Saturday, December 29, 2018

Book Review: Pep Talks by Ali Dean

Pep Talks Cover Fourth book in a compelling YA/NA sports romance series

Pep Talks (Pepper Jones #4)

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: July 26, 2015
Pages: 168 pages
Source: Review copy from author
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

This YA/NA novel is the fourth book in a six-book series about Pepper Jones and Jace Wilder, whom we have previously encountered in book 1, PEPPED UP, book 2, ALL PEPPED UP, and book 3, PEPPED UP AND READY. The books in this series are not stand-alone, and it is recommended that they be read in order. Note that this review will be a spoiler for books 1, 2 and 3 if you have not read them yet.

It is Pepper's freshman year and Jace's sophomore year at the University of Colorado in Denver. Pepper is living in a dormitory dedicated to scholarship athletes, and Jace has moved off-campus into a house with fellow football players. At the start of the book, their romantic relationship is going strong, and they are madly in love. Then the unthinkable happens. Jace's alcoholic mother, who abandoned him to his father's care when he was a toddler, and with whom during the last two years he has strongly reconnected as she has been in recovery, suddenly leaves town without warning, gets back into drugs and gets arrested. Jace spirals down into an abandonment depression triggered by her defection. Due to a lack of adequate coping skills (and unwisely failing to seek therapy), he withdraws from Pepper. In a dysfunctional attempt to avoid feeling gut-wrenching emotional pain, he opts instead to feel nothing at all. He believes he cannot be with Pepper, because around her he cannot remain an emotionless robot, and early in the book he breaks up with her.

Pepper is, not surprisingly, totally devastated. Jace is the love of her life, her soulmate, and she thought she was that to him. To deal with the pain, she puts all her energy into running and her school work, and she turns for emotional support to the wonderful women who are both on her university track team and living with her as roommates and fellow residents in the athletes' dorm.

The two concurrent plots in this book are a tragic romance and a girl-power sports plot. Pepper has many wonderful female friendships, which she deeply explores and relies on in this book, and which I greatly enjoyed reading about. For those of us who are romance junkies who demand a "happily ever after" ending, I will put in a necessary spoiler: Be aware that this is a six-book odyssey. There is more to come that is hopeful and positive in the next two books, so don't give up on Jace and Pepper.

Pepper remains a very sympathetic heroine, both as an athlete and in her relationships with her friends and teammates. Because she is a dedicated and skilled athlete, the sports plot is filled with fascinating details of her struggles and victories as a sports competitor. Her grandmother, Bunny Jones, is in this book as well, and continues to be a terrific subcharacter.

The author wisely alternates points of view between Jace and Pepper in this book for the first time in this series. By allowing us to look into Jace's mind about a tenth of the total book as he struggles with angry depression, it helps prevent us, the readers, from irretrievably despising Jace for dumping Pepper. We are allowed to see that he is hurting Pepper out of his immense abandonment issues, not to be malicious, and it helps us to endure the fact that the entire romantic conflict in this book is due to his emotional breakdown. It also allows us to know that (another necessary spoiler for fans of classic romance plotting) there is, in fact, no actual cheating on his side.

This book is best suited for adults and older teens because of a realistic portrayal of underage drinking and drunkenness and underage sex (though none of it is graphic). There are some relatively minor occurrences of off-color language.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Romantic Hero: 3

Subcharacters: 5

Setting: 5

Romance Plot: 3

Girl-Power Sports Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 4.5 rounded to 5

Friday, December 28, 2018

Book Review: Pepped Up and Wilder by Ali Dean

Pepped Up and Wilder Cover Fantastic final book in the Pepper Jones six-book series

Pepped Up & Wilder (Pepper Jones #6)

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: December 18, 2018
Pages: 203 pages
Source: Review copy from author
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

This New Adult novel is the sixth book in a six-book series about Pepper Jones and Jace Wilder, whom we have previously encountered in book 1, PEPPED UP, book 2, ALL PEPPED UP, book 3, PEPPED UP AND READY, book 4, PEP TALKS, and book 5, PEPPED UP FOREVER. The books in this series are not stand-alone, and it is recommended that they be read in order. Note that this review will be a spoiler for the previous 5 books if you have not read them yet.

Pepper and Jace are now in their early 20's. Jace has recently completed his second season playing professional football as a quarterback for the Browns in Cleveland, Ohio. They have been married almost three years, but most of that time they have spent apart, due to Pepper training and competing all over the world as a potentially Olympic-caliber competitor, and Jace has been both traveling extensively with his team and for paid promotional gigs and public appearances that his control-freak agent swears are increasing his chances to transfer to his team of choice, the Stallions in Denver. Jace and Pepper want to return to their hometown of Brockton, Colorado, very near Denver. Jace's father and Pepper's grandmother have homes on the same street in Brockton, where Pepper and Jace were raised as children from the time Jace was four and Pepper three years old.

Pepper and Jace are completely committed to an equal partnership in their marriage, with each living their dream of being a professional athlete. But pursuing their demanding careers is taking a toll on their marriage. They are both sad and lonely at being so frequently apart. In the midst of their distress over the impact of their careers on their marriage, an unexpected, major life event (which it would be a spoiler to reveal) further impacts their marriage in a negative way, and it will take everything they both have to give to pull each other through it.

Fans of this terrific, girl/woman-power, sports-romance series will be delighted with this final Pepper Jones entry. As in the previous books, there is a heavy emphasis on Pepper's running ambitions, and there are many exciting and inspiring scenes in that regard. As for the romantic relationship between these two attractive, highly sympathetic protagonists, it is great! They meet many difficult challenges as a united front.

Jace has grown hugely across this series, and he really comes into his own in this novel as a truly superior romantic hero. Because of that, their relationship has matured greatly as well.

The ongoing, delightful cast of recurring subcharacters is here again to enjoy, including Pepper's quirky, loveable grandmother, Jace's father, Jace's half-brother, Pepper's best friend, and a coterie of new and old friends from Pepper's various running teams and Jace's new and old friends from football.

As a particular treat, Ms. Dean offers her fans a delightful epilogue set 16 years in the future when Pepper is 40 and Jace is 41, which means this entire series has traversed 24 years. Quite a feat!

As in the previous two books of the series, this book is written from the alternating points of view of Pepper and Jace, which is something I enjoyed very much.

There is very little drinking in this book, and Pepper and Jace are both legally of age now, so it is a non-issue that they drink socially. The few sex scenes are tender and non-graphic and are between the protagonists as a loving, married couple.

I devoured this entire series in less than a week, and I am both happy and sad that I finished the Pepper series today. Happy because I enjoyed it so much, and sad to leave such wonderful characters behind. This is definitely a series I will re-read many times in the future. These books are all "keepers"!

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Romantic Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Setting: 5

Romance Plot: 5

Woman-Power Sports Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5