Thursday, December 6, 2018

Book Review: Pepped Up and Ready by Ali Dean

Pepped Up and Ready Cover Terrific third book in a compelling YA/NA sports romance series

Pepped Up and Ready (Pepper Jones #3)

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: May 28, 2015
Pages: 188 pages
Source: Purchased
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

This YA/NA romance is the third book in a six-book series about Pepper Jones and Jace Wilder, whom we have previously encountered in book 1, PEPPED UP, and book 2, ALL PEPPED UP. None of the books in this series are stand-alone, and it is recommended that they be read in order. Note that this review will be a spoiler for books 1 and 2 if you have not read them yet.

It is Pepper's senior year in high school in Brockton, a small, mountain city near Denver, Colorado, which has an altitude of 6000 feet. It is Jace's freshman year at the University of Colorado in Denver, and he is living in a dormitory dedicated to scholarship athletes. At the start of the book, their romantic relationship is going strong. Jace has moved beyond his wild, "bad boy" days of heavy drinking, drug use and promiscuity in high school and has become downright straight-laced within his committed relationship with Pepper. Pepper herself was never much for drinking, has never taken drugs and, in spite of her romantically intense relationship with Jace, and staying overnight with him in his dorm room multiple times every week, she is still a virgin at the start of the book. Jace is determined to not push her into any intimacy that she herself does not feel fully ready to engage in.

Pepper stopped drinking any alcohol at all at the beginning of the summer after her junior year, and has drastically ramped up her training all through the summer months and into the fall. She is determined to keep improving her athletic skills in order to reach her full potential as a runner. Her main goal is to duplicate in her final year in high school the National Champion win she achieved near the end of her junior year. However, Pepper has not confided in her coach that she is going against his advice. If she were to admit to him that she has doubled her training efforts, he would have warned her that she is massively going overboard and risking injury. For a while, it seems as if Pepper is right in believing that her coach is too conservative. She feels incredibly strong and powerful due to all her extra training, and she wins a race with the best time she's ever achieved. But when pain starts in her shins and gradually gets worse, until it becomes too agonizing to ignore, she realizes her coach was right, and she has put her entire running future at risk.

On top of Pepper's emotional roller coaster with her self-created running injury, she finds herself the focus of spitefully jealous, beautiful young women at the university. They are bitterly envious of her relationship with Jace, the gorgeous, star quarterback of the university football team, to the point that Pepper begins to feel threatened. She's already had one beautiful vixen trying to break up her and Jace last year (in book 2). Is this going to be a perpetual issue in her relationship with him? If so, Pepper begins to wonder if she is emotionally strong enough to be Jace's girlfriend.

This third book in the series is as excellent as the first two. As with the previous books, I found this story so riveting, I could not stand to put it down after I started it, and I read it straight through in one day. I greatly enjoy YA/NA sports romances where the heroine is an elite athlete, especially when the author keeps a strong balance between the romance and the heroine's struggles with her sport. Once again, as in the first two books of this series, talented author, Ali Dean, has brilliantly managed this challenging artistic accomplishment. She is exceptionally skilled at writing fascinating scenes featuring Pepper's training and competitions as a champion runner, and she is extremely effective at writing romance as well.

Pepper continues to be a very sympathetic heroine, both as an athlete and in her relationships. She is a compassionate and loyal friend and a loving granddaughter to Bunny Jones, her affectionate, supportive and quirky, seventy-something, paternal grandmother, who has raised her since her parents died when Pepper was very young.

Jace continues to be a very appealing hero as well. In this book, he is affectionate and protective of Pepper, and none of the romantic conflict in their relationship is due to flaws within his character, but rather due to the actions of other antagonists.

In this book, after over a year of being together, Pepper and Jace finally consummate their relationship fully but, as in the previous books, there is no graphic sexual activity. The sexual chemistry between this attractive couple remains very strong, however. Which is always a vital feature of any well written romance novel.

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 is some relatively minor occurrence of off-color language.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Romantic Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Setting: 5

Girl-Power Sports Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Review: All Pepped Up by Ali Dean

All Pepped Up Cover Excellent sequel, R-rated YA/NA girl-power, sports novel

All Pepped Up (Pepper Jones #2)

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: July 10, 2014
Pages: 170 pages
Source: Purchased
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

This book is the second in a soon-to-be, six-book series about Pepper and Jace, whom we first met in book 1, PEPPED UP. These books are not stand-alone, and it is recommended that they be read in order. Note that this review will be a spoiler for book 1 if you have not read it yet.

This series is set in a small, mountain city in Colorado, and the series offers fascinating local color from this lovely setting.

At the end of PEPPED UP, Pepper and Jace have just officially begun dating, after 14 years of being close friends, making book 1 a classic "friends to romantic partners" story. There is also an exciting sports-related plot in book 1, with Pepper becoming one of the top, female, high-school runners in the country. Book 1 takes place during the first semester of Pepper's junior year in high school and Jace's senior year, making her 16 and him 17 at the time. This book continues in the second semester of that same school year, and Jace turns 18 during this book.

Anyone looking at Pepper's life from the outside might assume she has it made. She's a pretty, slim, star athlete, and she's dating the school's gorgeous star quarterback, who is the most popular guy at her school. But Pepper has never cared for the type of adulation that is so much a part of her charismatic boyfriend's life. He's a natural leader, with both male and female teens hanging on him wherever he goes. Pepper is the opposite. She much prefers to stay away from parties, fade into the background in general, and at all times avoid the excess drama that seems to prevail among the partying seniors in Jace's crowd.

Unfortunately, drama is stalking her every step now that she and Jace are an item. Jealous ex-lovers of the formerly promiscuous Jace are extremely displeased that he is out of commission, and one ex-fling of his in particular, a beautiful, sexy vixen who is as popular as Jace, is determined to steal Jace from Pepper (the classic, "Evil Other Woman" antagonist). In addition to fending off scheming teenage girls, a family secret about his father that Jace has kept from Pepper for years is suddenly revealed, and she is hurt that Jace has not trusted her enough to confide in her about it long before now. And just to make Jace's parent issues over-the-top complete, his recovering-addict mother, who deserted him when he was a baby, resulting in lifelong abandonment issues within Jace, has unexpectedly moved back to town. Pepper is worried that she will suck in Jace, convincing him she can offer him the maternal affection he deeply longs for, only to leave him behind again and break his heart once more.

On top of all the people problems weighing Pepper down, she is also enduring trouble with her passion, running. She feels immensely pressured by perceived high expectations of her now that she is a national champion, and for the first time her intense joy in running has vanished, and her competitive spirit in track races along with it, due to her angsting over the possibility of becoming a failure.

I found this sequel just as compelling as book 1. So much so, in fact, that I could not stand to put the book down after I started it, staying up long into the night to read it straight through. I am a big fan of YA/NA sports romances where the heroine is a dedicated athlete, especially when the author keeps a strong balance between the romance and the heroine's struggles with her sport. Once again, as with book 1, PEPPED UP, talented author, Ali Dean, has pulled off this difficult artistic feat.

Pepper is a very sympathetic heroine, and I appreciated Jace's important emotional growth arc within this book, as well. I especially enjoyed the loyalty and protectiveness both Pepper and Jace display toward each other. I also felt that, in spite of there being no graphic portrayals of sexual activities--and no intercourse--between this attractive couple, that the sexual chemistry between them is very strong. Which is always a big plus in a romance novel.

Pepper's loving, eccentric grandmother, Bunny, who raised her after her parents died when she was a baby, remains a central figure in this novel, and is a wonderful addition to the series. I also love Pepper's dog, Dave, her frequent running partner whom she describes as a "multi-colored, short-haired mutt."

This book is best suited for adults and older teens because of the underage drinking, underage sex (between various teens), and illicit drug use of many of the teen characters. Importantly, though, within this book, Jace is drastically abstaining from all three of these troublesome activities compared to his behavior in book 1. Pepper remains a virgin who respects her body enough to avoid drugs and drink very little alcohol, especially compared to most of the other hard-drinking teens in this series.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Romantic Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Setting: 5

Girl-Power Sports Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5