Review: The Honeymoon Cottage by Lori Foster

Review: The Honeymoon Cottage by Lori FosterThe Honeymoon Cottage by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Cemetery Indiana #1
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on May 24, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

She was fine arranging other people’s weddings… But life had other plans.

When it comes to creating the perfect happily-ever-after, Yardley Belanger is a bona fide miracle worker. From bridal bouquets to matching cowboy boots, the quirky wedding planner’s country-chic affairs have caused quite a stir in the small town of Cemetery. But when it comes to her own love life? She’s clueless.

Completely clueless.

Perhaps it’s for the best. The thirty-one-year-old has poured her heart and soul into her business and doesn’t have time for anything—or anyone—else. And that’s something not even the gorgeous older brother of her newest client can change…right?

All Travis Long wanted was to give his little sister, Sheena, the wedding of her dreams. Ever since the tragic death of their parents, he’s done everything he can to make her feel loved and give her everything she needs. Still…a country wedding? In a place called Cemetery? But Yardley seems to know exactly what to do and how to do it—and Travis finds himself falling for her a little more each day.

Soon Yardley and Travis find themselves being nudged together by well-meaning locals who want to see the town’s favorite wedding planner get her own happy ending.

My Review:

If you love quirky romances set in equally eccentric small towns you’ll love The Honeymoon Cottage, set in the weirdly named Cemetery, Indiana, where every business in town is required to include the town’s name in their own.

Which is a bit of a problem for wedding planner Yardley Belanger. She is terrific at planning weddings – and she’s a bit of a genius at marketing her business. But it’s hard for Yardley – as well as people who are shopping for a wedding planner – to get past “Cemetery Weddings” as a concept. Those two words just don’t go together.

(I’ve seen this in real life. We drove through a town named Newborn several months ago. There’s a taxidermy shop in Newborn called “Newborn Taxidermy” and I have the pictures to prove it. Those are two words that should NEVER appear in the same sentence. I digress.)

So Yardley’s story begins with her regular agitation of the town council to remove the naming requirement. Cemetery weddings, Cemetery candy, Cemetery florist and Cemetery Pit Stop BBQ are all on Yardley’s side.

But the president of the town council, 84 year old Betty Cemetery, great-granddaughter of the town founder Henry Harrison Cemetery, fights Yardley – and every other business owner in town – at every turn.

Howsomever, The Honeymoon Cottage is a small town romance, so the battle between Yardley and Betty isn’t the main event. That’s reserved for Yardley and her latest client, Sheena Long. Well, not exactly them either.

Because when Sheena comes to visit Yardley and plan her wedding, Sheena is accompanied not by her soon-to-be-groom (also the father of her soon-to-be-child) but by her older brother Travis. Travis raised Sheena after their parents died in an accident when Travis was 20 and Sheena was only 5. He’s been big brother, father, mother, uncle and best friend to his little sister for nearly all of her life and he’s the one paying for the wedding – no matter how many doubts he has about the groom.

Sheena and Yardley hit it off instantly. Travis and Yardley draw sparks from each other just as instantly. The kind of sparks that 31-year-old Yardley had pretty much given up on ever feeling ever.

But Travis is wary of getting involved with someone who is rapidly becoming important to his sister. It’s happened before and the results were NOT GOOD. Yardley has spent her whole life being denigrated by the two women who raised her – her mother and her aunt. Aurora and Lilith Belanger have spent Yardley’s whole life telling her how awkward and unlovable she is and that she didn’t inherit any of the family beauty or charm and that she can never do anything quite right.

The only person who believes in Yardley is her lifelong bestie Mimi. Yardley doesn’t even believe in herself.

So at first she doesn’t believe that Travis is really interested in her. Or that all of her fellow business owners in town really, truly want her to run for president of the town council in opposition to the recalcitrant Betty.

But all is not as it seems, because we never know what’s in someone else’s heart.

Travis really is interested, and they really are falling for each other. And in spite of their actions and attitudes, her mother and her aunt really do love her – even if they have a terrible way of showing it. While Betty is fighting Yardley not because there’s any real animosity, but because she’s lonely and arguing with Yardley has put more spring in her step than anything in a very long time.

And all it takes is the love of one adorable scamp of a dog to help put the pieces of Yardley’s life and her heart together.

Escape Rating A-: Like so many of my recent reads, The Honeymoon Cottage sits right on that line between romance and relationship. It sits very comfortably on that line, because it has oodles of elements of both of those genres.

For this reader, the most interesting parts of the story wrapped around Yardley’s terrific relationship with her bestie Mimi, her supporting and supportive relationships with the other business owners in Cemetery, and her surprising frenemy-ship with Betty Cemetery. Along with her growing love for Travis Long and especially for the dog Dodger who scampers his way into pretty much everyone’s hearts.

And on the other hand there’s her bizarre, toxic relationship with her mother and her aunt. Like Mimi, I wanted Yardley to blast those two for the way they treated her. The degree to which they’ve been negging her all of her life, to the point where her mother continually reminds her that getting pregnant with Yardley ruined her life, deserved a good blast or ten. In those circumstances, that Yardley turned out to be such a terrific person is beyond surprising all the way into practically unbelievable. It’s pretty clear that Mimi’s friendship and support saved Yardley’s sanity, and kept her self-esteem from being any lower and sinking straight into clinical depression.

That Yardley’s willingness to listen and empathize results in bringing Betty Cemetery out of her self-imposed shell and turns the two from potential enemies to very good friends worked beautifully. Something about the way the situation with her mother and aunt resolved didn’t quite feel real – but then it didn’t feel real to Mimi either.

The romance between Yardley and Travis is wonderful, it just didn’t feel like the center of the story, hence my wavering over whether this is romance or relationship. And again, falling on the relationship side, that both Yardley and Mimi develop strong friendships with Sheena, that Mimi’s husband and Sheena’s fiance become friends, and that Travis even comes to understand and approve of Sheena’s fiance and their relationship just adds to that feeling.

Whichever side you fall on, romance or relationships, The Honeymoon Cottage is a lovely story. The romance is heart melting, the relationships are, for the most part, heartwarming, and the dog naturally steals more than a few of the scenes. And the scenes that Dodger doesn’t steal are hilariously capped by the town’s mannequin mascot Kathleen – who somehow manages to be present for ALL of the town’s big events.

I confess I am a bit surprised that this is the first book in a series set in Cemetery because the story seemed complete. However, I look forward to seeing how Dodger and his humans are doing, and I can’t wait to see who will find their HEA next!

 

Review: The Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster

Review: The Summer of No Attachments by Lori FosterThe Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Summer Friends #2
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on June 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Summer flings with no strings mean nobody gets hurt.At least, that was the plan…
After putting the brakes on her dead-end relationship, local veterinarian Ivey Anders is ready to soak up this summer on her own terms. The way she sees it, no dating means no disappointment. Why complicate life with anything long-term? But when she meets Corbin Meyer—and his troubled young son, Justin—Ivey’s no-strings strategy threatens to unravel before she can put it into practice.
Trust doesn’t come easy for Ivey’s best friend, Hope Mage, a veterinary-clinic assistant who’s affected by an incident that’s colored every relationship she’s had. Though Hope’s happy for Ivey, she can’t quite open her own heart to the possibility of love. Not just yet… Maybe not ever. Soon, however, she’s faced with a dilemma—Corbin’s older brother, Lang. He’s charming, he’s kind…and he may just be the reason Hope needs to finally tear down her walls.
And as the sweet summer months unspool, the two friends discover love won’t give up on them so easily.
"Brimming with heart, heat and humor."—Jill ShalvisNew York Times bestselling author, on Worth the Wait

My Review:

The irony of The Summer of No Attachments is that the first thing that Ivey does after declaring that she isn’t going to get attached to anyone this summer is that she immediately gets attached to someone.

However, as Ivey is a veterinarian, that she finds herself instantly attached to a slightly skittish rescue dog named Daisy – along with all of the puppies that Daisy gave birth to practically in Ivey’s lap – is not all that big a surprise.

But Daisy and her puppies are all adorable, so we all do fall right along with her. That Daisy is the first Jack-A-Bee dog I’ve heard of or read about made her extra cute. (A Jack-A-Bee is the result of mating a Jack Russell Terrier with a Beagle and the whole idea just oozes cuteness.)

Ivey’s romance with Daisy would have been an adorable story, but that’s not what we’re here for. And honestly, that’s not what Ivey is there for, either. Okay, it is part of what she’s there for, but not ALL of it.

As the story opens, Ivey finds Daisy and Daisy has her puppies at the end of what has already been a very long day for Ivey and her best friend and veterinary assistant Hope Mage. When Ivey finally makes it home, her boyfriend of two years is lounging on her couch bitching about her being home late.

It’s the latest in a string of disappointments in that relationship, and it’s the last. Ivey kicks Geoff to the curb and vows to have a summer of hookups with no need to fall into another relationship.

Haven’t we all made those kinds of vows?

Ivey’s promise to herself turns out to be about as successful as you might expect. The meet cute in this story isn’t between Corbin Meyer and Ivey Anders, although they certainly do meet. But the real cute in that meeting is the one between Corbin’s son Justin and Daisy and her pups.

There’s something about Justin, scared, shy and uncertain, that reaches out to Daisy – and surprisingly vice-versa for the boy and the dog. That the dad and the vet can’t resist seeing the two fall in love and help each other heal makes this a lovely story with a lot of heart.

And doggie kisses!

Escape Rating A: I just plain fell in love with these characters, this place and this story, to the point where I was up until 4 am because I couldn’t resist reading just a little longer – all the way to the very heartwarming conclusion with its happy ever afters all around. HEAs for everyone turned out to be just what I needed.

The primary story is in not just the romance between Corbin and Ivey, but in the way that they both fall in love with Justin and build a family together out of some pretty shaky circumstances.

As the story begins, Corbin and Justin are still walking on eggshells around each other. Justin’s mother dumped him on Corbin, after telling Corbin that the child she never bothered to inform him existed was his and it was time for him to take over childcare full-time while she ran off. As the truths about Justin’s circumstances are slowly revealed – not just to the reader but to Corbin – the scope of the tragedy-in-the-making becomes both clearer and wider.

So Corbin is adjusting to having a pre-teen son he never knew about. He hasn’t really got the time or the energy for a relationship and Ivey is more than a bit gun-shy about diving into a relationship with anyone at all. (Not that her ex was evil or anything, but she feels like she just climbed out of a rut and is worried about climbing into another one.)

But they do it anyway, in spite of themselves, two steps forward and one step back, while Corbin’s family rallies around and life goes on.

The secondary characters were icing on a very tasty cake, especially the romance between Corbin’s brother Lang and Ivey’s bestie Hope. That could have been a whole romance all of its own, and it would have been a great one even by itself, but the story was even better in the contrast between the kind of second chance that Corbin, Ivey and Justin are reaching for and the much more difficult one that Hope needs to let herself have after trauma and betrayal.

The depth of the friendship between Ivey and Hope was beautiful, and added something special to the whole story. A story that was just plain special all the way around.

Goodreads says that this book is the second book in The Summer Friends series that begin with The Somerset Girls, which I have but have not read. Although now that I’ve visited Sunset, Kentucky, I’m sure I’ll find my way back!

Review: All Fired Up by Lori Foster

Review: All Fired Up by Lori FosterAll Fired Up by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Road to Love #3
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He’s tantalizing trouble she can’t resist…

Charlotte Parrish has always wanted a certain kind of man: someone responsible, settled, boring. Bad boys need not apply. But when her car leaves her stranded and a mysterious stranger with brooding eyes and a protective streak comes to her rescue, she can’t deny how drawn she is to him. In town searching for family he’s never met, Mitch is everything she never thought she wanted—and suddenly everything she craves.

Finding his half brothers after all these years is more than Mitch Crews has allowed himself to wish for. Finding love never even crossed his mind…until he meets Charlotte. She’s sweet, warmhearted, sexier than she knows—and too damn good for an ex-con like him. But when his past comes back to haunt him, putting Charlotte—and the family he’s come to care for—in danger, Mitch isn’t playing by the rules. He’s already surrendered his heart, but now he’ll risk his life.

My Review:

Once upon a time I used to read ALL of Lori Foster’s books, but it’s been a while. Actually, I just looked and it’s been over a year and a half, so quite a while, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled the last time.

So I took a little break.

All Fired Up reminded me of just why I read so many of her books. So it looks like I’ll be back for the first two books in this series, Driven to Distraction and Slow Ride. Which I have not read, yet, and the lack of which did not detract from my enjoyment of All Fired Up one little bit.

In other words, feel free to start the series here, because it works as a standalone – not that it doesn’t tease interesting things about the previous two.

There are three story threads in All Fired Up. The first two threads are immediately tied together as the story opens, while the third does its level best – and absolute worst – to cut those first two threads into ribbons.

Mitch Crews comes to town because he wants to go home, even if it’s a home he’s never had with people he’s never met – people who don’t even know he exists. But he’s heard stories about Elliott Crews’ perfect family life with his wife and sons so many times that when he needs to put down roots after five years in prison, he goes to find them.

At least to find his two half-brothers. He can’t imagine that the woman his dad was cheating on will possibly want anything to do with him, a living reminder that her husband cheated on her at pretty much every turn.

But Elliott’s descriptions of his “real” family sounded so much better than Mitch’s childhood in a crime-riddled and poverty-stricken area, left in the neglectful care of his addict mother and her psychopathic dealer/boyfriend.

He wants to be close to his family, even if he’s not sure they are exactly his, or that they will want to have anything to do with him. Nothing surprises him more than their instant acceptance, not just on the part of his two older brothers, but especially the instant love and acceptance from their mother Ros. A woman who should hate him for where he came from but instead loves him as just another one of her boys.

There is one other thing that knocks him for six. His instant attraction to Charlotte Parrish, the Crews brothers’ office manager, assistant, and adopted sister. Brodie and Jack Crews may treat Charlotte like a little sister, but Mitch’s feelings for her are far from brotherly.

Mitch tries to ease his way cautiously into the kind of family that he’s never dreamed of, only to see those dreams come crashing down when the trouble that has trailed him all his life tails him back to his new-found family.

He’s ready to run, sure that they will want to cut their losses and cut him loose – only to discover that he’s theirs and they are his, through thick or thin or any trouble that might come their way.

Escape Rating B: There are, as I said, three threads to this story. One I loved, one I liked, and one didn’t quite work for me. Hence the B rating.

The part of the story that I really enjoyed was the relationship between Mitch and the family that turns out to be his after all. There’s a bit of a fairy tale element to his instant acceptance, but it adds to the joy of the story. The Crews family, with the exception of dear-old-philandering-dad, are all absolute gems. Even dad manages to grow up, at least a bit, by the end of the story – surprising the heck out of absolutely everyone.

But the best parts of this book are the interactions between Mitch and his brothers, and the way that the family accepts him, and the way that he learns to let them – in spite of his own issues and complete lack of experience in the way that a reasonably functional family should function.

That part of the story was particularly strong and it just plain worked.

Mitch’s budding romance with Charlotte had its ups and downs in a number of ways. Charlotte at 25 does seem rather innocent when it comes to men. (Charlotte’s actual awesomeness seems to have been a big part of the previous stories – this may be the one thing I missed by not having read the other books.) The men in their small town don’t seem to be worth the gas it would take for one of her brothers’ Mustangs to drive over them – and Brodie and Jack have done an entirely too excellent job of making sure that no one unworthy touches their little sister.

They think that Mitch “might” be worthy, if he decides to stay, so they don’t so much warn him off as warn him to take it slow and be damn sure of his intentions first. So the romance in this one consists of mostly heated thoughts and longing looks for a good bit of the story. Once they do get there, though, they do burn up the sheets – but it takes longer than normal for them to reach that point.

The psychopath following Mitch, the arsehole who was his mother’s drug dealer and her boyfriend, well, he drove me a bit batty. He’s disgusting slime and when the story switched to his perspective and his actions, let’s just say that it was not a head I wanted to spend any time in whatsoever. Also he seemed to be a cliched villain and, in the end, a bit of a paper tiger. The fear of him turned out to be greater than the reality – or he was just too damn good at picking his victims.

But I loved the way that Mitch, his family and friends took care of that disgusting piece of baggage from his past so that he and Charlotte and their extended family could have a much brighter future!

Review: Fast Burn by Lori Foster

Review: Fast Burn by Lori FosterFast Burn (Body Armor, #4) by Lori Foster
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Body Armor #4
Pages: 384
on March 20th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For the woman who’s his perfect match, he’s willing to break the rules…

The moment Brand Berry meets beautiful, driven Sahara Silver, the connection between them is electric. It’s also something he can’t pursue. Sahara wants him, sure—to join Body Armor, where his MMA skills, size and cocky attitude make him perfect for her elite crew of bodyguards. For Sahara, the agency always comes first, and Brand needs more. Yet when she’s kidnapped by men searching for her missing brother, he doesn’t hesitate.

Somewhere along the way, flirting with Brand for the sake of business turned very personal. Despite his refusal to join Body Armor, it’s Brand who steps up when Sahara needs him most. Now there’s no more time for games, and no point denying the hunger they both feel. They’ll escape together or not at all. But if they survive, can Sahara finally surrender control to claim this blazing passion?

My Review:

Fast Burn is the fourth and it looks like final book in the Body Armor series. I’ve had a mixed reaction to the books in this series. I loved books two and three, Hard Justice and Close Contact, but had a lukewarm reaction to the first book in the series, Under Pressure.

My feelings about Fast Burn are all too similar to my feelings about Under Pressure. Let me explain…

This series is romantic suspense. That has meant that the bodyguards from the Body Armor Agency, former MMA fighters all, have a tendency to fall in love with the body they are guarding. But Fast Burn is a bit different, because the body that needs protection in this case is the owner of the agency, Sahara Silver.

And the man who wants to guard her is not part of Body Armor. Not that she hasn’t tried to recruit Brand Berry, but that Brand has refused to be recruited, in spite of Sahara’s patented full-court press.

Brand is interested in Sahara and not her Agency. He does not want to work for a woman that he wants to date. And a whole lot more. It makes sense to this reader. They can either have a personal relationship or a working one, but not both – especially not in their case, where both of them have the need to be in control of absolutely everything all the time. Compromise is not going to be easy for either of them.

One of the underlying plot threads in this entire series revolves around Sahara’s missing brother Scott. Scott has been missing and presumed dead for a couple of years now, after his boat was found with his girlfriend’s dead body on it and plenty of his own spilled blood along with hers. But his body was never found, and Sahara believes that Scott is out there, still alive.

When a bunch of thugs kidnap Sahara in order to get back the money that Scott owes them, one way or another, their leader believes that putting Sahara in danger will bring Scott out of the woodwork. He might be right, but before that can happen, it brings out the protective instincts of every one of the guys that Sahara has hired at Body Armor. As well as the one that she hasn’t, Brand Berry.

Sahara is now the person with the target on her back, and Brand is more than willing to step up and protect her – 24/7. But not as a member of her staff. Not at all. He just wants to protect her, and wipe the floor with the guys who are after her. Sahara isn’t sure that she can give up being in charge 24/7 in order to let someone take care of her, even for a second.

But the sharks are circling, and it’s a race to the finish. But whose?

Escape Rating C+: One of the things that made the Body Armor series so good was the character of Sahara Silver. As the owner of the agency, she has been part of every single book, and generally a fairly large part. She’s been the person that many of the women in the stories initially turn to, and she’s been kind, understanding and helpful without either giving up any of her femininity or any of her take charge agency. Either the actual agency, Body Armor, or her own personal agency as a mover and shaker in each story.

She loses all of that in Fast Burn. The whole story is all about all the guys, but particularly Brand, patting her on the head and letting her know that they’ve got this and that she really should let them take over and not worry her pretty little head. Whenever she tries to contradict or correct them, they pretty much ignore whatever she says.

While the possibility of her missing brother not only being alive but protecting her from the sidelines is certainly enough to make anyone just a bit crazy, Sahara seems to go off the rails and fall apart, giving Brand the chance to swoop in and protect her – whether she needs it or not.

As one of the characters says in one of my favorite video games, “swooping is bad”.

The men, but particularly Brand, do their level best to keep Sahara from participating in an operation that is all hers – it’s both all about her brother and all about a gang of idiots that keep trying to kidnap her and even succeed more than once. She also runs off half-cocked and puts herself in danger in ways that are definitely outside her character until this book.

This included an added filip of a trope I dislike, the one where the villain has a hard on for the female in danger and has the strong desire to take her and break her. This particular villain was much less vile than most, but that added element wasn’t necessary to ramp up the amount of danger Sahara kept landing herself in.

At the same time, I really love the character of Sahara, and I wanted to see her get her HEA as well as solve the mystery of what happened to her brother. I’ve liked all of the men that she has recruited for Body Armor, and it was fun to catch up with them a bit and see just how much they all care about her boss. I just wish it hadn’t been necessary to take away so much of Sahara’s agency to protect her.

I hope we see more characters like Sahara has been in the previous books, women who are intelligent, capable and very much in charge while still being happy and proud to be women. And we shouldn’t have to watch them sacrifice who they are to get their HEA.

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Review: Close Contact by Lori Foster + Giveaway

Review: Close Contact by Lori Foster + GiveawayClose Contact (Body Armor, #3) by Lori Foster
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Body Armor #3
Published by Harlequin Books on November 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

There’s no resisting a desire like this…

MMA fighter Miles Dartman’s casual arrangement with personal shopper Maxi Nevar would be many men’s fantasy. She seeks him out, they have mindblowing sex, she leaves. Rinse, repeat. Yet lately, Miles wants more. And when Maxi requests his services via the Body Armor security agency, he’s ready to finally break through her defenses—and protect her day and night.

Receiving a large inheritance has brought chaos and uncertainty into Maxi’s life. Her ex has resurfaced, along with lots of former “friends,” and someone is making mysterious threats. Then there’s Miles, who doesn’t ask for anything…except her trust. Pleasure is easy. Now Maxi has to give her heart as well as her body…or risk losing a man who could be everything she needs.

My Review: 

The Body Armor Agency needs a new motto. Perhaps something on the order of “We’ll protect your body, and we’ll steal your heart.” Because this series, so far, is all wrapped in the trope of the bodyguard and his protectee falling for each other while dodging whatever is after her.

The start of Close Contact is a bit different from the other books, because MMA fighter turned bodyguard Miles Dartmann and personal shopper Maxi Nevar already know each other, in the Biblical sense, before the book begins.

That Maxi is the one who cut and run from their no-strings-attached fling still bothers Miles. A lot. And not just because he’s usually the one who leaves. It felt like they were really starting to get somewhere, and not just between the sheets, when Maxi disappeared without a trace.

But when she wakes up in the middle of the night, out in the middle of the field next to the house she inherited from her grandmother, with no recollection of how she got there, she remembers that Miles was about to start his new job as a bodyguard when they hooked up.

Because Maxi needs a bodyguard. She’s not sure who she needs guarding from, or even why, but someone keeps messing with her, her house, her stuff, and her life. At first, she chalked up the tiny incidents as misremembering or accidents, but waking up by the pond could only have happened the way it did if someone put her there.

The question is why. And for answers, she turns to Miles, his boss Sahara Silver, and Body Armor.

At first, only Sahara believes Maxi. Miles, still stinging a bit from Maxi’s rejection, is certain that there’s another jilted lover in there someplace who decided to get some payback. It’s not until he comes out to Maxi’s rather remote little farmhouse and witnesses things for himself that he finally gets on board.

And just as he does, the incidents ramp up. Whatever is happening is escalating, and Maxi still doesn’t know why.

It could have to do with her inheritance of the farmhouse and her grandmother’s surprisingly large assets. After all, her brother and sister both believe that they should have gotten a bigger share, and that Maxi should sell the property and just give it to them.

It could be her cheating ex-fiance, who suddenly seems to want her back now that she’s come into her inheritance, and won’t take no for an answer.

It could be the local law enforcement officer who seems to be waiting for Maxi to fall into his arms. A plan that is definitely thwarted by Miles’ presence in Maxi’s life – and eventually her bed.
But the longer that Miles spends with Maxi, the more of the potential suspects he is able to eliminate. And the closer that he gets to the woman who has staked out a place in his heart.

The hotter their romance gets, the more the suspense ratchets up. When the villain is finally revealed, it’s a surprise to everyone involved. Very nearly a deadly one.

Escape Rating A-: Close Contact is every bit as much fun as Hard Justice, the previous book in the series. And I absolutely loved that one.

One of the things I enjoyed about Close Contact was definitely Maxi. And not just because she feels not merely duty-bound, but actually enjoys taking care of all of her grandmother’s many, many (many) cats.

Don’t worry, she’s not a hoarder. The cats live outside, and mostly in the barn. But her grandmother loved them and Maxi cares for them – especially after one of them sticks by her the night she wakes up by the pond.

But what I really liked about Maxi was the way that she takes her life by the horns and learns to stand up for herself. She’s always felt like a bit of a failure, because she isn’t as ambitious and hard-driving as her siblings. But even though she’s used to jumping when they say jump, she still doesn’t give in or change what she believes is right, although she tries to keep the peace between them. It’s interesting watching that dynamic change over the course of the story.

Also, Maxi is right, at least about who isn’t her tormentor. Miles wants to suspect both her siblings and her ex, and they do all have reasons that foster that suspicion. But Maxi knows it isn’t them. I’m also glad it isn’t the ex, because that trope has been done to death.

And something else that was really well done was the forthright way that Miles dealt with the end of his MMA career and the reasons for that ending. I wish that the real-life NFL was half so honest about the risks of concussions and CTE.

The suspense part of this story ratchets up nicely. Or chillingly. It’s done well. The perpetrator is the person everyone least suspects, and the reasons for the whole mess are utterly tragic but at least began from a place that is easy to empathize with, even if the current results are well beyond the pale.

The romance in Close Contact is a bit fast, but it makes sense in context. They were already on their way to falling for each other when Maxi disappeared, so it makes sense that once they are forced into each other’s company, things eventually pick up where they left off. And it is right that they do.

If you like bodyguard romances, the Body Armor series is a winner. And you don’t have to read them all to get into them, but they’re fun, so why not?

We also get a chance to see hints of the next book in the series. It looks like Body Armor owner Sahara Silver may have finally met her match. And I can’t wait to read all about it in Fast Burn.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Hard Justice by Lori Foster + Giveaway

Review: Hard Justice by Lori Foster + GiveawayHard Justice (Body Armor, #2) by Lori Foster
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Body Armor #2
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Playing it safe has never felt so dangerous
Justice Wallington knows how to harness his strength and intimidating sizeskills he put to good use first in the MMA cage and now as a bodyguard at the Body Armor agency. But no opponent has ever left him feeling as off balance as his new client, heiress Fallon Wade. Far from a spoiled princess, she's sweet and intriguingly innocent. It's a risk-free assignment, until he's required to fake a relationship with her in order to blend in.
Sheltered from the world after a family tragedy, Fallon longs to experience lifegoing to bars, dancing, talking to strangers. Not easy with a huge, lethal-looking bodyguard shadowing her every move. Justice seems like her polar opposite, but pretending to be a couple stirs undeniable heat. And when danger strikes again, it's not just her safety in jeopardy, but a passion that's real, raw and absolutely against the rules"

My Review:

This one was just plain fun. I read it in a single day. I stayed up until 2 am to finish. Admittedly, not on a “school night”. But still. One day. Because I couldn’t put it down.

And it proved that all of my fears about the series, after my read of Under Pressure, were totally and completely unfounded.

Like Under Pressure, Hard Justice is also a variation on the classic theme of The Bodyguard, where the guard and his protectee fall head over heels for each other. But this is one where we really do see them both fall, not just succumb to the intensity of being on the run together, because they aren’t. On the run, that is. They definitely fall for each other.

There is a bit of a mystery in this story, but it isn’t any of the expected ones. At first, Justice Wallingham can’t figure out who or what Fallon Wade needs to be protected from. Her uptight parents, particularly her father, seem to be adamant that Fallon needs to be protected from pretty much everything and everyone in the universe.

Fallon, on the other hand, is a surprisingly down-to-earth 24-year-old who just wants a chance to finally experience the things that people her age normally do, or have done. The reason for all that overprotectiveness isn’t obvious, except for the continuing reappearances of Fallon’s douchebag ex, Marcus, a guy who can’t seem to take “no” for an answer.

And can’t seem to overlook the scars that Fallon hides under her all-covering clothes. Marcus is just sure that their shared backgrounds make them perfect for each other, and that any man would be put off by her scars. He’s sure that he’ll get used to them in time, if he makes an effort. Of course he’s wrong on all counts.

Justice, on the other hand, wants to flatten the guy from the word go. Because Fallon’s scars, and her survival of the trauma that caused them, make her even more precious, and more beautiful, in his eyes. Which he’s having an increasingly difficult time keeping on the lookout for possible threats, because he’s too busy just watching Fallon.

Until it starts looking like someone is really out to get her. Or him. Or possibly both.

Escape Rating A-: It may be a case of the right book at the right time, but I just plain loved this one. Sometimes books are like that.

Part of the charm of this series, and the Ultimate series that it spun off from, is the rowdy bunch of fighters, and their wives, who make up the close-knit group who live, work, and train in or near Cannon’s gym in small-town Ohio. It’s always great to see the gang again, and find out how everyone is doing. They are great people and always wonderfully accepting of anyone new.

But the success of this particular book rests on the characters of Justice and Fallon, and their developing relationship. And they are absolutely adorable together.

One of the things I liked best about Hard Justice is the way that it set the woman in danger trope on its head. There’s an unfortunate tendency in romantic suspense, and it applied to both Under Pressure and several of the titles in the Ultimate series, that the way to put a woman in jeopardy and in need of protection is to give her a creepy sexual predator stalker, whether the asshat is her ex or just someone who is fixated on her. I am really, really tired of that trope, because it always ends up robbing the woman of her agency.

Hard Justice was fun because it doesn’t go there. Even better, it makes you think it’s going there, and then it actually doesn’t. Marcus does turn out to be a bit of a douche, but not that big of a douche. Instead, the real villains were revealed as a bit of a surprise, and the motives for threatening Fallon were not sexual. For this reader, the story worked much better this way.

I can’t wait for the next book in this series, which looks like it’s going to be Close Contact, coming in November.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Lori and Harlequin are giving away a $50 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!
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Review: Under Pressure by Lori Foster

Review: Under Pressure by Lori FosterUnder Pressure (Body Armor, #1) by Lori Foster
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Series: Body Armor #1
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He can protect anything except his heart

Leese Phelps’s road hasn’t been an easy one, but it’s brought him to the perfect job — working for the elite Body Armor security agency. And what his newest assignment lacks in size, she makes up for in fire and backbone. But being drawn to Catalina Nicholson is a dangerous complication, especially since it could be the very man who hired Leese who’s threatening her.
What Catalina knows could get her killed. But who’d believe the sordid truth about her powerful stepfather? Beyond Leese’s ripped body and brooding gaze is a man of impeccable honour. He’s the last person she expects to trust — and the first who’s ever made her feel safe. And he’s the only one who can help her expose a deadly secret, if they can just stay alive long enough...

My Review:

As Lori Foster so often does, her new Body Armor series is a spinoff from her previous series, Ultimate. The character who ties the two series together is Leese Phelps, who began Ultimate as somewhat of a jerk of a side character, but ended the series as a solidly good guy who realized that while he might be a good MMA fighter, he was never going to be a champion.

We get enough of his background in Under Pressure that it isn’t necessary to read Ultimate to see where he’s coming from – but the series is a lot of fun if you like sports romance at all.

As Under Pressure begins, Leese is now the number one bodyguard at Sahara Silver’s Body Armor agency. Sahara, as the new owner of Body Armor, recruited Leese from the MMA because she has a plan. She plans to transform the image of bodyguards from suited thugs carrying ill-concealed guns to something charming, appealing, deadly and ripped. With the addition of Leese and his friend Justice, she’s off to an excellent start.

The body that Leese has been assigned to guard is that of Catalina Nicholson. The contract is a bit mysterious, as her wealthy stepfather has paid Body Armor upfront to protect Cat from anyone and everyone, including himself, who might come after her. Whatever is going on here, it is obviously way more than meets the eye.

And so is Cat. Leese finds her attempting to sneak into the bus terminal, dragging a busted suitcase in the snow, facing down the thug who clearly plans to grab her and rape her, just for starters. When Leese sends the bastard scurrying back to his lair, Cat decides to give Leese limited trust. She has to trust somebody – she’s been on the run for six weeks, and is worn down to her last frazzle.

But as much as Cat wants to trust Leese, she has some serious trust issues, and with good reason. The very first person on the list of people she is running from is that same stepfather who paid for her bodyguards. Unfortunately for Cat, Leese, and the entire crew at Body Armor, he is far from the most dangerous on that list.

And Cat is too scared, and a bit too selfless to give up that list of names. Because she is just sure that in a contest of reputations, she will always come out the loser. And that her best chance of saving everyone else is always going to be to give herself up to what she sees as her inevitable fate. She just doesn’t want to take anyone else with her.

Especially not after she makes the classic mistake of falling for her bodyguard. And Leese makes the equally irresponsible mistake of falling for not just the body he’s guarding, but also for the woman inside it.

Escape Rating B-: This is very much a mixed feelings review. There were a lot of things about Under Pressure that I liked, and one that turned me completely off. Unfortunately, the part that turned me off looks like a repeating pattern from Ultimate, and not one of the good ones.

As the first book in the series, there is a lot of set up in this story. While the gang from Ultimate does appear near the end, this is all about the new gang at Body Armor, and we, as well as Cat, get introduced to Sahara and the team she is building. Sahara has some big plans for her new agency, and readers will also end up hoping that Sahara gets resolution on her own issues, particularly the issues surrounding her missing and presumed dead brother. But hopefully that’s another book.

The story in Under Pressure is one of the classic tropes – the bodyguard and his protectee falling for each other in the intense atmosphere of danger and ongoing death threats. In the case of Leese and Cat, it does seem like insta-lust that morphs into love rather quickly. From the descriptions, the insta-lust is very easy to understand, but the story doesn’t quite sell the development of the emotional relationship, at least not to this reader.

But it’s Cat’s need for protection, and the reasons behind it, that drive the suspense part of this plot. Cat overheard her wealthy stepfather, an even wealthier and more influential U.S. Senator, and their two bodyguards plan to cover up a murder. In particular, the murder of a young woman who said “no” to the Senator’s more depraved tastes. Cat can’t sort out just how deeply her stepfather is involved in this shitshow, so she runs. And keeps running. They really are after her.

Cat’s understandable fear is that no one will believe her. The Senator is rich, influential and beloved. He has perfected a sterling reputation as a kindly, twinkly grandfather, albeit one who hides a sack of slime underneath his expensive suits. On that other hand, her stepfather has given their inner circle the impression that Cat is flighty and unstable, just because she’d rather be a teacher than live the life of a pampered society princess.

And of course the Senator has bought off more than a few police departments and probably government agencies. The murder cover up that she heard is far from the first. And she knows that hers is next.

So Cat’s unwillingness to trust is at least somewhat understandable. She knows that the rich can buy off anyone they want, she’s seen it happen. And she knows that the Senator’s reputation is above reproach. No one will WANT to believe what she heard.

But of course her lack of trust in Leese and Sahara puts more people in danger than her trust ever would. This becomes another story where the heroine looks foolish for not letting other people help her, even if she needs to give up some of her agency to get that done. However, this wasn’t the part that really made me grit my teeth.

Cat is in plenty of trouble. They really are out to get her, and they really will kill her if they catch her. Even more, they really will kill anyone and everyone around her to get to her, and she is the kind of person who will see those deaths as being all her fault. But there’s an added element here. One of the killers is the Senator’s bodyguard, who in addition to being a cold-blooded murderer, also has an extremely unhealthy interest in imprisoning Cat and breaking her to his will. The addition of the crazed sexual-stalker murdering arsehole felt over-the-top. It is not necessary for their to be a sick sexual component for a woman to be in extreme danger. And it’s an added element that I’m just plain tired of as well as completely creeped out by.

I hope that the creepy-stalker-sexual-predator thing is not a big part of the story in the next book in this series, Hard Justice. I really liked Justice’s character in Under Pressure, and I’m looking forward to him being the hero of the next story.

Review: Fighting Dirty by Lori Foster + Cover Spotlight + Giveaway

Review: Fighting Dirty by Lori Foster + Cover Spotlight + GiveawayFighting Dirty (Ultimate, #4) by Lori Foster
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Ultimate #4
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on February 23rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He's the hottest MMA fighter in the game, but one woman is ready to try out a few steamy moves of her own in an unforgettable new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster...
With the life he's led and the muscles he's gained, Armie Jacobson isn't afraid of anything. Except maybe Merissa Colter's effect on him. It's not just that she's his best friend's little sister. Fact is, she deserves better. Women pursue him for one night of pleasure, and that's all he wants to offer. Until rescuing Merissa from a robbery leads to the most erotic encounter of his life.
Good girl meets bad boy. It's a story that rarely ends well. But Merissa is taking matters into her own hands. No matter how he views himself, the Armie she knows is brave, honorable and completely loyal. And as past demons and present-day danger collide, they're both about to learn what's truly worth fighting for…

My Review:

Considering that this looks like the last title in Foster’s Ultimate series, both the title and the story are very, very fitting.

no limits by lori fosterIn every book in the Ultimate series, starting with No Limits (reviewed here) there is always someone who is fighting very, very dirty, and it isn’t the hero. Each of the stories in this series has a villain who starts out as a nasty piece of work and only gets worse as their story goes on – until they get their head figuratively handed to them and they get handed over to the law to get their just desserts.

It’s always icing on that cake that the law officers who cart the bad guys away are the heroes of Foster’s previous series, Love Undercover. Which, if you are interested, starts with Run the Risk (reviewed here).

Bringing up that Ultimate spun off of Undercover is also fitting, because at the end of Fighting Dirty the author gives a sneak peak at the series that will spin off from Ultimate Body Armor – starting in November with Under Pressure.

It’s always fun to jump into one of her series and see how everyone from the earlier series is doing!

If the title of Fighting Dirty is appropriate, the story is even more so. Through the entire series, the author has teased us with hints of Merissa Colter’s long-standing interest in Armie Jacobson, and Armie constantly running away from Rissy. It’s so obvious that he cares, and equally obvious that he’s decided that Rissy can do better than him. While it is equally true that he is being an idiot and not asking her what she thinks or wants, his reluctance is not completely far-fetched.

Rissy is Cannon Colter’s sister. Cannon is Armie’s best friend. If Rissy and Armie try a relationship and it doesn’t work, there will be no getting away from each other unless one of them gives up the circle of people they both call “family”. Additionally, and we’ve seen hints of this all along, there is something nasty in Armie’s past that he has been successfully keeping under wraps – and it’s a secret that he’s sure will kill both any chances he has with Rissy and any chances he has to be a success in the SBC.

tough love by lori fosterBut at the end of Tough Love (reviewed here), Armie finally gives in and signs with the SBC. The powers-that-be in the SBC, Jude, Havoc (Havoc’s story is in Causing Havoc, the first book in her SBC Fighters series) and Simon, whose story is Simon Says, the second book in that series, are going to back Armie every step of the way in fighting that long-ago mess. Which turns out to be a bogus rape charge that everyone, including the cops, knew was a lie, but that was backed by a lot of threats from the liar’s rich and powerful daddy.

The interlinking series are lots of fun. And clearly a continuing theme.

So the story here is Armie finally letting Rissy into his heart and into his life. The danger turns out not to be from that old rape accusation, but from something much more recent, and all, unexpectedly, on Rissy’s side of the table.

The question is whether Armie can get out of his own way to protect Rissy from the slimeball in her own past, and whether Rissy can forgive him from being a self-sacrificing idiot before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: As you can probably tell from the above comments, I generally enjoy Foster’s series. Even though I don’t have reviews for all of them, I have read all of the series listed in the above text, and several others. She’s a go-to contemporary romance author for me.

At the same time, because I like her stuff, I also have quibbles. One of themes that runs through the Ultimate series is that the heroines always end up in jeopardy and the fighters rescue them, with or without their participation or consent. Also, with or without those heroines willingness to admit that they need protection. I don’t mind the rescuing, it’s the lack of participation and/or consent on the part of the heroines.

Rissy’s situation was kind of in the middle of that spectrum. Her spidey-senses are tingling, so she’s aware that there is trouble, but the bad guy starts out fairly subtle, and he isn’t an expected bad guy. In fact, his evil came from pretty far out in left field for this reader. His motives didn’t quite seem plausible, even though his evil was obvious to the reader early on, but only because we saw scenes that Rissy didn’t.

This reader, and I suspect many others, was incredibly glad to see that Armie and Rissy got their story before the series wrapped. This one has been brewing for a long time, so it was great to see it resolve before the story moves to the next series.

As a personal comment, I will say that once the reader discovers the whole of Armie’s backstory, his reluctance to be in the spotlight or enter into a relationship make sense. However, I wish that the cause had not been a fake rape charge. There are too many tropes in the media about how many women pretend to be raped for whatever reason, when in fact the numbers are minuscule. I wish this had been something else, because that’s a beast I don’t want to see fed in any form.

I liked both Armie and Rissy a lot. We’ve seen their characters throughout the series, and it was good to see them finally get a happy ending with each other. Armie’s outrageousness is a ton of fun, and Rissy does a great job walking a fine line between being independent and letting her brother look after her a bit because he needs it, not because she does.

All in all, a good wrap to a fun series. I can’t wait to see Leese’s story in Under Pressure. He’s turned out to be a great guy after a rocky start, and deserves his own happily-ever-after.

Cover Spotlight: No Limits by Lori Foster

Want to know what goes into making a sexy, MMA-themed cover? Read on to find out more about the cover art for Lori Foster’s No Limits, the first book in the Ultimate series, as well as the book itself.

lori foster ultimate covers

Here’s what Art Director Kathleen Oudit had to say:

“Illustrations for Lori Foster books are always focused on a dramatically lit, strong male physique/character. For the entire “Ultimate” series we will depict men with fighter’s physiques, and subtle cues from the MMA environment such as hand wraps, simple gym clothing etc. But, we will always use these props “lightly” and we have deliberately kept the background non-recognizable–we are subtly directing the viewers emotion to the hero’s character and romantic journey–rather than his “matches”. It is important to skirt this line carefully or we risk making Lori’s covers look like a men’s health magazine!”

Lori FosterAbout the author: Since first publishing in January 1996, Lori Foster has become a USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly and New York Times bestselling author. Lori has published through a variety of houses, including Kensington, St. Martin’s, Harlequin, Silhouette, Samhain, and Berkley/Jove. She is currently published with HQN. Visit her online at LoriFoster.com.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Lori is giving away the entire Ultimate series to one lucky entrant!

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Tough Love by Lori Foster

Review: Tough Love by Lori FosterTough Love (Ultimate, #3) by Lori Foster
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Ultimate #3
Pages: 544
Published by HQN Books on August 25th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She's playing hard to get… to win the MMA fighter of her ultimate fantasies in a sultry new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster…
Vanity Baker loves a good, clean match, but she's not above playing a little dirty. She's wanted Stack "The Wolf" Hannigan from day one. Seems as though the best way to corral the famously commitment-phobic fighter is to insist on keeping it casual. And her plan works—deliciously well—until Stack's past steps out of the shadows.
Stack learned early to stay free of attachments. But with sexy, forthright Vanity, he's the one always left wanting more. Then his troublemaking family comes back into the picture, threatening everything Stack cares about—Vanity included. Suddenly he realizes they're much more than friends with benefits. He's ready to go to the mat for her…but will it be in time to protect the woman who's tamed him for good?

My Review:

holding strong by lori fosterFor this reader, Tough Love wasn’t nearly as tough to love as the previous book in this series, Holding Strong (reviewed here).

While Tough Love did have a bit too much of a feel of heroine Vanity manipulating Stack according to “The Rules” for catching a mate, Vanity never loses her agency in this story. Not that there aren’t bad people trying to do terrible things to both Vanity and Stack, but when evil closes in, Vanity rescues herself. And she helps tie up all the loose ends for Stack and the police.

Vanity is no princess, in spite of her wealth. Vanity rolls up her sleeves literally as well as figuratively, and takes care of business. Including her business with Stack.

At the end of Holding Strong, Vanity makes the notorious Stack a proposition. She needs a date for her best friend Yvette’s wedding to Cannon (see No Limits, reviewed here, for the deets on that relationship). Vanity asks Stack to be her date to the wedding, promising him the no strings attached sex that he would normally get from one or more of the ladies attending the wedding.

no limits by lori fosterVanity is very clear that she really does mean no strings attached, to the point where she tells Stack that all she wants out of this is a guaranteed date to the wedding, and that she doesn’t care what he does with whom in the intervening weeks.

Stack is completely hooked. Not just because Vanity is drop dead gorgeous, but because he can’t get over her forthrightness about what they both want.

What Stack doesn’t know is that Vanity is not being forthright at all. Not that she isn’t interested in sex with him, far from it. But what she really wants is to get him so wound up that he’ll stick around for more. Vanity has been fascinated with Stack since the first time she met him, and she thinks that the way she has him set up, she’ll at least get the night of her life. And she might get a whole lot more.

The wedding goes off without a hitch. Well, actually with the hitch it’s supposed to have, but no more. However, Vanity and Stack’s night together is just filled with hitches and glitches, from the woman they rescue out of a burning car wreck to Stack’s overly melodramatic sister Tabitha calling to tell Stack that their mother is in the hospital.

Even as Stack takes Tabby’s over-emoting with a whole shaker of salt, he still rushes to the hospital to check on his mom. Vanity invites herself along for the ride, and orphaned Vanity finds herself quickly adopted into Stack’s family, whether he wanted to bring a woman home to mom or not.

One fly in this ointment – his lying, cheating, stealing, using, dope-dealing brother-in-law, f’ing Phil. Phil sees Stack’s new girlfriend as just another sucker, and immediately starts trying to maneuver Vanity into buying his sob story, giving him money, and just maybe slouching his way into the bed of another woman that Stack cares for.

That’s where the suspense element kicks in. Phil is scum. He’s also a drug dealer. He uses his own product, and everyone within his orbit. And someone else plans to use him to find her way back into Stack’s good graces, by any means necessary.

Escape Rating B: Tough Love was way, way more fun for me than Holding Strong. It is all about tough love, in multiple directions. While Stack needs a tough, strong woman to love him, the real person who needs some tough love in this story is his sister Tabby. Their mom has always picked up after Tabby’s messes, enabling her to stay in denial about just what a low-life Phil really is. Tabby is in her mid-20s at least, and it’s past time for her to woman up and kick Phil to the curb. Her mom has to stop bailing her out as she often literally bails Phil out.

Tabby’s friendship with Vanity gives her just enough moral support, along with her absolute revulsion of the prospect of Phil helping to (read that as neglecting to) raise the baby she is carrying, to get Tabby to see Phil and her life with him for what it really is.

Vanity is a contradiction. She is so used to being completely on her own, that she takes care of business without a single thought that someone else should do it. When the danger quotient starts ratcheting up, Vanity makes sure to get professionals involved to keep herself safe. She’s very clear that she wants Stack in her life, but she doesn’t need him to take care of her. She’s got that covered, thank you very much.

But at the same time, her manipulation of Stack does come back to bite her, which readers expect from the very beginning. No one likes to find out that they are being manipulated, and Stack has already been through that particular scenario. As soon as he finds out that Vanity has kept some salient facts from him, his mind is off to the races that she’s evil and betrayed him at every turn. I don’t think he eats nearly enough crow on this score.

My overall feeling, however, was to stand up and cheer when Vanity took care of the evildoers pretty much by herself. That was awesome.

Review: Holding Strong by Lori Foster

Review: Holding Strong by Lori FosterHolding Strong (Ultimate, #2) by Lori Foster
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Ultimate #2
Pages: 475
Published by HQN Books on March 31st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Heavyweight fighter Denver Lewis plays real nice, but he doesn't share. That's why he's been avoiding top-notch flirt Cherry Peyton. But a man can only resist those lush curves for so long. Their encounter surpasses all his fantasies, bringing out protective urges that Cherry's about to need more than she knows…
Denver's combination of pure muscle and unexpected tenderness has been driving Cherry wild. Yet no sooner does she get what she's been craving than old troubles show up on her doorstep. And this time, Cherry can't hide behind a carefree facade. Because the man by her side is one who'll fight like hell to keep her safe…if only she'll trust him enough to let him…

My Review:

I really enjoyed the very rambunctious “family” atmosphere of the rec center, and I love the personalities of all the guys who train there, but the romantic relationships that develop in this series, at least so far, feel just a bit off.

Let me explain…

The guys in this series are all very alpha. They are MMA fighters and are very protective of anyone in their orbits who is weaker than they are, which, let’s face it, is just about everyone. That the guys all keep a special look out for Cannon’s sister Merissa and her roommate Cherry is kind of a endearing in a way. The Ohio town they live in is not just small, but definitely kind of rough around the edges.

no limits by lori fosterBut, just as happened in No Limits (reviewed here) when Denver finally admits that he’s fallen for Cherry, some aspects of both the alpha male protectiveness and Cherry’s capitulation to it go a bit too far. Far enough to make this reader more than a bit uncomfortable.

Denver and Cherry have been circling around each other since the day they met. But their baggage gets in the way. Cherry is very friendly to all the guys, and Denver sees her friendliness as flirtatiousness. Which he doesn’t see her take to the point of taking anyone home with her. But Cherry’s party-girl vibe reminds Denver of a woman in his own past, and he keeps away from Cherry because he’s so possessive he has problems seeing her talk with another man.

Cherry is just being friendly, because she was isolated as a teen. And I feel myself cringe as I justify her behavior, because it doesn’t require justification. She is an unattached adult, and who she flirts with, is friends with, or sleeps with is no one’s business but her own.

But she wants Denver, so when circumstances finally conspire to give them a chance to work out why Denver is avoiding Cherry, she propositions him, and he gives in.

And that feels like the last time that Cherry has any agency in this story.

Because Cherry gets sick after their blistering hot night together. There’s a flu bug going around, and it catches her. She and Denver, and the rest of the gang, were out of town watching one of the guys fight, so she’s away from her support network. Denver steps in to take care of her, and never steps back.

But he takes care of her over her wishes. Because she is sick and feverish, she is admittedly not quite in the best position to make good decisions, but it sets the pattern for the story. When even worse stuff happens with her evil, manipulative and absolutely stalkerish foster brothers, Charity also makes bad decisions – and again, Denver ignores her wishes and gets involved anyway, pushing her to the point where she gives over all decision-making to him.

And the problem set up by the story is that her foster brothers are way nastier than she can handle, and she ends up looking stupid for not giving over to Denver from the beginning. These men terrorized her as a teen, and are physically much stronger than she is. As well as the simple fact that the three of them are working together to further their evil ends, where Cherry has always been alone. They are too much for her to handle by herself, but instead of being part of the planning and decision-making in regards to what to do about them, she just turns it all over to Denver.

Escape Rating C: I have to downgrade this rating because Cherry’s continual loss of agency throughout the story makes me so angry. She’s set up to look stupid because she wants to handle the situation herself, and then gives up any control over her life.

And every time she even talks with another man, Denver gets possessively jealous and starts going through her purse and looking through the calls log on her phone. It would be all too easy to flip this story and have Cherry need to be rescued from an obsessive would-be boyfriend, and make that work.

tough love by lori fosterI’m also uncomfortable because, looking back at the story in No Limits, it seems as if Yvette’s story parallels Cherry. She’s being stalked by someone evil and more powerful than she is, and she gives complete control to Cannon instead of being a part of her own rescue. And again, she needs Cannon’s help and it looks stupid that she doesn’t grab for it at the beginning. This is not a pattern I enjoy and one that I hope does not continue in the next book in the series, Tough Love.