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. 

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.

Stumped by Pamela Q. Fernandes

A review of their past will make these two contemplate if a future together is possible.

What’s it About?

Love behind the wickets.

English vice-Captain Claude de Lussan is the poster boy for English cricket. He’s smart, handsome, rich and a damn fine cricketer. And Delilah Taylor loves him to bits. Her whole existence revolves around him so much so, she polishes his autographed ball from his first century every weekend as it sits in her cabinet. Except, Claude de Lussan doesn’t love her back.

Following a heady summer, she finds herself suddenly married and divorced from the cricketer only to find him return to her world years later. Can they resolve old hurts and bury the past to rebuild a future together? Can they overcome family resentment, old flames and misunderstandings to accept that they what they had was and still is special?

First Impressions

Alright, confession time. I have never in my life watched a cricket match. Game? Competition? After reading this book I understand wickets are involved…whatever they are…Now, I know what you’re probably thinking, typical American! Well, if it helps at all, it’s not like I’m only into football or baseball, I just don’t care for sports in general. Probably because watching people enduring so much physical activity reminds me how I should probably work out more 🙂 All that being said, do you need to understand all the rules of cricket to understand or follow along with the plot of this novel? No, not really. Every chapter is entitled after a cricket phrase, and our two lead characters do bond over Claude’s expertise in the game. However, I do think it would have added an extra layer of appreciation to understand how the cricket chapter titles maybe corresponded to the content of that chapter, but alas I just had to go with the flow. I will say though I am very intrigued now to watch a cricket match after completing this read!

Plenty of Angst

If I had to describe our lead characters in one word it would be the following: flawed. In a way, it made them more relatable and “human” to see they were subject to making some of the same mistakes, and even jumping to rash conclusions, like we are all capable of doing. The flip side of this though was that it was also kind of difficult to fall in love with our leads for a decent portion of the novel. It wasn’t even until the final scene of the book where I was somewhat convinced that it would be a good idea for Claude and Delilah to make another attempt at a relationship together. Pretty much from day one, Claude was always head over heels in love with Delilah’s friend, Grace, in a way that reminded me of Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet. Essentially, you know he’s smitten, but you have absolutely no idea of what he sees in her beyond good looks. Even though he completely adored Grace, her blasé attitude toward him slowly made him turn to Delilah as a second choice.

Claude constantly straddled a line between the two women throughout the whole book. It seemed as though he didn’t really care for Delilah at all as a person until he eventually loses her. He keeps going back to Grace even as she was dating his brother, and when she ultimately reveals herself to be the ultimate duplicitous villainess, Claude is still willing to consider a future with her. At one point in the story Claude and Delilah were really starting to build a strong foundation together, and yet he was more willing to believe Grace’s word over Delilah’s, even though Grace has never really give him any reason to trust her. There was one scene in particular where we witness Grace’s ability to get inside Claude’s head, and it results in him spouting the most heinous vitriol towards Delilah that he no longer seemed relatable as a character, just downright mean. It was during moments like this that I couldn’t help but wonder if Delilah would have been better off without him. We eventually see Claude turn a corner, and realize that he lost something truly special by letting Delilah get away. However, this turnabout sort of came too little, too late in the game for my opinion of him to flip entirely.

*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: To Love a Sportsman, book 2. I hadn’t read book one in this series, but had no trouble diving right into this second novel.

Final Impressions: Aside from disliking one half of our lead couple through some critical scenes, another aspect of this read that I had a bit of trouble adapting to was the flashback format. While it was interesting to see scenes of Delilah and Claude divorced in the present juxtaposed against flashbacks to how they met, married and what led to their split, it was also tricky to follow along at times. As the novel progressed, and the timelines got closer together involving their somewhat constant arguing as Claude continued to waffle between Grace and Delilah, it became harder to distinguish between when we were in the past versus the present.

Smut Level: Nothing too descriptive, though there are a few moments of passion. However, seeing as these passionate scenes occurred between Delilah and Claude when he was still technically involved with Grace, it was kind of hard to become fully invested in these sensual moments.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. TouchPoint Press. 137 Pages.

Nothing but Trouble by Amy Andrews

CC has never let her employer’s quarterback fame influence her view of him. But put that man on a farm, throw a cowboy hat on him, and all bets are off!

What’s it About? 

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For five years, Cecilia Morgan’s entire existence has revolved around playing personal assistant to self-centered former NFL quarterback Wade Carter. But just when she finally gives her notice, his father’s health fails, and Wade whisks her back to his hometown. CC will stay for his dad—for now—even if that means ignoring how sexy her boss is starting to look in his Wranglers.

To say CC’s notice is a bombshell is an insult to bombs. Wade can’t imagine his life without his “left tackle.” She’s the only person who can tell him “no” and strangely, it’s his favorite quality. He’ll do anything to keep her from leaving, even if it means playing dirty and dragging her back to Credence, Colorado, with him.

But now they’re living under the same roof, getting involved in small-town politics, and bickering like an old married couple. Suddenly, five years of fighting is starting to feel a whole lot like foreplay. What’s a quarterback to do when he realizes he might be falling for his “left tackle”? Throw a Hail Mary she’ll never see coming, of course.

First Impressions

CC has been working as personal assistant to former NFL quarterback, Wade, for almost six years, and we’re meant to believe she’s at her wits end in his employ. She’s seemingly just biding her time to finish out her contract before she can yell out “I quit!”, pack up her things, and move to California. That’s the plan. But her plan is thrown off kilter when Wade drags her to his small hometown community of Credence, Colorado to help out on his family farm following his father’s stay in hospital. This is when CC starts to view him in a new light, and finds herself having a few too many erotic dreams of her employer, which she begrudgingly labels as “farmer porn”. Overall a fantastic premise, but there were a few missteps in execution.

Capture

The Un-bossy Farm Boy

CC makes it sound as though working for Wade the last five and a half years has been an absolute nightmare. However, we never really see him act the tyrant he’s supposedly meant to be. Sure, there are some unique quirks to working for this famous retired quarterback, like ensuring he’s constantly well-stocked in Nerds candies, and interceding phone calls from the women he dumps. This is all in addition to her regular PA responsibilities, so it’s not all ridiculous requests. There aren’t really enough moments of him being this supposedly uber-annoying employer for us to truly commiserate with her frustration and desperation to get out of his life forever. This then sort of transitions into the second aspect of the book that I found confusing, which was that after so many years under his employ, CC is suddenly starting to fantasize about being…under Wade in an entirely different sense.

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The reasoning for this is explained away as suddenly seeing him in a different, homey environment. Again, I think if we’d seen a few more glimpses of him being a hard-ass boss in the beginning, and then witnessing a total transformation to him having a softer side after going back home, then the evolution of her feelings for him would have made more sense. Instead we almost see the opposite happen, where Wade becomes more of a complainer after returning home as his mother and the town council strategize ways to entice single women to move to their small dying town. I was left wondering why, after over five years of an apparently unbearable working relationship, CC abruptly started to view Wade in such a different light. I think we can more fully understand Wade’s change of demeanor, as he’s suddenly presented with the prospect of a life without her. But can the change for CC really just be attributed to an erotic dream featuring Wade as the male lead?

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An Absentee Relationship

Aside from the confusion surrounding the transformation of their relationship from employer/employee to something more, I was extremely surprised to see how much of the book CC and Wade actually spent apart from each other. In a way, I appreciated that CC was constantly reminding us they’d worked together for almost six years. Otherwise I would have questioned how well they actually knew each other considering how little time they spend in each other’s company. The bulk of the book involves them contemplating their evolving emotions, and when they do eventually come together in the physical sense I must say I wasn’t thrilled with how it unfolded.

Capture

I was hoping for some kind of passionate confession about their feelings, or maybe Wade would finally admit that he needs CC for more than his Nerds fix. Instead we see that following the untimely death of CC’s estranged father she ingests about half a bottle of tequila, and spends most of the night vomiting as Wade comforts her. They pass out in each other’s arms, and upon waking the next morning things get kind of steamy. After five years I think I was hoping for a more climactic scene full of emotion, rather than one steeped in alcohol.

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Series: Credence, Colorado; book 1. While I wasn’t thrilled with this first book, I was definitely a fan of the town of Credence, as well as some of the supporting characters. I actually had more of an emotional connection to the love story which involved Wade’s brother rather than the one involving Wade. Maybe I’ll see what book 2 has in store.

Final Impressions: I think we needed more of a glimpse into CC and Wade’s working relationship before the move to Credence. It was kind of difficult to fully stand behind the transition of their feelings when we didn’t get the entire picture of their interactions beforehand. It seemed as though the basis was going to be that CC finally saw Wade in a different environment which made her start to see him in a different way, but this wasn’t fully executed. The big issue here was that the characters spent so much of their time in Credence apart from each other, that it was difficult to understand how they could begin to develop a more romantic relationship.

Smut Level: Only two scenes of an erotic nature, and nothing too descriptive to make you blush.

Get it on AmazonClick Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Dreamscape Media, Entangled: Amara. 362 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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Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen

Who knew palindromes could be such a sexy turn-on?

What’s it About? 

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You’d think a billion dollars, a professional hockey team and a six-bedroom mansion on the Promenade would satisfy a guy. You’d be wrong. For seven years Rebecca has brightened my office with her wit and her smile. She manages both my hockey team and my sanity. I don’t know when I started waking in the night, craving her. All I know is that one whiff of her perfume ruins my concentration. And her laugh makes me hard.

When Rebecca gets hurt, I step in to help. It’s what friends do. But what friends don’t do is rip off each others’ clothes for a single, wild night together. Now she’s avoiding me. She says we’re too different, and it can never happen again. So why can’t we keep our hands off each other?

First Impressions

I must say I was pleasantly surprised with how much I loved this book! I went in with low-to-no expectations, yet practically every time I listened to a little snippet of it before work I’d find myself with a smile almost permanently plastered on my face. It’s simply the epitome of the perfect beach read. Fun, romantic, silly, light-hearted, and you can really just relax and enjoy it as the sun shines and the waves crash along the sandy beach. Nate and Rebecca have been co-workers for years, but more importantly they’ve developed a beloved friendship on top of their professional relationship. It’s only when Rebecca sustains an injury which literally throws her off-balance that we see she and Nate develop a level of closeness they’ve never experienced before.

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What’s Standing in the Way? 

It’s only when Rebecca gets a concussion following a little slip on the ice that Nate starts to realize how much his beautiful employee means to him. We don’t just have a friends-to-lovers romance going on, but also the complexities of an office romance mixed in there as well. I was quite surprised, and happily so, that Nate’s immense wealth (simply the fact that he had money) was never really a point of contention between them. Sure, sometimes he used his money in a way to support Rebecca without consulting her ahead of time, and the ensuing arguments caused some pointed grumbling. However, we see other factors were significantly more influential in causing Nate and Rebecca to hesitate in pursuing the romantic relationship they both desired.

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First, there’s the fact that they’re also in an employer/employee dynamic. While they’ve had a friendly relationship throughout the years, they’ve always maintained a level of professionalism in the work place, and it’s a line they’re not quite willing to risk crossing. A second hurdle that Rebecca personally had to jump over was her own sense of intellectual inferiority when compared to Nate. He didn’t just happen upon his wealth, but rather he earned it by putting his smarts to good use in the tech industry. His level of genius intimidates her, and often makes her feel as though he deserves better. It’s only through a multitude of flashbacks depicting the progression of their relationship, and through their current interactions of Nate caring for Rebecca that we see how comfortable and at ease these two can be with each other. In a way, this proves to be more important than the sexual chemistry they both share.

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Series: Brooklyn, book 1. I’m gonna continue on with this series.

Final Impressions: This is such a fun read, and the perfect book to bring along on your next beach vacation. Personally, I would recommend listening to this one as an audio book, primarily for the AI character, Bingsley, who proves to be a source of comedic relief with his uptight British accent in the midst of this modern New York City burrough. Nate and Rebecca are two delightful characters who you can’t help but love, and their connection feels so real it’ll put a smile on your face.

Smut Level: These two get surprisingly creative with a rubber pool float.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Rennie Road Books. 298 Pages.

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Sweet Victory by Gina L. Maxwell

A dash of MMA mixed with a pinch of a fake marriage is the perfect recipe for the sweetest of romances.

What’s it About? 

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Sophie Caldwell might not like asking for help, but help is what she needs if she’s going to save her family business from her uncle. Her grandma left one rule for Sophie if she wants to gain sole ownership before she’s thirty–get married. Yeah, fat chance of that happening since she hasn’t had a boyfriend in years, and now she can’t get her uncle off her ass.

British-born MMA fighter Xander James has never lost a fight, and he’s not about to start now. He’s on the brink of a comeback that could make him a UFC champion, but his landlord wants to take away his last chance by shutting down his gym. Hell, no. Fortunately, his landlord’s niece has a problem of her own. Time for a proposal she can’t refuse.

First Impressions

Of all the novels in the Fighting for Love series, this fourth installment has definitely been my favorite. It’s not just because I have an affinity for accents, and our male lead happens to have a delightful British lilt. It’s also not because our female lead owns a bakery, and I have a penchant for baking pies and cakes of my own. Although…those things certainly didn’t hurt! No, the reason this book was a cut above the rest was because Xander and Sophie had a natural and easygoing chemistry that felt completely legitimate and all-consuming.

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In order to save her bakery and his gym, the two enter into a fake marriage which must last for at least six months so that her dubious uncle doesn’t lay claim to the city block where their properties are located. What starts off as a temporary marriage of convenience quickly turns into one full of emotion. The fact Xander and Sophie also happen to have off-the-charts sexual attraction certainly helped. While it’s never clearly explained why they didn’t pursue a relationship prior to the need for a temporary marriage considering their longtime flirtatious friendship, you can’t help but be captivated by their intimate connection. We root for their marriage to last beyond the six-month timeline, even though we know there’s someone who will do anything to tear them apart.

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The Family Connection

Sophie’s uncle is our villain who is trying his damnedest to prove that Xander and Sophie’s relationship is a sham. He has his sights set on selling this city block to a developer for a rather large sum of money, but Xander and Sophie are the only holdouts unwilling to play ball. For Xander, the current location of his gym is a matter of convenience, and with him training for an important upcoming MMA fight, the last thing he has time for is to go searching for a new property. As for Sophie, she took over her bakery from her grandmother, and giving it up is something she could never imagine, as it would be like losing a piece of her family. While Xander and Sophie’s relationship smoothly progresses, we know it’s just a matter of time before her uncle weasels his way into the situation to spoil things.

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Sophie’s grandmother and uncle prove to be very important supporting characters to her relationship with Xander. The scenes involving her grandmother were particularly poignant and deeply moving. It’s in these moments that we see a soft and caring side to Xander’s tough fighter’s exterior, and it clearly demonstrates to Sophie that he’s a genuinely good guy worth loving. As for her uncle, it was rather predictable how his meddling would present a hurdle for Sophie and Xander to jump over, but there was another aspect to his presence that I wish could have been tweaked. Essentially, the only primary interactions we see involving Sophie’s uncle involve him dealing with Xander. I think it really could have added an additional layer of struggle if we’d seen at least one more scene where Sophie had confronted her uncle directly. Perhaps a heart-to-heart where he admits his motivations for wanting to sell his mother’s bakery, and Sophie simultaneously acknowledging why it’s so hard for her to let it go. They are family after all, and it was somewhat disappointing for all of his interactions to be limited to dealing with Xander rather than Sophie.

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Series: Fighting For Love, book 4. My favorite book of the series!

Final Impressions: This was such a fun read. Xander and Sophie’s connection felt so real, not only in terms of their affection, but also their sexual chemistry and ability to bicker and tease like an actual couple. Sure, the ending was fairly cheesy and predictable, but the journey to get there was delightful. I loved every scene where we saw Xander and Sophie interacting with her grandmother, as it lent an emotional depth to the story that I wasn’t expecting. I think I would have preferred a bit more confrontation between Sophie and her uncle, although it was great to see Xander stand up for her in the face of this intimidating family member.

Smut Level: When you have a bakery owner as one of your main characters, you just know frosting is gonna come into play with sexy fun times.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Entangled: Brazen. 260 Pages.

Trying to Score by Toni Aleo

I’m starting to notice some shared features of the books in this series. 1) they’re about 200 pages too long, and 2) the female leads are extremely frustrating.

What’s it About? 

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Fallon Parker’s dream has always been to turn her family’s wine company into a runaway success and eventually start a cellar of her own. Since graduating from college, she has worked relentlessly to make that dream a reality, especially after taking a chance on love–and losing. By the time Fallon becomes an official sponsor of the Nashville Assassins, she feels like all her hard work is finally paying off. And then the man who broke her heart skates back into her life.

On the ice, Lucas Brooks is the NHL’s leading scorer–at least when he’s not in the box. Off the ice, he’s a mess, with all his anger and misery bottled up inside. He threw away the most important person in his life and has regretted it ever since. But when Lucas returns to Nashville in a trade, he’s determined to convince Fallon that he’s a changed man. The attraction is still there. The tension is electrifying. But the odds are stacked against them–especially after Lucas finds out that Fallon has been keeping a devastating secret.

First Impressions

This novel definitely left me with some conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I can’t help but commend the author for succeeding in making me sympathize with our male lead Lucas, who cheated on Fallon years ago when they first dated. Cheating is a big no-no, and often a death knell for my opinion of any character. However, we’re able to see how troubled Lucas was back then as he turned to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with his father’s death. While this was certainly no excuse for his cheating, it demonstrated how tumultuous his head space was back then. More importantly though, we see how much Lucas has struggled and grown as a person in the seven years since, and succeeded in moving past his depression and addiction to become a whole new man. One who is ready to fight to win back the love of his life, Fallon.

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And this is where the conflict comes in. Fallon is definitely one of the most frustrating female lead characters I’ve encountered in a long time. Following the discovery of Lucas in bed with her best friend, Fallon ran away as fast as her legs could carry her, and vowed to cut Lucas out of her life entirely. Girl, I feel ya! You do you. Her misstep though was that she soon discovered she was pregnant with Lucas’s child, and yet she chose to keep it a secret from him. It’s only when Lucas is ultimately traded to the hockey team in Fallon’s home town that their lives are thrown together once again, and Lucas discovers the shocking truth that he’s a father to a son he never knew existed. Fallon may have had every right to cut Lucas out of her life, but not their son’s.

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Where Past Meets Present

Now I know what you’re probably thinking. If Lucas was douche enough to cheat on Fallon, how was she supposed to know how he might treat their child. As it turns out, pretty easily! Throughout the first part of the novel, we see a constant interweaving of their present situation with flashbacks from the development of their past relationship. We see it all, from the night they first met to the moment when everything fell apart. We also see some of their more intimate conversations of what they wanted out of life, and how much they loved each other. It’s during these flashback scenes that we learn how much they both wanted children, Lucas especially.

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Fallon fully acknowledges that Lucas was always very open about how much he wanted children, and admits that if their relationship hadn’t fallen apart years ago they’d probably have a few children by now. That makes it almost impossible to sympathize with her decision to keep Lucas in the dark for so long about the fact that they have a child. Yes, he cheated on her like an ass hat. Inexcusable. But he should have known about his kid. Especially when we learn how crushed he was after the death of his father when he was just a teenager, and his vow that no child should grow up without a father. She not only robbed Lucas of the chance to see his son grow up, she also denied their child the opportunity to get to know his dad.

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Letting Him Back In

Eventually Lucas discovers that he has a son named Aiden, who is just about as adorable of a character that you can get. They’re both so excited to get to know each other, and Lucas’s love for Aiden is clear as day. However, Fallon seems determined to be annoyed or angered by everything Lucas does when it comes to his interactions with her son. Even the simple act of giving Aiden a nickname fills Fallon with unnecessary rage and annoyance. While most would see it as a cute way for father and son to bond, she sees it as Lucas interfering in everything she’s built and developed with her son, including his very name. Mkay chill out a little bit, it’s not like he took him to get a legal name change or anything, it’s a nickname for crying out loud.

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When it comes to Lucas, he is absolutely determined to not only get to know his son, but also to win back Fallon so they can finally have their happily ever after. I couldn’t help but question…whyyyyyy her?? Fallon never told him he was a father, and kept their son from him for over seven years. On top of it all, once the two reunite Fallon is as standoffish and close-minded as ever when it comes to allowing Lucas back into her life. She pushes him away at every turn, is rather demeaning in her comments towards him, and yet Lucas keeps coming back for more. Dude, there are other fish in the sea you know! Even when they do start dating again, and Lucas opens up about all the pain and addiction from his past, it’s clear that Fallon is still holding back from placing her full trust in him. She’s seen how much he cares for their son, that he wants nothing more than for them to all be a family, but it’s almost like she’s just waiting around for him to make some kind of mistake that she can use as an excuse to end things between them.

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Series: The Assassins Series, book 2. While the story lines for books one and two were definitely distinct, they were still similar in being too long and having female leads who were beyond frustrating. I’m thinking I’ll give one more book in this series a try. If we see yet another heroine who gets on my nerves I might have to call it quits.

Final Impressions: Aiden and Lucas were far and away the two bright lights of this story, with Fallon being the dark stain of the group. I almost wish we could have just seen a story which focused on the two of them learning how to be father and son, and simply eliminated the romantic component between Lucas and Fallon. While we can certainly understand Fallon’s initial distrust of Lucas considering his past misdeeds, the fact she kept Aiden’s existence a secret for so long was inexcusable, and her inability to see how much Lucas has matured and grown as a person over the past 7 years was beyond frustrating. I couldn’t help but feel that Lucas could have done better.

Smut Level: Fallon seemingly does everything in her power to push Lucas away, so it’s understandable that it takes a while before they do the deed. When they finally do, Lucas is determined to show that their connection is as strong as ever, and he won’t let her get away so easily a second time.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Loveswept Publishing. 578 Pages.