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Leveled by Cathryn Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 13th December 2017
Leveled by Cathryn FoxLeveled by Cathryn Fox
Series: Blue Bay Crew #2
Published by Swerve on January 16th 2018
Pages: 155
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three-stars

Jamie Owens doesn’t trust women. Especially not the rich, entitled women looking for a summer fling with a boy from the wrong side of town. But one look at Kylee Jensen in a tiny bikini, and Jamie decides that some rules are made to be broken.

Kylee is tired of being the obedient daughter, and Jamie—shirtless, in a tool belt—is the perfect opportunity to do something for herself, so she hires Blue Bay Construction to work on her cottage. Their hot summer days turn scorching until it’s revealed that Kylee has ties to Jamie’s dark past, forcing them to decide if their dreams, and their relationship, are worth fighting for.

Leveled is a steamy page turner with sizzling emotional intensity and an ending that will hammer readers’ hearts and never let go!

I actually felt nervous when I started ‘Leveled’; Cathryn Fox isn’t always an author whose erotica hits the right spot for me, but I’m actually happy to say that I got my dose of smut with Jamie and Kylee, whose one-night stand-turned-summer-fling because way more than that. Both had a chemistry as well as an ease around each other that I found believable and while some parts became a bit like a porn-movie, it was fun reading about, well, the various ways a hard long object can go into an expandable slot.

The struggle to keep their own personal pasts out of the equation however, came alongside the overwhelming need to keep it about sex only. Jamie’s own demons revisited him in the form of the rich girl looking for fun, though he could barely discern that Kylee was in fact, trying to be only the rich girl looking for fun because of a father who had long dictated her behaviour and choices in life. It’s sort of strange to see both of them coming at it from opposite angles, with this kept up till nearly the end of the book as they try to rein in and downplay their affair as a simply summer fling.

Interfering relatives on the other hand, are the bane of most of the stories I’ve read so far, especially when their irksome actions can span the entire spectrum of giving abysmal advice to being absolutely controlling. Unfortunately, this wasn’t too different in ‘Leveled’, where they actually played a role—how large the role is probably up to interpretation—in keeping both Kylee and Jamie apart, though admittedly, both could have engaged in something called communication instead of running away. I didn’t like how Kylee walked away without the gumption to find out the truth about Jamie’s past and her inability to put herself out there when it mattered kept me frustrated, while on Jamie’s part, the past that came back to revisit him didn’t feel at all resolved.

Obviously, climaxes and resolutions can be tricky; leave it too late and the conclusion and HEA can feel rushed. I don’t doubt that Jamie/Kylee’s HEA was definitely deserved, but I did wish however, that Fox had written things differently at the end which would have made me a more convinced believer in a pair who could fight equally for each other without stumbling when push came to shove.

three-stars

Don’t Go by Alexa Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th December 2017
Don’t Go by Alexa RileyDon’t Go by Alexa Riley
Series: For You #3
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 78
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three-stars

CEO Henry Osbourne has only ever desired one woman—the one who got away.

I’ve spent the past ten years convincing myself that what I felt for her was teenage infatuation. That love so consuming couldn’t be real. Then everything went to shit, and in an instant, she was gone.

Kory Summers knew returning to New York meant running into Henry. The way her heartbeat picked up at just the thought was nervousness—not anticipation. Oh, no. She never expected to find him on her doorstep looking as handsome as ever.

She’s mine. She always has been. I’ve waited this long for her…but time’s up. I’ll use all my power, all my connections, to convince her she’s the one.

Kory ran from a boy, but a man of power and persuasion now stands in his place.

‘Don’t Go’ is in fact, part of the ‘For You’ series, though it’s now Miles/Mallory’s son’s story, which can be a little jarring since it wasn’t too long ago that I read his parents’ HEA, though in Riley’s fictional world of the Osbournes, over 2 decades have gone by. The biggest issue I have with this series is the lack of chronological order in which the books come about and the time-gap that these stories span—which is at least a generation, but that might just be splitting hairs here.

Alexa Riley’s commitment to short and safe might cause some raised brows when it comes to instalove (or lust) and the all-in stance of the male protagonist. And, honestly, I do sometimes count myself among these brow-raisers. But in rare cases, Riley’s short and safe novellas can and do make an impact.

In ‘Don’t Go,’ Riley writes about 2 people so devoted to each other as well as the memories of that single Cinderella-esque night that there wouldn’t be space to ask the messy and difficult questions that typically appear as part of a second-chance romance. In fact, questions about the contentious separation period and the believability of the pairing’s second-chance romance don’t really factor into the equation here, simply because there have been no one else for Henry and Kory.

From there onwards, it’s pure Alexa Riley that takes over: the instalove (this is sufficiently warned by the authors to be fair), the possessive hero and the iron-clad HEA that probably spans a quarter of the entire short book. It’s not for everyone, clearly, because of how implausible and admittedly unrealistic the pairing and story might come across, but if devotion that sometimes seems out of the real world is what you’re looking at, then Alexa Riley is the kind of read to go for.

three-stars

Roomies by Christina Lauren

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 9th December 2017
Roomies by Christina LaurenRoomies by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on December 5th 2017
Pages: 368
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four-stars

Marriages of convenience are so…inconvenient.

Rescued by Calvin McLoughlin from a would-be subway attacker, Holland Bakker pays the brilliant musician back by pulling some of her errand-girl strings and getting him an audition with a big-time musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until he admits his student visa has expired and he’s in the country illegally.

Holland impulsively offers to wed the Irishman to keep him in New York, her growing infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves from awkward roommates to besotted lovers, Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway. In the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting, what will it take for Holland and Calvin to realise that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?

Have you ever wanted something so much that you’d do anything for it, particularly when life is in limbo?

‘Roomies’ seems to revolve around this central question with the fake marriage trope, when a series of events actually leads to the courthouse to get around immigration issues, until feelings get thrown into the mix.

I’m going to say from the start that I’m quite simply blown away by Christina Lauren’s prose. That much alone kept me up late at night, though I did have to give into the pillow by the time I was a third through. Still, the meta-speak about authorship, the nuanced understanding of dreams that grow smaller and flit away as the years go by, the fear of never being the person you’ve aspired to—they’re all very adult-themes that are written into this story, woven with metaphors of performance, music and the being players on life’s very stage which I loved and wanted to linger over. How long has it been since I’ve had a book like this, after all?

This, by extension, made Holland a very relatable protagonist, well, at least up to three-quarters of the way when I empathised with her and walked in her shoes. Written wholly in her POV, the authors stripped Holland raw—the embarrassing bits don’t get put away and shoved into a closet; they were instead, brought out to light via her rambly thoughts, in a manner that had me grimacing and cringing with her because stuff to do with infatuation can’t always be remembered through rose-tinted lenses particularly when you’re confronted directly with it. By and large, I loved the slow burn, the gradual development and the deepening of Holland’s and Calvin’s connection past the crush and down to the nitty-gritties of a relationship.

But ‘Roomies’ did take a bit of an unwelcome turn that felt like unnecessary angst with small obstructions here and there, as was the whole cliché of needing to reinvent oneself or trying to find oneself in that journey to sort out the emotional mess that I found myself rolling my eyes at. That bit, that enforced separation, simply felt like a way of forcing ‘character growth’ while keeping them miserable and to some extent and wallowing in self-pity while a supposed transformative work of art was in the making during this turning point.

In movie-speak, it’s the dawning of the new day after blustery, electricity-popping thunderstorm before the HEA happens—essentially, the waxing-lyrical about the need to rediscover those years of lost self-worth.

And I hated it with a passion.

Not just the clichéd conflict but also the whole new level of Holland’s self-absorption, paranoia and low self-esteem that seemed to take the story apart after the glorious build, just as I wanted to scream that every relationship took work despite the screw-ups and that this separation felt more like running away than anything else, because no one seemed the better for it.

Kicking Calvin out to take time for herself, then getting angry when she had a glimpse of him apparently moving on and making assumptions without really finding out what happened? Just what became of the Holland of the earlier pages that I near-idolised, who in fact, seemed to have become more brittle and more cowardly than the one who meandered her way around searching for purpose a few months past her walking away? Had this break really served its purpose, then, if all I got at the end was a weepy, egg-on-her-face woman who’d lost more than I thought she’d gained?

Some may say Holland/Calvin’s HEA was hard-won. I can only shake my head and say that it could have come sooner, with a lot less drama and well, stupidity—without taking the fun out of it to boot.

four-stars

On Her Guard by Skyla Madi

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th December 2017
On Her Guard by Skyla MadiOn Her Guard by Skyla Madi
Series: Protecting Her #1
Published by Crave Publishing on December 5th 2017
Pages: 109
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two-stars

I don't know how my life got so twisted. One day, I'm working as a cash guard, shooting the tires off a stolen vehicle, and the next I'm a guard for the only daughter of high profile mob boss, Marco Ventilli.

The twist?

I've already met the five-foot-four, one hundred and ten pound bombshell that is Sera Ventilli. In fact, I've had her every way a man can have a woman and if her father ever finds out, he'll skin me alive and bury me six feet under the hot sands of Las Vegas.

I knew Sera looked like the worst kind of trouble, my gut told me she was, but she swore otherwise and I lapped up every single lie she fed me, like a Goddamn idiot.

All I had to do was make good on the promise I made to my mother on her deathbed; Leave the army, find a normal job, a good woman, and get on with my life.

Yeah. So much for that​.

I had to wonder if I was reading a different book from the others after I finished this. The premise sounded promising and the forbidden romance trope always draws me to the story like catnip. But in the end, it was this age-gap and (life experience gap, if there’s ever such a phrase) that played a huge part for me in just showing how painfully mismatched this pairing really was, with reckless rebellion being the name of the game. I only felt sorry that poor Ben was caught up in it, thanks to a one-night stand and an effortlessly-told lie about age.

There was never a moment when I thought Sera behaved like a rational, responsible adult. On the contrary, her spoilt-child, reckless and TSTL behaviour at every turn—a form of rebellious upbringing clearly—made it all the more obvious to me as the pages went on that she and Ben were ill-suited everywhere other than in bed when it was clear she was still acting the way a young adult barely out of her teens would. Flouncing from club to club, thinking of ways to escape her security detail, then causing Ben to run into trouble were simply behavioural traits I associate with pampered but sheltered and irksome princesses (be it the mafia-type or royalty) that Ben had rightly called her out on.

Apart from physical attraction and maybe a bit of daddy issues on Sera’s side, I just could not see this pairing at all, let alone her father’s approval in the very abrupt conclusion when it’d been him who’d viciously near taken Ben apart. I turned the last page feeling wholly dissatisfied, but judging from other glowing reviews, it’s clearly a problem that lies solely with me.

two-stars

Follow by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th December 2017
Follow by Tessa Bailey
Published by Tessa Bailey on October 30th 2017
Pages: 214
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two-stars

He wants her soul. Too bad she already sold it.

Family is everything to gambling den darling, Teresa Valentini. Blood comes first, especially before men. So when her brother lands himself in hot water, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save him. And showing up topless in her unwitting savior’s motel room is turning out to be the furthest thing from a hardship…

Will Caruso is the bad boy of New York’s financial scene…and he just found out the very thing that drives his success is a damn lie. Now, he’s exchanged his high-stress life for the open road, no one but his Great Dane…and half a million Instagram followers to keep him company. When a mysterious beauty arrives, her secrecy prods his suspicions, even while she tempts his lust to the breaking point.

Teresa met Will under false pretenses, but the bond consuming them is real. They’re strong enough to overcome a little betrayal…aren’t they?

The honey-trap. A hidden motive. The deception and the play for the ultimate goal. At least that’s what Teresa Valentini sets out to do to get her baby brother out of the clutches of a mafia boss. And that admittedly, is a strange proposition that she gets—to seduce his son back to his place in the financial world.

‘Follow’ banks on a very strong, animalistic instant lust attraction that moves the plot along, as Teresa’s seduction plan doesn’t quite go as expected. But the buildup is thick and fast—though not entirely easy to buy into—when the first meeting between Will and Teresa stray into hot and heavy very quickly. I felt as though their attraction was more skin-deep than anything else, particularly since Teresa was actively using her body to point Will in a direction she wanted him to go, just as it was equally hard to believe that Will was taken in by Teresa’s man-eating act enough to have her on that road trip with him simply because she intrigued him with her mysterious air and seductive posturing.

There are blustery emotions and very sensation-focused paragraphs tucked in between the slow revelations of the bits and pieces of each character and it was only after a while that I realised that the road trip is a major part of the story, when I’d actually been impatient and buckling down to get to the part where everything unravelled. And there’s no doubt that Tessa Bailey is good at this part: the drawing out of emotions, the dirty (and sometimes exaggerated) sex and the even dirtier-talking men.

But it’s here that I’ll also readily admit that Bailey’s prioritising of Will/Teresa’s sex games in all its forms over her deception was frustrating, when this type of longstanding pretence where the ultimate ‘reveal’ happens only towards the end just isn’t my kind of thing. A quarter of the book unfortunately, lingered on their dirty-talk and the a sexual push-pull vibes when I was impatient to read more about the unravelling of Teresa’s plan and Will’s discovery of her double play.

So for me, the pacing lagged in the first half—Bailey’s drawn-out descriptions of their attraction and sexual foreplay didn’t give the plot enough momentum—when the battle of wits seemed limited to the bedroom that made the first half of the story read like erotica.

I’d hoped for a clearer thread of honesty that would run through their narrative and was disappointed when it didn’t, because it felt that Will had always been the one who was more honest. It isn’t to say that Teresa’s love for her brother and her obvious like for Will weren’t broadcasting her personal conflict, but I did take issue with the depth of her betrayal and the delay with which the truth was revealed after she’d known that she’d fallen in love with him.

I’m going to say that ‘Follow’ was unfortunately, not a book that I could get into. Nothing to do with Bailey’s writing style—it’s obvious that she can and does write fantastically—but my own issues with plot and characters just got in the way for me to enjoy this at all.

two-stars

EXP1RE by Erin Noelle

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 3rd December 2017
EXP1RE by Erin NoelleEXP1RE by Erin Noelle
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on October 26th 2017
Pages: 168
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one-star

Numbers. They haunt me. I can't look into a person's eyes without seeing the six-digit date of their death. I’m helpless to change it, no matter how hard I try. I’ve trained myself to look down. Away. Anywhere but at their eyes.My camera is my escape. My salvation. Through its lens, I see only beauty and life—not death and despair. Disconnected from all those around me, I’m content being alone, simply existing. Until I meet him. Tavian. The man beyond the numbers. How can I stay away, when everything about him draws me in?But how can I fall in love, knowing exactly when it will expire?

I swear I felt the chills in the beginning chapter. Loved the premise, the strange oddness and the sense of foreboding that I couldn’t shake, enough to fly through the pages, and go on the armchair holiday that both Lyra and Tavian went for when a bombing at an airport derails their plans.

And if I liked their chemistry and attraction, I couldn’t shake off the blatant cheating in here when all the arguments initially put out by both Lyra and Tavian about being morally above it just fell apart because their desire trumped it. What happened to the initial self-righteous boasts about not wanting ever to be the other woman? Or not being a cheat or a lying bastard in a relationship?

That was when it all fell apart for me and everything that happened after – the sheer lack of remorse justified by the feelings they invoked in each other, the cowardice shown by Tavian, the repulsive way he treated his longterm girlfriend because he’s found his soulmate – was consequently harder and harder to swallow. I didn’t like how the story seemed to condone the cheating; neither could I like the characters for not doing anything about what they already knew was wrong, destined soulmates or not. In short, this was something I couldn’t look past and frankly, didn’t want to.

The only thing that kept me reading (though my interest had by then, waned significantly) was the twist in the story and how the author was going to resolve the problem of rewriting destiny, so to speak. A peek into the first few chapters of the second book simply showed that both protagonists had become characters I don’t recognise at all. That the author had to make the wronged party – Tavian’s Fiancée – the villain in the story when she was clearly the one who was short-changed left me flabbergasted and well, repulsed. So despite the cliffhanger ending in book 1, I’m probably more than happy to bid this goodbye, right about now.

one-star

Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 29th November 2017
Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya EbyMan Hands by Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby
Series: Man Hands, #1
Published by Rennie Road Books on December 11th 2017
Pages: 180
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two-stars

He puts the "screw" in screwball comedy...

BRYNN

At thirty-four, I’m reeling from a divorce. I don’t want to party or try to move on. I just want to stay home and post a new recipe on my blog: Brynn’s Dips and Balls.

But my friends aren’t having it. Get out there again, they say. It will be fun, they say. I’m still taking a hard pass.

Free designer cocktails, they say. And that’s a game-changer.

Too bad my ex shows up with his new arm candy. That’s when I lose my mind. But when my besties dare me to leap on the first single man I see, they don't expect me to actually go through with it.

TOM

All I need right now is some peace and quiet while my home renovation TV show is on hiatus. But when a curvy woman in a red wrap dress charges me like she’s a gymnast about to mount my high bar, all I can do is brace myself and catch her. What follows is the hottest experience of my adult life.

I want a repeat, but my flying Cinderella disappears immediately afterward. She doesn’t leave a glass slipper, either—just a pair of panties with chocolate bunnies printed on them.

But I will find her.

Stripped to its core, ‘Man Hands’ is about a woman reeling from her divorce, then getting back on the saddle with a one-night stand by riding a jaded womaniser of a tv personality after a crazy evening when she bumps into her ex…thereafter does a Cinderella-disappearing act on him thereafter. And predictably, this celebrity—used to female attention—is intrigued because the sex is the most memorable he’s ever had. Then comes a sex tape scandal and the damage-control that eventually blows up in their faces.

If the plot is familiar, it’s the execution of it that isn’t. ‘Man Hands’ is a stark departure from the usual Sarina Bowen style that I’m used to, and it was a ride that left me wondering how zany things could get before I could see my feet back on terra firma. Frankly, it was all a little too mad for me as characters stepped out of reality straight into slap-stick land and did/said/thought things that no sane person would try, I think.

I do understand that rom-coms can be tricky: get the balance of the humour and the lovey-dovey bits just a tad wrong and it dumps us into cheesy territory or overdoses us with cavity-inducing sweetness. Overdo the serious stuff and the complaints come fast and furious that the story should have been better classified as angsty drama.

But when everything about ‘Man Hands’ got inflated, dramatic and exaggerated so that hyperbole became comedy, I found myself barely able see past the over-the-top silliness to the point where it was hard to connect with the characters, or at least, with their voices which I hard a hard time reconciling with 30-ish-year-old adults. Scrub out the wacky lines, the erections that come when the slightest wind blew and the hysterical inner monologues that filled the pages, and I couldn’t quite get the substance behind this particular style.

If Brynn barrelling into the first man she saw which led immediately to hot sex wasn’t batty enough, Tom simply came across as sleazy as he straddled the line between being a pining teenager and a man obsessed with his own dick despite having broken his short stint of celibacy.

The long and short of it is, I was just incredibly disappointed by this one, maybe because I wanted so badly to see what Bowen could do with romantic comedy and felt let down when nothing went right somehow. But if ‘Man Hands’ was one that back-fired spectacularly, judging from the glowing reviews, I daresay it’s probably a brand of humour that didn’t resonate with me in any way.

two-stars
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