I just finished reading The Player's Club series by Cathy Yardley. I really liked the first one, couldn't get into the second, and the third was fun. So here you go: three reviews in one article!

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The first one, The Player's Club: Scott (Harlequin, January 2012), sets up the backdrop for the three-book series. Scott sees a bunch of men wandering down an alley at a weird hour of the night and climbs out on his apartment building’s fire escape to figure out what's going on. In doing so (the fire escape climbing part) he meets his neighbor, Amanda.

Both Scott and Amanda are in a weird and awkward period of transition. Amanda just divorced her husband and sold her share of their business, leaving her with money but not a direction—and she's a very determined, workaholic person. Finding herself without a "work" to "holic" is making her spin around in place.

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Scott is on autopilot. He goes to work, comes home, and the next day he does it all again. There isn’t much variety to his routine.

When Scott discovers what this whole dudes-going-down-the-alley thing is all about, his life changes. He finds "The Player's Club," a secret group of men who do daredevil, adrenaline-fueled things like skydive, run with the bulls in Pamplona and climb mountains, all in the pursuit of fun and that unique feeling of being very much alive. Scott wants in—and badly.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, there's an initiation process, during which Scott must complete three specific tasks, though the club members will help him. Amanda finds out about his initiation, and since she's heard rumors about the club's existence but never met a member herself, she says she'll help him if he nominates her for membership next. (Trouble ahead: there aren't any female members.)

I liked two aspects about this book: I loved that Amanda and Scott were relatively well-adjusted people, give or take a few neuroses, who were just…stuck. They knew something needed to change about their lives so they could be happier, but they didn't know what needed to change. That sort of simple conflict cast against the extreme drama of the club's activities made a nice contrast—and Amanda and Scott's attraction to one another, even as they both find themselves doing things way out of character, like burlesque dancing and jumping out of airplanes, adds another layer of excitement.

My problem with the Player's Club itself was that there wasn't much explanation as to how the men got the money to do these crazy things—some of the members are quite wealthy, but others, like Scott, seem like ordinary dudes, and the "rich boy's play club" motif was bothersome at times.

lincoln It's also why I didn't like the second book, though I've been told I need to give it another chance. The Player's Club: Lincoln (Harlequin, February 2012) opens with the heroine, Juliana, throwing a large, expensive, lush and celebrity-level birthday party for herself even though it's not her birthday. Her goal is to get the attention of a producer who could put her on a show and make her famous-er, giving her an income stream. Juliana is the daughter of two famous and distant people, and she's just learned that she's spent all of her money and has to come up with funds to live on. Her only skill? Being famous, so she's trying to capitalize on that.

I'm going to try Book Two again for a couple reasons: One, Jane from DearAuthor.com said I might have judged the heroine too quickly. For me, it was a turnoff to meet a heroine in the first pages who is so financially irresponsible and so desperate. But Jane says that Juliana turns herself around in an admirable fashion. Plus, Lincoln, the hero, is the founder of the Player's Club, and the most enigmatic of the men in all three books, so I'm still curious about him.

finn The third book, The Player's Club: Finn (Harlequin, March 2012), is about the club’s other founder, Finn, who is the most daring and fearless of the members. He's boyish and a peacemaker, whereas Lincoln is more reserved and a figure of authority in the club, something that causes problems with an antagonist who features in all three books and is a total pig.

The heroine, Diana Song, is the lead attorney for Finn's father's company. His father wants his son to stop taking risks with his life. While Dad is totally crazysauce heavy-handed, I was fascinated by the heroine, who was part-Asian and known in the office as "the Hammer" because she is so fearless and strong.

My problems with the book were that Diana often adhered too closely to the "dragon lady" stereotype, and that as soon as she started hanging out with Finn she started crying at times and lost her steely self-control a little too quickly.

But I liked the tension between them, and I loved Yardley's setting of having the books take place within a secret club of dudes who identify what they would do if they only had a limited time to live, and then go out and do those things, including vision quests, climbing mountains, skydiving and boat racing.

I love books that focus on male friendships, especially realistic portrayals thereof, and this series satisfied that curiosity—and featured some wonderful couples, too.

Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.