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.