Terrific third book in a compelling YA/NA sports romance series
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: May 28, 2015
Pages: 188 pages
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:
Romantic Hero: 5
Girl-Power Sports Plot: 5