Book Review: Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Rating: 3stars
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This would have been a 4- or 5-star review if the story had ended halfway through. But then the plot took a huge twist, so it’s a 3-star review from me.

Graham is an arrogant jerk. He’s also a successful businessman. When he takes the subway one morning, he accidentally leaves behind his phone, which is found by Soraya. Soraya has a fiery, feisty, tell-it-like-it-is personality. I liked her character a lot (more so in the beginning of the book).

Soraya pokes around Graham’s phone to try to figure out who he is so that she can return his phone to him. She eventually ends up at his fancy office building. Via the intercom on his receptionist’s desk, Graham refuses to come out and see Soraya because she doesn’t have an appointment, he doesn’t know who she is, he’s soooo busy, and as I mentioned, he’s a huge jerk. As revenge, Soraya takes a few sexy pics of herself with his phone and adds herself to his contacts under the name, “You’re Welcome, Asshole,” and leaves the phone with his receptionist. When Graham discovers what she’s done, he’s intrigued. Soon, he and Soraya have a flirtatious exchange going via text and phone.

I loved this first part of the book. There’s a lot of sexual tension before they officially meet and their banter is really funny. But aside from the comedy, there are some tender moments, too. We get to see Graham’s softer side whenever his grandmother is around. Likewise, Soraya’s not as tough as she always seems. She’s sensitive when it comes to family issues because her dad didn’t do the greatest job of being available when she was growing up. I loved seeing these facets of Graham’s and Soraya’s personalities.

I think I would have been happy if the book had ended at 50%. Unfortunately, there’s a doozy of a plot twist in the second half of the book involving Graham’s past and some serious drama. This part of the story was so frustrating to read. I will say, though, that the authors did a fabulous job of making Graham’s ex a conniving character who I had no trouble hating. But I really wish that the book had focused more on Graham and Soraya, rather than becoming this love triangle with huge complications plot. Also, I thought that the resolution at the end, along with the epilogue, wrapped things up a little too easily.

I wish the plot summary would have been a bit more descriptive because I doubt I would have read this if I had known ahead of time that there would be crazy drama. Nevertheless, I was glad that everything worked out in the end, so I’ll say that I still enjoyed the book, but I have mixed feelings about recommending it.

Book Review: In His Corner by Vina Arno

In His Corner by Vina Arno

In His Corner by Vina Arno
Rating: 3stars
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They call him “The Juggernaut.”

At age 22, Tommy Raines is an Olympic gold-winning middleweight boxer. He’s got a promising career ahead of him and has sworn off women while he focuses on his training and preparations for turning pro.

Then he meets Dr. Siena Carr.

When Tommy walks into Siena’s emergency room in need of stitches, the physical attraction between them is strong. But they are the epitome of opposites attract. Siena is a 26-year-old ER physician with a blue blood upbringing. Her family owns three houses and frequently vacations in the Hamptons. Siena’s crowd consists of other successful doctors, of the same Ivy League caliber as herself.

Conversely, Tommy’s upbringing was the definition of working class. His father was a former Marine who taught him how to box when Tommy was just a young child. His dad would walk out on the family when Tommy was still a kid, leaving Tommy’s mom to raise him as a single parent. Despite these personal struggles, Tommy has become a successful boxer, making it to the London Olympics and taking home the gold.

She healed people. He knocked them out. They were opposites.

Despite their surface differences, Tommy and Siena pursue a romantic relationship. But it’s not easy for either of them. Although Tommy has an impressive list of accomplishments as a boxer, he feels somewhat unworthy of Siena. She’s cultured, high class, and refined. He refers to his friends as his crew/homies, and he knows nothing about the fancy food/wine/art that Siena’s so familiar with. On top of this, Siena’s ex, a fellow doctor, raises Tommy’s hackles and incites his jealousy, causing him to go a bit caveman and stake his claim on Siena.

A central theme of the book is that both Tommy and Siena feel that the other is trying to change them. Given that they’re such polar opposites, it’s human nature to want to try to please the other person, even if it means stepping outside of their comfort zone and doing things they wouldn’t normally do–whether it’s the way they dress, the way they talk, the places they hang out, the music they listen to, or the movies they watch. But at what cost? Eventually, resentments start to form. Tommy starts to believe that Siena’s too much of a snob to lower herself to his level. In turn, Siena feels that she’s compromising who she is as a doctor and healer because Tommy’s job as a boxer is, by nature, a violent profession. She doesn’t think she can support his career because she’s so uncomfortable with its violence and how it makes her feel.

I know I’m a novelty to you. But I didn’t realize that’s all I am to you.

I love a good opposites attract story. In many ways, Tommy and Siena are star-crossed lovers. They come from such different worlds and backgrounds–but their emotional and physical connection to each other is very real. On paper, it makes no sense for them to be together. The boxer and the doctor: no one saw this coming. Can they find a way to be together? Can they learn to truly negotiate and mesh their lives together? It’s a struggle for sure, but in the end, the reward is sweet. I cheered for Tommy and Siena to figure things out because even though it doesn’t make sense for them to be a couple, it’s clear that they’re both happiest when they’re together.

They were transforming each other. What was love but a continuous tide of change? What mattered was that it made them closer and stronger.

While I read a lot of sports romances, I don’t read many with boxer heroes, so I wasn’t sure if my interest would be held with regard to the boxing details. Surprisingly, I felt quite a bit of suspense during Tommy’s first big fight as a pro. The writing held my interest without being too technical or gory.

Something else that surprised me was how much the characters grew on me during the duration of the book. Initially, Tommy comes across as a bit crass and crude, but over time he becomes endearing and actually very, very sweet. I had trouble warming up to Siena since she’s so uptight, but as she learns to loosen up, I grew to like her a little more. She’s still a bit snobby at the end of the book, but at least she’s more aware of it and hopefully intent on reining in that personality trait.

Overall, I enjoyed In His Corner and recommend it.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Let Them Talk by Susanna Carr

Let Them Talk by Susanna CarrLet Them Talk by Susanna Carr
Overall Rating: 3stars
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Blaze is my favorite line of Harlequin books, along with Cosmo Red-Hot Reads. This is a collection of three novellas linked by friends Sydney, Isabel, and Laura. No longer welcome in their small town book club for choosing books deemed as too risqué, they’ve started the Blacklist Book Club, where they’re free to read the books that have been banned by the stuffy ladies of their town.

***

The Diary
Rating: 4stars

A very fun story about newspaper reporter Sydney, who writes a fake erotic diary about Matthew, the town mayor who she’s been secretly crushing on. Her diary gets lost and winds up in Matthew’s hands. Parts of the story aren’t very plausible and are definitely formulaic, but it’s a fun story nonetheless.

Talk of the Town
Rating: 3stars

This story started out promising, but fizzled for me at the end. Isabel is the town librarian who appears stereotypically prim and proper. But that’s not who she really is. Thanks to the book club’s latest selection, she’s learning to be assertive with her sexuality and she realizes that she shouldn’t be ashamed of that.

Sean works for Isabel’s father. Isabel and Sean have had feelings for each other for years, but haven’t pursued it until recently, when they had a one-night stand. There’s a lot of miscommunication that follows and I think I would have liked this story better as a longer book. The ending seemed rushed.

Craving You
Rating: 3stars

This is a cute friends-to-lovers story. Laura is the town bad girl, of sorts. She doesn’t have a ruined reputation, but people see her as someone who loves to have a good time and doesn’t have much depth. Her best friend and neighbor, Connor, is getting ready to move across town because he’s ready to settle down and find a serious relationship. The two have strong feelings for each other, but they’re both scared to pursue a romantic relationship with each other for separate reasons. As with the previous story, I would have liked this one more as a full-length book just because the short length didn’t allow for much character development.

***

Overall, it’s a good collection of stories. There’s a character, Miss Doris, who’s the town gossip and she appears throughout the book. At first, she’s meddlesome and annoying, but she turns out to be a really funny lady. Also, I would have liked more depth to the actual romances between the various couples. It took me a bit longer to finish this book than I expected it would, but I’ll be reading this author again in the future.

Book Review: Broken Play by Samantha Kane

Broken Play by Samantha KaneBroken Play by Samantha Kane
Rating: 3stars
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Broken Play is the first book in the new Birmingham Rebels series. This book is way more than I bargained for, but overall I still think that it’s a decent read.

*** SPOILERS FOLLOW ***

It’s a spoiler for sure, but I feel like it needs to be disclosed upfront: this book contains not only ménage scenes between three people, but also scenes between multiple partners. Numerous partners, even. I didn’t realize that the book went beyond typical ménage, and I would have liked a heads up prior to reading it. Some readers might be put off by this, so I think it’s important to mention.

Marian Treadwell is the new assistant coach for the Birmingham Rebels, an NFL team made up of misfits and troublemakers. Beau Perez and Cass Zielinski are notorious not just for their athletic skill, but for a sex tape involving a woman and the two of them. When Marian takes the job with the Rebels, she’s well aware of Beau and Cass’s reputation with women and finds herself intrigued by them.

Marian is a good assistant coach, but she has personal demons that become apparent early on. She has suffered a traumatic event of some kind, but it takes her a while to open up about it. Even after it’s obvious that her attraction to Beau and Cass is mutual, they have to earn her trust before she confides in them completely.

Beau and Cass are so different in their personality types. Beau has struggled with substance abuse in the past, but he’s sober now. He’s also incredibly sweet and a good communicator. Cass is more of an alpha male and it’s tough for him to express his emotions. So together, they balance and compliment each other pretty well.

In addition to their attraction to Marian, Beau and Cass realize that they have feelings for each other. So not only is there an m/f/m relationship going on, there’s also an m/m/f one as well. The three of them have to figure out how they’re going to make this unconventional relationship work, especially in light of Beau and Cass’s past–not to mention the fact that Marian is their coach.

If the story had stayed here and tackled these issues, I would have liked the book more. But because it goes further and involves other people in the sexual relationship, it lost some credibility with me. I had trouble believing that Marian would be willing to include people other than Beau and Cass, considering what happened to her in the past. I think that the story would have been stronger if it had focused solely on the three of them.

Having said all this, I enjoyed the book until the 80% mark or so. I still finished it, but the ending lost some steam for me because of the surprise multiple partners aspect. However, I did like the author’s writing style and would read her books again. So, I recommend this book, but with the caveat that readers should be aware that it’s not solely a ménage (threesome) story and some people might not like that big surprise.

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

Book Review: All Wound Up by Jaci Burton

All Wound Up by Jaci BurtonAll Wound Up by Jaci Burton
Rating: 3stars
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Note: This is book #10 in the Play-by-Play series. I’ve read several books in the series, but not all of them (yet). Characters from previous books make appearances in this latest one, so that’s something to be aware of if you’re a stickler for reading a series in order. Regardless, All Wound Up can be read and enjoyed as a standalone.

The book opens with a simultaneously comical and painful scene. Tucker Cassidy, major league pitcher for the St. Louis Rivers, has just had an unfortunate run-in with his now ex-girlfriend’s knee. She was a huge clinger and he couldn’t take it anymore, so he broke up with her. As Tucker is attempting to recover from his injury, Dr. Aubry Ross stumbles onto him and immediately goes into patient care mode.

What happens next is kind of outlandish but pretty funny, too. Aubry, an ER physician, examines Tucker to make sure he doesn’t have any serious injuries. He doesn’t, so she sends him on his merry way. Over the following weeks, Tucker repeatedly injures himself–not on purpose–ending up in Aubry’s ER every time. At first, she doesn’t know if he’s just trying to make excuses to keep seeing her, especially after he asks her out and she turns him down. But eventually, she relents and agrees to go out with him.

“I have a terrible feeling if I say no that you’re going to end up in my ER again.”
“I’ll take a pity yes for now. And then I’ll convince you I’m worth it.”

Aubry and Tucker are definitely sexually compatible, so that aspect of their relationship is off to a great start. They’re also both very busy people, considering Tucker’s professional baseball career and Aubry’s hectic schedule as a doctor. At the start, their relationship is mainly physical, but as they get to know each other better, they discover how much they genuinely like each other.

However, Aubry insists on keeping their relationship on the down low. Her father is the owner of the St. Louis Rivers, so she doesn’t want to make things awkward by admitting that she’s seeing one of her father’s players. Additionally, her father is extremely adamant about Aubry’s job being her number one priority in life. Even though Aubry is out of medical school and no longer lives with her parents, her father is incredibly overbearing and pushy when it comes to Aubry’s career.

Ultimately, Aubry and Tucker have to make some serious decisions about what their respective priorities are–with regard to their careers as well as their deepening feelings for each other. When they finally start telling people that they’re dating, they become more comfortable with the idea that they’re getting serious about each other. Things get complicated, though, when Aubry brings Tucker home for dinner one night to officially announce that she and Tucker are together.

“Once you find someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, it really is that simple.”

For me, this was a super easy read. I really enjoy the Play-by-Play series because while there’s obviously conflict in each book, there’s very little angst and the romance is always the focus of the story. In All Wound Up, I really liked the strong, comedic opening, but would have preferred a less rushed ending. Also, there are a few scenes with characters from the other books where I got a little confused as to who plays for which team/who’s married to whom/who’s dating whom/who’s related to whom. Those moments were a bit confusing. Overall, though, the majority of the story is enjoyable. It’s a solid read and a good addition to the series.

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

Book Review: Riding Steele by Opal Carew

Riding Steele by Opal CarewRiding Steele by Opal Carew
Rating: 3stars
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I’m very picky when reading books about motorcycle clubs, but Riding Steele was an interesting read for me. There are some pretty dark events that take place, but there are also some very sweet moments, which I didn’t expect. Also, the epilogue is actually pretty cute. Although there are a few predictable elements, the book surprised me at times and I liked it.

Laurie is in danger. She has been trying to break up with her boyfriend Donovan, who has turned out to be a sadistic, abusive creeper who won’t take no for an answer. In an effort to protect Laurie, her brother Craig has contacted his good friend, who in turn is close with a group of bikers. The idea is proposed to kidnap Laurie to keep her safe.

Steele is the leader of the club and is opposed to the kidnapping. But when it becomes clear that Laurie is in imminent danger, Wild Card (one of Steele’s crew) actually does kidnap Laurie and saves her from Donovan.

When Steele and Laurie first meet, there’s a case of mistaken identity. After they get things sorted out, there’s a lot of insta-lust between them and they hook up pretty early on. (Never mind that they’re on the road, fleeing trumped-up criminal charges brought on by Laurie’s crazy ex, because there is sexing to be had, okay?)

Speaking of which, there’s a lot of sex in this book in various forms (m/f, m/f/m, m/m/f/m…I think I’ve lost track at this point, but you get the idea). So if you’re bothered by sex that’s all over the map, you probably should avoid this book.

Steele is actually a pretty nice guy when he wants to be. But Laurie has spent the past six months under Donovan’s thumb, so it’s hard for her to trust Steele fully at first. There’s also the issue of what it means for her to ride with this club. At first, Laurie is resistant to the idea of being “shared” between the various men in the club. But she changes her mind rather quickly–too quickly, I thought, especially considering she’s just coming out of her relationship with her ex. I didn’t find her change of heart that believable, but I just went with it.

It also seems like a contradiction that Steele would be willing to share Laurie. As his feelings for her intensify, he does become more possessive of her, yet he’s still willing to share her. But then he has moments when he gets jealous, too. I found that confusing.

As I mentioned, there are some dark and disturbing moments involving Laurie’s ex, but not so bad that I felt like I couldn’t keep reading. Those scenes definitely made me uncomfortable, though (and rightly so).

Overall, I liked the book. It has an interesting mix of suspense and tenderness. Even though there are some events that frustrated me, I liked the main characters. This book is actually #3 in an ongoing series, but I read it as a standalone and I didn’t feel lost as far as the plot goes. I plan on going back and reading books #1 and #2. Lastly, the author is a very good storyteller–the narrative is written in such a way that made me want to keep reading. I’ll be reading her more in the future.

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

Book Review: Back in the Game by Lori Wilde

Back in the Game by Lori WildeBack in the Game by Lori Wilde
Rating: 3stars
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I liked this book, but I had some issues with it that prevented me from loving it more.

Breeanne is an avid reader and aspiring writer. She self-published a book that didn’t sell very well, and in the meantime works at her parents’ bookstore. Breeanne was born with a heart defect which has caused her adoptive parents to be extremely overprotective of her throughout her whole life.

Rowdy Blanton is a former superstar pitcher whose MLB career came to an unexpected halt. He agrees to write an autobiography, but needs a ghostwriter. Breeanne ends up with the job.

There’s a lot going on in this book. There’s Breeanne’s overprotective family, Rowdy’s baseball legacy, some magical realism involving a mystical hope chest, and a conspiracy involving crooked baseball bigwigs. There’s also the romance element. I liked the book most when it focused on Breeanne and Rowdy’s relationship. There are just so many other subplots going on that I couldn’t fully appreciate the love story.

There are also a few things about the characters themselves that I didn’t love. For example, Breeanne is a 25-year-old virgin, which is fine in itself, but she comes across as super extra naive about sex–more than I expected she’d be, considering she’s pretty curious and well-read in general. Also, Rowdy struck me as a little too keen to settle down once he realizes he’s falling for Breeanne. I found it hard to believe that he would be so quick to commit.

I should also attach a disclaimer to this review by mentioning that I read the audio version and didn’t care for the narrator. I didn’t like how she made Breeanne sound like a squeaking teenager at times (especially during the sex scenes), while she made Rowdy sound like a gruff, much older man. It was a bit weird for me.

As for the things I liked about the book: in general, the writing appealed to me. The characters are very likable–especially the supporting ones such as Breeanne’s sisters and Rowdy’s brother, who I imagine will all be getting their own books later on.

So, I had mixed feelings about this story in that I really liked some parts and really disliked other parts. It took me a while to finish and I was actually eager to be done. But I do think I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the print version instead of the audio, so I plan on reading the next book in the series in print format since I did enjoy the author’s writing style overall.

Book Review: Working with Heat by Anne Calhoun

Working with Heat by Anne CalhounWorking with Heat by Anne Calhoun
Rating: 3stars
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I had trouble with this book for a few reasons. First, while I’m a huge fan of Anne Calhoun’s work, this book is a departure from her normal material. Working with Heat feels like a New Adult novel, which is not one of my favorite genres or what Calhoun normally writes. Also, since this is a Cosmo Red-Hot Read, I went into the story expecting it to be more lighthearted and not so angsty, but there are definite moments of drama in this one. However, all that being said, it’s really well-written, which is why I’m giving it three stars.

Milla is an American who lives in London. She works in an art gallery but her real passion is her social media presence. She writes a travel blog and is constantly updating her various accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube). And when I say she’s constantly updating them, I mean she is posting things ALL the time. Because of this, I really struggled to like Milla. She’s not a bad character, but her obsession with social media drove me nuts. I’ll admit, I’m pretty addicted to my phone too and always have it close by, but Milla can hardly set aside her phone for five minutes at a time. It’s pretty sad. She’s so focused on building her “brand” through constant selfies and tweets that I’m kind of surprised her friends put up with her.

One of those friends, Charlie, is a painter turned glass artist and vehement Luddite. Eventually, Milla learns the reason for his anti-technology stance: he was burned by his ex via social media, which hurt him not only personally, but also professionally. So, it was really curious to me that Charlie would even consider getting involved with Milla, given how deeply she’s immersed in her online persona.

Milla meant well, but he felt more than he wanted to feel, which meant they were banging into each other like shins against furniture, hurting each other.

Granted, Milla and Charlie’s relationship starts out pretty casual and they agree to keep it a secret from their group of friends. But it’s still really odd to me that Charlie would want to get involved with her, even on a casual level. Since they’re already friends, the chemistry between them is built in from the beginning of the story, but I don’t know that it feels entirely believable. Maybe if the story had been longer and their relationship had been more developed, I would have believed it more easily.

Lastly, the ending feels a little rushed and wraps itself up pretty easily. After Charlie’s earlier hesitation, I think it should have taken him longer to adjust to Milla’s public persona.

I didn’t care much for Milla and Charlie as characters, but I enjoyed the narrative itself, if that makes sense. There’s a level of sophistication and beauty to Calhoun’s writing style that sets it apart in my mind. So, despite the fact that I didn’t love this book, I always love Calhoun’s unique voice and that’s the best part of this book for me.

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

Book Review: Still the One by Jill Shalvis

Still the One by Jill ShalvisStill the One by Jill Shalvis
Rating: 3stars
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Still the One is Jill Shalvis’s latest installment in the Animal Magnetism series. I’m a big fan of Shalvis, but I didn’t love this book as much as I had hoped I would.

The story is about Darcy, who used to be a travel writer before she was in a bad car accident. The accident put her in a wheelchair temporarily and halted her career.

Darcy’s physical therapist is AJ, for whom Darcy has always held a torch but who has been off limits since he’s Darcy’s brother’s best friend. (Her brother is Wyatt from a previous book in the series.) After her accident, Darcy made a move on AJ but it didn’t end well when he shut her down. Needless to say, it’s been slightly awkward between the two of them. There’s even more tension between them since they’re working together on Darcy’s recovery.

Darcy is probably one of my least favorite heroines from any of Shalvis’s books. She’s extremely stubborn, which is fine to a point, but she repeatedly shuts people out rather than letting them see her vulnerability. She’s a good-hearted person with a huge weakness for dogs–she matches therapy dogs with people who need them, mostly veterans like AJ. But her repeated obstinacy toward AJ really frustrated me.

As their relationship progresses, Darcy keeps telling herself that it’s purely physical for AJ and that he couldn’t possibly care for her the way that she does. Well, why not talk to him and find out? There are several instances where Darcy pushes AJ away when he attempts to communicate with her. Their misunderstandings could have been avoided so easily if she would have just opened up to him. I know that’s part of the plot because of the hardships that Darcy has faced–first with absent parents and then her accident–but as a reader, I found her behavior exasperating.

On the other hand, AJ is a rock, even when the book moves into love triangle territory with Darcy’s friend, Xander. Even though I knew that Darcy and AJ would end up together, I thought the inclusion of Xander was unnecessary. I also thought it was unfair and selfish of Darcy not to make it utterly clear to Xander where their relationship stood. Xander has been holding out hope that Darcy would return his romantic feelings one day. I think that Darcy should have made it clearer to him that it was never going to happen.

And then there’s the matter of AJ having his heart broken in the past by his ex. So while Darcy has her issues with intimacy, so does AJ, to an extent. But I feel that he was able to overcome his issues more easily than Darcy.

“You’re strong, one of the strongest women I know, and that makes it hard for you to let others in, but it’s worth it, I promise you.”

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s not a terrible book and maybe the conflict wouldn’t bother someone else as much. But for me, I’m not used to this much drama and angst in a Shalvis book. And in comparison to Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor series, I’d say that series is much more solid than the Animal Magnetism books. There’s just something extra special about the Lucky Harbor series, which is why I’m glad that I haven’t finished reading that series yet.

On its own, Still the One is a decent romance, but I can’t help comparing it to the other books I’ve read by Shalvis. This one definitely isn’t her strongest book, but that’s not to say that it’s a bad one; it’s not. It’s just not my favorite.

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