January 4, 2014

Book Review: Stewart Realty Series #1-4 by Liz Crowe

I was extremely lucky a couple of months ago to have a conversation with Liz Crowe that resulted in an opportunity to review her hit Stewart Realty Series.  As you will read below in my reviews, I was a little skeptical about my feelings towards these books after reading #1-3.  I didn't hate them, but I wasn't exactly crazy about them either.  After reading book 4 (which I loved), I have changed my tune quite a bit!  The great thing about these books and these characters is that they get inside your head, and I find myself thinking about them during the day.  And after a lot of thinking I want to make a point clear about something I realized.  All four of these books were really good.  They just don't fit into the HEA genre that I am so used to reading.  The characters don't follow the preconceived actions and patterns that I am used to reading in other books.  These books are more "realistic."  In real life, people don't always do what is best for them or the people around them.  Not everyone ends up with the love of their life, with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids.  So, if you can go into these books with an open mind, and are prepared to accept the fact that the characters WILL NOT act how you want them to, I think that you will end up liking these books also.  Anyway, here are my reviews of the first 4 books in this series.  I will be reviewing the next 4 books sometime around the first of February, so make sure you check back!

Title: Floor Time (Stewart Realty #1)
Author: Liz Crowe
Genre: Adult Romance

Synopsis:  

Jack Gordon is Ann Arbor's most delectable bachelor. At age thirty-five, he's made millions as a top-selling Ann Arbor real estate broker and has the right connections to close a deal by any means necessary. With his rugged good looks and compelling personality, he has a virtual black book most men would kill for and he uses it often, never settling for one woman for very long.
While his D/s past remains buried, exactly where he wants it, an undercurrent of boredom and dissatisfaction runs through his life now. A disastrous experience years earlier made him swear off the whole scene, but the more Jack suppresses his natural Dom, the more his frustration grows.

Sara Thornton, a rookie in the real estate game, has fast-tracked herself to the top of the Ann Arbor market. Her life reflects a disciplined and focused routine, exactly the way she wants it. However, as her career takes off, the fulfillment she seeks remains inexplicably out of reach. The one thing she knows for sure, she will not join the Jack Gordon groupies in her company, no matter how tempting that might seem.

A chance encounter, then a difficult transaction, throw Jack and Sara together and the sparks fly high and hot and often. Forced to confront the compulsions that gain momentum with each sizzling encounter, their relationship seems to spiral out of control until Jack finally admits what he needs, and shows Sara what she's been missing.



Floor Time (Stewart Realty, #1)Floor Time by Liz Crowe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went in to this series with an open mind because the author had cautioned me that these characters do not behave as typical "romance" characters do.  She said that these books are more "contemporary fiction with the heat left in" so the characters will not always do what I want them to.  She warned me that they might frustrate me at times with their actions and decisions....and she was SO RIGHT!! 

The main characters in Floor Time are Jack and Sara.  Both are very successful realtors in Ann Arbor.  They both work for Stewart Realty.  While Jack is the mega all-star golden boy, Sara is a new up and comer that is making a name for herself.  Jack is a typical handsome, rich, successful man whore who uses women and discards them without a second thought.  Sara has had bad luck with relationships, and when she finds out that her current fling is actually engaged to someone else, she swears off men.  However, unluckily (or luckily) for her, she catches Jack's eye, and he decides that he has to have her.  But unlike most of his conquests, something about Sara gets under his skin, and even after they have had sex, he can't get her off of his mind.

The whole story is a constant back and forth between Jack and Sara.  She doesn't trust him and his past track record, and she is determined not to be his newest play thing of the week.  Jack knows that he feels something real for Sara, but he can't man up and tell her how he feels.  Plus, he keeps doing really stupid things by putting himself in compromising situations, which only reinforces Sara's distrust.  I was so mad at both of them several times in the book that I just wanted to throw my Nook down and walk away! 

While the book is well written, and the characters and story are very interesting and engaging, I had mixed feelings after finishing the book.  I think a lot of it is the fact that things didn't turn out the way I thought they would and that does sort of bother me.  It seemed like Jack and Sara just ran so hot and cold, and even though the sex was hot and dynamic, there just didn't seem to be enough between them to justify a real relationship.  They never really resolved anything as far as their trust issues, or just the nitty gritty details of being together.  And while I don't want to give out any spoilers, I will say that the ending definitely took me by surprise - and not necessarily in a good way.  I lost a lot of respect for Sara with the way the whole "situation" went down.

Ultimately, mixed feelings aside, I did think that this was a good beginning book for the Stewart Realty series.  Crowe did a great job introducing us to a wide range of characters, and to an interesting town and business.  The stage was set really well for the next books in the series.

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Title: Sweat Equity (Stewart Realty #2)
Author: Liz Crowe
Genre: Adult Romance

Synopsis:

Jack Gordon thought he’d finally made it. He had a wildly successful career, money in the bank and had returned to his life as Dom, putting an end to a string of unfulfilling sexual encounters. Now that he’s made the ultimate commitment to Sara Thornton, he believes all is right in the world. But a series of misunderstandings and a dose of self-fulfilling prophesy bring his perfectly crafted house of cards tumbling down around him, forcing him to confront lingering misgivings about marriage and trust. Could those be the only two things he can never achieve?

Sara struggles with her intense need for Jack and her desire for less volatility in her busy life, which appear to be mutually exclusive goals. Although willing to put in the time and emotional effort to make their relationship work, she finds it futile and frustrating, littered with clashes thanks to near-identical personalities and temperaments. Given Sara’s history, easing back into the comfortable status quo becomes easier than fighting a war with the one person who should be her safe haven. But will the easier choice satisfy her the way only Jack can? Is her “war” one that comes from without or within?

Buffeted by circumstance, temptation and distraction, Jack and Sara’s tenuous relationship crumbles, sparking a continuous quest for the ever-elusive: trust, love and acceptance. By the time they rebuild a foundation for renewal, fate has other plans. Which leaves them both reeling, once again questioning their destiny.



Sweat Equity (Stewart Realty, #2)Sweat Equity by Liz Crowe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ugh! These characters frustrate the crap out of me! Jack and Sara are back at it again in the second book of the Stewart Realty series. They are both in love with each other, but both of them are too hard headed and stubborn to do what it takes to make it work. They are both afraid of getting hurt, and neither one wants to be the first to open up and show vulnerability.

In book one, I was a fan of Sara. She is a strong willed, smart, successful, business woman. She goes after everything she wants - with the exception of Jack. When it comes to him she second guesses herself and him. In this book, I wanted to kick her in the face! She embodies every man's worst nightmare in this book. She is so irrational, unreasonable, and downright crazy in this book it made me want to scream. She would make up her mind about something, and then hear the tail end of a conversation, or a small piece of a sentence, or just start doubting reality in her head and then totally fly off the handle and over react. And to top it all off, every single time that happened, she would NEVER give Jack or whoever she was talking to the chance to explain what she had heard/saw/misinterpreted. For the love of God she is SO FREAKING ANNOYING!

At least when it came to Jack he stayed steadfast in what he wanted the entire book. He loved Sara - he wanted to be with Sara. End of story. He may have acted like an asshole and done some really stupid things along the way, but the above fact never changed. Sara changed her mind about being with Jack so many times it made my head spin. And she never really had a valid reason for changing her mind. Once again, she would just make split second decisions willy-nilly with no basis in reason or logic. I was really rooting for Jack and Sara to finally figure out their shit and find a way to make it work, but I felt so sorry for Jack that I'm kind of thinking he needs to move on. But, *sigh*, I have to admit that if Sara could stop acting like a psycho they would be perfect for each other.

The side romance that Sara carries on with Craig is kind of hot, but I still get more of the friend vibe from him. I hope that he proves to just be a distraction and not a big threat to Jack and Sara getting back together for good. But, I liked Craig's character and wouldn't mind reading more about him and maybe Suzanne in a future book.

There is a big twist at the end of the book, but I saw it coming for a long while before I got there. There were plenty of hints dropped throughout the book, so I can't imagine that it was meant to be that big of a surprise. It does throw a little kink in Sara's plans to stay away from Jack and Craig, so it will be interesting to see how that all plays out in the next book.

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Title: Closing Costs (Stewart Realty #3)
Author: Liz Crowe
Genre: Adult Romance

Synopsis:

Love conquers all? Not likely, according to Sara Thornton. She’s spent eight years coming to terms with the new parameters of her life while resigning herself to the idea that “happily ever afters” are best left to fairytales. Sales manager for her successful real estate office and juggling an added element of responsibility she never thought she’d face, Sara continues to struggle with the men in her life. Love, for her, has only meant hurt, broken trust and anger; all of which she’s completely banished from her life, so she claims.

Jack Gordon has come a long way since his earlier days of obsession with Sara. As general manager of Stewart Realty, his own level of responsibility for others’ well-being has ramped up. He’s even honed his caretaking skills, now that he has someone who loves him unconditionally.

Continuing to try and rebuild their relationship, they grow close as friends. But, the ultimate question remains unanswered; the one he keeps asking, no matter how many times she says no. Sara isn’t prepared for the keen focus of his need–to have her back, once and for all. And her stubborn resistance nearly rips both lives apart

The epic conclusion to The Realtors series, Closing Costs brings Jack and Sara truly full circle. Proving that the heat of lust and obsession; the need for control and to be mastered in many areas of life can lead to love —surprising you when you least expect it – if you will only allow it.



Closing Costs (Stewart Realty, #3)Closing Costs by Liz Crowe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I have to say that I am really glad that I finally got to the end of Jack and Sara's story. Closing Costs is the conclusion to the 3 book stretch that encompasses Jack and Sara's tumultuous relationship. And I honestly have to say, "Thank God it's over!" I don't know if I could have read one more book about Sara and her whiny, manipulative, selfish, infuriating ways. I have never read a series of books that I enjoyed so much, but hated the main female character at the same time! She drove me absolutely insane!

Closing Costs starts out with the birth of Sara's daughter. The twist at the end of book two was that she was pregnant, but wasn't sure if the dad was Jack or Craig. This book picks up immediately after that (sort of - it skips around a bit). In her ultimate wisdom, Sara decides that it doesn't matter who the father is - neither one of them is going to be involved with the baby as the "dad." This baby is going to be her's and she will do with it as she wishes. Right off the bat I had a huge problem with this. Who does this bitch think she is? She really thinks that it's okay to keep the father of her child from knowing if the baby is his or not, and then she thinks it's okay to shut him out of the baby's life? And what is really crazy is that she has no sound logical explanation for why she is doing this. She just has some crazy agenda of her own that has to do with not being seen as a prize or treated as a possession or something stupid. Neither one of these men has ever treated her this way. They've always done their best to be there for her no matter what - even though she's an absolute psycho cow. I definitely have to say that I gained a ton of respect for both Jack and Craig and how they handled this baby situation. They both did what was best for the baby, and they learned to be civil to each other and work together to take care of Sara during a difficult pregnancy, and then to take care of baby Katie after she was born.

The timeline in this book jumps and skips a lot, and while it did help move the story along, there were times when it frustrated me. For instance, Jack and Sara would make a connection, or have wild and hot sex, and be just on the verge of admitting their feelings to each other, and then Sara would flip out and push Jack away, and then BOOM! The story jumps two years ahead in time. I find it really hard to believe that two people like Jack and Sara that work together on a daily basis and have all of the history and chemistry together that they do would be able to go two years in between intense encounters. I feel like it would be more authentic that they would be butting heads and pushing each other's buttons constantly. I also have to say that I think it's crazy that it took them 8 years to work their shit out and attempt a HEA. I think any other sane man would have found somebody else a long time ago and would have been fed up with Sara's bullshit. I really thought that when Jack brought Shannon into his life, that was going to be what finally made him happy. But, I can't argue with the fact that Sara and Jack did really love each other in their own twisted, warped way. Maybe I just disliked Sara so much that I didn't think she deserved to be happy with Jack. I mean, for fuck's sake, she treated him like shit and strung him along for eight years! The man deserves a freaking medal for putting up with her for that long.

Anyway, overall I did really enjoy the first three books in this story. I think that it's a tribute to Liz Crowe that I have such strong feelings towards her characters. It may not have been her intention to make me hate Sara, lol, but if I wasn't so invested in the books, I really wouldn't care how she acted! I can't wait to continue on with this series and see what else is in store for the other characters in this world.

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Title: Essence of Time (Stewart Realty #4)
Author: Liz Crowe
Genre: Adult Romance, M/M

Synopsis:

For years, Rob Frietag has resisted anything resembling a true emotional connection, preferring instead to explore life, and his own desires, without committing to anyone for very long. The reason remains known only to a few, among them Jack Gordon, his college cohort in female conquests, and life-long friend. At thirty-seven, while he is close to achieving his career goal, head chef at a five-star restaurant in Chicago, he is still very much alone.

After an intensely emotional relationship with Suzanne Baxter in Ann Arbor, Blake's heart is left shattered. Completely broken by what he believes was his one true love, he arrives at a Chicago food and beer festival, prepared to drink his sorrow away. When the two men meet, their lives change forever. But time is of the essence. When Rob acknowledges his true feelings, he will stop at nothing to keep them together, including finding a surrogate mother for the child Blake so desperately wants.

Lila Warren is recovering from a nasty divorce, needs cash and believes carrying their baby will fulfill her in ways marriage never did. None of them could suspect that the connection they share would provide the final emotional key to their life-long puzzle.

When Rob s secret is revealed, time becomes the one luxury they don't have, setting in motion a chain of events that destroys the fragile illusion of happiness for them, and everyone who loves them.



Essence of Time (Stewart Realty, #4)Essence of Time by Liz Crowe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gah, I both love and hate Liz Crowe after reading this book! I hate her because I can't believe she did that to one of my favorite characters (If you've read the book you know what I'm talking about!!), and I love her because this book was awesome! I really have to say that I had a hard time getting into books 1-3 in this series, and I was having doubts as to whether I was going to be a fan of this series or not, but after reading Essence of Time I can definitely say that "I am!"

What I love about these books is that each one tells a person's or couple's entire story. They aren't really continuations of the books that have come before them, but more of a different perspective of the story told from another point of view. Make sense? I'm probably not explaining it well, but hopefully you get the gist.

Essence of Time was Rob and Blake's story. Rob and Blake were two of my favorite characters from the first three books, and I was very excited to finally read more about them. I was very pleasantly surprised that not only did I get all of their back story and history before they met each other, but I also got to see more about other characters from the books, and how all of their lives are interwoven. There was a great deal of insight and detail about both Jack and Suzanne, that helped me to understand more fully their actions in the previous books. It's kind of like peeling an onion, and seeing and understanding more and more about the entire plot and characters with each layer that gets pulled back. And since each story is told from a different character's perspective, you get to see each event that happens from different angles thus giving you a clearer picture.

Even though Rob and Blake were favorites of mine, I still didn't expect to get as sucked in to their story as I did. I was so emotionally invested that when the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, "event" occurred, it had me in tears. I don't want to go too much into the details because not only is the plot complicated, but I also don't want to give away any spoilers. I do want to say that it was very obvious that Rob and Blake loved each other unconditionally. And it was truly amazing that when the time was right they were able to find Lila, who ended up being a perfect fit into their lives and relationship. It was such a beautiful story about love and change and sacrifice, and while it was hard to accept what ultimately happens, that's what is so amazing about Liz's books. You don't always get the HEA ending that you want. Her books are more raw - more real - and just like in real life, not everyone gets the pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.

After finishing this book, I honestly can't wait to continue on with the rest of the series. I can't wait to see where it goes from here, and what is in store for all of these characters!

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About the Author:

Microbrewery owner, best-selling author, beer blogger and journalist, mom of three teenagers, and soccer fan, Liz lives in the great Midwest, in a major college town.  Years of experience in sales and fund raising, plus an eight-year stint as an ex-pat trailing spouse, plus making her way in a world of men (i.e. the beer industry), has prepped her for life as erotic romance author.

When she isn't sweating inventory and sales figures for the brewery, she can be found writing, editing or sweating promotional efforts for her latest publications. 

Her groundbreaking romance subgenre, "Romance for Real Life," has gained thousands of fans and followers who are interested less in the "HEA" and more in the "WHA" ("What Happens After?")

Her beer blog a2beerwench.com is nationally recognized for its insider yet outsider views on the craft beer industry.  Her books are set in the not-so-common worlds of breweries, on the soccer pitch, and in high-powered real estate offices.  Don't ask her for anything "like" a Budweiser or risk painful injury.

Author Links:

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3 comments:

  1. thank you for taking the time to read these books.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wasn't a big Sara fan either but she grew on me when I understood her a little better. The rest of the books give you a glimpse of her, like with her brother. He does so much to protect her and she him. I loved that about her. Of course Rob and Blake have always been my favorite. Their story continues in other books as well. :)

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for your comment! I read each and every one of them, I swear. :)

 
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