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Undone by You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 11th December 2017
Undone by You by Kate MeaderUndone By You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #3
Published by Pocket Star on March 5th 2018
Pages: 184
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four-stars

Dante Moretti has just landed his dream job: GM of the Chicago Rebels. And screw the haters who think there should be an asterisk next to his name because he’s the first out managing executive in pro hockey. He’s earned the right to be here and nothing will topple him off that perch—especially not an incredibly inconvenient attraction to his star defenseman, Cade “Alamo” Burnett. Cade has always been careful to keep his own desires on the down low, but his hot Italian boss proves to be a temptation he can’t resist. Sure, they both have so much to lose, but no one will ever know...

As Dante and Cade’s taboo affair heats up off the ice and their relationship gets more and more intense, they’ll have to decide: is love worth risking their careers? Or is this romance destined to be forever benched?

A 12-year-age gap between a closeted player and an openly-gay manager along with the implications of a relationship that’s probably forbidden and mostly likely to be massacred by the press and the public? The odds seem unsurmountable. That Cade and Dante play starring roles here made my mind up for me to grab ‘Undone by You’ by hook or by crook.

And Kate Meader makes it work with writing that’s so confident and assured, more so since M/M stories aren’t always on my priority list.

In fact, for its relatively short length, there certainly wasn’t any time wasted with narrative meandering, which made ‘Undone by You’ short, sharp and quite to the point. Cade surprised me by his straight-shooting talk and the mindgames in the dating game that he steered of when it came to Dante won me over. That he was the pursuer took me aback at first, though it wasn’t long that Meader had me rooting wholly for him, particularly when Dante was being a frustrating arse with his inability to decide what he really wanted.

I did think the flurry of activities however, rooted Dante/Cade’s burgeoning relationship very much in the present and I couldn’t even quite determine if their happy-for-now ending was going to last. The story seemed to end on their happy-but-shaky foundation (undoubtedly hard-earned) and the odd epilogue disappointed me when I expected an HFN/HEA-type of closure and I think I would have preferred a ‘boring but normal’ one with Dante and Cade some time down the road, settled in their relationship.

Nonetheless, the aspects of coming out to family and friends and what it meant to be homosexual in a workplace as testosterone-laden as competitive sports made this book a compelling read and Meader’s prose tied these together nicely through that mix of witty dialogue and the internal monologues of both the protagonists and the supporting characters—which I can’t wait to meet again as the series goes on.

four-stars

Love Game by Maggie Wells

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 16th November 2017
Love Game by Maggie WellsLove Game by Maggie Wells
Series: Love Games #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on February 6th 2018
Pages: 384
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Kate Snyder scored her first national championship in her undergrad days at Wolcott University, and now she’s a coaching legend. The last thing she wants is to work beside a washed-up coach escaping scandal, but the University hands her Danny McMillan.

Danny was hoping his transition at Wolcott University would go smoothly, but clashing with snarky Kate has made things difficult. Even as she finally lightens up towards him, a local reporter can’t get enough of their verbal fireworks on camera. What the cameras don’t know is that the sparks are even hotter behind the scenes…

Maggie Wells is a new author to me and I did take to her her smooth writing, even though the technical and political details of sports and its management at collegiate and semi-professional level escaped me somewhat. The enemies-to-lovers vibe was strong—especially when it came to the (justifiably) issue of gender inequality exemplified in sports—that was played out in the pages as a running theme here.

Above all, I liked Well’s articulate ‘meta-speak’ on the problems with women and the blatant inequality that they face in the workplace, more so in male-dominated industries.

What I really appreciated was the portrayal of a no-nonsense, strong heroine who has made her way in the male-dominated world of sports first as a celebrated player, then as a legendary coach. Kate’s hard-earned position simply showed what women can do today—despite the fact that she’s probably one of the rare few earning that sort of accolade—and that much kept me going, even if it was to glow (by proxy) in what fictional women can achieve. I felt for Kate nonetheless—the price she kept paying for the position she’d reached was the constant hemming in and the harassment by other male voices whether intentionally or not and it’s a struggle that I think readers can relate to which Wells writes about excellently.

Yet I hadn’t expected her to cave so easily to Danny however, especially after her continued mantra about staying strong and resisting him.

On the other hand, Danny came across as sleazy because of his past—his affair with a student, the scandal that surrounded his previous job, his ready exploitation of willing women because he could, his blatant ignoring the non-fraternisation clause—and somewhat reckless as he fell in lust with Kate and then pursued it with as much vigour as he could, along with some dick-waving episodes with the other characters in the story. That said, I thought Kate/Danny’s connection was more lust than love, which made for a copious amount of scorching sex but apart from that, I couldn’t get their emotional connection. There were parts that I actually struggled through, unable to be convinced about Danny’s declaration of love when it felt like yet another mutinous thing in he’d done in his career.

I think it’s strange to be moved more by the issues here that Wells brought up through Kate than the actual romance itself, which I couldn’t quite take a shine to. Because that was what ‘Love Game’ felt more like to me: the struggle for an independent, successful woman to just be seen as equal despite her achievements, the constant fight to stay on top and the pain borne on the way, rather than a search for a man to add colour to her life.

Head Coach by Lia Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews/ Sports 8th November 2017
Head Coach by Lia RileyHead Coach by Lia Riley
Series: Hellions Angels #2
Published by Avon Impulse on November 21st 2017
Pages: 158
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three-half-stars

Neve Angel’s life is all work and no play, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. One of Denver’s top sports reporters, she's fought hard to make it in a male-dominated world, and she won’t back down from a fight with anyone–not even the Hellions’ gruff head coach, Tor Gunnar. Her hostile relationship with the icy Scandinavian is the stuff of local legend.

Tor Gunnar hates dealing with the media; at best, they are a nuisance and at worst, a distraction. And no one distracts him more than the scrappy, sexy reporter who gets him hot under the collar. When he wins a not-so-friendly bet with Neve, he decides it’s high time they either kiss or kill each other, and invites her as a date to an out-of-town wedding.

But what happens when enemies become lovers? Will they be able to smother their sizzling attraction, or is it time to start playing for keeps?

‘Head Coach’ is a enemies to lovers romance—a favourite trope of mine—with a conflict built into ‘opposing’ careers: a sports journalist and the celebrity coach of a famous team who have certainly done enough egging and prodding each side over the years. So it was more than fun to watch that relationship flip on its head one weekend as Tor Gunnar and Neve Angel suddenly waded into uncharted but scorching hot territory.

Yet this conflict that had conveniently put them in opposing camps now worked against their relationship past that infamous weekend—I did cringe at how reactive Neve could get sometimes—though Lia Riley does get through it a little too easily before this rather short story closed on their HEA. But apart from the all-too-convenient resolution that seemed to come out of nowhere that made it all the more unbelievable as a quick resolution, ‘Head Coach’ was still an easy read with the angst kept at a minimum and the immaturity metre dialled to low.

I do like Lia Riley’s writing as well; it reminds me of the assured style of Tessa Bailey complete with the dirty-talking alpha males while her characters sometimes get into unexpected situations that came out of the blue.

‘Head Coach’ is my first Lia Riley story and it definitely wouldn’t be my last.

three-half-stars

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
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