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Read any good books lately? I have! Grab a cup of coffee or a beverage of your choice and sit back, relax, and have a peek at the books I've loved, the books I didn't, and the reasons why. Enjoy, and happy reading!

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~Tracy

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On the Surface by Kate Willoughby

Genre: Contemporary Romance; Sports Romance
Series: In the Zone, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 272 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by both the author and Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.




Slap Shot of Sweet and Sexy Fun

Being traded to a new team isn't fun, but it could be just what NHL player Tim Hollander needs for a fresh start in a new town, a town where he's not as haunted by the memories of the daughter he lost to a cruel disease at too young an age. Now he has to win over the fans of the San Diego Barracudas while he fights to prove himself on the ice to the team that's taking a chance on him. He has to be focused. Work harder than he ever has. Avoid distractions.

It's a good plan. A workable plan. And it's a plan that gets blown to hell the minute he meets the feisty, fiery Erin Collier at a publicity event.

Erin doesn't know a thing about hockey, but she knows the doctor she's interested in catching is a big fan. Seeing the publicity event at a nearby restaurant when she stops to pick up lunch seems kismet. She can get an autograph from a famous player and turn that into the sexy doctor's appreciation.

When that quest for autograph turns into an altercation with a belligerent fan, it's Tim Hollander that comes to her rescue, and soon Erin is forgetting all about that sexy doctor. She's too busy learning all about hockey...and even sexier hockey players.

~*~

I love a good sports romance. Doesn't matter the sport, really, though I do favor football and hockey. Great news for me, then, that Kate Willoughby hits the ice with sexy, romance-y, hockey playing fun in this new series. I've had a fan girl crush on Willoughby since her Be-Wished series (paranormal romantica fans should check that out), so when I found out she was working on this, well...lets just say there was squeeing and happy wiggling and leave it at that. It was embarrassing, really.

But I was so happy!

It's a more mainstream romance with a tamer sexuality level than her Be-Wished series, but it has the same depth of emotion and story that got me hooked on Willoughby's writing to begin with. It also has a nice mix of sports and romance. The hockey elements never felt superfluous, or just a convenient backdrop for the romance. Instead, it was given enough attention, detail, and significance to the story and the characters that it became one of the defining factors.

I would have liked more time spent with Tim's teammates and a closer look inside the team's locker room, though. Tim and Erin's story, while charming, cute, and brimming with emotion and sexy good times, was also fairly straightforward and didn't have many ancillary plot threads focusing on detailing Tim's life as a hockey player or his relationships with fellow players. There were a few ancillary characters and plot threads that were introduced early in the book, but the threads petered out and those characters didn't make much of an appearance once the relationship arc between Tim and Erin heated up and commanded the story's focus.

That's not really a complaint, because I liked the story as it is just fine. I just think a few more layers of could've propelled it into the love range for me.

The characters didn't have quite the same level of appeal to me as their story did, though. There was nothing wrong with them. I don't mean that. In fact, I can't imagine a more heartbreaking trauma to survive than the death of a child, so Tim in particular tugged at my heart strings from the beginning. I never begrudged him his completely understandable issues, even though they did telegraph a major wrinkle in the relationship with the husband-and-kids-wanting Erin.

My problem was that Tim was just slightly more in touch with his hearts-and-flowers emotional side than I prefer in my romantic heroes, and a bit too quick to fall wholeheartedly into love with Erin. And Erin, though feisty and determined, with a generous heart and giving nature, was just not the sort of woman I can easily relate to.

She was nice. Truly, there wasn't a single bad thing about her. It's just...the book introduces her while she's trying to catch Dr. O's romantic interest by baking for him until he loves her. That was way too Fifties Housewife for me to feel comfortable with her as the romantic lead and it left me with a less than favorable first impression that lingered well into the book. Even after that improved, I struggled to relate to her long term goals and desires. She was just a bit too much of a gender stereotype for me.

But there were great things in the book, too. Things that touched me, or made me grin, or even tear up a little. The story was great. The hockey was great. The writing was great. The characters just weren't quite up there for me. I still got a total feel-good buzz by the end, and I'm looking forward to Willoughby's next installment. It's sports romance. It's hockey. It's Willoughby. I'm so there.

Quotable:
The cat was not only out of the bag, it was fucking running around knocking shit over.

A Package Deal by Mia Kerick

Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 265 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



An Emotional Journey

It started with a girl.

Grad student Savannah Meyers seems exactly the sort of complex and beautiful young woman that most reliably catches the eye and holds the interest of contractor Robby Dalton, and Robby is thrilled when she agrees to meet him for coffee.

It turns out to be a really good date. Sort of. At least, he thinks so. Honestly, Savannah's a little hard to read, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Besides, she agrees to see him again, so Robby's very optimistic. And interested. Of course he's very interested.

He just wasn't expecting their next date to include another guy - one who obviously has a history...and a present...with the pretty Savannah. After that curve ball, a little confusion is perfectly understandable, right? Or a lot...given Robby's utterly stunned, mostly uncomfortable, yet undeniable physical reaction to the gorgeous and haunted Tristan.

After all, Robby's not gay. It's all about the girl. Really. Even if they're a package deal.

~*~

My feelings are so conflicted about this book. It's definitely like nothing I've ever read before, and I liked both the uniqueness of story and the wealth of emotion Kerick stirs with the personal journeys of main characters Robby and Tristan, with Savi's unconventional assist. It was gripping in places, heart-rending and painful. Other parts were soothingly, gently hopeful or sweetly, charmingly romantic. A good part of it was tense and a little confusing - in that totally good way of reading a story that's drawn you so deeply into a character's life that his or her perplexed discomfort becomes your own.

Then there were the parts that infuriated and frustrated me, both on behalf of the trials Robby and Tristan face (a testament to how affected I was by them), and in a less positive way at the story itself, which had a few elements that didn't appeal.

For the first three quarters of the book I was totally hooked. I absolutely loved this unusual, touching, emotional story. I loved Robby, with his befuddlement and earnest social awkwardness in the face of his complex and confusing reactions to both Savannah and Tristan. His journey locked me into this book and refused to let me go. And Tristan, the sweet man-child with a gentle soul and horrific past, made my heart ache.

He is such a broken young man, our Tristan, so fragile in so many ways, and yet there's such a guileless innocence and decency in him that I just wanted everything to work out for him, because he desperately deserved happiness, peace, and unlimited love.

It didn't matter to me in the slightest that the unconventional relationship between Tristan, Robby, and Savannah wasn't to my taste for romance. Frankly, the dynamic between Robby and Tristan didn't work for me in that regard, anyway, so I just stopped expecting any sexy M/M romance from the story early in. That helped tremendously.

In fact, this read much more to me like a coming of age story than anything else...except that all parties are already of age (despite the kid's card games and boyish nicknames). It was just far more effective for me as an emotional journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and healing than any sort of romance.

That's generally not something I like to read, but for the first three quarters of this book I was utterly and totally captivated by the characters and their lives. I loved everything about it. Well, okay, I loathed Robby's friend Mikey. From his introduction he did nothing but disgust me. That wouldn't have been too big a problem, though, if it didn't also draw Robby's strength of character into question for putting up with him for so long.

Still, I was dealing with that well enough right up until the incident between Mikey and Tristan. That's where the story started to stumble for me. The aftermath of that scene did more than draw Robby's strength of character into question. It obliterated it, as well as any respect I had for him as a human being for his response - or astounding lack thereof - to what Mikey had done. But it got worse, because there was also Robby's father.

Again, the problem wasn't that Robby's father wouldn't be winning any Father (or Husband) of the Year awards. He's a controlling, close-minded homophobe, but I expect to encounter at least one in stories of this type, so while I detested him, he was not the issue. No, it was Robby's choices and actions after the inevitable face-to-face with the man that derailed the story for me and put another series of large dents into Robby's knight-in-tarnished armor.

By that point in the story, I was hating on Robby almost as much as I was on his dad and Mikey. Fortunately, it was relatively near to the end of the book. Unfortunately, the too-abrupt resolution to everything didn't quite redeem Robby to me before the story ends, so in general the book ended in a less positive place for me than it was throughout the first three quarters of the story.

It also begs mentioning that the book's cover art, which practically oozes an implication of hot, sexy, mature content, utterly fails to reflect the New Adult tone of the story and the extremely tame (mostly glossed over) sexuality in the two brief scenes in which sex occurs. The cover is sexy and beautiful, no argument there, but that art shouldn't be on a book with a story that refers to a man's dangly bits as his "privates" during the only moderately descriptive sex scene in the whole book. Fortunately, it didn't affect my opinions of the story, but that's only because I didn't see it before I finished the book.

Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Tracy's bookshelf: read

Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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