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REVIEW:  Harvard Hottie by Annabelle Costa

REVIEW: Harvard Hottie by Annabelle Costa

Harvard HottieDear Ms. Costa:

I am monumentally relieved that you came up with a second (better) cover for this contemporary romance, if not a second (better) title. It’s not that the original cover was bad . . . it’s that it was so mind-numbingly bad that nothing could have induced me to read it were it not for the fact that the ebook is free from most vendors and I read a handful of thoughtful, positive reviews. I feel compelled to point this out right off the bat because going off the cover (and title) alone, I was second guessing my decision before I even began. Then after I began, I felt certain I would get a few pages in and call the whole thing off. But then I kept reading. And . . . I didn’t want to put it down. Not at all. And so I didn’t. I read it through in one lovely gulp. And then I found myself in the awkward position of standing around, wringing my hands, mumbling about the packaging. So I’m glad the cover at least got a revision, because I do think this story deserves whatever will help it find its way into the hands of other readers who will love it, too.

Ellie Jenson still isn’t sure how she got into Harvard in the first place. She worked her butt off in high school, set her sights sky high, and made it to the big time. But deep down she still wonders if it wasn’t all a mistake. Because of the two kinds of students who go to Harvard, she falls fair and square in the Smart and Poor category. And Luke Thayer is Rich and Dumb through and through. Actually, Luke isn’t dumb at all. But he’s filthy rich, entitled as all get out, and bound and determined to disagree with every assertion Ellie makes in their freshman expository writing class. Which is the only thing they have in common. And Ellie would like to keep it that way. Which is why, when a tipsy Luke makes a pass at her one night, she tamps down every ounce of attraction she feels for him and . . . passes. And with that Luke Thayer walks out of her life. Fast forward fifteen years. Ellie took her Harvard degree in computer programming and is now supervising her own little department of programmers. She hasn’t thought of Luke in years. Which is why she’s fairly gutted to find out her old nemesis is the new CEO. Determined to show her new boss just how far she’s come, she strides into his office to find out that Luke is in a wheelchair. And has been for several years now. Caught completely off guard, Ellie struggles to reconcile the insufferable Luke she knew with the man before her whose life is clearly anything but charmed.

I wasn’t prepared to like them so much. I wasn’t. The whole thing started off like every other New Adult cookie cutter I’ve read over the last year. But then . . . they grew up. And their lives just hadn’t gone the way they’d imagined. Luke’s more so than Ellie’s obviously, but they were both so endearingly adrift. And I when I say endearing, I mean I they were going on anyway, knowing their lives lacked something and every day experiencing the pain of not knowing what it was or how to find it. Watching them carefully negotiate the new and unwieldy boundaries of their relationship was . . . adorable, to be honest. It was sweet and giddy and it filled me with anxiety for both of them. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book with a physically disabled protagonist, and I have to say the way Luke’s disability was handled felt incredibly real and unvarnished. Nothing about his condition is glossed over or simply melts away in the face of their growing attraction. And the book is infinitely better for this steady hand. There are cringeworthy moments, ones where Luke, Ellie, and the reader wishes like anything they could just sink into the floor and disappear. Ellie doesn’t always say the right thing and Luke is alternately unutterably charming and absolutely mortified. But they stay.

Luke and Ellie both have some of the same hang-ups they had in college. Luke has even more money than he did back then and Ellie’s simpler, more frayed lifestyle befuddles him. For her part, Ellie is uncomfortable and a bit stunned by Luke’s wealth. To say nothing of the glitzy company he keeps. I wasn’t sure from chapter to chapter if it could last or whether or not it should, particularly as the numerous limitations presented by Luke’s condition and the consequences of his ruthless business acumen begin to press on the back of Ellie’s consciousness. But, my, I wanted it to. Here’s one of my favorite scenes which highlights the particular blend of humor and honesty that is Ellie and Luke’s story. A policeman has just spotted them getting a little up close and personal in Luke’s car:

“All right, get out of the car,” the cop says.

Luke obligingly opens the door to the car. He grabs his wheelchair out of the back seat and the officer watches in shock as he pops the wheels into place. When he transfers into the seat, the cop is white as a sheet. I would have laughed if I wasn’t still shaking. Luke pushes his palms into his thighs to straighten out his posture and he looks at the officer questioningly.

“Oh, um . . . ” the cop says. His jaw is hanging open. He peeks into the car at me, probably wondering if I need a wheelchair, too. “Well, um, I guess . . . I can let you off with a warning.”

“I really appreciate that,” Luke says politely.

The officer still looks a little stunned as he goes back to his own car. Luke looks at me in the car and winks, “I never get tickets.”

“Jesus,” I say. I wipe my sweaty palms on my dress. “I think I better go.”

His face falls. “Oh.”

“It’s getting late,” I say, “and . . . well, like I said, I’ve got stairs.”

Luke nods. “All right,” he says. “Will you come to my office for lunch tomorrow?”

“Lunch, huh?” I smile.

“Totally innocent,” he assures me with a grin.

That would actually be a pretty big disappointment.

I loved the way Luke’s challenges were leavened a bit by the glib, at times downright roguish way in which he maneuvers his life. From tearing down the streets of Boston in his sleek car to ordering massive amounts of Chinese takeout to lure Ellie into his office, his antics nearly always brought a grin to my lips. It’s a simple story in the end, very simply told. There isn’t much in the way of grand flourishes or conflict here. In fact, history with Luke’s father aside, few of the secondary characters really come into focus outside of the two principals. And maybe it was a case of the right book at the right time, but Ellie and Luke felt like people I might pass in the hallway at work, leading ordinary lives, in search of warmth to come home to at the end of the day just like me. A sweet, disarming read. B+


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REVIEW:  Driving Her Wild by Meg Maguire

REVIEW: Driving Her Wild by Meg Maguire


Winning is good. Succumbing is even better…


Recently retired pro MMA fighter Steph Healy is through having rough-and-tumble romps with sexy blue-collar dudes. Unfortunately, Wilinski’s Fight Academy has hired an electrician with a body built to make a gal weep. And avoiding some full-body contact is taking all of Steph’s self-control.


Carpenter-turned-electrician Patrick Doherty is damn good with his hands. Sure, he’s not what Steph is looking for—yet. But he’s about to prove that she has seriously underestimated her opponent….


The moment Patrick has her deliciously pinned, Steph knows she’s in deep, deep trouble. Because this seemingly mild carpenter has the mastery to give her exactly what she needs…and this is one takedown she’s willing to take lying down!

Dear Ms. Maguire,

Somehow I missed this third book in this Boston set series about MMA fighters. A pitiful email to our fearless DA leader later and I was all set to discover who was going to be a perfect match for the new female trainer at the Wilinski Fight Academy.

Let me just say I love Patrick. He’s a guy to take home to mother. He’s strong enough to be vulnerable and admit that he doesn’t have this dating thing figured out and that his failed marriage hurt him deeply. He’s got the guy mentality of needing to feel as if he’s supporting the people in his life. If that makes him seem too proud then so be it, it’s the way he was raised and he can’t help it. But he’s honest about it. He’s also honest and direct that he’s interested in Steph instead of acting all skittish or standoffish. He wants a relationship, he wants a woman to “do” for, he misses a woman in his life and it’s not just for sex. He wants a partnership.

Steph is also straightforward about what she wants. Yes, she wants financial stability but then, who doesn’t? She’s lived on the road for her fight career long enough and had to make due with the pittances women get paid in sports. She grew up watching her parents juggle which bills they’d be able to pay that month. For a change, she doesn’t want to have to worry about money all the time.

And the two of them together are so great that I’m surprised they didn’t combust Wilinksi’s or Steph’s apartment, or Patrick’s house or anywhere else they were together. I have to admit that I was proud of Steph for initially sticking to her guns about how Patrick’s lack of financial prospects ruled him out of any long term consideration and that she was upfront and honest with him. No “moment of weakness” sex fling to feel bad about in the morning or no risk of leading him on with false ideas. Or at least no hot sex until Steph was clear about what she was willing to involve herself in and still not give Patrick any false impressions.

The Big Change doesn’t arrive until a few friends and relatives open Steph’s eyes to new ways of looking at and thinking of things. Then she screws her courage to the sticking point and is finally totally honest with herself. I do feel she takes some big steps forward and matures into a woman who is worthy of all Patrick is and has to offer the woman he loves. When the book ends, they’re on the same page, side by side and ready to see what comes of it.

The world of Wilinski’s is immediate, as usual. I can’t quite smell the sweat and hear the grunts of the fighters but it’s not far while being far enough to avoid being icky. Sorry if that sounds bad. I would have enjoyed seeing a bit of Steph in the ring or in training but since she’s retired, maybe that will have to wait until perhaps Lindsey’s kid sister starts training – hint, hint. B


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