Wylde by Sawyer Bennett

Will the playboy of the Arizona Vengeance succeed in setting aside his wild ways in order to woo the one woman who managed to stop him dead in his tracks?

What’s it About? 

There’s a reason they call me Wylde and it’s not just because it’s my last name.

I might be one of the newest players on the Arizona Vengeance team, but I’m no stranger to the celebrity that goes along with being a professional hockey player. Whether it’s a fan seeking an autograph or a puck bunny looking for more, I’ve grown used to the attention. I not only thrive on it; I use it to my advantage. Let’s just say my bed is rarely empty.

When a quirky redhead at the local bookstore stops me dead in my tracks, I decide to pop in and turn on the trusty Wylde magic. As smart and strong-willed as she is beautiful, Clarke Webber isn’t swayed by my witty banter or charming good looks. And when she realizes who I am and the fame that comes along with it, she likes me even less. Thankfully, I’m always up for a challenge. The more I get to know about her, the more I know my playboy days are behind me.

If I’m going to capture Clarke’s heart, it’s time to be a lot less Wylde, and a lot more Aaron.

Quick Review

I have been a huge fan of this series so far, and unfortunately I would say this is the first book that has sort of missed the mark for me. That’s not say it was a bad read, but rather it was just kind of…meh. I listened to this as an audiobook on a recent business trip, and after listening to it during a fairly long drive one day I remember thinking, “Goodness gracious when will this book finally get going?” Imagine my surprise when I realized during a pit stop that I was already 50% of the way through the read! This seventh book follows one of the newest players of the Arizona Vengeance hockey team, Aaron Wylde. His last name isn’t seen as a misnomer, as apparently he is one of the biggest playboys of the team. Here’s the problem though. Considering his new status, we’ve never really had the chance to get to know him at any point in the series before now. While we often see numerous characters reappear throughout the series, Wylde has never been a major player up until this point, so we really have nothing to go on in terms of his supposedly infamous playboy status. This made his eventual aha moment at wanting to become a one woman man upon meeting Clarke all the more…well…uneventful. His willingness to commit to Clarke didn’t seem all that transformational of a moment, because while we’ve been introduced to his flirtatious prowess upon meeting her, we’ve never had a reason to doubt his ability to be solely devoted to one woman. 

As for Clarke, I was thrilled with her initial introduction as a book smart, fairly normal woman who was more shocked by the attention that Wylde lavished upon her rather than flattered. Who was this drop-dead gorgeous man who could lay on the one-liner quips like it was an art-form, quoted the classics like Pride and Prejudice just as well she could, and wouldn’t leave her alone? Once we were introduced to her backstory though, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at her previous disastrous appearance on a celebrity dating show that made her wary of fame forevermore. The series has done a wonderful job so far of grounding us to the romance developing between these hockey players and their lady loves, but this point of conflict between Aaron and Clarke seemed over-the-top silly and unnecessary. I even remember at one point towards the end of the novel when Clarke confessed to Aaron that she overreacted to a social media moment which made her turn her back on their relationship I exclaimed aloud in my rental car, “Yeah, you really did!” I won’t spoil the reveal, but let’s just say it wasn’t a very well-developed plot point, and instead felt like a desperate attempt to think of something that would throw a bump in the road for our lovebirds on a journey that had been nothing but pretty smooth-sailing since the beginning. I probably would have even preferred a completely drama-free ending compared to what we were presented with. 

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 7. This may not have been my favorite addition to the series, but it hasn’t put me off completely from continuing on to see what might happen next!

Final Impressions: In a way, I almost feel like the author had an ulterior motive in telling this story, and it wasn’t to relay the romance between Wylde and Clarke. Instead, the primary goal was seemingly to present us with a wedding smorgasbord of previous characters. Wylde uses the weddings of his teammates as the basis for a bet to get Clarke to go out with him on more than one occasion. Rather than try to build Wylde and Clarke as the common thread linking together all these various wedding celebrations, I think I would have just preferred a stand-alone novella, where each chapter presented us with the behind-the-scenes fun and wedding romance for one of the couples from a previous installment of the series. I felt so much more of a connection to those couples than I did to our two new leading characters, and it made me reminisce on the stories of those characters who have come to feel like old friends. 

Smut Level: Clarke is initially intimated by how much more sexual experience Wylde has compared to her, but it doesn’t take long before she acknowledges the numerous benefits (and orgasms) which can result from his expertise. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $6.99 Kindle Price. Big Dog Books, LLC. 328 Pages. 

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.

Dax by Sawyer Bennett

This fourth installment in the Arizona Vengeance hockey romance series teaches us a universal truth of romance novels. A bit of alcohol mixed with a seemingly innocent tickle fight will inevitably lead to sexy fun times.

What’s it About?

My name is Dax Monahan and hockey is my passion. And if you want to succeed in this sport you have to bust your ass 24/7. I’ve never had a hard time focusing on my career, but when my past comes knocking, no amount of training can prepare me for what lies on the other side of the door.

Regan Miles was always like a sister to me. When a shared tragedy brings us face to face after several years, I’m shocked to see just how much she’s changed. Gone is the shy, awkward little girl that always used to chase me and her brother around. Instead, I’m faced with a gorgeous woman who makes it damn hard to concentrate on anything but her.

Turns out, she’s in trouble, and the only way out is to get married. I surprise myself when I tell her to marry me. Order her, actually. And most shocking of all, she doesn’t even hesitate before saying yes. So it’s settled. We’re getting hitched and she’s moving to Arizona with me. All platonic, of course. The catch? I never knew I’d fall so hard for my best friend’s little sister.

First Impressions

When it came to this book I broke my cardinal rule of romance novel series reading, which is that after finishing the third novel I immediately jumped right into this one. The fact that the timeline of Dax and Regan’s romance overlaps with a decent portion of the events from the previous novel meant that certain major plot points were repeated. In hindsight, it probably would have been beneficial to read something else in between books three and four to sort of break up the series, but I will admit it was still entertaining to see those important story lines told from the point of view of different characters. As with every new addition to the Arizona Vengeance, we are once again presented with a slew of delightfully tried and true romance novel tropes, including friends-to-lovers, falling in love with a best friend’s sister, and a marriage of convenience. While I absolutely loved Dax and Regan as characters, and the progression of their connection from family friends to passionate lovers to soulmates was a joy of a ride, I can’t say this was my favorite addition to the series, or that it was entirely necessary to have as a full-length book. Let’s dive deep to take a closer look!

Full-Length versus Novella

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book. It’s a lovely romance and it’s not like you should skip it when reading this series as a whole, which I definitely recommend picking up considering it’s been an absolute treat so far. However, I almost wonder if Dax and Regan’s story would have benefitted more as a novella or half-book rather than as a full-length addition to the series. First and foremost, as already stated a decent portion of the book overlaps with the events of the previous novel. Although it was interesting to see some of these elements played out from a different viewpoint, it didn’t really add much to the progression of the series as a whole. The overall story arch is kind of stuck at this particular point in time, and it probably won’t break through into another level until book 5, when a key secondary character who as been the focus of much drama up until this point will finally be getting his own book.

And this brings us to the other secondary characters. I am loving the bromance portrayed amongst all of the members of this hockey team, and while the previous novels have provided us with introductions or hints at the drama or romance to come for other characters, this was really the first novel in the series where I felt that other story lines were competing for attention with the one playing out between our lead characters. The emotional turmoil around the team captain, Tacker, continues to be a primary focus in each novel as he keeps spiraling further down into depression following the tragic death of his fiancée months earlier. Every member of the Arizona Vengeance wants to support him, so it makes sense that he’d be an important feature of each book in the series. In addition to Tacker’s drama, we also see the start of what will undoubtedly be an eventual romance featuring Dax’s sister, Willow, and the billionaire owner of the Arizona Vengeance, Dominik. I can’t wait to see this story play out further in a future book, but combining this with the details of Tacker’s story along with Dax and Regan’s romance, there were almost a few too many competing stories going on at once. None of them overshadowed Dax’s story per se, but if they’d been limited more in their description we probably could have seen this book transition from installment #4 to #3.5.

The Leading Romance

And this finally brings us to Dax and Regan. Although they had a few minor bumps in the road to finally admitting how much they loved each other, on the whole their journey was fairly free of angst. Considering that some of the previous books in the series would present us with rather contrived disagreements between our leading characters, it was kind of refreshing to see that the strength of Dax and Regan’s original friendship ultimately led them to having a strong physical and loving relationship too. While the development of their love was essentially drama-free, there were two other aspects to their story which introduced the fundamental conflict of the novel. The first was that Regan’s brother, Lance, who was also Dax’s best friend, was killed during a mugging gone bad at the end of the third novel. The second is when Regan admits to Dax she has a life-threatening illness, and he basically insists they get married ASAP so she can benefit from his health insurance to pay the exorbitant fees required for her life-saving medication.

Both of these plot points were crucial to pushing Dax and Regan’s relationship to the next level, but in hindsight I’m not sure the Lance story line was incorporated enough for it be a necessary feature of their tale. The unfortunate reality of Regan’s illness quickly supersedes any shared despair they felt over Lance’s death, and it was promptly pushed to the background. I think we would have seen the same emotional and romantic progression for our primary characters, marriage of convenience and all, if Regan had simply been an only child and long-time family friend of Dax’s. In addition, as the novel progressed we saw how the drama around whether or not Dax’s health insurance would successfully cover her treatment was also extinguished to seemingly minimize any large amount of conflict. I remember listening to this as an audiobook and thinking the insurance conundrum would inevitably come back into play for some kind of climactic hospital scene confrontation, but when I looked at my phone at one point to discover there was only 4% left in the book I realized we wouldn’t be privy to more conflict for our leading characters. To be fair, they’ve certainly been through enough!

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 4. I’m going to try and read something else before immediately diving into the next novel, but my goodness am I beyond eager to get my hands on books 5 and 6. I have a feeling Tacker’s book is going to destroy me emotionally, but I’m ready for it!

Final Impressions: Overall this was a fine addition to the series, but a few tweaks probably would have put it above and beyond. Either certain elements needed to be incorporated more fully, such as Regan and Dax relying on each other to find happiness again following the murder of her brother/his best friend, or they should have been removed entirely to focus the story more on our lovebirds in a shorter span of pages. This is the first time while reading the Arizona Vengeance where I felt like we didn’t see much forward momentum in the series as a whole, which was especially highlighted by the fact that so many of the major events from books three and four overlapped with each other. That being said, I adored the evolution of Dax and Regan’s friendship to romance, and we are once again provided with two leading characters you love to love.

Smut Level: Regan isn’t a virgin, but she also isn’t too experienced when it comes to sex. While this causes an initial hesitancy for Dax to take things further after their first night together, it also doesn’t take long before these two simply can’t deny the chemistry simmering between them while living in such close quarters.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. Big Dog Books, LLC. 342 Pages.

Legend by Sawyer Bennett

When a small, life-changing bundle is left on Legend’s doorstep, he immediately runs to the one woman who’s been causing him nothing but grief for months, his next-door neighbor Pepper. You won’t want to miss out on this swoon-worthy, enemies-to-lovers, neighbors romance. 

What’s it About? 

Everything is clicking for the Vengeance. We may be new, but we’re well on our way to winning the championship, and I’m having the time of my life headlining the sports media as the hottest goalie—hell, player—ever. I for one am going to live up to my name . . . because I am Legend Bay.

Dragging my ass home from the gym, I’m blinded by some gaudy, glowing holiday lights. As usual, my hot-as-hell neighbor Pepper Nantais has gone way over the top. But just as I’m about to tell her off, something else catches my eye . . . Seems like Santa left me a present, and not one I was expecting.

As life takes an unexpected turn, I realize that there’s much more to Pepper than meets the eye. Sure, she’s gorgeous. And exasperating. And her taste in decorating may be a bit . . . unique.

But beneath her carefree demeanor is a fierce determination and a heart of gold. And before I know it I’ve fallen for her. Hard . . .

Pepper is exactly the woman I never knew I needed.

Quick Review

We were first introduced to the seductive tension simmering between Legend and his quirky neighbor, Pepper, in previous novels in the Arizona Vengeance hockey romance series. Although he might be a ladies man, Legend is also a rule-follower who likes to have his personal space in pristine order. The fact Pepper likes to flood her yard with cheesy lawn ornaments and bright colors has had him complaining to the homeowner’s association more than once, but that won’t stop her from continuing to torment the gorgeous hockey player she’s had a crush on ever since moving in next door. I will say I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of Pepper’s prankster shenanigans that have been known to grind Legend’s gears to boiling levels of frustration, but it’s such a minimal complaint for what was overall a rather faultless story. The true focus of the novel is instead centered on Legend’s unexpected thrust into fatherhood, and it’s in this moment of utter shock, and even fear, that he finds himself immediately turning to one person without pause. 

Sure, he could have called one of his many teammates, the men he considers brothers, but instead he stumbles next door to seek help from the one woman he has struggled to push from his every waking thought for months. Pepper not only assists him with caring for his daughter, but she also offers him a distraction in what initially starts as a casual fling, but quickly evolves into something much stronger. The natural progression of their connection from physical chemistry to emotional trust, and finally true love, was perhaps the strongest display in the series so far. However, that wasn’t the only reason this third novel has stood out as my favorite in the Arizona Vengeance. We finally, FINALLY, get to see a level of drama incorporated into the story that steadily progressed to a climactic point of combustion, and it refreshingly had nothing to do with a misunderstanding or petty argument between our two lovebirds. The connection between Legend and Pepper felt so real, that it would have seemed like a disservice to have their relationship threatened by some of the trivial disagreements of the previous two novels. We are instead presented with a legitimate point of conflict from a secondary character, and rather than push Legend and Pepper apart, it succeeds in strengthening their link even further. 

Series: Arizona Vengeance, book 3. Every book in this series manages to build the emotional torment of some of our other hockey players on the team, and I am chomping at the bit to ultimately see each of them featured in their very own novel. 

Final Impressions: This series is proving to get better and better with each new addition. The chemistry between Pepper and Legend practically leaps off the page, and while it was a pleasure to witness them falling in love, it was just as delightful to watch Legend fall in love with the daughter who was unexpectedly dropped on his front door step. While I did miss some of the teasing fun I thought we’d see carry over from the previous novels, on the whole you have to appreciate the seamless progression of this romance between neighbors, as well as the growing desperation of our secondary character who encroaches upon the happiness of our loving leads. This was probably the most serious of the Arizona Vengeance novels so far, especially considering some of the dramatic developments with a few other players on the team, but it’s a wild ride for which I was fully on board. 

Smut Level: Let’s just say this daddy is a dirty talker, and Pepper is more than happy to bring out the filthy side of him. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $7.99 Kindle Price. Loveswept Publishing. 218 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. 

Hot as Puck by Lili Valente

What could be better than a sexy, funny, caring hockey player with six-pack abs? How about one who also likes to crochet?

What’s it About? 

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The NHL’s biggest bad boy is about to fall for the virgin next door…

I am the world’s biggest dating failure. We’re talking my last date went home with our waitress kind of failure. But I have an ace in the back pocket of my mom jeans–my sexy-as-sin best friend, NHL superstar forward, Justin Cruise. Justin owes me favors dating back to seventh grade, long before he became a hotshot with a world famous…stick. So in return for my undying platonic loyalty, all I want is an easy-peasy crash course on how to be a sex goddess. How hard can it be?

***

I have never been so hard in my life. The things I want to do to my sweet, kindergarten-teaching, mitten-crocheting best friend Libby Collins are ten different kinds of wrong. Maybe twenty. But I’m a firm believer in teaching by example, and by the end of our first lesson, we’ve graduated to a hands on approach to her education: my hands all over her, her hands all over me, and her hot mouth melting beneath mine as I prove to her there isn’t a damned thing wrong with the way she kisses. Give me a month, and I’ll transform Libby from wall flower to wall banger, and ensure she’s confident enough to seduce any guy she wants. Problem is… the only guy I want her seducing is me.

First Impressions

Alright ladies and gentlemen, I think we can all agree that the cover pic of this read deserves honorable mention. Not to mention the play on words we have happening with the title Hot as Puck, as well as the name of the entire series Bad Motherpuckers. Cue delighted golf clap. Now, plot-wise we’re essentially dealing with a friends-to-lovers romance, which is one of my favorite themes of all times. With any novel dealing with friends who choose to elevate their relationship into something more sexual, we always question what will be the turning point in their dynamic? When will one or both of them start to look at the other as something more than a friend? When it comes to this read, almost immediately after breaking up with his girlfriend, Justin notices Libby walk into the room wearing a tight black tank top. And his pants get just a smidge tighter. Sooooo, I guess you can say wardrobe choice was the deciding factor here!

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Lesson One: Find Your Pleasure

While the impetus for Justin seeing Libby in a new light was inspired by her clothing, for Libby she turns to Justin for some instruction. She has a huge crush on somebody she works with, and she wants her long-time friend to teach her a thing or two on how to please a man. Yet another theme that’s usually one of my favorites in Romancelandia. With this situation however it wasn’t quite the sexucation I was expecting. I assumed it would be more about the logistics and techniques of how she might be able to give her crush the ultimate pleasure by using Justin as her instructor in all things sex.

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However, once Justin and Libby start spending some couch/bed time together, it turns out the giving and receiving of pleasure comes pretty naturally for both of them. Libby didn’t really need an education in the mechanics of sex after all, but rather in how to build up her own self confidence. This is what Justin is able to teach her. That she is a beautiful, desirable woman that any man would be lucky to have. A past break-up is what made Libby question her sensuality, but it doesn’t take long following a roll in the sheets with Justin for her confidence to start shining through.

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Series: Bad Motherpuckers, book 1. Again, gotta love the series title here, and I can see myself continuing with it.

Final Impressions: This is a cute read that definitely brought a stupid grin to my face many times when I listened to it as an audiobook. I’d say that Libby and Justin develop more of a friends with benefits situation than the sexucation I was really hoping for, but it’s still fun to see their relationship evolve. While both are initially surprised to find how much pleasure they can bring each other, eventually they realize it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Smut Level: Justin and and Libby bond over something more than just sex, and that would be their love of crochet. But who says you can’t bring the two delights together? Hence Justin’s wearing of a cock puppet…which is basically an adult sock puppet…on a certain part of his anatomy…

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Self Taught Ninja Publishing. 330 Pages.

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Taking Shots by Toni Aleo

She watches the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice every night before falling asleep. With no mention at all of the Colin Firth version?!?! Not gonna lie, I kind of judge. 
What’s it About? 
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Elli Fisher has never thought she was good enough, let it be her job, her weight, her love life, nothing. That is until she meets Shea Adler. After doing a promotional shoot for the NHL team, the Assassins, she meets the hunky hockey player who shoots a puck, shattering her world. Shea Adler was tired of the life he was living outside of the rink. The girls, the money blowing, the drinking, everything had to stop and it all did when he met Eleanor Fisher. He had never met anyone like her. She was feisty, witty, shy, and simply gorgeous. When he laid eyes on her, it was as if he was taking the hardest hit of his life into the boards, and he had to have her. Elli is a little skeptical of Shea, but he knows that they were meant to be together, and he needed her in his life. Can Elli throw her insecurities out the window and love Shea with everything inside of her, or will she let a past relationship, and her family ruin any chance of her being happy.
First Impressions 
This book was like an accent smorgasbord. I listened to this romance as an audio book and I must say the narrator did a fantastic job with the various accents presented throughout the novel. From our female lead with her Nashville twang, to the hockey star with his Boston accent, and even an adorably romantic supplementary character from Russia. The narrator captures them all effortlessly. Considering how difficult it can be for an audio book narrator to reflect an American accent actively, I was thoroughly impressed with her ability to effectively present so many varied voices.
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This novel does start off with a pretty adorable meet-cute between our male and female lead, Shea and Elli. He’s the stunning hockey captain of her favorite hometown team, and she’s the photographer scheduled to take shots of him and his teammates. To say Elli is a little star struck is quite the understatement. The fact that he starts openly flirting as she snaps his photo has her floored. Their dynamic is just so darn cute in the beginning, but unfortunately things sort of start to go downhill from there.
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A Dragging Romance 
If I had to give you one piece of advice when it came to this novel it would be to try and find the abridged version. The audio book I listened to was the unabridged copy, and ran for almost 15 hours, aka almost 600 Kindle pages. While the initial meeting between Hockey Star and photographer was rather sweet, things just started to drag on from that point. There’s a pretty large portion of the book which seems rather uneventful, and we are presented with a pretty typical romance timeline. We have the meet cute, the pursuit, the first date, and everything else you can predict in an early romance with very little surprise. I just kept waiting around for something to happen. Unfortunately, once we finally do get a little bit of action, it’s rather unsatisfying. Or, maybe depressing is a more appropriate word.
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The Black Sheep of the Family
While the introduction of Elli and Shea’s romance seems to drag on for quite some time, in reality they start to fall for each other pretty quickly. Or at least, Shea falls for Elli extremely fast. She has some past drama from her previous relationship which has left her hesitant to admit her feelings for Shea. However, it’s not long before we get to see the good ole introduction to the family. And my goodness, is it a shit show. Elli’s father is a pure Angel, but unfortunately her mother is the devil incarnate, while her sister is the Antichrist. Both women openly antagonize Elli over her former weight issues, and at one point her mother even slaps her hand away from grabbing a second helping of food.
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The scene would have to be the most memorable of the novel for me, and by far the most frustrating. Firstly, the rest of Elli’s family puts up with this behavior as typical. Her father sort of comes to her defense at one point, but doesn’t put a whole lot of backbone into it. As for Shea, he is noticeably shocked at the family’s behavior and attitude towards Elli, but he doesn’t come to her defense until after Elli leaves the room in a ball of tears. I understand wanting to leave a nice first impression when meeting the family, but I felt like when her hand was slapped away he should have just grabbed Elli’s other hand and pulled her from the room to leave. No reason to put up with that kind of crap. But here was the main reason I had an issue with this scene. 
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Elli let Shea walk into the lions den with no preparation whatsoever. She knew this would happen. Her mother and sister had always made fun of her because of her weight, and she knew it was just a matter of time before their true nature would come to light. However, Elli never told Shea that her female relatives were such terrible people. Or that she used to sing on Broadway, that she gained over 100 lbs following a thyroid issue, or that she was once engaged to a jackass who cheated on her. Instead she lets her mother and sister surprise him completely with all the details of her past. Every…single…one.
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She didn’t need to tell him everything, but some warning probably would have been a good idea. Or maybe just delay having brunch with the family until you feel comfortable enough opening up to your boyfriend about the basics of your past. Shea is understandably upset to discover that Ellie kept so much hidden from him, and for a brief moment her secrets even threaten their relationship. Although he initially turns away from her, it isn’t long before he goes running back to take her up in his arms once again, and put the unfortunate events behind them.
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The Unwanted Kiss
After the brunch from hell, things pretty much go back to normal. We are just waiting, waiting, waiting for something dramatic or substantive to happen. And when it does I must say it pissed me off. At this point we are pretty late in the novel, and both of our lead characters have openly admitted how much they love each other. Shea even threw a Pride and Prejudice themed birthday party for Elli. That’s love folks. And so we’ve arrived at the moment where Shea decides Elli is the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, and it’s time to purchase a ring. And who does he allow to accompany him on this shopping adventure? None other than Elli’s terrible, heartless sister. Look, we all know something’s going to go wrong here. Even Shea knows it. And yet he hopes that by bringing her along it will help to bring the sisters closer together. Such a naive rabbit.
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So it isn’t long before her sister kisses Shea right in front of Elli, and of course this causes both Shea and Elli to flip their lids. Shea immediately tells Elli how her sister was setting him up, that she kissed him while he just pushed her away, and that he sees nothing in her. And here was the reason I really didn’t like this scene. Her sister has never been anything but openly hostile with Elli. Spouting verbal abuse left and right that even I would have trouble yelling at my worst enemy, let alone my sister, and yet for some reason I will never understand Elli chooses to believe her sister when she said Shea kissed her.
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Like…what in the actual hell? She calls Shea a liar, an ass hole, and immediately packs up her stuff to move out of his apartment. Elli refuses to listen to Shea’s logical explanation, answer his calls, or read his texts. She has no doubt in her mind whatsoever that he pursued her sister, and that he doesn’t actually love her. Even though he has never done anything throughout their entire relationship to demonstrate otherwise, and he’s always been entirely forthcoming with how much he loves her, even when she couldn’t admit it herself.  
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I tried to keep telling myself that they really haven’t been dating all that long. It’s only been four months, they’re already living together, and they’ve both declared their love for each other. In addition, the fact her ex-fiancé was a cheating ass makes it reasonable for her to be suspicious of Shea, right? Sorry but throughout this whole ordeal I couldn’t see Elli’s side. Maybe if she had been on slightly better terms with her sister I might have found her disgust towards Shea a tad more plausible. Or if she in any way doubted her decision after leaving Shea behind. But when Elli chose her malicious sister over Shea, who has never been anything but a loving gentleman to her, I couldn’t help but think, “You know what Shea, maybe you should just let her go.” It’s always Shea going after Elli, fighting for their relationship, whereas she gives up so easily. If she’s so willing to walk away…maybe he should just let her walk away. I know that makes me sound like such a non-romantic, but considering she kept her entire past a secret from him, and is now so willing to give up on their relationship I couldn’t help but feel that Shea deserved better. 
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Series: Assassins, book 1. I’m gonna keep going with this one. After all, we have a whole hockey team to look forward too. 
Should you read it? I loved the start of this novel. I loved that a tough-as-nails hockey captain like Shea could be so openly romantic and affectionate. I loved the supplemental characters who had their own romantic story lines going on. Unfortunately, Elli really wasn’t my favorite character. I didn’t like that she never seemed to give 100%, or heck even 60%, of herself to her relationship with Shea. He really seemed to be the glue holding them together, and he constantly put in 140% to make up for her hesitancy. It was only during the very last scene that Elli chose to make a big romantic gesture to win Shea back. Perhaps too little too late?
Smut Level: Things are kind of slow going at first as Elli is very self conscious about her body’s appearance after gaining and losing so much weight following a medical issue. But Shea is more than willing to show her that he finds every inch of her delectable. 
Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Loveswept Publishing. 594 Pages.