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The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 20th August 2017
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana ZapataThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on February 28th 2016
Pages: 403
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four-stars

Vanessa Mazur knows she's doing the right thing. She shouldn't feel bad for quitting. Being an assistant/housekeeper/fairy godmother to the top defensive end in the National Football Organization was always supposed to be temporary. She has plans and none of them include washing extra-large underwear longer than necessary.

But when Aiden Graves shows up at her door wanting her to come back, she's beyond shocked.

For two years, the man known as The Wall of Winnipeg couldn't find it in him to tell her good morning or congratulate her on her birthday. Now? He's asking for the unthinkable.

What do you say to the man who is used to getting everything he wants?

I survived another Mariana Zapata book and am damned proud of it. The length of her stories are daunting, make no mistake, and to go through all near-500 pages of a wry, sometimes-neurotic, sometimes-hilarious female voice telling only her side of the story can and does take patience, though the experience isn’t necessarily a dull and colourless one. I do always think twice before embarking on a Zapata story however and length does play a significant role in this decision.

But honestly, I’m not too sure if this book could be shorter though and functioned just as well. The aloof, impersonal start of Van and Aiden and the gradual transformation of their relationship—years!—from trying-to-please PA to a begging Aiden (with a marriage of convenience thrown in after Van quits) rightly needed a slow burn and Zapata’s style of writing certainly suits this kind of plot line.

Instalove? Not in Zapata’s vocabulary. That bit is gratifying, particularly since there are too many gooseflesh-raising stories trying to sell the unbelievable with alpha, dirty-talking men falling hard inexplicably for a woman and want nothing but to ‘claim’ and ‘breed’ her.

In this case, (real) time is as always, Zapata’s solution to the answer for a relationship to turn, with gaps so painstakingly filled in, sometimes mundane, everyday scenes appear as though they’re randomly inserted that there’s no need for the byline ‘x number of years later’. That much I can appreciate, because the result is a multifaceted and real character (at least for Vanessa) that comes through the pages, though the single POV makes Aiden still somewhat of a closed-off ‘hero’ when all I can extrapolate of his brick-ish, stony personality is what Vanessa and other secondary characters say of him. Aiden/Van’s HEA is as well, unequivocally ironclad and that’s also a kudos to Zapata’s careful development of their relationship.

I’m not exactly an apologist for the excruciatingly long, slow burn, despite my defence of the justifiable length of ’The Wall of Winnipeg and Me’. I found myself absorbed for most part without my interest really slipping and for most part, it was so easy to like the characters in this book that it certainly wasn’t a pain to go on and on before the bed finally called to me.

It isn’t to say I wouldn’t take a deep breath before plunging into another Zapata book, because I will. I still look at the books by her that I’ve not yet read (there’s just one more that I want to tackle) and I still think that I don’t have the courage yet to take it on. But having just been brought on a satisfying journey with Van and Aiden, that day might be sooner rather than later.

four-stars

Changing the Play by Julia Blake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 13th August 2017
Changing the Play by Julia BlakeChanging the Play by Julia Blake
Series: The Game Changer #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 21st 2017
Pages: 339
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three-stars

Rachel Pollard has never been a push-over. That’s why she’s a superstar in the world of sports management, making a name for herself with a shrewd eye for overlooked talent. She certainly isn’t taking any chances with her latest NFL draft prospect, Kevin Loder, who’s poised to shake up the league. But when Nick Ruben, a tenacious sports reporter who also happens to be the crush who ignored her all through high school, picks up the scent of a long-buried story, Rachel suddenly finds herself playing defense for the first time in years.

Nick usually doesn’t strike out with women, but his always-dependable charm isn’t getting him anywhere with Rachel or the interview he needs to save his job from his network’s impending layoffs. He knows he’s pressing hard, but she’s pushing back just as much—it’d almost be fun if his career wasn’t on the line. But after weeks of begging and finally striking a deal for an exclusive, Nick is surprised to realize he wants their relationship to be anything but professional. Now he has to figure out a way to save his job without hurting hers, and to make the girl he overlooked in high school believe he’s worth a shot at love.

Julia Blake is a new author for me, but ‘Changing the Play’ ensures I’ll be coming back for more. The book captures the mad, competitive world of sports management and journalism perfectly, with such sharp, insightful writing that I knew that it was going to be a read I wouldn’t be able to forget. I loved the frenetic rush, the constant flurry of activity of the whole sports scene that was detailed and wholly engrossing—even though it isn’t quite my thing—as well as the conflict that was so very real when Rachel and Nick clashed.

Most of all though, Blake has written such a memorable heroine for whom I found myself cheering the whole way. There was everything to love about Rachel—her tenacity, her compassion for the players she managed and how she was able to call Nick out on the bullshit he piled on her as well as the strength that it took to say no to his charm offensive that was in many ways, professionally and personally insulting. I liked her protective instincts towards her players even when they’re idiots and her actions with Kevin made her a character who really deserved better than Nick who had everything to prove but didn’t.

In contrast, I was way less impressed by Nick as the selfish, entitled playboy journalist, who had really only sought Rachel out for his own purposes rather than wanting to do so because he wanted only her with no strings. Not only that made him hard to like, but I didn’t feel as though he wanted to date Rachel for herself—that seemed to come incidentally as his job had always been his first priority—even though he brought up the sob story of being an idiot in high school who never asked her out anyway. Somehow his actions and rationale(s) never stopped being questionable the whole time and those were pretty much the major blimps that prevented ‘Changing the Play’ from becoming an exceptional story for me.

three-stars

Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports/ Young Adult 29th July 2017
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

Irresistible You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 19th June 2017
Irresistible You by Kate MeaderIrresistible You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 14th 2017
Pages: 300
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four-stars

Three estranged sisters inherit their late father’s failing hockey franchise and are forced to confront a man’s world, their family’s demons, and the battle-hardened ice warriors skating into their hearts.

Harper Chase has just become the most powerful woman in the NHL after the death of her father Clifford Chase, maverick owner of the Chicago Rebels. But the team is a hot mess—underfunded, overweight, and close to tapping out of the league. Hell-bent on turning the luckless franchise around, Harper won’t let anything stand in her way. Not her gender, not her sisters, and especially not a veteran player with an attitude problem and a smoldering gaze designed to melt her ice-compacted defenses.

Veteran center Remy “Jinx” DuPre is on the downside of a career that’s seen him win big sponsorships, fans’ hearts, and more than a few notches on his stick. Only one goal has eluded him: the Stanley Cup. Sure, he’s been labeled as the unluckiest guy in the league, but with his recent streak of good play, he knows this is his year. So why the hell is he being shunted off to a failing hockey franchise run by a ball-buster in heels? And is she seriously expecting him to lead her band of misfit losers to a coveted spot in the playoffs?

He’d have a better chance of leading Harper on a merry skate to his bed…

‘Irresistible You’ has an irresistible setup: a team down in the dumps, a bastard ex-owner, his three daughters who are estranged half-sisters, a near-hostile meeting between a new owner (who’s really been screwed over by her father) and an unwilling trade in hockey, with sparks and secret deals all around.

Kate Meader’s stylish, confident writing shows up so clearly here, and it’s easy to get swept along by the plot and her characters. It had me wanting to know how Remy Du Pre and Harper Chase would get from ‘enemies’ to lovers so to speak, and I loved the tension from the very beginning and the inevitable pull they felt towards each other in Remy’s stomping ground in the exotic (and some say magical) New Orleans.

The progression did lag in the middle for me as Remy and Harper dwelled too much on the potential consequences of carrying on as a couple. I didn’t exactly like Harper’s slowness and unwillingness to fight for Remy (who never gave up on her) just as the latter’s good humour and laid-back candidness won me over. Yet Harper does alright in the end and their happy-for-now is most likely just the start of what’s going to be a longer journey in a bigger story arc that I suspect, will involve the entire team as time goes on.

The uneven pacing aside, hockey isn’t my sport, so the terminology is lost on me, but Meader does make it more about the pairing than the actual sport and the management of it as Remy/Harper’s relationship goes from grudging respect to something more. I loved how well-crafted both of them really are (here, the tiny details make the cake) as Meader does brilliant work enunciating their insecurities and their motivations while leaving the potential for a deadbeat team to reach the playoffs. With Harper’s sisters wait in the wings for their own HEAs, that’s a hook and a teaser I can’t say no to.

four-stars

Too Close to Call by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 18th June 2017
Too Close to Call by Tessa BaileyToo Close to Call by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #3.5
Published by Evil Eye Concepts, Incorporated on June 13th 2017
Pages: 136
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four-stars

All-American wide receiver Kyler Tate’s life is about to change. A fairytale college career skyrocketed him to the NFL draft. Adoration and opportunity are thrown in his direction wherever he goes, thanks to being chosen in the first round by the Los Angeles Rage.

None of the accolades mean anything, though, without his high school sweetheart, Bree Sutton, by his side. Four years ago, she walked away from Kyler, choosing a quiet life over the flash and notoriety his career would someday bring.

Now he’s back in their Indiana hometown, refusing to leave for Los Angeles without her. Demanding she give their life together a shot. Her heart never stopped bleeding for the love of her life, but Bree’s decision was final. Too bad their wild attraction has only been amplified by their separation, and Kyler won’t quit until Bree is wearing his ring.

Kyler burst onto the scene in Brooks’s book and immediately I knew there was a story there that I wanted to read. ‘Too Close to Call’ is one that got me, not just because of the devotion of this soon-to-be football star, but his single-mindedness about wanting to get the love of his life back once and for all, despite Bree having ended it all 4 years ago.

With the tons of manwhores in college sports peppering the books these days in search of commitment-free hookups, Kyler stands out like some shining gem in the mud because he could never let Bree go. I did sort of wish that he’d tried to get on with it given the way she’d so callously broke things off with the intention of never seeing him again, just as I wished Bree had more gumption and chutzpah to fight for their relationship the way he did. That she’d stayed on the fence the whole time up until the end made me wonder about if she thought Kyler less important than her supposed duty to the family coupled with the flimsy excuse that she was only holding him back.

My only complaint really is how Tessa Bailey manages to make every hero of hers into an alpha, dirty-talking male though…to the point where they become indistinguishable in the way they burn up the sheets. Somehow the couple in question lose their distinct identities when they finally have sex (it inevitably ends up with a woman panting and begging and a man talking her ear off) only to regain these after the heights of orgasm are reached. Kyler/Bree in this case, could be Elliott/Peggy or even Ginger/Derek or anyone else and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, which is a far cry from the earnest, determined college student I first encountered in ‘Too Hard to Forget’.

Yet ‘Too Close to Call’ is short, rather satisfying read nonetheless, perhaps only because I thought Kyler deserved what he searched for all these years. At least it has the straightforward sort of clarity that I couldn’t quite get from this series from the very start, and that’s good enough for me.

four-stars

Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 14th June 2017
Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyStay by Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Series: WAGs, #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 259
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five-stars

Can you fall in love with someone you've never even met?
Hailey Taylor Emery has a hunch that her favorite client at Fetch--an anonymous virtual assistant service--is actually hockey star Matt Eriksson.
Although it's against the rules for her to check his file, she's 95% sure she spends at least part of each day texting with her lifelong crush and catering to his every need. Still nursing a wounded heart thanks to her recent breakup, Hailey is perfectly content with some harmless online flirting...until she has to meet her client. Face to face. Cue: utter panic.
Matt Eriksson is no stranger to heartbreak. He's still not over the destruction of his marriage, and it sucks to be the only guy on the team who knows the truth--that hockey and long-term relationships are a toxic mix. He barely sees his kids, and dealing with his ex makes him feel insane. The only person in his life who seems to understand is someone who won't show her pretty face.
But it's nothing that a pair of fourth row hockey seats can't fix. Hailey can't resist the offer. Matt can't resist Hailey. Good thing he doesn't have to. Fire up the kiss cam!
Warning: Contains rabid hockey fans, misunderstood dick pics, hockey players at the opera and exploding ovaries.

I hadn’t realised that revisiting the team and seeing how far all of them have come since Wes and Jamie got off their rocky beginnings actually made me somewhat wistfully nostalgic enough to want to re-read the entire series.

If I haven’t yet mentioned how much I loved the ‘Him’ and ‘WAGs’ series, then well, mea culpa. ‘Stay’ couldn’t make me love this particular group of people more.

Matt Eriksson is the older guy in the Toronto hockey team and with a divorce just behind him and retirement a few years down the road, still struggles with handling his twin daughters, a nasty ex-wife and a virtual personal assistant who somehow, knows what he needs. Little does he know that a call to walk the dog would lead to premier tickets for a hockey match and that the online relationship he’s always had with the person handling tiny details in his life would turn out into something much more than he can ever expect.

Yet he is still the all-round good guy who’s easy to love, juggling life post-divorce with a gruelling schedule and kids who are not often around enough. For Matt at least, the divorce is a big failure that has him second guessing himself and his ability to be a good husband and parent while being a professional athlete. It has also made him cynical and jaded and a little gun-shy about sharing that same kind of lifestyle with another woman whom he thinks would come to resent him for it.

There’s a ring of maturity and a kind of stuttering rhythm that mirrors real life going through Matt’s and Hailey’s story, which is probably the story’s strongest selling point. Too often, the protagonists go off wild benders (hookups, as it typically goes) in the wake of a bad breakup and turn a hundred-eighty into commitment-phobes because they can’t apparently, trust another member of the opposite sex as they’re now painted with the same broad brushstrokes that their ex-es are coloured with. In ‘Stay’, we get instead quiet doubts about failure, self-confidence and the fear of putting oneself out there once again that gives the story depth and heart. I loved above all, that Matt and Hailey aren’t characters who simply react to the heartache of divorce by sleeping around then pushing each other away but instead, struggle with their inadequacies in different ways that I can believe and respect.

Yet it’s also swoony, steamy and in parts, funny and deeply romantic. What more do I need?

five-stars

The Bet by Elizabeth Hayley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 29th May 2017
The Bet by Elizabeth HayleyThe Bet by Elizabeth Hayley
Series: The Players #1
Published by Swerve on June 27th 2017
Pages: 254
Buy on Amazon
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two-stars

Jace "the Jet" Benning is a legend on the football field. And off. He has the arm, the charm, and the reputation of being the hottest player in the league.
Too bad Dr. Alessandra Mastrazacoma is not impressed.
With a busy schedule and a bruised heart, Alessandra doesn't have time to date, but when she is lured into making a friendly bet with her best friend, she finds herself agreeing to go out with the next guy that asks...and to give him three shots, three dates, before pulling the plug.
Jace also has a friendly wager with his friends going, and it involves making sure the slightly klutzy, but very pretty, doctor will be his date to the biggest night in sports. With two wagers and two hearts on the line, will Aly and Jace win or are they betting to lose?

‘The Bet’ is mostly an angst-free, light-hearted read of an accidental meeting between a doctor and a famous player (whom the former doesn’t know at all) which progresses mostly because of a bet between friends.

 

Alessandra Mastrazacoma (now that’s a mouthful) and Jace Benning are an unlikely pair and the whole story feels like a journey of the both of them finding common ground, apart from nailing sexual compatibility in the bedroom. Neither of them really pretend to be who they aren’t; Alessandra is outrightly blunt and in unapologetic for being so while Jace still struggles with his poor, smalltown roots but isn’t quite afraid to put everything on the line for her.

The ride isn’t fully of peaks and valleys – and this will probably appeal to readers who are tired of adult histrionics better confined to the high-school classroom – but is instead, one that catalogues each and every step of Aly and Jace getting into their relationship proper. The ending is a predictably neat wrap-up after some grovelling on Jace’s part, a HEA that pushes Aly and Jace into a happily committed relationship after that small hiccup.

As light-hearted and easy a read ‘The Bet’ is however, I found myself mostly uninspired by this pairing, which is probably a just a case of my bucking the trend again. I thought their chemistry rather non-existent as the move straight into the bedroom very early on eschewed any tension that could have made the anticipation more worth it. And as well and good the sex scenes may be written, I was bored (and skimmed those scenes) because I couldn’t find anything compelling about this couple. Consequently, it was difficult to follow the progression of Aly/Jace’s relationship as there just didn’t seem to be anything else to look forward to, except for the bet that Jace made with his buddies and the fallout that you know would come from it at the very end.

 

two-stars
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