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REVIEW: Taking a Shot by Jaci Burton

REVIEW: Taking a Shot by Jaci Burton

Dear Ms. Burton:

I didn’t love Changing the Game  but enjoyed The Perfect Play and I was excited to read about the youngest Riley, Jenna. Jenna is the only girl of the Riley family and despite (or maybe because of) being around sports all of her life, she has sworn of all athletes. Not dating athletes is difficult as Jenna’s two older brothers are professional athletes and she runs the family sports bar that is populated by local professional athletes including members of city’s the pro hockey team.

Taking a Shot Burton

Tyler Anderson, one of those pro hockey players, takes an interest in Jenna Riley but she turns him down. Almost immediately, Ty begins a relentless pursuit of Jenna.

She locked the door behind him, then turned to tell Tyler to go, but he wasn’t in the kitchen. She found him in the bar pouring a whiskey.

“Hey. Last call was an hour ago.”

He smiled at her, tipped the glass to his lips, and downed the drink in one swallow, then put money on the top of the bar. She grabbed the money and slipped it into her pocket.

“Pocketing the profits, I see.”

“No, smart-ass. I already closed out the register. I’ll add it in tomorrow.”

He shook his head and leaned against the bar. “This is how you talk to your customers?”

“You stopped being a customer when you came behind my bar and served up drinks.”

“You needed help.”

“No, I didn’t.”

He folded his arms. “Are you always this bitchy, or just to me?”

“Just to you. Now get your ass out of here so I can finish closing up.”

The entire overtone of this book was that Ty knows best.  Ty knows that Jenna wants him. Ty knows that she needs help behind the bar. Ty knows that Jenna’s distaste for athletes doesn’t apply to him. Ty knows that Jenna should pursue this special ability. Ty knows that she should be pursuing it now and in certain ways even if Jenna protests.

She took a step back. “Why the hardcore press here, Ty?”

“Come on, Jenna. You’re not a kid. You know why. I’ve been coming to the bar a lot, hanging around. I like you.”

“I don’t like you.”

He laughed. “Liar. I see the way you look at me.”

“You are so full of yourself, Anderson. Go pick up another girl. I’m not the least bit interested in you.” She brushed past him and headed to the door, waiting for him to meet her there so she could set the alarm.

He did, his coat in hand. She had her fingers on the keypad ready to turn on the alarm.

“Wait a second,” he said.

“Did you forget something?”

“Yeah.” He hauled her into his arms before she could take her next breath, and his mouth came down on hers.

Instead of finding this charming, I found it unsettlingly paternalistic, particularly late in the book when Jenna’s refusal to fall into line with Ty’s timeline and plans leads him to having a tantrum. I also felt that no one was really on Jenna’s side. Everyone encouraged Ty to push Jenna. Maybe Jenna did need pushing but I wasn’t convinced that Ty’s pushing was done out of love versus him just wanting his way all the time due to him believing that he always knew the right decision.

Jenna attempts to deter Ty’s interest by dating other men.  One of the guys was genuinely nice and interesting and I found myself wishing Jenna would fall for him and not return Ty’s interest, but alas, that wasn’t the story.

I admit to being kind of worn down by the incredible success of all the Rileys.  Eldest Riley brother is a star NFL quarterback, middle Riley brother is a star baseball player, cousin is a star wide receiver, and now Jenna’s got a secret special ability.  Jenna’s secret and amazing ability was my least favorite part of the story, lent a spirit of over the top inauthenticity, and created a conflict that I disliked.

What I thought was a great conflict — the family dynamic of how Jenna felt forgotten and pushed aside in her family and how running the bar was not what she wanted — was given little attention and was undeveloped. I would have liked to have seen more of the family dynamic and resentment from Jenna. Instead, I had unrelenting reminders of how happy everyone was from the previous books.   I think if a reader likes the Ty type of character, this could be a very fulfilling book. I never warmed up to him and I wished Jenna would have found someone else. C

Best regards,



REVIEW: Holiday Kisses by Jaci Burton, HelenKay Dimon, Alison Kent, Shannon Stacey

REVIEW: Holiday Kisses by Jaci Burton, HelenKay Dimon, Alison Kent, Shannon...

Holiday Kisses Jaci Burton Alison Kent HelenKay Dimon Shannon StaceyThis Time Next Year by Alison Kent. Brenna Keating is traveling to her grandmother’s house for their annual Christmas celebration when a storm strikes and she is stranded after she loses control of her vehicle attempting to avoid a deer. A gruff man comes to her rescue and carries her off to his cabin. Dillon Craig knows an awful lot about Brenna but she’s never heard of Dillon Craig, a military doctor who has sought refuge in the mountains and provides medical services to its residents, like Brenna’s grandmother. Brenna views her ignorance of Dillon with suspicion. She’s close with her grandmother and knows the story behind every person on the mountain. Except Dillon. And Dillon knows what Brenna does for a living, what her parents do, that she is about to leave for Africa to offer her nursing services to disadvantaged.

Like most stories about small communities, this story celebrates the close knit community while still providing Dillon the space to heal from his war experiences. The downsides for Dillon, if there are any, is having too many casseroles from the single ladies but as a refuge, it’s perfect. There are no surprises here and the pairing of a nurse and a doctor who are both interested in providing services for the underserved is convenient. Still, it’s hard to not be moved by Dillon’s grief over the men he couldn’t save and Brenna’s melancholy over the limited time she has left with her aging grandmother. B-

A Rare Gift by Jaci Burton

Calliope Andrews and her partner are ready to expand their day care business and Wyatt Kent of Kent Construction is sent out to bid the job. Wyatt is reluctant to undertake this task because Calliope is the younger sister of his ex-wife. While Wyatt professed to be over his ex wife, even the mention of Cassandra, the ex, could cause Wyatt anxiety. Calliope has had a crush on Wyatt since the first time she saw him in her house, she aged fifteen and he twenty-three.

Wyatt’s lingering unhappiness over his failed marriage and his constant comparisons between Calliope and Cassandra were discomfiting. The emotional character arc for Wyatt included letting go of his animosity toward Cassandra, but the ease at which he later moved beyond this didn’t match the intensity of his anger. I would have liked to have seen more accountability from Wyatt as well in that his marriage failed not so much because Cassandra was horrible but because they were two obviously different people with different dreams (big city v. small town etc) While I liked Calliope’s assertiveness, I couldn’t help but wonder if she wouldn’t be better served by a different Kent brother, one who didn’t have so much baggage that was so intimately tied to Calliope. C

It’s Not Christmas Without You by HelenKay Dimon

In light of the settings of the other three stories, this Washington, D.C. placed story provided a nice respite from the small town. Carrie Anders is thriving in her position as an employee with National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her job is great (she’s in charge of a lecture series surrounding the museum’s Mary Cassatt exhibit), her co workers are fun and if she misses her ex boyfriend, Austin Thomas, the pang of loneliness is chased away by memories of the breakup.

Carrie and Austin were high school sweethearts but their long dating history was no proof against their varying dreams. Austin is intent on continuing his family’s landscaping business that was based in Halloway, two hours away from Georgetwon, while Carrie longs to be steeped in the world of art and artists.

The love isn’t enough theme is a great one for a genre that is built on the healing power of the emotion. While both Carrie and Austin acknowledge their feelings for one another, getting back together means only more pain when they are both faced with the inevitable breakup that results from one party refusing to give up on their own dreams. Both Austin and Carrie make cases as to why their dream is important. Austin’s ties are deep and generational while Carrie’s love for art cannot be slaked in her small town. Sacrificing dreams now leads to bitter recriminations later. The ending has no easy answers but I was satisfied with it. B

Mistletoe and Margaritas by Shannon Stacey. This was my favorite. Stacey has a real knack for short stories. I still remember her adorable electrician story from last Christmas. Justin McCormick had loved Claire for years, from the time he and his best friend, Brendan Rutledge, met her. Whether it was fate or circumstance, Claire spent a few moments alone with Brendan rather than Justin one night and that was all it took. Claire and Brendan became the couple and Justin became the friend. Brendan died in a terrible car accident and his loss brought Claire and Justin closer together but Justin is at the end of his tether. His relationships have all been abbreviated and he knows that his friendship with Claire is what is preventing him from even trying to commit to another woman. He is determined to cut his losses, but wanting to sever his relationship with Claire and actually doing it is proving painful. It’s not just that he loves Claire but that his whole life is entertwined with his. Brendan’s family is his family. Their holiday traditions were his as well.

There was a good balance between Justin being a masochist and trying to do the right thing. It never seemed right to pursue Claire and yet his love for her wouldn’t allow him to be anything but supportive and kind. Claire wasn’t intentionally leading Justin on. She had no idea of his feelings toward her and she had spent the last two years mourning. But she was young and she missed intimacy and companionship and began to awaken to the possibility of a new love. B

The writing in the anthology is very good. All four authors have a good ear for dialogue and the emotions nor the sexual encounters aren’t forced even in the shortened format. My guess is that the favorite story of each reader will depend on which type of romance they are drawn to best. I’m a sucker for the unrequited love and I think that is why I liked Stacey’s story. What I appreciate is that none of these holiday stories are over saccharine.  It’s about two people finding hope and comfort and companionship with one another at a special time of the year. Two years, two good anthologies. The Carina Press holiday anthology is becoming a wonderful tradition.

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Note: Each story can be purchased separately.