Tag Archives: Sarina Bowen

Wags Series: Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

I swear that Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy are writing romances inspired by the hashtag notallmen, thought I’m not sure even that’s correct since the men in this series, and a lot of Bowen’s solo work, often behave in a way that is unacceptable, but is supposedly meant to be forgivable because they are nice guys. As my romance twin, Beth-Ellen, said, it’s as though they are defending men and, she added, who is the audience they are doing that for? Stay was a mostly decent romance because Kennedy and Bowen don’t seem to be capable of less, but there were a variety of elements that made me uncomfortable.

Hailey runs a virtual personal assistant business with her ex-husband in Toronto. She takes care of the VIPs personally and one of them is local hockey hottie Matt Erickson. A divorced father of twins, he is a little once bitten twice shy until he meets up with Hailey. Things move on from there, a little precipitously if you ask me given that there are children involved, and soon they are moving forward in their lives together.

Now back to the #notallmen aspect. In the previous book in the series, Good Boy, the hero climbs into bed with the heroine while she is sleeping. In this one…

Hailey has a client called MrEightInches who sends the agency requests with photos such as, “naked except for a stretchy pair of bright blue briefs, barely covering his erection, which lays angled in the briefs, straining the fabric.” Are Hailey and her colleague offended? Do they call him out for this behavior and terminate his contract? No, silly, they find it funny and enjoy his hijinks. They are entertained and gleeful each time he sends them a new request. When they find out the reason behind his, apparently, joking behavior, it all makes sense. See? He’s harmless!

Matt calls Hailey “Hottie” before they even start dating, meet, or talk. Her initials are HTE and he gives her the nickname in their correspondence. She doesn’t object despite the complete lack of respect and professionalism it shows on Matt’s part. He doesn’t mean any harm, so what’s the problem? Matt is a good guy. His presumption is excused.

In an encounter with Hailey’s ex, and before their first real date, Matt establishes their relationship by smacking her ass in front of her ex. “To my disbelief, Matt smacks my butt lightly before strolling out the door. I gape after him, unsure whether to be pissed or amused.” The correct answer is, of course, pissed.

I’m not quite sure what to do with all of my annoyance. I understand that genuine, sincere guys sometimes make mistakes,  behave inappropriately, or cross the line, but I can’t comprehend why it has become a recurring theme in Sarina Bowen’s work alone and in her joint efforts with Elle Kennedy. Can we just not do this? I get enough of poorly judged behavior being excused in real life.

My last note is that I was squicked out by the love scenes in Stay. Matt and Hailey act out a power dynamic that I found creepy: he pretends to be her coach, . “Such a good girl,” he whispers. “The coach is proud of you.” No, nix, nein, nyet, non, o-nay, nope, nay, NEWP! I am extremely uncomfortable with sex with power disparities like this and in particular ones that feign involvement of students or vulnerable people. The second the phrase “good girl” comes into play, I am OUT.

Sarina Bowen’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works . Her Ivy Years series is particularly strong and includes a classic novella, Blonde Date.

By Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen:
HimLGBTQ, New Adult, love it!
Us LGBTQ, New Adult, liked it a lot
Wags Series:
Good Boy – I can’t decide if I recommend it or not.
Stay – see above

By Elle Kennedy:
Off Campus Books 1 – 4
The Deal – very good, I have re-read it
The Mistake – good
The Score – Entitled, privileged guy gets everything he wants. Granted that describes a lot of romances, but it’s annoying here. He’s a dick in The Goal, too.
The Goal – good, but not my cup of tea

Adult Contemporary:
One Night of Sin – meh
One Night of Scandal – meh
Elle Kennedy and Vivien Arend: All Fired Up – skip it

 Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

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Wags Series: Good Boy by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

When the hero of Good Boy was introduced in Us, I referred to him as the World’s Largest Plot Moppet.  I was wrong, clearly he is the world’s biggest puppy. I have seen very mixed reviews of this contemporary romance as there are troubling elements at the same time as it is also frequently charming. YMMV, as the kids today say.

Blake Riley and Jessie Canning hooked up several months ago and while it was mutually satisfying, she isn’t looking for more. Brought together again for her brother’s wedding to Blake’s teammate (Wes and Jamie of Him and Us), Blake is eager to start something with Jess and willing to leverage more casual sex, if that will get things moving for them.

Jess has been a bit lost. In a career experiment she (successfully) planned her brother’s nuptials, but has decided that she actually wants to be a nurse. When she gets into university in Toronto, this contemporary New Adult sports romance moves where it just so happens that Blake is a forward for the hockey team standing in for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Returning to my puppy analogy, Blake is a big, friendly, loyal, and enthusiastic guy. He’s sincere but not terribly bright and, like your new Great Dane puppy, he tends to do things he oughtn’t and is forgiven by virtue of… I’m not sure what, because Blake does a couple of things with impunity that should be deal breakers  –

  1. After being set up to sleep on the chesterfield (that’s Canadian for couch), Blake climbs into bed with Jess while she is sleeping. She wakes up next to him and slips out of bed without immediately returning to SCREAM HIM AWAKE whilst simultaneously dousing him with ice water. He says he had asked her if it was okay he climb in with her and she said yes while she was half asleep which does not help his case.
  2. Blake sends an unsolicited photograph of his genitals to Jess after she has told him that his attentions are not welcome.

I suspect there’s more, but those two were pretty major. Blake’s interior monologue makes it clear that he’s well-intentioned and he can be a lot of fun. Were Kennedy and Bowen trying to show a hero who does all the things he shouldn’t, but succeeds anyway? Or that not every guy who crosses the line is a jerk? Is Blake the puppy that drives you crazy until one magical moment when he settles in and you realise that all of the growing pains were worth it?

Good Boy had some other story elements that I wondered about, such as the stereotypical gay friend and a truly irrational ex-fiancee, but really it all comes down to where you stand on Blake. I enjoy the occasional big lug, though not necessarily Jethro Clampett, and landed on the charmed side for Good Boy even if it wasn’t a classic.

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Brooklyn Bruisers: Hard Hitter by Sarina Bowen

Sarina Bowen burst into my romance reading life in 2015 with her Ivy Years series and my discovery happily coincided with her career taking off. This has provided me with lots of reading material. Though none of her more recent books have captured the magic of those first ones I read (Blonde Date is a perfect novella), I am continuing to buy her books; however as the prices have gone up, my interest is going down. It’s one thing to be a $5 author, it’s another to be an $8 or $10 one. At this point, only Laura Florand, Lisa Kleypas, and Courtney Milan are in the latter category. I don’t want them to be lonely, I really don’t, though, to be fair, I used to have a job where I earned scads of AmEx points and consequently didn’t have to actually pay for a book for several years. It’s made me spoiled and cantankerous, but I digress.

Patrick O’Doul is the captain and enforcer on the new NHL franchise team the Brooklyn Bruisers. Purchased by a tech billionaire as a hobby, the young team is getting its skates under itself and the assorted employees are falling in love as the book series grows. Patrick’s love interest is a massage therapist for the team (I can’t remember, but I’m assuming that there is more than one for all those men) and he has been reluctant to let her, or anyone for that matter, lay hands on him.

Ari Bettini is devoted to her job with the hockey team, traveling and training with them as necessary, and it provides focus away from her long-term relationship that recently went completely sideways before crashing into a wall and bursting into flames. When she finally gets Patrick on her massage table to address his hip issue, sparks quickly fly. The two become involved and complications naturally ensue which lead, as well they ought, to a happily ever after for the couple.

Patrick  worships the ground Ari walks on and I while I love an unapologetically besotted hero, it wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that many elements of Hard Hitter felt under-explored or oversimplified. Patrick was a bit of a cipher with a cursory backstory insufficiently fleshed out to give his portrayal true heft. It was the “that poor man has secret pain” approach to character development which Bowen has fallen back on in other books as well. Ari suffers from the opposite problem.  She has been given too much baggage, but the result is similarly underplayed. He ex-boyfriend’s behavior changed greatly towards the close of their relationship and the escalation to threats of violence not only from him but from thugs he is associated with should have been a lot more traumatic for her. If either Ari or Patrick’s experiences had been more thoroughly addressed, it would have benefited the story.

After Hard Hitter and even with my qualms, I will still read the next Sarina Bowen book, but on sale or from my library. I just won’t be paying full price again until she writes a more satisfying book.

Sarina Bowen’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works . Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

So You Want to Read a (Historical, Contemporary, New Adult, Paranormal) Romance …

Alternatively: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

This recommendations list is gleaned from at least 80 authors and over 500 books.

Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started

Looking for something specific? Here’s a list of authors I’ve read enough to see thematic consistencies and it’s hard to go wrong with these writers:

Tessa Dare – FUN, bring your willing suspension of disbelief, on double-secret probation right now
Laura Florand – contemporary romances set in France, great intensity
Carla Kelly – lovely Regency romances, often military-themed
Lisa Kleypas  – the gold standard, also writes contemporaries
Julie Anne Long – extremely clever and funny
Courtney Milan – The very best currently publishing, one for the pantheon.
Julia Quinn – An excellent place to launch your reading. Start with The Bridgertons.

I lovehate Jennifer Ashley’s sincere romance mired in tortured heroes and overwrought plotting.

This list is an edited version of my Complete Reading List by Author. Reviewed books are linked.

Mallory, a frequent commenter, asked me to make a personal Top 5 list. I tried. I couldn’t do it.

CLASSICS

  1. Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous – historical
  2. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date  – new adult novella
  3. Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrelshistorical
  4. Gabaldon, Diana Outlanderhistorical
  5. Heyer, Georgette Venetia (Dameral/Venetia) – historical
  6. Jenkins, Beverly Indigo  – historical
  7. Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm old school, historical
  8. Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of Youhistorical
  9. Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter  – historical
  10. Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke – historical
  11. Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter – historical novella
  12. Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  – historical
  13. Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle – historical now, but not when published
  14. Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton  Bridgerton Book 4 – historical
  15. Thorne, Sally The Hating Game – contemporary

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Brooklyn Bruisers: Rookie Move by Sarina Bowen

“His heart said, This. This right here.”

I read my first Sarina Bowen title, The Year We Fell Down, a little over a year ago and since then I have both eagerly recommended and awaited her new novels. She has two concurrent contemporary romance series at the moment, True North and Brooklyn Bruisers, as well as two M/M books co-written with Elle Kennedy, and more on the horizon. Such is Bowen’s output that I have given her a catalogue post.

Readers familiar with Bowen’s Ivy Years series may remember hockey player Leo Trevi as a really nice guy. Picking up his story when he is brought up from a farm team to join the Brooklyn Bruisers franchise, he is eager to succeed and excited to discover that his high school girlfriend, Georgia, is the team Public Relations manager.They had been entirely devoted to one another until she experienced an assault and they lost their way. Breaking up six years ago when they went off to university, she is the one that got away.

Georgia Worthington is trying to put her best professional foot forward. The Brooklyn Bruisers is a fledgling NHL franchise acquired by a Tech billionaire and she has been working around the clock to take care of the PR responsibilities. To complicate matters, her father has just been named head coach, not to mention the aforementioned arrival of Leo Trevi. During the first press conference she runs, Leo arrives and is heard on a mic threatening someone when Georgia is spoken of disrespectfully, and we’re off to the races.

I enjoyed Rookie Move while I was reading it and my recollection of Leo was correct. He’s the nicest guy in the world. A bit impulsive sometimes, but very straightforward, and he absolutely adores Georgia and I am a sucker for a smitten hero. Despite that, I am not sure that Georgia and Leo had as much dimension as they could have as balanced against her personal and professional successes, Georgia’s love life seems to have been in stasis waiting for Leo to reappear and release her from it:

“In either case, she hadn’t had a boyfriend since Leo.”

“I asked her out a couple of times and got the brushoff. Didn’t know she was waiting for you.”

Leo at least had girlfriends in university. Not nice ones though because that would mean his love for Georgia wasn’t as true somehow. I guess. I never understand it in these books when people were together when they were young, break up, and then no other person is real to them until they meet again. Georgia and Leo’s separation was not a product of inherent issues in the relationship, but of youth conspiring with trauma to drive a wedge between them. They could simply have come back together older and wiser, even if they had had serious relationships with other people.

There are two more books coming in the series and I will, no doubt, read both of them.  The Ivy Years series caught lightning in a bottle and included a classic novella, Blonde Date. I haven’t had as much luck with the True North books, but the two I tried were still worth the read, and she is a really good writer and that will keep me coming back.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

bowen-rookie

Sarina Bowen’s Catalogue

Recommended books are in bold.

Bowen’s books are all contemporary romances and the new adult works are so noted.

Ivy Years Series – New Adult
The Year We Fell Down (Hartley/Corey) – start with this, buy the set
The Year We Hid Away (Bridger/Scarlet)
Blonde Date novella (Andy/Katie) CLASSIC
The Understatement of the Year (Graham/Rikker) – LGBTQ
The Shameless Hour (Rafe/Bella)
The Fifteenth Minute (DJ/Lianne) – skip this one, seriously

With Elle Kennedy
HimLGBTQ, New Adult
Us LGBTQ, New Adult
Wags Series
Good Boy – I can’t decide if I recommend it or not.
Stay – not yet published, I will buy it

The Brooklyn Bruisers Series
Rookie Move – review pending, pretty good, not great
Hard Hitter – not yet published, I may buy it
Pipe Dreams – not yet published, I may buy it

The True North Series
Bittersweet – good not great, down-to-earth plot
Steadfast – skipped it, didn’t like the idea of the story
Keepsake – nice, gentle, okay

The Gravity Series
Coming in from the Cold – shows potential, but not strong
Falling from the Sky
Shooting for the Stars

 

 

True North Series: Bittersweet by Sarina Bowen

Good lord, I need a few minutes alone with this cover.

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If I may take another moment, I should like to express my profound approbation for the return of facial hair to mainstream men’s fashion. All hail the lumbersexual!

The first book in Sarina Bowen’s new True North series, Bittersweet hits a lot of great notes, but doesn’t quite live up to her best work in her justly loved Ivy Years Series. The hero and heroine of this contemporary romance are two people trying to sort out their lives. One is tied down, the other at the end of a quickly unraveling rope.

Audrey Kidder is in Vermont looking for local sources of fresh farm products for the restaurant conglomerate she works for. Her career is not going well and this is both her last chance and a set up for failure by her employer. She needs to purchase their upcoming harvests to stock Boston eateries while convincing the farmers that the survival pricing she offers is fair. Her first stop is the Shipley Farm which, she quickly discovers, happens to be owned and run by someone she knew at university. Bowen seems to enjoy young characters weighed down with responsibility and Griff Shipley was saddled in his early twenties with the role of family patriarch. He and his widowed mother run the farm and work together to help his siblings have a solid future. Griff had been very interested in Audrey during their few encounters at university, but other than a couple of hookups, he had been unable to get her attention. He’s not sure he wants it now, but she is no longer blissfully unaware of his appeal.

Griff and Audrey come together as she is trying to figure out what she wants her place to be in the world.  She’s bright, energetic, and cheerful in counterpoint to his wry, quiet, practicality. They make a great couple and, as is often the way of things in contemporary romance, Audrey is also able to find a surrogate family to depend on and take some of the disappoint in her own away.

Characters are introduced in Bittersweet as Bowen sets up the series. She is a fantastic writer and I look forward to purchasing her books for years to come. The True North series (which is such a tease as it is not set in Canada a la “true north strong and free”, or,  I suspect, she and fellow author Elle Kennedy are Canadian,  and it’s a reference just for those of us from that home and native land) looks promising and I hope she can capture some of the lightning in a bottle as she did in previous works. She is an author to watch.

Let me again recommend Bowen’s new adult romance collection The Ivy Years Series and suggest you buy the box set, including the classic novella Blonde Date, but skip The Fifteenth Minute entirely. Sarina Bowen’s catalogue can be found here. Working with Elle Kennedy, she has published a two installment M/M romance called Him and Us, although each works as a standalone read. I suggest you check them out as well.

New Adult romance recommendations can be found here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.