This is book 2 in the Brooklyn Bruisers series, and coming right out of the gate I enjoyed it way more than book 1. If you’re already a Sarina Bowen fan this book will not disappoint you. If you aren’t familiar with Bowen’s work, this is actually a pretty decent one to start with. This book stands on its own and you do not need to read the series in order.
This is Patrick O’Doul’s story. He is the Bruisers ‘enforcer’ and a veteran of the team. Ariana ‘Ari’ Bettini, the team’s yoga instructor and massage therapist is the heroine. Ari is very freshly out of an abusive relationship. O’Doul is dealing with a bad hip that only gets worse as he is the designated fighter on the team. Ari and O’Doul sort of fall in to a relationship quickly after a stressful encounter with Ari’s ex. There are some classic shenanigans here – O’Doul had a rough childhood and has an aversion to being touched. Ari has to give him massages to help with his hip and he quickly learns that he likes being touched by her (surprise!). Ari was in her last relationship for 8 or 9 years before things went really bad, so now she doesn’t feel like she can trust herself or her judgment of men. There’s more action here than in most of Bowen’s books – there’s even a shootout. (Not sure how I feel about that, but think I’m leaning towards a ‘totally unnecessary level of drama’ rating).
So, this book is interesting. Bowen has previously published (and is still publishing other series) through an indie publisher. I loved her high angsty NA Ivy League series and her M/M Him series revolves around my all-time favorite romance couple. For Brooklyn Bruisers she was picked up by Penguin/Berkley, and along with the higher price point comes a much more traditional set of romance stories. A lot of stuff happens, and there are a LOT of coincidences that make the same characters circle back together again. I made a weird ‘bah!’ noise in annoyance at *another* coincidence while reading and my husband asked if I was going to stop reading this book. I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “If I had to stop reading because of convenient coincidences I couldn’t read romance at all.” (But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to be annoyed at my favorite genre).
There were some really nice things going on here. I’ve definitely seen the theme of the heroine feeling like she can’t trust her instincts before, but I like how Ari was written. She specifically tells O’Doul that she has never really been alone as an adult and needs time. She has real conversations about it with her friends and her mother, and she uses her yogi training to put her life in perspective. O’Doul’s background was pretty cliche for romance, but he did a lot of soul searching too about how he feels about fighting and why he continues in that role for the team. The really great thing was that he stepped in to help Ari with the crazy ex, but he didn’t do it as a fighter except for one quick time. Otherwise he wanted her to go through the police and the team for help. He wasn’t the all-powerful alpha male who greases all the wheels either. When the police show up at Ari’s house and she looks to him for help he tells her, “I know I’m supposed to be the heavy in this relationship. But I’ve only seen warrants on television.” I loved that!
The third book in the series comes out in May. It is another second chance story (like the first) with characters that have been briefly introduced, and I’m not super interested. But, Hard Hitter advanced the secondary romance plot that I loved from Rookie Move, and there is big promise of a payoff in the third, so I will read it for that alone. Also – with the major publisher involvement my library is carrying this series – woohoo!