Friday, January 29, 2016

Review: Dare To Run by Jen McLaughlin and Unexpected Rush by Jaci Burton

Dare To Run by Jen McLaughlin
Book One of The Sons of Steel Row series
Publisher: Signet
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley

***Warning: this is an adult book, and for the eyes of mature readers***

Summary (from Goodreads):

The New York Times bestselling author of the Out of Line Novels takes readers to Boston, where one gang of criminals knows how being bad can be so good...

She knows what he’s like on Boston’s mean streets. Now she’s going to find out if he’s got some heart.

Lucas Donahue is not ashamed of his criminal past, but after a brief stint in prison, he’s ready to go legit and live a normal life. The problem is, no one leaves the gang without permission—even if he is one of the boss’s top men. Plus someone’s placed a hit on him. And then there’s that feisty little bartender who’s going to cause him even more trouble.

Heidi Greene knows to keep her distance from a ladies’ man like Lucas—even if she can’t keep her eyes off him. When he rescues her from an attack in the alley outside her bar, she’s forced to stay by his side for safety. But the longer she spends time with him, the greater her chances are for getting hurt in more ways than one.

What I Liked:

This is definitely going in the books as one of my favorite romance novels of the year! It's early yet, but I'm very confident in the statement. I've already reread this book at least a dozen times already. (not only my favorite parts! The whole book!) I simply do not have time to reread books these days, so you know it must be a good one, for me to reread it! What's more, I picked up this book on a whim. It wasn't part of my reading schedule or review pile! So much love for this book.

Lucas Donahue is one of the baddest Sons of Steel Row, one of the boss's right hand men. But he wants to have a more normal life, even though he knows he can't leave. One night, he witnesses several men from the Bitter Hill gang approach the feisty bartender of the bar near his apartment, and he doesn't think twice. He saves her from an almost brutal attack, but now she's stuck with him. Heidi doesn't like being strong-armed into living with the sexy redhead who has been visiting her bar and now has saved her, but there is something good about him that draws her to him - not just his rugged charm and good looks. But the Bitter Hill men are not the only ones with their eye on Lucas and Heidi - someone else is out to hurt them.

DID I MENTION HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS BOOK?! All caps are totally necessary! I didn't know much about this book when I decided to give it a shot. It was a Friday night and I was bored at home... I started reading this book and literally did NOT stop reading until a few hours later, when I finished the book. Sweating, might I add. (This book was super sexy but also the ending was nerve-wracking and so unexpected!)

Lucas has been recently released from prison, and he wants to change his life. At the same time, he's one of the higher men in the food chain of the Sons of Steel Row, and he's promotion-bound. I love how macho and tough Lucas is, and how he THINKS he is those things (which he is, in all fairness). It doesn't necessarily come off as cocky or arrogant - he is commanding and alpha and completely confident and accepting of who he is. If that makes sense? He also trusts no one and tries not to get involved with anything or anyone - which is why it's a surprise to even himself, when he saves Heidi from being raped.

I adore Heidi! She is incredibly feisty and spirited, a potty-mouthed, tough-as-nails bartender who owns the bar and takes no s**t. She isn't so feisty to think that she can take own four guys who are trying to rape her, but she refuses to go down without a fight. I love how tough Heidi is, throughout the entire book. The attack didn't slow her down, she never let it have power over her. She picks herself up and continues to be the kickbutt lady that she is. Heidi never lets Lucas boss her around (at least not without a good reason), so it's funny to see them butt heads (because he is VERY bossy).

The pair has SUCH great chemistry! They meet before Heidi is attacked - Lucas has been coming to her bar for a week, before the attack happens. There is sexual tension swirling between them before they even know each other's names, let alone start living together. And when Heidi relocates to his place... get ready to fan yourself! Heidi dodges him and he doesn't want to get involved with her, but the attraction is there and the chemistry is pretty overwhelming. I loved seeing them lose control with each other!

So, yeah, the steamy parts of this book are REALLY steamy. This book is on fire, people. McLaughlin definitely knows her way around some really hot scenes. I read all kinds of romance novels but this one... *fans self*

The chemistry was wonderful but I'd also like to mention that the romance was equally wonderful. I loved watching Heidi and Lucas fall for each other, bit by bit. Heidi realizes that she loves him kind of quickly, but given how powerful their connection and attraction is, I was on board with this. And Lucas, being the stubborn, willful alpha that he is, admits to nothing for as long as possible.

While the romance and steamy chemistry are really important in this book, the other aspect - the crime/gangs part - is very important as well, and very well-written. Often with romance novels that aren't strictly contemporary romance, you'll find that the romance is very "there" but the other aspect of the book (paranormal, suspense, historical, thriller, etc.) might not always be as solid. In this book, the crime world is well-written and the story very structured and intriguing. We're trying to figure out what Lucas's brother is up to, what the Bitter Hill men are up to, and who is after Lucas and Heidi... well, it all shakes down to be very, very exciting.

And unexpected! The climax and the ending of this book shocked me! I can't believe McLaughlin got the drop on me - I'm usually very intuitive about these things! Well done, author. Nevertheless, the ending is pretty great, all things considering, and Lucas and Heidi's story wrap up well. I can't wait to read the next book!

What I Did Not Like:

Just a small thing - I'm so irritated with one specific character! I think we'll get to explore his mind in future books but ah! How could he! I can't be any more specific than that, so you'll have to read the book and see what I mean. In any case, this was well-written by the author, but I'm a bit hurt over here! I liked that character. *Liked.*

Would I Recommend It:

Guys guys guys I SO recommend this book! Get the ebook version if you can't deal with the cover (mmm, that abdomen though). This is easily a 4.5-star read and a favorite! Given how many times I've reread it in its entirety - I would highly recommend it!


4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars. Only because of this one thing (that will bother me until I read future books) is this book getting a star knocked off. It's so good though! Romance-reading friends, please don't miss this one! Read it if only to meet Lucas!

Author Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

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Unexpected Rush by Jaci Burton
Book Eleven of the Play-By-Play series
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: February 16, 2016
Rating: 2 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley

***Warning: this is an adult book, and for the eyes of mature readers***

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the new Play-By-Play novel by the New York Times bestselling author of All Wound Up, a football hot shot and his best friend’s sister are breaking all the rules.

All the Right Moves

For Barrett Cassidy, playing defense for the Tampa Hawks is a dream come true. And now he may have discovered his dream woman. Harmony Evans, once the sweet, gawky teenage sister of his best friend and teammate has grown into a smart, gorgeous woman with moves he finds hard to resist. But he knows he can’t get involved with his best friend’s sister—it’s guy code.

Harmony has always gone after what she wants with single-minded determination, from her independence to her education to her career in social work. She never expected her youthful crush on Barrett to develop into something deeper. And she’s not about to let some ridiculous man rules or her brother stand in her way.

When the chemistry is this combustible, lines tend to get crossed. And when Barrett and Harmony’s secret gets out, it just might be game over...

What I Liked:

I think this book just wasn't necessarily for me. I love Berkley's books (did you catch my review of Dare To Run by Jen McLaughlin?), and I thought I would enjoy this one. Sports romances are totally my thing! And I love football. And the fall-in-love-with-the-best-friend's-little-sister romance trope. But this book fell a little flat for me. 

Harmony has always had a bit of a crush on her older brother's best friend, Barrett. Barrett and Drake are not only best friends, but also defensive linemen on the Tampa Hawks, a professional football team. Barrett knows the bro code better than anyone - do not go near your friend's sister. Even if the attraction and interest is mutual. But Barrett and Harmony can't seem to stay away from each other, bro code or not. If Drake finds out about his sister and his teammate, it might all be over.

At first I was going along with this book, kind of just reading and seeing what would happen next. I wasn't disinterested, but I wasn't necessarily hooked. Still, I was never in danger of not finishing this book, which is always a plus.

I liked the diverse nature of this book! You don't often see interracial couples in romance novels (though it's becoming more prevalent these days than in the past).

Hmmm, I can say that I liked that there was a happy ending? You can't *always* expect that in romance novels, but this one had a happy ending, if not a little cookie-cutter perfect (see below). But a good ending is still a good ending! I'm glad Harmony and Barrett got a HEA. Moving on!

What I Did Not Like:

I don't think I liked Harmony at any point in this book. She doesn't stand up for herself at all! If I had an older brother that literally WENT AFTER my exes, or a man that touched me even slightly inappropriately, I would have already punched my brother in the face. There is no need to act like it's the fourteenth century or something. Harmony "gets mad" at Drake, but she never really makes it clear how much she hates how apes**t crazy he gets.

Which, by the way, was a total turn-off. Drake is the CRAZIEST care of overprotective older brother I have ever encountered. The man is absolutely bats**t crazy. Who goes after his little sister's ex-boyfriend, when the breakup was mutual? Let her fight her battles! You're only babying her further, directly and indirectly!

I didn't necessarily dislike Barrett, but he felt one-dimensional to me. I never loved him or swooned over him or anything. He was a caricature, a mold of your typical sexy male hero in a romance novel. There wasn't anything that made me fall for HIM.

I dislike how hypocritical Harmony is. She doesn't want Drake to know about her attraction to Barrett, but she constantly gets mad at Barrett for him not talking to Drake. Hypocrite much? Also why can't you go talk to him yourself, if it's bothering you so much?

We never really get to see how the attraction plays out initially, before they start hooking up. WHY do they like each other, or are attracted to each other? It's kind of just a once-upon-a-time-wham-bam-two-people-are-attracted kind of thing. Like, the foreplay isn't there. Hopefully I'm explaining myself clearly!

Speaking of foreplay - the steamy scenes were pretty repetitive, sadly. The first time, it was pretty steamy, but then it seemed like the same scene was stuck on repeat. Mix it up, please! Make some of Barrett's fantasies (or Harmony's fantasies) happen!

I just wasn't interested in the story beyond what I was waiting for in terms of Harmony and Barrett's relationship. Like a layer was missing - there was definitely something missing. Maybe there needed to be more football in the book, or something. Family is a huge part of this book, but I found myself not caring about the family aspect. It felt like there were way too many characters and not enough personalization (that's not a word?!) of each character.

The ending was SO overly perfect. It was cookie-cutter perfect in a cheesy, every-hold-hands-and-sing kind of way. I love a good HEA but it felt like there was no work involved, in this HEA! It felt like this book wasn't building up to anything.

I'll stop there! I think this book just wasn't for me.

Would I Recommend It:

I personally can't recommend this book, but maybe fans of the Play-by-Play series will still enjoy this book. I've not read any of Burton's novels before (this is my first), so I can't say if this one was better or worse than hers usually are. I didn't enjoy the book but my issues could be very exclusive to me! I read this book after reading a YA novel, so I don't think it's because I've been reading too much romance novels. I think it was the book, it just wasn't my thing! 


1.5 stars -> rounded up to 2 stars. I'm sad to see this rating make an appearance, but 3 stars seemed too generous and not at all representative of my dissatisfaction upon finishing this book. I may trying another Burton book in the future, but it's not likely to be one of this series. Again, it could very well just be me and my tastes!

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  1. Fellow Dare to Run fan, here. Oh yes, I totally want to get in the head of that character you mentioned. That twist at the end knocked me on my butt though I had a feeling about part of it.

    Aw, bummer the sports romance was a dullsy. I've read a couple books in that series and they're hit or miss. I'm told the early ones are the best.

    1. Right!? I personally did not see it coming (with THAT character specifically). Now that I've reread it a bazillion times... sure, I see the clues. :D

      I think I've heard the same, that Burton's previous books in the series were better! Oh well. :o

  2. I LOOOVED Dare to Run as well! I just downloaded it on a whim and once I started I couldn't stop reading. The chemistry was off-the-charts! She definitely knows her way around a sexy scene. :D I'm so glad this was such a huge success for you! A dozen time though, girl! ;)
    I was actually able to figure out that twist. I kept thinking there was something super sketchy about the guy and I was sad to be right because I really liked him.

    Ehhh that Jaci Burton one doesn't sound like it would be for me. I like a protective brother because they add a fun dynamic to the story but this guy sounds TERRIBLE. And repetitive steamy scenes. UGH. Bye book! Sorry this one wasn't that great, Alyssa!

    Lovely reviews! :)

    1. So much self-fanning, throughout the book! It's no wonder I reread it so many times, haha.

      I'm glad you got the twist! I'm kind of baffled that McLaughlin got the drop on me, because usually no one does it, not even in hardcore mystery books! I was shocked out my mind.

      I don't recommend this Burton book at all! I had hoped for better, because it's a sports romance and Burton is supposedly very popular in romance. It's too bad!

      Thank you. <3

  3. Um, I like that cover of Dare to Run. That's all I have to say hahahahaha!! ;)

  4. Stunning reviews Alyssa :D Yay for enjoying the first one so much. <3 So glad it will be a favorite of yours :) That is always fun. But ugh, so sorry that other one was so bad :\ it sounds so annoying. Sigh. Thank you for sharing about these books sweetie :) Love that you read so many different ones. <3

    1. It's such a good one! But yeah, the second book I reviewed definitely was NOT. Thank you, Carina! ^_^

  5. I'm definitely intrigued by Dare to Run! Especially since it's a favorite romance novels of the year! Annoying characters are annoying!
    Too bad about the second book! Hope you're next read it better!
    Great reviews, Alyssa (:

    1. You would love Dare To Run, I am quite sure of it! Don't even worry about my "dislikes" for the book. READ IT!

      Definitely do not even give Burton's book a second glance. Dare To Run is the way to go! :D

      Thank you, Cyn!

  6. Amazing reviews Alyssa! I for one absolutely love both covers I totally don't mind seeing the model shows his abs on the cover. But I've been dying to get my hands on Dare To Run when it comes out! I so can't wait until it comes out after reading your review I really want to read it asap, it looks and sounds utterly amazing and right up my alley! I am sorry that you really didn't like Unexpected Rush by Jaci Burton I heard great things about her books. But her book series are always so long I don't think I am ready to commit to read yet another long book series this year. But maybe one day I will pick up one of her shorter book series and see if I like it or not. Thank you for your awesome post my friend.

    1. You need Dare to Run, Katiria! I don't think I'll be reading any of the other books in the Play-By-Play series by Burton, but who knows. She's a great romance writer (that I can tell), but this book just did NOT work for me.

      Thank you, Kaitiria!


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