Dominik by Sawyer Bennett

They both assumed that one night together would be enough. But you know what they say happens when you assume! 

What’s it About? 

I built myself up from nothing. A product of the foster care system, I learned early on how to fight hard to get what I want. Whether it was starting my first company in college, earning my first billion, or buying my first professional sports team, I know how to get what I want, when I want it. Until now.

Willow Monahan is fierce, independent, and hot as hell. She also takes great pleasure in shutting down my advances. The younger sister of one of my star players, Willow intrigues me to my very core. And while she may have willingly given me her body, she is hesitant to offer up more. Now I’m on a mission to find out why.

I’ve decided to approach my desire for Willow like I’ve approached much of my life; with persistence, determination, and a whole lot of that Dominik Carlson alpha charm. Buying a hockey expansion team, building the Arizona Vengeance from the ground up, and bringing home a championship may prove to be an easier feat than winning Willow’s heart. But I’ve never been a quitter. Willow Monahan… I’m coming for you.

First Impressions

The romance between Arizona Vengeance billionaire team owner, Dominik Carlson, and the sister of one of his star players, Willow Monahan, has been hinted at several times over the last few books. It’s a passion that has teased and intrigued, as we’re presented with a game of cat and mouse that’s been turned on its head. While we all expect this billionaire alpha to be in hot pursuit of the female lead, it’s unexpectedly titillating to see her try and push him away at every turn to his initial advances. Eventually we see her admit that there’s definitely something simmering between them which can no longer be ignored, but rather than give into any kind of emotional connection she might be feeling towards Dominik, she insists that they only treat themselves to exploring the physical. It might not be what Dominik had in mind, but his libido certainly can’t give up on such a tempting offer. These two are hot and heavy from moment one, and while most of their scenes in the bedroom will leave you fanning yourself, others will make you realize they’re avoiding difficult conversations (and even arguments) with each other by falling into bed. Or on the couch. It’s also the critical scenes which take place outside of the bedroom (with clothes on) that might leave you slightly frustrated. 

The Present and Missing Flaws

Dominik and Willow are unlike any characters which have been presented in the series so far, and their tale of romance is also unique to them in a variety of ways, mainly in that most everything we see is flawed in some form. They both react to various scenarios in ways that will make you want to slap them upside the head a time or two. For example, all the times that Willow continuously ignored Dominik’s attempts to initiate a date beyond the bedroom. Come on girl, give him a chance already! Then there’s the time when Dominik’s alpha-ness extends beyond the bedroom as he insists Willow stop putting herself in dangerous situations to pursue her journalism career. Umm, no no no, not cool dude. Or how about when Dominik chooses to end their relationship completely because Willow turned down his marriage proposal in the heat of the moment following a big win by his hockey team? Even though she begged him to be understanding in her need for just a bit more time to put words to these unbelievable feelings she’s never felt for anyone else? Nope, he throws a mini temper tantrum, puts his house up for sale and refuses to respond to her calls and texts, perhaps as a direct payback to how she treated him at the start of the novel. We haven’t really seen such childish reactions from any other couple in the series, so it kind of threw me for a loop to suddenly be presented with a male lead I wouldn’t characterize as my “ideal book boyfriend”. 

The fact that Willow is so determined to keep her relationship with Dominik reserved to sex rather than forming any kind of emotional attachment means that the bulk of the interactions we’re presented with are physical in nature. I certainly love a good sex scene, and this installment is filled to bursting with some delectable ones, but when you look back on the series as a whole so far you can’t help but feel that something crucial was missing in the progression of Dominik and Willow’s story. They needed to open up to each other more about how past hurt and tragedy influenced who they are today. After all, Dominik lost his parents at a young age, and grew up in foster care. It’s no surprise therefore that he’d seek control in every aspect of his life, or that the bulk of his relationships up to this point have involved him being the one to leave first so as not be left behind once again. As for Willow, she was betrayed years ago by the man she thought was the love of her life, so we can understand her need to construct barriers in the hopes that no man will ever weasel his way back in to break her heart. We as the audience are privy to these difficult pasts through exposition, but it’s never fully discussed by our couple together in an emotional moment of vulnerability. These moments are hallmarks of the previous novels, and the absence of them in this sixth book was felt hard.  

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 6. I don’t really know what to expect from the next lead of this series, as it’s a player of the Arizona Vengeance we haven’t seen much so far in the series. I’ll still jump in with both feet! 

Final Impressions: Our lead characters are far from perfect, and while they grow in some areas throughout the read, we still see imperfections and room for improvement in others. Was this…frustrating? Sure! Is it probably more realistic than most of the other relationships we’ve been presented with so far in the series? Absolutely. That being said, most of us dive deep in these romances to lose ourselves in another world, and this book kind of reminds you in a not so fun way that not everyone is perfect and some imperfections are left without resolution. Not everything is tied up in a big red bow by the end of this read, including how Willow’s career will fit into their relationship going forward, or if they’ll continue to throw hissy fits whenever the going gets tough. We do get a somewhat far-fetched climatic scene towards the end that is supposed to convince us they both realize the most important thing in the world is their love for each other, and that they can overcome any other obstacle as long as they are together. Let’s just say unfortunately I’m not 100% convinced. 

Smut Level: Oh boy. As with most other features of this novel, the sultry scenes are also not necessarily without fault. Granted, most had me needing to douse myself with a glass of very cold water. Others might leave you feeling a tad uncomfortable, like when Dominik shoves his tie in Willow’s mouth to essentially shut her up before they once again go at it like bunnies. Definitely an “eek” kind of moment. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $6.99 Kindle Price. Big Dog Books, LLC. 322 Pages. 

Tacker by Sawyer Bennett

He never thought there was a way to move beyond the tragedy which changed his life forever, but one woman helps him see what it means to live…and love…again. 

What’s it About?

I am not okay. Fifteen months ago, my life was turned upside down when the plane I was piloting went down. Injured and trapped in the wreckage, I had to watch my fiancée die a painfully slow death, which is something that can really mess with your head. Since that day, I’ve had little desire to do much of anything. Except play hockey, that is. Because that is the one place where the bad memories are banished and I can escape my pain. But off the ice, I’m spiraling out of control. Losing the grip on my life and putting myself and my career in danger. Now, thanks to a string of bad decisions, I’ve been ordered to complete therapy in order to stay on the team.

The problem? Nora Wayne, my beautiful and somewhat unconventional therapist. I can’t buy into the brand of happy clappy crap this woman is feeding me. What could she possibly understand about the type of loss that I’ve suffered? How does she know anything about finding happiness after losing the most important person in your life? Turns out, I’ve got a lot to learn, and she’s just the person I need to break through those walls I’ve erected. I am not okay. But for the first time in a long time, I know that I will be.

First Impressions

Everything in the Arizona Vengeance series has been building to this moment. Tacker. Our troubled captain of the Arizona Vengeance hockey team was first introduced all the way back in book one, and with every new addition to the series he has spiraled further down a rabbit hole of depression. What began as surly solitude slowly escalated to a brawl on the ice, and ultimately a drunken car crash that left Tacker physically broken. We readers were left emotionally broken, and the rest of his team were left questioning if he meant to end it all that day by purposely ramming his car into the concrete wall. In this fifth installment, we finally find out why. We’ve always known he lost his fiancée a mere 15 months before in a horrific small craft plane crash, but this is the first time we are offered a scene by scene breakdown of not only the crash itself, but also the agonizing hours afterwards as Tacker watched the love of his life slowly and painfully fade away from him. And cue the need for tissues. It’s no wonder he’s at the end of his rope, and I have been wracking my brain with each read contemplating what the turning point could possibly be that would lead him back to a road of recovery. His teammates have certainly helped, as we’ve seen an expanding sense of fraternal brotherhood spread throughout our group of heroes thus far in the series. Nevertheless, it hasn’t been enough. As it turns out, it will only take one woman to pull him into the light, and it’s a woman who has seen her own fair share of darkness in the past.  

Sharing Trauma

The emotional connection which develops between our two lead characters after sharing the details of their respective traumatic pasts is the hallmark of this book. It’s a connection that is not initially borne of romance or lust, but simply the acknowledgement that they have both encountered hurt and heartache, and Nora acts as a guiding beacon for Tacker to demonstrate how life can in fact get better. At first, it would seem that Nora and Tacker couldn’t have that much in common. He’s a successful hockey player, she immigrated to the US years before, and is now a therapist who incorporates horses into the treatment of her patients. And yet, they surprisingly both know what it’s like to have everything they hold most dear in the world ripped from their arms. Nora herself is a survivor of war, and had to witness her entire family killed right in front of her, including her beloved sister who was raped before the final death blow was dealt. These moments where Tacker and Nora opened up to each other were the most emotionally heartbreaking scenes of the entire read, and I’ll admit I was tempted to skim through all of the details to avoid the anguish of it all. 

However, it’s the very nature of that torment which allows you to appreciate their stories even more. To compare just a few pages of discomfort against their lifetime of turmoil is, well…practically impossible to compare. This brings us to the other moment of brilliance with this read, which is that Nora and Tacker are seemingly always kept on an equal footing. There’s never a competition over who has more scars, or who shed more tears. Tacker can relate to Nora in the fact that she has also experienced painful loss, and he sees hope in the fact that she has seemingly come out stronger on the other side of that darkness. It’s no wonder a bond developed unlike any other a teammate or other therapist could possibly offer. This connection was the missing piece of the puzzle that was needed for Tacker to get his life back on track. Unfortunately, it is this same bond that also caused a few moments of pause for me in fully loving this fifth book. 

Blurring the Line

Simply put, there was something missing from this book. It’s a bit hard to pinpoint exactly what that element was, but I have a few theories. First and foremost, as previously mentioned, we have been waiting for the breakthrough of Tacker’s story since book one. It couldn’t be helped that expectations would be high, and maybe it was impossible for any final product to live up to those expectations. Don’t get me wrong, this was still a good read, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. The first half of the novel, which primarily focused on the therapeutic breakthroughs for Tacker, was definitely stronger than the second half. And this brings me to what I think may have been my biggest hang-up with the book: the romance. I personally don’t feel enough attention was lent to clearly distinguish the emotional connection from the romantic one that Tacker was developing towards Nora. As soon as Nora opened up about her traumatic past, Tacker knew she was the only possibly therapist for him. The more time they spent together both within and outside of their therapy sessions, the more Nora could help him heal and move on from the past, which is when Tacker starts to consider a romantic relationship with her. In Romancelandia, we know his growing feelings towards Nora are rooted in love and friendship, but I think it would have been helpful to build in more of that real world conversation which would inevitably occur if a patient wanted to ask their therapist out on a date. Is he truly falling for Nora, the woman? Or is he simply falling for the therapist with whom he’s developed an emotional bond? 

We also never really fully explore Nora’s willingness to date Tacker, especially considering she has no doubt probably developed some kind of bond with multiple patients throughout the years as she’s opened up about her tragic past. Her initial discomfort over the idea of dating a patient is sort of quickly brushed aside when Tacker admits he’s going to start seeing a different therapist so that Nora will no longer have a professional conflict of interest. There isn’t really a full resolution to the idea of potentially seeing a regression in Tacker’s progress by halting his professional sessions with Nora, and he also defaults to seeing a therapist with whom he failed to connect at the start of the novel. In addition, after this transition from therapist/patient to boyfriend/girlfriend, we sort of see a blurring of lines as Tacker and Nora continue to discuss the emotional impact of his blossoming relationship with Nora as it relates to him moving on from his dead fiancée. On the one hand, it can 100% be interpreted as a healthy exchange of feelings and open communication between a new couple, but on the other you can’t help but wonder if Nora is still defaulting to her role as his therapist even if she is no longer technically employed in that role anymore. While it’s easy to brush it off by saying that both of those factors can co-exist, it could have provided some powerful moments of discussion and even friction for Nora and Tacker to explore this new transition of their relationship. 

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 5. I am going to attack the next installment of this series with an unbridled level of enthusiasm! 

Final Impressions: There were many elements which resulted in this story being a good read, but there were also several which prevented it from being a great one. The first half of the novel is unquestionably the standout feature of the book. It’s a simultaneously grim, yet beautiful exploration of trauma, and how it’s possible to move on from unimaginable loss. While I wasn’t thrilled with every aspect of Tacker and Nora’s romantic relationship, I was pretty ecstatic that nothing threatened to tear them apart after they decided to take their relationship to the next level. Goodness knows these two have experienced enough heartache, so to see them join together to overcome any potential obstacle or bump in the road was rather inspiring. 

Smut Level: Tacker has been on quite the journey to ultimately end up with Nora in his arms, and when he finally does he experiences a moment of hesitation to finally give into the physical desires he’s managed to keep in check for so long. Once Nora tells him it’s ok to let go though? Who knew she would be releasing a sex god?! I mean, you just know that when a couple manages to pop an air mattress in the midst of their lovemaking, yet still successfully manage to step off to the side to finish together without breaking their connection, that you’re in for a good ride. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. Big Dog Books, LLC. 348 Pages.

Erik by Sawyer Bennett

As far as all the ways I’ve seen a romance hero try to demonstrate devotion to his love interest, undergoing a Brazilian wax just might take the cake.

What’s it About? 

I’m having the time of my life with my new brothers on the Arizona Vengeance. We may be an expansion team, but after notching some big wins, the entire league knows to watch out for Erik Dahlbeck. That’s me.

The only person who doesn’t seem to think I’m so great? Blue Gardner, the hot-as-f*** flight attendant on our team plane. I sure wouldn’t mind joining the mile-high club with her, but besides bringing me lukewarm coffee, she won’t give me the time of day. Whatever I did to rub Blue the wrong way, my teammates think it’s hilarious. After all, we’re used to women flocking to us. #puckbunnies

When I run into Blue back on land, I’m shocked to learn how she spends her time off: taking care of her handicapped brother. There are layers to this girl I never imagined, layers I can’t wait to peel away. And that’s a new feeling for me.

But first I’ve got to find a way to melt that ice-cold stare. Because as much as I try to pretend I don’t care what Blue thinks of me, how can you not care when you’re falling for someone?

Quick Review

If you’re someone like me, who isn’t a huge fan of sports, believe me when I say you should still give this hockey romance series a try. The author has done a fine job so far of distinguishing the story arcs and personality traits of our characters from one novel to the next. While each novel has been distinct, there are certain themes which seem to be developing as the hallmark of this series. Not only are we presented with an engaging romantic story between two leads that is ripe with heat and humor, but we are also witness to a close brotherly bond between the teammates of the Arizona Vengeance hockey team. They have each other’s backs both on and off the ice, and aren’t afraid to offer advice when our featured male lead inevitably starts to encounter hardship in the midst of wooing his love interest. While some readers seem to criticize this emotional bond between our male characters as “unrealistic”, I found it to be delightfully refreshing to see such “manly men” willing to open up about their feelings and insecurities with their closest friends.

As for Blue and Erik, their journey to a happily ever after was funny, yet also filled with emotionally vulnerable moments as they both consider their connected past and hoped for future. Discovering the reason for Blue’s intense animosity towards the devilishly handsome ladies man was quite the surprise, and seeing all the ways Erik was willing to prove he was serious about courting Blue provided some laugh-out-loud moments that still have me smirking when I think back on them. Blue’s brother, Billy, also played an important role in their relationship, and while I was initially concerned Erik would try and use her brother with cerebral palsy as a ploy to get into her life, we ultimately see that Erik’s intentions where Billy are concerned are honorable and true. While they encounter a few stumbling blocks along the way, there’s no question in our minds that Blue and Erik have found a long-lasting love with each other that will last beyond the final pages of the book.

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 2. Only two books into this series and already the author has employed some of my favorite romance novel tropes: fake engagement, second-chance romance, enemies-to-lovers. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Final Impressions: This is a fun read that will have you laughing, blushing, and possibly getting you all teary-eyed by the end. On the whole, I think I may have even liked it better than book one in the series, as every character had a part to play in Blue and Erik’s romance, and their chemistry was without reproach. The only areas of fault for books one and two would have to be with the endings. We reach a point in both novels where things are seemingly going so well for our main characters that we know something has to go wrong to inject a bit of drama that will threaten to tear apart the relationship they’ve spent so long building. I couldn’t help but feel that for both reads the drama was a bit too contrived, and the inevitable mini-break-up results in an eye-roll moment of unnecessary tension. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that as we dive deeper into this series we’ll be presented with strains to the relationship that don’t seem so far out of left-field.

Smut Level: It’s possible Erik spends more time in this book building up a sweat with Blue off the ice than he does when competing against his rivals on the ice.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Loveswept Publishing. 213 Pages. 

Bishop by Sawyer Bennett

You can’t help but wonder how star hockey player, Bishop Scott, doesn’t leave a trail of melted ice behind him considering the intense sexual heat he emits wherever he goes.

What’s it About?

Bishop Scott, co-captain. Not too shabby, huh? It’s all part of my fresh start with the NHL’s latest expansion team, and that means new teammates, a new coach, a new city, and a big new contract. Basically, I cannot f***ing wait to show my old squad what they’re missing.

But first, I decide to check out the town before the grind begins. Turns out Arizona chicks are totally smokin’, and I’m fortunate enough to meet one who’s looking for the same thing I am: a night of anonymous, unforgettable, no-strings-attached sex.

Fast forward to the Vengeance arena. It’s the last place I expect to see her again—let alone in her own office. Then bells go off and I finally realize who this girl is: Brooke Perron. My new coach’s daughter. All of a sudden, we’re picking up right where we left off, which means our hands are all over each other. That’s when her dad—my boss—walks in. And before I can get a word out, Brooke’s introducing me as her fiancé.

Sure, she just saved my ass. So why do I get the feeling Brooke’s going to turn my world upside down? Maybe it’s because this fake relationship feels way too real. . . .

First Impressions

If you’re a romance reader like myself who hates having to wait around a long time for sexy fun times to appear in your read, then this is definitely the book for you! Not only do our lead characters jump into the sack almost immediately, but their sexual chemistry is off the charts to a point where you don’t have to wait long at all before they’re tugging each other’s clothes off again. While their relationship started off as a one-night stand which evolved into casual sex buddies, there always remains a level of mutual respect and friendship between them which can’t help but ultimately transition into a partnership chock full of emotion. This was definitely a couple it was easy to fall in love with, and one that you were quickly rooting for to succeed.

Nothing Fake About it

I love a fake relationship as much as the next person, and a fake engagement trope is just the icing on the cake. After Bishop and Brook’s one-night stand, they can’t stop thinking about each other, and both are shocked the next day upon the realization that Bishop is a player for the hockey organization that Brooke now works for. Their surprise quickly transforms to desire, and it’s while they’re locked in an intimate embrace in Brooke’s office that her father walks in, who just so happens to be Bishop’s coach. Quick on her feet, Brooke blurts out that they are engaged so that her father won’t try to get Bishop kicked off the team. Even though I immediately broke out into a wide grin upon Brooke’s declaration, I can’t say the fake engagement aspect of the story was entirely necessary to the plot.

It’s something that Brooke and Bishop almost immediately walk back on, from “oh we’re engaged!”, to “oh we’re almost engaged!”, to “oh we might be a while away from an engagement!”. I almost think it would have been better to simply start off with the fake relationship aspect, and only after some insistent prodding from the dad would a ring have been involved. However, as it stands Bishop and Brooke really only have one awkward dinner with her dad following his walking in on them, and then he kind of disappears from the story entirely. You almost forget that he was the initial impetus for their deception, and I think I would have appreciated a few more scenes involving Bishop having to face off with Brooke’s father.

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 1. I’ll definitely be continuing with this series. We are introduced to a slew of Bishop’s teammates that I can’t wait to get to know better.

Final Impressions: Overall this was a steamy and fun read that you’ll want to bring along on your next beach vacation. I do think we were missing a critical integration of Brooke’s father into the story line, and instead we see a focus on an old acquaintance of Brooke who comes to wreak a bit of havoc on the sultry bubble that Brooke and Bishop have created for themselves. Thankfully, she never became a point of misunderstanding between Brooke and Bishop, which was a prevalent fear of mine throughout the latter half of the book. However, it was nice that, for the most part, our lead characters could remain logical in the midst of this other character’s craziness.

Smut Level: You’ll need to keep a few ice cubes nearby to cool yourself off with the scenes involving these two. We’ve got dirty talk and all manner of sexual exploration going on here.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Loveswept Publishing. 221 Pages.