Playing for Keeps (Neighbor from Hell #1) - R.L. Mathewson My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

It feels great when I download a ‘free’ book from an unknown author to find it something really good. Playing for Keeps was just that. R. L Mathewson totally won me over with her grand humor, witty dialogues and not to mention the adorably sexy (big baby :p) Jason and lovable Haley. The word is ‘love’ here because I soo totally loooooooooved this book and I might go on and repeat the same thing over and over again so please bear with me.

“She spied the rolled up hose and made a snap decision. This ended here and now.
The days of being the world’s biggest pushover were over.”

Now the blurb and the title of the series will give you some good idea behind the book. Haley is the world’s biggest pushover (sort of, IMO). She likes to hide and fade in the background. Even though she’s really attractive and smart, Haley’s insecurities about mingling with people were reasonable I guess. First comes her horrible and mean family. Yes, her own parents and sisters. They are filthy rich and resent Haley for... just about anything; her curvy body (‘too fat and common’ for her bony mother and sisters, they never spare a chance to remind her of that), her job as a school teacher since she doesn’t live off her father’s money in style, even though the school is a prestigious one even to the fact that she doesn’t sleep around (date that is) and spend money here and there. Yah, my arse! They don’t care for her, apparently never did. They never remember ANYTHING about her since she doesn’t live with their ‘standard’. I was kinda speechless reading about Haley’s so-called family reunions more than once, which she hated with all that was worth to her which was reasonable IMO. Only her grandmother cared for her and looked after her since she was a kid. Haley studied and got a job, then bought a small house with her hard-earned money and been living in it for the last 5 years. Things should’ve been picturesque as her simple yet beautiful house and living, but only for one problem, which is her neighbor from hell, Jason. The man is a loser of sort because he’s callous. He has ruined her windows more than once, lives like a pig, he is loud when he has friends over, who tries to do unmentionable things just like him when they’re drunk (I think you get the picture) and the joy of all, women. Women who would come yelling at him at night, drunk, whom he’d already discarded without so much as a fare-thee-well! Worst of all was, Jason worked with her in the same department so she has to go through his ‘borrowing’ things from her, never giving anything back. But even though Haley hated him, she never spoke up so far. Well, she’d tried selling her house, failing that she just gave up and hoped he’d move onto some other place. But he never did and Haley just sucked it all up. But not today, not now when he’s very enthusiastically taking out her favorite flower bulbs from their beds; something a gift from her grandmother no less. So Haley decides she’s going to make her stand because enough is enough already!


This kinda sums up Jason, though it was his own thought and I love him for being honest (and so entertaining throughout the book):

“It wasn’t like he was purposely being an asshole. It just came naturally to him.”

Hmm, so it’s just that Jason knows his charms and likes to use them to his purpose. He knows that his gorgeous good looks and words, however arrogant they sounded, would bail him out of any trouble. Which worked mostly, unless it’s some food shop but that’s another story. Jason is the only child of his parents. When we meet his parents we see that he comes from a loving and big family, a total opposite of Haley’s. He’s very intelligent so don’t let his silly remarks about things fool you. He’s been good, even great in everything since he was a kid and kept with it. He’s a rather laidback guy, or so he thinks of himself (And isn’t he right about everything? Damn if he’s not!). He is a big guy with the perfect looks to go with it, so women fall all over the place for him and he’s never backed down from any challenge, when a willing woman was involved. Yup he really doesn’t care to know them since relationship isn’t the 1st thing in his mind. It never was, it still isn’t. Is it his fault that he gets bored after a few days and moved on? Hell no! It’s not his fault that they seem to ‘assume’ things when it was clear from his side that there was nothing to assume about the kind of arrangement he had in mind. He cares more about his food than any of those women he has ‘dated’ so far. And Jason LOVES his food, like any other Bradford man. It might be a bit disturbing, abnormal that how feral they are (and God how entertaining, gave me stitches on my side more than once!) about their love affair with their food. No one, I mean NO ONE comes between a Bradford and his food. But how did they get banned in food shops around the states is something that boggles one’s mind! Anyway, Jason loved his life just as it was, even though he has slowed down a bit. But he still had his friends, mostly childhood friends Brad and Mitch, around and eats like a rabid bunny. And he still loves to annoy his shy, next door neighbor. He’s a bit disturbed by the fact that even though he’s been the a$$hole of the 1st order, Hayle never complained. But he needs to take care of these flowers that made room for bees and annoying the hell out of him. Jason knows his little neighbor won’t say a thing and goes down to work.


So basically, they meet all over again through the fight that ensues afterwards. It was funny, to say the least and made a new start for them… sort of. Jason already knew that Haley is adorable and attractive (and I believed he had some odd fascination about her even before this), but now he knows how soft and good she feels against him. Haley gets to know that her gorgeous, albeit annoying, neighbor is more than just another playboy teacher… of sort. Jason invites Haley to one of his parties that intrigued her so much. Haley likes to cook and bake, did it rather exceptionally well so she drops by with some brownies. Here, though the party turned out rather, er, not that wild… Haley also learns another information about her neighbor, that Jason takes his food more seriously than anything and her brownies certainly won a place of honor (as does more of her cooking as their relationship blossomed). Afterwards, they start a rather interesting sort of friendship. Jason becomes more and more possessive about her, though to himself and to his buddies when they’re being a cramp in his nether side, Jason would scoff off saying he’s just helping to bring his ‘little grasshopper’ (Ok, who said this endearment was overdone? Go and get a life plz!) out of her shell. Afterall, they’re very good buddies. Haley stars to see Jason in different light, mostly since he made a totally turnabout, considering her feelings and discomforts and minimizing his a$$holeness notch by notch. Only thing remained was his still crazy obsession over food and Haley loved to cook for him, if only to see him make silly gestures and entertain the hell out of her by calling anyone who likes to steal his cookies as bastard or my personal favorite cookie thieving bastard. I would laugh like mad reading Jason’s funny and adorable antics with his food. My lil’ bro comes kinda close to Jason with his food obsession so I know a little about this kind of thing. Lol Then Haley would *try* to date other people (not that many) but Jason can’t let that happen since according to him, anyone (except himself) who comes his little grasshopper’s way is either a loser or an a$$hole. You have no idea how unbelievable Jason could get to help Haley get rid of those a$$holes. Of course he’d know, since in not so distant past he was something like that himself. One scene involving these two and one of Haley’s supposed date was freakin’ hilarious!

Boston cream pie

Their relationship grew as Jason took Haley out on buddy nights and to watch games and so on. He even met her grandmother (who btw did approve of Jason, even though her snotty family didn’t) when Haley returned from one of those horrible family BBQs. I loved those scenes, so delightful because of the way these two communicated. I even loved reading about Jason’s buddies Brad and Mitch. Brad is married and devoted to his wife. He should disapprove of the lifestyle Jason and Mitch live but he loves them and supports them anyway. Mitch is a bit on the f*cks anything in skirts side. Jason was always on Mitch’s side when it came to pick up random women from their outings but after meeting Haley, he has made a u turn. Of course, Mitch didn’t like it and would taunt Jason about her. Mitch isn’t the most brilliant of men so Jason would take care of him in what I can only term as ‘Jason style’ (something I rather enjoyed while reading about these three together). Mitch would have to respect his little grasshopper, or else %&((*^O^! But then, one day, kind of coincidentally, Haley and Jason ended up sleeping together. Oh no, they didn’t have sex, though the thought was there from both sides. Haley thought Jason would never be interested in her and Jason thought Haley is a great buddy, whom he has no wish to make his f*ck buddy because he liked and adored her more than that. Now this sleeping arrangement proved to be another revelation for them. They got addicted to sleep together, without having sex. Can’t tell you how sweet I found this arrangement, which certainly made their relationship deeper and meaningful. After sometimes, of course just holding each-other wasn’t enough so kissing and fondling had to follow. I mean, who can’t help kissing and er, fondling a man like Jason, I sure as hell can’t! And Haley knew she really was falling for this changed man who cared for her so much. Even then, she still believed a man like Jason would never be interested in a long term relationship, let alone settling down so she asks Jason not to take this further than that. Jason was ok with it, as long as he gets to hold her naked and, yes, do all sorts of naughty things to her. *grins* They start a sort of relationship afterwards because Jason wanted to call it ‘a relationship’ and Haley his girlfriend. He was jealous over other guys but in a sweet way, which made Haley laugh. Jason already knew about her horrendous family (1st hand experience as he went to one of those dinners with her) and understood where she stands with them. He immensely likes her grandmother though. Jason also took her to meet his loving parents. I lurved reading about the Bradford family since every man is entertaining and adorable like Jason. What was the funniest was their utter disbelief that Jason is actually in a relationship, that he has a girlfriend (finally!) who is a nice and sweet girl like Haley. But that’s not only why Haley won the Bradford men. Even if anything worked, her cooking would’ve accomplished the deed because she certainly didn’t forget to take sufficient food for Jason and when I say sufficient I mean it in both literal and theoretical way. You just have to read and find out! :p

Although things were going great, trouble was also heading their way when some of Haley’s so-called friends wanted to have a girls’ night out. Those women aren’t actually her friend, rather had fun on her account. Haley being what she used to be before meeting Jason thought having ‘friends’ like them is better than no friends at all. One of the group does something b*tchy to get Jason’s attentions since the b*tch didn’t think Haley measures up in any way with a stud like Jason, and since she does, she can try her luck! Jason being the dumbas$$, kinda believes in her words that were just twisted version of some truths. He’s now feeling insecure (funny, right!) that Haley would never love him since he’d always thought he wasn’t good enough for her. But the fact of the matter is, these two were already in love with each-other but wouldn’t come out with it. Things go bad, Jason does something really stupid where Haley ends up losing her virginity and a big, sh*tty misunderstanding followed. I did not blame Haley for being mad as she knew what kinda guy Jason used to be before (trust me, not all facts are pleasant when it comes to women and him, I’ve read something about him in Perfection that made me wince). Even Jason knew the fact and that he’d screwed up big time now. Haley wants to break it off, Jason won’t. Just WON’T. He can’t take this ‘break’ and starts his adorable campaign (I know, even after that I found his antics rather endearing) to win her back. Haley leaves for a vacation which she planned earlier for them with a special occasion in mind. You have to read how Jason went with her because I can’t really comment on it, it was sooo funny. Their banters were so sweet and... again, crazy funny! When they’re trying, Haley does something rather stupid this time to get rid of Jason (only in her mind, she didn’t want to get rid of him and this was rather a big mess). I’ll leave it here saying the ending was wonderful, so was the epilogue which takes place 10 yrs later...

To sum up, have to mention a few things. The best thing, apart from Jason’s funny activities, was the witty dialogues of this book which sucked me in, totally, from the very beginning. I’m eternally grateful to RLM for making this book free for a while and giving me an opportunity to dig into her world. But she sure got me addicted and now I’m seeking out her backlist. I can’t possibly describe the beautiful blossoming of Jason and Haley’s relationship. One thing for sure, as a character, Jason should’ve totally pissed me out. He had all the ingredients I would abhor in a man, from his playboy ways to his a$$hole ways but somehow, RLM made him so endearing and charming, and honest to the bone that I had to adore him. I loved Haley for being totally strong and upright about her cause, be it her campaign against taking anything from her family to prove a point or the fact that she was still a virgin since she didn’t find a man between the few boyfriends she had, whom she cared enough about to go all the way. I’ve read reviews where they made fun because Haley was a virgin at her ‘advanced age’ and I strongly disagree with their sentiment. Haley was a great heroine. I felt warm, a bit silly and rather light-hearted when I finished this book, so there was NO WAY I was going to give it less than a 5 star.

“Playing for Keeps” was free for a few days when I got it from smashwords on January 2012. This is why it’s in my free-reads shelf. It’s not free anymore but RLM’s price tag is very affordable so just go and get it NOW!

Buttercream frosting

PS: I was actually trying to find someone who’d be a nice Jason for me but alas! I have a picture of him in my head, only wish I could draw or something. *sigh* Then I thought it would be rather fitting to pile up my review with some pictures of food refereces used in this book. Ummm, buttercream frosting sounds immensely intriguing, now that I’ve read this book....... *stares off into the space dreamily*