Vegas Baby (Howler Sports Talent Agency #1) by Anne Shaw

Vegas Baby book coverThis series is unusual in sports romances because what ties the books together is a sports talent agency rather than a sports team of some type, but I think it works because you get exposed to different aspects of the sports world, which is interesting.

It’s appropriate that the first book is about Howler himself, the agency’s founder. Xavier Hamilton—better known as Howler for something he did in his childhood—is a successful agent in Seattle. But the book opens with him and Raina—the lawyer for the Seattle Pioneers football team—entertaining a football player named Veer and his fiancé in Vegas, Anaya. And Raina is acting like a party girl, something which surprises and amuses Howler because she’s normally uptight. Raina, Howler, Veer, and Anaya make a complicated agreement that involves Raina and Howler pretending to be happily married in order to help convince Anaya’s father that Veer going into professional football isn’t a bad idea. One thing leads to another and they end up getting married (as you do…). The opening is entirely in Howler’s point of view, which makes sense when we switch to Raina’s. Because the next morning, she has no recollection of any of it, since she’d taken a sleeping pill and gone out afterward.

The next chapters of the book are pretty entertaining, with Raina and Howler taking part in Veer and Anaya’s wedding celebration and acting happily married when they actually sort of hate each other. The background of the Indian wedding is also fun. Raina and Howler of course agree to get a divorce as soon as they’ve gotten back to Seattle after Veer has signed with the Pioneers. Once they’re back, things get complicated by something unexpected. Then we get to see them try to work through everything, which true-to-form they do with a legal contract. There are some heart-wrenching moments in the story like you’d expect in a good book, and it’s great to see how they manage to work through their differences. Both characters are deeply developed and their conflict is real but ultimately surmountable.

If you like sports romances but want something a little different than going through a team’s roster, try this one.

Superfan (Brooklyn Bruisers #6) by Sarina Bowen

Superfan book coverHere’s another installment in a great series by a great author. I’ve always loved Bowen’s work, and this book reminds me of why. I think it’s one of her “voiciest” yet. Her strength has always been in conveying emotional depth so well, often with characters who are in serious situations and have real issues to deal with. This one is a little more fun. The characters are still dealing with real things, but it’s less somber.

Superfan features Silas Kelly, the goalie of the Brooklyn Bruisers, and Delilah Spark, the famous pop star Silas is famous for being a big fan of. Although he’s never told his friends, he met her three years earlier, before she made it big. They connected even though he never managed to get her number despite asking every day she came into the bar where he worked. For her part, she figured what was the point since she was only in town for a music festival.

The book opens with Delilah attending her first hockey game. Silas finds out she’s there and after a little goofing around on Twitter, she agrees to go on a date with him if the L.A. team beats Dallas. She has no idea who he is. It doesn’t look promising for Silas but then things turn around and soon enough they have a date scheduled.

It doesn’t go quite to plan and Silas has to get creative in order to see her again. But he manages it by getting her publicist on his side. When he sees Delilah again, he has to convince her he’s not a bad guy for standing her up three years earlier—he’d been called up to a hockey team and had to leave right away.

One thing that makes this different from a lot of romances is that they never really seem driven apart by anything. I didn’t find this a problem, though, because I still wondered how they’d make it work and how they’d deal with the problems they have—Delilah has an issue with a stalker and her ex holding her last album hostage and Silas’s old enemy is threatening the safety of his mother.

As I implied above, the voices of each character are really well done. Delilah is a little timid in some ways, but her snarkiness overcomes it all. And Silas is a really straightforward and likable guy.

Perfect for all fans of contemporary romance, especially if you like the backdrop of sports and/or the music industry.

Just Good Friends (Escape to New Zealand #2) by Rosalind James

Just Good Friends book coverI enjoyed the first book in this series so I picked this one up with high expectations. Although I felt like the pacing was a little slow at times, it’s a good story with several things going on besides the love story itself (something I expect in a good romance novel).

Kate Lamonica literally escapes to New Zealand after her stalker ex threatens to kill her. She knows he’s no joke and fortunately has a friend very far from California. That would be Hannah from the first book. So she moves to Auckland. She’s an accountant and manages to land a job at the rugby team’s office, with Hannah’s husband’s help. Through the team, she meets Koti James, a big Maori player. He’s a player in more than one sense, enjoying the women who throw themselves at him. The two of them don’t hit it off at all—she’s too prickly and he’s too full-of-himself—but end up making a bet that they can be “friends” for six weeks. This means they have to spend time together without him making a move on her.

So they start hanging out a little. He teaches her to surf and they go on a cave-exploring whitewater run. Koti makes it clear that he wouldn’t mind changing their status and losing the bet, but it’s all in what he says. He catches her checking him out too. Eventually, she does give in and they start dating (on her terms). They last a good while before crisis strikes. The thing that pulls them apart is believable. And honestly, it was hard to see how they’d get back together, but James makes it work.

Kate and Koti are both complex characters (which is an impressive feat with a guy like Koti). Kate’s problem with her stalker is very well-handled. It provides tension throughout, even if Kate’s the only one who really grasps how dangerous he is. The heat level is probably a medium—there are sex scenes and you know what’s going on, but they’re not extremely graphic.

I recommend this to fans of contemporary, particularly those who like sports romances or international settings. You should read book 1 first (it’s not a requirement but Hannah’s an important character in this book so you’d probably like knowing her story first).

Overnight Sensation (Brooklyn Bruisers #5) by Sarina Bowen

Overnight Sensation book coverOf course I had to pick up this recently-released title from my favorite author. Due to life restrictions, I wasn’t able to actually read it until this past week, but I ate it right up.

This one is about Jason Castro, a relatively new addition to the Brooklyn Bruisers hockey team, but one who made quite a splash the previous season (where he was dubbed an “overnight sensation”). But now the coach has moved him from left wing to right wing and he’s struggling to adjust to the new position.

Heidi Pepper is the new intern for the team. She’s also the daughter of the NHL commissioner, a very rich man based in Nashville, though he lives mostly in NYC. She’s a nice southern girl who knows all the right etiquette from her charm school days. She was at Bryn Mawr College for the past three years but has decided not to return, which has enraged her father. He intervenes in her internship so that she’s placed on a rotating schedule of jobs, working the concession stand, being an Ice Girl, being a valet, and driving the Zamboni (resurfacing the ice).

But before we learn most of that, we get the opening scenario, which is Heidi and Jason and a bunch of other guys from the team having a good time at the bar. We do learn that the two of them have been making eyes at each other for a while, and Heidi has decided that this is the night she’s going to make a move. They flirt all night but then she has just a little too much tequila and has to sleep it off—in his apartment because she refuses to tell him where she lives.

After a picture of them from that night circulates, her father tells Jason to stay away from Heidi. Heidi’s humiliated about all of this, of course, but she does what she can to maintain some sense of dignity. But things get even worse when she gets swindled trying to get her first apartment. She has nowhere to go but back to her dad’s condo, and she doesn’t want to do that, so she ends up sleeping on Jason’s and Silas’s couch. She’s still trying to convince Jason she’s up for a hookup despite his “one-and-done” rule, but he’s resistant because it would make things awkward afterward.

Overall, this is another winner from Bowen. It’s not her sexiest book but it’s still got the scenes you’d expect. Jason is pretty likable even though he has been a player—his backstory makes his approach to things make some sense. And Heidi’s a lot of fun. She’s very energetic and does bold things all the time.

If you’re a Bowen fan, you won’t want to miss this one.

Just This Once (Escape to New Zealand #1) by Rosalind James

Just This Once book coverA woman at a romance writing conference recommended this series when we were talking about feminist romance. If the first book, Just This Once, is anything to go by, I’m going to enjoy the series.

Hannah is a hard-working, serious woman with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Although they’re all grown, she feels responsible for her younger brother and sister, both of whom aren’t settled in life yet. They all live in San Francisco and Hannah works in marketing at a women’s sports apparel company. She’s doing really well—except for the fact that she’s a workaholic. So she decides to take a three-week vacation to New Zealand. She’s hoping for some beach time. But on her first morning there, she goes for a swim and ends up getting caught in a rip tide.

Enter Drew. By chance, he’s out in his kayak and spots her getting launched out to sea so he swoops in and rescues her. Then he insists on seeing her back to her hotel and taking her to breakfast, all to make sure she’s really okay. They really hit it off and have a fling that lasts the rest of her trip. They agree to keep in touch after she returns, but Hannah especially isn’t holding her breath. She hasn’t had much luck romantically, after all.

All she really knows about Drew is that he plays rugby professionally. What she finds out on her journey home is that he not only plays rugby professionally, but he plays international rugby and he’s the captain. He’s a huge deal in New Zealand. She feels like a fool for not comprehending that while she was there and she’s intimidated by the situation. Still, Drew seems interested. He visits a few times and eventually convinces her to move to NZ.

Fortunately (from my perspective) she doesn’t jump at the chance to be his live-in girlfriend and nothing more—because her career matters to her and it would have annoyed me if she just abandoned it. Nope. Instead, she gets a job and a 2-year work visa and she moves there and even gets her own apartment. I like this woman a lot. But then it’s not all sunshine and roses from there, fortunately (because that would be boring).

Kudos to James for creating a sports star who I could actually believe maybe wasn’t a huge player prior to meeting The One. And I really did like and respect Hannah throughout, even if she was a bit hard-headed at times. It all worked out. One thing I should mention is that this is not a fast-paced book. It’s a slow burn. And I also have to mention, there’s head-hopping (changing point of view mid-scene), which I’ve said before I’m not a fan of. However, I liked the book enough otherwise that I looked past that. So if you’re looking for a good romance about a strong woman, check this one out. It was especially fun to hear all the dialect (done well, I should add) and see the cultural surprises.

Shooting for the Stars (Gravity #3) by Sarina Bowen

Shooting for the Stars book coverIn this third and final installment of the Gravity series, Bowen gives us Stella Lazarus and Bear Barry. Anyone who’s read the second book will already know these characters because Stella is Hank’s sister and Bear is his best friend who has stuck around while Hank’s adjusting to his new life in a wheelchair. This book runs in parallel to book 2.

Stella’s cool—she’s a successful snowboarder, competing on the circuit with a few sponsorships, even though they don’t quite cover all her expenses. The Lazaruses are well-off, though, so she’s still out there. She wins a competition just after the book opens and is really happy. Bear is a fellow snowboarder but his career seems to be taking a nosedive—just as Stella’s winning, he’s being told that he’s being dropped from the tour. He’s pretty devastated but tries to keep his spirits up for Stella. Hank goes back to Vermont that night and leaves Stella and Bear to party.

Stella and Bear both have good reasons for getting their drinking on, and they do just that. The only catch is that they each have long had the hots for each other, even though Stella thinks Bear isn’t interested and Bear thinks she’s off-limits as his best friend’s little sister. However, the drinking muddies the water a bit and they end up having a whole lot of fun in the fancy suite Hank left for Stella to use.

But the morning brings the horrible news about Hank’s accident. They fly to Vermont immediately, their tryst sort of forgotten (but not really, of course) over the next few days. But then Stella tries to talk to him about it and he pulls the classic “just sex” excuse. They start avoiding each other even though living and working in the same town/space means that takes some real effort.

But they’ve both got other things to worry about. For one thing, Hank. But as Hank gets himself sorted out, Stella’s frustrated by her parents, who are refusing to continue to fund her career and instead expect her to work for their nonprofit. And Bear’s career is over so he needs a new one. He has an interest in filmmaking and a talent for camera work, and he strives to turn that into something that can sustain him. On the personal front, Bear also has some growing to do. He can’t seem to say the right thing—sometimes he can’t say anything at all. He’s also got to learn some self-respect along the way in order to realize that he can, actually, be with Stella.

This is another winner from Bowen, even if it doesn’t dig as deep as some of her later books do. It’s still really entertaining and has several good and long love scenes. It’s a must for any Bowen fan and especially if you’ve read Gravity #2.

Falling from the Sky (Gravity #2) by Sarina Bowen

Falling from the Sky book coverThis is another sports-themed winner from Bowen. As the second in the Gravity series, it’s still snow sports. Hank “Hazardous” Lazarus is a renowned snowboarder on his way to the Olympics and Callie Anders (who we know from the first book in the series—she’s Willow’s doctor friend) meets him at the beginning of the book right before he mistimes a jump and gives himself a serious spinal injury. She ends up seeing him in the hospital not long afterward, when it’s not clear if he’ll walk again.

Nine months later, she sees him in the hospital again—this time for alcohol poisoning. He asks her out but of course she says no because he’s her patient. But they both make an impression on each other anyway. A little later, Hank signs up for a study that’s supposed to help with mobility and because his parents are basically funding the study, he gets away with stipulating that he’ll only participate if Callie runs it. So this puts them in regular contact, and because he’s technically not her patient, Callie might be able to date him (she’s not entirely clear on the ethics).

They do get to know each other better and spend some time together, but it’s a bumpy ride. Hank still has a little more work to do to accept his condition (though he’s not doing too bad, really). Callie’s struggles aren’t quite as life-altering. Her ex—a doctor who cheated on her—is still around at the hospital, reminding her of her loneliness. But she can’t take Hank too seriously, as she knows he was a player before his accident and is used to beautiful women throwing themselves at him. She doesn’t want to be the one he settles for. Hank’s got to convince her he is serious.

Bowen is just so good. Her dialogue is sharp, the feels are real and deep, the heat level is high, and she goes in depth into the challenges the characters are facing. There are so many wonderful details that only someone who knows what they’re talking about would know. For instance, she talks about how Callie quickly learns to stand a bit away from anyone in a wheelchair so that when they’re talking, they don’t have to strain their neck looking up at her. And the concept of the zone of transition—the area between regular feeling and the damaged area, which has heightened sensitivity. Plus there are some of the doctor things Callie thinks and does.

Of course, if you love Bowen as much as I do, you have to read this one. But I think anyone who likes a good story that deals with genuinely challenging issues would also like it.

Coming in from the Cold (Gravity #1) by Sarina Bowen

Coming in from the Cold book coverI’ve had this book a little while and was sort of saving it, not wanting to run out of Bowen’s novels. She’s prolific, but not that prolific. (If only…)

This is a slim book—not even 250 pages with a larger font than you sometimes see. And probably for that reason, there’s not as much going on in the book as there sometimes is in hers. That made this a lighter read for me, even though it did delve into some emotionally demanding territory.

Willow Reade’s made some non-ideal life choices that have landed her in rural Vermont with an underwater mortgage. She’s alone after her boyfriend left her for a rich girl. Something Willow is not. One of her bad choices was to “temporarily” abandon her Ph.D. in psychology.

Some kind of wasting disease runs in Dane Hollister’s family, and he assumes he’s got only a few years of mobility left. He’s trying to make the most of it by living as a sponsored downhill skier competing at the world level. He’s training in Vermont this season to be close to his brother, who’s in a nursing home.

Willow and Dane’s paths cross at the onset of a nasty winter storm, where they nearly wreck their cars and both end up stuck. They decide to huddle together in Dane’s car in the hopes of a snow plow coming by. When one does but doesn’t help them (it’s dark), they know they’re there for the night. So they chat. Dane reveals more about his life than he normally does to strangers and Willow tells the latest chapter in her sad story. Soon they act on their attraction and make the most of their confinement—but not before Dane makes it clear it’s a one-time thing, as he’s not a relationship guy. After all, he knows he can’t put anyone else through what he’s going through with his brother.

The consequences of their tryst shake up both of their lives. Dane in particular has to face his fears. Willow has to do some soul-searching, too, but not as much as Dane. As I sort of implied earlier, I feel like this book doesn’t go as deep as some of her others. The chemistry between Willow and Dane is good, but not amazing. This is one of her earlier books, though, so it’s not shocking. The book’s still very good. And the love scenes are definitely up to her standard.

Any fan of Bowen will want to read this. And anyone who likes books that deal with challenging, real-life issues will also enjoy it.

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.

Flat-out Sexy (Fast Track #1) by Erin McCarthy

Flat-out Sexy book coverIf you’d told me I’d enjoy a romance about a hot professional race car driver, I wouldn’t have believed you. But Flat-out Sexy is a solid, complex story about a race widow and a young driver. Kudos to McCarthy to making the world of NASCAR interesting to me.

Tamara Briggs lost her husband in a crash at Talladega, which left her with two young kids to raise. Elec Monroe is a rookie driver. He’s almost 26 and Tamara’s thirty-ish, which doesn’t stop them from having a hot hookup the first night they meet.

After a second meeting engineered by their friends, Elec talks Tamara into getting together occasionally for stress relief. Tamara thinks they can’t be anything serious, but for Elec, it soon becomes more than a fling. The fact that Tamara already has kids is not an issue for him. Due to a youthful mistake, he’s sterile, but the problem with that is he wants kids. Perhaps even more than if he could have them. Yet Elec struggles to get Tamara to consider a real relationship.

When the kids get chicken pox, Elec shows up to offer moral support and dinner and the tide begins to turn a little. Tamara finds Elec and her son lying on their stomachs fiddling with an ant farm he’d brought as a gift:

It was so normal, so masculine, so casual, that damned if she didn’t have tears in her eyes.

This was what her son had lost when Pete had spun out and hit the wall at Talladega.

I’m also happy that Tamara’s kids aren’t cutesy stereotypes—they might be young (9 and 7) and cute, but it’s her daughter who’s the race fanatic, while her son isn’t particularly interested.

It’s nice to see Tamara and Elec come to terms with their issues over the course of the book (Elec also has an ex that’s causing trouble and Tamara unsurprisingly is a little self-conscious about her body) while they learn to be there for each other.

As I mentioned, the book has a fair amount going on, but it’s not so much that it overwhelms the reader. Also, it’s definitely funny at times and there were several well-placed turns of phrase. After they met that first night, for several complicated reasons Tamara needs to sleep in her friend Ryder’s coach and ends up having to share a cab with some guy, who turns out to be Elec.

Elec, just as gorgeous as she remembered, leaned out of the cab. “Hop on in, Tamara. I’ll make sure you get home safely.

Said the spider to the fly.

I’m pretty sure this was the first romance I read, on a friend’s recommendation, and it’s what pulled me into the genre. My one complaint is that the part where they temporarily break up near the end felt contrived and manufactured. But this is occasionally true in romances. So if you already enjoy the genre, you’ll like this one if you appreciate steamy and more going on than the romance itself. And if you’ve never read one, give it a try.

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.