Mini-Reviews in anticipation of UTOPiAcon 2017

This week, I’m going to UTOPiAcon in Nashville with my best friend. I’ve been to this conference before in 2014 and had a blast. I’m looking forward to another weekend of fun and spending way too much money on books.

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There’s going to be a variety of indie authors there, and I’m always on the hunt for my next favorite read. Plus, I’m always down to support an indie author. In anticipation of my trip, I picked up books to try from the list of authors attending. (Ya know, so I can fangirl when I meet them.)

Here’s what I’ve read so far…

#Nerd by Cambria Hebert

23493256Two people from completely different worlds are about to be thrown together…

In more ways than one.

She wants to keep her scholarship. He wants to stay on the team. An awkward alliance doesn’t even begin to cover Rimmel and Romeo’s relationship.

But that’s about to change.

It starts with a dare. An initiation. A challenge.

Quickly, it turns into more. But when you’re a victim of your status, there is no room for anything real. The rules are clear and simple.

Stick to your circle.

And never fall in love with anyone on the outside.

This book was so cute! Yes, it was the typical hot jock falls for nerd because of a bet trope, but it was so well done. I was laughing, swooning and pretty much grinning from ear-to-ear while reading.

VERDICT: Read it if you like sweet contemporary romance. I’ll definitely be reading more from this author.

The Opposite of You by Rachel Higginson

33932353I’ve sworn off men.

All men.

Famous last words, right? You’re expecting some epic tale of reluctant love and my dramatic change of heart? Well, you’re not going to get it.

I’m stubborn. And headstrong. And I’ve just survived the worst three years of my life. After escaping an abusive boyfriend to live in hostels and cheap hotels while I worked my way across Europe, I’ve come to two conclusions.

The first? Now that I’m back home, I’m going to squander my expensive culinary degree on a food truck that caters to the late night drunk crowd.

The second? I’m going to prove to the bastard across the plaza that my street food is better than his fussy five course monstrosities.

Killian Quinn might be Food and Wine’s Chef to Watch Out For. He might have a Michelin Star. He might have every food critic in the city wrapped around his too-large fingers. But he’s also pretentious and unbearably arrogant and the very opposite of me.

So he can keep his unsolicited advice and his late night visits and his cocky smiles. I want none of it. Or him.

I want the opposite.

The Opposite of You was an unexpected surprise. This is an enemies-to-lovers romance, and they hold out from admitting their feelings to each other for a very long time. However, there is plenty of anticipation-building, witty banter between Vera and the hot chef. The star of this book, however, is the food. There is so much emphasis on cooking, recipes and eating.  I was hungry the entire time I was reading.

VERDICT: Very enjoyable. It dragged out a little too long but I was ready to gobble this couple up once they were baked juuuust right.

Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn

23253863On May 15, 1975, fifteen-year-old Ginny Lemon is abducted from a convenience store in Fort Lauderdale by a member of one of the most notorious and brutal motorcycle gangs in South Florida.

From that moment on, her life is forever changed. She gets a new name, a new identity and a new life in the midst of the gang’s base on the edge of the Florida Everglades—a frightening, rough and violent world much like the swamps themselves, where everyone has an alias and loyalty is tantamount to survival.

And at the center of it all is the gang’s leader, Grizz: massive, ruggedly handsome, terrifying and somehow, when it comes to Ginny, tender. She becomes his obsession and the one true love of his life.

So begins a tale of emotional obsession and manipulation, of a young woman ripped from everything she knows and forced to lean on the one person who provides attention, affection and care: her captor. Precocious and intelligent, but still very much a teenager, Ginny struggles to adapt to her existence, initially fighting and then coming to terms with her captivity.

Will she be rescued? Will she escape? Will she get out alive—or get out at all? Part psychological thriller, part coming-of-age novel, filled with mystery, romance and unexpected turns, Nine Minutes takes readers into the world of one motorcycle gang and inside the heart of a young girl, whose abduction brought about its fall.

This book messed me up! It was like an intoxicating drug — super harmful but very addicting. I’m still reeling from all the feels. Look for a full review later on, but I both loved and hated this book. I’m pretty sure I should join a support group. Let me know if you know of one.

VERDICT: Read it, but beware of the major heart-wrenching side effects.

Badd Motherf*cker by Jasinda Wilder

32333456Your wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day of your life, right? That’s what they say, at least. I went into that day hoping I’d get the happiest day of my life. What I got? The worst. I mean, you really can’t get any worse of a day without someone actually dying.

So…I may have gotten just a little drunk, and maybe just a tad impetuous…

And landed myself in a dive bar somewhere in Alaska, alone, still in my wedding dress, half-wasted and heart-broken.

***
Eight brothers, one bar.

Sounds like the beginning to a bad joke, yeah?

I kinda think so.

Wanna hear another joke? A girl walks into a bar, soaking wet and wearing a wedding dress.

I knew I shouldn’t have touched her. She was hammered, for one thing, and heartbroken for another. I’ve chased enough tail to know better. That kinda thing only leads to clinginess, and a clingy female is the last thing on this earth I need.

I got a bar needs running, and only me to run it—at least until my seven wayward brothers decide to show their asses up…

Then this chick walks in, fine as hell, wearing a soaked wedding dress that leaves little enough to the imagination—and I’ve got a hell of an imagination.

I knew I shouldn’t have touched her. Not so much as a finger, not even innocently.

But I did.

This book is exactly what you’d expect it to be based on the title and cover. It’s a hot and sexy romance with an alpha male and fiery heroine. I was thoroughly entertained but it was kinda cookie cutter, in my humble opinion. HOWEVER, this series follows a family of brothers, who are incredibly diverse on the hot spectrum — from brainy, boy-next-door to tatted and dangerous.

VERDICT: If you’re looking for an alpha male fix, try this. I’m looking forward to reading about the different brothers, and I’m hoping to see growth in the writing and originality of plot.

Making Faces by Amy Harmon

27237358Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She’d been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have…until he wasn’t beautiful anymore.

Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl’s love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior’s love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast where we discover that there is little beauty and a little beast in all of us.

Amy Harmon is going to be speaking at the conference, and I have a lot of her books but I’ve never read them. I started with Making Faces, but I have to be honest, I couldn’t finish it. I DNF’ed it at 40%. It was sooooo slow and boring. Her characters had depth but it was like watching a National Geographic documentary. It’s good to know but is it necessary to tell me every little detail? I’ve struggled with this because I’ve read so many good reviews. I WANT to like her and this book had so much promise from the premise. If you have any insight, let me know. Otherwise, I digress.

VERDICT: Didn’t finish it. Maybe she’s just not my cup of tea?

This is Falling by Ginger Scott

22756190First, I had to remember how to breathe. Then, I had to learn how to survive. Two years, three months and sixteen days had passed since I was the Rowe Stanton from before, since tragedy stole my youth and my heart went along with it.

When I left for college, I put a thousand miles between my future and my past. I’d made a choice—I was going to cross back to the other side, to live with the living. I just didn’t know how.

And then I met Nate Preeter.

An All-American baseball player, Nate wasn’t supposed to notice a ghost-of-a-girl like me. But he did. He shouldn’t want to know my name. But he did. And when he learned my secret and saw the scars it left behind, he was supposed to run. But he didn’t.

My heart was dead, and I was never supposed to belong to anyone. But Nate Preeter had me feeling, and he made me want to be his. He showed me everything I was missing.

And then he showed me how to fall.

Gah! I LOVE Ginger Scott! She’s becoming one of my auto-buy authors. She writes the best kind of sports romance with realistic characters that face hard life challenges and obstacles. This was such a sweet romance. It was endearing and made me laugh, but watching Rowe struggle was heart-breaking. It was so well done!

VERDICT: Read it! Read EVERYTHING by Ginger Scott. I know I will.

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The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West was such a cute read. I listened to the audiobook version and I found myself running down the road with a cheesy smile on my face and the occasional outburst of laughter. This book was funny, entertaining and heart-warming.

15283043Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment, and after years of observation she’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing—spending money on useless stuff, like the porcelain dolls in her mother’s shop.

So when Xander Spence walks into the store to pick up a doll for his grandmother, it only takes one glance for Caymen to figure out he’s oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But Xander keeps coming around, despite her best efforts to scare him off. And much to her dismay, she’s beginning to enjoy his company.

She knows her mom can’t find out—she wouldn’t approve. She’d much rather Caymen hang out with the local rocker who hasn’t been raised by money. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. And that Xander’s not the only one she should’ve been worried about.

The thing I loved most about this book was the sarcasm. There were gobs and gobs of witty comebacks, funny “observations” and dry humor. I loved it; this novel had me laughing out loud. Caymen has got to be the most sarcastic heroine that I’ve ever encountered, which is saying something when you compare it to the many take-no-crap Urban Fantasy heroines.

I fell in love with Xander Spence when he gave as good as he got once his relationship with Caymen started. The sipping from the cup before handing it over was too cute. I loved their career days and I thought West captured the uncertainty of a teenager’s future beautifully.

The conflict in this story revolves around Xander’s money and Caymen’s lack of it. At first, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but over time it bugged me that Caymen was jumping to conclusions about Xander. Toward the end, Xander was jumping to conclusions about Caymen so I guess it evened out by the end. Another aspect that irked me was Caymen’s mom and her inability to communicate with her daughter about the doll store, her illness and her parents. However, these issues were the conflict in the story so they were necessary. I guess I just wanted to hear more about Xander and Caymen, and less about the secondary characters and issues.

This book was really entertaining and well-written. It was the first book of Kasie West’s that I have read, and I’ll definitely be reading more from her.

STARS: 4 out of 5

Promise Me This by Christina Lee

I am a huge fan of Christina Lee. When I saw that Promise Me This, the fourth book in the Between Breaths series, was released, I purchased it right away. It was everything I’d expect from Lee and more.

22077246A new love will test the boundaries of passion between a privileged boy next door and the tattooed, blue-haired girl who helps him embrace his wild side…

Nate has developed quite a playboy reputation around campus. It’s not that he doesn’t respect or trust women; he doesn’t trust himself. The men in Nate’s family are prone to abusive behavior—a dirty secret that Nate’s been running from his entire life—so Nate doesn’t do relationships. But he can’t help himself around one girl…

Jessie is strong, independent, and works at a tattoo parlor. Nate can’t resist getting close to her, even if it’s strictly a friendship. But it doesn’t take long for Nate to admit that what he wants with Jessie is more than just friendly.

With Jessie, he can be himself and explore what he’s always felt was a terrifying darkness inside him. Even when Nate begins to crave her in a way that both shocks and horrifies him, Jessie still wants to know every part of him. Testing their boundaries together will take a trust that could render them inseparable… or tear them apart.

I cannot begin to describe how well Lee creates these beautiful stories that bring together real, tangible characters. Jessie and Nate’s story was invigorating and mesmerizing. I loved these two so much.

Nate was such a unique character. I found Nate’s inner battle with his “dirty secret” super intriguing. It broke my heart. I wanted to give him tons of hugs. Jessie was such a strong heroine. She had her shit together even though she had faced many trials in her life, and that’s why I loved how she was able to lift up Nate.

This book is a sigh-worthy love story with romance, steamy action and beautifully-developed characters. There isn’t much else to say about it than that. I highly recommend anything that Christina Lee writes if you enjoy New Adult.

STARS: 5 out of 5

I Want It That Way by Ann Aguirre

I was blessed to receive a copy of I Want It That Way by Ann Aguirre. It arrived in the mail on a day when I really needed a pick-me-up. I devoured it in one sitting. This is the first Contemporary Romance that I’ve read from Aguirre (I’ve read and loved her YA Razorland series.), and I was really impressed.

untitledNadia Conrad has big dreams, and she’s determined to make them come true—for her parents’ sake as well as her own. But between maintaining her college scholarship and working at the local day care to support herself, she barely has time to think, let alone date. Then she moves into a new apartment and meets the taciturn yet irresistible guy in 1B….

Daniel Tyler has grown up too fast. Becoming a single dad at twenty turned his life upside down—and brought him heartache he can’t risk again. Now, as he raises his four-year-old son while balancing a full-time construction management job and night classes, a social life is out of the question. The last thing he wants is for four noisy students to move into the apartment upstairs. But one night, Nadia’s and Ty’s paths cross, and soon they can’t stay away from each other.

The timing is all wrong—but love happens when it happens. And you can’t know what you truly need until you stand to lose it.

I was drawn to the premise of this story, where a young college girl falls for a guy with a kid. It was beautifully done between describing the chaos surrounding a college girl’s life from parties to finals to the stress of working full-time and being a father. I was drawn to how real both Nadia and Ty were. I love realistic characters and I could relate to Nadia’s life ( It literally felt like my college experience in the beginning). Ty was an amazingly complex character. He was haunted by his past, both loathed and loved his current situation and secretly longed for more. His transformation from standoffish to lovable and loved was magical to watch.

I was surprised by Aguirre’s ability to show Ty as both a father and a hot-as-hell ginger. Just like Nadia, I lived for his weekends off when Nadia and Ty could finally be together without interruptions. This book had a lot of steamy, surprising moments. I was impressed that the love scenes weren’t repetitive or over-the-top; they were deliciously unexpected and different, creating emotional, tantalizing scenes.

This book was so refreshing because it was realistic in every way: the sexual tension between Ty and Nadia, the hardships of being a young father and a poor girl putting herself through college, and the beautiful payoff once the characters realized how love can never be planned and is always unexpected.

I devoured this book in one night, staying up way too late, but it was because I literally consumed this beautiful story that Aguirre created. Besides Ty and Nadia’s relationship, there is a lot going on with the secondary characters. At times, it felt like a little too much, but it makes me think these secondary characters will have their own stories later on. I enjoyed hearing about the drama of Nadia’s roommates and the stress of work. I really enjoyed Ty’s son Sam; he had so many cute moments.

Overall, I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a steamy contemporary romance with realistic characters and a unique premise. I absolutely loved this book and I wouldn’t be the diehard BSB fan I am without mentioning the genius of naming this novel after a Backstreet Boys song. I am in love with this series and I can’t wait to read more.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Thank you Author Rx and Ann Aguirre for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover

Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover is a beautiful, heart-wrenching love story that will suck you down and then send you soaring.

17788401When Tate Collins meets airline pilot Miles Archer, she knows it isn’t love at first sight. They wouldn’t even go so far as to consider themselves friends. The only thing Tate and Miles have in common is an undeniable mutual attraction. Once their desires are out in the open, they realize they have the perfect set-up. He doesn’t want love, she doesn’t have time for love, so that just leaves the sex. Their arrangement could be surprisingly seamless, as long as Tate can stick to the only two rules Miles has for her.

Never ask about the past.
Don’t expect a future.

They think they can handle it, but realize almost immediately they can’t handle it at all.

Hearts get infiltrated.
Promises get broken.
Rules get shattered.
Love gets ugly.

“Don’t ask about my past and don’t expect a future.”

Colleen Hoover puts her heart and soul in her writing, which is impeccably brilliant. Her words fly from the page straight to the reader’s heart, pumping emotions through their veins like adrenaline. This book made me feel every emotion as Hoover slowly unraveled Miles’ past and Tate’s present. I loved the alternating point of view between Miles and Tate. As the reader walks through Tate’s current predicament, Miles’ past is artfully revealed, as each chapter builds more and more on the truth of what happened.

I also really enjoyed the artistry with which Hoover approaches her writing; it’s like poetry –– not only is it impressively lyrical, but the change in formatting really puts the reader in the speaker’s shoes, creating realistic images and moving moments.

The relationship between Miles and Tate was a wild ride, filled with hot scenes, emotional turbulence and intimate moments. I couldn’t get enough of these two. Hoover explains it best when she describes Miles as solid and Tate as liquid. I loved this comparison; it’s another example of how beautiful Hoover’s writing truly is.

The climatic reveal is shocking and the ending is so amazingly satisfying that I’m still sighing in contentment. If you enjoy New Adult love stories, with strong female protagonists and damaged/alpha males, you will love this book. Read it. Just read it.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Hale Maree by Misty Provencher

I’ve had my eye on Hale Maree by Misty Provencher since it was making it’s rounds in the blogosphere, especially because the title is so clever. When I saw Misty at the UtopYA conference, I knew I had to pick up a copy. (She even signed it for me! yay!)

16094462Hale Simmons dreams of climbing out of her impoverished life, going to college, and getting herself a titanium crash helmet, so she can eventually bust through the Plexiglas ceiling of her crappy life. But for now, she’s just a 18-year-old girl with a flimsy hope, barely getting by with her alcoholic father, Jerry.
But for Hale, ‘crappy’ suddenly takes a nosedive, when Jerry becomes the sole witness to a horrible accident. It is an event which means to effect everyone, especially Hale, who wasn’t even involved.
While the depth of the accident has just begun to unfold, Otto Maree, a prominent business man and old family friend, stands to lose everything because of it. Otto is desperate for Hale’s father to stay quiet about what occurred the night the two men met for a drink. Out of mutual moments of desperation, the two fathers forge a deal. Jerry is desperate to gain financial stability for both himself and Hale, and Otto Maree is more than willing to pay to keep his secret just that.
But deals like this need to be made of the strongest vows and bound with the most faithful of loyalties. Otto proposes a marriage between Hale and his playboy-son, Oscar, in order to assure that the secret remains ‘in the family’. The mystery surrounding the accident continues to grow and Hale struggles against her own mysterious feelings that begin to develop for Oscar, who turns out to less of a playboy, but just as fiercely loyal and dedicated as his father.
As the pressure around her continues to escalate, Hale realizes that she’s got to decide if this arranged marriage is really just a big mistake or an amazing twist of fate that has been waiting around for this particular accident to happen.

The first thing I will say is this book is a bit outlandish — It’s based on the idea that a girl is forced into marriage due to a secret that her father and her betrothed’s father keep. Now keep in mind, Hale Maree is an adult contemporary romance, not a fantasy/historical romance novel; hence, the outlandishness where a girl would be forced into marriage so quickly in the 21sth century. BUT, despite the unbelievablity factor, I devoured this book and it left me with a grin on my face by the end.

I finished this book in a day. I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to see what Hale would do. She’s trapped in this crazy situation where she WANTS to get away (and tries to a few times. YOU GO GIRL!), but Oscar is a beautiful man, inside and out, making it harder for Hale to say no as time goes by. I loved this quality in Oscar; he is so unexpectedly kind but also surprisingly sensual. Hale’s situation is so sad with her drunken father and living in poverty so when a rich, handsome guy is trying to sweep her off her feet, I couldn’t help but swoon, even if it was incredibly cliché and fosters negative female character stereotypes. This novel was a bit fast-paced; I wish it could have explored their love a bit more but this book was definitely all about Hale and Oscar’s interactions. I LOVED their conversations. There are a few “dramatic” things that bring the story to a close, but I was more concerned about Hale and Oscar’s love story.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a feel-good, fluffy romance, where everything doesn’t have to make sense because it’s all about the characters. The steamy scenes left me wanting more and I even caught some “Alpha Male-ness” in Oscar’s character. Overall, it was lovely entertainment.

STARS: 4 out of 5

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is a contemporary YA romance that’s gotten lots of buzz. After reading multiple five star reviews, I decided to pick it up (and actually pay for it, not just rent it at the library) even though contemporary lit isn’t really my thing. I can now see what everyone’s talking about.

17453983Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. She is less than thrilled about boarding school in Paris – until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, he has it all – including a serious girlfriend. Will Anna get her French kiss?

Anna and the French Kiss sent my heart soaring. It’s the story of young, true love that doesn’t have the best timing or make the most sense until after the fact. Anna and Étienne are two characters with such depth, making them so relatable it’s hard not to love them. They both have their fears that continue to hold them back but when they are together it’s like they are free to be themselves.

However, there is a girlfriend, Ellie, in the picture. I have to say, this story hit close to home. I know exactly what it’s like to fall for the really hot boy that everyone likes and continually beat yourself up for thinking, even for a second, that he could actually like you, especially when he’s taken by this perfect, beautiful girl and they’ve been together forever. Regardless, this story was beautifully written and flowed flawlessly. There wasn’t a single time that I thought something was out of place or I was getting bored with the story. I specifically liked some of the funny Georgia shoutouts. As someone who lived in Georgia for awhile, I knew exactly what she meant when she mentioned going on vacation to Panama City Beach with the rest of Georgia. I’m sure Georgians keep that city in business. Anyway, Stephanie Perkins had me laughing out loud and left me with a goofy grin on my face a time or two.

This book is sweet and romantic without being cheesy. The characters are well-made, each with their own story and motives, even including the most minor of characters. I loved reading about Anna’s passion for film and the witty banter between Anna and Etienne about how he’s an American with an English accent lvinig in France. I have nothing to complain about with this book. I read it in two days and the happy ending left me satisfied. However, I just can’t give it five stars because it didn’t completely blow me away. It was pretty darn close though. I can see how everyone has fallen in love with this book, I have and I think you will too.

Stars: 4.5 out of 5