Honor by Jay Crownover

So I’m left unsupervised in a bookstore, but it’s okay because I have a gift card. (Not that it would stop me from using the big guns [i.e. the credit card]) And I’m trying to find a book to buy, normally this isn’t a problem but I’m trying a new thing where I go into a bookstore and buy a book that I don’t already know about and that I haven’t read a review for. I’m trying to go in blind.

I stumbled upon Honor by Jay Crownover in the smaller than usual romance section (since when is romance only two aisles?!?) and I’m kind of cheating because I LOVED Jay Crownover’s Marked Men series, and once I cheated by picking a book by an author I knew, I continued the downward spiral by looking up reviews to verify my choice. The gushing and fangirling on Goodreads had me feeling pretty confident, and the combination of the reviews and the author’s note in the beginning had me excited for this super dark and gritty read.

26072600Don’t be fooled.

Don’t make excuses for me.

I am not a good man.

I’ve seen things no one should, done things no one should talk about. Honor and conscience have no place in my life. But I’ve fought and I’ve survived. I’ve had to.

The first time I saw her dancing on that seedy stage in that second rate club, I felt my heart pulse for the first time. Keelyn Foster was too young, too vibrant for this place, and I knew in an instant that I would make her mine. But first I had to climb my way to the top. I had to have something more to offer her.

I’m here now, money is no object and I have no equal. Except for her. She’s disappeared. But don’t worry, I will find her and claim her. She will be mine.

Like I said, don’t be fooled. I am not the devil in disguise… I’m the one front and center.

I finished this book in pretty much one day. I liked it but I think I went in with too high of expectations because it wasn’t nearly dark and gritty enough for me to consider it as dark as everyone thought it was. At no point while reading did I feel uncomfortable at the violence or the fact that the main character runs a sex club. Overall, I thought the book was pretty tame, and when the main character is literally described as the “devil,” I was expecting a damaged and dangerous dude.

Now, did I like the characters? Yes. BUT, they weren’t the kind of dark characters I expected. That disappointment bled into the rest of my reading experience and left me feeling pretty meh about the book. Don’t get me wrong, the writing was fantastic, but there were points the plot felt too forced, or the action felt too much like a plot device to get the story moving as opposed to naturally occurring plot progression.

I went in with high expectations and came out a little disappointed. However, that may speak to my reading past – the dark AF books I’ve apparently been reading to leave me jaded enough to think this is tame – and the fact that I think Jay Crownover writes good guys better than bad guys.

STARS: 3 out of 5

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

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

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

The Hard Count by Ginger Scott

The Hard Count by Ginger Scott is the first book I’ve read from this author, and right off the bat, I was struck by how detailed and intimate the writing was. It was like I was right. There. This let me connect with the main characters on an emotional level fairly quickly.

30304059Nico Medina’s world is eleven miles away from mine. During the day, it’s a place where doors are open—where homes are lived in, and neighbors love. But when the sun sets, it becomes a place where young boys are afraid, where eyes watch from idling cars that hide in the shadows and wicked smoke flows from pipes.

West End is the kind of place that people survive. It buries them—one at a time, one way or another. And when Nico was a little boy, his mom always told him to run.

I’m Reagan Prescott—coach’s daughter, sister to the prodigal son, daughter in the perfect family.
Life on top.
Lies.
My world is the ugly one. Private school politics and one of the best high school football programs in the country can break even the toughest souls. Our darkness plays out in whispers and rumors, and money and status trump all. I would know—I’ve watched it kill my family slowly, strangling us for years.

In our twisted world, a boy from West End is the only shining light.
Quarterback.
Hero.
Heart.
Good.
I hated him before I needed him.
I fell for him fast.
I loved him when it was almost too late.

When two ugly worlds collide, even the strongest fall. But my world…it hasn’t met the boy from West End.

Another aspect of the writing that struck me right away was the meticulously detailed sports scenes. Football is a huge piece of this story as Reagan captures it on film and Nico attempts to pursue his dream as a starting quarterback. As a football fan in real life, I was impressed at how specific the football scenes were, down to the details of each individual play of the game. I’ve never read a sports romance with so much attention on the game itself. I found it upped the ante and made the story more exciting.

This story was very emotional. It was built on the give and take of people’s emotions whether it’s how the daughter feels about her father or brother or potential love interest. There’s a particularly moving and heart-breaking scene toward the end that had me in tears. It’s been awhile since a novel made me cry. Seeing, or reading rather, a guy completely lose it will do that to a girl.

The underlying theme of racism and “class-ism” was an intriguing element of the story. There were times that I thought it was a bit much or too cliché with the diverse boy dating a white girl in a prejudice private school setting. However, it’s a cliché for a reason and I enjoyed the way the author used this stereotype to complete her story. It reminded me a lot of Simone Elkeles Perfect Chemistry series.

STARS: 4 out of 5

The Year We Hid Away by Sarina Bowen

I loved the first book in the Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen, so I’m not sure why it took me so long to read the second book, The Year We Hid Away, because it was fantastic.

21798646She’s hiding something big. He’s hiding someone small.

Scarlet Crowley’s life was torn apart the day father was arrested for unspeakable crimes. Now the shock has worn off, but not the horror.

It’s a safe bet that Scarlet is the only first year at Harkness College who had to sneak past TV news trucks parked on her front lawn just to leave town. But college will be Scarlet’s fresh start. Clutching a shiny new student ID — with a newly minted name on it — she leaves it all behind. Even if it means lying to the boy she’s falling for.

Bridger McCaulley is a varsity hockey star known for being a player both on and off the ice. But a sobering family crisis takes that all away. Protecting his sister means a precarious living arrangement and constant deception. The only bright spot in his week is the few stolen hours he spends with Scarlet.

The two form a tentative relationship based on the understanding that some things must always be held back. But when grim developments threaten them both, going it alone just won’t work anymore. And if they can’t learn to trust one another now, the families who let them down will take everything they’ve struggled to keep.

I love Bowen’s stories because they have this depth, with plots about real life situations. With The Year We Hid Away, Bowen captures the college experience with characters who face unusual life challenges. My heart simultaneously broke and mended reading this wonderful story as two people struggle to get by and find solace in each other, only to have life rip that solace from them again.

Bowen’s novels are always well paced. They are never rushed or slow. The romance between the protagonists was even-keeled, no insta-love or unrealistic passion. The obstacles each character faced was real, and portrayed in a realistic fashion. That alone keeps me reading her novels because it’s refreshing and raw. It makes the struggles within the story authentic, and as a reader, I relate to it more.

This particular “sports romance” was different because it’s two people running from the sport they love. I did miss the hockey element in this story but I’m looking forward to more of that in the next book. Also, I listened to the audiobook version, and I enjoyed the narrators. I thought they both did a wonderful job portraying the emotions using their voice.

I highly recommend The Year We Hid Away to anyone who enjoys realistic New Adult novels based in a college setting.

STARS: 5 out of 5

My Book Slump – An Unfortunate Misadventure Told in Mini Reviews

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I am in a major book slump. I blame it on A Court of Mist and Fury. Nothing can compare to its brilliance and I’m having trouble reading anything in the YA Fantasy genre because of it. After reading a book that sets the bar really high in a genre, I have to take some time away so that I don’t immediately dislike everything else. Sometimes I have a Kanye-esque I’m-going-to-finish-reading-you-but-ACOMAF-is-the-best-book-of-all-time moment, which is incredibly bias and unfair to unsuspecting novels on my shelf.

In an effort to get my groove back, I ventured into different territories.

First Stop: New Adult Romance. Because a steamy romp fixes everything, right? Wrong.

23288101Brotherhood. Club. Family.

They live and ride by their own rules.

These are the Raven Riders . . .

Raven Riders Motorcycle Club President Dare Kenyon rides hard and values loyalty above all else. He’ll do anything to protect the brotherhood of bikers—the only family he’s got—as well as those who can’t defend themselves. So when mistrustful Haven Randall lands on the club’s doorstep scared that she’s being hunted, Dare takes her in, swears to keep her safe, and pushes to learn the secrets overshadowing her pretty smile.

Haven fled from years of abuse at the hands of her criminal father and is suspicious of any man’s promises, including those of the darkly sexy and overwhelmingly intense Ravens’ leader. But as the powerful attraction between them flares to life, Dare pushes her boundaries and tempts her to want things she never thought she could.

The past never dies without a fight, but Dare Kenyon’s never backed down before . . .

I started with a gritty, motorcycle club book with Ride Hard by Laura Kaye. Bad Boy meets good girl, sparks fly, book slump cured. Maybe? Laura Kaye is an author that I love, so I thought I couldn’t go wrong. Unfortunately, the story of Dare and Haven was too predictable and I didn’t engage well with the secondary characters. (Also, I’m binge-watching Sons of Anarchy and that show is killing my will to live with its cruelty. It’s badass, but evil. It may be affecting my level of enjoyment in MC fiction.)

It was a sweet story of one damaged soul saving another, but it didn’t have the level of desperation and emotional turmoil that I was expecting. Their relationship was a bit stagnant and cold between moments of heat, and the perception of disinterest left me, well, disinterested.

Usually, I’m all about the playing hard to get trope, but not here. See, this book slump is killing me slowly.

Next Stop: Try another New Adult by a favorite author (in case the first try was a fluke)

 

13614836A sexy category romance from Entangled’s Brazen imprint…

She’ll make him lose control…

Madison Daniels has worshipped her brother’s best friend since they were kids. Everyone thinks she and Chase Gamble would make the perfect couple, but there are two major flaws in their logic. 1) Chase has sworn off relationships of any kind, and 2) after blurring the line between friends and lovers for one night four years ago, they can’t stop bickering.

Forced together for her brother’s wedding getaway, Chase and Madison decide to call a truce for the happy couple. Except all bets are off when they’re forced to shack up in a tacky 70’s honeymoon suite and survive a multitude of “accidents” as the family tries to prove their “spark” can be used than for more than fighting. That is, if they don’t strangle each other first…

I know I’m in a serious book slump when a feel-good, New Adult novel from an author I love turns out to be an “okay” read. Granted, this book very well may be mediocre, but I couldn’t really get into it enough to verify from a balanced place of judgment.

Tempting the Best Man by J. Lynn (aka Jennifer L. Armentrout) is the first in a New Adult series. It was light-hearted but also frustrating. I don’t like it when the biggest issue in a relationship is a lack of communication (no matter how realistic that is) because one conversation between the main characters can resolve all the conflict in the entire book. I wasn’t feeling the usual heat that I expect from Armentrout. In fact, I wasn’t really feeling anything and that’s what made this book a dud for me.

Next Stop: Going Dark

22895913Innkeeper’s daughter Jane Heatherington is sold into indentured servitude to cover her father’s debts, sold to Aidan Warrick, a man whose handsome face and form mock the rumors that skulk in his shadow, rumors that paint him a smuggler, a pirate…and worse.

On the rainswept Cornish coast, Aidan’s business is carried out in the darkest hours of moonless nights, his secrets are many, and death follows in his wake. Isolated and alone, Jane’s only companion is the man she dare not trust, the man who looks at her with heated desire that she both fears and craves.

As she finds herself ensnared in the twisted schemes carried out within the walls of Aidan’s looming estate, Jane must decide if Aidan Warrick is the dark prince of her dreams or a monster preying on the innocent…

Note: All books in the Dark Gothic series can be read as stand-alone novels.

After failing to read a “happy romance,” I decided to go dark, gothic dark with a Historical Romance. Dark Prince by Eve Silver was an intriguing read. It had a menacing setting complete with overcast skies, tumultuous waves crashing upon rocky shores, leaf-filled cemeteries visited by ravens, and dead bodies washed ashore with no eyes. The female protagonist was damaged but determined, and the love interest was stoic yet sensitive. I got a Mr. Darcy feel from Aidan Warrick, and I admired Jane’s tenacity and kindness.

This book wasn’t uplifting by any means. The story is resolved in a satisfying manner where both of them learn from one another and become better people. It was a nice read, but still left me without a zest for that #booklife.

Next Stop: Tears, lots of tears

15507958Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

Just when I was thinking my book slump was lifting, my book club picked Me Before You by JoJo Moyes for the July read.

If you’ve read this book, you know, YOU KNOW, what I mean when I say that this book was heartbreaking. I was so intrigued, so invested only to have my heart crushed into a million pieces. JoJo Moyes single-handedly sucked the joy of reading from my soul with this gut-wrenching story. Why, JoJo, Why? I knew it was going to be a sad read, but I didn’t like how certain things were shown, such as Lou’s breakdown, but then it didn’t show pertinent parts at the end.

I hate this book in that angry way where you are ugly crying with tissues but you don’t really mean it. I just need some time.

Next Stop: A cure?

I’m currently reading a YA Contemporary with extreme caution. I’m hoping this will bring me out of my miserable, negative-nancy, reading disease. My book slump is hitting epic proportions. The more I read the worse it gets, and I just kinda want to curl up and stare at nothing until I’m better.

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Any recommendations for books that will be a fix for my book slump?