The Art of Running in Heels (Chinooks Hockey Team #7) by Rachel Gibson

The Art of Running in Heels book coverFor anyone who enjoyed the first six books from this series, the release of a seventh is pretty exciting. It’s been seven years since #6, after all.

This book follows Lexie Kowalsky, the now-grownup daughter of Georgie and John from book #1. She’s started her own business, making clothes for dogs. In order to get more exposure for her company, she signs up for a Bachelor-style show with a country flavor called Gettin’ Hitched. Then she ends up winning, with the culmination being a required wedding to the bachelor in question. But Lexie realizes she can’t go through it at the last minute and absconds.

Sean Knox is a new member of the Seattle Chinooks team. He has a frustrating and manipulative mother who’s convinced him to fly back to Canada to see her because she’s “dying” (something that happens over and over until she makes yet another miraculous recovery).

The two meet when the pilot of the small plane Sean has chartered insists on waiting for another passenger, who turns out to be Lexie literally running from her wedding. She manages to get into the plane, but it’s a comical ordeal in her poofy dress. So the setup’s funny enough and there are lots of subsequent laughs to be had. After some media developments, Lexie convinces Sean to be her fake boyfriend that made the Gettin’ Hitched guy a rebound relationship.

However, I had trouble with the book. For one thing, I could never relate at all to Lexie. She’s way too different from me. A bigger problem was Sean, who I never really liked. He keeps her in the dark about who he is for too long. The chemistry between them wasn’t as good as in Gibson’s other books. I felt like I was being told they were really into each other rather than shown. Additionally, I didn’t love the way the romance developed and I really thought the book was a little longer than necessary (and once we had Lexie on the actual plane, it was a little slow to develop).

Despite that, the characters are believable and realistic. Lexie will be familiar because she’s a lot like Georgie, with a lot of the same attitudes and speech patterns (this isn’t a criticism), which are quite unique in the book. Sean is true to the laconic hockey player type in dialogue and in his head. The storyline of Lexie’s business is both funny and nice to watch as she’s basically successful, even if the resolution is a little underwhelming.

Fans of the series will probably want to read this one, but I wouldn’t recommend starting in the series with it.

Brooklynaire (Brooklyn Bruisers #4) by Sarina Bowen

Brooklynaire book coverFirst off, I love the title of this book. It’s so perfect.

Of course anyone who’s read any of the other Brooklyn Bruisers books knows about Becca and Nate. Nate is a very successful tech mogul and Becca’s been his assistant for seven years. A couple years earlier, he moved her to the Brooklyn Bruisers office when he bought the NHL team. Becca doesn’t know why and has always thought she did something to fall out of his favor. Because they were buddies for so long.

Becca’s a distinctly nice girl. She had to drop out of college when her father died and that’s when she landed the job with Nate’s company. Now, she’s helping to support her younger sister while she goes through college—by letting the sister and boyfriend and baby all live with her. It’s a bit wild and crazy at home, but she can’t imagine not helping out. In the midst of this chaos in her life, she slips and falls on the ice at work, hitting her head and giving herself a concussion.

Back in the early days, Nate had a fiancé, but something went wrong with that. And soon after, he started lusting after Becca. But she seemed inaccessible for one reason or another, and he never did anything about it. But when Becca gets hurt, he’s unable to keep himself from stepping in to help. His help is to offer her a place to stay away from her crazy apartment, so she can get some actual rest.

She’s a little weirded out at first, but when she does get some genuinely restful sleep, she’s in. But then she still doesn’t get better, and Nate’s sends her to a specialist who says she has additional, rarer damage from the fall. Dealing with this requires multiple therapy sessions a week that she struggles to pay for. (This is one thing that kind of annoyed me: Becca’s head injury would be covered by worker’s comp.)

It’s not in Nate’s house where they finally kiss. No, that takes place in a hotel room far away from New York. And it’s both hot and a little funny, because it catches Becca totally by surprise. But then there’s some confusion:

“Bec, listen—I will apologize again and get the fuck out of your room. But for the love of god, help me understand—are you pissed off about the kiss? Or are you pissed that I stopped?”

“That’s not an easy question!” Obviously.

His handsome face wrinkles with confusion. “But it’s multiple choice!”

Both Nate and Becca are well-drawn and deep characters. The sexual tension is great throughout and the release of that tension is also (should-be-)trademarked Bowen quality. I was a tiny bit meh about the grand gesture at the end, but I won’t spoil that for you. Other than that, it was perfect.

If you have read any of Bowen’s Brooklyn Bruisers books, you need to read this one. If you like hockey romances you should read it. And of course, if you like Bowen, you should read it. And although romances can actually be read out of order, to fully appreciate this one I’d recommend reading the first three Brooklyn Bruisers books first, since book #1 is really where this one starts.

Stay (WAGs #2) by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Stay book coverRead on if you’r interested in more hockey hotness from Bowen and Kennedy. Stay is the second in the WAGs series (that’s wives and girlfriends for those of you not in the know) after Good Boy. And it features a cool girl and another hot hockey player.

Hailey Emery co-runs (with her ex-husband) her own business, a virtual assistant company called Fetch. They’re basically a concierge, finding services like dog-walkers and housecleaners, picking up and delivering items, and doing other such things for clients. She has one client whose account name is Sniper87 and she’s half convinced he’s the hockey star Matt Eriksson. Who she fancies. But she respects her client’s privacy and resists the temptation to peek at his profile details.

She’s not wrong. Matt’s on the same Toronto team as Blake and Wes, who we’ve seen in the earlier books. At 30, he’s getting old for the game and starting to feel it. He’s also unhappily single, with little time to do anything about it. His ex-wife’s deeply unpleasant and he doesn’t see his two daughters enough. He’s been using Fetch and the person he corresponds with the most is Hailey, or Hottie as he calls her (because her initials are all he sees—HTE). He’s seen a picture of a pretty woman on the site and decided it’s her, and he’s theoretically interested.

He’s not wrong either. How they finally get together is entertaining but not overly cutesy. First, the dog walkers she’s hired aren’t doing a good job with his dog—they’re snooping around his apartment, for instance. So she does the dog walking herself the next day, and he watches over his security cam and decides she really is the cute girl from the website photo. So they’re chatting about it over the Fetch messaging app, and he flirts with her a little because he assumes she knows who he is. He arranges to get her two tickets to the next home game, in a card labeled For HoTtiE. Things go from there, as they do.

Hailey’s pretty shy and although she’s been married before, she’s not really experienced much excitement. Matt takes on teaching her a little about life and… other things. The book is funny partially because of her inexperience and shyness, but there’s plenty of unrelated humor, too. There’s an ongoing thread with a client sending dick pics to Fetch which is pretty funny, especially when it gets explained near the end. As always, the dialogue’s good, the secondary characters are entertaining, and the ending’s satisfying. So if you like hockey romances, Bowen, or Kennedy, you’ll like this one.

Bountiful (True North #4) by Sarina Bowen

Bountiful book coverI’m a total Bowen fangirl, I know. Bountiful is the fourth book in the True North series, which continues to deliver. I’m already looking forward to the next one, even though I’m not sure who it will be about (though I have my suspicions).

This one follows Zara, Griff’s ex-hookup. She manages the local bar, The Mountain Goat, under the theoretical watchful eye of her grumpy uncle. But really, she runs the place almost single-handedly.

She was still hung up on Griff when a hot stranger named Dave came to town for a few weeks. They found each other irresistible and hooked up numerous times during his time there. She insisted on keeping things on a first name basis only. Dave was okay with that, being averse to anything long term, though he was a little more drawn to her than to most women.

This was going on at the same time as the events in book 1, Griff’s and Audrey’s story. In a way, Dave helped Zara get over Griff and they kept each other entertained, all while keeping all personal information off the table. Zara turns up pregnant at the end of that book, well after Dave’s left, and who the father is is a big mystery to the town, but she isn’t telling anyone.

Fast forward a couple years, and she’s got a toddler named Nicole who has red hair just like her father. She still hasn’t told anyone who the father is, because the truth is, she doesn’t really know. All she knew was that he lived in Brooklyn and was rich. He’d casually mentioned his last name once, but when it mattered, she couldn’t remember it. So despite searching for him, she’d given up on ever being able to tell him.

And that’s when Dave returns for another short vacation, having nothing but fond memories of his time in Vermont two years earlier. By this time, Zara’s running a coffee shop with Audrey. Dave runs into Zara not too far into the book and she tells him about Nicole. The sparks are still there, but now they have to figure out how each of them can get over their own emotional blocks to figure out how to make things work. Especially after learning that he’s a high-profile hockey player, Zara is convinced that Dave could never be serious with her and would eventually disappear, just like her own father had. Dave believes that he’s incapable of a healthy relationship due to his own troubled childhood. An additional challenge is that they both have strong ties to where they’re living, with no easy way to compromise without someone giving something up.

This book is as steamy as you’d expect, though I admit I found Dave a little too bossy at times. But I guess some people like that. Still, Zara and Dave are both complex and interesting characters and it was a lot of fun to see cameos of characters from the earlier books.

Good Boy (WAGs #1) by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Good Boy book coverGood Boy is the first in a spin-off series from the Him and Us books by the two authors (about Jamie and Wes), which I previously reviewed. Two of the side characters in Us, Blake (Wes’s teammate) and Jess (Jamie’s sister) reappear in this book as hero and heroine. Blake was probably the most significant secondary character in Us and I have to admit I found him a wee bit annoying. He’s a bit on the effervescent side and is always making up words that make little sense and just being silly in general. It probably says something about me that that annoys me, but whatever.

In Us, we find out that while Jamie is down for the count with a bad flu and Jess is supposed to be 100% focused on taking care of him, she instead hooks up with Blake, who has inserted himself in Jamie and Wes’s lives again.

In Good Boy, Jess is back in Toronto to plan and coordinate Wes and Jamie’s wedding, which brings her back in touch with Blake, who’s the best man. She’s a serial career-changer and although she was sure wedding-planning was going to be her permanent gig, actually carrying it out make her realize she doesn’t ever want to do it again. She has an epiphany based on when she was taking care of Jamie—she wants to be a nurse. So she moves to Toronto and starts nursing school there. She spends a lot of time with Jamie and Wes, which brings her in regular contact with Blake, as well.

He’s as interested in her as he was that afternoon in the chair in Wes and Jamie’s apartment. But she regards him as a mistake. She’s trying to get herself into proper adulthood and messing around with a giant goofball doesn’t seem the right thing to do. Actually, messing around with anybody seems the wrong thing to do. She’s trying to earn her family’s respect, after all.

The one problem? Their chemistry is off the charts. So eventually they do start hooking up but it’s not intended to be a long-term arrangement. How that comes about is a joy to watch. As always with Bowen and Kennedy, the writing is superb. They deliver with all the feels, dialogue, strong characterization, and hot sex that you would expect from them.

Simply Irresistible (Chinooks Hockey Team #1) by Rachel Gibson

Simply Irresistible book coverI think I’ve mentioned before that I’m relatively new to romance. Most women who’ve been reading it have been doing so since they were kids, but I only started a couple years ago. I’ve embraced it fully, but most of the canon is still new to me. So I’m reviewing another old book, because she was one of the first authors I read and she hooked me into the entire series and some of her others, too.

Rachel Gibson writes very strong alpha heroes, which isn’t my favorite type. However, she does it really well and I consistently enjoy her books even if I wouldn’t be able to stand the hero in real life (never mind that he wouldn’t have the time of day for me, either). I also would never have expected to enjoy sports romances, as I’m not into sports, either. However, Sarina Bowen taught me that a good hockey story is a little addictive.

So I came into Gibson’s first novel in a series centered around players on the fictitious Seattle Chinooks Hockey team a little unsure—would she be able to pull off the sporty, alpha in a way I could appreciate?

Yep. Despite some faults, I had trouble putting this book down.

In this secret baby/enemies-to-lovers tale, Georgeanne Howard flees her fiancé, the uber-wealthy owner of the Seattle Chinooks, the day of their wedding. One of the team’s players, John Kowalsky, inadvertently helps her get away. He takes her to his beach house so she can regroup and come up with a plan. This is the low point of her life, after all—she has no clothes except a tight dress and only 7 dollars in her wallet. Yet this is a romance novel, so it’s not surprising that they end up in bed together.

Georgie is young and naive, and she instantly falls for him. He, on the other hand, wants to stay out of trouble with the team owner, so he buys her a plane ticket back to Texas. She’s had a tough life with some kind of learning disability and has grown up thinking the only thing she can do is cook well and be friendly and charming. And she decides she doesn’t want to go back to her crappy life. So she stays in Seattle, landing a job at a catering firm (due to her cooking expertise, fortunately) and slowly working her way up until she’s a successful caterer herself. The only hitch: she got pregnant on the night with John, and she doesn’t tell him about their daughter, Lexie.

Seven years later, he finds out about Lexie, and he’s understandably pissed (even though it’s also somewhat understandable—though clearly wrong—that Georgie never told him). She reluctantly lets John into Lexie’s life, although she worries about his influence. But as it turns out, he adores Lexie and they get along very well.

Okay, so this book isn’t perfect. Georgie and John fight a lot and he really is a jerk for most of the book. He’s crude and rude in general, as well as specifically to Georgie. He sometimes tries to be better, but they still fight a lot, and that’s an issue I sometimes have with the enemies-to-lovers trope—are the things that were done and said during the enemy phase truly forgivable? I’m not entirely sure here, but I do believe Georgie forgave him. Also, Georgie thinking she’s fat at tall and 140 lbs. gets old. I mean, I know that’s the way it is, but still, annoying.

Gibson writes good characters, in the sense of being well-drawn and very distinct from each other. The dialogue is great and Georgie’s southern-inspired monologues (which John calls rambling and which drive him crazy when they first meet) are funny and fairly true-to-reality. Why use five words when you can do it with twenty? Gibson’s books also feature lots of palpable sexual tension that delivers when it should. I suppose these are the things that drew me into the story despite several potential issues for me.

Him and Us by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Him book coverThese two mm books comprise the Him series and although they are both standalones, once you read Him, you’ll want to read Us to see how the whole story ends. Or okay, let’s be real—we know how it ends, but what sort of problems will they face and how will they deal with them?

Both books star Ryan Wesley (Wes) and Jamie Canning, two men who were best friends throughout their teen years. In Him, we learn that they spent summers at a hockey camp. But Wes held a secret during those years—he already knew he was gay and had a massive crush on Jamie. An incident when they were 18 stretched their relationship and Wes pulled away from Jamie, thinking that Jamie was as straight as could be. Jamie never knew what the problem was and they both missed each other, but didn’t have contact through college. When they reconnect at the same hockey camp just after college, Wes knows he’s never stopped wanting Jamie, even though Jamie’s oblivious—and still clearly straight, to Wes’s mind.

Us book coverBut the lines aren’t clear for Jamie, after all, as he discovers when he and Wes get assigned to the same room. He soon finds himself confusingly attracted to Wes, and comes to the realization that he’s bi. This is nice because there aren’t a whole lot of bi characters out there—often it’s more, “oh, I’m discovering I’m gay after all these years,” which is fine but not always realistic. Also, bi people are sometimes treated as deviant by both the gay and straight sets (even the open-minded ones) so it’s good to see them normalized.

Wes is NHL-bound and focused on that. As much as he loves Jamie, he doesn’t think Jamie will stick around for the long haul. Also, he doesn’t want his love life to get in the way of his career, especially as if it got out, it would make him the first openly gay man in the NHL. Still, that fling brings us loads of sexytimes. Bowen and Kennedy can really write those steamy scenes, full of emotion. Both Jamie and Wes are well-developed and deep characters and there’s definitely more to the book than the sex.

So, what starts off as a temporary summer fling turns into something deeper in Him, which is fine for an HFN, which is how it felt to me. But it’s still not entirely clear how—or if—that will turn into an HEA. Us clarifies that.

Us takes us to Canada, where Wes’s NHL career is starting. Jamie lands a job coaching hockey to teens up there, foregoing the minors for a coaching career. He ends up living with Wes and although everything is great in the apartment, outside it’s hard on both of them because they have to pretend to be just buddies. The stress manifests differently in both of them yet results, basically, in lots of self-doubt and bad communication. Add in Blake, Wes’s annoying teammate who lives upstairs and inserts himself into their lives, which cuts into their together time.

So things are rough. Eventually something jumps in to add even more strain to their relationship, and they get outed. They love each other, but it becomes clear that relationships can be hard. Fortunately, they figure this out and how to work through it all, and we’re left with a definitive HEA with Us.

Plus, we’ve become well-acquainted with Blake, who’s already got his own book. He was definitely annoying in the beginning but grows on you a little (if not a lot).

Anyway, I recommend them if you like hot books with hot men—even if it’s your first mm, you’ll probably like them. Both have loads of good reviews and Him was a RITA winner, after all, so lots of people think they’re great.