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True Hearts by Jeannine Allison

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 26th June 2017
True Hearts by Jeannine AllisonPure Hearts by Jeannine Allison
Published by Amazon Digital Services on June 22nd 2017
Pages: 391
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two-stars

She gave me her kidney. I gave her my heart...

Nicholas Blake learned a long time ago that nobody does anything for free. He’s felt the pain of lies and manipulations enough times to know that people only look out for themselves, and that all good deeds come with a price. So when he wakes up from a near deadly car accident and finds out a stranger is offering to donate her kidney, he’s immediately suspicious of her intentions.

What he doesn’t expect is Iris Chamberlain, a beautiful woman with a big smile and an even bigger heart, claiming she just wants to help. The more time Nick spends with Iris, the more he starts to believe in what he always thought was impossible: a pure heart.

But betrayal leaves a bitter mark. Will Nick be able to let go of his past and let Iris in? And will Iris be able to show him what it truly means to have a pure heart?

’True Hearts’ is a very much a feel good type of read, with a kind of New Adult-ish introspective vibe about the cynic who is inclined call everyone’s action out as self-serving until proven otherwise who goes up against a someone who wholly (or at least habitually) believes in human goodness and sincerity.

And that was where my reservations slid in.

Call that my own cynical self talking here, especially when it begins with the donation of a kidney after what appears like a paranormal ‘sign’ that fates are intertwined—with no expectations thrown into the mix. I found it difficult to accept the very selfless and positive Iris Chamberlain when it was way easier to sympathise with Nick and his understandable behaviour traits knowing what he’d gone through. Iris was, well, surreal in her giving selflessness, when the way she chose to see nothing but good made her more like a saint about to be canonised than a flawed character. But Jeannine Allison makes Iris out to be the exact kind of person that Nick actually needs—at least, a person who is determined to wear down his cynicism—though she stumbled where it really mattered most, or at least where I needed her not to.

Throughout the book, I felt mostly caught between Iris and Nick, never quite able to step out of Nick’s more ‘realistic’ way of perceiving the world as opposed to Iris’s steadfast one-woman stand against Nick’s fatalistic pessimism. In fact, I found myself repetitively questioning Iris’s naïveté, the appalling behaviour of her relatives, and how the characters did nothing but try to turn Nick into a happier version of himself without acknowledging too much that his own perception of the world had merit. That they’d tried to defend their own behaviour, implicitly putting the fault mostly on Nick’s door was quite the last straw for me.

I think the long and short of it is that ‘True Hearts’ is a rose-tinted affirmation of the goodness left in humanity, though it’s a simplistic ideal here that I can’t quite buy into.

two-stars

The Knocked Up Plan by Lauren Blakely

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 25th June 2017
The Knocked Up Plan by Lauren BlakelyThe Knocked up Plan by Lauren Blakely
Published by Lauren Blakely Books on June 23rd 2017
Pages: 225
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four-stars

There are three little words most guys don’t want to hear on the first date. Not those…I mean these… “knock me up.”

This single gal has had enough of the games, the BS and the endless chase. I know what I want most, and it’s not true love. It’s a bun in the oven, and I’m not afraid to hit up my sex-on-a-stick co-worker to do the job. Ryder is gorgeous, witty and charming — and he’s also a notorious commitment-phobe. That makes him the perfect candidate to make a deposit in the bank of me.

I won’t fall for him, he won’t fall for me, and there’s no way baby will make three. Right?

****There are four words every guy wants to hear on the first date — “your place or mine?”

When my hot-as-sin co-worker makes me a no-strings-attached offer that involves her place, my place, any place — as well as any position — I can’t refuse. After all, my job is like a coach and my latest assignment for the good of mankind is to create a fail-safe, battle-tested, proven guide of what to do or say to get a woman to fall into your bed — I mean, fall for you. So when Nicole says she’s game to work through my list in a hands-on way, I take her up on her deal even with her one BIG condition.

There’s no way I’ll want more from one woman than any position, any where, any night? Except . . . what if I do?

Pregnancy and baby romances aren’t my cup of tea and that’s my straight-out admission about my whole stance on the issue. Make it the central plot around which a relationship is built and I’m out of the door quicker than my own shadow can cringe and wave goodbye. But Lauren Blakely can offer something good (Blakely can be a mixed-bag author for me) and this is why I’ve picked up the story—to be planted straight in chick-lit zone, even if it’s just pure fiction indulgence, more so than ever.

Honestly, I was squeamish. And got even more squeamish as the pages went on.

‘The Knocked up Plan’ is a title that says it all: a plan to have children, with or without a man, simply because a woman can do it on her own the way Nicole believes. Except that the sperm donor that she wants is a friend and a colleague and the arrangement has to be exactly what it is—a transaction that has has Ryder uninvolved past the process of knocking Nicole up. But the catch is always coming—minus the distancing sterile environment of a sperm bank and the gift that anonymity presents, and no matter how much fun in and out of bed both of them have, feelings will and do get in the way. Basically, what Ryder and Nicole think might be a good idea is a bad idea all around and it’s plainly obvious to all but the protagonists themselves because if there’s actual sex in the mix between two people who like and respect each other, it’s just a sweeter deal.

It was easy to power through the book nonetheless, because there’s a confident woman who can easily be the representative for the independent 21st century feminist and a somewhat broken man who’s more real than many of the protagonists I’ve read about recently. There’s minimal angst really, unless you count the hormonal mood swings of pregnancy, and there’s a tooth-achingly sweet HEA that Blakely drives home.

Some parts do read laughably like pure exaggeration (making it too clear that this is a woman writing a romance for woman, imagining a man’s thoughts) and I do cringe at some descriptions that seem to take the metaphors of sex way too far. But Ryder isn’t a clueless, emotionally-challenged idiot and neither is Nicole a clingy soul and the lack of drama along with the dual POVs go a long way in making the entire book a sweeter deal for me.

four-stars

Deceiver by Robin Lovett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 23rd June 2017
Deceiver by Robin LovettDeceiver: A Dark Revenge Romance by Robin Lovett
Series: Dark Stalker #2
Published by Swerve on July 11th 2017
Pages: 215
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two-stars

The plan was to ruin a man’s life. Not seduce the man’s daughter. But sometimes, the unlikeliest of people becomes the target. And sometimes revenge can make a man vulnerable in ways he didn’t know existed…

I’m bored. Tired of my meaningless life. The garden parties, the white sundresses, and politely saying “no” to the sliver of cake—it’s the life my mother and father wanted for me, worked tirelessly for me to have. And the monotony makes me reckless.

But when I go to Blake Vandershall’s party, his dark, menacing eyes and his hard, unyielding stare make me want things that have never been offered to me before. He’s the type who would ravish you in your father’s law office. The kind who would lie without blinking an eye in order to get what he wants.

And the repressed bad girl in me wants to give him what he needs.

**

Daisy Nowell is nothing to me.

I don’t care that underneath that blue-blood lifestyle, she’s burning to be unleashed. My victim is her father—the one man who had the chance to save my mother from a brutal fate. The coward did nothing, and it’s my turn to make his life a living hell.

He’s about to lose his precious daughter to me, a man whose sole mission is to destroy him. I’ll do anything, say anything, in order to tear this woman from her safe life as I hurtle down my path towards destruction. But I didn’t count on her seeing through me. I didn’t count on her tapping into my weaknesses, pushing my dark heart in ways I don’t want. Ways I hate.

I need to find a way to exact my vengeance and leave this all behind. Before this woman ruins me for good.

A revenge plot—of enemies to lovers—turns one of my reading screws, always.

But after the somewhat abrupt ending of the previous book—with a pairing that was difficult to buy into—I was rather hesitant about this one when the opening of ‘Deceiver’ was just as awkward and abrupt and seemingly without context: Blake Vandershall hosts a party to lure Daisy Novell in through seduction as part of his scheme to bring her father down. Like the first book, there’s a close stalker element to this as well, as Blake mows down the Lovells’ carefully-constructed lives and exults in it.

What I couldn’t really understand was how Daisy couldn’t quite see through his scheme or remain stubbornly oblivious to it, as Blake wasn’t at all subtle about it—that much she needed to cut herself free of the stifling lifestyle she lived that any ol’ distraction would do? In fact, I wondered why she wasn’t too suspicious, and was astounded even, when she dallied, played the game and flirted without quite having any 6th sense that something was off with Blake when he’d pretty much revealed he knew all about her and her family. Yet all it takes is an orgasm very early on to have Blake remorseful about his own behaviour while the simmering anger that he seems to carry around is enough to turn Daisy on.

Daisy in essence, is attracted to an arse of a man (which might be a trigger for some) but as the blurb unapologetically goes, don’t expect any ‘normal’ romance character traits here. As with a story like this, the turn from enemies to lovers can’t simply be an uneasy truce with sex thrown in for me; it’s made all the more difficult because I need more than the usual convincing that such a pairing—while not all sunshine and roses—is a viable one and it’s what I’ll be looking out for. To some extent they are the perfect pair in a twisted manner of speaking, as one uses the other for their own selfish motives consciously: Daisy as a means to break out of her caged life and Blake who uses her as an outlet.

Seen in this light, ‘Deceiver’ probably succeeds and for that reason, I’m not sure how to rate this read. But take a chance on this if you like hate (and taunting-type) sex, ambiguous and deviant relationships that defy every trope you like in romance.

two-stars

Shattered King by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 22nd June 2017
Shattered King by Sherilee GrayShattered King by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #1
Published by Swerve on June 27th 2017
Pages: 320
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two-stars

He’s out to get revenge for a crime he didn’t commit…

Hunter King just got out of prison. Incarcerated for three years though an innocent man, his rage against the people who put him there knows no bounds. First up on his list for vengeance: the woman who betrayed him years ago. The woman he loved fiercely, the one bright light in his otherwise hard, ruthless life. She has information he needs. And he’s going to kidnap her, hold her hostage, in order to get it. But one look into Lulu’s eyes unleashes the true beast within. Hunter’s never hated anyone this deeply, or wanted any woman this badly.

Lulu had no choice: Either help send Hunter to prison, or see him destroyed. She couldn’t do that to the man she loved. Couldn’t do it to the father of her child. But Hunter was locked away before he had a chance to learn about his son—and a hard layer of despair has formed around his heart that she’s desperate to crack. And if Hunter is to give himself and Lulu a second chance at love, he needs to find a way past his darkest demons.

A new series always excites me, though there’s always some trepidation because many of them don’t quite hit their stride until a few books in, especially when the starting one is full of establishing plotlines, histories and characters. ‘Shattered King’s’ blurb drew me in immediately: betrayal, secrets and lies all tangled up in a hard, brutal second chance romance after Hunter King’s life takes a turn for the worse when Lulu—the only woman he’s ever loved—sent him to prison.

My first impression of ‘Shattered King’ is the overall grittiness and the barely-leashed edge of violence that Sherilee Gray excels at here, in which hard sex plays a major role. Her characters stay just at the boundary of the wrong side of the law, crossing these lines sometimes with no qualms and are the anti-heroes who would keep you safe at any cost just as they keep your panties constantly wet. But there’s also a load of high drama and a considerable number of triggers here that might go down on the wrong side of some readers’ sensibilities.

It was hard however, to see anything beyond the overflowing lust that supposed proves compatibility, because it seemed to trump even their volatile personalities and apparently, solve most problems. The copious amount of sex replaced actual communication, because by god, it was what both Hunter and Lulu needed to do but didn’t, as body parts suddenly spoke louder than words and that proved frustrating. But this is suspense as much as it’s erotica, so I was in a way, expecting more than just sex to eclipse everything else.

I think ‘Shattered King’ would have worked better for me if the story’s protagonists weren’t always on the verge of going off the deep end at the slightest push of a button. Hunter’s sudden switch from pissed-off alpha male to possessive alpha male was too abrupt, just as I couldn’t entirely trust Lulu not to stop running, which seemed to be her only modus operandi throughout the entire story, either from her hellish stepfather or for the sake of her son. Held at ransom for so long, I’d expected a gutsier female lead despite the amount of abuse she’d faced but her tendency to not want to face things couldn’t make me warm up to her enough, especially when she couldn’t seem to take active steps to sort out the mess she’d made of her own life as well as Hunter’s. The long and short of it is that Lulu does run in the end and predictably ends up in the hands of her worst enemy like the damsel constantly in distress, even as Hunter bails her out at the last minute.

‘Shattered King’ is not a bad start to the series, but it’s probably better suited for those who like the MC-type of stories and a HEA that comes amidst bloodshed and shady activities. But just because I couldn’t really feel Hunter/Lulu’s connection doesn’t mean that anyone else can’t, and I’m simply going to continue reading because there are stories that I know Gray can write that I’ll love. It’s just not this one.

two-stars

Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 21st June 2017
Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura BrownFriend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown
Published by Avon Impulse on June 27th 2017
Pages: 384
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one-star

I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.

Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.

When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.

I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.

I guess the only thing we can do is try…

‘Friend (With Benefits) Zone’ started out very promising, with the blurb sounding a growing-up story of 2 deaf people trying to find their way in the world just as the notion of building a career looms large. But beyond that, I liked the idea of putting people with disabilities in the spotlight and showing that they actually do lead lives as ‘normal’ as those who don’t—and thought that this would provide a different edge to the best friends turned lovers type of read.

But with the sexual tension between Jasmine and Devon shattering so early on, the direction in which the story was going to go became rather unclear. And I found myself unpleasantly surprised when maturity (or the lack of it) came into play and formed the major part of the conflict—driven mostly by Jasmine. She started out as strongly independent, but that soon moved to bullheadedly, stupidly stubborn when she started insisting on being an island and going at it all on her own, pushing everyone else away because that was the way she wanted it to be. Not accepting help from Devon and her closest friends (then have them trying to reel her back in), using sex avoid the issue, vacillating between wanting Dev and wanting her own way were just signs of her irrational immaturity that frustrated me to no end, which actually went on ad nauseum to the point where I thought they should have given up on her because there was no getting her to see reason.

As much as Devon’s desire to help her and support her in everything, he did come across as somewhat spineless towards the end, when he needed to leave Jasmine on her own for her to finally come to her senses. Instead, he couldn’t quite let her go or do a complete break, even when he had his own share of dodging the intended career path that his family wanted for him throughout. In fact, I needed to see that Jasmine wanted their relationship Devon even if she had nothing to her name. But because Devon had arranged it such that she could have her bar and own it (with the startup costs included as a loan), it felt as though it was only with her future secured and in place that it was easy to get back with him.

This constant push-pull vibe that got stronger, as well as the anti-climatic ending did, unfortunately, grate on me. I couldn’t quite shrug away how much I disliked the characters by the end and this sadly, tanked the whole story for me.

one-star

Too Close to Call by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 18th June 2017
Too Close to Call by Tessa BaileyToo Close to Call by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #3.5
Published by Evil Eye Concepts, Incorporated on June 13th 2017
Pages: 136
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four-stars

All-American wide receiver Kyler Tate’s life is about to change. A fairytale college career skyrocketed him to the NFL draft. Adoration and opportunity are thrown in his direction wherever he goes, thanks to being chosen in the first round by the Los Angeles Rage.

None of the accolades mean anything, though, without his high school sweetheart, Bree Sutton, by his side. Four years ago, she walked away from Kyler, choosing a quiet life over the flash and notoriety his career would someday bring.

Now he’s back in their Indiana hometown, refusing to leave for Los Angeles without her. Demanding she give their life together a shot. Her heart never stopped bleeding for the love of her life, but Bree’s decision was final. Too bad their wild attraction has only been amplified by their separation, and Kyler won’t quit until Bree is wearing his ring.

Kyler burst onto the scene in Brooks’s book and immediately I knew there was a story there that I wanted to read. ‘Too Close to Call’ is one that got me, not just because of the devotion of this soon-to-be football star, but his single-mindedness about wanting to get the love of his life back once and for all, despite Bree having ended it all 4 years ago.

With the tons of manwhores in college sports peppering the books these days in search of commitment-free hookups, Kyler stands out like some shining gem in the mud because he could never let Bree go. I did sort of wish that he’d tried to get on with it given the way she’d so callously broke things off with the intention of never seeing him again, just as I wished Bree had more gumption and chutzpah to fight for their relationship the way he did. That she’d stayed on the fence the whole time up until the end made me wonder about if she thought Kyler less important than her supposed duty to the family coupled with the flimsy excuse that she was only holding him back.

My only complaint really is how Tessa Bailey manages to make every hero of hers into an alpha, dirty-talking male though…to the point where they become indistinguishable in the way they burn up the sheets. Somehow the couple in question lose their distinct identities when they finally have sex (it inevitably ends up with a woman panting and begging and a man talking her ear off) only to regain these after the heights of orgasm are reached. Kyler/Bree in this case, could be Elliott/Peggy or even Ginger/Derek or anyone else and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, which is a far cry from the earnest, determined college student I first encountered in ‘Too Hard to Forget’.

Yet ‘Too Close to Call’ is short, rather satisfying read nonetheless, perhaps only because I thought Kyler deserved what he searched for all these years. At least it has the straightforward sort of clarity that I couldn’t quite get from this series from the very start, and that’s good enough for me.

four-stars

Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ New Adult/ Reviews 16th June 2017
Dear Aaron by Mariana ZapataDear Aaron by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on June 10th 2017
Pages: 485
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three-stars

Ruby Santos knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she signed up to write a soldier overseas.The guidelines were simple: one letter or email a week for the length of his or her deployment. Care packages were optional.Been there, done that. She thought she knew what to expect.What she didn’t count on was falling in love with the guy.

Mariana Zapata’s penchant for the slowest of burns and intimidatingly long stories was what got me tentatively reaching for ‘Dear Aaron’, as the blurb promised to be exactly the kind of story I wanted to read in a long long time.

But it was a surprisingly easy read through it all, with the first half of the book spanning nearly a year and focusing solely on emails (that range from disgusting body functions to familial relationships) and text as Aaron’s and Ruby’s own communication take a turn for the intimate. Strangely enough, it was only when the first person POV came in later that my own reading slowed down, when the transition from letters to messaging to (sometimes neurotic) inner monologues caught me by surprise.

That said, Zapata’s characters do resonate with me, at least from what I’ve read of her books so far. Zapata’s amazing consistency of her characters, the unexpected bursts of humour, the wry and ironic perfection of the aw-shucks girl? It’s pat down. I loved Ruby and her self-deprecating humour straight out, down to the insecurities and the uncertainties that an average person can relate to.

Yet with Ruby providing the sole POV, her insights into the male protagonist through her own skewed observations are the only cues in a narrative given so subtly that it does leave the hero in question in danger of becoming a jaw-tightening, mute and jealous arse who doesn’t want to say what he thinks or feels. There isn’t much I can say of Aaron sadly, who remains somewhat a mystery despite what his letters seem to say and not say and is somewhat of a player by Ruby’s standards.

That said, this doesn’t really change the fact that ‘Dear Aaron’ of definitely one of the better, cuter and sweeter reads I’ve had in a while. I just couldn’t help the nagging feeling that it could have been sharper, possibly shorter and more hard-hitting where it really mattered.

three-stars
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