February 7, 2014

Book Review: Stewart Realty Series #5-8 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 an 8-book series, I broke them up into reading 4 books at a time.  You can read my reviews of the first four books here.

As I come to the end of reading this series, I have to say that Liz Crowe has created an amazing thing.  These books don't just tell the stories of several couples and group of friends - they create an entire universe that is interwoven and dependent on each story.  All of the couple and story lines are linked together.  Sometimes in an obvious way, and sometimes it's subtle.  The great thing is, these characters truly represent a real family.  These people are family, friends, companions, lovers, schoolmates.....they are each other's whole world.  And I can truly say that these characters, and their stories, will be stuck in my head for a long time.  I wholeheartedly urge you to try out this series if this genre is something you like to read.  However, make sure you start at the beginning - that is crucial to your understanding and enjoyment of this series.

Thank you Liz Crowe for the amazing opportunity to review these books!

Title: Conditional Offer (Stewart Realty #5)
Author: Liz Crowe
Genre: Romance for Real Life, Adult Fiction


Craig Robinson and Suzanne Baxter had no reason to meet, no real excuse to be friends. But when heart calls to heart...blood to blood...should two people who seem destined to be together heed the spin of Fate's wheel?

Craig spent years floating through life on cruise control, using directionless jobs, his rock band, swimming, and a string of older women in his bed to smother feelings of loneliness and loss. He finally thought he had found his true love in one Sara Thornton -- A sexy, beautiful, fellow real estate agent and mentor. But his self-doubt and innate sense of failure is only reinforced when he realizes her heart belongs to another man.

When Sara introduces him to Suzanne, a woman fighting her own demons from an abusive marriage and subsequent feelings of inadequacy and deep unhappiness, that simple, chance moment snaps Craig's hazy existence into crystal-clear focus. A bond of instant physical attraction, nurtured by time and shared experience, and plenty of erotic energy, is born.

As Suzanne's past continues to haunt her, making her push Craig away just as he thinks he’s getting closer, each of them must come to terms with their true selves and face their ultimate realities.

Conditional Offer (Stewart Realty, #5)Conditional Offer by Liz Crowe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Compared to Liz Crowe's other books in the Stewart Realty series, this one fell a little flat for me. I was really looking forward to reading more about Craig and Suzanne's story, because I really developed a soft spot for Craig during Sara and Jack's story. He seemed like a caring, sweet, sexy guy who just kept falling for the wrong woman. That is actually a very true statement that pretty much sums up Craig.

A more true statement would be "Unlucky in love." It seems like every woman he falls for has issues of her own that prevent her from opening herself up to him. Lauren, Sara, Suzanne - he fell in love with each one of them, and each one of them had her own crazy baggage that prevented her from committing to Craig 100%. Even when Suzanne and Craig seem to have the way in front of them cleared so that they can move forward, something else comes up that keeps them from being together. And on that point I have to say again, that these books and these characters drive me crazy! They are all so flawed and so selfish and so damn stubborn that they drive me crazy. A lot of times in Crowe's books, two people may dance around each other for YEARS at a time before they finally even make another attempt at being together. It's maddening....and really, really sad that people could be this screwed up!

My biggest problem with this book was the pacing. I felt like I was riding downhill on a rollercoaster through the entire book. A huge chunk of Conditional Offer was a repetition of the first 4 books in this story, but told from Craig's point of view. A lot of it was summarized or snippets. The last part of the book was new in terms of storyline, but it just jumped ahead so fast. There were several times a chapter started with "6 months later" or "2 years later." No!!! I wanted to read what happened in the mean time, and spend more time with Craig and Suzanne and their relationship instead of being catapulted through time. I realize that Crowe's books cover a lot of ground and a lot of time in these characters lives, but sometimes it leaves me feeling a little cheated.

Overall, this book fit in nicely with the whole big story that is the Stewart Realty series. It advanced certain story lines, revealed some things about characters that I hadn't known from the other books, and opened up more scenarios for new books. But, I do have to say that this was not one of my favorites out of this series.

Title: Escalation Clause (Stewart Realty #6)
Author: Liz  Crowe
Genre: Romance for Real Life, Adult Fiction


Young love burns hot and bright. Soul mates are found, then lost in the blink of an eye. When young widow Maureen Gordon Taylor meets her daughter's sexy soccer coach, her body and heart slowly unthaw. But will holding tight to the past cost her a future?

A devastating blow shatters a family's fragile happiness. Rob Freitag and Lila Warren now confront life without the emotional glue that once bound them, but a shared goal brings them back together. Is it enough to make them whole again and become the family they were meant to be?

Mutual trust is hard won for the Gordons. When tragedy strikes, Jack and Sara’s lives are sent into a tailspin. To keep her family from falling apart, she must force Jack to admit his deepest fears. After everything they’ve been through, can they revive the spark and move to the next stage of marital fulfillment?

The sweeping saga of the Stewart Realty series continues as long-time friends learn to rely on each other, and to grab hold of happiness before it's too late.

Escalation Clause (Stewart Realty, #6)Escalation Clause by Liz Crowe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say with each book that I read in Liz Crowe's Stewart Realty series I get more and more sucked in to this world. It is truly amazing how Crowe is able to weave together so many story lines and characters, and instead of everything becoming a big messy tangle they come together and become a cohesive strand of family, friends, and their stories. However, now that there are peeks of future interactions between the second generation of these characters, I do find myself getting confused. I have to ask myself "aren't they related? Wait no, that's so and so's kid" lol. Plus, the fact that some of the kids are named after members of the family that have passed away also adds to the confusion. I need a big flow chart just to keep it all straight!!!

Anyway, the beginning of Escalation Clause kind of threw me for a loop because it began with the back story of Matthew and Beth Thornton, Sara and Blake's parents. I thought that would be the direction the book would take, but then it veered off and focused on three of the main couples we know and love from all 5 of the earlier books: Jack and Sara, Rob and Lila, and Maureen and new flame Rafe. Jack and Sara, god love 'em, are still struggling with issues in their marriage. They've conquered the whole trust thing, but with the sudden death of Sara's brother Blake, now they are facing big problems with communication, and grieving, and learning how to rely on each other. Add to that devastation the fact that they also just had a new baby (little Bethany), and their world is in total chaos. Typical Jack and Sara, really. I don't think they or the people around them would know what to do if those two actually had a happy existence for longer than 6 months.

Then there is Rob and Lila. The two of them were perhaps the most heavily impacted by Blake's death. Rob was facing his imminent death at the hand's of lung cancer, and Lila and Blake were coming to terms with the fact that they would have to love and raise their newborn son Gabe without a crucial member of their threesome. Then cruel fate stepped in and Blake was killed in a car accident, and his lungs were harvested and used to save Rob's life through a lung transplant. Now that he is healthy, he and Lila have to learn to live with each other and Gabe (not knowing if Rob or Blake is actually his biological father), and Rob has to find a way to get over the guilt of being saved by Blake's lungs. Plus, Rob and Lila both loved Blake more than they loved each other, so it's not even certain if they can find the feelings they need for each other to make a relationship work. Whew!

Last but not least is Jack's sister Maureen, or Mo. She lost her husband Brandis in a freak jogging/drunk driver accident, and has been trying to come to terms with his death for a couple of years. Now that she's having lust filled feelings for her teenage daughter's soccer coach, who happens to be a younger man, she feels guilty about it. But, Brandis' last words to her were that he wanted her to be happy, so she's trying to honor his request. But Rafe is a younger man, and a hot latino one at that, and understandably her daughter and son feel angry and awkward about the whole situation.

Basically, what this entire book boils down to is that everyone has to once again get over their own hangups and stop throwing away the people who are right in front of them that love them. There is a lot of love, and a lot of hurt, in every single one of Liz Crowe's books. Plus, most of her characters act like stubborn, selfish idiots most of the time. How any of these people actually end up married, with children, and with some sort of happiness in their lives is beyond me. On the surface they all seemed screwed up beyond repair!! But, I guess that's reality in a way. Everyone has their own baggage and insecurities that they constantly have to work on in order to make their relationships work.

One thing that I did like about this book was that it did focus on more than one couple at a time. There was a lot more focus on family and friendship than in the previous books, and that was a welcome change. Plus, Crowe did eventually link back to the beginning of the book with Matthew and Beth Thornton's story, and made the whole thing make a beautiful kind of sense. A full circle moment, if you will.

The epilogue of Escalation Clause was epic, and left me wanting to dive in to the next book immediately! Do yourself a favor, and if you are wanting to start this series, DO NOT read these books out of order, and DO NOT read spoilers. Start from the beginning and discover all of these characters and their exasperating lives and loves for yourself!

Title: Mutual Release (Stewart Realty #7)
Author: Liz Crowe
Genre: Romance for Real Life, Adult Fiction


Can two dark souls ever make a light?

As president of her own distribution company, Julie Dawson has all she ever wanted -- money, power, and respect. But her carefully crafted fa├žade conceals a torment of abuse and helplessness. After years remaining emotionally aloof, she is finally independent, but alone. Because she refuses to rely on anyone but herself ever again.

Evan Adams is no stranger to success, or personal demons. The horrific trauma that destroyed his twin sister, and tore his family apart, forced him to craft a new life from the ashes of the old. He's content enough, focusing ahead and not dwelling on his murky past. But something important is missing. He knows what that thing is but refuses to acknowledge it.

When a chance encounter brings these two strong-willed but damaged people together , what seems like a long, erotic journey through hell could lead them to a match made in heaven.

A coming of age novel about trust...on the long road to love.

Mutual Release (Stewart Realty, #7)Mutual Release by Liz Crowe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved this book! In Mutual Release we finally get Julie and Evan's story. They have been such secondary characters in all of the other books, that we really didn't know all that much about them until now. They had always seemed like the "rock" couple that all of the other messed up couples looked to for stability and advice. It was interesting to read about all of the crap they had to go to to finally achieve their HEA.

I think I liked this book so much because for once I was able to really connect with and understand the characters. So many times before in Liz Crowe's books, her characters drove me crazy. It seemed like they were always doing something crazy that made me want to pull my hair out. They were unreasonable, irrational, selfish, stubborn, etc. etc. At least with Julie and Evan, most of the time what they were doing and the way they were acting made sense.

They both had past trauma that they had been dealing with their whole lives. In fact they were both still dealing with it when they found each other. And for the record, Damian Slate is one of the biggest pieces of you-know-what that I have ever read about. Liz Crowe did an amazing job of making me hate him!!! I felt so bad for Evan and everything he had to endure with his sister - and it was really amazing to me that he was able to bounce back and live as normal a life as he did. I also liked the fact that he grew to embrace his inner Dom tendencies, and instead of always running from them, instead learned how to master them and make them into something he could live with.

Julie, I loved! She is so far my most favorite female character out of the all of the Stewart Realty gang. She also had a horrendous childhood and teen years, but she recovered with a vengeance, at least professionally. She still had a lot of emotional baggage and barriers that she had not dealt with, and Evan turned out to be just the man to help her finally work her way through all of her damage. They were perfect for each other, each giving the other exactly what they needed.

Mutual Release is by far my favorite book out of this series, so far, and I can't wait to read the last book, Good Faith

Oh, and I just want to share this quote from the book because it made me lol. It describes perfectly how intertwined and confusingly integrated all of Liz Crowe's characters and story lines are. And what's even more funny is it only concerns a small handful of all of the actual characters.
"Evan shook his head at how bloody convoluted all the connections were. Jack’s best pal from college was Evan’s former brewer and Suzanne’s one-time-lover’s new man. Rob Freitag was a chef and had worked in a brewery a while before meeting Blake Thornton, the young man who’d fallen hard for Suzanne and been rejected by her in a whirl of drama. Now the two men owned the hottest gastro-pub in the Midwest, located in a building Jack owned. Could the (crap) get more complex."
Title: Good Faith (Stewart Realty #8)
Author: Liz Crowe
Genre: Adult Fiction


Strong personalities—volatile marriages—stressful careers—conflicting goals—difficult children.
Contemporary challenges facing close-knit families form the crucible that forges a new generation.

Brandis, Gabriel, Blair and Lillian emerge from the entanglement of their parents’ longstanding emotional connections, but one’s star will burn brighter – and hotter – than the others.

With a personality that consumes everyone and everything in its path, Brandis Gordon struggles to maintain control as he ricochets between wild success and miserable failure. His life proves how even the strongest relationships can be strangled by the ties that bind.

Brandis and Gabe Frietag are as close as any brothers, bound by both loyalty and fierce rivalry. The strength of their ultimate alliance is tested time and again by Brandis’ choices.

Companions from birth, Blair Frietag and Lillian Robinson share loner tendencies, but come to rely on each other through adolescence. As they mature, both are forced to confront their feelings for the men they knew as boys.

Somewhere between the tangle of good memories and bad, independence and addiction, optimism and despair, the intertwined destinies of the new generation finally collide, leaving some stronger, others broken, but none unscathed.

As a chronicle of three families navigating the minefields of teen years into the turbulence of young adulthood, Good Faith holds up a literary mirror to contemporary life with joys and temptations unflinchingly reflected. Its fresh, real-life voice portrays the sheer volatility of human nature, complete with the hopes, dreams, and unexpected setbacks of marriage, parenthood and “coming of age.

Good Faith (Stewart Realty, #8)Good Faith by Liz Crowe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Liz Crowe did an amazing job wrapping up the saga that is the Stewart Realty Series. Good Faith was exactly perfect for ending the story with all of the characters that we have come to know and love.

Good Faith was a perfect combination of the younger generation of the Stewart Realty family and the struggles that they face as they head out into the great big world of adulthood, and the trials and tests that the older generation must face as life changes for them too. They not only must adjust to the fact that their kids are growing up and headed off into the real world, but they also have to reassess and work on their own relationships now that their lives have changed once again.

One of my favorite things about all of these characters, young and old, is how perfectly flawed they are. I don't think there is one person in these books that have a perfect life. And that is what makes it so real, so gritty, so true. Everyone has their own personal demons that they struggle with, no matter what it looks like on the outside. I finally, truly, understand what Liz Crowe means when she says these books are not romance books. They aren't lovey dovey, good feelings all the time, guaranteed HEA books. Do the characters love each other? Yes. Do some of them get their happy ending? Yes, but they have to work damn hard for it, and keep working, and keep working..... The relationships of these characters mirror real life so closely that some of the situations were hard for me to read. But they prove a truth that anyone who lives in the real world already knows: life is hard, love is hard, but it's worth it.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, or ruin the story for anybody who hasn't had a chance to read the rest of the books, or this one, so I'll just say that while this book touches on all of our favorite characters, it is mostly centered around Brandis Gordon. He is Jack and Sara's middle child, and he is something else. He has been the proverbial handful ever since he was born, running circles around Jack and Sara. I have to say that I love the relationship he has with Gabe, and in some of the earlier books I laughed so hard at descriptions of their interactions. They have the quintessential love/hate relationship of cousins, even though they are truly closer than brothers.

I loved Brandis, and I empathized so much with the struggles he has to face. It also hurt my heart to watch Jack and Sara struggle with how to help him, and with how hard they work to keep their family together and whole. Anyone who has children, or who has had to really pull together as a family to protect the ones you love will be touched by this story.

Even though for me Brandis stole the show in this book, we also get to see the rest of the kids grow up. Gabe, Blair, Lillian, all bring the three families of Gordon, Frietag and Robinson full circle in this book. I loved being able to watch them all grow up and mature into adults. They each have to make their own mistakes, and stand on their own two feet, and it is a beautiful thing to experience.

However, true to real life, and to Liz Crowe, this book is not easy to read. The final half of the book and the ending are gut wrenching, and painful, and to anyone that is a fan of this series and has grown to love these characters, it will be extremely difficult to read. But it will be worth it, and while I may not like how it all ended, it was certainly true to the Stewart Realty legacy and to the "story" overall.

Thank you Liz Crowe for writing such an extremely amazing series, and for giving us characters and stories that will stick with us for a long time!

View all my reviews

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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  1. thanks for taking the time to read and review my books!

  2. Great reviews - you should put your warning about reading the series in order and not reading spoilers at the top though, since there are spoilers in them (not necessarily spoilers for the book you're reviewing, but the series in general). I agree with many parts of your reviews of the Stewart Realty series, and really enjoyed the series! It's one that sticks with you, that's for sure!


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

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