Category: New Adult

Riven by Roan Parrish

Riven by Roan ParrishRiven by Roan Parrish
Series: Riven #1
Published by Loveswept on 29th May 2018
Pages: 262
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three-stars

Theo Decker might be the lead singer of Riven, but he hates being a rock star. The paparazzi, the endless tours, being recognized everywhere he goes—it all makes him squirm. The only thing he doesn’t hate is the music. Feeling an audience’s energy as they lose themselves in Riven’s music is a rush unlike anything else . . . until he meets Caleb Blake Whitman. Caleb is rough and damaged, yet his fingers on his guitar are pure poetry. And his hands on Theo? They’re all he can think about. But Caleb’s no groupie—and one night with him won’t be enough.

Just when Caleb is accepting his new life as a loner, Theo Decker slinks into it and turns his world upside-down. Theo’s sexy and brilliant and addictively vulnerable, and all Caleb wants is another hit. And another. That’s how he knows Theo’s trouble. Caleb can’t even handle performing these days. How the hell is he going to survive an affair with a tabloid superstar? But after Caleb sees the man behind the rock star, he begins to wonder if Theo might be his chance at a future he thought he’d lost forever.

Put together a reluctant rockstar and a supposed washout in the ever-fickle music industry and the result is a volatile cocktail that results in several life-changing decisions. Theo Decker’s fame is wholly unwanted, and like a lost little boy, wanders through the fog of being with a band that breaks every music chart but leaves him on the outside of a firm circle of friendship, until Caleb Blake Whitman powers through his life as an accidental one-night stand.

‘Riven’ is my first Roan Parrish read and I’m starting to see how it’s a style of storytelling that moves some readers to tears and others to boredom. It’s just an odd mix of purple prose and perceptive insights, but also with some New Adult traits that felt a little too naive for this entire plot. Meaning, the rest of their journey is status-quo: most of the book read like a ton of push-pull, of Caleb running away and Theo constantly taking him back (accompanied by bruising reconciliation sex)—in the name of protecting him and them in some warped way—until some sort of balance is reached, past that point of acknowledging their kind of brokenness.

The strange (and sometimes wonderful) thing about Parrish’s writing is that there isn’t quite the focus on the characters’ pasts, but rather, the sensations that their memories dredge up which then serve to reconstruct them in bits and pieces.

Caleb’s drugged-up past and subsequent rehabs? A done deal, recounted repetitively merely as a tether to the present. Theo’s broken family and the litany of self-recrimination of not being enough for anyone? Also glossed through with some of the prerequisite angst that NA books tend to shed in all the pages, written not in flashback but in dialogue or as inner monologue, as being a private failure that he can’t overcome even with his current success.

Much of ‘Riven’ is the reconciliation of emotions, of feelings, of sorting oneself out when faced with yet another obstacle too big to see behind after all, so it isn’t a surprise that with each round of repetitive self-castigation for Caleb and Theo comes some kind of deeper understanding of themselves as well. Still, this ended up as a middling read for me; I wished I was more moved by Caleb/Theo’s rocky road to happiness, but well, I found myself simply neutral by the time they rode off into their countryside sunset.

three-stars

The One You Fight For by Roni Loren

The One You Fight For by Roni LorenThe One You Fight For by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away, #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 1st January 2019
Pages: 416
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four-half-stars

How hard would you fight for the one you love? Taryn Landry was there that awful night fourteen years ago when Long Acre changed from the name of a town to the title of a national tragedy. Everyone knows she lost her younger sister. No one knows it was her fault. Since then, psychology professor Taryn has dedicated her life's work to preventing something like that from ever happening again. Falling in love was never part of the plan...

Shaw Miller has spent more than a decade dealing with the fallout of his brother's horrific actions. After losing everything―his chance at Olympic gold, his family, almost his sanity―he's changed his name, his look, and he's finally starting a new life. As long as he keeps a low profile and his identity secret, everything will be okay, right?

When the world and everyone you know defines you by one catastrophic tragedy...How do you find your happy ending?

The tragedy of Long Acre mirrors so much of the contemporary violence in schools but I’ve never read a romance series that details the lives of those who actually live on in the aftermath of it—and how a single, catastrophic event drastically alters everything they’ve done or believed in.

In ‘The One You Fight For’, Taryn Landry and Shaw Miller—victims in their own right as siblings of the victim and the perpetrator of the shooting—still find themselves reeling from the events more than a decade ago, still paying in their own ways for what they perceive as their penance for playing a part for what went down and upturned their lives. For all of Loren’s focus on the victims and the fallout of the shooting in her previous books, I hadn’t considered at all, how close relatives would have dealt with this and Loren finally forces this into the limelight with Shaw/Taryn taking centre stage in this instalment.

Shaw and Taryn meet in a series of serendipitous events that took a number of twists and turns getting there: from an anonymous song at a bar, to a run where Taryn collapses and eventually signs up at a ninja-warrior-type gym where Shaw and his friend are setting up.

Loren’s brilliance at portraying brokenness and the ‘relatability’ of characters however, is as heartbreaking as it is compelling to read about: each of her protagonists, guilty for the small things they thought they’d done to contribute to the tragedy, each trying to make up for their perceived culpability in their own ways.

What moved me the most however, was the utterly downtrodden Shaw, who couldn’t see beyond the need to punish himself for something he didn’t commit for his entire life: for being related to the shooter is by proxy meant that he was guilty as charged, for how he’d never been able to shrug away the stigma, at the abuse he’d received from so many (the sharp, acid tongue from Taryn notwithstanding when she said some cruel things), for the yearning to only be ‘normal’.

I had a sort of inkling how this would go down from start to end. Taryn and Shaw aren’t hostile rivals to begin with, but what binds them is something more devastating and perhaps even notoriously taboo in the place where they live.

Conflict after conflict seem to await them up to a point where their loyalties are stretched and pulled in different directions, to the extent where the climax is a predictable one from the lead-ins and hints that have been given, as is their bittersweet resolution. Taryn/Shaw’s rather abrupt epilogue is hard-won nonetheless, though I did somehow wish for a more-iron-clad one that’s more inferred than given past the last page.

four-half-stars

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

The Simple Wild by K.A. TuckerThe Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 7th August 2018
Pages: 388
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Calla Fletcher wasn't even two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when Calla learns that Wren’s days may be numbered, she knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.

She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this rugged environment, Jonah—the unkempt, obnoxious, and proud Alaskan pilot who helps keep her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.

Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. Soon, she finds herself forming an unexpected bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago. It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.

I’ve always wondered if ‘The Simple Wild’ was meant to be an angsty ‘growing-up’ New Adult type book or a smart-alecky rom-com story. But the truth is that it probably falls somewhere in between and had me sniffing a mite bit by the end of it.

From the urban bustle of Toronto to the wilds of Alaska, Calla Fletcher’s reluctant visit to pay her sick father a visit is in essence, a tale of a city girl—horrified by the shit-all to do in a small, small town—forced to relook her own ideas on love and life. In a case of schadenfreude (#iregretnothing), I gleefully relished and cackled my way through every fish-out-of-water moment that Calla had as she learned to operate in a place so out of sync with her own rhythm, liking Jonah even more when he simply came out and accused her of being the shallow, self-absorbed and empty woman that I felt she was. I didn’t quite feel any affinity with her from the beginning and her awkward moments kept me cackling for a while longer, until some kind of character growth happened as Calla finally (and slowly) started to shed that flighty exterior.

That Jonah helped in his caustic, cutting way just gave me extra laughs in the process. Or it could be that I liked his straight, no-nonsense talk, his directness with everything, including his feelings, without the typical games that many characters tend to play.

The loss of the father-figure is a theme that started to dominate more and more as I got into the book, and along with the weight of regrets, resentment and missed chances, ‘The Simple Wild’ suddenly became an incredibly emotional and absorbing read by the time I was halfway through. I gobbled every bit of Tucker’s descriptions of life in the tundra and the day-to-day operation of a flight charter company, revelled in the small-town characters she’d drawn up so sharply, then wanted to cry ugly tears when it all came to a difficult end.

My only quibble is the lack of a concluding, firm-in-the-ground HEA by the time Calla and Jonah met again. Given Tucker’s emphasis on history repeating itself, Calla/Jonah felt like a couple headed for a HFN ending instead as ‘The Simple Wild’ left me loudly protesting that I needed more.

Fireworks by Sarina Bowen

Fireworks by Sarina BowenFireworks by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North #6
Published by Tuxbury Publishing LLC on 13th November 2018
Pages: 293
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two-stars

Skye Copeland is on paid leave from her broadcasting job after accidentally drawing a pecker on the traffic map.

Let that sink in. Like it’s her fault the traffic pattern that day created a perfect schlong?

Skye isn’t laughing. She needs this job. And that’s the only reason she’s agreed to chase down a story in her least favorite place—that hell on earth known as Vermont.

A quick trip. In and out. Much like - never mind. Skye can sneak into the town that once tried to break her, get the story and get back into the good graces of her producer. Easy peasy.

Except things go sideways even as she sets foot over the county line. Her step-sister is on the run from a violent drug dealer. And the cop on the case is none other than Benito Rossi, the man who broke her teenage heart.

His dark brown eyes still tear her apart. And even as she steels herself to finally tell him off after twelve years, the old fireworks are still there.

Things are about to go boom.

‘Fireworks’ is Sarina Bowen’s ever-growing ‘Truth North’ series as we’re taken back on the ride to Vermont where Skylar and Benito meet again after 12 years. Their history is slowly revealed in flashbacks over the course of the story, enveloped lovingly by the rustic Vermont small-town community and memories that don’t just seem to fade.

If this starts out rather light-hearted, Bowen inserts a little more suspense here along with the quirk and in this way, this particular instalment is a little different from the rest of the books, as a large part of the plot is being driven by an impending drug bust and a sexual predator who’d already left some stains in the characters’ lives.

‘Fireworks’ had some bits that bothered me, in fact—but this was what I’d expected of the ‘True North’ series which has so far, brought my own reactions to extremes. But I like Bowen’s style of writing (though not her characters always), so perhaps this still makes me a glutton for punishment.

I found Skye a sympathetic character mostly; Bowen’s portrayal of a hapless teenager facing down a sexual predator is terrifying and I can certainly understand how these experiences shaped her future though there seemed to be contradictory parts of Skye (practical, wry, yet a complete pushover where her rather dumb stepsister and Benito were concerned) that I couldn’t reconcile with the picture that I’d formed early on of her.

But the late insertion of the classic ‘other woman/hookup’ plot device coming into play later honestly bothered me as much as it did Skye—that it’d taken a lot for her to be naked and vulnerable for Benito, only for him to call that very act casual with another woman—because it simply felt disrespectful and somehow cheapening of their growing romance.

A 12-year separation is a long time and having Benito claim Skye is the only girl he’d ever loved while not actively doing a thing to find her again (as well as hooking up with others in the meantime, with the most recent one being Skye’s rival) felt hypocritical to me. That Benito had been hooking up with a ‘mean-girl’ then flightily going straight onto professing his love for Skye whom he’s always wanted just made this part of the story way too hard to swallow. It’d made him seem like a player and one who simply messed around other women’s feelings even if it was because of his obliviousness.

This device is one that I’ve come to actively detest in recent years; more often than not, it’s used too commonly to create conflict and have one protagonist doubt the other’s devotion or fidelity, only for some grovelling to ensue before the usual trite platitudes (‘it was only sex’, ‘it was only casual’, ’she/he means nothing to me’, ‘it’s only you for me’ or some other phrases with the same flavour) that’ll be thrown out and easily accepted. Yet as a reader, coming back from this type of comparison no matter what the character in question says, is damn near impossible. Like Skye, it’s something that can’t be un-read, or un-heard and thereafter serves as a niggling reminder of the past which pretty much killed the rest of the book for me.

‘Fireworks’ as a result, left me conflicted. I probably would have liked it way, way better minus the Jill Sullivan/mean-girl hookup nonsense which made me stumble irrecoverably, which in turn would have had me more wholeheartedly rooting for this particular second-chance romance—a trope that I already find myself sceptical about.

two-stars

Fragments of Ash by Katy Regnery

Fragments of Ash by Katy RegneryFragments of Ash by Katy Regnery
Series: A Modern Fairytale, #7
Published by Katharine Gilliam Regnery on 25th September 2018
Pages: 358
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three-stars

My name is Ashley Ellis…

I was thirteen years old when my mother – retired supermodel, Tig – married Mosier Răumann, who was twice her age and the head of the Răumann crime family.

When I turned eighteen, my mother mysteriously died. Only then did I discover the dark plans my stepfather had in store for me all along; the debauched "work" he expected me to do.

With the help of my godfather, Gus, I have escaped from Mosier's clutches, but his twin sons and henchmen have been tasked with hunting me down. And they will stop at nothing to return my virgin body to their father

…dead or alive.

With a flip in gender-roles occurring here, Katy Regnery takes on the Cinderella story with ‘Fragments of Ash’ and starts off with brutality. But then again, the fairy-tales in their original incarnations were morality stories with barely leashed-undertones of violence, which in some way, are well-captured in what Regnery is trying to write. They offer no happy endings but rather, grim and disturbing outcomes. In this case, the loss of innocence—not only sexually—is what these origin tales do indirectly talk about, and Regnery’s portrayal of Ash’s own loss of innocence certainly fits into this particular framework.

As the downtrodden, unwanted heroine, Ashley battles these circumstances, or at least, tries to find her own self-worth as she tries to escape a life of servitude. Her temporary place of refuge brings her to an older, disgraced ex-law-enforcement man, whose experience, in contrast to her naïveté, is as jarring as their decade-old-plus age-gap.

But if this started out deliciously dark and ominous, the story did take a bit of a downward turn thereafter. I couldn’t quite get Julian’s cold-to-hot stance that felt like the flip of a light switch; one moment he was lamenting about how he never trusted women anymore and in the next he was suddenly all in like an alpha-male protector with Ash that it gave me whiplash.

From that point onwards however, there was nothing more in ‘Fragments of Ash’ that resembled the significant bits of the Cinderella story—no ball, no magical meeting with a prince, no lost glass slipper, no country-wide hunt for the rags-to-riches girl. And I guess I was quite disappointed when those bits didn’t show up, even if a retelling is obviously, one that’s expected to veer off course, off the straight and narrow into new paths forged.

The shades of grey were lacking here in any case—given the archetypal nature of the fairy tale—so villains are evil to the core, and the good, well, stay resolutely good, though there were parts where the stylised stereotypes became unwittingly hilarious more than hair-raising.

In short, ‘Fragments of Ash’ turned out to be middling read: it’s good for a day’s worth of escapism at least, as Regnery’s retellings typically are.

three-stars

No Tomorrow by Carian Cole

No Tomorrow by Carian ColeNo Tomorrow by Carian Cole
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 13th September 2018
Pages: 488
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three-stars

The people we love are thieves.They steal our hearts. They steal our breath.They steal our sanity.And we let them.Over and over and over again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

They say you never forget your first time. Mine was with a homeless musician who effed my brains out under a bridge.

He was my first love. And fourteen years later, I still can’t get him out of my head.

He broke all my rules.He also broke my heart.

I watched him climb to stardom, cheering him on from afar.But I was never a fan; just a girl in love.

Like a tornado, he spiraled, leaving a path of destruction in his wake.

But love conquers all, right? It has to. Because here I stand, ravaged and ruined, needing it to be true.

You can’t go back, but I want to. Back to the bridge. Back to when he sang only for me. Before he was famous. Before he shattered my heart.

I thought I knew everything about him.But I could not have been more wrong.

He promised me every tomorrow. And here I am, waiting. And hoping. Again.

Carian Cole isn’t a new author to me and in my mind, there’s a particular space I have put away for her in my head because of her rather unusual characters and storytelling.  ‘No Tomorrow’ however, left me floundering with a pair so toxic that for half of it is it’s akin to watching a slow-sinking ship that starts barely afloat and nosedives towards the bottom of the seabed.

If this book is partly about the dangers of drugs, mental illness and the effect of addiction, then consider the entirety of ’No Tomorrow’ a trigger-warning for those who are already frustrated by a push-pull relationship even without the heavy baggage of what Cole writes about. Because much of it’s about denial, self-pity (with the defiant refusal to want to get better) and the consequences of the ‘classic’ rocker/artistic lifestyle that destroys as much as it creates…and the people who are sucked into it with seemingly no way out until something gives. Ad nauseam.

Which pretty much describes the relationship—full of the same ups and downs and endless emotional tantrums—between Piper and Blue, who are swept into a whirlwind of destruction and false starts amidst the outsider voices that come against them.

Spanning a huge gap of 14 years, a pretty much screwed-up definition of love is what I think I got out of the end of the book instead of an epic tale of love that I thought Cole might be giving us—starting off with a protagonist who seems like a flighty flake shirking every responsibility with mood swings so sharp that it’ll slap you in the face every time and a blindly, obstinately loyal woman who never manages to let go of her naïveté about love.

The narrative is quite bloated as a result of this merry-go-round of yearning, angst and muck. In fact, I thought the story could have easily been halved and the emotional impact no lesser because of it. Objectively, I do understand the build up of romance and the slow burn that Cole wishes to write, cloistered as we are in the intimate world of Piper and Blue when they first meet and embark on that shaky relationship. I appreciated Cole’s portrayal of Piper’s own doubts about her actions, her second-guessing (which anyone with a modicum of sense would do) and her naïveté in some way, about their future, but also the part about love that’s hard—the kind that sticks around when the daily grind gets monotonous and impossible to bear.

But mental disabilities in all their forms are just plain hard. Having seen some relatives struggle with it for years, Piper/Blue’s HEA seems like a pipe dream, a quickly-resolve conclusion where for many, the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t there at all. That there’s a sweet epilogue and a romance 2 decades in the making should have given me the fluffy bunnies, but in truth, I came out feeling more exhausted than anything else.

three-stars

Sin and Ink by Naima Simone

Sin and Ink by Naima SimoneSin and Ink by Naima Simone
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Scorched) on 15th October 2018
Pages: 187
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three-stars

There’s sin. And then there’s condemned-to-hell sin.

Being in lust with my dead brother’s wife pretty much guarantees that one day I’ll be the devil’s bitch. I promised my family—no, I promised him—I'd keep away.

My days as an MMA champion are behind me. But whenever I see Eden Gordon, with her wicked curves and that mouth created for dirty acts, it's a knock-down, drag-out fight to maintain my distance. "Hard Knox" becomes more than just the name of my tattoo shop.

There’s no woman more off-limits than my brother's strong-but-scarred widow. But she works with me, so it's getting harder and harder to stay away. She’s terrified of risking her heart again; I can tell. But when she looks at me like she wants my rough hands on that sexy body, I can’t think. I can barely breathe.

Surrendering to the forbidden might be worth losing everything...

‘Sin and Ink’ is somewhat different from Naima Simone’s previous offerings, but considering this is categorised clearly as erotica with several sides of forbidden/pseudo-incest/the tortured hero who wants what he can’t have, I knew what I was in for the moment I requested for this ARC. But every forbidden-type thing in romance is my kind of catnip, so I did expect quite a bit of push-pull and pretty much the soul-hollowing kind of angst that typically accompanies such tropes.

It isn’t to say that it can’t get painfully exhausting. Simone’s writing is drawn up with descriptions of every minute detail that strangely heightens emotion, yet still feel like page filler at times—from interior décor to every small movement that the characters make, to the relentless unravelling of every emotion they have. Both ride the waves of guilt and regret, all through the simmering sexual tension that underlies all of it, though there are parts that feel stifling as well as both Knox/Eden do the one-step-forward-two-steps-back routine until something finally, finally gives.

Essentially, a lot of ‘Sin and Ink’ is a long, long journey of angst and emotional overload of wanting to cross a line; this is however, repeated ad nauseam when Knox keeps swimming in guilt as he rehashes all the reasons why Eden is forbidden goods while the latter tries to decide whom she really loves, with the constant fixation on body parts that leads to imagining how each other would be like in bed. There is the use of a trope that I absolutely detest nonetheless, (Eden watching Knox hook up with another woman in the past and then getting aroused by it ) though this is a clearly personal preference, which in a way, becomes a disturbing part in how Eden—spurred on by this memory—finally decides to do the same to Knox later.

But is this nitpicking on my part? Maybe. I’m well aware of the expectations that I have to manage considering this has been published under Entangled’s Scorched Imprint.

’Sin and Ink’ is after all, primarily erotica and a decently-written one at that if you take into account what this story is supposed to be heavy on sex and lighter on plot. In that, it delivers. The sexy times are abundant and scorching, despite the dead spouse whom Eden can’t seem to let go of and Knox’s constant self-flagellation and the subsequent uncertainty surrounding their forbidden relationship. So if this is exactly what rocks your boat, then ‘Sin and Ink’ does exactly what it promises.

three-stars