Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

This is the perfect example of bloggers influencing my reading — this was only on my radar because I saw a banner on Holly’s blog. Chachic, who recently reviewed it also credits a blogger for her interest in the book. And why is this debut author getting good buzz? Well, I think what she does right is her website is nice and clean and information is easy to find, she uses social media well, and she has a nice long excerpt (very crucial). All good things, but hey, most importantly – the book is a good read too!

This review is based on an eARC copy I received via Netgalley.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Trish Doller

The Premise: Travis Stephenson is a nineteen-year-old Marine on leave for thirty days. He’s been in Afghanistan for a year and his best friend Charlie was recently killed over there. Now that he’s home, everything that was once familiar is now strange, and Travis isn’t as okay as he pretends to be. While he’s dealing with his own messed up head, he also has to deal with his less-than-ideal family life. His parents’ marriage is strained, and his younger brother Ryan is a rival, not an ally (he stole Travis’s girlfriend and car while Travis was gone). Then he meets Harper, the girl whose reputation he ruined in middle school after a game of seven minutes in heaven led to rumors he didn’t bother to curtail.

Read an excerpt of Something Like Normal here

My Thoughts: There’s a lot in Travis’ life that he has to deal with. Non-trivial things. His best friend Charlie is dead. Travis has trouble sleeping and may be suffering from PTSD. He wants to pay Charlie’s mothers his respects, but he isn’t sure how to do that when he can’t even process Charlie’s absence himself. On leave from Afghanistan, Home has become an alien planet. He’s surrounded by a reputation-obsessed father, an anxious mother, and a brother that covets what Travis has. His parents’ relationship has deteriorated, and his ex-girlfriend Paige is with his brother Ryan now — but keeps showing up in his bedroom late at night. Every relationship Travis has is fraught with complications and unresolved issues.

Then Travis runs into Harper Gray, a girl who has every reason to hate him because he’s why the world thinks she’s a slut. After a good punch in the face, Harper is surprisingly non-judgmental, and Travis, messed up and floundering, recognizes that she’s someone that he wants to be around. Their past history and Travis being drawn to Harper now becomes another sign of changes in Travis. I’d normally question if Harper should forgive a guy who hurt her, but here, Travis is suffering already. Harper’s intuition that Travis is in pain and her decision not to hold a grudge (well, after that punch), makes her strong rather than weak. There was something quiet and right (and a little delicious) about their burgeoning relationship.

Just like Chachic says in her review, I have never been a nineteen-year-old boy, but I could see Travis fitting in with the ones I’ve known. Bonding with his friends from the unit means giving them all a hard time, and physical exertion is part of his coping mechanism. He really likes girls. And he’s realistically flawed. Actually, his younger self sounds rather immature: his treatment of Harper is one example, his rocky relationship with his ex is another (“We cheated on each other all the time. That’s the way it was with me and Paige–insane and toxic“). He STILL has growing up to do, and Something Like Normal captures how painful the process of adulthood can be. The the emotion underlying everything Travis says as he narrates underscores it. Every word seems to tell us just how cut up he is about Charlie and how difficult it is for him when he feels nothing near normal, but he’s trying hard – both to cope, and to be a better person. Thankfully this pain is balanced nicely with the thrill of finding a connection with someone who understood it.

If I had one criticism of this book it would be that there was a lot of personal drama and a short time frame. I’d have preferred more time on the romance or with his processing of Charlie’s death over some of the drama, but it’s hard to complain with all the threads so seamlessly interwoven. Travis’ thoughts of Charlie and Afghanistan, to his talks with Harper and his mom, to the friction with his dad, and the non-relationship with his brother – I was never really confused of overwhelmed by all of these, they were just so well integrated into the story.

I should also say – I really rooted for Travis. I wanted him to be happy, to find some peace over the loss of his best friend, and to get the girl. I finished the book hoping Travis would come back safely after the years he had left to serve.

Something Like Normal comes out June 19th

Overall: It doesn’t feel like I get to read many contemporary YA books told from the first person POV of a teen male, much less one in the military. Something Like Normal stands out because of its Marine protagonist, but add Travis’ painfully honest voice and this becomes a very personal, character driven story about a young man who has been changed by his experiences at war. Something Like Normal captures the mix of humility and vulnerability of his hard-earned maturity. The sweet, slow romance makes it all the better.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Angieville – positive
Book Harbinger – positive
See Michelle Read – positive
The Crooked Shelf – positive
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive

Other links:
Trish Doller discusses her photo inspirations for the book

[Edited to add: I realized that my description of Travis' voice as a teenage boy was similar to Chachic's characterization, so I've updated to link to her review in that sentence].

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

[Hi Everyone! I started a class that goes on for a month (it's for work) and the labwork is seriously cutting into my free time, which means less posting over here on the ol' blog, at least for May. This class is crazy busy - it's the pilot  so they're throwing everything at us right now to see how much we can take. Thankfully there are no grades, but each lab has to be completed correctly in order to do the next one - which means homework that takes me 3 hours every frickin' day. *shakes fist at instructors who cackle loudly as they give us our assignments*. But I STILL manage to squeak in some reading time, so there. ]
 
OK, review time.
 
Copy borrowed from my local library.
 

I've Got Your Number
Sophie Kinsella

The Premise: Poppy Wyatt was having a bad day. First she lost her engagement ring, the one that’s been in her fiance’s family for at least three generations. Then, her phone is snatched out of her hand by a passing thief on a bike. Now if someone finds her ring, they can’t call her to tell her about it! Frantic, salvation comes to Poppy in the form of a phone she finds tossed in the trash – a perfectly good phone that still works. She quickly tells everyone her new number, but then businessman Sam Roxton shows up. He says Poppy has his phone, and he needs it back. Desperate to find her ring and not to let her fiance Magnus or his intimidatingly intellectual family know it’s missing, Poppy gets Sam to reluctantly agree on a temporary deal – she will forward all his messages until she finds her ring. Of course, nosy Poppy can’t help glancing at a message or two as she forwards it to Sam, and pretty soon she’s giving him unasked for advice about his life and business, and Sam is helping Poppy out with her own problems.
 
Read an excerpt of I’ve Got Your Number here
 
My Thoughts: Sophie Kinsella is hit or miss for me. I either like her books OK, but not that enthusiastically (Shopaholic, Remember Me?), or I find them hilarious keepers (Can You Keep A Secret?). Sometimes they fall somewhere in between those two (The Undomestic Goddess). She’s an author who is perpetually on my “maybe” list. I’ve Got Your Number caught my eye because it looked like it had some of the elements that I liked so much about Can You Keep a Secret? (a quirky heroine, an alpha businessman, a plot with an amusing set of circumstances). I wasn’t sure about there being a potential love triangle, but when positive reviews from bloggers I trust came out, it gave me the push to get my hands on it. I’m so glad, because you can put I’ve Got Your Number in the keeper column now. It gave me what I wanted: a chick lit with a nice amount of getting-to-know-you time between characters, good romantic chemistry, and plenty of laughs.
 
Poppy narrates the story. I liked her. She amusing, but not so silly that I wanted to strangle her, and a pleaser, but not so accommodating that she becomes a complete idiot (I like to laugh, but not at the expense of my respect for the main character). Yes, Poppy has her moments, but I always understood where she came from, even if what she did was sometimes questionable. Plenty of people would peek at someone else’s emails given the opportunity, and who doesn’t understand keeping something quiet so they can themselves time to fix it? Of course, that Poppy is too afraid to talk to Magnus about losing her engagement ring says something about their relationship that she hasn’t admitted to herself, but that’s another issue altogether. Another is her fear of her soon-to-be in-laws, who intimidate Poppy with their genius level intellect. In Poppy’s eyes, the academic Tavish’s are so much smarter than her that she feels put on the spot when they ask her anything.
 
But what Poppy perceives and what the truth is are sometimes two different things – not just about her in-laws but about other people, including Sam. This is why the outside perspective of a complete stranger (like Sam) works out well for her. Similarly, Poppy’s nosiness starts off like it’s crossing the line, but it has its uses, which Sam finds out. There’s a lot of different elements of their lives in the mix here, and I really enjoyed how Kinsella managed to seamlessly tackle both the corporate politics of Sam’s world and the interpersonal relationship tangle of Poppy’s. There was something so addictive in following Poppy and Sam’s texts and emails and the breathless twists and turns that came from their fateful meeting. Everything manages to make sense in the end, and it worked out in a way that I was happy with. I had been worried about how the story would handle Poppy’s engagement while meeting another man, but that was tied up nicely. I felt that Kinsella made things romantic and even heady with anticipation at the appropriate times. And have I mentioned how hilarious the story is too? There is one part, Poppy and Sam’s second official face-to-face, that had me laughing so loud that my husband reports I scared the cat in the other room. It’s too long to excerpt here, but I tell you, it’s a scene I think about and grin like a fool. Instead, here’s a small example of the texts Poppy and Sam send back and forth. This is early in their relationship and you can already tell that there’s a familiarity forming between these two:

How will you explain missing ring?
I have a moment’s internal debate. What not get a second opinion? Lining up the screen carefully, I take a photo of my bandaged hand and MMS it to him. Five second later he replies.
You cannot be serious.
I feel a twinge of resentment and find myself typing:
What would YOU do then?
I’m half-hoping he might have some brilliant idea I hadn’t thought of. But his next text just says:
This is why men don’t wear rings.
Great. Well, that’s really helpful. I’m about to type something sarcastic back, when a second text arrives:
It looks phony. Take off one bandage.
I stare at my hand in dismay. Perhaps he’s right.
OK. Thx.

Overall: I really liked this one. I thought that I’ve Got Your Number had that perfect balance of hilarity and lightness with a page-flipping, not-always-expected plot while at the same time serving up the slow-burn of two strangers meeting and falling for each other over text messages and emails, shared secrets and experiences. I devoured it and sighed happily at the ending. I plan to eventually buy myself a copy for my keeper shelf.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Smexy Books – B+
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes – “Kinsella at her best: fun & light & romantic & entertaining”
Book Harbinger – “I haven’t had such a fun reading experience since I read my first Julie James novel”
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves – 4/5 stars
Angieville – “a real charmer”

About That Night by Julie James

Based on my love of Julie James’ first two books, Practice Makes Perfect and Just the Sexiest Man Alive, I’ve been continue to buy her books whenever a new one comes out.
 

About That Night
Julie James

The Premise: Rylann Pierce and Kyle Rhodes met in a college bar while they were both pursuing advanced degrees (she for law, he for a Ph.D. in Computer Science). They shared a walk home and a good night kiss, but life got in the way of anything more. That was it, until nine years later when their paths crossed again. Just starting her new job as an assistant U.S attorney in Chicago, Rylann is surprised to discover that her first assignment involves a motion to reduce Kyle’s sentence. Kyle, an heir to a billion dollar empire is now the infamous Twitter Terrorist who shut down the site for two days.
 
My Thoughts: About That Night is the third book in Julie James’ FBI/US Attorney series. The first book, Something About You (reviewed here: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg) focuses on Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde and Special Agent Jack Pallas, and the second book, A Lot Like Love (reviewed here:  http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg) focuses on wine store owner and heiress Jordan Rhodes and FBI agent Nick McCall. Cameron (book 1) is Rylann’s boss, and Jordan (book 2) is Kyle’s twin sister – but don’t let this discourage you from starting with any of the books in the series. The cameos from other characters aren’t gratuitous because they have real relationships with the main couple, but that doesn’t mean you need to know their backstories to understand what’s going on in About That Night.
 
What you may want to know before reading About That Night is that this book is a little bit different than the previous two in that there is not really a suspense plot. This makes sense – Kyle is a computer guy and businessman who made a huge mistake in bringing down a website used by millions. He’s not a FBI agent whose job it is to protect the heroine. So instead of a villain somewhere pushing our couple together, this book has a more straightforward contemporary romance plot. Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl out on a date. Boy doesn’t show up. Nine years later, Boy is thrown in prison for hacking Twitter, and Girl shows up at his motion to reduce his sentence…
 
The real conflict in the story is about who Rylann and Kyle are. Rylann is more of the Good Girl – she has a six-year plan, she knows what she wants to do, and she follows the rules and works her butt off to get what she wants. While Kyle is a computer whiz kid, and thus a bright guy, he’s also more impulsive and less sure about his direction in life. He’s sort of a Bad Boy what with his reputation with women and being an heir to a billion dollar empire. When she first sets eyes on him at a college bar, Rylann pegs him as more trouble than he’s worth, but he makes her realize that he’s more than he first appears to be. Unfortunately, circumstances prevent the two from getting to know each past that night. Fast forward nine years and the spark is still there, but Rylann is an assistant U.S attorney. She just started her job. She doesn’t want a tarnished reputation, and that is what she would get if she were to date someone surrounded by controversy like Kyle, not to mention that he’s an ex-con her office prosecuted.
 
Romantic suspense has never been my bag, so I was pleased that About That Night took a different direction and was just straightforward contemporary romance. One caveat: although this had an entertaining, comfort read quality, it was almost too straightforward. What I mean by that is that the conflict level was low. Yes, there is an issue with Rylann’s career versus her interest in Kyle, but this couple are grown-ups and deal with it in a grown-up way. I like this about them – I like characters that are adults and act like it, and Julie James always has characters that care about their responsibilities and careers and are good at what they do. It’s refreshing not to have silly overblown drama, but there is also a feeling like there’s no fire, no feverish need to turn the pages when everyone is so reasonable. Rylann’s conflict of interest was a minor dilemma, and the steamy sex scenes (at three, I think this is the steamiest James book yet) may have added ‘oomph’ for some readers, but threw me. Are these huge issues? Not really. What keeps you hooked instead is the genial writing and just how darn cute and compelling Kyle and Rylann are together. As I was reading, I was happy. It’s only now that I look back do I realize that the book was relatively even-keeled with little drama. How that will go over depends on who you are as a reader.
 
Overall: If you are looking for high drama and strife,  About That Night may not be the book for you. This is a low-frill, straightforward contemporary romance (with a shot of sexytimes) – a good comfort read and a solid Julie James book. While it wasn’t my favorite by this author, it fits right in the middle of the pack on my personal rating scale.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook -  positive
Babbling About Books, and More – B+
The Book Pushers – B- and B (Joint review)
Parajunkee’s View – positive

A Girl Like You by Gemma Burgess

A Girl Like You
Gemma Burgess

I enjoyed Gemma Burgess’ first book,  The Dating Detox, and I liked the premise of this, her second. It’s not available in the U.S right now, but I was able to buy it online via Awesome Books. This turned out to be a good decision, since I liked this one even better than the first.
 
The Premise: After years in a stagnating relationship, Abigail Wood broke up with her boyfriend. Now she’s single for the first time in forever, and she has no idea how to act when it comes to men and dates. After a first date where all she could do was ask questions like she was interviewing someone, Abigail rehashes the experience with her new flatmate Robert (best friend of her sister’s fiancé), who tells her how to act the next time (“cool and detached”). With a different girl every other day, Robert is an expert at being single and sought after, so Abigail takes Robert’s advice as gospel and becomes much more confident at the dating game. As a bonus,  Robert is a great buddy. But as their relationship develops and their circles of friends overlap, she meets one of Robert’s best friends and her newly learned confidence begins to unravel.
 
Read an excerpt of A Girl Like You in Amazon Look Inside
 
My Thoughts: Like The Dating Detox, A Girl Like You is a book that’s about dating and the worries it brings: first dates, first impressions, and awkwardness. Abigail is in that situation after dumping her long term boyfriend. It was a brave decision, but now she’s clueless in the face of singledom. Having her flatmate Robert tell her what to do is a godsend. He has advice for any given situation, and it works! Abigail is soon walking into bars and thanks to Robert’s strategies, walking out with phone numbers. If she gets into a pickle, Robert is a phone call away to get her out of it.
 
Abigail had lost some friends in her breakup, but she has a core group of her sister Sophie, and her best friends Plum and Henry. With Robert giving Abigail advice and best friends with Sophie’s fiancé, he is soon part of their circle too. It’s a small but loyal group, often socializing and commiserating about their love lives (or lack thereof). And I’ve got to say, Gemma Burgess shines when it comes to writing scenes that illustrate the social lives of these young Londoners. There’s plenty of bar hopping and parties, and one significant weekend in the French countryside, but what I loved the most was the easy banter of long familiar friends. It’s clear that Abigail and her buddies have had years together, and these side characters with distinct personalities and their own relationship problems and shared past histories that are relayed as the book went on.
 
Now about Robert and Abigail and their unlikely friendship. While Abigail is a nice girl who just needs a dose of confidence in her life, Robert is almost her opposite. While she’s rather sweet (with a dose of sarcastic), he’s a little on the broodier side, with a reputation for being somewhat of a loner. While she’s a dating newbie, he’s a total player. Robert says of his love life, “I’m totally honest that I am not looking for, uh, anything, and I end it within a month. I mean, that doesn’t make me a bad guy, does it?” His many relationships don’t make him a bad guy, and he isn’t an obvious jerk to women in this book (he’s basically charming), but that Robert has broken a few hearts put him in a gray character area. If you can’t overlook that he is a playboy, it may be a problem, but when it comes to Abigail, and this story is told from her point of view (in the first person), Robert is always there for her. They are both completely themselves with each other, and like a proper friend, he never judges, even when Abigail calls frantically from the bedroom of a embarrassing one night stand. I was worried about him when I was introduced to him in this story, but he went against my expectations in the best possible way.
 
I liked that rather than the ‘rules’ of dating being the focus of the story, the story was more about the growth of Abigail and Robert’s friendship over time. Robert begins genuinely wanting to help Abigail build up her self-assurance, and his help is the catalyst for this story.

‘What’s mine? Achilles’ heel, I mean?’
‘Lack of confidence,’ says Robert instantly. Ouch.
‘I have confidence,’ I protested feebly. (This, of course, isn’t the correct response when someone accuses you of lacking confidence. The correct response is a derisive ‘blow me’.) ‘Dating is just out of my comfort zone.’
‘Well, you also often look preoccupied, like you’re arguing with yourself. It gives you a fuck-off aura.’
‘Suck my aura,’ I say sulkily.
Robert smirks.
‘It’s not my fault,’ I say, after a pause. ‘You need experience to be confident at anything. Driving. Putting on make up. Flipping pancakes. I have no experience at being single. How could I possibly be confident at it?’
‘We’re working on that,’ he says. ‘You’re next.’

The playboy and friend becoming something more story lines can become predictable, but A Girl Like You manages to make those tropes its own. It didn’t go the obvious route with a jealous scene or a glib moral about taking advice from a playboy, this story plays it a bit smarter than that. The story spans over a year’s worth of friendship and that in that time, the character’s actions tell us more than what they say. I liked that they were nuanced and that I learned about these two friends as they were getting to know each other. I liked the insights from things like Robert’s embarrassing past and Abigail’s unsatisfying career. I felt like there were shades of Sarra Manning in this story in that it delves more into the heads of the main characters. A Girl Like You didn’t make me quite as wrung out as Manning’s books have, but there is some gritty emotion in there, like Abigail’s desperation when she enters a relationship where she doesn’t feel like she’s in control. When Abigail unravels, it is raw, but so necessary. I think she has to experience something that’s not quite right in order to find the real thing.
 
A warning: if you read the prologue it may make you worry about the ending and possibly jump to the wrong conclusion. Wait it out. Do not flip to the end, no matter how much you want to.
A bonus for those who don’t like explicit sex scenes: this book always fades to black for those bits.
 
Overall: A Girl Like You has a protagonist who is trying to figure out dating after being in a perpetual relationship, a core group of loyal friends, and a playboy who is more dependable than you’d think. I really liked it. It was a chick lit/contemporary romance that had the right balance of fun (in the form of an active social life), and depth (in the form of character and relationship development), and I loved the interactions throughout the book. Gemma Burgess is going onto the autobuy list now.
 
I’m looking forward to her new New Adult series, Union Street, set in a Brooklyn brownstone with a cast of young women.
 
Buy: Amazon UK | Awesome Books | The Book Depository | Fishpond World
 
Other reviews:
None amongst my blogger friends. Let me know if I missed yours.

Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey

Undeniably Yours
Shannon Stacey

Undeniably Yours is the second book in the Kowalski series, this time centering on the romance of another Kowalski brother – Kevin. This is the brother who was introduced in the first book – the ex-cop, divorced bachelor who runs a bar. Although characters from the first book appear in this one, you do not need to read the series in order. (If you’re interested in the first book, Exclusively Yours, I reviewed it here:http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg)
 
This review based on an eCopy from NetGalley.
 
The Premise: (feeling lazy, here’s the blurb from the author’s website): “One-night stand + two percent condom failure rate = happily ever after?
 
Bar owner Kevin Kowalski is used to women throwing their phone numbers at him, but lately he’s more interested in finding a woman to settle down with. A woman like Beth Hansen. If only their first meeting hadn’t gone so badly…
 
Beth’s tending bar at a wedding when she comes face to face with a tuxedo-clad man she never thought she’d see again. She tries to keep her distance from Kevin but, by last call, she can’t say no to his too-blue eyes or the invitation back to his room. Then she slips out before breakfast without leaving a note and, despite their precautions, pregnant.
 
Kevin quickly warms to the idea of being a dad and to seeing where things go with Beth. After all, he’s not the player she thinks he is. But she’s not ready for a relationship and, given his reputation, it’s going to take a lot to convince her to go on a second date with the father of her child…”
 
Read an excerpt of Undeniably Yours here
 
My Thoughts: Beth Hansen is a nomad. She finds a place on the map that appeals to her and she moves there when things at her current town get too stifling: “when I reach the point in relationships people start keeping tabs on me and making decisions for me, I get on a bus to someplace new.” She is fiercely protective of her independence to the point of blind stubbornness. When she gets pregnant (even with a condom) from a one night stand with Kevin Kowalski, she is not thrilled that it means a permanent tie to someone she considers a womanizer.
 
Kevin may have had a lot of women throw themselves at him at the bar, but he’s ready to settle down, and he wants a real relationship with Beth. The problem is that after their night together, Beth constantly resists anything that feels like a relationship. For the baby, she has to accept Kevin’s offer to move her from a unsafe apartment to an apartment across the hall from his above the bar, but Kevin has to choose his words carefully to get her to agree to anything beyond that. She thinks a serious relationship would be too much on top of being pregnant, especially since, if it ends badly, it would affect their child.
 
Undeniably Yours is about Kevin and Beth slowly getting to know each other after they’ve already gotten pregnant. Kevin has to slowly break down Beth’s defenses and convince her to consider being with him. In the meantime, there are plenty of loud Kowalski get-togethers and family moments. I’ve decided that the wry, sometimes frank humor from a lot of tell-it-like-it-is characters is what I like the most about this series. I feel like I’m guaranteed a general feeling of amusement from reading these books. Some of the commentary can get a bit.. salty, but this is an adult book, so whatever (there’s sex too, FYI).
 
I think that this book makes a good go of trying to convince me that Beth has reasonable fears, but I never quite understood her need to not be tied down by relationships with other people. The reason given was that her parents were overly-suffocating when she was growing up, but to make a person never want to stay in one town and never want to have people keeping “tabs” on her? I didn’t quite understand it. That seemed extreme. Later, when she admits to herself that the real issue is “not only imagining herself in one place with one person, but wondering for the rest of her life, especially during the rough patches, if they were just pretending for the sake of the child”, that admission comes too late – I’m already convinced that Beth has weird intimacy issues. It didn’t help that while Beth herself is the big hurdle to her own HEA, Kevin is pretty much a saint. If I can pick on a trend in this series so far, it is that while the women have to work through some issue, the heroes in these books are almost too perfect in comparison. I mean, this guy waits all through the pregnancy, not caring about the women that are slipping him their numbers, for someone who shuts him out constantly and tells him that all they are are friends who happen to share a baby? Makes me feel like it’s a struggle between feeling slightly irritated at Beth or irritated at what a martyr Kevin is. Of course, with these surprise pregnancy romances, there’s only so many ways the story can go. If Beth wasn’t resistant, then  this would be a very short story. I just wish we could have had the “do you want to be with me for obligation?” issue as Beth’s primary issue instead of her improbable nomad complex.
 
Like it’s predecessor, Exclusively Yours, Undeniably Yours has a secondary story. In this case it is a romance between Paulie, who works at Kevin’s bar, and Sam Logan, a customer and someone from Paulie’s past. As with Kevin and Beth, the hurdle in their romance is on the female’s side again – Paulie freaked out on her way down the aisle because she felt like she was conforming to her parents expectations and not being herself. The improbability in this one was that Paulie loved Sam yet never confided her fears to him, but this was easier to believe than the hurdle in the main romance. It was a fine secondary story but I enjoyed Paulie’s friendship with Beth and with Kevin more than her romance, which I felt competed with the main one. I would have been fine without it or with it in its own separate book.
 
Overall: Enjoyable in a “escapist popcorn read” kinda way. The writing is compulsively readable, and the relationships between characters, especially the dynamics of big family, felt very comforting to read about. That, the humor, and of course the guarantee of a HEA make this a fun contemporary romance. My only issue, and I feel like a dog with a bone over it, is the heroine’s intimacy issues (I keep revisiting it and it just doesn’t make sense). I can see that being a big sticking point for a lot of people, but if you enjoyed any other of the Kowalski books, this is still worth a read – ultimately I feel like this book lost points from me over it, but not a whole lot.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Literary Escapism – positive
Pearl’s World of Romance – 9.0 (Awesome)
The Book Pushers – C-

The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy by Sara Angelini


 

I was curious about this one, touted as “A thoroughly modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice“, with Darcy as a judge, and Elizabeth Bennet as a trial lawyer. Hmm. Liked the idea, wasn’t sure how it would play out.
 
The Premise: (taken from the back blurb) “Judge Fitzwilliam Darcy is terribly bored — ready to hang up his black robe and return to the life of a country gentleman–until he meets Elizabeth Bennet, a fresh-faced attorney with a hectic schedule and no time for the sexy but haughty judge. Sparks fly as the two match wits and battle their overwhelming attraction”
 
My Thoughts: OK, so the very first page of The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy worried me a little. He’s with Charles Bingley, who is debating whether to buy a Lamborghini Murcielago, and throws out a comment about selling his McLaren to Ralph Lauren a few years back. The in-your-face over-the-top wealth was semi-eye rolly, but Darcy is supposed to be very wealthy. Thankfully, by page two, when Darcy begins what starts off as a typical day at work as a judge, he started to become less like a fantasy and more like a human being. His wealth, thanks to inheritance, and his interest in American law, thanks to an American mother and a barrister father are established, as is why he is a judge at a young age (and why he’s tired of it). Despite his wealth and power as a judge, I thought Darcy was likable, even funny, at least in his head.
 

“Still irked by the sudden transfer of Judge Clayton’s calendar, the Honorable F. Darcy entered the courtroom with an annoyed swirl of black robes. Sometimes he imagined himself as Professor Snape when he wore them. Considering how frequently he wished he could zap some people out of existence, it was fitting.”

Pretty soon, Darcy meets Elizabeth Bennet, but his toughness as a judge does not make him very likable to her on her first day as a trial lawyer.  Since he also slicks down his hair and wears glasses to appear more experienced, Elizabeth mistakes him as older, not thirty-seven. Later, when she overhears him say about her, “Look, she’s not pretty enough to tempt me. Do you have any idea what kind of a headache even the appearance of impropriety could cause?”, she doesn’t focus on his sensible statement, but on his dismissing her as not pretty. Now she really doesn’t like him, but while she nurses her resentment, an oblivious Darcy notes her attractions:

“Having experienced the mortification of being found not tempting, Elizabeth found it very hard to take Judge Darcy seriously. On the contrary, she thought of him as a sort of joke.  She showed her indifference to him by refusing to take the bait when he said something offensive — as he did on a daily basis. While professionally she was without fault, she danced on the edge of disrespect with pert glances and cryptic Yes, Judge Darcys. She dubbed him Clark Kent — without the sparkling personality– and made fun of him on every opportunity. The ember of resentment had taken root and burst into a full-fledge flame of defiance.
Oblivious to her true feelings, Darcy quickly concluded that she was the most capable and intelligent attorneys he had the privilege to work with, crafting creative settlements and persuasive briefs. He was always impressed by her dedication when he ran into her at the elevator after hours or on the weekends.  She met each of his challenges with spirit and never backed down when he ruled against her; he enjoyed sparring with her. If he found himself looking forward to her cases, it was in a purely intellectual sort of way. It had nothing at all to do with her velvety brown eyes.”

 
While Darcy and Elizabeth are misunderstanding each other in the courtroom, Elizabeth’s sister Jane begins her residency at Meryton Hospital, and meets the very affable pediatric surgeon, Dr. Charles Bingley. Pretty soon they’re dating, which causes Elizabeth and Darcy to run into each other even more. On one occasion, a Halloween party, Darcy is in disguise as a racecar driver complete with helmet, and makes an impression on Elizabeth who doesn’t know who he is. Of course, he doesn’t reveal himself, but later, in a proposal-type scene with a law related twist, he finds out Elizabeth can’t stand him, and is horrified.
 
Until they start their relationship, this is a story with a delicious amount of slow burn and great exchanges where their hidden feelings (Darcy’s crush and Elizabeth’s dislike) bubble beneath the surface. I was enjoying the read, but then, things get VERY physical. I was actually surprised by the level of heat in this book because of the amount of slow burn before it. I had expected the story to continue to be demure, or for there to be a sex scene or two, but no, this Elizabeth and Darcy, they are quite sexually compatible. I feel like a prude, but it was a bit much for me, and I think a big part of this was feeling uncomfortable with all the sex and the characters are named Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. If they were named something else, or if this book wasn’t described as a modern Pride and Prejudice, I’d have felt differently about the sex scenes and their frequency. Maybe it just made me uncomfortably aware of the line between homage and fanfiction.
 
Of course, the characters don’t change just because they had sex. Elizabeth and Darcy continue to be likable, and I enjoyed the banter between them. However, once their relationship changed, so did the story. After they took that step into intimacy, their problem is that it is wrong for a judge to be involved with a lawyer to appears before him in court. This is where the story is most unlike the original — their feelings in the face of their responsibilities. I thought this was a great moral dilemma that they had to wrestle with and I was interested in how it was played out, at least half the book involves this issue and I wished it wasn’t so drawn out! It felt like they were going around in circles and rehashing the problem for a long time until a decision was finally made. It felt a bit like forced drama.
 
I would also say this is pretty loosely based on Pride and Prejudice. Darcy’s aloofness and Elizabeth’s initial dislike, followed by a sort of proposal and rejection, while her sister Jane and Bingley fall in love — these are there, but there are so many differences. Bingley doesn’t need Darcy’s permission to do anything, and is a much less codependent friend. Caroline Bingley is Darcy’s friend with benefits. Charlotte Lucus is a lawyer friend of Elizabeth’s, she’s a lesbian, and Bill Collins has a bit part as a habitual offender. Georgina and Darcy are both close, but Wickham is in Georgina’s past and is practically a non-entity in the story. I wouldn’t read this book expecting the same story as that of Pride and Prejudice, because you would be disappointed. I feel like the characters could have been renamed and the Jane Austen association taken away, and this could be perfectly fine if packaged as a contemporary romance.
 
Overall:  The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy is the one I would recommend for fans of the Romance genre, but not for those looking for something that exactly follows the Pride and Prejudice formula. This one falls squarely under the contemporary romance label, but it also contains a lot of sexual situations. The sex surprised me – It’s several months into the story before things get physical, but when they do, they really do! A part of me wished the characters were named something other than Elizabeth and Darcy because of this. I also felt the story could be tighter; I wouldn’t have missed some sex scenes or minded if the moral dilemma of a judge dating a lawyer weren’t so drawn out. Other than that, I enjoyed the way Darcy and Elizabeth were re-imagined as a judge and a lawyer, and the author wrote with authority on the judicial system. I also liked the easy humor in the characters and the great natural dialogue.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
I didn’t find any in my blogging social circle, let me know if I missed yours!

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale


 

Midnight in Austenland
Shannon Hale

In Austenland, actors play courting gentlemen and cater to fantasies of Mr. Darcy and other Austeneque heroes for rich female customers. Austenland was about a reporter working on a story about this place, and I enjoyed it, so I was excited to see that Shannon Hale was releasing a follow-up, Midnight in Austenland. This is a review based on an eARC copy.
 
The Premise: Charlotte is a nice and practical woman who is also rather clever. She has two children, a nice husband, and a flush retirement account, thanks to her business sense. Then her husband James became not-so-nice. He slowly pulls away from their marriage until one day, Charlotte finds herself divorced, older, and a little bit lost. With her kids staying with their father and his new wife for three weeks over the summer, Charlotte decides to book a vacation. Admitting to the travel agent that she’d love to be in an Austen novel, Charlotte finds herself with a booking at the exclusive Austenland.
 
Unfortunately for Charlotte, she can’t stop her clever mind from chugging along. Worrying about her kids is driving her crazy, so instead she focuses on the people around her. Wondering if Miss Gardenside’s sickness is real or feigned, what is stressing out Mrs. Wattlesbrook, and if Mr. Mallery is sexy or sinister keeps Charlotte busy until she discovers a dead body. At least, she thinks that’s what it was, but she can’t prove it. Suddenly everything and everyone in Austenland is suspect.
 
My Thoughts: Charlotte is a very likable heroine -  successful in her online landscaping business, a protective mother, and just a little bit of a over-thinker (in an endearing way). For a long time, she felt her husband moving away from her, but no matter what she did to try to mend their marriage, nothing worked.  I felt for her as the only person trying, while James had already checked out. When she finds herself single again, her self-consciousness about not knowing what to do with herself. She worries about what the divorce will do to her teenage daughter and her young son, and she tries to date (and fails miserably). Even in Austenland, where Charlotte can pretend that she’s someone else, she realizes that she can’t stop being the person she is.
 
So to distract herself from her usual worries, Charlotte begins to look at the guests and actors she’s surrounded by in Austenland. These characters are sketched quickly but distinctly.  The gentlemen/actors courting the three guests are her friendly pretend brother, Mr. Edmund Grey (Eddie), the affable Colonel Andrews, and the dark and broody Mr. Mallery.  The guests: repeat visitor Miss Charming, the sickly Miss Gardenside (who Charlotte recognizes as a pop singer her daughter adores), and her nurse, Mrs. Hatchet.  Then there is household staff, including Charlotte’s lady’s maid, Mary. And finally Mr and Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owners of Austenland. With all these personalities before her, and with the parlor mysteries that Colonel Andrews devises, Charlotte has plenty keep her imagination going. That is, until one of the games takes a dark turn and the story becomes less about Charlotte on vacation and more about Charlotte solving a mystery.
 
Because of this mystery, Midnight in Austenland was a very different story than Austenland. If Austenland is chick lit with shades of Pride and Prejudice, Midnight in Austenland is a suspense-comedy reminiscent of Northanger Abbey.  Charlotte’s thought process is a funny thing, and she can’t decide at first if she really felt a dead body or not. Was it part of the game? Was it her imagination? Or was it a man’s corpse? There’s no way to say for sure until she gets to the bottom of things, so she uses her clever mind to investigate. In the meantime, Charlotte finds herself extremely aware of the dark and mysterious Mr. Mallery (and the feeling appears mutual). This is a man so at home in Austenland, Charlotte can’t imagine him anywhere else. If Mr. Mallery is the bad boy of the place, Eddie, her ‘brother’, is the nice guy.  While Mallery exudes danger, Eddie is safety, even if Eddie seems to treat Charlotte’s strange behavior as a joke or product of his ‘sister’s’ overactive imagination.
 
This is a fun romp with some humor and suspense, and an interesting cast of characters. I enjoyed that Charlotte was not the typical chick lit heroine (twenty-something young working girl), but a older, divorced suburban mom with a brain she can’t stop from churning. But it’s also not a story with huge surprises. It’s clear early on who is behind things and who Charlotte should be with. The mix of the Gothic mystery in the modern day makes the story humorous for some, possibly too farcical for others. For those who want a romance, the mystery leaves less room for the relationship to develop. This also felt like a really short book. Now, my nook has 189 pages for the eARC, while the publisher says the hardcover is 288. Maybe my ARC is missing some scenes added on later? I enjoyed what was there, but it all ended a little quickly for me.
 
Overall: Charming but not what I expected. Don’t expect this to be your typical chick lit or to be the same type of book as Austenland was. This is more Northanger Abbey than it is Pride and Prejudice, but it was a nice little romp. I wished for a little more romance and a little less farce, but I also went into this book expecting something in the same vein as Austenland. If I hadn’t had this expectation, I think I would have fared better. If I reread this book knowing what I now know, I’d like it more.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Searched but didn’t find reviews within my blogging friends circle. Let me know if I missed you and I will link your review here.

Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Exclusively Yours
Shannon Stacey

Shannon Stacey has gotten a bit of buzz online amongst the romance reviewing community since she debuted with Exclusively Yours, which was published as an ebook by Carina Press, Harlequin’s e-only imprint. Now, her books are going to be in print too (from HQN). I stumbled on Exclusively Yours on netgalley a few months ago and requested it based on the good reviews. I’m always on the lookout for good contemporary romances and this seemed to have a great premise.
 
The Premise: Keri Daniels is a journalist, who unfortunately, has a boss obsessed with the reclusive author Joe Kowalski. Joe Kowalski happens to be Keri’s high school boyfriend – the guy she dumped when high school ended. Keri would like nothing more than to never see Joe again, but when her boss finds out Keri’s long held secret, it’s either get an interview or lose her job.  Now Keri is back in her hometown and living her worst nightmare. Joe says he will answer her questions, but for a price. All she has to do is join him on the Kowalski family camping trip, and for every day she survives with his siblings, their spouses, his parents and a rowdy bunch of Kowaski offspring, she can ask one question. Keri was never a camping sort of girl, but now she has to spend time with a family that has every cause to dislike her, especially Joe’s twin sister, Terry, her one time best friend who now holds a monumental grudge.
 
Read an excerpt of Exclusively Yours here
 
My Thoughts: With the premise of Keri’s ex-boyfriend being in the position to make Keri really suffer on the camping trip, I was expecting a lot of back-and-forth friction between the ex-lovers, but this story surprised me. Other than his idea of the camping trip, Joe seems rather forgiving of his ex-girlfriend that broke his heart and sent him into such a dark depression that he took to drinking. In fact, he looks at Keri with much the same appreciation as he used to in high school and is pretty much a nice guy about the whole breakup. The rest of the Kowalski’s are pretty zen as well. Except for Terry, who has her own reasons to be angry at Keri,  no one seems to hold a grudge. This was a little weird, as I was expecting SOME resistance to Keri, and maybe some hurt feelings on Joe’s part, but it was also refreshing to have a not-so-predictable plot.
 
Instead of the expected drama of Keri’s inclusion to the Kowalski camping trip, much of the story focuses on the personal dramas of Joe’s siblings amongst the woods and ATVing. His sister Terry is dealing with hurt feelings because her husband moved out. She can’t help herself from reliving her husband’s departure and wondering what went wrong. She’s in no mood to deal with Keri, her once best friend that phased her out, then broke her brother’s heart. You can’t help but feel like Terry is taking out all her pain on Keri, just because she is a convenient scapegoat, and this would be right. Terry’s complicated situation and the way she acts out was well done. I didn’t particularly like Terry, but I understood why she acted the way she did, and I liked the secondary story of her marriage woes (I had quibbles with how this was resolved, but nothing major). While Terry has her problems, Joe’s brothers also have theirs. Kevin is a bachelor and bar owner who just got out of a bad divorce. Mike is a family man with four boys and who doesn’t want any more kids, but his wife Lisa, wants one more. This leads to some spectacular spats.
 
Compared to the drama going on among the people around them, the drama between Keri and Joe feels relatively tame. The biggest issue starts off as the conflict between Joe keeping his secrets (a mysterious engagement, his subsequent shunning of the limelight), and Keri needing a juicy story. But as the story continues Keri realizes that she has the same choice to make as before: whether she should choose Joe and her hometown, her career and L.A. Along the way of course, there is also the sexual tension they have to contend with, and much of the camping trip involves the dance between two obviously attracted people. Joe sees Keri and feels just like he felt about her in high school, and Keri feels like getting involved with Joe again would just be a big mistake. I liked the relaxed banter and the adult way that the hero and heroine acted throughout the book, and their obstacle to a happy ending felt more realistic than some of the others I’ve read in contemporary romance.
 
Overall: An enjoyable contemporary romance with humor and likable protagonists. I would say that it was a nice romance but the sense of family (their shenanigans and tribulations) and the well developed secondary characters brought Exclusively Yours up a notch from the average ‘fun romance read’. I’m interested in reading the next in the Kowalski series – this time about bar owner brother Kevin.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Buy ebook: Amazon (kindle) |  B&N (eBook)
 
Other reviews:
Monkey Bear Reviews – B-
One Good Book Deserves Another – 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Dear Author – B-
Pearl’s World of Romance – 10 out of 10

Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe? by Hazel Osmond

I’ve been dying to read Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe ever since Sabrina reviewed it at About Happy Books and gave it a very positive review.  I’ve been dipping my toes into British Chick Lit more lately after Sarra Manning’s Unsticky just bowled me over this year, and Sabrina is my go-to girl on all that is Chick Lit-y (without being too Chick Lit-y). The only thing holding me back from hitting that buy button was the Ol’ TBR pile, but I eventually gave in (as I inevitably do).
 
The Premise: Ellie Somerset is a copywriter in a London advertising agency where the big bad Mr. Wolfe has just arrived to shake up and streamline the company. There isn’t a woman at the agency immune to Jack Wolfe’s broody Healthcliff aura, but Ellie is convinced that under it all, Mr. Wolfe doesn’t deserve all the fuss. She’s determined to stay above the fray but can’t seem to help using her sharp tongue to make little jabs at the boss. As for Jack, he doesn’t know why he’s noticing Ellie, who has a problem with authority and dresses like she’s still in college (nothing like the usual elegant women he dates). As time goes on these two people, each with their own relationship baggage find themselves drawn to one another despite their best efforts. Jack is in panic mode because Ellie brings up feelings he doesn’t want to deal with, but he can’t seem to stay away.
 
Read an excerpt of Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe? here
 
My Thoughts: Ellie is half of a two woman creative team. She brings the words and her partner, Leslie brings the art, and together they produce fresh new ideas. Unfortunately, if they think out of the box too much, they’re usually shut down by higher ups afraid of pushing the envelope. At home, Ellie’s life has similarly stagnated with her long time boyfriend, Sam, who is often too busy entertaining clients to spend time with her. The only unexpected element in Ellie’s life is her great aunt Edith, who lives life loud and to the fullest, and has eccentric habits like playing scrabble with dirty words. While Ellie has a great relationship with her aunt and with Leslie (who has become her best friend), all in all, Ellie is in a very “comfortable” but unexciting place in her love-life and work.
 
Then Jack Wolfe arrives and shakes up her life.
 
Jack is basically what you’d expect from his name – the wolf of the office. Everyone is abuzz when he arrives and in short order begins to cut out all the laziness and uninspired thinking that kept the agency back. His tall frame, dark broody looks and Yorkshire accent paired with his confidence has colleagues swooning and calling him Heathcliff. Ellie is the only hold out. She’s convinced the culling will soon stop the silliness over “a guy who looks like a six-foot-three, permanently scowling, sharp-nosed wolf.”  When they interact, it’s a battle of wills as Ellie feels compelled to take Jack down a peg, and Jack enjoys deliberately unsettling her. Jack recognizes Ellie and Leslie’s ideas as good ones and challenges Ellie to do more for her career, but Ellie only ends up feeling defensive and picked on. Their attraction (which both try to deny) only muddies the waters further.
 
Even though this plot is one that is fairly typical (contentious coworkers who really are attracted to one another, the gay best friend, an obstacle to their happiness), it was still so delicious to read and see how Ellie and Jack would succumb to the inevitable. While I wasn’t surprised by how the story unfurled (for example, I fully expected Ellie’s boyfriend to go and was not surprised when he did – I doubt this is a spoiler to anyone), it managed to feel unpredictable and nuanced. Osmond added just the right touch of emotion and seriousness to the story to keep it from being just another frothy read, and I liked that while this was mostly a heady, romantic story, there’s pain and loss in here. I frowned over Jack’s track record, or how he acted when things got more serious than he could handle, but the story peels back his granite facade to reveal what is really going on there. So Ellie and Jack both have their emotional moments that trigger erratic behavior, but I understood why, and got to see what happened as a result.
 
I loved the glimpses into what made the characters tick, and boy, I could really feel their emotions and got caught up in their every drama. I loved Ellie’s quick and sharp sense of humor and her kindness and love for her aunt. And Jack’s presence just stole the show any time he was on the page. I think if I understood exactly what a Yorkshire accent was, I would be even more under his spell (I used youtube to figure it out, but I don’t think it’s the same). For North & South fans, if you need an excuse to read this one, the author gives Richard Armitage a nod: “because without his cravat and scowls there would be no Jack Wolfe”. Just sayin’.
 
I also quite liked the colorful secondary characters of Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe, particularly great-aunt Edith and her naughty Scrabble. I got a chuckle at imagining this diminutive lady doing what she wanted and looking how she wanted. I think she got a kick out of surprising her niece, just a little. Leslie, the once intimidating, edgy artist that’s now Ellie’s best friend and creative partner was another character I enjoyed. Leslie and Ellie’s easy banter, their perfectly in sync partnership, and the sweet way Leslie acts around the girl that is her One made their friendship a lovely one to read.
 
Overall: Despite the 490 pages, I think I read this one in about a night and a day.  I was looking for a feel good romance and this delivered just that. The plot is familiar – two contentious coworkers falling for each other despite themselves, but Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe expands it so it feels like the book equivalent of the extended version with deleted scenes. So if you like the Alpha male of the office falling for the plucky young up-and-comer storyline, this book delivers a generous serving peppered with humor and emotion.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
About Happy Books – “one of my favourite contemporary romances of the last months and maybe even of my whole life” (this review kicked off the Want for this book)
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive (her opinion matches mine with this one. Spot on)
 
Other links:
Interview with Hazel Osmond @ Chachic’s Book Nook

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

Beautiful Disaster
Jamie McGuire

Emily and her Little Pink Notes recently called this book “LIKE CRACK”. Needing some sort of book crack, I checked out the Goodreads reviews and discovered a staggering number (over 1270 as of today) 5 stars. Pretty great for a self-published effort. Looking more closely I also saw a lot of criticisms for the story – cheesy characters, a man-whorish love interest, a lot of ridiculous drama. Despite this, people admitted feeling addicted to turning the pages – and hating themselves afterward.
 

Well. I had to see for myself.

The Premise: Abby Abernathy is a freshman at Eastern University, where her plan is to stay off the radar and be a upstanding college student. Only her best friend America, another transplant from Abby’s hometown, knows who Abby is, and that’s how Abby wants it. Everything is going according to plan until Abby is noticed by the legendary Travis Maddox: genius, tattooed bad boy, fight champion, and the biggest player on campus. Abby takes one look at Travis and is not impressed. She’s not going to be another one of his conquests. Unfortunately, her lack of interest only makes Travis more intrigued. Somehow the two become friends, but things get complicated when Travis and Abby make a bet. If Abby loses she has to live with Travis for a month, and if he loses, he will be abstinent for that amount of time. After this wager, the drama truly begins.

You can use Amazon’s Look Inside feature to read the first few pages here

My Thoughts: OK, I understand those reviews in Goodreads now. The book begins with Abby and Travis meeting in a dramatic way that sets the scene for the rest of the story. Abby is a spectator at an underground fight with America and America’s boyfriend, Shep. In the chaos, she’s pushed forward toward the fighters and her pink cashmere sweater is sprayed with blood as Travis’ opponent is KO’ed. As the crowd continues to surge around her, Abby comes face to face with Travis:

“A pair of heavy black boots stepped in front of me, diverting my attention to the floor. My eyes traveled upward; jeans splattered with blood, a set of finely-chiseled abs, a bare, tattooed chest drenched in sweat, and finally a pair of warm, brown eyes.  I was shoved from behind, and Travis caught me by the arm before I fell forward.
“Hey! Back up off her!” Travis frowned, shoving anyone who came near me. His stern expression melted into a smile at the sight of my shirt, and then he dabbed my face with a towel. “Sorry about that, Pigeon.”
Adam patted the back of Travis’ head. “C’mon, Mad Dog! You have some dough waitin’ on ya!”
His eyes didn’t stray from mine. “It’s a damn shame about the sweater. It looks good on you.” In the next moment he was engulfed by fans, disappearing the way he came.

The next time Abby sees Travis, it’s at the cafeteria where he’s:

“[...] followed by two voluptuous bottle-blondes wearing Sigma Kappa tees. One of them sat on Travis’ lap, the other sat beside him, pawing at his shirt”.
“I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth,” America muttered.
The blonde on Travis’ lap turned to America. “I heard that, skank.”
America grabbed her roll and threw it down the table, narrowly missing the girl’s face. Before the girl could say another word, Travis let his knees give way, sending her tumbling to the floor.
“Ouch!” she squealed, looking up at Travis.
“America’s a friend of mine. You need to find another lap, Lex.”
“Travis!” she whined, scrambling to her feet.
Travis turned his attention to his plate, ignoring her. She looked at her sister and huffed, and then they left, hand in hand.
Travis winked at America, and as if nothing had happened, shovelled another bite into his mouth.

I think those snippets give a pretty good idea of what the writing is like. On one hand I’m scoffing at the dialog and the actions of the characters (and the nickname ‘Pigeon’), on the other, the drama of what’s going on is riveting. Reading this feels like the literary version of watching a Jerry Springer show. I’m fascinated in a sick way. It’s like I’m doing anthropological research on a culture where strange double standards and inconsistencies abound. Travis comes off as some sort of stud who disrespects most woman (because it’s easy to get into their pants), and respects a select few (basically America and Abby).  Abby is affronted by Travis, but he explains that it’s not like he’s tricking anyone before they “spread eagle on my couch”, so this makes it somehow excusable. America sneers quite a bit at the girls who throw themselves at Travis, but not really at Travis. On one page she warns Abby to keep away, but on the next says they should be together.

Abby insists that she and Travis will never get together, but to the reader, it’s inevitable. It doesn’t happen quickly of course, and there’s plenty of drama along the way. The story finds some ways to conveniently push the two characters together, then in similarly, pulls them apart again. Abby continues to insist that she and Travis are just friends even after the bet where has to sleep in Travis’ bed (necessary because there’s no where else to sleep, of course). Abby begins to date a clean cut guy who doesn’t like her arrangement with Travis, but a bet is a bet! In the meantime Travis stops sleeping around and gets very moody, but Abby has no idea why.  Rumors fly and so does Travis’ temper. He beats up a guy for teasing Abby and there are no consequences.

If the story so far sounds on the crazy side, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Abby and Travis’ relationship is a trainwreck. Travis proves to be manipulative, stalkerish, and codependent. Abby goes back and forth between actually liking this and running away, which makes Travis flip out.  Then there is the out of right field subplot of Abby’s past that involves Luck, Las Vegas, and The Mob. Dude. I could not look away.

Overall: Serious OMGWTFBBQ territory. I feel the same sense of shame in reading this in it’s entirety as I feel in watching episodes of Rock of Love or eating a quart of ice cream by myself¹. It’s bad and I know I should stop, but I can’t. I think it only took me three hours to read. When I think about how much is wrong with this story, from the dysfunctional relationship and cheesy dialog to the poor portrayal of women, I feel regret that I paid money to read it. On the other hand, the drama was so compelling.  Don’t blame me if you read this and can’t look yourself in the mirror afterward.

Buy: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (nook)

Other reviews:
Let me know if you’ve reviewed this and I’ll link it

¹Just as an example. I haven’t actually eaten a pint of ice cream by myself. Nor do I watch Rock of Love, really. But same principle.