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The Story of Us by Tara Sivec

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ New Adult/ Reviews 15th June 2017
The Story of Us by Tara SivecThe Story of Us by Tara Sivec
Published by Forever Yours on June 11th 2017
Pages: 336
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three-stars

How much can a man take before he breaks?

1,843 days. That's how long I survived in that hellhole. They tried to break me, but I resisted. And I owe it all to the memory of warm summer nights, the scent of peaches, and the one woman who loved me more than I ever deserved to be loved. Now, I'll do anything to get back to her.

Only Shelby Eubanks isn't the girl I left behind all those years ago. She's someone else, a stranger. My Shelby-my little green-eyed firecracker-would never give up her dreams, would never disappear into her mother's ambitions. But I won't give up on her. On us. I may be broken, and scarred, and not the man I used to be, but I will do whatever it takes to remind her of the story of us.

High (or melo)drama and a convoluted back story make this a soap-opera-worthy kind of read, complete with a flood of tears and tons of yelling, so much so that it’s easy to forget that adults are behaving that way—some of it’s even justified—or that teenage hormonal angst is doing all the talking instead.

‘The Story of Us’ is not just about a prisoner-of-war returning to find that things have changed drastically. It’s sort of a second-chance type romance, but with layers of deception and manipulation that made this read a mountain full of angst as both Eli and Shelby vacillated between heaving sobs and tearful promises never to let each other go again.

The long and short of it is, there are so many parts to their story and each part could have a whole book on its own. In fact, I think I would have liked to have read more of Eli/Shelby during their tumultuous stable boy and post-college years, rather than have it retold in bits and pieces or as flashbacks and letters which pretty much broke the narrative for me. I wanted to see the build-up, the breaking tension and the subsequent falling apart as a whole, but having it interwoven into the present made it more confusing as I spent the time instead, trying to put things together on my own instead of focusing on the emotion and the relationship between them. More so, the huge twist that was thrown in lost its full impact because of the disjointedness of the narrative. Mix this up with severe PTSD, a parent-plot type conspiracy and a series of coincidences and a villainous ex-fiancé (whose clout with the top brass could apparently affect deployments? really?) who seemingly disappeared down the line just when I thought it was going to come together, it all ended, way too abruptly before I could digest anything.

It’s an intense read nonetheless—my issues with it aside—though the sheer amount of tragedy and drama would be better suited to those who like the introspective type of storytelling, with loads of emotion that roll off the pages without letting up. And if you’re that kind who goes for these? Get your tissues ready.

three-stars

Exploited by A. Meredith Walters

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th June 2017
Exploited by A. Meredith WaltersExploited by A. Meredith Walters
Series: Zero Day, #1
Published by Loveswept on July 25th 2017
Pages: 288
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four-stars

At first glance, I’m nothing out of the ordinary. I am a daughter. A sister. A friend. When you look at me you won’t see anything that warrants suspicion. I don’t look like a criminal.
My name is Hannah Whalen, but most people know me as freed0mov3rdr1v3, or “Freedom Overdrive”—one of the world’s most prolific and notorious hacktivists. My goal—my purpose—is to shed light on the evil that lurks behind the corporate and government lies we have been force-fed for too long.
My story begins with the best possible intention. Devoting my life to exposing the corrupt. The dishonest. The unethical. For that, they label me a cyber-terrorist. Wanted by the FBI, I’ve always been one step ahead.
Until I fell in love.
Because I’m sleeping with the man who’s hunting me. And he has no idea that I am his prey. Now I have to decide what’s more important: my freedom or my heart.

The romance ‘verse of hacking is a relatively unexplored one and diving into ‘Exploited’ was an absolute treat as I’ve always wanted a story that really dug into black hats, the mentality under which they operate and the scrutiny they face.

That said, I do like A. Meredith Walters’s take on vigilante justice and the shadowy line that hackers often cross. Unlike the books that delve into them, ‘Exploited’

is a raw, honest take about the power trips that hackers take they dodge the law and the huge amount of pandering to ego that we see, as much as for Hannah as it is for Mason. But ultimately, put a law enforcement officer on the tail of the hacker (and vice versa) and Walters has a cat-and-mouse game going that you already know can’t end terribly well.

The thing about ‘Expoited’ is that there’s this bleak, eerie melancholy that I can’t seem to shake off somehow. The first-person narrative here isn’t one that only brings you closer and into the characters’ heads; it suffocates you just as Mason and Hannah live their suffocating lives, twisted and burdened by tragedy and circumstances not of their own making. Anger and the burning need for revenge has driven Hannah to her double life as a hacker who doles our her own brand of criminal justice by being one herself; Mason’s own dysfunctional family has brought him down a road where he’s hemmed in both at home and in the office.

In an odd way, I found myself wholly invested in the intrigue and the characters by extension, though Mason and Hannah were a pairing that I could neither get into nor like. Mason and Hannah weren’t protagonists I could root for—the callous way they treated others around them for one—and the games they played felt more like they belonged in an erotic thriller like ‘Basic Instinct’ that has deceit underscoring the action both at work and in the bedroom. I couldn’t quite get Hannah’s connection with Mason, at least because the depth of her manipulation makes her a difficult protagonist to like, but I found myself fascinated with how she was going to twist her way out of her whole setup thanks to her mysterious hacking partner, whose motivations are equally suspect. Mason’s dalliance with a work colleague and that constant comparison to Hannah (his ability to jump between women so quickly) grated on me and that gullibility that he had with Hannah was sort of laughable.

In short, this felt more of a parody of a romance than a proper one, yet that was in itself, a fascinating layer to the suspense that kept the pages turning for me. I found that I could objectively look at two people on the opposite sides of the law playing each other and not quite have an affinity for one or the other while enjoying the tightening of the noose on Hannah’s neck. The pace-perfect cliffhanger ending is predictable though unsatisfactory and more than anything, I want to see how a HEA is even possible in the sequel to this book.

four-stars

Stay Close by Alexa Riley

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th June 2017
Stay Close by Alexa RileyStay Closer Series: For You #1
Published by Carina Press on July 17th 2017
Pages: 69
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four-stars

A former Russian mafia soldier is hired to protect a friend’s young daughter, but he knows he’ll do more than keep her safe–he’ll make her his. Forever.

If she were to simply whisper my name, I would be at her feet, begging to touch what I shouldn’t, taste what doesn’t belong to me, run my hands along the sweet innocence she taunts me with.

Penelope Justice is eighteen, old enough to graduate high school but—according to her parents—not old enough to live without 24/7 security. Practice has made her an expert at ditching her bodyguards. One look at Ivan and she never wants to run again.

I’ve been hired to protect her.

I can’t help but think that perhaps someone should have protected her from me.

Ivan steals the breath right out of her lungs, something no boy has ever done. Then again, he’s far from a boy. This man, this man who looks like he could kill someone with the flick of a wrist, is everything. He is her future.

I can’t let her go and I won’t give her up. I’ve done bad things in my life, and I don’t deserve her. But I can’t do the honorable thing.

I’ve never been noble, and I’m not starting now.

Alexa Riley, as I’m starting to learn (that’s really late of me, I know) is pure escapism. Forget the harness of reality, throw out the doubts of instant love and lust and usher in the unapologetic over-the-top type of devotion and adoration that can come from both protagonists, not matter how old or young they are.

Age gap? Bad pasts? Bah. Of no consequence, mostly. What matter here is that the connection is instant, the want is mutual and the pledging of hearts is eternal, as far as Riley is concerned.

‘Stay Close’ is an indulgent read (and an off-shoot of the ‘For Her’ series), an unlikely pair that come together in the form of a coming-of-age-woman and her bodyguard with a dubious background. Angst is virtually non-existent on the whole and somewhat short journey ends deliriously happy with an epilogue that seals the entire deal.

So put the blinkers on your eyes, stop the jaded snorts when some cheese comes in, because that’s what reading Riley tends to demand – a complete suspension of disbelief and the investment in a pair only meant for each other.

four-stars

My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th June 2017
My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan QuinnMy Best Friend's Ex by Meghan Quinn
Published by Amazon Publishing on June 1st 2017
Pages: 248
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five-stars

When I found an eviction notice taped on my apartment door, I had two options: find a comfortable cardboard box to call home, or move in with Tucker Jameson.
Seeing that cardboard makes me feel itchy, I chose the latter. Which shouldn't be that big of a deal since Tucker is one of my good friends. And because he's still pining after his ex-girlfriend and I'm trying to finish my nursing degree, there is nothing to worry about in the romance department, making my last semester an easy one to conquer.
Boy, was I wrong.
Rules are set, dinners are made, conversations are had, and a shirtless, swoony roommate walks around in nothing but a pair of black briefs, ruining me for every other man.
Before I know it, I turn into a panting, lust-filled woman begging for Tucker to kiss me, touch me, and show me exactly what is hiding under those briefs.
But with great orgasms, comes great consequences.
Tucker might be my friend and roommate but he’s also my best friend's ex-boyfriend, making him completely off-limits. At least that's what my brain is telling me, my heart is speaking an entirely different language.

At this very point in time—the very moment I finished turning the last page of this book—I’m inclined to think that I’ve barely yet recovered from the amazing Tucker Jameson (who made my heart break many times throughout for him yet I loved him more for it) before I needed to pound out a review for a story that pretty much took my breath away.

‘My Best Friend’s Ex’ is so much more than what the flirty little blurb suggests; it’s instead a perfect mix of funnies and heartbreaking moments that leave you breathless with laughter then wrung out completely the next.

And that’s mostly due to Tucker and Emma—2 characters with so much chemistry and so much love between them that you can’t help but think there’s no better out there for either of them. I loved every bit of the build-up and how they re-established their relationship and despite some cock-blocking moments, was gratified when they finally hit the sheets. I’ve no desire really, to read the first book that introduced Tucker as a broken, peripheral character (especially if he’s the one left behind in it), who’d been alone in dealing with his bitterness, guilt and hurt when the group of friends he had pulled away from him as well.

But even with a huge load of tragedy behind him, Tucker is admirable in the way he pulls himself up and away from it, finally putting himself out there again for Emma, who is as compassionate and understanding as they come, living up to her reputation as the one who has always taken care of others. But because they’d been friends long before that, the journey is slightly easier, softened by years of memories and camaraderie, so this friends-to-lovers trope is in some way, easier to bear, given their history.

There isn’t much more that I can say, except that this has been a perfect afternoon indulgence that made me run the entire gamut of emotions and then once again. And if this genre can’t do it, then what can?

five-stars

Stranger: A Dark Stalker Romance by Robin Lovett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 4th June 2017
Stranger: A Dark Stalker Romance by Robin LovettStranger: A Dark Stalker Romance by Robin Lovett
Series: Dark Stalker #1
Published by SMP Swerve on June 13th 2017
Pages: 300
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three-stars

This isn’t supposed to be a love story. This is not the kind of book where a girl gets swept off her feet. Where the hero is her knight in shining armor. This is a novel about ruining someone’s life. But even the simplest plans for revenge can go wrong.

I like the way he watches me, this man I don’t know. It’s something I’ll never confess to, never tell a soul. But with one look of those penetrating eyes, I feel as if he’s unwrapped me, turned me inside out, rubbed away at my trust-fund-holding, good-girl exterior until I’m raw and exposed.

He looks like he wants to destroy me. Like he wants to obliterate me and my shallow, perfect life until there’s nothing left.
And once I meet Logan, the crazy part is, I want him to.

***

I hate Penny Vandershall.
I hate her money and her family and her privilege. I hate her innocence and her smile and her shine. I want to annihilate her lightness and consume her with my darkness, my anger, my red-hot rage until there is nothing left of her.
I know the truth about her, the truth that will make it easy to bring her down. To ruin her for good. But through the blinding haze of my hatred, my burning need for revenge, she's starting to get to me. She looks at me in wide-eyed fear, like a girl approaching the tiger’s cage. And yet she refuses to walk away; edging closer until she can meet the beast who wants to rip her apart.
And even though I set out to ruin her, she may be the one to destroy me.

‘Stranger’ quite boldly goes where many romances don’t go, with its questionable take on love (if anyone can even call it that) and revenge that comes in the form of blackmail with sexual gratification and revelation of information as the bartering currency. The subversiveness in the blurb appealed from the start and but it did cross some boundaries into the darker aspects of sex and ‘love’ while juggling some mystery and suspense, so it’s probably not for those who prefer cute reads.

’Stranger’ is a no-holds-barred version of lust, hate and destruction, that much I get and accept and even like because of how far this actually deviates from the enemies-to-lovers trope. Robin Lovett does write—believably—about the blurred boundaries between depravity, pleasure and despair, and how freedom, no matter how fleeting, can be found in the most unexpected places with the worst kind of people. Logan and Penny, for most part, are caught in this downward spiral of hate sex and denial and I did wonder how they were both going to come out of this drama created out of their own making, let alone find that HEA.

Instead, this cycle goes on for pages without really getting to the heart of the mystery and it ultimately proved frustrating. Disclosure were slow in coming and I had questions that weren’t ever quite addressed fully even by the end of the book, all of which contributing to the stuttering pacing that did weaken the story’s overall impact for me.

Why had Penny fallen so easily to Logan’s blackmail without even thinking of asking to see factual evidence of what Logan was accusing her dead father of—before agreeing to marry him just so he could have access to her trust fund? Why didn’t she call the police which would have been a natural reaction, it seems, for most people, when she realised he was stalking her? Was Logan’s endgame really only to get Penny’s money after years of plotting, despite his saying that it as to destroy her family and her too facile? And if so, why had he waited until her father died to exact his revenge?

There is nonetheless, a thread of tension and wariness that never goes away by the end, although there is, to some extent, some depth of character that accounts for my rating of the story. Penny’s self-centered world of denial did shatter when Logan revealed his version of the reality she never could accept, though I would have liked it better if Penny had tried figuring out her own mind and emotions rather than constantly struggling and bouncing between her brother and Logan, whose aggression and dominance did seem too much for her. Yet I couldn’t help but feel Logan remained as shady as ever (his past was never really revealed) and all he seemed to be was a poor man of vengeance dressed as a beach bum, whose future was always in doubt, right up to the cliffhanger end which pretty much confirmed that the story arc was far from finished.

three-stars

When It’s Real by Erin Watt

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 3rd June 2017
When It’s Real by Erin WattWhen It's Real by Erin Watt
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 30th 2017
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Meet Oakley Ford-teen celebrity, renowned pop star, child of famous movie stars, hottie with millions of fangirls… and restless troublemaker. On the surface he has it all, but with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry, and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley's team decides it's time for an intervention. The result: an image overhaul, complete with a fake girlfriend meant to show the world he's settled down.
Enter seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett-devoted sister, part-time waitress, the definition of "normal." Under ordinary circumstances she'd never have taken this gig, but with her family strapped for cash, she doesn't have much of a choice. And for the money Oakley's team is paying her, she figures she can put up with outlandish Hollywood parties and a team of publicists watching her every move. So what if she thinks Oakley's a shallow, self-centered jerk? It's not like they're going to fall for each other in real life…right?

‘When it’s Real’ is an undoubtedly fun read and an absolute guilty pleasure…and I was entertained throughout, which is more than I can say for many books these days. But re-tune your inner voices for teenage drama and high-school antics because it’s a NA/YA book with teenage characters who well, behave in a way you completely expect them to.

I read this in one sitting because I did like the voices of both Vaughan and Oakley and it was interesting to see how Oakley became more and more likeable while the initially-grounded Vaughan became a little stupid in the middle.

There are also, so many echoes of the cynical world of showbiz written into this and I couldn’t help but grin wryly at the not-quite-blatant references to the type of tabloid headlines and social media feeds that construct a world that as fake or as real as you want it to be. The oblique pokes at how certain music celebrities (and their fans) behave these days is as obvious as daylight too, which thoroughly delighted me as I saw these parodied so well here.

‘When it’s real’ ends with the same euphoric high of the ending notes of the concert, which is mostly HFN bliss for the newly-minted couple in question, but in the fickle world of celebrity-happiness and coupledom, it’s probably for the best.

four-stars

Easy Fortune by Kristen Proby

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 30th May 2017
Easy Fortune by Kristen ProbyEasy Fortune by Kristen Proby
Series: Boudreaux #5.5
Published by Ampersand Publishing on May 30th 2017
Pages: 66
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one-star

Lena Turner has spent her life as the outsider. Thanks to her extraordinary gifts, she’s learned to be independent—especially when it comes to men. She’s content to live her life in New Orleans as a schoolteacher, dating casually and dedicated to her small family. Long term is not part of her plan. Sometimes the past catches up with you…

Leaving Lena behind to pursue his career was the most difficult thing Mason Coulter ever did. He told himself that it was for the best, had even convinced himself that he had only Lena’s best interests in mind. But now, after six long years, he’s back in New Orleans to settle his late eccentric aunt’s estate. All he has to do is get in and out of the city without submitting to the need to see Lena. But to Mason’s dismay, his aunt made other plans. And sometimes the future and the past collide… Having Mason walk back into her life is something Lena never saw coming. She could refuse to help him, but she’s never been good at telling Mason no. So she’ll do what she can to get the estate settled and Mason out of her life for good. At least, that’s the plan. But Mason has plans of his own…

‘Easy Fortune’ is, well, an easy read and incredibly short even for a novella. It packs a second-chance romance, a cute treasure-hunt and a resolution that’s too neatly wrapped-up with promises of true love after a week of sex and fun, though I do think it would have been better had it been a longer, more-drawn out story that wouldn’t have otherwise, put an easily-forgiving female protagonist and a selfish bastard of a male main character back together easily.

But that’s cynical, jaded ol’ me speaking and I’d be the first to raise my flag in support of the mantra that second-chances romances have a hell of a lot to prove before they actually satisfy. Maybe I just wanted an extended time of grovelling and a taste of Mason’s own medicine shoved down his throat; maybe I wanted more than just sex that heated the sheets but a deeper development that went past a treasure hunt and a letter that pretty much explained to the MCs why love is important and why both characters should be together.

My problem with this particular second-chance story is that Mason’s apology and return to Lena’s life really felt like an afterthought: circumstances had brought him back to where he used to be not because of choice and that his meeting with Lena (and subsequent apology) would not have happened because he never would have sought her out of his own will independently. Throughout, I couldn’t help but think that he was nothing but a self-serving idiot—leaving the woman to pursue his dream without even managing to bother with an explanation when she would have been supportive of him—especially he’d presumptuously and genuinely thought he leaving her without a word really was the best decision for her.

It didn’t seem like a decision that anyone sensible could come back from (let alone easily), particularly after the emotional damage Mason did to Lena, which was why her easy forgiveness of his thoughtless actions left me incredulous, as it merely felt like a hurdle the author wanted to get over and done quickly with before they could move forward together.

The only saving grace, perhaps, was that Lena left in the end yet even so, I was left sceptical in the manner in which Mason came back after trying to redeem himself in a (laughably) big way.

My rant could go on and on. But it’s not a new argument that I’m rehashing against second-chance romances because there are so many things that make this particular trope problematic for me. ‘Easy Fortune’ sadly, isn’t quite one that I could swallow hook, line and sinker.

one-star
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