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Pipe Dreams by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 3rd April 2017
Pipe Dreams by Sarina BowenPipe Dreams by Sarina Bowen
Series: Brooklyn Bruisers #3
Published by Berkley Books on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 336
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four-stars

Mike Beacon is a champion at defending the net, but off the ice, he’s not so lucky. A widower and a single father, he’s never forgotten Lauren Williams, the ex who gave him the best year of his life. When Lauren reappears in the Bruisers office during the playoffs, Beacon sees his chance to make things right.
Lauren hates that she’s forced to travel with the team she used to work for and the man who broke her heart. There’s still undeniable sexual tension running between her and Mike, but she won’t go down that road again. She’s focused on her plans for the future—she doesn’t need a man to make her dreams of motherhood come true.
Lauren plays her best defensive game, but she’s no match for the dark-eyed goalie. When the field of play moves to Florida, things heat up on the beach.
One of Mike’s biggest fans doesn’t approve—his teenage daughter. But a true competitor knows not to waste the perfect shot at love.

A stiff, distant crusty crone was how I thought of Lauren Williams in Sarina Bowen’s rather outstanding hockey series, but ‘Pipe Dreams’ has made me think differently about her. Once I got to know her story, it felt as though she was entitled to her bitterness and the hanging dark cloud that followed her wherever she went. Mike Beacon, the goalie who shattered it all 2 years ago though, only learns the extent to which he’d hurt her when she returns to help the owner of the team, then goes all out to win her back. With a competitive spirit working overtime as he juggles the playoffs, success is his only option, though there’re still a few obstacles in the way of their HEA.

I read ‘Pipe Dreams’ once, then read through it again, unable to get enough of Mike’s and Lauren’s story. It’s a second-chance romance trope, and Bowen certainly crafts the story in a way that casts both characters in a very sympathetic light, explaining the circumstances that separated both Mike and Lauren in a manner that made it difficult to side with either one of them. As with most Sarina Bowen books, every time I think I’ve got the plot and conflict figured out, I always get surprised—and pleasantly so. Mike/Lauren do behave like the adults they are, navigating past hurts with the kind of realism I expected, but above all, their story was solidly integrated into the inner workings of the team’s activities and business that made ‘Pipe Dreams’ feel like a complete story with no unfinished business. (except perhaps, for the constant teases of Nate/Becca that don’t seem to be in any sequel anywhere)

I did get lost in the details of the hockey itself but the Brooklyn Bruisers series is nevertheless one of a kind—and this is coming from someone who lives in an area where hockey is barely given a blink. It was gratifying to dive into this book, knowing that in this series, Bowen doesn’t make out the entire team of hockey players to be foaming-in-the-mouth, rabid men with testosterone levels so high that they need constant sex with any woman they can hook up with but as individual characters, distinct personalities that could on their own, actually get their own story.

My only hope? That she’ll continue this series for many books to come.

four-stars

Hard Hitter by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 2nd December 2016
Hard Hitter by Sarina BowenHard Hitter by Sarina Bowen
Series: Brooklyn Bruisers #2
Published by Berkley Books on January 3rd 2017
Pages: 336
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four-stars

As team captain and enforcer, Patrick O'Doul puts the bruise in the Brooklyn Bruisers. But after years of hard hits, O'Doul is feeling the burn, both physically and mentally. He conceals his pain from his coach and trainers, but when his chronic hip injury becomes too obvious to ignore, they send him for sessions with the team s massage therapist.

After breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, Ari Bettini is in need of peace of mind. For now, she s decided to focus on her work: rehabilitating the Bruisers MVP. O'Doul is easy on the eyes, but his reaction to her touch is ice cold. Ari is determined to help O'Doul heal, but as the tension between them turns red hot, they both learn that a little TLC does the body good...

I had a good feeling about this one and it isn’t often I get smug to be about my own book choices.

Reading Sarina Bowen’s Brooklyn Bruisers series is akin to entering the very glitzy world of sports, sponsorship and high-profile celebrity management—or at least Ms. Bowen’s perspective of the sport—and I find myself awed by the whole mechanism of it in here that I don’t find in other sports romances. It’s also very trendy in a way, and a perfect representation of how modern team sports have evolved: a billionaire owner whose money comes from some other source, a team of publicists and physical therapists on standby to support the lineup of players. My unfamiliarity with hockey obviously contributes to this wide-eyed wonder but thankfully, being a fan of the sport isn’t necessary; merely being a fan of human relationships is sufficient for anyone to enjoy this read. ‘Hard Hitter’ is told with good pacing, characterisation and a healthy dose of smexy times with great depth and all it takes is a difficult ex-boyfriend, a past drug issue and the hockey play-offs in waiting (should the fictional Bruisers win most of their games) for two key members in the team to have their lives upended and changed.

A series of events and a persistent injury have set Patrick O’Doul on a collision course with Ariana Bettini’s, but there’s more than just tender loving care in waiting for this pairing. O’Doul’s and Ari’s newfound connection is threatened by past decisions that blow up in their faces and make them question their place in the team, but learning to trust each other is perhaps one of the hardest things to do once again.

I found O’Doul very special somehow, memorable in that broody, tortured way, whose a heartbreaking, tragic backstory that made my own chest ache for him. Like Ari however, I found it difficult to see Patrick stuck in a role that was impossible to get out of simply because he grew into it—or perhaps that kind of open, accepted violence in hockey was hard to read about, let alone have a romantic lead doing it—and I was happy to see Ms. Bowen address this issue in a meta way, even if it is only a projection of a trend that will eventually lead Patrick away from being the hockey goon.

There’s a little of everything in ‘Hard Hitter’ that made it so enjoyable: the bit of suspense, the humour, the work drama and the cast of secondary characters (Hartley and Corey return!) who padded and enriched the story—which kept it all quite exciting up to the end.

The rest of the series can’t come fast enough.

four-stars

Rookie Move by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports/ Young Adult 29th July 2016
Rookie Move by Sarina BowenRookie Move by Sarina Bowen
Series: Brooklyn Bruisers, #1
Published by Berkley on September 6th 2016
Pages: 336
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three-stars

Hockey player Leo Trevi has spent the last six years trying to do two things: get over the girl who broke his heart, and succeed in the NHL. But on the first day he’s called up to the newly franchised Brooklyn Bruisers, Leo gets checked on both sides, first by the team’s coach—who has a long simmering grudge, and then by the Bruisers’ sexy, icy publicist—his former girlfriend Georgia Worthington.   Saying goodbye to Leo was one of the hardest things Georgia ever had to do—and saying hello again isn’t much easier. Georgia is determined to keep their relationship strictly professional, but when a press conference microphone catches Leo declaring his feelings for her, things get really personal, really fast....

Reading ‘Rookie Move’ is akin to being given a privilege pass into the back rooms of a high-profile sports team and despite not having the foggiest idea about hockey at all (European football’s more my thing), I found myself getting excited by everything I read behind the scenes: the media hype and speculation about transfers, billionaire bosses, new signings, bosses and managerial conflicts; essentially, the complex, framework behind the game itself and the number of people it took to keep the entire engine and brand running smoothly.

It’s thoroughly engaging stuff, but that’s probably because of Sarina Bowen’s assured writing, the motley crew of hockey players she’s created here and her special, nuanced understanding of the game itself. Loosely tied to The Ivy Years series, the first of which being the only one I read, I still never found myself lost at all, which means ‘Rookie Move’ is rock-solid as a standalone.

Leo Trevi has lots going for him: he’s a male lead whose camp I found myself in immediately because he’s the all-round good guy and does everything to prove it. And there just aren’t enough of them of late, especially in fiction when the bad boys seem to be all the (overrated) rage these days.

But what’s not to like, really? He tries hard at everything, doing all it did stay in the upper echelons of hockey and wouldn’t give up on Georgia when all she’d done was to cause him pain. My frustration with Georgia might seem a little unfair given her traumatic past, yet it’s difficult to excuse her actions for treating Leo like her personal punching bag. The frosty, standoffish (and hypocritical) front she takes up with Leo when she was the one who’d given up on them to begin with baffled me, a sentiment that soon morphed into disbelief and not just a slight bit of loathing when she pushed him away constantly to protect herself after meeting him again 6 years later.

Above all, I thought there simply weren’t enough cathartic moments between Leo and Georgia. There’s so much Bowen covers about the hockey season, the plays, the trades and even the sex scenes that I thought it compromised just how much both Leo/Georgia needed to sort out outside the bedroom. At least that was something I felt I badly needed to read about, given Bowen’s brave penchant for writing trauma into her characters – that they needed *not* to gloss over the events that had been so pivotal in their high school days. That this aspect was so insufficiently dealt with somehow made this pairing’s getting together never a sure thing (dependent rather, on Georgia’s current courage-metre) until the abrupt end that left me dissatisfied and disappointed.

Character-gripes aside, Brooklyn Bruisers is shaping up to be a series that I could get into: there’re secondary characters who are crying out for their own stories to be told and perhaps, even a mysterious billionaire owner who might need his own HEA.

three-stars
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