Constant by Rachel Higginson

Blurb:
36286507Fifteen years ago I met Sayer Wesley. I fell in love with him. I promised I would never leave him. I swore nothing could break us apart.

Five years ago I broke my promise. I ran away. I took the one secret that could destroy us both and disappeared.

Five days ago I thought I saw him.

I knew it was impossible. Sayer was locked away, serving a deserved sentence in federal prison. He couldn’t find me.

He wouldn’t find me. I was too good at hiding. Too good at surviving.

Because if Sayer ever found me, there would be hell to pay for a plethora of sins. The worst of which, he didn’t even know about.

Five hours ago, I told myself I was crazy.

Five minutes ago, I saw him again.

Five seconds ago, I was too late.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — Another fabulous beta read!!

DAMN!!  Like holy shitsnacks people.  I was curious about this book from the first moment Ms. Higginson hinted at the blurb in her street team.  I mean, seriously…how can you not be intrigued by that??  It was both everything I was expecting and totally took me by surprise all at the same time.

This may be a slightly different genre for Ms. Higginson, but she brings her epic voice with her to each of the characters.  Honestly, for me it doesn’t matter what genre she writes, I know I’m going to fall in love.  Her characters have snark and sass and heart and depth.  And the voice of the BOOK even screams Rachel Higginson.  There’s just something about the way she writes that gets to me every time, and she got me this time too.  When you’re having to talk yourself out of highlighting Caroline’s conversation with a Cherry Coke bottle, you know you’re in trouble.

I’m neither a lover nor hater of past/flashback chapters.  But I can honestly say that they worked amazingly well in this story.  They were scattered about in such a way that we learn just enough to tantalize and give us glimpses at both past events and the past incarnations of our characters.  They melded with the storyline perfectly for me.  And if I’m being honest, my favourite chapters were the past chapters.  There’s just something about young Caro and Sayer (and Frankie and Gus) that had me hooked.  And I can’t tell you how many times I was on the edge of my seat.

The present chapters actually provided a contrast in pacing.  While the past chapters felt quick, the present chapters were a bit more introspective at times for Caroline.  Occasionally that didn’t work for me, but I felt like the pace picked up in the second half of the book, and it was a ride right to the end.  And can I just remind everyone that this is a DUET.  So, you know…try not to be too surprised with the ending.  I wasn’t.

The relationship between Caroline and Sayer was SUPER strange.  And I knew it had to be.  Honestly, I was wondering how Ms. Higginson was going to be able to pull it off.  I mean, from the blurb we know that she was in love with him, and we also know she’s now frightened of him…so I was curious how she was going to pull off convincing me of both of those emotions.  And I was a bit concerned with how *I* would feel about Sayer as a result.  But I honestly shouldn’t have worried, Ms. Higginson makes it all work out in the end.  I won’t give anything away, but I both loved him and was occasionally disturbed by him.  Which is a strange feeling to have for a hero.

Caroline was just everything I love in a Higginson heroine.  Which is not to say she’s a cookie cutter of any of her previous heroines, but she was flawed and frustrating and brave and sassy and all those things that I somehow end up loving.

Can I give props to secondary characters too?  From past characters (Frankie and Gus) to present characters (Juliet, Francesca, Maggie, and Jesse) to evil characters, they all just added their own something to the story.

And now we wait.  In agony.  You have no idea how hard it is for me not to beg and plead for hints.  But honestly?  I prefer to wait and devour the whole thing instead of ruining it.  I’ll just keep chanting February, February, February….

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Merrily in Love by Melissa West

Blurb:
36313195The Littleton brothers are as much a part of Crestler’s Key as the sun and surf, living the single life without a care. But love has a way of changing even the most determined bachelor’s mind . . . 

Brady Littleton has left his reckless youth behind to become a man his brothers can count on. When the family dive shop needs to expand, he’s got the answer: buy the Christmas shop next door. Except the retiring owner’s goddaughter, Kylie Waters, has come back to town. She was Brady’s first kiss—his first everything—and she doesn’t want to sell. He’s got a solution to that too. Whoever makes the most sales by Christmas Day can take over the shop, fair and square.

Kylie resolved to put the youngest, wildest Littleton brother out of her head when he abruptly ended their relationship years ago. But the steady, gorgeous man he’s become is impossible to ignore. Especially once reminiscing leads to a kiss as hot and heady as mulled wine. Their deal means that one of them is going to lose out on a dream…unless Christmas Day brings the gift of a sweet, surprising second chance…

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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.

This one had its ups and downs for me, but I finished it with a smile on my face, and shed a few tears (well, more than a few, but I’m blaming PMS for the overreaction), so I’m calling it a win.

Both Kylie and Brady spent a lot of time aggravating me.  But I also felt for both of them.  Kylie with her fear of abandonment issues.  Brady with his over the top sense of guilt when it came to his family.  So while I wanted to smack them for some of the decisions they made, and how long it took for them to grow, I also felt for them and how their past and choices had scarred them.

And even as aggravating as they both were, they were also really endearing!  They could be really sweet, and some of the moments when they were together actually had me sighing in happiness and swooning.  You can’t go wrong with swooning.

Honestly, the only reason it’s not a full 4 stars is that I always find it aggravating (jeez, is that like my word of the day or something?) when authors elude to something in the past, but don’t just explain it to the readers.  Like in this book, we know something happened to break up our characters, break both of their hearts, have them each blame the other, and develop some animosity.  But the author just kept teasing us with it, occasionally dropping breadcrumbs.  Eventually it was basically explained, but it’s the kind of literary technique that just makes me want to abandon a book…because I spend so much time wondering what happened, that I just want to skip pages to find out.  Not always, I do get that there are certain instances where it makes sense, but I honestly don’t understand what the point was of keeping the reader in the dark in this case.  But I’m about to get ranty about something that’s really rather small, so I’m gonna stop.

I must say, I did NOT like either of Brady’s brothers…they were kind of selfish and not understanding.  I got their worry, but they were kind of dicks about some stuff.  However, Brady’s parents were da bomb.  And Franny and Ally rounded out our fabulous secondary characters nicely.

So yeah.  Some aggravation, but a WHOLE LOT of swooning too.  I mean come on, the whole ending was one big swoonfest.  So all in all a winner.

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Deck the Halls by Donna Alward

Blurb:
35965582With shades of It’s a Wonderful Life, one man must face his past to find his future this Christmas.

In the last year, George’s life has drastically changed. The formerly homeless veteran now has a job he likes, a family in the residents of Darling, VT, and for the first time in years, a home. But while his present is good, he’s still haunted by the past, a past that appears shortly before Christmas when the older sister of his brother-in-arms hunts him down and finds him in Darling, working at the Ladybug Garden Center.

Amy’s looking for closure for her family after her brother’s death in the Middle East, but the serious man she finds working in Vermont doesn’t resemble the soldier she remembers from years before. This man is hardened and yet somehow fragile, too, and in her desire to find out what really happened to her brother, she learns more about George than she ever expected.

With a little Christmas magic and the whole town supporting them, can these two bruised hearts make a future together?

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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 have never read any books by Ms. Alward before, and thus none in this series.  But I had no problems following along with everything.  I will say that if you are a fan of the series, I think you’ll love this book too as many of the other couples appear in it (and it sounds like George made appearances in many of those books as well).

This was a solid Christmas romance, with a great redemption plot.  It touches on many serious subjects, from what it’s like for returning veterans, survivor’s guilt, homelessness, and the struggle to climb out of being homeless.  I especially enjoyed that last bit, as I think we forget that there’s so much to overcome mentally and emotionally.  We really got to see how being homeless affected George’s self-esteem and his sense of self-worth.

George was a bit of an oddball hero for me.  We meet him when he’s so very damaged, and he came across quite meek a lot of the time.  Sometimes I just had a hard time getting a read on his personality outside of his damage, if that makes sense.

Amy, on the other hand, was very straightforward!  I loved how strong she was in so many things, how she wouldn’t give up on George no matter how many roadblocks he tried to put between them.  And I liked that when they would have disagreements, she never held onto a grudge, and she was quick to try to see things from his perspective and adjust her expectations.  But at the same time, she wasn’t afraid to push him a bit.  I also appreciated that she had her own bit of damage, but that she was a bit further along the healing path…not healed, but with more mental tools I guess.

All in all this was a sweet love story, with a very satisfying ending.  I was a bit bummed that there wasn’t more to the “It’s a Wonderful Life” bit that is mentioned in the blurb, but there was enough else in the story to make up for it.

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The Perfect Couple by Ginger Scott

Blurb:
36442861The perfect couple.

Nicole Laramie and Chase Pennington would forever be called that in their home town of Rider Springs. Chase’s grandmother, Evelyn, thought her neighbors’ only daughter and her grandson were made for each other ever since the two of them were kids.

When Chase climbed a tree, Nicole climbed it higher.
When Nicole fell from her ten-speed and skinned her knee, Chase carried her home.
And when Chase took the field for Little League, Nicole cheered the loudest.

Inseparable.

Until they were strangers.

While Chase climbed the social ladder in high school, Nicole climbed the academic one. Two best friends became enemies. And when the senior class voted them MOST PERFECT COUPLE in the yearbook, it was meant as a joke.

Only Evelyn, she never thought it was funny. She thought it was fate. And she was willing to wait 10 years just to prove she was right.

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

This was surprisingly satisfying for a novella!  I’m always on the fence about standalone novellas for exactly that reason, usually they’re too short to really get you invested in the characters or to feel like you have a complete plot.  I love them for bonuses on series though.  This is a complete standalone however, and I ended it with a smile on my face.

I will say that the blurb is a bit misleading…we didn’t get to see the childhood friendship that’s described there.  Some of it, yes, but Chase and Nicole seem to have had a bit of an unusual childhood friendship.  I did love the flip through the photo album though, to fill in a few of those gaps.  To be honest, I forgot what this story was supposed to be about, so I kind of forgot they were childhood best friends until at least a third of the way through the story.

I was completely sucked in, and while I hadn’t intended to read it all last night when I started it after midnight, I found I couldn’t stop once I’d started.  I was sucked in by the interactions between our characters.  They both felt very real, and like people I would enjoy hanging out with.  Nicole was harder to pin down at first, b/c she’s described as very awkward, and I almost got the mistaken impression that perhaps she was on the autism spectrum.  But no, just socially awkward.

I loved the way Chase took care of Nicole when she was sick, and while the date kind of came out of nowhere for me, I did enjoy how the relationship developed into more.  And while I really felt Chase’s remorse in his POV, I wouldn’t have minded a more frank apology to Nicole for the way he behaved (though I might be misremembering).

And strangely enough, while the ending came a bit quick, I loved how unconventional it was!  Showed strength of character by both of them.  Would love to see an epilogue short story with these two!

 

Chance of a Lifetime by Marissa Clarke

Blurb:
26136108Sometimes the biggest risk is playing it safe…

Gen Richards is tired of living down to her family’s expectation of the helpless blind girl. Resurrecting her high-school bucket list that begins with “kiss a total stranger” seems just the thing until she finds herself in a panty-melting lip lock with her big brother’s best friend.

Chance Anderson thrives on adrenaline, but Genny’s the one risk he’s not willing to take. His recklessness a decade ago landed her in the hospital and ejected him from her life. He’s bad for her and everyone knows it—especially her big brother.

Chance reluctantly helps Gen complete her bucket list in order to keep her out of trouble. Running through a freezing fountain, playing Spin the Bottle while fending off a mad horde of stinging insects, and skinny dipping with homicidal attack swans don’t hold a candle to the real danger: falling for the one person he can never have.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — SQUEEEEEE!!!!  This was totally my kind of book!!!  I loved the characters, I loved the chemistry, I loved the steaminess!!  It just totally worked for me.

I actually put it higher on the reading queue b/c it fit for a Diversity Challenge theme this month, and I absolutely LOVED what Gen being blind added to the story.  It felt really authentic, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Ms. Clarke managed that…  I was just so immersed!  All the descriptions of sounds and smells and the feeling of things just really added to the authenticity.  AND OMG I grew frustrated not being able to “see” things that were happening when we were in her POV!  Isn’t that crazy??  There was this one scene at the beach house where they walk into a discussion between Chance’s brothers and Claire, and I just wanted to see their body language and facial expressions!  It felt like it really gave me great insight into the life of a blind person…at least, to a certain extent.  So well done on the diversity front.

As I said, I loved both characters, and I loved the growth I saw with each of them throughout the story, but especially at the end.  I appreciated each perspective on how the climax would play out, but I also appreciated what they wanted from the other…and that they each found their way to the middle and each other.  I love it when a book really satisfies that for me.

I loved Gen’s sassiness and sense of adventure, and I really appreciated her journey.  But the star for me was Chance.  I loved his caring nature, and how much empathy he had.

I loved the two of them together most of all though!  They were fun and sassy and the banter was great!  I loved the way they loved each other, and how that love persisted through time and heartache.  And their chemistry was fantastic!!  Like, I can’t tell you the number of times I got huge tummy tingles!!

Honestly, the only part that has me not going full 5 is the resolution with Walter.  Walter felt almost borderline emotionally abusive, and either he should have been toned down, or there should have been more there…because that all was not cool.

So yeah.  I devoured it.  It was good stuff.  Definitely recommend!

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Nailed It by Cindi Madsen

Blurb:
36320335I’m Ivy Clarke. Bartender, best friend, and disbeliever in love.
And now I’m in over my head, trying to flip a house all by myself.
Thanks, HGTV.
I’m not too proud to admit I need some help. Too bad the only one who can help me is the same man I want to throw out this house’s second-story window.
Jackson Gamble and I can’t be in the same room together for more than a minute without devolving into a sparring match.
Except for that one time…
But enough about that. Jackson’s looking for forever, and I don’t believe in love, remember?
Get in. Renovate. Get out. Keep my heart firmly in tact.
Because it’s much easier to fix up a house than a broken heart.

Full of humor and dripping with delicious tension, Nailed It proves that every heart can be ready for a little rehabilitation, if only you’re willing to open it up.

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

Well bummer.  This one just didn’t grab me.  I didn’t dislike it, but it was solidly meh for me.  Since this book was entirely from Ivy’s POV, I found I didn’t have as much to go on for Jackson.  What I saw of him I definitely liked, but I have a feeling that I would have loved him even more if I’d had more time with him, or could have seen inside his head.

So really, all I had to go on was Ivy.  And Ivy was NOT my kind of girl.  I think I was supposed to empathize with her past and how that shaped her into the commitment-phobe she’d become.  And it worked to a point, my heart did actually break for the childhood she had, and the way her mother treated her, and how those experiences shaped her.  And if I’d seen some growth and change along the way, I might have tolerated it more.  But I just didn’t buy hers.  I don’t know why.  Honestly, it’s one of those things you just feel from reading, but can’t explain why you didn’t connect.  It’s like…I just couldn’t connect with Ivy along the story.  And when we got to the end, it felt a bit more about-face-like instead of a slow journey.  I think it’s because she clung so hard to her beliefs.  And I just got tired of it.

Along those same lines, this book became a bit repetitive at times…or at least it felt that way to me.  I felt like she would bring up the same incidences from her childhood to explain her relationship aversion.  Honestly, I wanted to start skimming just to see when she would finally figure things out.  I think I’m just not a patient reader.  Especially when I find myself unable to fully empathize with a character.

The other little thing that tweaked me that I wasn’t expecting was the level of steaminess…or something.  I don’t know how to categorize this.  See, I’ll read sweet/clean completely fade to black stories.  And I’ll read erotica.  But I don’t think I’ve read this Entangled imprint before, and this story was somewhere in between.  Like I’d get the early sexy times part, but then when we got to the act it would just be glossed over.  And not to sound like a sex-starved idiot, but it felt like a tease, because I honestly felt like it was going the more detailed way, and then just when we’d get to that part, blah blah blah, generic glossover, done.  Seriously, this is the stupidest thing to complain about, but it just caught me off guard.  There’s nothing wrong with it whatsoever, it’s just not my personal favourite.  Or else I was just in a mood.  Who knows with me.

OK, I feel like all I’ve done is complain.  In general I really enjoyed the bantering and snarkiness between Ivy and Jackson…  Sometimes it felt a bit more hostile than I was comfortable with, but other times it hit that tone just right where I was laughing my butt off, and I could really feel the chemistry between them.  I also really enjoyed the relationship that Ivy had with Savannah, and how their friendship played a role.  And again, what I saw of Jackson I really adored.  I LOVED how he stuck by her, and waited out her stubbornness, and how he saw her…both her flaws and her strengths.

So yeah.  Like I said, it wasn’t a terrible book.  I just didn’t connect with it like I’d been hoping to.  Ah well, not every book is going to be a match.

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Bountiful by Sarina Bowen

Blurb:
34099086No last names. No life stories. Those were the rules.

Once upon a time a cocky, copper-haired tourist sauntered into Zara’s bar. And even though she knew better, Zara indulged in a cure for the small-town blues. It was supposed to be an uncomplicated fling—a few sizzling weeks before he went back to his life, and she moved on.

Until an accidental pregnancy changed her life.

Two years later, she’s made peace with the notion that Dave No-Last-Name will never be found. Until one summer day when he walks into her coffee shop, leveling her with the same hot smile that always renders her defenseless.

Dave Beringer has never forgotten the intense month he spent with prickly Zara. Their nights together were the first true intimacy he’d ever experienced. But the discovery of his child is the shock of a lifetime, and his ugly past puts relationships and family out of reach.

Or does it? Vermont’s countryside has a way of nurturing even tortured souls. The fields and the orchards—and hard won love—are Bountiful.

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

OMG!!  I am in love with Dave Beringer!!  I mean, like, “go to Brooklyn and look for Gingers in the hopes that one is the fictional Dave Beringer” kind of love.  Because I did that.  Today.  I have no shame.

I have not read the previous 3 books in the True North series (though it will be happening soon, I just ran out of time), but I have read the Brooklyn Bruisers books, and so I had an in on that side of things.  And this book just made me want to read the rest of the True North series even more!  Though I honestly don’t know how Ms. Bowen can top this story.  Like, it was f-ing sexy, and funny, and heartwarming, and none of the characters pissed me off (because there was potential, but it didn’t go that way), and even though I read this over a week (which is unheard of) because I am on vacation, so I had to sneak in reading time whenever I could, I still fell in love with it.  Honestly, it just makes me excited for when I reread it and truly devour it from cover to cover.  Probably when I read the rest of the series, b/c I’ll no doubt have a different perspective on Zara.

Zara was her own special brand of stubborn, and feisty, and damaged.  I really enjoyed having a heroine who is really in touch with her own sexuality, but isn’t necessarily comfortable with it…it was a weird dichotomy.  Like, she was interested in sex from a young age, but she was also branded as a slut because of it, so she wasn’t self-accepting, you know?  She just kind of believed the things that people judged her for.  It was kind of heartbreaking.  But I kind of loved it.  Because you know in so many romance novels there’s a girl that gets slut-shamed…  Zara might have been that girl, you know?  So it shows that side of the coin.  But her story was so much more.  She was a product of how she was raised, and she really didn’t have a lot of direction in life.  It was interesting to see the changes that becoming a mother wrought in her, but at the same time she still had a lot of healing to do.

And Dave.  *swoon*  Like, I don’t even know why he does it for me so much.  Maybe because he’s just so unapologetic.  Like he said at one point, he’s a bit slow to learn and grow, but he’s not a dick.  He had his own damage to get past, and I enjoyed that his bachelor ways had a…reason, I guess.  I loved (in a tore my heart out way) learning bits and pieces of his tragic childhood, and how that shaped him.  I loved his relationship with his sister.  Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded a more clear resolution with his past…but I might have missed something because I had to intersperse my reading.  Did he ever tell Zara about his past?  I can’t remember.  ANYWAYS.  I have a soft spot for Gingers (sssshhhh, don’t tell my hubby), and holy *bleep* was his bossy take charge attitude in the bedroom sexy as *bleep*.  Like *fans face*.  AND then there were all the times he grinned during sex.  I can’t even, you guys…like can’t even.

There was just something about the way Dave and Zara fit together that had me on board right from the start.  I LOVED the “past” section.  I fell in love really soon.  And I LOVED the way the present played out, from the start right to the very end.  I loved the secondary characters (and I’ll probably like some of them even more when I get to read their stories).  Basically it was just all sorts of goodness (with a few minor things I was confused on, but again…could be just me — like the car thing).

Anyways.  I want a Dave.  Someone get on that stat.  Thanks in advance.

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Cocky Bastard by Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland

Blurb:
26111248He was someone who belonged in my wildest fantasies instead of a rest stop in the middle of Nebraska.

A sexy, cocky, Australian named Chance was the last person I expected to run into on my cross-country drive.

When my car broke down, we made a deal. Next thing I knew, we were traveling together, spending sexually-tense nights in hotels and taking unplanned detours.

My ordinary road trip turned into the adventure of a lifetime. It was all fun and games until things got intense.

I wanted him, but Chance wouldn’t make a move. I thought he wanted me too, but something was holding him back.

I wasn’t supposed to fall for the cocky bastard, especially when I knew we’d be going our separate ways.

All good things must come to an end, right?

Except our ending was one I didn’t see coming.

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My Review:
4 stars — YAYYYYY!!!  After reading my first Vi Keeland novel and being underwhelmed, I was a bit concerned about trying more.  But I’d heard so many good things about her more recent novels, and also about these books that she and Penelope Ward have co-written.  So I tried a sample, and was absolutely hooked!!  This book was everything I was anticipating from these authors, and I was so happy that they worked for me!

This book was happiness and giggle fit inducing!  I fell in love with Chance pretty much right from the start, which honestly surprised the heck out of me!  He was nothing like I was expecting, especially with a book title of Cocky Bastard.  He was this weird mix of a bit of a dick, arrogant, a total smart-ass, cheeky, intuitive, thoughtful, vulnerable, and even sweet.  He just…there was a lot to him.  And I really loved him.  He made me laugh.  He intrigued me.  He kept me guessing.  And in the end he had me rooting for me.

And Aubrey surprised me too!!  I was expecting one thing, with her rigidity and uptightness, but there was a lot to her as well.  I LOVED the way Chance was able to bring her out of her shell.  She was funny, and sassy, and smart, and had such a big heart.

And the two of them together were just gold.  The chemistry was amazing, but what I loved is that the whole part one is them getting to know each other and developing a friendship while wanting more.  I could read part one over and over again and not get tired of it.  I honestly expected one outcome from Las Vegas, but was surprised that it didn’t end up that way.  Yay for not falling into common tropes!!

Part two shocked the crap out of me from the first page.  I DID NOT see that coming.  Like at all.  I LOVED Chance’s persistence, and you really felt how much he cared and how in love he was with Aubrey.  Unfortunately I felt like Aubrey let me down here and there in the second part, mostly just with how long it took.  I both needed it to take long, b/c it validates her feelings, and I desperately wanted things to get moving forward.  I would have appreciated it being tightened up a bit more.  I did appreciate that there were moments where we could have had long drawn out miscommunications, and the authors didn’t go that way either.  THANK YOU.  I get so tired of that.

Pixy/Esmeralda Snowflake/Mutton totally stole the show.  I loved the bonds that both Aubrey and Chance developed with her.

So yeah, I’m all aboard the fan train now.  Definitely will be checking out more of the books co-written by this duo.  It was a great mix of fun/crazy with depth/seriousness.  And a very satisfying ending.  Excuse me while I happy dance.

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Nova by Rebecca Yarros

Blurb:
32057669He’s got one shot to make it right…

He’s Landon Rhodes.
The Renegade they call Nova.
Sinfully gorgeous, broody, tatted-up, professional snowboarder.

They say a girl broke him once–
That’s why he’s so reckless, so driven, so careless with his conquests.
But I’m that girl.
They can call me his curse all they want.
He and I both know the truth–
He’s the one who destroyed me,
And I’m too smart to let that happen again.

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My Review:
4 stars — So I held out on reading this book when it was released, partly because I had a lot going on at the time, and partly because I kind of wanted to wait for Rebel and read it at once.  And now of course I’m going to be late for my Rebel review date tomorrow, but alas…maybe we can pretend I live in another time zone?

All that to say that I kind of rushed through reading this book, and after just rereading my review for Wilder, I seemed to run into a few similar problems.  I had a hard time concentrating on it.  There were parts that obviously sucked me in and wouldn’t put me down, but there were other parts where I wanted to skim and get moving quickly.  So I will say that I felt like this book had a few pacing problems at times.  It was like this great book that could have been even more awesome if it was a bit more condensed.  BUT!  I will say that I’m not a huge fan of LOTS of angst, and quite of few of those moments I wanted to rush through involved feelings and…well…angst.  I kind of hate that word.  It’s NOT a bad thing, it’s just a lot of intense emotions and heartbreak and hurt and sometimes it’s more than this little reader can handle.

DESPITE all that, I really loved both Rachel and Landon.  I wasn’t sure I would.  The circumstances surrounding their original relationship were NOT what I would call ideal…in fact, they venture into the territory of cheating, which is usually a no-go for Lenore.  But perhaps because I didn’t have to see it happening, or perhaps because of the explanations that surrounded it, and the GENUINE remorse and regret for cheating/lying that was felt by both Landon and Rachel, I was able to see past it and still fall for them as a couple.  I’m not sure if it will work for everyone, but I think it will surprise many people who have similar hang-ups to me.

I LOVED Rachel’s sassy strong attitude, and I enjoyed that we got to feel her hurt appropriately.  There were no easy solutions in how she continued to deal with her heartbreak.  I both loved and hated how long it took.  Loved it because it could be realistic.  Hated it because it could get a bit tiring to read about the back and forth, I just wanted things to move forward.  I’m kind of an impatient reader.  But I ADORED that she was an extreme sports type girl herself and fit in with the adrenaline-fueled Renegades.  And I really loved her side story about her adoption.  It wasn’t a huge storyline, but it did have a pretty big impact at times.  I appreciated that we got a diverse heroine as well, but I didn’t really feel like the fact she was Korean came into play at all in her experiences growing up or anything (so diversity-wise, it existed but wasn’t explored).

Landon surprised the crap out of me.  Seriously.  I expected to have a hard time with his man-whoring ways.  Or with whatever happened between them.  I mean, he betrayed his best friend.  But maybe it’s because so much of that happened in the past, but I just ended up giving my heart to him.  I 100% felt his vulnerability, and brokenness, and just how lost he was.  He was so easy to love, even when it turned out he was still making mistakes right to the last quarter.  I LOVED the way he fought for Rachel, and how once he was given that glimpse of her in his life again, he help on like a barnacle and wouldn’t let go.  He just made me feel SO MUCH MORE than I was expecting.

And can I just say that the sports aspect of these stories is top notch?  Well, the sports and the whole traveling the world on a ship thing.  I ADORED being immersed in that experience, and I now want to research world cruises.  I don’t want to try extreme sports, and my heart probably couldn’t take even watching it, but damn did Ms. Yarros just pull you right in and get your heart pumping.  And I’m still loving all of the secondary characters, and my heart aches for Penna.  I cannot wait to start her story next, I’m going upstairs to do that right now!!

So despite my problems with pacing here and there, this was still a very powerful love story with lots of emotions and characters that I loved.  It will be hard to let go of them when this series ends.

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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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