Book Review: Must Love Cowboys by Cheryl Brooks

Must Love Cowboys by Cheryl Brooks
Must Love Cowboys by Cheryl Brooks
Rating: 2stars
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I had a lot of trouble finishing this book. If I hadn’t read the previous books in the series, I probably would have abandoned this and not finished. But since I had read the others and liked them, I figured I’d stick with this one. I finished it, but didn’t love it at all.

Tina is an IT specialist who travels to the Circle Bar K ranch in Wyoming after her grandfather dies. She’s there to meet her grandfather’s good friend and deliver some personal items to him. Even though Tina works in IT, she’s a whiz in the kitchen and really derives joy from cooking. She’s super shy, introverted, and a virgin. She’s always had a thing for firefighters, not cowboys, but that changes when she meets Wyatt, who works on the ranch.

Coincidentally, Wyatt is not just a cowboy, but also a former firefighter. I’m not sure why this detail was included (other than to relate to Tina’s fantasies), because not very much is said about his firefighting days. Wyatt has a traumatic past and that drama just seemed really unnecessary to me.

At first, Tina hooks up with one of the other ranch hands–not Wyatt–but she doesn’t have sex with him. Then things change and she stops seeing the other guy and immediately hooks up with Wyatt and does have sex with him. Now, I don’t always mind when the plot moves along quickly, but this whole book takes place over the course of a week or so, if I’m remembering correctly. That’s just insane! Declarations of love and marriage proposals after a few days? Really?

Not to mention how quickly Tina’s sex life moves along. A week ago, she was a shy virgin, but once she meets Wyatt, it’s a sexual free-for-all, basically. I’m not buying it.

I’m bummed writing this review because I really liked the first book in the series, Cowboy Heaven. That one was SO raunchy and blatantly over-the-top. It was complete smutty fun. The other one, Cowboy Delight (book 0.5, a novella), was okay too even though I didn’t love it. Must Love Cowboys, though, is definitely missing that fun, crazy vibe of the first book. There’s a mystery subplot that was so random to me and I honestly didn’t care about the resolution.

I had been looking forward to reading this book, but I was disappointed by it and truly had trouble finishing. I recommend books 1 and 0.5 in the series, but unfortunately not this one.

Book Review: Off Limits by Kelly Jamieson

Off Limits by Kelly Jamieson

Off Limits by Kelly Jamieson
Rating: 2stars
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Off Limits is a holiday novella in the Aces Hockey series. Goodreads lists it as #1.5 in the series. I haven’t read book #1 and had no trouble following the storyline, so it’s safe to say that this can be read as a standalone. The couple from the first book makes just a brief appearance in this story.

When the book opens, it’s the holidays and Jenna is bringing her boyfriend home to meet her parents and two brothers. I was a little puzzled by Jenna’s relationship with her boyfriend. Neither of them seemed terribly committed to each other. And even though she’s excited to see her family, Jenna is most excited to see Andrew again.

Andrew’s a hockey player with the NHL now, but life hasn’t always been great for him. He had a rough life with his biological parents, so Jenna’s parents took him in when Andrew was a teenager. So, he’s technically not Jenna’s brother, but he’s best friends with her actual brothers, so growing up he was kind of like a brother, but not, because Jenna’s always had a crush on Andrew. And there was that one weekend in college that Jenna and Andrew spent together, some years ago…

Needless to say, there’s sexual tension galore between Jenna and Andrew. I liked their easy camaraderie. What I didn’t fully understand is why they both think that they can’t pursue a relationship because it would be forbidden somehow. As I said, they knew each other growing up, but they’re not related and it wasn’t clear to me whether Jenna’s parents officially adopted Andrew, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t. Also, the blurb says that Jenna’s dad and brothers wouldn’t approve of the relationship, but I beg to differ. Everyone in Jenna’s family, especially her parents, has a really close relationship with Andrew. Someone even mentioned that he was “Saint Andrew” growing up because he never wanted to disappoint them.

There’s low angst in this story. Jenna’s boyfriend isn’t in the picture for very long, which enables Jenna and Andrew to pursue the thing they’ve been running from for years.

For a book that has a hockey player hero, there’s very little actual hockey in the story, which was fine with me. I read sports romances, but my eyes always glaze over when there’s literal play-by-play descriptions of the sports action.

While the book is fine, I kept feeling that something was missing. I loved the interactions between Jenna, her parents, and her brothers. I think there could have been more banter and lighthearted moments. Also, while I understand the need to introduce additional characters in order to set up the next book in the series, this type of epilogue took something away from the resolution of Jenna and Andrew’s story.

In summary, I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to want to read the rest of the series.

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review. I’m slowly working through my NetGalley backlog and this book has since been published. My review is for the published version of the book, specifically the audio edition.

Book Review: Evening Storm by Anne Calhoun

Evening Storm by Anne CalhounEvening Storm by Anne Calhoun
Rating: 2stars
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I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, Anne Calhoun is one of my favorite authors and I adore her writing style. On the other hand, I didn’t connect with this particular story the way that I’ve connected with her other books.

Ryan Hamilton is a hotshot Wall Street investment banker. He’s hugely successful, but he has also just discovered that his firm is involved in the largest Ponzi scheme in decades. Ryan is working with the FBI to obtain enough evidence to take down the firm.

Meanwhile, Simone Demarchelier owns and runs an upscale lingerie boutique, Irresistible. She prides herself on creating exquisite pieces that not only pamper women, but also give them confidence. When Ryan comes into her shop one day with a supermodel on his arm, she’s taken by his presence, but recognizes that she must stay at a distance since he’s clearly with someone.

Here’s where the story just didn’t work for me. So, Ryan is seeing this supermodel, but it’s a casual thing–basically just sex. However, Ryan goes back to Simone and tells her about his sexual encounter with the model. And later in the story, after he hooks up with a famous actress, he goes to Simone and tells her about that encounter as well.

I have so many issues with this. Despite the characters’ reasoning that Ryan was really fixated on Simone the whole time, I just couldn’t accept the fact that he’s with other women for 80% of the book before he and the heroine even get together. That really bothered me. Yes, the circumstances are special because of Ryan’s involvement with the FBI, so he has to keep up appearances by not altering his existing lifestyle. But I just really didn’t enjoy reading about him being with women other than Simone.

So when Ryan and Simone finally do get together, it was a bit too late for me. I was glad that they get their happily ever after, but I wasn’t invested in the relationship because of the events that led up to it.

Having said all that, the writing itself really is beautiful. As I mentioned, Calhoun is one of my favorite authors. Even though I didn’t connect with these particular characters and this story, I can’t deny the quality of the writing itself. But unfortunately, this isn’t one of my favorites by her, so I hesitate to recommend it.

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Forward Pass by Desiree Holt

Forward Pass by Desiree HoltForward Pass by Desiree Holt
Rating: 2stars
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So…I had issues with this book.

It started out okay. The writing style is not my favorite, but despite this I stuck with it. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had abandoned this midway because that’s when the story took a downward turn for me.

The story is about Joe Reilly, a retired NFL star who’s now a sports commentator and a low-key philanthropist. Shay Beckham is a graphic designer who’s the younger sister of Joe’s best friend. Shay has had a crush on Joe her whole life, but he has always treated her like his buddy’s bratty little sister and nothing more. When they meet again as adults, they have a strong physical attraction and it’s clear that things will turn romantic between them.

Going back to the writing, I found it very repetitive. Given the amount and variety of romance I read, it’s basically impossible to shock me at this point. Regardless, I had trouble with the fact that the hero of this book has a persistent erection whenever the heroine is around. Seriously. In private, in public, it doesn’t matter where. This book could have been called The Constant Boner because the hero talks about it ALL the time. I lost count of the total number of his erections but I feel like it was clearly past a dozen by the time the book was over.

Also, it’s obvious that Joe used to be quite a womanizer in previous years, but despite the fact that he has changed his ways, Shay is always reminding him of his past. Okay, so Joe used to party a lot, mess around, and not take his life very seriously. But even though he has changed, she keeps reminding him of what a screwup he used to be. It speaks to her low self-esteem that she is always harping on his “women” and “harem” that don’t actually exist in the present.

Even though the characters know each other from childhood, when they get together the relationship gets serious very quickly–complete with declarations of forever and a marriage proposal and all. I would have been content with a Happy for Now because the way events unfold seems quite rushed.

Lastly, I must mention a sex scene that struck me as super out of place because it seems so random in the context of this book. It involves a toe. I’ll just…leave that there.

I was hoping I’d like this book, but unfortunately I obviously didn’t enjoy it and would not recommend it.

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Hard Ride by Opal Carew

Hard Ride by Opal CarewHard Ride by Opal Carew
Rating: 2stars
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A+ for that cover. That’s an awesome cover.

I wanted to like this book, but unfortunately there are several things that didn’t work for me. I read and enjoyed the previous book in the series, Riding Steele, but Hard Ride seemed disjointed to me.

The basic plot is that Liv needs money to help her sick sister, so she enters into a contract with Shock that she’ll be his sex slave for a month.

Okay, what? Let me back up.

Liv knew Shock in college (back when he was called Devin) and they had a close relationship, but it didn’t go beyond friendship even though they both wanted it to. But Liv pushed him away, for reasons that become clear later. When Liv and Devin (who now goes by Shock, his ride name) meet again, she asks him for money and he agrees to help her out–on the sex slave condition. Seriously, he has his lawyers draw up a contract and everything.

At this point, I feel like I’m reading a surprise billionaire Dom book, rather than a biker book. In general, I don’t like billionaire Doms. So you can see why I had trouble there. But really, what kind of friend is he? She’s clearly desperate for money, but she doesn’t tell him that it’s for her sister. He agrees to help her, but uses it for his own sexual gain. That’s…not a good friend.

Even though he’s living as a biker, Shock is very wealthy. His family lost their wealth after a scandal, but after that, he went off and made his own fortune. Even still, he chose to walk away from the business world in order to join the other bikers. (He still owns his company, but obviously doesn’t run the daily operations since he’s always on the road.)

Meanwhile, Liv has an extremely painful past that she explains to Shock and which also reveals why she pulled away from him emotionally back in college. When Shock learns this, he’s incredibly sweet and supportive. He even offers to tear up the contract. But Liv has this duty-bound thing where she insists on fulfilling the contract.

So, they go forward with the sexual relationship, but it just didn’t feel natural to me, considering Liv’s past. Additionally, I found it really tough to like her as a character because she withholds communication from Shock throughout the book. He asks her why she’s upset, but she’ll lie to save face and say she’s fine. That drives me crazy. I wish characters would talk to each other! You can have conflict in other ways, but let the characters be honest with each other.

There’s also the matter of how the bikers share their women. Even though Liv has a traumatic past, she basically is open to being shared amongst all the men in the group. I had a really hard time believing that she would be so willing, certainly not this soon.

Lastly, there’s this other odd subplot where Liv finds out that Shock may or may not actually be married. It’s explained away and dismissed so quickly that I didn’t understand why it was included in the story to begin with.

I was disappointed with this book because I liked the previous one, but I will probably read the next in the series anyway. I like the ensemble of characters and would like to see how the rest of their stories turn out, but this is one that I wouldn’t recommend.

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Hot Alphas by Lora Leigh, Laurelin McGee, Shiloh Walker, Kate Douglas

Hot Alphas
Hot Alphas by Lora Leigh, Laurelin McGee, Shiloh Walker, Kate Douglas
Overall Rating: 2stars
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For something called Hot Alphas with that cover, I feel robbed! This compilation did not quite deliver. My actual overall rating is more like 2.75 stars, but I rounded down because I really didn’t like the book much.

Erin’s Kiss by Lora Leigh
Rating: 2stars
This story didn’t leave much of an impression on me. There are a lot of covert ops going on and I felt like I joined the story in the middle of the action. Apparently, this is part of an ongoing series, which explains my confusion at the ending. The romance portion was resolved, but there’s an obvious To Be Continued that didn’t make sense for me since I haven’t read the series.

Other than that, I thought that the story itself was fine. It’s pretty suspenseful but I didn’t see enough character development to get emotionally invested in the couple.

misTaken by Laurelin McGee
Rating: 2stars
I had so many issues with this story. There are some big, unnecessary misunderstandings between the hero and heroine resulting from poor communication. I wanted the characters to just talk already and stop dancing around each other.

Jaylene is an ardent feminist but when she hooks up with Noah, she suddenly realizes she’s sexually submissive–even though she’s never had an inkling of that in the past. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I didn’t find it believable. Also, she’s constantly going on rants about how romance novels subvert the feminist cause. I liked how she eventually changed her view on this subject, but her judgmental stance for the majority of the book was off putting for me. She comes across like a parody of a strong feminist, rather than a believable one.

Also, I didn’t see what was so magnetic about Noah. He’s not a repulsive character, but I just found him sort of ordinary and I didn’t get a real alpha vibe from him. So, I didn’t understand what specifically about him makes Jaylene want to be submissive all of a sudden (other than him being into it).

In addition, there’s a bit of mystery surrounding Noah’s occupation because he constantly evades the issue, even when Jaylene asks him directly. So when his job is finally revealed, I had figured it out already and really thought that she should have guessed much sooner, too.

Something I did appreciate is that Jaylene is Asian. The majority of heroines in contemporary romance tend not to be women of color, so I’m glad to see diverse characters (and not just in supporting roles).

Burn for Me by Shiloh Walker
Rating: 4stars
Finally, 3/4 of the way through this compilation and I found a story that I enjoyed! Let me get this out of the way first and say that the hero, Tate, didn’t strike me as much of an alpha. I liked his character all the same, though. This was my first time reading Shiloh Walker and I enjoyed her writing style. Burn for Me is a love story at its core but it’s also got some complex family issues, too.

First, the romance: Ali’s a waitress and single mom who’s been seeing Tate, a mechanic and metalwork artist, for three years. They’ve had a casual, friends with benefits relationship, but Ali wants more.

But Tate has issues, especially with letting go. Fifteen years ago, Tate’s parents had a horrible fight and his mom stormed out of the house, never to be seen again. Tate has spent the past decade and a half thinking that his father had something to do with his mother’s disappearance, despite his father’s denials. As a result, Tate has been estranged from his father and has spent all those years with a sense of self-loathing and fear, believing that he’ll only hurt Ali in the end.

The story is equal parts romance and family drama. Tate has to figure out how to make himself a better person for Ali and that can’t happen until he confronts his past. In turn, Ali is a strong character who isn’t afraid to lay down an ultimatum rather than be strung along for another couple of years.

Both the romance and family issues are resolved by the end of the story, which has a satisfying conclusion. Additionally, several supporting characters are introduced in this book, so now I’m curious to see if they’ll get their own books.

Tangled by Kate Douglas
Rating: 3stars
Well, this final story is a mixed bag for me. I didn’t expect it to be as suspenseful as it is, so I liked those parts; but the speed at which the characters fall in love doesn’t seem realistic at all. If you like insta-love, you’ll love this because Cassie and Nate fall for each other the day that they meet.

Cassie is a winemaker and Nate is the new vineyard manager. Originally, Cassie’s father owned the vineyard but after some bad business decisions, he lost the vineyard, which was then bought by a new owner. Cassie kept her job, but her father was diagnosed with dementia and he moved into an assisted living facility.

In addition to the vineyard dealings, there’s a suspenseful subplot involving Cassie’s dad and a mysterious briefcase. When he was younger, he worked for the Secret Service but was forced to retire early after uncovering some unsavory information. So while Cassie and Nate are falling in love, there’s an outside danger threatening the vineyard and the lives of everyone involved.

I think I would have enjoyed the story more as a longer novel since the characters could have been developed more fully. Despite the fact that they fall in love so quickly, I liked the main characters. And Cassie’s interactions with her dad are really heartfelt. But I think that the plot’s wrapped up too quickly and easily.

To summarize, I didn’t love this compilation as a whole. The story by Shiloh Walker was my favorite, but I found the Lora Leigh story in particular to be quite forgettable. And for a compilation, the stories aren’t very cohesive. Thinking back, only one of the main characters strikes me as an alpha and the other characters just seem like ordinary guys. I kept hoping that the stories would get more enjoyable, but unfortunately they just left me feeling lukewarm about the book once I finished.

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review.