Category: Advanced Reader Copy

Down With Love by Kate Meader

Down With Love by Kate MeaderDown with Love by Kate Meader
Series: Love Wars, #1
Published by Loveswept on 7th August 2018
Pages: 237
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

Sparks fly when the hot-shot divorce lawyer meets the high-powered wedding planner. The only question is, what kind?

If you ever get married, remember my name: Max Henderson. In my line of work, you acquire a certain perspective on supposedly everlasting unions. . . .

1. Pre-nups are your friend. 2. The person you married is not the person you’re divorcing. 3. And I hope you didn’t spend much on the wedding because that was one helluva waste of hard-earned cash, wasn’t it?

But some guys are willing to take a chance. Like my brother, who thinks he’s going to ride off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams in a haze of glitter on unicorns. And the wedding planner—the green-eyed beauty who makes a living convincing suckers to shell out thousands of dollars on centerpieces—is raking it in on this matrimonial monstrosity.

The thing is, Charlie Love is not unlike me. We’re both cogs in the wedding-industrial complex. As the best man, I know her game—and I can play it better than her. But after one scorching, unexpected kiss, I’m thinking I might just want to get played.

Wedding-planner, come meet the divorce lawyer: 2 occupations at odds with each other, down to the fundamental beliefs that the people working in these lines should hold. Right? ‘Down with Love’ is where Kate Meader bravely tackles these opposites and tries to prove the contrary with Max Henderson (the first victim, so to speak) and Charlie Love—whose last name is ironically appropriate for her occupation.

Excited as I was by Meader’s blurb of this new series, I was also a little wary, because beneath it lies the stereotypical trope of a commitment phobic player paired with a woman who tries to be sassy and stumbles when the charm comes out. And with Meader’s style of writing, I can say—objectively—that it’s perfectly tailored for the rom-com style that many readers would expect. Meader’s writing is pitched exactly like the voices you hear in romantic comedy, that is, pitch-perfect, if that’s your sort of thing, in other words. That much, it delivers.

Max Henderson kicks of the start of Kate Meader’s new series of cynical men who think they’ve seen the worst of humanity in the battlefield of court when divorce inevitably hits couples. But I think the male POV is tricky to write, period. Getting the fine balance right between voice, hints of vulnerability and the cocky front that many authors try to portray of their alpha males who apparently know so much about women is one that either has me grimacing or smirking. The usual smug, self-satisfied, arrogant tone of Max crosses the line into bar-smarmy faux smoothness and sleazy bad taste and it isn’t frankly something I want to read of a male romantic protagonist who’s head seems to be constantly filled with women’s body parts and what he’d like to do to them. (Here, I’m reminded of another author who’s done the same previously and it isn’t that good a memory, sad to say.)

But because many rom-coms are retellings and rehashes of tropes with varying contexts, character histories and storytelling styles, ‘Down With love’ still feels at its core, one that doesn’t deviate too much from the well-worn but well-loved formula: a woman who finally gives the cynical Max what he’s always fed other women (nothing beyond a night or two) and then it’s the typical reversal of him finally getting a taste of his own medicine just as he realises she’s unlike the others. Cue the game to wear her resistance down, thanks to the perpetual player, no-one-gets-hurt reputation Max strives to cultivate in the first place.

There are a few bits of talking ‘out’ to the reader as well—better known as breaking the fourth wall here, when a character steps out of the fictional word briefly and breaks through the invisible wall separating reader and the cast—and I’m not too sure how I feel about that here. Perhaps Meader seeks to bridge that connection between Max and me when the use of the second person pronoun ‘you’ seems to…mediate this distance that I subconsciously hold, first to convince me that he’s anti-marriage and then later, to convince me that he’s a reformed man. Or perhaps I’m just over-reading this.

In short, I think I wasn’t really feeling this at all sadly—not the pairing, not the context and not the plot. ‘Down With Love’ didn’t exactly move me much even as Meader tries to work out the opposing beliefs of Max and Charlie, and given the many times I managed to walk away and came back to the book (rinse and repeat) it’s clear this isn’t the story for me, as much as I really like Meader’s writing.

two-stars

You Send Me by Jeannie Moon

You Send Me by Jeannie MoonYou Send Me by Jeannie Moon
Series: Compass Cove, #2
Published by Tule Publishing on 29th May 2018
Pages: 224
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

Jordan Velsor didn’t want to need anyone. After dumping her cheating fiancé, caring for her sick dad, and nearly being crushed along with her car during a violent storm, she’s pretty much at her breaking point. If anyone needs some luck, it’s Jordan, but the last thing she wants is gorgeous Nick Rinaldi, her landlord’s grandson, hovering over her while she nurses a bad cold. The wounded Navy doctor seems too good to be true… which means he probably is.

Nick Rinaldi left the Navy broken and adrift, wondering if he would ever practice medicine again. When his grandparents’ tenant is almost killed by a falling tree during a storm, he discovers Jordan is not only in shock, but suffering from pneumonia. Not one to miss an opportunity to play white knight, Nick arrives at her cottage to take care of her during the storm… But the lovely teacher has a a fierce independent streak, and as he learns more about her, he wants to do more than merely help.

Can Jordan and Nick let go or their separate pasts and seize their future together?

‘You Send Me’ started out well enough with the kind of drama that sounded promising: a sick woman (who’s also warily heartbroken from a failed engagement), a doctor who goes above and beyond the call of duty and a snow storm that comes at the most convenient timing. Cue the tension and the hot and heavy sparks, right?

The problem was that I got bored when things began to crawl as I read on, made worse by the rather harebrained scheme of Nick—it felt so far-fetched and out of the realm of adult-behaviour, but then, it’s romancelandia here—that obviously snowballed into a situation that neither protagonist wanted nor expected. Add that to the number of nosy characters slipping in and out of the story (because it just seems to be a feature of small-town behaviour), it was just harder and harder to keep my interest up when Nick and Jordan went round and round the merry-go-round of ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ and going through the repetitive reasons of why they could or couldn’t.

While the level of angst was low with a clear number of small-ish obstacles to leap over, it wasn’t too hard to see Nick and Jordan get to where they were supposed to be, despite the overly-tortuous process which did fill like page-filler more than necessary. Admittedly though, I did end up skimming quite a bit before the halfway mark when Nick/Jordan went in circles instead of forward as my initial investment in them waned.

In all, ‘You Send Me’ feels like a simple, while-away-the-afternoon easy read without the startling dramatic, emotional highs and lows, but for something more than overall small-town sweetness and a faster-moving plot, it’s best to look elsewhere.

two-stars

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient by Helen HoangThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Series: The Kiss Quotient, #1
Published by Berkley Books on 5th June 2018
Pages: 336
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases--a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice--with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan--from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he's making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

The well-heeled but socially-awkward person hiring an escort for schooling in seduction with the transaction soon turning personal isn’t a new one, but Helen Hoang puts a spin in this reverse Pretty-Woman tale that had me glued to the paged from start to end.
There’s much I like about Hoang’s debut book: the racial diversity and how some cultural norms can seem so foreign and the sensitive portrayal of people with disabilities, to start with. But I also needed to mention how much the writing shone.
It was Stella Lane however, who stood out so sharply like a diamond in the dust. A true-to-the-core heroine who deals with autism and the need for structure, the difficulty with processing emotions. And the list goes on until a fantastically-rounded character along the autism spectrum emerges: quirky, artless with no games played, truly clueless about handling people, yet really wanting to learn all she could—I loved Stella from the start, felt and hurt for her, wished things had worked out better for her without her need for an escort’s services.
But where would the story be otherwise? I found it harder to care about Michael, the professional escort who put the word ‘professional’ in escorting because it was simply more profitable to turn what he’d already been doing for years into a job that also helped to pay the bills. But that’s me—my intense dislike for manwhores, professional or not, bogged down by daddy-issues or not—and I hadn’t gotten a big enough sense that Michael wanted to break out of his escorting work despite feeling it like a noose around his neck. That he was perceptive enough to know that he was trying hard to become what his father wasn’t and ironically became the man who’d fallen just as far unfortunately still didn’t do it for me at all.
In many ways, ‘The Kiss Quotient’ was more of Stella’s book for me despite the obvious romance written into it. It was her story that shone, her struggles and her growth that appealed. So I cheered a heroine I loved, and found myself shrugging at a hero who seemed lacklustre in comparison. With the HEA that was almost inconsequential for me, her eventual acceptance of herself felt like the ultimate triumph that I always wanted for her.
three-stars

I Flipping Love You by Helena Hunting

I Flipping Love You by Helena HuntingI Flipping Love You by Helena Hunting
Series: Shacking Up, #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on 29th May 2018
Pages: 320
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

A new kind of love story about flipping houses, taking risks, and landing that special someone who’s move-in ready…

SHE’S GOT CURB APPEAL

Rian Sutter grew up with the finer things in life. Spending summers in The Hamptons was a normal occurrence for her until her parents lost everything years ago. Now Rian and her sister are getting their life, and finances, back on track through real estate. Not only do they buy and sell houses to the rich and famous, but they finally have the capital to flip their very own beachfront property. But when she inadvertently catches the attention of a sexy stranger who snaps up every house from under her, all bets are off…

HE’S A FIXER UPPER

Pierce Whitfield doesn’t normally demo kitchens, install dry wall, or tear apart a beautiful woman’s dreams. He’s just a down-on-his-luck lawyer who needed a break from the city and agreed to help his brother work on a few homes in the Hamptons. When he first meets Rian, the attraction is undeniable. But when they start competing for the same pieces of prime real estate, the early sparks turn into full-blown fireworks. Can these passionate rivals turn up the heat on their budding romance — without burning down the house?

The enemies-to-lovers trope can be a fabulous one to get on board with, particularly if the chemistry jumps out at you, then goes beyond the hate-part and is somehow sustained throughout the entire plot. No one said however, that it isn’t a tricky one as well, despite the obvious trajectory to a HEA.

Yet it wasn’t quite a good sign when the characters were annoying from the start, despite the book starting out as somewhat fun and hysterical involving a grocery cart, a dented car and its repair cost. While I really do like the love-hate antagonism done right, I found it hard to swallow the irritating, shrewish and apparently empty-headed twin sister who tried to use faulty logic (and thankfully fails) to get out of a mistake she made, then the heroine Rian Sutter who built on the stupidity when tried to get Pierce Whitfield to lower his repair cost through equally faulty logic and wilfully misinterpreting everything he said, which felt no better than any other kind of manipulation.

Or maybe there was just something about an over-the-top Rian that rubbed me the wrong way; her unkind thoughts of and behaviour towards a less-than-ideal date playing yet another part in this, not to mention the initial impression she made in the beginning chapter. (Side rant: why are other men purposely written as slobbery, boring, clumsy and completely undesirable in order to boost the hero’s image? Shouldn’t a hero’s or heroine’s qualities speak for themselves without the need for the author to put others down?)

In any case, I found myself skimming after a while as the development of Rian/Pierce’s relationship got somewhat tortuous, wondering if the sense of humour here was just one that didn’t appeal: there weren’t overtly hilarious moments for me though there was quirk. In fact, a few bits of dry wit from throwaway comments in the inner monologue had me smirking more than laughing out loud while the banter between Rian and Pierce didn’t exactly made me hack out a lung.

I wished I liked this story more, rather than just tolerated this until the end. But the best conclusion I can come to is that Helena Hunting just isn’t an author that fits my tastes, in a classic case of “it’s not you, it’s me”.

two-stars

It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday

It Takes Two by Jenny HolidayIt Takes Two by Jenny Holiday
Series: Bridesmaids Behaving Badly #2
Published by Forever on 26th June 2018
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

All’s fair in love and warWendy Liu should be delighted to be her best friend’s maid of honor. But after years spent avoiding the bride’s brother – a.k.a the boy who once broke her heart – she’s now trapped with him during an endless amount of wedding festivities. Luckily she’s had time to perfect her poker face, and engaging Noah Denning in a little friendly competition might just prove that she’s over him for good…

Noah Denning is determined to make his little sister’s wedding memorable. But it seems Wendy is trying to outdo him at every turn. Challenging each other was always something he and Wendy did right, so when she proposes they compete to see who can throw the best bachelor or bachelorette party in Sin City, Noah takes the bait – and ups the stakes. Because this time around, he wants Wendy for keeps. And when you’re fighting for love, all bets are off.

This series, as the name suggests, is built around weddings, bridezillas and how each pairing is cemented in this heightened time of blustery emotions spiking high and low…along with random crying spurts. Jenny Holiday’s ‘One and Only’ set the precedent. ‘It Takes Two’ continues it in a different way, and had me on tenterhooks for a while. Well, most second-chance romances do actually, because I’m always looking for a satisfactory explanation of the pairing’s history before I can believe in the way it all comes together in the present.

A ruined teenage crush that had been elemental in some ways and a man who’s nothing but oblivious to what he’d done—his mind was simply on responsibility and not much else—do after all, make for interesting reading. In this case, the best friend’s brother returns home and Wendy’s constant avoidance of Noah Denning—through the years—is no longer possible. That childhood, familial bond has since devolved into uneasy tension, layered over by sniping and oneupmanship that happens during a wedding that neither can avoid.

Wendy’s history with Noah is thankfully, not made out to be a something that she hasn’t ever gotten over, but rather, a hurtful and never-forgotten experience cementing a personality that solidified in the many years after Noah left. And because Holiday hasn’t made this momentous event akin to the most epic heartbreak of Wendy’s life, this is fertile ground for a so-called second-chance that I think I can get on board with. Still, blaming Noah for the entire change in her adult outlook on dating however, seems extreme, seeing as Wendy’s combative stance stemming from her (somewhat unfairly) padded memory of prom night when she’d deliberately remembered him as someone he isn’t.

The amount of self-reflection that Holiday writes into the story and the tightly-controlled amount of angst, I think, make this better than the average rom-com for me. There are odd bits though, that threw me off: the flashbacks that aren’t demarcated but pop into a scene unannounced, the somewhat awkward dance between Wendy and Noah that hops from taunting to a huge step into bed. But to the even more awkward and unbelievable realisation that the thing between them had always been love despite 17 years of separation and nothing but big-brother-type protection before? Gobsmacked doesn’t quite cover it.

In all, there were parts I liked and parts that caught me frowning. I would have preferred a more iron-clad HEA in a conclusion that seems more like a HFN here; this is, like the previous book, an abrupt one that leaves the couple standing at a precipice of change just as the credits start to roll.

three-stars

Manu by Anna Hackett

Manu by Anna HackettManu Series: Hell Squad #16
Published by Anna Hackett on May 6th 2018
Pages: 138
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

When former berserker Manu Rahia lost his leg on a mission, he was forced to leave his squad. He knows his new role as head of the Enclave’s firing range and armory is important, but hates that he isn’t still out there fighting face to face against the aliens and protecting his brothers’ backs. But then one woman catches his eye. A no-nonsense woman dedicated to her job as head of security. A woman who seems cool on the surface, but who Manu is convinced is hiding more under her business-like exterior.

Captain Kate Scott dedicated her life to her career in the Army. Now she works hard taking care of security for the Enclave and its residents. She learned a long time ago that she isn’t a passionate woman, and that she’s better off sticking to her work. But seeing one big, bronze-skinned, muscled man at the range every day has her hormones going into overdrive. She’s never felt like this and she’s determined to get herself under control.

But when the aliens launch a viscous new attack, right on the Enclave’s doorstep, Kate and Manu must join forces to stop the raptors before more people get hurt. Kate will fight fiercely to protect her team and the base, as well as her heart. But Manu Rahia is a man who knows what he wants, will walk through fire to get it, and what he wants is Kate.

Hell Squad’s into its 16th installment and going strong as Anna Hackett makes her way through the squads defending earth that has gone under in an alien apocalypse.

Here, Hackett pairs the eldest of the Rahia brothers—these brothers have been making way too many waves even when they’re secondary characters in the rest of the books—with a no-nonsense former Army captain and it’s a romance that’s unusual in several aspects: an older hero/heroine, with the former whom I’d never thought would actually get his own book.

Apart from the quick attraction between Manu and Kate and their even quicker slide into instalove, I did like ‘Manu’ for the return to this particular world of the Gizzida and the continuing fight against them, as Hackett invents newer and newer threats which are barely countered by the end of the book. The numerous action scenes are engaging (mind-boggling even, considering the length of the novella), the sex scenes scorching and the HEA that happens at the end just reaffirms that there’s more to come, just not so soon, sadly.

four-stars

One Small Thing by Erin Watt

One Small Thing by Erin WattOne Small Thing by Erin Watt
Published by Harlequin Teen on 26th June 2018
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Beth’s life hasn’t been the same since her sister died. Her parents try to lock her down, believing they can keep her safe by monitoring her every move. When Beth sneaks out to a party one night and meets the new guy in town, Chase, she’s thrilled to make a secret friend. It seems a small thing, just for her.

Only Beth doesn’t know how big her secret really is…

Fresh out of juvie and determined to start his life over, Chase has demons to face and much to atone for, including his part in the night Beth’s sister died. Beth, who has more reason than anyone to despise him, is willing to give him a second chance. A forbidden romance is the last thing either of them planned for senior year, but the more time they spend together, the deeper their feelings get.

Now Beth has a choice to make—follow the rules, or risk tearing everything apart…again.

In some ways, going back to NA/YA can be frustrating no matter the author, only because it’s hard to step back into a teen’s POV when your older self wants nothing but to smack these characters…though not before wondering if your younger self were ever this way. Teenage angst galore is what ‘One Small Thing’ opens with—an act of rebellion that turns into a hookup (the start of a familiar downward spiral) that in turn reveals a whole slew of ugly emotions and self-destructive behaviour with generous helpings of hate, guilt, misery and selfishness.

We’re thrown in the deep end from the start, only because Erin Watt doesn’t shy away from wading into the aftermath of a death that happened 3 years ago…and how people the closest to this tragedy deal with it. Elizabeth Jones, who’s smack in the centre of the hurricane is a difficult one to like, for this reason. Hemmed in by her parents, her subsequent lashing out is understandable but still cringeworthy, since it’s admittedly hard to read about a protagonist who doesn’t know her own mind for a large part of the book, who wavers in doing what she clearly knows she should do and whose self-absorption and naïveté make it hard to be sympathetic to her plight.

But character growth has always been imperative in such books, and Watt certainly offers a ton of it, if you can get past the melodrama that tends to accompany the usual dose of teenage angst. In contrast to the negativity that permeates so much of the book, at some point in time, forgiveness and redemption need to come into the picture and they do, as the lessons are learned from the most unexpected source.

Objectively speaking, the characterisation is well done, even if the story ends on a note that can’t really be classified as a HEA or a HFN. The teens act exactly how I expected them to, amplified with the kind of existential angst they face along with their identity crisis and there’s always the sense of a fresh new start (though somewhat abruptly done in the conclusion) and nothing but a blank slate down the road. Watt’s storytelling is compelling nonetheless, though I wasn’t as moved by this as much as I thought I would be.

three-stars