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April RT Review Round-up: Level Up by Cathy Yardley & Love of the Game by Lori Wilde

Level Up by Cathy Yardley: Every so often I'm assigned a book for RT that I actually already own but hadn't read.  Level Up was already on my TBR based on twitter recommendations by Courtney Milan and  Bree Bridges on twitter.  The book exceeded my expectations.  I found it fun and honest.

Love of the Game by Lori Wilde:  I didn't love, Love of the Game nearly as much.  It was somewhat charming and had some really nice moments.

 


Hard Knocks by Ruby Lang (Practice Perfect, Book 2)

Helen Chang Frobisher, a Portland neurologist, has developed a very personal interest in the long-term effects of concussions ever since her father, a doctor and amateur boxer, was diagnosed in Parkinsonism.  When her starstruck supervisor introduces her to Adam and Serge, two massive Portland Wolves hockey players being observed for concussion symptoms, she shows little patience when she knows they will risk more concussions by continuing to play.  

51vyOv2lHYL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Adam Magnus has never been a hockey star. Adam is a Minnesotan farm-boy who fumbled through the start of his career and is just trying to squeeze a few more years in as an enforcer for a struggling team while he figures out what to do next after Hockey. Despite Helen's aggressive disapproval, he find himself compellingly attracted to her passion and energy.

Adam and Helen are on a collision course, drawn to each other when everything in their lives should pull them apart.   A one-night stand, an impulsive letter to the editor, local-news face-offs and two hearts scared to trust and love in the midst of uncertainty.

Hard Knocks is Ruby Lang's second novel and while I enjoyed her first, I loved Hard Knocks.  Lang takes a difficult topics and a tricky premise and creates a charming, funny and deeply emotional romance.  I loved the relationship dynamics, and Lang's portrayal of how family, friends and career concerns play into how the lovers respond and react to each other, an element so often absent in contemporary romance.  It is the richness in these relationships that support the banter & humor through the tricky emotional conflicts.   I am looking forward to many more books from Ms. Lang.

I received an ARC from Ms.Lang but ended up buying my own copy because I hate reading PDFs on my kindle and wanted to finish reading it so much.

 


In the Fast Lane by Audra North

25664257Kerri Hart knows she is an oddity on the track but racing is her passion and family legacy.  She will do almost anything to keep Hart Racing alive in the wake of her father's untimely death. She is blindsided however by the extent of the financial bleeding and is livid when she discovers her brother has sold a majority stake in the team to Colt Hardware, whose previous sponsorship offer had been offensively sexist.

Ranger Colt is sick of his estranged father's meddling and manipulation. He is annoyed and angry to be pulled from his successful European projects at Colt in order to rescue Hart Racing but he will do what he has to do to earn his promotion. He might not know anything about racing but he will do everything he can to turn the Hart/Colt Racing team into winning and money-making venture.

In The Fast Lane smushed together two of my favorite tropes, enemies to lovers/fake relationship story and did good job with it. There were a couple of eye-rolling moments where the hero and heroine wonder to themselves about their uncharacteristically strong reactions to those "fake" kisses but generally it sold the attraction and conflict between the hero and heroine.  I did believe that Ranger and Kerri had every reason to mistrust and resent each other while at the same time having every motivation to work together.   Although I was unfamiliar with racing as a sport, North was able to exploit Ranger's outsider status to provide the necessary introductions to the lingo and conventions of NASCAR. 

North did a great job with Kerri. I loved that Kerri knows and loves NASCAR, but at the same time is frustrated by the double standards and casual sexism she runs into everyday. Individually the male racers can be her old friends, but collectively she is always excluded and set apart. She has to contend with expectations, demands and repercussions that don't affect them.

I was less convinced by Ranger's single-minded quest to best his father and his last-minute change of heart. Overall I didn't connect as much with Ranger and Al's conflict and I was relieved when they eventually talked it all out. 

So while car racing is not my favorite sport, I still enjoyed In the Fast Lane primarily for Kerri and her conflicted feelings about falling for the wrong man at the wrong time.

I received a review copy of In the Fast Lane from the author via NetGalley.


Taming the Legend by Kat Latham

Cover60923-mediumAsh's whole life has been dedicated to Rugby. While team-mates and friends have found partners, built families, Ash has channeled all that energy and focus to being the best player he can be. Hoisting high the championship trophy, knowing he has played in his last game,  he doesn't know what do next. Everyone wants to know and he really doesn't know. When Camila Morales interrupts Ash's post-game/retirement party, looking as beautiful as the day he last saw her 18 years before, Ash is thrilled to see her.  Camila doesn't feel the same way. Camila is incredibly angry with Ash, and incredibly angry that she needs his help so badly.

Camila is angry with Ash for not being there when she needed him, but she needs his help desperately. When her father died, he left to her the summer camp they had been running together and an unexpectedly large overdue mortgage she can't pay.  She needs Ash to lead her team of misfit teens to victory at the San Diego Sevens, so she can use the cash prize to save the camp. It is a terrible plan but it is the only one she has.

Kat Latham's  London Legends series are my favorite sport-themed romance series. I love the international setting, the working-class feel to the heroes (Rugby players don't have astronomical paydays) and her heroines are strong, independent, smart women.  When I saw that she had written a second-chance-at-love story for Ash Trenton, the supremely focused former team captain,  I clicked request without even bothering to  finish reading the blurb.  Then I had a shock to my system.  As I read the first couple of chapters and I started noticing some hints to a kind of storyline I like to avoid, so I ran to look at the blurb and there it was:

 "Camila was just sixteen when Ash moved on to start his rugby career, leaving her heartbroken…and on her own to make a life-changing decision."

The blurb was clear enough.  There are only so many things that are considered life-changing decisions when you are 16.  Had I read the blurb I would have probably hesitated requesting. As much as I love the second-chance-at-love trope, I pretty much hate Secret Baby stories.  Despite my dread and because it was Latham I stuck with it.  And I was really impressed with it.  The twist Latham gives to the secret baby story was really well done.  I appreciated that everything about that plot point complicated rather than clarified the relationship between Ash and Camila.

I really liked how Latham slowly developed both Camila and Ash's past and present relationships. Both of their lives have been incredibly changed by the choices they made as teens, choices and sacrifices they question but don't feel they would undo.   They have to re-examine what they have come to believe about their time together, consider how that marked them, reclaim parts of themselves they have ignored and to forgive each other enough to try again. And they must do this knowing that their reunion might be as potentially short as it was their first one, when overseas job offers start pouring in for Ash.

Taming the Legend was sexy, emotional and fun. I liked the characters, and was moved by their conflict.  The emotional arcs for each character were moving and believable  and I loved the resolution.  

I received at digital review copy of Taming the Legend from Carina Press via Netgalley.


Rock Hard by Nalini Singh (Rock Kiss #2)

Cover60096-mediumRock Hard is a workplace romance, with a former Rugby player/millionaire/CEO hero.  None of those things are my catnip, but since I'm a big fan of Nalini Singh & I read the previous book and novella despite having rock star heroes, I knew I was going to read Rock Hard. I'm glad I did because Singh does a fantastic job at writing heroes in hot pursuit who challenge but don't run over the heroines and Gabriel is no exception.

Charlotte Baird, works hard, keeps her head down and gets things done without looking for attention or credit.  She really doesn't want anyone to notice her, certainly not the way her new boss, Gabriel Bishop does because he terrifies her. But he does notice the mousy records manger who clearly knows more about his new company than most people and is capable of keeping up with him as long as she doesn't remember to be scared of him. In a total Cinderella move, Gabriel sees through the wiles of his mean-girl executive assistant and promotes Charlotte out her records room to a glittering glass desk outside of his office.

Charlotte is used to hiding in shapeless suits, comfortable routines and the company of a few trusted friends for very good reasons.  (Trigger warning, Charlotte's past trauma includes stalking, abduction, mental and physical abuse).  She survived but is still has so much healing and blossoming to do.  That blossoming, establishment of trust, figuring out triggers and looking for help in overcoming them is huge part of this romance.  Singh does a great job in how she has Gabriel  notice and negotiate Charlotte's triggers  as he tries to get closer to her, accepting her boundaries, and not taking them as personal rejections. His respect and love for her drives their story. 

I enjoyed their contentious courtship. I liked how he subtly baited and instigated in ways that let her have the time to come to terms with her own attraction and desire, built up her confidence until she was ready to claim him.

The secondary storyline about Gabriel's estranged and ailing father &  Gabriel's workalcoholism didn't work as well for me, with the exception of what it means for Gabriel and Charlotte for him to take the steps he takes when she challenges him to. I was impressed with the kind of clear-eyed acceptance, forgiveness and compassion modeled by Gabriel's mother toward her ex. What she models makes her sons uncomfortable but it is brave and rare. 

I love that the main characters love each other, desire one another &want to be together but that doesn't automatically solve their issues.  They can't simply love each out of panic attacks. They need to accept that things take time, professional help and trust in each other and that isn't easy.  I liked that Singh let Charlotte be frustrated and impatient. That she wanted to be able to sleep next Gabriel, to have him touch her hair without fear or panic, but her mind doesn't cooperate easily.  I liked that it was a struggle for her, that she would over-reach, rush and that she has to learn to manage her own expectations and accept herself and her own bumpy path to healing.  I love that even though Gabriel loves her and has great instincts and puts a great deal of though and effort things aren't perfect.  But what he does do, is that  he constantly gives her credit. Credit for her work, credit for her desire and wants and for all that she has overcome and still has yet to do and that was beautiful. 

I received a review copy of Rock Hard from Ms. Singh through TKA Distribution via NetGalley.

Rock Hard was released March 10th.


Tempting the Player by Kat Latham

Cover53587-mediumI enjoy watching sports, and used to be a big baseball fan, but I don’t read a lot of sport themed romances;  Kat Latham’s London Legends series is the exception. Tempting the Player is the third book in the series. The heroes are all been members of the London Legends, a fictional European league rugby team. Latham does a wonderful job explaining elements of rugby & rugby culture that might be unfamiliar to American readers without bogging down the plot.  While Sports-stars and rock-stars are supposed to be the new billionaires,  like that her London Legends players are not in fact multi-millionaires, and instead read more like working-class men, who work physically demanding jobs, albeit ones that come with media scrutiny, racy  holiday calendars and crazy fans. Her stories are filled with good humor, and just right touches of physical comedy.

Libby and Matt are best friends and neighbors. They share custody of a rescue teacup Chihuahua, and on nights they are both in town they spend cozy nights together watching movies.

Libby is a hard-working airline pilot for no-frills discount airline, working long hours as she tries to climb to the top of the seniority pile and make Captain.  She knows her career is murder on families and relationships having seen her parents marriage and that of many colleagues disintegrate.  A champion list maker, she has pretty set ideas &  criteria describing the kind of partner she thinks she needs to make it possible for her to keep her career and build a family. But she keeps dating men who Matt hates and considers unambitious prats and unsurprisingly those relationships never go anywhere. Her sister thinks the problem is that she is hung up on Matt, despite thinking Matt is all wrong for her. After all he doesn’t fit any of her criteria: He is younger than her, in a demanding career of his own and shown no interest in re-marriage.  Yet they spend hours together, share common interests and similar senses of humor. Libby’s sister advises her to get over Matt by shagging him and get over him, so she can move on date more productively.

Matt is deeply aware of how he has constantly disappointed people in his life, His rugby-star father, his first wife, his teammates. Libby has been one of relationship in his life unsullied by disappointment. Spending time with Libby has been safe in every way for Matt, he basks in her admiration and companionship and relaxes at the lack of sexual expectations. Libby has been the one no-pressure thing in his life. And Matt is under a lot of pressure with the Legends. After years of under performing, they need him to step up when their starting defender needs to take some time away from the field. It is clear to Matt that this is his last best chance to save his career. However his on-field play is only part of the equation. They can no longer keep ignoring his paralyzing fear of flying, if they are to count of him to be a starter.  Matt treasures his friendship with Libby above all else… even his growing attraction to her but Matt needs Libby to help him get over his fears, and risk disappointing her or he will be finished.

I loved how the conflicts in this novel exposed both of them. Both Libby and Matt were clinging to their friendship in unhealthy ways, using it to fill needs they didn’t want to acknowledge. Libby needed to finally admit that she wanted more from Matt, and Matt needed to lean on Libby and ask for her help, even if that made him vulnerable and recognize that she was worthy of that trust.

I loved how complicated both Libby and Matt’s relationships with their careers were and how she portrayed how messy it can be to start baring yourself to another person, even someone you have known for a longtime, and trust. I liked that even though they have been best friends for so long, they had so much to learn about each other because of how much of their own vulnerabilities they have been hiding out of self-protection. I really liked that in the end they were really choosing each other, not settling. 

Latham combined two of my favorite tropes, “friends to lovers” and “we can keep it casual” to great effect in this story. The resolution was super romantic,  & funny (almost a bit OTT for me) but lovely and right and consistent with the tone of the story.

 4 stars

 

A review copy of Tempting the Player was provided by Carina Press.  Tempting the Player was published Nov.10, 2014.

 

 


Meg Maguire's Driving Her Wild

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Driving Her Wild is Meg Maguire's third book set at the Wilinski's Fight Academy a MMA training gym  in Boston for Harlequin's Blaze line. 

In this book, Stephanie Healy recently retired from the fighting circuit has come to Wilisnski's Fight Academy as their new jujitsu trainer.

 After years on the road and sick of short-term relationships Steph is looking for man who is marriage material.  She wants a man different from the men she had dated all her life. She wants someone sophisticated, successful and certainly no one like Patrick Doherty, a divorced debt-ridden carpenter making ends meet as non-quite competent electrician, who is too earnest, clueless and Irish for Steph.

What I liked about this book:

In this series all the men have struggled with their working class identities and whether they are good enough for their love interests. They have only a  little money in their bank accounts, taken two many blows physical and metaphysical  but they have big dreams. I love that this equally true of Stephanie and Patrick in this book.

 I loved watching Steph struggle with her inadvisable attraction to Patrick, and Patrick enthusiastic admiration of her. I loved how Steph's brothers and father immediately loved Patrick much to Steph's frustration. And I enjoyed checking in with Jenna, Mercer, Lindsay and Rich from the previous books, Making Him Sweat and   Taking Him Down without them taking over the book.

This is not angsty book, Steph and Patrick are good people, a little down on their luck, the obstacles they face are not life-threatening, but the emotions, tenderness and frustration they feel are genuine.

I normally would have never picked up a bo0k series set in MMA gym. I haven't seen a MMA fight in my life, but when I realized that Meg Maguire is Cara McKenna, writer of some my favorite recent reads: "Unbound" and before that "After Hours"  I took the chance and enjoyed these lighter, less angsty but not less emotional reads.

 

Publication date October 22, 2013 Digital ARC provided for free by publisher via NetGalley.