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.

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.