Author: Sarina Bowen

Fireworks by Sarina Bowen

Fireworks by Sarina BowenFireworks by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North #6
Published by Tuxbury Publishing LLC on 13th November 2018
Pages: 293
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two-stars

Skye Copeland is on paid leave from her broadcasting job after accidentally drawing a pecker on the traffic map.

Let that sink in. Like it’s her fault the traffic pattern that day created a perfect schlong?

Skye isn’t laughing. She needs this job. And that’s the only reason she’s agreed to chase down a story in her least favorite place—that hell on earth known as Vermont.

A quick trip. In and out. Much like - never mind. Skye can sneak into the town that once tried to break her, get the story and get back into the good graces of her producer. Easy peasy.

Except things go sideways even as she sets foot over the county line. Her step-sister is on the run from a violent drug dealer. And the cop on the case is none other than Benito Rossi, the man who broke her teenage heart.

His dark brown eyes still tear her apart. And even as she steels herself to finally tell him off after twelve years, the old fireworks are still there.

Things are about to go boom.

‘Fireworks’ is Sarina Bowen’s ever-growing ‘Truth North’ series as we’re taken back on the ride to Vermont where Skylar and Benito meet again after 12 years. Their history is slowly revealed in flashbacks over the course of the story, enveloped lovingly by the rustic Vermont small-town community and memories that don’t just seem to fade.

If this starts out rather light-hearted, Bowen inserts a little more suspense here along with the quirk and in this way, this particular instalment is a little different from the rest of the books, as a large part of the plot is being driven by an impending drug bust and a sexual predator who’d already left some stains in the characters’ lives.

‘Fireworks’ had some bits that bothered me, in fact—but this was what I’d expected of the ‘True North’ series which has so far, brought my own reactions to extremes. But I like Bowen’s style of writing (though not her characters always), so perhaps this still makes me a glutton for punishment.

I found Skye a sympathetic character mostly; Bowen’s portrayal of a hapless teenager facing down a sexual predator is terrifying and I can certainly understand how these experiences shaped her future though there seemed to be contradictory parts of Skye (practical, wry, yet a complete pushover where her rather dumb stepsister and Benito were concerned) that I couldn’t reconcile with the picture that I’d formed early on of her.

But the late insertion of the classic ‘other woman/hookup’ plot device coming into play later honestly bothered me as much as it did Skye—that it’d taken a lot for her to be naked and vulnerable for Benito, only for him to call that very act casual with another woman—because it simply felt disrespectful and somehow cheapening of their growing romance.

A 12-year separation is a long time and having Benito claim Skye is the only girl he’d ever loved while not actively doing a thing to find her again (as well as hooking up with others in the meantime, with the most recent one being Skye’s rival) felt hypocritical to me. That Benito had been hooking up with a ‘mean-girl’ then flightily going straight onto professing his love for Skye whom he’s always wanted just made this part of the story way too hard to swallow. It’d made him seem like a player and one who simply messed around other women’s feelings even if it was because of his obliviousness.

This device is one that I’ve come to actively detest in recent years; more often than not, it’s used too commonly to create conflict and have one protagonist doubt the other’s devotion or fidelity, only for some grovelling to ensue before the usual trite platitudes (‘it was only sex’, ‘it was only casual’, ’she/he means nothing to me’, ‘it’s only you for me’ or some other phrases with the same flavour) that’ll be thrown out and easily accepted. Yet as a reader, coming back from this type of comparison no matter what the character in question says, is damn near impossible. Like Skye, it’s something that can’t be un-read, or un-heard and thereafter serves as a niggling reminder of the past which pretty much killed the rest of the book for me.

‘Fireworks’ as a result, left me conflicted. I probably would have liked it way, way better minus the Jill Sullivan/mean-girl hookup nonsense which made me stumble irrecoverably, which in turn would have had me more wholeheartedly rooting for this particular second-chance romance—a trope that I already find myself sceptical about.

two-stars

Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen

Brooklynaire by Sarina BowenBrooklynaire by Sarina Bowen
Series: Brooklyn Bruisers #4
Published by Rennie Road Books on February 12th 2018
Pages: 452
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three-half-stars

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?

Writing this review was difficult, mostly because of the anticipation I had with Nate/Becca’s story—the build-up and the fandom surrounding this couple pretty much came to a feeding frenzy—which Sarina Bowen finally wrote. Most likely then, were my expectations over the top and too fanciful and honestly, probably something no author would want to write, which also meant that my own personal expectations had to be adjusted after I blew through the book.

‘Brooklynaire’ is in essence, a forbidden-ish boss/employee story, with the billionaire hero thrown into it, yet it’s also a very slow, meandering friends-to-lovers romance, after several wrong turns that involved a fair bit of bed-hopping and a pregnancy scare before the delirious HEA happens. Part of it is also a Nate and Becca origins story; the brief details given in their early years were what I loved the most as both protagonists started on their friendship, before the money and glitz came rolling in, back when the guys were just really smart geeks in jeans and hoodies working as a tech startup. Half of the first book took place in the same timeline as the previous book however, filling in the gaps of what we thought might have happened in ‘Pipe Dream’ and it was only in the second half that Bowen brings us onto uncharted ground with their relationship.

I wasn’t too sure what I was exactly expecting, but I did find myself hoping that Nate/Becca’s story had taken a different turn somehow: the amount of OW-drama proved a little too much for my liking, even though the focus remained Nate’s uphill climb to get Becca to see him as the man beneath the suit in a way that didn’t fully push up the dial on the angst. It was frankly, harder to get behind them especially when Nate’s past hammered back in just when their relationship was on the uptick—I thought we could have done without the last, frustrating bit that threw me for a loop.

Still, Bowen has a writing style that sucks you in and never lets go, and her heartfelt characters have quirks (which you like) and a sense of maturity (mostly) that make them generally likeable and more easily relatable than others that I’ve read about. Consequently, finishing any book of Sarina Bowen is no hardship—to this extent I’m in awe of Bowen’s ability to get a reader’s empathy for either one or even both of her protagonists. It’s definitely odd that I thought I would have liked ‘Brooklynaire’ better, though as happy as I am to see Nate/Becca finally getting the ending they should be getting, their story didn’t punch me as emotionally hard as I thought it would have.

three-half-stars

Man Card by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

Man Card by Sarina Bowen and Tanya EbyMan Card by Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby
Series: Man Hands #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on January 15th 2018
Pages: 452
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four-stars

Nothing ventured, nothing banged...

AshI still don't know how it happened. One minute I was arguing with my arrogant competitor--our usual trash-talk over who deserves the larger commission. But somehow I went from throwing down to kneeling down... It can never happen again. I don't even like Braht. He's too slick. He's a manipulating mansplaining party boy in preppy clothes.So why can't I get him out of my head?

BrahtThere are two things I know without question. One: Ash and I are destined for each other. Two: never trust a man with a unibrow.Ash is my missing my piece. She's the sweet cream to my gourmet espresso. And nothing gets me going faster than her contempt for me. They don't call her the Ashkicker for nothing. Eventually I'll win her over...if my past doesn't ruin everything first.

A not-quite secret: ‘Man Card’ was something I hesitated a long time over, but gave in because, well, it’s Sarina Bowen, an author who seems to take on anything, anyone and everything without fear, no matter the consequences.

And I’m glad I took the time for this one. I found the slapstick comedy in ‘Man Hands’ near intolerable, but ‘Man Card’ was thankfully a return to the comfort zone for me, which was akin to not barrelling into walls and left feeling bewildered by a certain type of humour that never really worked for me. In fact, Braht’s and Ash’s story was a wittier, more relatable, less over-the-top, more believable version than its predecessor in a fremenies-to-lovers story. There were scenes and internal monologues so hysterical and unnecessarily exaggerated that even sitcoms would be taken offline—the constant talk of tightening nipples repeated ad nauseum for one—but by and large, ‘Man Hands’ was a way better read, and yes, I laughed in parts with some unexpectedly funny pop-up lines.

I actually liked Braht, despite the ridiculous name and the showy personality that we saw in the first book. Adored his all-in, completely besotted and devoted attention to Ash that worked strangely well with his cocky confidence, adored the amusing swagger that poured through the pages while he kept trying to win his lady over. It was Braht’s difference that made him a standout hero as well; unlike the usual alpha, testosterone-laden males that tend to come off the pages of romance novels, Braht is lanky, blond and James Spader-ish of the 80s, a metrosexual to the core and even more high maintenance than Ash herself.

Strangely enough, Braht and Ash did seem well-paired and their lusty, irrepressible banter was what kept me going throughout. The angst was kept to a minimum, the conflict thankfully not overinflated and the storytelling mostly lighthearted. Admittedly, some of the humour wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but this zany read marking the start of the new year was still oh, so welcome.

four-stars

Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya EbyMan Hands by Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby
Series: Man Hands, #1
Published by Rennie Road Books on December 11th 2017
Pages: 180
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two-stars

He puts the "screw" in screwball comedy...

BRYNN

At thirty-four, I’m reeling from a divorce. I don’t want to party or try to move on. I just want to stay home and post a new recipe on my blog: Brynn’s Dips and Balls.

But my friends aren’t having it. Get out there again, they say. It will be fun, they say. I’m still taking a hard pass.

Free designer cocktails, they say. And that’s a game-changer.

Too bad my ex shows up with his new arm candy. That’s when I lose my mind. But when my besties dare me to leap on the first single man I see, they don't expect me to actually go through with it.

TOM

All I need right now is some peace and quiet while my home renovation TV show is on hiatus. But when a curvy woman in a red wrap dress charges me like she’s a gymnast about to mount my high bar, all I can do is brace myself and catch her. What follows is the hottest experience of my adult life.

I want a repeat, but my flying Cinderella disappears immediately afterward. She doesn’t leave a glass slipper, either—just a pair of panties with chocolate bunnies printed on them.

But I will find her.

Stripped to its core, ‘Man Hands’ is about a woman reeling from her divorce, then getting back on the saddle with a one-night stand by riding a jaded womaniser of a tv personality after a crazy evening when she bumps into her ex…thereafter does a Cinderella-disappearing act on him thereafter. And predictably, this celebrity—used to female attention—is intrigued because the sex is the most memorable he’s ever had. Then comes a sex tape scandal and the damage-control that eventually blows up in their faces.

If the plot is familiar, it’s the execution of it that isn’t. ‘Man Hands’ is a stark departure from the usual Sarina Bowen style that I’m used to, and it was a ride that left me wondering how zany things could get before I could see my feet back on terra firma. Frankly, it was all a little too mad for me as characters stepped out of reality straight into slap-stick land and did/said/thought things that no sane person would try, I think.

I do understand that rom-coms can be tricky: get the balance of the humour and the lovey-dovey bits just a tad wrong and it dumps us into cheesy territory or overdoses us with cavity-inducing sweetness. Overdo the serious stuff and the complaints come fast and furious that the story should have been better classified as angsty drama.

But when everything about ‘Man Hands’ got inflated, dramatic and exaggerated so that hyperbole became comedy, I found myself barely able see past the over-the-top silliness to the point where it was hard to connect with the characters, or at least, with their voices which I hard a hard time reconciling with 30-ish-year-old adults. Scrub out the wacky lines, the erections that come when the slightest wind blew and the hysterical inner monologues that filled the pages, and I couldn’t quite get the substance behind this particular style.

If Brynn barrelling into the first man she saw which led immediately to hot sex wasn’t batty enough, Tom simply came across as sleazy as he straddled the line between being a pining teenager and a man obsessed with his own dick despite having broken his short stint of celibacy.

The long and short of it is, I was just incredibly disappointed by this one, maybe because I wanted so badly to see what Bowen could do with romantic comedy and felt let down when nothing went right somehow. But if ‘Man Hands’ was one that back-fired spectacularly, judging from the glowing reviews, I daresay it’s probably a brand of humour that didn’t resonate with me in any way.

two-stars

Bountiful by Sarina Bowen

Bountiful by Sarina BowenBountiful by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North, #4
Published by Rennie Road Books on October 20th 2017
Pages: 305
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three-stars

No last names. No life stories. Those were the rules.

Once upon a time a cocky, copper-haired tourist sauntered into Zara’s bar. And even though she knew better, Zara indulged in a cure for the small-town blues. It was supposed to be an uncomplicated fling—a few sizzling weeks before he went back to his life, and she moved on.

Until an accidental pregnancy changed her life.

Two years later, she’s made peace with the notion that Dave No-Last-Name will never be found. Until one summer day when he walks into her coffee shop, leveling her with the same hot smile that always renders her defenseless.

Dave Beringer has never forgotten the intense month he spent with prickly Zara. Their nights together were the first true intimacy he’d ever experienced. But the discovery of his child is the shock of a lifetime, and his ugly past puts relationships and family out of reach.

Or does it? Vermont’s countryside has a way of nurturing even tortured souls. The fields and the orchards—and hard won love—are Bountiful.

When ‘Grease’ the musical turned up in my life blaring Danny and Sandy’s summer fling from the very start, it was what I thought of immediately as Zara Rossi and Dave Beringer got down, carefree and dirty for a few weeks, until it wasn’t anymore.

But that was just part 1 of the story—a small but still sizeable part of the whole tale: a careful catalogue of their flirtation and their sex scenes…and probably not too much more than that. I had a hard time liking either Zara or Dave in this first part—the former was prickly and standoffish while the latter too lackadaisical about women for want of a better word—as it was simply about their summer fling where both were determined to make it about shallow sex and nothing more, so waiting to get into the meat of the story was in some ways, torture.

In many ways, it was akin to reading about 2 people who wouldn’t—or couldn’t—grow up until a baby changed how they had to look at the lives they’d been living up until then. But as part 2 went on, it became clear who had done the growing up and who hadn’t and by the time the story ended, ‘Bountiful’ felt like a patched jigsaw and wholly like a Sarina Bowen creation. Admittedly, I had unrealistic expectations of Zara and Dave and not having them met was a particular disappointment, but truth be told, I also felt like I’d overdosed on the topic of motherhood and children throughout part 2.

Clearly, these are my own prejudices shouting a little loud here.

But if I didn’t exactly get into the pairing, it was certainly no hardship to get lost in Bowen’s storytelling. There’s such a readability to Bowen’s books (throw in the Vermont setting and I’m sold) and her ability to tell a small-town, family-centric drama with loads of heart simply shines through. So while the rest of this series’s books never quite reached ‘Steadfast’s’ lofty heights for me, the intersection of the Brooklyn Bruisers world and the Shipleys here however, was probably the highlight of my whole read. Seeing Doulie and Trevi make their appearances in here (Castro’s fantastic cameo just made my day) perked it all up for me, which made me impatient for Bowen’s return to the Bruisers.

three-stars

Temporary by Sarina Bowen & Sarah Mayberry

Temporary by Sarina Bowen & Sarah MayberryTemporary by Sarah Mayberry, Sarina Bowen
Published by Rennie Road Books on September 12th 2017
Pages: 260
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three-stars

The most beautiful man I've ever seen is the one who can ruin everything...

The first time I lay eyes on Callan Walker, I know he’ll be trouble. With his smug grin, hot Aussie accent and thousand dollar shoes, he’s just the kind of rich guy who always gets what he wants.

And he wants two things: a night of sin, and my cooperation as he outmaneuvers his powerful mother to take control of his uncle’s estate.

I can’t afford either one. I’m the only thing standing between my little sister and the foster care system. He may have money and charm on his side, but I have something even more powerful -- pure desperation. This temp job at his mother’s company can become a full time job for me. It has to.

But when Callan’s eyes rake over my body, sometimes I forget my obligations. His piercing gaze finds the fun, optimistic girl I used to be and not the tired person I’ve become.

And it works--if only for a moment. Our night together was a mistake. I can't afford to get sucked into his high-powered family’s treachery. But the closer I get to Callan, the more layers I find beneath those expensive clothes. Though I can’t forget this is temporary. He’s temporary. I have too much to lose.

Too bad my foolish heart didn’t get the memo...

Sarin Bowen and Sarah Mayberry, separately, are already fabulously writers; together, they’re quite the writing powerhouse that makes ‘Temporary’ a stellar romance. As a result, there’s still a fairty-tale sheen to it all and a little of a rags-to-riches tale in a world where the fabulously wealthy tussle over money, estate and pride, leaving so much collateral damage in their wake.

‘Temporary’ happens in the wake of tragedy, which interrupts the deliberately-superficial lifestyle of billionaire tycoon Callan Walker, who sorts out his uncle’s estate with the help of a temp worker struggling to provide for her family. And like every Bowen and Mayberry book, it’s hard to put down, drama-worthy and compelling enough that you want to know just how the obstacles are laid out and overcome, ignoring the call for bed.

It’s also a predictable journey however, with several eye-rolling moments that the characters get into, especially when there’s a very strong element of ‘cannot help oneself but fall into bed with the hot guy’ knowing full well that there are consequences to such impulsiveness. Grace is fully guilty of the above, though it’s easy to relate to and sympathise with the lack of options she’s been given and with the way she fights to provide for her sister every step of the way.

I did however, have a problem with Callan, whom I found spent a fair bit of the book being a selfish, arrogant and entitled arse, which made him hard to like as a ‘worthy hero’ when he had her and only his own goals in his sight for a majority of it. He manipulated Grace through seduction, capitalised on her attraction to him and their sexual chemistry to do whatever he wanted at her expense—using grief as a justifying reason and knowing it will leave him unscathed in the end—only to spend the rest of the story realising the extent of the damage he’d caused and then grovelling towards the end (the authors do recognise this unforgivable bit at least). I did think that came too little too late—the grovelling doesn’t surpass the ‘crime’ so to speak—so that probably affected my ability to fully get behind this pairing.

And that’s obviously my black, cynical self talking. It isn’t to say I wasn’t entertained overall though and the abrupt end sort of suggests that there might be a sequel in store, which I already can’t wait for.

three-stars

Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Hello Forever by Sarina BowenHello Forever by Sarina Bowen
Series: Pay It Forward #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on July 14th 2017
Pages: 213
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four-stars

When they were only teenagers, Axel and Caxton were caught making out in the woods at church camp. And afterward, Cax had disappeared from all the youth group activities.

Six years later, Axel is astonished to spot his first love’s face in the crowd of a college basketball game he’s watching on TV—at a school which has just offered him a job. It’s a thousand miles away, in a tiny rural town. But suddenly, he can’t wait to get there.

Cax can’t believe his eyes when Axel appears in the same Massachusetts town where he now lives. And he’s still just as drawn to Axel as ever. But he can’t let himself go there again, because loving Axel will mean giving up everything else he holds dear.

Both men have so much to lose. But as far as their love is concerned, it's Hello Forever.

Sarina Bowen’s ‘Hello Forever’ is a memorable read and I’m starting to think that she’s got a particular talent for M/M stories even if a few of her other M/F romances have ranked as a few of my favourites.

In ‘Hello Forever’ Axel and Cax have their own journey to undertake here in what feels like a spinoff from the first book in the series, though it’s perfect as standalone. Bowen’s storytelling shines especially when it comes to her ability to forge intimate and sweet connections between her characters regardless of sexual orientation, and I found myself enjoying Axel/Cax’s second chance story a lot more than I usually do for this trope because it didn’t have the usual hysterics TSTL bits in which some characters ‘break character’ for the sake of creating conflict.

Yet ‘Hello Forever’ is also very much a book about young people taking responsibility and stepping up when their own parents fail them—almost as if it’s a defiant flip of the bird at the media wailing about rootless, millennial ingrates. Bowen sets up Axel and Cax as very relatable characters that struggle with their careers, adulthood and the heavy burden of caring for family, not least to mention their sexuality. The slight bit of angst does help drive the story forward, though mostly, it’s an easy read without the extreme highs and lows that allow you root wholeheartedly for yet another couple to get their HEA.

four-stars