Fake Fiancée by Isla Madden-Mills

Fake Fiancée is such a fun, cute read! I was glued to the pages and read it in two days.

33095590A new standalone romance from Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author Ilsa Madden-Mills…

They say nothing compares to your first kiss,
But our first kiss was orchestrated for an audience.
Our second kiss…that one was REAL.
He cradled my face like he was terrified he’d f*ck it up.
He stared into my eyes until the air buzzed.
Soft and slow, full of sighs and little laughs,
He inhaled me like I was the finest Belgian chocolate,
And he’d never get another piece.
A nip of his teeth, his hand at my waist…
And I was lost.
I forgot he was paying me to be his fake fiancée.
I forgot we weren’t REAL.
Our kiss was pure magic, and before you laugh and say those kinds of kisses don’t exist…
Then you’ve never touched lips with Max Kent, the hottest quarterback in college history.

Get ready for breathtaking kisses, dreamy football players, a heroine who yearns for the guy she can’t have, and a hero who will do anything for the girl he loves…

Even though it’s highly unrealistic, I’m a sucker for the fake relationship trope. I enjoy the dynamic tension between two people who try to unravel their emotions and identify what’s real and what’s fake. This was a slow-moving romance, which I appreciated given they are basically strangers when they meet, and the jealous ex situation for each of them was a nice touch. The rivalry between  Max and the second string quarterback was a little overdone, and I wish it didn’t take up as much of the story.

I loved Sunny’s Mimi! She was a hoot! And I particularly enjoyed being in Max’s head. He was by far my favorite character.

Although I enjoyed this story immensely, there were a lot of extraneous details that never really got resolved. For example, in one particular scene, the star quarterback hurts his ankle. In the moment, it seemed like a career-ending event but it was brushed off later in the chapter as no big deal. One or two of those is fine but there were many details added for dramatic effect (i.e. both their fathers, the coach, the new guy…) but were never followed through. It was like the author was trying to “fake out” the reader and toward the end, I didn’t appreciate it as much.

Overall, such a fun, fast read that will hit the New Adult spot.

STARS: 4 out of 5

The Bellevue Bullies Series Review by Toni Aleo

I’ve been on a hockey sports fiction kick lately and the Bellevue Bullies series was something I stumbled upon and I’m so glad I did. I read the first three books back-to-back. Each book follows one of the Sinclair brothers as they attend Bellevue University playing for the Bullies hockey team in pursuit of a career in the NHL.

Boarded By Love by Toni Aleo (Bellevue Bullies #1)

17448422“Jude Sinclair here, hockey player for the Bellevue Bullies and lover of all ladies. Hockey’s in my blood, and not to sound full of myself, but

I’m good at it…really good. The draft is within my reach—it’s mine to take—but that’s not the only reason people know my name. They know me because of my way with women. They know the score, and I aim to please. I just tend to stay away from repeat performances. In other words, I don’t do relationships beyond my family and friends. I’m happy with life. However, I should warn you that my story and how I see it playing out is about to change due to a certain redhead on campus.

She’s beautiful. Stunning. Breathtaking.

She’s my game changer.”

“He’s trouble from the moment I see him. I don’t know what I’m thinking, but from the moment I meet his gaze, I’m his. It’s a scary feeling.

I’ve never trusted anyone outside my aunt and uncle—and even that took months. I didn’t have it easy growing up. My mom was usually strung out, and she didn’t give me a second thought. Drugs and the men who paid her were more important to her. It was horrible, but I’m stronger today. Because of my past, security is what I need most. Money assures me that I can take care of myself today, tomorrow, and next month. I don’t want to ever be hungry or go without again, so I work hard for every penny.

Oh, by the way, I’m Claire Anderson. I’m a hard-studying sophomore at the University of Bellevue, dancer for the school dance team, and a burlesque dancer at a club, but that’s my secret.
You may think you know how our story ends, but you have no clue. It’s not easy falling in love… or living happily ever after. At first it may seem so, but when is anything worth having ever won without a fight?

Especially when you’re boarded by love.”

In Boarded by Love, the first book in the Bellevue Bullies series, the oldest brother, Jude, falls for a girl with a scarred childhood who has a secret. I loved how Claire was super independent and obsessive about supporting herself based on her past. Jude was such an arrogant but charming alpha male with a real tender side.

After reading all three books, it’s evident that the Sinclair boys are obsessed with themselves, their looks, their hockey skills, but it’s all in an endearing way that makes the reader swoon. Their love story was tumultuous and passionate. I enjoyed the hockey scenes and Claire’s dancing. This first novel was a good foundation for the rest of the series, introducing the secondary characters and setting up family drama that continues throughout the series.

Clipped By Love by Toni Aleo (Bellevue Bullies #2)

23172090Things are heating up for the Sinclair boys! With one already in the NHL, Jayden Sinclair is hoping to be next!

This has been the toughest year of my life. I watched my brother go into the draft without me, my mom got divorced, and the weight of my family’s issues is heavy on my shoulders. I feel like it’s my job to fix everything while working my butt off in school and trying to make my game better. I have to go into the draft. It will give my family the support they need, and it will prove that I’m good enough. But to get there, I have to show I can be the best captain for the Bellevue Bullies. The spot is mine—no one can take it. First though, Jude is making me go on a brother’s weekend. Innocent enough, I guess…until I see her. She’s the biggest competitor I’ve ever faced. Not only for my spot but also my heart. It’s hard to ignore someone like Baylor Moore.

I don’t lose. I can’t. My dad has bred me to be the best in anything I do. I am driven, I am smart, and I am going to be the first woman in the National Hockey League. No two ways about it. I’ve worked too hard. I’ve been through too much not to have what I want. I know I can do it. I will make my dad proud, and no one will stand in the way of that. That is, until I let him in. He scares me. He makes me feel. And he could very well be the one person who can make me want more than just to win.

We both have the same goal. Victory. But how do you compete against the person you want to win? It’s not easy. Love isn’t something you can control. It isn’t like a puck that can be handled by a stick. No, it has a mind of its own and does what it wants.

Neither of us saw it coming, and we really don’t know if there is a way to score, especially when you’re being Clipped by Love.

Clipped By Love is my favorite of the three books. Jayden meets a hot girl on vacation that plays a mean game of hockey. Unfortunately, their one night together goes awry and they separate to their own part of the world never to see each other again. Or do they?

Jayden is set to be picked first in the NHL draft and Baylor has her sights set on becoming the first female hockey player in the NHL. I loved their story. Jadyen and Baylor were so perfect for each other but one fateful night creates a storm between them filled with pain, misunderstanding and an unbelievable amount of tension. I liked how Jayden was more invested in Baylor, and as the most sensitive of the three brothers, my heart was breaking for him as they both struggle to keep their relationship together despite the many challenges.

There was a lot of girl power and knight-in-shining-armor moments as Baylor works to succeed in a male-dominated sport. It was sweet. It was hard to read. It was gritty, but real.

This story had a very happy ever after and I was swooning a majority of the time.

Hooked by Love by Toni Aleo (Bellevue Bullies #3)

23172091Things are out of control for the Sinclair boys! With two already in the NHL, Jace Sinclair is ready to follow in his brothers’ HUGE skates in the last Bellevue Bullies novel…

Jace Sinclair here, and I’m amazing. There is no other way to describe me. I am the leading scorer for the Bellevue Bullies, I’m the captain, and people love me: my family, my teammates, my coach, and the NHL. I already have one foot in the draft and I’m ready. This is my last year in college–it’s basically a conditioning year to get me ready for the NHL, to further my game, and I have to be focused. But then, it’s also my last year to have fun and not give a damn before my life really starts. Which means I’m gonna run through every girl I meet. That’s my plan. Because my one and only love is hockey. It keeps me warm even when it’s freezing. It’s always there when nothing else is. And it pushes me to be the best I can be. It’s my love.

That is, until I see her against a tree with a guitar.

Avery.

The last thing I wanted was to meet anyone. My heart is on the bench because I’ve watched my mom get broken by the person I call my father, and I don’t want that for myself. I don’t want to be hurt by anyone. I can’t give them that power.

But my heart is begging for ice time, and I can’t control it around her.

* * *

I’ve always been in the background. No one has ever had time for me and that’s fine; I’ve learned to cope. Coming from a family where hockey is life, the last thing I want is some big, burly hockey player charging at me. I don’t have time for it, but Jace Sinclair isn’t one to be deked around. The thing is, I came to the University of Bellevue for one reason and one reason only. To make my dreams of being a singer/songwriter come true. To work in the industry and pay my dues. Become who I really want to be.

I didn’t want to meet anyone. I didn’t want to end up freezing the puck with him. It’s not what I want.

I have demons.

I have issues.

Living in the shadows, no one even knew until it was too late. But Jace wants to know.

He wants me.

And that scares me the living hell out of me.

We were so worried about what would happen if we fell, but we never thought what could happen in the process of falling. We never saw it coming. But it’s here, and the repercussions are not pretty. We should have known that there is no way out of the zone when you are being Hooked by Love.

The third book in the series follows the youngest brother Jace as he tries to finish his last year of college as a self-proclaimed manwhore, enjoying the fruits that college has to offer. Then he meets Avery and he’s down for the count.

I appreciated this novel because of the raw subject matter. Jace struggles with his daddy issues and Avery struggles with depression and anxiety, and the pain of her past. Their relationship was fragile but lovely, and I was rooting for them the whole time.

It was bittersweet once I finished all three brothers’ stories because I was definitely hooked. Plus, I freaking loved the rest of their family. Thankfully, their sister gets her own novel in the Assassins series, Rushing the Goal.

I really enjoyed these stories and I’m now a huge fan of Toni Aleo. If you’re in the mood for a sports romance, give Toni a try. You won’t regret it.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Rule by Jay Crownover

Over the years, I’ve had Jay Crownover’s Marked Men series pop up as a recommended series based on my read list on GoodReads. Whatever algorithm Goodreads uses to recommend things works, because it was absolutely right. Rule, the first novel in the New Adult series, was wildly entertaining.

17200687Opposites in every way . . . except the one that matters

Shaw Landon loved Rule Archer from the moment she laid eyes on him. Rule is everything a straight-A pre-med student like Shaw shouldn’t want—and the only person she’s never tried to please. She isn’t afraid of his scary piercings and tattoos or his wild attitude. Though she knows that Rule is wrong for her, her heart just won’t listen.

To a rebel like Rule Archer, Shaw Landon is a stuck-up, perfect princess-and his dead twin brother’s girl. She lives by other people’s rules; he makes his own. He doesn’t have time for a good girl like Shaw-even if she’s the only one who can see the person he truly is.

But a short skirt, too many birthday cocktails, and spilled secrets lead to a night neither can forget. Now, Shaw and Rule have to figure out how a girl like her and a guy like him are supposed to be together without destroying their love . . . or each other.

I’m always down for a good girl falling for the bad boy. No matter how unrealistic it seems at times. Granted, I know from experience that every good girl has a wild side waiting to come out. For a New Adult novel, this book had some heavy subject matter – dealing with the death of a friend/brother, the fracturing of a family, disowning parents, and unfulfilled longing for love and acceptance. It added some tangible substance between the tension-filled bickering and scorching moments of surrender.

I particularly enjoyed Rule as a damaged bad boy with tattoos and piercings – LOTS of piercings. There were a few eyebrow raising moments, but that’s what made this story so fun to read. I loved that Shaw was the complete opposite of Rule, clean-cut, rich and well-mannered. It made their relationship like the joining of fire and ice; it could get explosive.

My one complaint is I think Rule is a dumb name. Who would name their kid Rule? However, I loved the variety of secondary characters. I’m excited to read the rest of the series knowing I’ll get to hear the stories of some of my favorites like Rome and Jet.

STARS: 4 out of 5

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood had so much potential, but it didn’t quite deliver.

25463009Three royal houses ruling three interplanetary systems are on the brink of collapse, and they must either ally together or tear each other apart in order for their people to survive.

Asa is the youngest daughter of the house of Fane, which has been fighting a devastating food and energy crisis for far too long. She thinks she can save her family’s livelihood by posing as her oldest sister in an arranged marriage with Eagle, the heir to the throne of the house of Westlet. The appearance of her mother, a traitor who defected to the house of Galton, adds fuel to the fire, while Asa also tries to save her sister Wren’s life . . . possibly from the hands of their own father.

But as Asa and Eagle forge a genuine bond, will secrets from the past and the urgent needs of their people in the present keep them divided?

From the moment I read the synopsis, I was sold. It was Sci-fi. It had an arranged intergalactic marriage and a heroine that risked it all to save her kin! As I began reading, the plot was all there, the writing was decent but the storytelling wasn’t. It felt like being dropped into the middle of the story and missing the very important prologue that explained crucial background. I think there needed to be more world-building. Taking on intergalactic politics is a huge feat, and I wish the author took more time to describe the setting and customs of each planet to fully appreciate the drastic changes for the heroine.  I felt just as lost as the heroine.

I also wish the author would have spent more time developing the relationship between Eagle and Asa. They speak to each other what seems like five times the entire book but are madly in love by the end. I didn’t totally buy their romance. I wish they would have explored their differences and similarities more. The elements were all there. Eagle had a complex with his body image issues and Asa had to deal with her decontamination side effects. I wish they had recognized the common ground and the author had used it as a platform on loving who you are despite what you look like.

I really wanted to like this one, but it missed the mark. It had everything it needed to be an epic sci-fi romance but it wasn’t well executed.

STARS: 2 out of 5

The Mighty Storm by Samantha Towle

The Mighty Storm by Samantha Towle has been on my radar for years. It was the New Adult book that everyone was talking about and I wanted in. Sadly, this book fell flat for me.

15724654It’s been twelve years since Tru Bennett last saw Jake Wethers, her former best friend and boy she once loved.

Jake Wethers, sexy, tattooed and deliciously bad lead singer, and brains behind The Mighty Storm, one of the biggest bands in the world, left Tru with a broken heart when he moved from England to America with his family when they were both fourteen.

Sent to interview Jake for her music column by the magazine she works for, they are both unprepared for the sparks that fly the instant they reconnect. Only, there’s a complication to their instant feelings for one another—Will, Tru’s boyfriend of two years.

Then Jake makes Tru a job offer she can’t refuse—travelling the world with him and his band. But taking the job means leaving Will behind, and being on the road with the band means spending an inordinate amount of time with Jake.

Is Tru strong enough to resist the delectable bad boy who once held her heart so completely, or will she willingly risk it all for one night with the world’s most notorious womanizer?

The Mighty Storm is the epitome of a new adult romance. It has the self-conscious heroine that doesn’t realize she’s beautiful and the arrogant, rich bad boy (in this case rock star) that demands her heart. Most of the time I’m okay with the stereotype, and even if there are moments that I cringe at the over-the-top, need-you-now, I’m-a-caveman dialogue, I can still fall into the story. However, I couldn’t get there with this book.

The first half of this novel was wildly entertaining. I enjoyed all the “Briticisms,” like saying boot instead of trunk or vest instead of a tank top. The story and characters were stereotypical, sure, but I enjoyed the first meeting, anticipated the first kiss and even endured the heart-wrenching love triangle. The first half felt like it was its own little story with a beginning, middle and end. About the half-way point is where I got lost. The story changes…it morphs into this obstacle-rich battle ground with dealbreakers coming in out of nowhere. Between one page and the next, the whole tone of the story flips from an authentic connection to a pessimistic interrogation.

Where The Mighty Storm fell flat the most was the character’s contradictory decision-making, specifically Tru. It’s impossible to describe without spoilers but she basically considers an act, that she had done herself, as unforgivable. It was such a hypocritical moment that I couldn’t side with either character. I was just done with the BS and didn’t want to read anymore. I skimmed through to the end to see how it all ended up, but it didn’t redeem this book for me.

The Mighty Storm was a letdown. It left me feeling like I wasted time.

STARS: 2 out of 5

Torn by Carian Cole

Thank you baby Jesus.

That’s what I’m thinking as I one-clicked Carian Cole’s latest novel, Torn. I devoured her Ashes & Embers series so I was oh-so-ready for her new Devil’s Wolves series.

28481104He’s loved me since the day I was born.
He’s taken care of me.
He’s awakened me.

Tor. My father’s best friend.
Fifteen years older than me, he’s always been my protector.
The one I should never, ever want.
But I was born to be his.

She’s always loved me.
She’s shattered me.
She’s healed me.

Kenzi. My best friend’s daughter.
I held her the day she was born, and I never let go.
She’s forbidden to me. But she’s the only one that really gets me.
We’re slowly being torn apart by everything we love.
Everything we want.
Everything we desire.

And now I want the one thing I can’t have… I want her.

I know what you’re thinking. A romance between a 32-year-old and an 18-year-old? That’s gross! But you couldn’t be more wrong. This book, at the heart of it, is two people falling in love despite external forces, age, societal expectations, timing, etc. It was so tastefully done. There was never a time I felt uncomfortable or my eyebrows raised in disbelief. The combination of Cole’s storytelling and these two wonderfully complex characters made for a whirlwind romance. I was hanging on every last word, the pages burning in my hands as the writing etched itself in my heart. I really frickin’ loved this book.

Tor and Kenzi’s love story was all about discovery and awakening and first love — for both of them. They had such a cute friendship that bloomed into a scorching romance. The obstacles they faced just to be together had my heart twisting. I was surprised at how sweet Tor was with the animal rescue he was involved in, and I loved the scene with their first kiss. It was beyond epic.

Cole does bad boys like no one else. They have the long hair, the tats, the bad ass attitude but they have hearts of gold and are gentlemen at their core. I loved seeing glimpses of my favorite characters of the Ashes & Ember series and I’m so looking forward to reading Tor’s brothers’ stories. The secondary characters in this novel are so real to me, and I want to hear their stories.

If you like bad boy romance, then you need to read Carian Cole.

STARS: 5 out of 5

 

Monthly Update, AKA I’m finally crawling out from the rock I’ve been under

The whole month of February flew by and I totally dropped the ball on my blog. I haven’t posted in a while, but I have a perfectly legitimate excuse. I moved, as in, my entire existence had to be boxed up and moved 12 miles down the road to my dream house in the country. Totally worth it; super inconvenient. I haven’t been able to blog or write, but I always make time to read and I’ve devoured some pretty good reads as of late.

where-have-you-been

Currently Reading

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The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

I finally read The Queen of the Tearling since they are making a movie and Emma Watson (who’s, like, my absolute fav) is starring in it. I totally get it now. This series is awesomesauce and I can’t wait to devour the entire trilogy.

Next on my TBR

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I recently started another highly-recommended series, the Elemental Trilogy, and it’s very, very good. Looking forward to reading this last installment.

What I’m Watching

riverdale

With Vampire Diaries in its last season, I need another CW guilty pleasure to hold me over. Riverdale hits the spot.

What I’m Writing

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I haven’t had a chance to get my butt in the chair and write (mostly because said chair was packed and moved), but I have been using the monotonous unpacking time to plot for my current work in progress. Here’s hoping I can translate the plan to the page.

What else? 

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It was my birthday! You know what that means? Books. The top item on my wish list every year. It was nice to add them to the growing stacks that I had to pack up. In fact, I was curious how many books I had in my shelves, so I counted as I packed thinking I had maybe 200 or so. I had 622 books! And yes, it was exhausting to pack them all, not to mention it took forever since I had to reminisce with each one before carefully packing it away.