonna do?  We all have our favourite authors for a reason, and I’m a sucker for Ms. Higginson’s characters, and she writes banter that has my highlight finger going crazy.  It’s as simple as that.

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