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New Adult

Game On by Lynn Stevens

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 22nd August 2017
Game On by Lynn StevensGame On by Lynn Stevens
Published by Entangled Publishing (Embrace) on September 18th 2017
Pages: 293
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one-star

Olivia Dawson doesn’t make mistakes. Unless those mistakes are a tall, broad-shouldered, cocky baseball player named Devon Miller. Devon and Olivia have been competing in their engineering classes since freshman year, and he seems to want nothing more than to get under her skin and shake her confidence. Unless you count that one time when he got under more than just her skin…

Now, they’re pitted against each other for a coveted internship that could open tons of doors for each of them. Only one of them can win. And they’re both ready to fight dirty if they need to.

Could Devon be playing for more than just his own gain—could he be after her heart?

Olivia is about to find out.

Game on.

‘Game On’ is a step back for me into New Adult, or rather, a college-age sports romance and after reading a few more ‘adult-ish’ books, took a wee bit of mental adjustment. Normally the transition is typically near-seamless, particularly if the plot and characters are stellar and there isn’t a huge step back in maturity levels. With the rivals to lovers trope in play here, ‘Game On’ sounded like something I could dig into.

But what I hadn’t counted on—which made me decidedly lukewarm—was Olivia Dawson’s past one-night stand with baseball player Devon Miller that happened when she was with another guy, who later broke up with her after she confessed that affair. It’s admittedly in the past and considered ‘just a mistake’ under the influence of alcohol, though that didn’t give me the best impression of her, not when she continued being judgemental, pugnacious and just an all-round pain in the arse after all this time.

That she nevertheless ends up with Devon—the guy she cheated with—while having a relationship somehow made light of that remorse. Cheating isn’t my thing (neither do I get off on it, though lately I find myself getting increasingly intolerant of it) and that tanked the book for me early on, as it tainted my whole impression of Olivia. With the entire story in her POV as well, ‘Game On’ was quite a let down from the start, especially when I found myself unable to take anymore of Olivia and gave up midway.

Obviously this series just isn’t for me—my preference rearing its head again quite strongly here—but as I’ve said before, it’s probably someone else’s cup of tea.

one-star

Demolished by Cathryn Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 21st August 2017
Demolished by Cathryn FoxDemolished by Cathryn Fox
Series: Blue Bay Crew #1
Published by Swerve on August 29th 2017
Pages: 250
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one-star

Summer Wheeler is on the run. Hiding from the men who killed her father, Summer is on her way to her childhood cottage in Blue Bay when she runs into Sean Owens, the forbidden bad boy from her past. After giving him a fake name, she gives in to one steamy night with him, never expecting to see him again.

Sean isn’t sure why Summer is pretending to be someone she’s not, but he’ll play her game if that means he can indulge in one of his oldest fantasies – a night with Summer. He’s shocked to see her when he returns to Blue Bay, and even more surprised when Summer offers him a job renovating her old family cottage. Hot workdays turn into hotter nights, but when Summer’s secret catches up with her, she’ll have to decide if she can trust Sean with her heart—and her life.

This is a rather tough one to write. I requested for the book because I do like romantic suspense and it did appear as though Cathryn Fox was starting a series with just that….so I was sold.

But it was disappointing to find ‘Demolished’ more sex than plot, and that’s something that I think you’ve got to have your eyes open to before you get into any of Fox’s stories. Her characters live and breathe sex, with every seemingly innocent action capable of stirring arousal and making each other sex-crazed at any given time of the day, no matter how inappropriate it can get. There’s always heat and passion and many times the characters can’t help themselves (especially the men who are never the one-woman sort until the heroine comes along), and that typically takes priority over any suspense or mystery that Fox does try to write into the story.

Sean and Summer go straight into a one night stand after a quick meeting at a bar, and banking on the idea that she has been away a long time, tries to slip into someone else’s identity just as she tries to investigate what exactly went wrong with her father. This was the bit I couldn’t get over; it seemed astoundingly stupid though and unbelievable hat she was able to continue pretending she was someone else when it was clear this delusion was pretty much in her own head, especially after Sean recognised her early on yet went on with that ridiculous charade. This pretence continued for a long time, as did the sleeping together, and Summer pretty much ended up with egg on her face when the game was up.

In short, I did come into the story knowing this, yet I found myself getting tired of reading about Sean/Summer getting it on on every available surface. I did want to know what sort of mystery Summer would uncover, which was only revealed towards the very abrupt end. Unfortunately, I lost interest past the halfway mark and I skimmed the rest just to find out what happened to Summer’s father and the clues he left her. ‘Demolished’ was more of a miss for me and if the rest of the books are going to be written in a similar vein, I’ll probably not continue this series at all.

one-star

Rebel by Rebecca Yarros

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 21st August 2017
Rebel by Rebecca YarrosRebel by Rebecca Yarros
Series: The Renegades #3
Published by Entangled: Embrace on August 28th 2017
Pages: 265
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four-stars

She'll defy his every expectation.

She’s Penna Carstairs. The Renegade they call Rebel. FMX-treme Magazine’s sexiest female athlete of the year.There’s no rule in extreme sports she hasn’t broken,No gender barrier she hasn’t demolished.

She’s the woman I met in a bar in Vegas.The woman I illegally BASE jumped for.The woman I spent one insane, incredible night with.But now I’m screwed.Or rather…not screwed.

Because the woman I can’t get out of my head is the one woman I can never touch again.I’m Dr. Cruz Delgado—the youngest professor on this campus. And Penelope Carstairs just walked into my class.

‘Rebel’ is Rebecca Yarros’s last book in her ‘Renegades’ series and it is quite a send-off for this group of daredevils accountable to no one…until Cruz Delgado comes onto the scene and messes it up, taking Penna Carstairs down with a bang while he’s at it.

For which I’m glad, to be honest.

Extreme sports aren’t exactly my thing and I’ll be the first to admit the Renegades hadn’t quite won me over with their deeds, which they do without caring too much about the consequences. But with Penna’s story, there’s some kind of redemption when the characters finally start to realise that there can be consequences too difficult to face with every action. Aside from the forbidden teacher-student relationship that Cruz and Penna had going, ‘Rebel’ has been by far, the best read of all in the series because Yarros also moves slightly away from the Renegades’ documentary making to writing about a daring rescue in Havana which ups the thrills and spills.

Penna—the only female extreme athlete among the thorns—shines so brightly it can get painful just to look at her. On paper, there’s everything going for her as she matches the boys step for step, ride for ride. But I liked the human side of her that emerges when she starts doubting herself after an accident caused by her sister and the loss of confidence that made her reckless in wanting to get back her mojo.

It’s only Cruz—the hot, older professor and Army vet—who gets Penna, matches her and outshines even the Renegades; in fact, I felt Cruz helped shape ‘Rebel’ for me and made it unforgettable. His grounding presence changes the entire dynamics of the story, bringing the sense of accountability that I appreciated, as well as a balanced voice of reason amongst the frat-boy, belligerent and petulant behaviour driven mostly by egos which left me sorely frustrated in the first 2 books. I loved how he looked these boys in the eye and held their actions up to scrutiny, essentially, taking care of the immature moments that frustrated me. He is the first to behave like the mature adult, making Pax and Landon seem like boys who didn’t really grow up in comparison, seeing through to Penna straightaway as she uses adrenaline highs in stunt after stunt to dull her mental state of mind.

My adulation of Cruz aside, the storyline does get gripping towards the end—the politics that Cruz got himself involved in gripped me more than the actual Renegades stunts—and I did ride the whole wave rather anxiously without stopping until I hit the deliriously happy epilogue though it came bittersweet. The epic adventures aside, seeing Penna/Cruz fight for each other simply made me one happy camper.

four-stars

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 20th August 2017
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana ZapataThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on February 28th 2016
Pages: 403
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four-stars

Vanessa Mazur knows she's doing the right thing. She shouldn't feel bad for quitting. Being an assistant/housekeeper/fairy godmother to the top defensive end in the National Football Organization was always supposed to be temporary. She has plans and none of them include washing extra-large underwear longer than necessary.

But when Aiden Graves shows up at her door wanting her to come back, she's beyond shocked.

For two years, the man known as The Wall of Winnipeg couldn't find it in him to tell her good morning or congratulate her on her birthday. Now? He's asking for the unthinkable.

What do you say to the man who is used to getting everything he wants?

I survived another Mariana Zapata book and am damned proud of it. The length of her stories are daunting, make no mistake, and to go through all near-500 pages of a wry, sometimes-neurotic, sometimes-hilarious female voice telling only her side of the story can and does take patience, though the experience isn’t necessarily a dull and colourless one. I do always think twice before embarking on a Zapata story however and length does play a significant role in this decision.

But honestly, I’m not too sure if this book could be shorter though and functioned just as well. The aloof, impersonal start of Van and Aiden and the gradual transformation of their relationship—years!—from trying-to-please PA to a begging Aiden (with a marriage of convenience thrown in after Van quits) rightly needed a slow burn and Zapata’s style of writing certainly suits this kind of plot line.

Instalove? Not in Zapata’s vocabulary. That bit is gratifying, particularly since there are too many gooseflesh-raising stories trying to sell the unbelievable with alpha, dirty-talking men falling hard inexplicably for a woman and want nothing but to ‘claim’ and ‘breed’ her.

In this case, (real) time is as always, Zapata’s solution to the answer for a relationship to turn, with gaps so painstakingly filled in, sometimes mundane, everyday scenes appear as though they’re randomly inserted that there’s no need for the byline ‘x number of years later’. That much I can appreciate, because the result is a multifaceted and real character (at least for Vanessa) that comes through the pages, though the single POV makes Aiden still somewhat of a closed-off ‘hero’ when all I can extrapolate of his brick-ish, stony personality is what Vanessa and other secondary characters say of him. Aiden/Van’s HEA is as well, unequivocally ironclad and that’s also a kudos to Zapata’s careful development of their relationship.

I’m not exactly an apologist for the excruciatingly long, slow burn, despite my defence of the justifiable length of ’The Wall of Winnipeg and Me’. I found myself absorbed for most part without my interest really slipping and for most part, it was so easy to like the characters in this book that it certainly wasn’t a pain to go on and on before the bed finally called to me.

It isn’t to say I wouldn’t take a deep breath before plunging into another Zapata book, because I will. I still look at the books by her that I’ve not yet read (there’s just one more that I want to tackle) and I still think that I don’t have the courage yet to take it on. But having just been brought on a satisfying journey with Van and Aiden, that day might be sooner rather than later.

four-stars

Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 18th August 2017
Illegal Contact by Santino HassellIllegal Contact by Santino Hassell
Series: The Barons #1
Published by Penguin Publishing Group / InterMix on August 15th 2017
Pages: 259
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three-stars

The rules of the game don’t apply off the field in this first Barons novel. 

New York Barons tight end Gavin Brawley is suspended from the team and on house arrest after a video of him brawling goes viral. Gavin already has a reputation as a jerk with a temper on and off the field—which doesn’t help him once he finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And while he’s been successful professionally, he’s never been lucky when it comes to love.

Noah Monroe is a recent college grad looking for a job—any job—to pay off his mounting student debt. Working as Gavin’s personal assistant/babysitter seems like easy money. But Noah isn’t prepared for the electrifying tension between him and the football player. He’s not sure if he’d rather argue with Gavin or tackle him to the floor. But both men know the score, and neither is sure what will happen once Gavin's timeout is over…

Meet Gavin Brawley: Crude, abrasive, loyal, muscled, misunderstood and a closeted bisexual football player who cares naught about what people say about him. Now meet his other half who doesn’t know it yet: Noah Monroe, the broke, snarky and soft LGBT social worker turned personal assistant who’s quite the opposite of Gavin and knows next to nothing about football.

An application for a PA position for Gavin puts Noah in Gavin’s path and the easy money that being a PA offers makes Noah grit his teeth in the first few weeks. But the hostile antagonism shifts with snarky banter holding the base line throughout until Gavin and Noah find themselves brooding about the fact that lines and boundaries have crossed into the personal zone.

I do like Santino Hassell’s take on bi- and homosexuality in the world of competitive sports, and I’ll have to say that it’s written so differently from what I’m used to. But that’s not a bad thing at all. The male-male conversations and the deconstruction of men’s emotions, written by a male author about other men, were like a gold mine of insight into the opposite gender’s mind and well, my catnip. Gavin/Noah’s attraction and chemistry spark off the pages and with a cast of amusing secondary characters that already make me want their stories, ‘Illegal Contact’ proved to be quite a read with a kind of raw realness that I loved.

three-stars

Beneath the Truth by Meghan March

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th August 2017
Beneath the Truth by Meghan MarchBeneath The Truth by Meghan March
Series: Beneath #7
on August 8th 2017
Pages: 350
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three-stars

I used to believe there were lines in life you don't cross. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't steal.Until I learned people don't always practice what they preach.I turned in my badge and gun and walked away from everything.Then I got the call no one wants, and I’m back in New Orleans.What I don't expect is for her to be here too.Another line you don’t cross?Don't touch your best friend’s little sister.She's always been off-limits. Too bad I don't follow the rules anymore.

Second-chance romances or unrequited crush/love stories have always been tricky for me, and I admit that it’s got to leap over a heap of scepticism that I’ve developed when it comes to such tropes. That’s mostly because my vindictive, cynical self always has a basic set of questions which are more often than not, left unsatisfactorily answered. Maybe this is a defensive reaction, because most of the time, someone (typically the heroine) caves way too fast and too easily, without giving the other party a hard time about it—call it payment for years of pain and longing, I guess.

In essence, this trope spurs me to ask: what flipped that switch? Why only now, after all this time? Did this ‘second-chance’ happen only because one party (typically the hero’s side) suddenly decide that his blinkers fell off and that he needed to ‘claim’ a woman who had been there and pining all along? Or did this opportunity just happen to come along and someone decided to go along with it, without having given a thought to the other protagonist for years and doing anything about it?

Rhett Hennessy’s and Ariel Sampson’s relationship fits this to a tee. A lifelong crush on Ariel’s part, with Rhett determinedly ignoring her until one day he decides he’s going to move in for the kill like a neanderthal, on his own time. It was frankly, hard to accept when it didn’t take too much effort on his part to do so because every single bit of attention he paid her apparently got her panties wet, but thankfully, Meghan March doesn’t dwell on this too long.

Rhett and Ariel do slide into a relationship a tad bit too easily, but that’s also because a suspense/mystery plot takes over. The romance sorts itself the moment Rhett/Ariel got their act together early on and my strong opinions dulled when the dirty cop mystery grew. I did think however, that the story did try to juggle a little too much though—the mess with an ex-boyfriend, dirty cops and mafia involvement seemed to mesh in a way that stretched my ability to suspend disbelief.

The long and short of it is, it was an alright read; I didn’t hate it but I wasn’t blown away either. ‘Beneath the truth’ is definitely much more than just unrequited crushes fulfilled, though I couldn’t have guessed how much it tries to incorporate suspense when I haven’t read the rest of the series. But it’s perfectly fine as a standalone, though a little catching up to get into it might be needed.

three-stars

Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 14th August 2017
Under Locke by Mariana ZapataUnder Locke by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on June 24th 2014
Pages: 496
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one-star

He was my boss, my brother's friend, a Widow, an ex-felon, and a man I'd seen casually with a handful of women. But he was everything that gripped me, both the good and the bad. Worst case scenario if things turned awkward between us, I could go somewhere else. I'd gotten over epic heartbreak before, one more wouldn't kill me. -- After moving to Austin following six months of unemployment back home, Iris Taylor knows she should be glad to have landed a job so quickly... even if the business is owned by a member of the same motorcycle club her estranged father used to belong to. Except Dex Locke might just be the biggest jerk she's ever met. He's rude, impatient and doesn't know how to tell time. And the last thing they ever expected was each other. But it was either the strip club or the tattoo shop. ... she should have chosen the strip club. -- "Babe, I've handpicked everythin' and everyone in here. I know what I want and I get what I want," he breathed. "And I keep what's mine."

Lordy, I had a tough time with this one.

I think it takes a special sort of day and strength to read Mariana Zapata’s intimidatingly long books. They go on so long on a slow burn that you feel torn between tossing it and wanting to just finish it for the perverse pleasure of saying you’ve triumphed over the convoluted plot which could definitely have benefitted from about a hundred fewer pages of inner monologues. I’d managed ‘Kulti’ and ‘Dear Aaron’ without too much trouble, but ‘Under Locke’ proved a huge challenge to say the least.

My biggest problem nonetheless, was my inability to like both protagonists consistently throughout the book. Frankly, I was so put off by Zapata’s characters that I still ask myself why I tried to finish the story as it became apparent that my struggle began about halfway through when the problems with the MCs turf war, Iris’s deadbeat father and her supposedly one-sided love for her dominating, unreasonable bastard of a boss started to dovetail.

Zapata typically only writes in the female POV, so that pretty much shunts what every male lead of hers is thinking. You’ll need to infer from what everyone else in the book says about the hero in question and what you think you might be able to glean from the unreliable narrating of the female lead. Which isn’t to say Zapata’s female protagonists aren’t likeable though; they are mostly very relatable, sometimes wryly funny and I definitely can see shades of the everyday (wo)man in these leads.

Yet I mostly vacillated between sympathising for Iris’s honest, stuttering, down-to-earth blabber and hating her spineless, rollover behaviour, while pretty much despising Dex for being everything I hate in a male protagonist…who, despite being a mega-prick, actually amazed me when he got the woman he insulted crudely and for generally existing as an all-round possessive chauvinist pig. Throw in the manwhore and virgin extremes here and that just derailed the reading experience for me.

I had to call it in, which is a pity because I do like Zapata’s writing style. But ‘Under Locke’ just wasn’t the book for me—particularly so when I felt relief to put the story behind me.

one-star
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