In another of our occasional series of quickie reviews, AAR staffers Caroline, Maria Rose, E.B., and Heather share their thoughts on some of their recent reads. Have you read anything recently you think we should know about? Please share your own recent triumphs and turkeys in the comments!
Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O’Keefe
Maddie Baumgarten married Billy Wilkins as a teenager, right as his hockey career took off. Their inability to find a healthy balance in their relationship led to divorce, with Billy turning into an angry violent enforcer and Maddie becoming Madelyn Cornish, the hollow and perfect morning anchor of AM Dallas. Now, Billy’s misbehavior is threatening his career, and he accepts Maddie’s producer’s plan for a multi-part makeover series – much to Maddie’s surprise and chagrin. This book stands out among sports romances for its emphasis on character and for a plot which regularly surprised me.
Billy’s toxic family background is relatively common in heroes, but his anger management issues are less so. This makes him interesting and original as a hero, but it was the least-resolved issue in his makeover. Maddie’s ice-cool surface is in conflict with her raging lust for Billy, which hasn’t dimmed a watt in the decade-plus since they split, and I always love that kind of conflict. Children appear about halfway through the book, and although they aren’t perfectly written, they’re much better than usual. . If you like Susan Elizabeth Phillips, you won’t want to miss this. I really enjoyed it.
The Player and the Pixie by L.H Cosway and Penny Reid
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Warm
To his chagrin, Irish rugby player Sean Cassidy finds himself attracted to Lucy Fitzpatrick (sister of one of his teammates). He doesn’t know her well, but following a brief conversation at a team party and an awkward dinner date, he can’t stop thinking about her and decides to pursue her. Lucy is annoyed, yet secretly thrilled when Sean shows up at a yoga retreat she’s attending and surprises her. He charms his way into her room and her bed and Lucy quickly discovers one of his best kept secrets. Sean’s rubbish at sex.
Lucy knows hooking up with Sean is a terrible idea – after all, he’s terrible in bed, a bit of an asshole, and her brother hates him. But she’s drawn to the ‘other’ version of him – vulnerable, less cocky and still somehow irresistible. When Sean begs her to teach him how to become a better lover, she agrees. Oh, Lucy. Every romance reader on earth (right?!) knows that regular hot sex with someone you have crazy chemistry with eventually turns into love. It does here as well. But Ms. Cosman and Ms. Reid don’t make it easy for them.
Lucy, a free spirit with a shameful secret, has no intention of falling for Sean, or telling her brother about her ‘relationship’ with him. She blocks every attempt by Sean to spend time together outside of the bedroom. She falls for him anyway. And he falls for her. By the time they both (separately) attend her brother’s wedding, Lucy is a mess – anxious and unable and unwilling to admit she loves Sean. Eventually, (some) secrets are revealed, family love is tested, crazy expensive golf balls are stolen and Sean and Lucy get their HEA. I finished The Player and the Pixie with a smile on my face and promptly researched when a third volume is due. I can’t wait for The Cad and the Co-ed!
Alex: A Cold Fury Hockey Novel by Sawyer Bennett
Alexander Crossman, a star hockey player for the Carolina Cold Fury, is a jerk. To improve his image, team management forces him to pair him up with social worker Sutton Price on a drug-abuse awareness program for at-risk youth. Sutton, who spent her childhood with a drug addicted and abusive father, is beloved by all who know her and determined to help as many at-risk youth as she can. She doesn’t know anything about hockey or Alex before they meet, and when he cancels their first appointment and then shows up late to the second, she’s annoyed but impressed with his dedication to the project. She’s also attracted to him.
These two ended up having hot, amazing sex (the author says so) and falling for each other. Alex, in his PoV, can’t get over how beautiful, smart, mature and sensitive Sutton is. Sutton, in her PoV, can’t believe this hot, famous and sexy hockey player wants her.
Ms. Bennett relentlessly reminds us that Alex’s troubled childhood and dysfunctional family made him the closed off, angry man he is. The fact that he’s done nothing to redeem himself or heal those emotional wounds is apparently irrelevant. In Sutton’s PoV, we’re reminded that despite her terrible early years, Sutton has managed to overcome her past and use it to help others. In case you missed the obvious, only Sutton’s love has the power to heal and redeem Alex. I didn’t miss it (really, you can’t because Ms. Bennett keeps telling you), and I also didn’t buy it.
Everything about this novel was a cliché, I didn’t like Alex or Sutton and the dialogue was terrible. I read romances because I love how they make me feel, and I hate novels that try to make the decision for me. Instead of writing interesting characters, witty dialogue and sexy love scenes, Ms. Bennett constantly reminds us they’re interesting, witty and the lovemaking is sexy. I didn’t agree with her.
Though I was excited to see how many books already make up this series when I started Alex, I have no plans to read any move of them.
Ryker by Sawyer Bennett
Once again, I have managed to unwittingly jump midway into a book series and began with Ryker, book four in Sawyer Bennett’s Cold Fury hockey romance series. I enjoyed it so much that I plan to read the other books in the series as well.
As the goalie for the Carolina Cold Fury hockey team, Ryker Evans is under tremendous pressure to perform. Between living down the mistake that cost the Fury their shot at last year’s Stanley Cup, his contract running out, and adjusting to life as a newly-single dad, Ryker has plenty on his plate. Gray Brannon, the new general manager of the Fury, is a complication he doesn’t need. But he can’t deny his attraction to the shrewd businesswoman who scouted him and fought for him to join the team. Embarking on a relationship could only be considered unwise for both parties, yet remaining apart seems virtually impossible when the attraction is so strong.
Some books are worth reading for the hero, some for the heroine, and some for the storyline. Sometimes all three elements come together in a delightful fashion. This book had them all for me. Ryker isn’t a player. He’s unapologetically a relationship guy, a devoted father who puts his family first. Gray is a competent and resilient businesswoman without the hard edges that would turn her into a stereotype. Each of them faces a real professional dilemma in becoming involved with the other, yet they’re able to work it out to a satisfactory and believable HEA. I can’t wait to read more about Ryker’s teammates.
Maria Rose’s reads:
Chaos Station by Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen
Grade: A Sensuality: Warm
In this sci-fi romance, we are immersed in a new futuristic world following a war between the humans and the Stin that the humans were in danger of losing before the Guardians, a super alien race stepped in to stop the battles. But the casualties were great, including the separation of long-time friends and one-time lovers Zander (Zed) and Felix (Flick). Long believing Flick is dead, Zed is on a mission to rescue a former teammate who appears to be losing her own mental battle of survival when he finds that the engineer on the ship he’s hired to track her down is none other than his lost love. After nine long years, both men have changed immeasurably yet the friendship and attraction between them has not died, only been hidden through grief and time. With a joint mission to help their old teammate, can their feelings for each other be salvaged?
I love this story! Though I’m a huge fan of science fiction television shows and movies, this hasn’t necessarily translated into a love of similar stories in written form so I wasn’t sure if I would like this novel or not. But honestly, I found it fascinating. The world-building is really well done – not so complicated as to confuse the reader but sophisticated enough to set the stage for a futuristic world. All of the characters, including secondary ones like Flick’s shipmates are interesting and well-drawn, and parts of the story are told not just from Zed and Flick’s points of view but also by Elias the ship’s captain which adds an interesting perspective on the central relationship. Flick and Zed are both strong masculine characters, each with flaws, dreams that have been shattered by the reality of war and hopes for the future, one they never imagined they could have together. From the start the sexual attraction between them sizzles and this leads to some deliciously sexy scenes that were well written and HOT! This is one of those stories that is hard to put down once you start, and will definitely sway me towards reading more in the sci-fi romance genre.
Ruined by the SEAL by Zoe York
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
There are lots of Navy SEAL books out there, but what makes this one and others written by Zoe York stand out (especially her SEALs Undone series) is her ability to breathe life into her characters and make them the kind of people you wish were your friends. They are charismatic, funny, sometimes flawed, but always romance worthy heroes and heroines.
I like that this story features characters that are entwined with the locale – in this case Cara who is an island native. She’s desperate to make the plantation into a heritage site, and Mick’s arrival to claim it for his friend Will as part of his inheritance puts a definite damper on her plans, notwithstanding the attraction she feels for the handsome retired navy man looking for a new purpose in life. As they come to know each other, they develop a friendship that leads to more (and some steamy scenes between them as a result). The issue of whose land it is remains the conflict through the story, but the point when they individually realize how much the other person’s future means to them is where their affection for each other makes them look for a compromise. I look forward to more from this author.