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So Over You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 17th October 2017
So Over You by Kate MeaderSo Over You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #2
Published by Pocket Books on December 19th 2017
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Isobel Chase knows hockey. She played NCAA, won silver at the Games, and made it thirty-seven minutes into the new National Women’s Hockey League before an injury sidelined her dreams. Those who can’t, coach, and a position as a skating consultant to her late father’s hockey franchise, the Chicago Rebels, seems like a perfect fit. Until she’s assigned her first job: the man who skated into her heart as a teen and relieved her of her pesky virginity. These days, left-winger Vadim Petrov is known as the Czar of Pleasure, a magnet for puck bunnies and the tabloids alike. But back then... let’s just say his inability to sink the puck left Isobel frustratingly scoreless.

Vadim has a first name that means “ruler,” and it doesn’t stop at his birth certificate. He dominates on the ice, the practice rink, and in the backseat of a limo. But a knee injury has produced a bad year, and bad years in the NHL don’t go unrewarded. His penance? To be traded to a troubled team where his personal coach is Isobel Chase, the woman who drove him wild years ago when they were hormonal teens. But apparently the feeling was not entirely mutual.

That Vadim might have failed to give Isobel the pleasure that was her right is intolerable, and he plans to make it up to her—one bone-melting orgasm at a time. After all, no player can perfect his game without a helluva lot of practice...

Hockey isn’t a game I follow at all, but the premise of Kate Meader’s series is easy enough to understand. Three estranged sisters—broken in their own way by a father who still wreaks destruction from beyond the grave—, a switch in management of a hockey team and the struggle to stay afloat with a change this momentous. For those who don’t understand the game, then the details or lack thereof are sparse enough that you can focus on the drama surrounding the couple and the management team in question.

‘So Over You’ is Isobel’s story and a Russian player who’s as ‘Russian’ as they come (that however, depends on your perspective), though it was for me sadly, more of a surprising miss than a hit as the first book. Quite a bit of the story made a mountain of a molehill of Isobel not getting an orgasm when Vadim took her virginity (or in a more cringeworthy way of putting it—‘making her a woman’) close to a decade ago and how Vadim obsessed increasingly over this salient point because he wanted to prove otherwise now.

In this book, that’s not just a backstory; it’s in fact, like a niggling ghost of Christmas past that wouldn’t go away because both parties remembered it in different ways, not to mention the aftermath that was significant enough that this had become a point of contention with the both of them.

To be fair, the dour sex they had as teenagers wasn’t all that the story revolved around, though the little sub-plots in between did little to distract me from watching out for the next pairing (Cade! Dante!) in the sequel, which was a clear indicator of how difficult I found it to be invested in Isobel and Vadim. On the one hand, I could understand Isobel’s need to define herself apart from hockey, or simply as a WAG of yet another famous player in the league when her own career fell to pieces.

Yet it was hard to sympathise with that self-same selfish ambition that ran over people in the process; neither could I accept her interfering with Vadim’s relationship with his mother as she projected her own daddy-issues onto his markedly different parental situation. Vadim, on the other hand, apart from his awful heavy-handed ways, sometimes leaned towards becoming a caricature—broody, with speech patterns of a non-English speaker that’s either archaic or with mixed metaphors meant to be amusing somehow—or at least a character that seemed to conform to the stereotypes of how some parts of the world view Russians these days.

I’m just going to put this particular book down as an aberration in a series that I do like quite much. There’s still so much going for it: Meader’s writing, for one, but the tease for Cade and Dante is enough to keep me watching out for the next book that can’t come soon enough.

two-stars

Mend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 20th September 2017
Mend Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezMend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Bounty Bay #4
Published by Tracey Alvarez on September 15th 2017
Pages: 247
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five-stars

An idiot’s guide to falling for your best friend’s widow…

Former rugby star Isaac Ngata was New Zealand’s golden boy until five years ago when a tragic accident took the life of his friend and team mate. Now he’s a pariah with a screwed up knee and a burden of guilt toward his friend’s wife and daughter. Best thing for him to do is sink into the anonymous safety of his hometown. An even better thing to do would be to stop picturing Natalie in his arms.

For someone who doesn’t know a dummy pass from a drop kick, Natalie Fisher just wants to keep her late husband’s passion for sport in the past. But their teenage daughter’s rugby team is in desperate need of a coach and the man she can’t stand to be around has volunteered. A long buried attraction flares to life between Natalie and Isaac, one they can’t run far or fast enough to avoid. Soon rugby fever isn’t the only thing heating up Bounty Bay. Crossing the line never had such high stakes…

I’ve somehow always hesitated to jump into Tracey Alvarez’s Far North/Bounty Bay series, but this is probably because I’m so attached to her Down South crew that I’m probably as possessive of them as Alvarez is. But ‘Mend Your Heart’s blurb sounded heartbreaking from the start and I knew immediately that I wanted Isaac Ngata’s story desperately as much as I wanted my next Down South fix.

The family-like bonds in every series is probably Tracey Alvarez’s forte, as secondary characters float in and out of the whole book while propping the whole narrative as well as the protagonists up with a sly yet subtle kind of humour I’d be hard-pressed to find outside of Australia and New Zealand. Alvarez’s writing is definitely no slouch either, though it can take some getting used to her style, as well as the references to a sport that can be rather obscure for those who live on the other side of of the Pacific ocean. But rugby is everything in Kiwi-land and I love Alvarez’s deliberate spotlight on the All Blacks who aren’t, despite popular opinion, the only famous thing about this place.

But I digress.

Back to the plot as we know it: Isaac’s professional career and reputation went up in flames 5 years ago in an incident that destroyed any kind of relationship between his (now dead) best mate’s wife and daughter, and that’s just the beginning of what we know. It unravels slowly from here onwards, with bits and pieces that come along with the truth that you know is contrary to what Isaac (and popular opinion) has claimed. Natalie and Olivia are in essence, too close and yet too far for this guy to find his HEA, though it’s clear that it’s high time for him to.

Isaac himself jumped out from the pages and became an immediate hero-to-die-for when it became clear what he did to protect people he owed nothing to. The grumpy facade, that shell he’d retreated into and the emotions he didn’t quite try to hide and run away from like almost every alpha book hero I know, made him a shining beacon among the thorny arses in romantic fiction. I loved every moment of his interaction with Natalie, Olivia as well as the all-girls school rugby team, just as much as I cheered for their HEA with their nosy but well-meaning mates in the background. For a few hours, I’d been happily part of their whanau and needless to say, I’d gladly leap back in when Vee’s and Sam’s story comes out of the works.

five-stars

Game On by Lynn Stevens

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 22nd August 2017
Game On by Lynn StevensGame On by Lynn Stevens
Published by Entangled Publishing (Embrace) on September 18th 2017
Pages: 293
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one-star

Olivia Dawson doesn’t make mistakes. Unless those mistakes are a tall, broad-shouldered, cocky baseball player named Devon Miller. Devon and Olivia have been competing in their engineering classes since freshman year, and he seems to want nothing more than to get under her skin and shake her confidence. Unless you count that one time when he got under more than just her skin…

Now, they’re pitted against each other for a coveted internship that could open tons of doors for each of them. Only one of them can win. And they’re both ready to fight dirty if they need to.

Could Devon be playing for more than just his own gain—could he be after her heart?

Olivia is about to find out.

Game on.

‘Game On’ is a step back for me into New Adult, or rather, a college-age sports romance and after reading a few more ‘adult-ish’ books, took a wee bit of mental adjustment. Normally the transition is typically near-seamless, particularly if the plot and characters are stellar and there isn’t a huge step back in maturity levels. With the rivals to lovers trope in play here, ‘Game On’ sounded like something I could dig into.

But what I hadn’t counted on—which made me decidedly lukewarm—was Olivia Dawson’s past one-night stand with baseball player Devon Miller that happened when she was with another guy, who later broke up with her after she confessed that affair. It’s admittedly in the past and considered ‘just a mistake’ under the influence of alcohol, though that didn’t give me the best impression of her, not when she continued being judgemental, pugnacious and just an all-round pain in the arse after all this time.

That she nevertheless ends up with Devon—the guy she cheated with—while having a relationship somehow made light of that remorse. Cheating isn’t my thing (neither do I get off on it, though lately I find myself getting increasingly intolerant of it) and that tanked the book for me early on, as it tainted my whole impression of Olivia. With the entire story in her POV as well, ‘Game On’ was quite a let down from the start, especially when I found myself unable to take anymore of Olivia and gave up midway.

Obviously this series just isn’t for me—my preference rearing its head again quite strongly here—but as I’ve said before, it’s probably someone else’s cup of tea.

one-star

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
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