New Release (Book Review & Excerpt): The Friend Zone by Kristen Callihan

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Title: The Friend Zone (Game On #2)
Author: Kristen Callihan
Genre: Sports Romance
Length: 309 pages
Rating: stars

Synopsis

Gray doesn’t make friends with women. He has sex with them. Until Ivy.

The last thing star tight-end Gray Grayson wants to do is drive his agent’s daughter’s bubblegum pink car. But he needs the wheels and she’s studying abroad. Something he explains when she sends him an irate text to let him know exactly how much pain she’ll put him in if he crashes her beloved ride. Before he knows it, Ivy Mackenzie has become his best texting bud. But then Ivy comes home and everything goes haywire. Because the only thing Gray can think of is being with Ivy.

Ivy doesn’t have sex with friends. Especially not with a certain football player. No matter how hot he makes her…

Gray drives Ivy crazy. He’s irreverent, sex on a stick, and completely off limits. Because, Ivy has one golden rule: never get involved with one of her father’s clients. A rule that’s proving harder to keep now that Gray is doing his best to seduce her. Her best friend is fast becoming the most irresistible guy she’s ever met.

Which means Gray is going to have to use all his skills to get himself out of the friend zone and into Ivy’s heart. Game on

Ivy

Gray doesn’t make friends with girls. He has the sex with them. Ivy has a rule: she doesn’t sleep with her dad’s clients. So of course, her dad’s a sports agent, and Gray is his (soon to be) client. No es bueno. But when Gray borrows Ivy’s bubblegum pink Fiat 500 and she finds out about it, she texts him, threatening his manhood if he hurts her baby.  A friendship is born, and from there, you know what happens? Oh yeah. Romance, that’s what.

The Good, The Bad and Everything In Between

My stable of book-boyfriends (yes, a stable. My needs are vast and varied.) has a new member and his name is Gray Grayson. Gray is a 6’6”, 250 pound tight end with the brain of a mathlete. In love with a girl named Ivy.

Fantastic bit of salty goodness in Gray: I know. Gray-Gray? But hush up, it works for him.  Gray is a 6’6”, 250 pound tight end with the brain of a mathlete. In love with a girl named Ivy.

The Good, The Bad and Everything In Between

Seriously. It doesn’t get better than this for me. He’s wonderful, protective, sensitive, caring and is so focused on Ivy that he ignores all others. Any references to his old manslut (or as he prefers, F*@kmaster) ways are off-page, so thankfully you don’t have to see Gray hooking up with randoms. Even if there’s a teeny-tiny brief moment of doubt (where I may or may not have lost my mind), there shouldn’t be because Ms. Callihan knows how to treat her readers. She had me despairing, then cheering in the span of a few pages and all was right with the world.

Ivy is the perfect match for him: Ivy is Gray’s soulmate, from top to bottom. Physically she’s perfect for him, as she’s no dainty flower, but a petite five foot twelve. Emotionally, they both love to care for those around them. She’s goofy (her dance moves still make me smile) and her love of baking certainly calls to the foodie in me.

When the story begins, she’s working in London, where her mother owns a chain of bakeries. Her father’s a former professional athlete and now sports agent. She’s been around athletes all her life and she knows the score. The pressure, the grueling schedule, the unlimited amount of women throwing themselves at them. So she is understandably leery about being with Gray. While she’s scared, she doesn’t settle – romantically or professionally. You know how, at the end of Pretty Woman, Vivian says she saves the prince right back? That’s what Ivy does for Gray.

Love Ms. Callihan’s writing: As with the previous book, The Hook-Up, I have been really impressed with the writing. The best books almost force that visceral reaction from their readers, daring them not to feel along with their characters. I had plenty of those moments reading the Friend Zone. I laughed, I sighed, I oohed and aww’d at different times. I was fully engaged in these characters and I really enjoyed seeing them work their way to their HEA.

It’s a wonderful combination of angsty, sexy and funny, much like real life. The beginning of Ivy and Gray’s relationship is shown through their hilarious texts, filled with great banter and really serve to establish the inherent connection these two have. Their love scenes? Christ on a Cracker, their unintentional phone sex was just hotter than some actual sex scenes I’ve read.

But when the action turns angsty, it was the best kind – where I was just anxious for the characters, not necessarily wanting to slap them upside the head.

More of these Red Dogs? Yes, please: There’s still plenty to explore with the other guys on the team, and I can’t wait. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing, oh say, Dex (described as lumbersexual yummy) get to know a certain little blond Tinkerbell a little better.

Second in series, but stands alone: I’ve read the Hook-Up, but you don’t need to read it to enjoy this story. That’s the disclaimer. I’d still say, read it anyway because it’s hella-good.

Ok, as much as I adore this story and foresee myself reading it again, there are minor quibbles…

Gray’s family drama: I adored Gray’s mother and his experiences with her were shown to be critical to the beautiful, caring man he’s become.  That said, I don’t know if I can say his father and brother added as much. I would have liked to have seen Gray’s issues with his brothers and father integrated into the story a bit better to make them matter, or not included at all.

Movies and music gave me 80s flashbacks: I mean, of course I adored the movie and music references in this book. If you can work in a Princess Bride quote, you are my kind of people. But these movie/music choices seem more appropriate for a woman my age than young people in their 20s. Can I live with this? Absolutely.

The Bottom Line
I loved it. Alot. Great writing, interesting and likeable characters, with just enough angst to ground it all, I really can’t recommend this series enough. Can’t wait to read the next one.

– Ivy

*ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Excerpt

The backs of his fingers skim up my arm, raising goose bumps on my skin. “Nice top.”
Even though it’s thirty degrees out, I chose a black silk tank that hugs my waist but gathers loosely over my breasts. A tie around my neck holds the top secure. That I am braless is not lost on him. He stares at my stiff nipples as his fingers drift to the bow at the back of my neck and give it a little flick. “Take it off.”

“W-what?”

“Let me see those sweet tits you’ve been teasing me with since you walked in the bar.”

“I—” My breath catches. “No. I’m not taking my clothes off for a stranger.”

He doesn’t look away. “But you want to, don’t you? You want me to look at you.” He bends his head until his lips are at my ear. “You’re dying to expose yourself, to let me see those pretty pink nipples.”

My skin draws tight. I struggle not to sway into him.

He leans back, his attention on my top again. “Untie the bow.”

“Someone might come in.” Despite our play, my fear of getting caught is real, though not completely unwelcome.

“They won’t. I took care of it.”

I believe that. Gray would cover all the bases. In his own way, he’s as much of a planner as I am. But I can’t think of him as Gray now, not when he’s doing this for me.

His fingers are back, skimming over my inner arm, teasing the edges of my top. “Just a little peek.”

My breasts ache so badly, they’re hot, heavy, the silk covering them an irritant. With shaking hands, I reach up. The fabric tugs against my neck then comes free. It slithers over my skin like a caress.

He sucks in an audible breath as my breasts are exposed. I see myself through his eyes, sitting half-naked in this dim back room, my nipples puckered, my breasts quivering with each shallow breath I take. The vulnerability of it feels naughty, forbidden, and I nearly whimper.

A noise of pure satisfaction leaves him. Not bothering to lift his gaze from my breasts, he reaches out, runs the tips of his fingers over my nipple. I’m so sensitized now the touch sends a bolt of pure, searing lust straight through me. I flinch, clench my teeth to keep still.

He hums, strokes me back and forth as if he owns me. “So pretty.” He grazes me again.

“You like that, sweetheart?”

Eyes closed, I bite my lower lip and nod.

I feel him move. The wet flat of his tongue drags over my nipple. My eyes fly open on a strangled cry. He grins up at me, his mouth hovering at my breast. It isn’t his usual cheeky grin but something more wicked. “Mmm. Delicious.”

He takes a step closer, and I swallow convulsively. Gray’s voice lowers. “I wonder where else you taste good. You want to show me, sweets?”

I’m practically panting now. My hair swings as I give my head a hard shake. He leans in, trailing the blunt tip of his finger up the curve of my breast. I nearly yelp when he gives the stiff peak a quick, crude pinch.

His smile is pure male smugness. “Lift up your skirt and show me where you’re wet.”

AUTHOR LINKS
http://www.kristencallihan.com/
https://www.facebook.com/KristenCallihan
http://www.twitter.com/Kris10Callihan
http://www.goodreads.com/Kristen_Callihan

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