Category: New Adult

From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata

From Lukov with Love by Mariana ZapataFrom Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on February 1st 2018
Pages: 493
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If someone were to ask Jasmine Santos to describe the last few years of her life with a single word, it would definitely be a four-letter one.

After seventeen years—and countless broken bones and broken promises—she knows her window to compete in figure skating is coming to a close.

But when the offer of a lifetime comes in from an arrogant idiot she’s spent the last decade dreaming about pushing in the way of a moving bus, Jasmine might have to reconsider everything.

Including Ivan Lukov.

I do have a love-hate relationship with the slow burn novel, over which Mariana Zapata seems to be the reining monarch. If the frequent complaint about novellas is the instant love/lust and the unrealistic view of a HEA that results because of it, the slow burn story tries to address this lack of believability by going in the opposite direction—to the chagrin of some readers, particularly when it doesn’t work out too well.

What the slow-burn does however, is allow the passing of (a lot of) time to do its magic…and for hidden sides of Zapata’s protagonists to emerge when it’s least expected. I did appreciate the multi-faceted character of Jasmine, though ultimately, I couldn’t find her entirely likeable. While I could empathise with her issues and cheer her burning ambitions, often she merely came off as self-absorbed and childishly juvenile, prone to outbursts of temper, vehemently disagreeing with everyone else for the bloody sake of saving her own pride. I did love Ivan, in contrast, for his ability to give it back as good as he got from Jasmine, for his loyalty and his unwavering support as she went through her mood swings and the quirky rescue animals he kept as a completely separate part of his life.

Still, ‘From Lukov with Love’ didn’t resonate with me that much, not because of the believability of it, but because of the pacing that crammed a romantic relationship in the last 30 pages of the book, while rest of it seemed to deal mostly with a developing friendship and a young woman’s own journey towards being better while getting some enlightenment about it in the process. I waded and skimmed through pages and pages of dialogue, cringing at weird descriptors such as ‘the redhead who had given birth to me’ just threw me off (what was wrong with simply using the word ‘mother’?!) and the copious repetitive blinking Ivan/Jasmine did, while wondering when the tension between them was finally going to break.

When it finally did, the switch was rushed and abrupt, without the sense of satisfaction I needed to feel because their friendship simply felt stretched past the point of elasticity. In fact, I thought the key moments of Ivan/Jasmine’s interactions could have made the story more streamlined and less cumbersome—not every scene or every recording of Jasmine’s inner monologues seemed necessary—especially when written with the deep, cutting emotional fervour that Zapata is capable of.

It isn’t the first time I’ve finished a Zapata book asking myself what the hell just happened, particularly when the HEA passes by in a blink. It’s akin to queuing hours for a ride at a carnival and only to have the thrill ride over in about 2 minutes and then I’m left to stumble out after being dazzled for a few moments, wishing the wait was more worth it.


Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen

Brooklynaire by Sarina BowenBrooklynaire by Sarina Bowen
Series: Brooklyn Bruisers #4
Published by Rennie Road Books on February 12th 2018
Pages: 452
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You'd think a billion dollars, a professional hockey team and a six-bedroom mansion on the Promenade would satisfy a guy. You'd be wrong.

For seven years Rebecca has brightened my office with her wit and her smile. She manages both my hockey team and my sanity. I don't know when I started waking in the night, craving her. All I know is that one whiff of her perfume ruins my concentration. And her laugh makes me hard.

When Rebecca gets hurt, I step in to help. It's what friends do. But what friends don't do is rip off each others' clothes for a single, wild night together.

Now she's avoiding me. She says we're too different, and it can never happen again. So why can't we keep our hands off each other?

Writing this review was difficult, mostly because of the anticipation I had with Nate/Becca’s story—the build-up and the fandom surrounding this couple pretty much came to a feeding frenzy—which Sarina Bowen finally wrote. Most likely then, were my expectations over the top and too fanciful and honestly, probably something no author would want to write, which also meant that my own personal expectations had to be adjusted after I blew through the book.

‘Brooklynaire’ is in essence, a forbidden-ish boss/employee story, with the billionaire hero thrown into it, yet it’s also a very slow, meandering friends-to-lovers romance, after several wrong turns that involved a fair bit of bed-hopping and a pregnancy scare before the delirious HEA happens. Part of it is also a Nate and Becca origins story; the brief details given in their early years were what I loved the most as both protagonists started on their friendship, before the money and glitz came rolling in, back when the guys were just really smart geeks in jeans and hoodies working as a tech startup. Half of the first book took place in the same timeline as the previous book however, filling in the gaps of what we thought might have happened in ‘Pipe Dream’ and it was only in the second half that Bowen brings us onto uncharted ground with their relationship.

I wasn’t too sure what I was exactly expecting, but I did find myself hoping that Nate/Becca’s story had taken a different turn somehow: the amount of OW-drama proved a little too much for my liking, even though the focus remained Nate’s uphill climb to get Becca to see him as the man beneath the suit in a way that didn’t fully push up the dial on the angst. It was frankly, harder to get behind them especially when Nate’s past hammered back in just when their relationship was on the uptick—I thought we could have done without the last, frustrating bit that threw me for a loop.

Still, Bowen has a writing style that sucks you in and never lets go, and her heartfelt characters have quirks (which you like) and a sense of maturity (mostly) that make them generally likeable and more easily relatable than others that I’ve read about. Consequently, finishing any book of Sarina Bowen is no hardship—to this extent I’m in awe of Bowen’s ability to get a reader’s empathy for either one or even both of her protagonists. It’s definitely odd that I thought I would have liked ‘Brooklynaire’ better, though as happy as I am to see Nate/Becca finally getting the ending they should be getting, their story didn’t punch me as emotionally hard as I thought it would have.


Claimed by Alexa Riley

Claimed by Alexa RileyClaimed by Alexa Riley
Series: For Her #3
Published by Carina Press on March 27th 2018
Pages: 314
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Jordan Chen is the man behind the screen. As part of the elite security team for Osbourne Corporation, he has an iron grip on protection, all without having to make close connections with people. Until he meets the beautiful Jay, and suddenly his quiet life doesn't seem so perfect anymore. He needs more. He needs her.

A workaholic to her core, Jay Rose doesn't have a lot of men in her life. Smiling in the face of her enemies gets her the results she wants at work, but doesn't exactly project a warm, welcoming vibe. So she's surprised when the enigmatic security expert strikes up a friendship with her—surprised but flattered, and maybe a little bit turned on.

A company as powerful as Osbourne Corporation has powerful enemies, and when Jay becomes a target, Jordan realizes there's nothing he won't do to bring her home safe.

It’s no surprise that I’ve often complained about the brevity of the dynamic (and instalove) duo Alexa Riley’s stories. The novella-length and even shorter tales they weave have tended to be—in part due to the length—full of alpha males who take over their women so thoroughly that they sometimes consume them whole, developing tunnel, caveman vision to the point where they see nothing but the words ‘mine, mine, mine’. It’s ‘crazy love’, as a villain in ‘Claimed’ says, or devotion so complete it could well be religious—a style that any Alexa Riley reader needs to get accustomed to first.

But Riley’s full-length stories, in the ‘For Her’ series at least, have gone a long way to ease this somewhat extreme vision of theirs, as the plot—as well as the action—unfolded and stretched over chapters rather than mere paragraphs. The drawn-out storytelling is a boon in this case and the burn between Jay/Jordan more believable because of it.

Yet if I thought ‘Claimed’ started out quite well, the story and characterisation faltered for me as the pages wore on. I liked the initial awkwardness between Jay and Jordan, even as Riley pushed their relationship straight into the deep end rather quickly without much angst at all. And while Jordan was quite the bossy protagonist to remember, what I couldn’t quite get was Jay’s seeming inability to use her brains around Jordan—her total dependence on him, her concealment of the threat pushing her into TSTL behaviour, her helplessness later on—and her sudden pliancy when it came to just becoming a passive taker as she got in deeper with Jordan. That said, a caveat: my confessed preference for stronger, take-charge heroines is definitely showing up here however, particularly since Riley has written some suspense into the story but not too much that it overwhelms the romantic elements in it.

While ‘Claimed’ isn’t my favourite of the series, it’s one I jumped onto because just the thought of a full-length Alexa Riley story is irresistible. Riley’s iron-clad reaffirmations of HEAs (multiple epilogues!), over the top as they might be, do sometimes work out after all quite nicely—this book’s tooth-achingly sweet, drawn-out ending fits the bill.


Down by Contact by Santino Hassell

Down by Contact by Santino HassellDown by Contact by Santino Hassell
Series: The Barons, #2
Published by Intermix on January 16th 2018
Pages: 124
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Simeon Boudreaux, the New York Barons’ golden-armed quarterback, is blessed with irresistible New Orleans charm and a face to melt your mama’s heart. He’s universally adored by fans and the media. Coming out as gay in solidarity with his teammate hasn’t harmed his reputation in the least—except for some social media taunting from rival linebacker Adrián Bravo.

Though they were once teammates, Adrián views Simeon as a traitor and the number-one name on the New Jersey Predators’ shit list. When animosity between the two NFL players reaches a boiling point on the field, culminating in a dirty fist fight, they’re both benched for six games and sentenced to joint community service teaching sullen, Brooklyn teens how to play ball.

At first, they can barely stand to be in the same room, but running the camp forces them to shape up. With no choice but to work together, Simeon realizes Adrián is more than his alpha-jerk persona, and Adrián begins to question why he’s always had such strong feelings for the gorgeous QB…

The ultimate enemies-to-lovers showdown begins during a pre-season football game with cutting words and ends in an injury, fights that spread even to the fans and a stint doing community service for several weeks. I loved the explosive conflict right from the start—it had me laughing yet tingling with anticipation as I wondered how Santino Hassell was going to navigate the tricky waters of coming out, bisexuality and parental pressure, particularly as top level athletes.

But Hassell manages remarkably well. I didn’t think that Simeon and Adrian could get past their hot, heavy but difficult history, but Hassell’s slow revelation of Adrian’s sullen, vindictive nitpicking at Simeon’s sexuality is a perceptive one, as is his writing of Simeon as someone who isn’t the typical dumb jock/joker unable to see what Adrian is trying to do. And like the men they are, their behaviour is spot on: not terribly heavy on the emotions or the angst. There’s the typical deflection, roundabout admissions and the finality of the acceptance that I’ve come to expect, up to the last few pages when it’s simply breathtaking just to read the complete turnaround that Adrian makes.

There are subtle differences that distinguish Hassell’s writing from the rest of the (rather few M/M) sports romances I’ve read so far, but it’s a style I can easily get used to. It’s stylishly done, perfectly paced, with dialogue that’s unexpectedly edgy, harder and unpredictable—not to mention, the excellent way both Simeon and Adrian are set up that I’m always left guessing how both might react in the situation they find themselves in.

Even as a non-fan of American football, ‘Down By Contact’ is a fantastic read. Hassell has made it more about the protagonists than about the sport (I don’t thankfully, get lost in the details) and way before after Simeon and Adrian ride happily into their sunset, I’m already wondering how Hassell is going to top this.


Finding Sunshine by Rene Webb

Finding Sunshine by Rene WebbFinding Sunshine by Rene Webb
Series: A Pinetree Novel #1
Published by Rene Webb on July 14th 2015
Pages: 234
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Young aspiring photographer, Nina King, is searching for a place to belong.

As her professional internship has recently ended, she’s now out of work and trying to find herself while struggling to build a viable career.

Ex-con, Aaron Masters, is searching for redemption.

When they met Nina’s smile—for a precious moment—warmed the darkness inside. Now Aaron will stop at nothing to make her his woman, keep her, and protect her from the truth of his rough past.

Will Aaron’s dark past derail the couple’s bright future?

I requested this book from Netgalley because the thought of an ex-con wanting/needing redemption just seemed too good to pass up. And the ideas of life stalling, that people need to move on as they find cracks in their lives that are difficult to smooth over—are seductive ones and so close to reality that I thought this story would actually be right up my alley.

But ‘Finding Sunshine’ just wasn’t what I expected, as it all read like a New Adult book populated with characters that just didn’t feel like they’ve grown up yet.

I couldn’t get into the them at all in fact: the instant love (or lust) which just seemed to be baseless and inexplicable to me which then led to a long period of feel-good lull of sunshine, sex and roses, the startling (and childish?) outbursts of temper that made me wonder at times about the characters’ maturity and the fight about who hooked up with whom in their friends’ group simply put me off.

I also had some difficulty separating the voices of Aaron and Nina, except for odd terms like ‘Golly’ and ‘Oh My Goddess’ which just didn’t seem to fit the entire storytelling; offhand, I do know they’re meant to be character quirks that make them distinct and maybe even adorable. Yet it threw me off and I struggled through the whole book with my reservations never quite dissipating at all towards the end.

Clearly, this is not the book for me at all.


Man Card by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

Man Card by Sarina Bowen and Tanya EbyMan Card by Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby
Series: Man Hands #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on January 15th 2018
Pages: 452
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Nothing ventured, nothing banged...

AshI still don't know how it happened. One minute I was arguing with my arrogant competitor--our usual trash-talk over who deserves the larger commission. But somehow I went from throwing down to kneeling down... It can never happen again. I don't even like Braht. He's too slick. He's a manipulating mansplaining party boy in preppy clothes.So why can't I get him out of my head?

BrahtThere are two things I know without question. One: Ash and I are destined for each other. Two: never trust a man with a unibrow.Ash is my missing my piece. She's the sweet cream to my gourmet espresso. And nothing gets me going faster than her contempt for me. They don't call her the Ashkicker for nothing. Eventually I'll win her over...if my past doesn't ruin everything first.

A not-quite secret: ‘Man Card’ was something I hesitated a long time over, but gave in because, well, it’s Sarina Bowen, an author who seems to take on anything, anyone and everything without fear, no matter the consequences.

And I’m glad I took the time for this one. I found the slapstick comedy in ‘Man Hands’ near intolerable, but ‘Man Card’ was thankfully a return to the comfort zone for me, which was akin to not barrelling into walls and left feeling bewildered by a certain type of humour that never really worked for me. In fact, Braht’s and Ash’s story was a wittier, more relatable, less over-the-top, more believable version than its predecessor in a fremenies-to-lovers story. There were scenes and internal monologues so hysterical and unnecessarily exaggerated that even sitcoms would be taken offline—the constant talk of tightening nipples repeated ad nauseum for one—but by and large, ‘Man Hands’ was a way better read, and yes, I laughed in parts with some unexpectedly funny pop-up lines.

I actually liked Braht, despite the ridiculous name and the showy personality that we saw in the first book. Adored his all-in, completely besotted and devoted attention to Ash that worked strangely well with his cocky confidence, adored the amusing swagger that poured through the pages while he kept trying to win his lady over. It was Braht’s difference that made him a standout hero as well; unlike the usual alpha, testosterone-laden males that tend to come off the pages of romance novels, Braht is lanky, blond and James Spader-ish of the 80s, a metrosexual to the core and even more high maintenance than Ash herself.

Strangely enough, Braht and Ash did seem well-paired and their lusty, irrepressible banter was what kept me going throughout. The angst was kept to a minimum, the conflict thankfully not overinflated and the storytelling mostly lighthearted. Admittedly, some of the humour wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but this zany read marking the start of the new year was still oh, so welcome.


Brave by Tammara Webber

Brave by Tammara WebberBrave by Tammara Webber
Series: Contours of the Heart #4
Published by Tammara Webber on December 17th 2017
Pages: 249
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Courage means rising up to defend your beliefs...or daring to question them.

Erin McIntyre was captivating, but forbidden. His professional subordinate. The embodiment of unearned privilege. The daughter of his sworn enemy

Isaac Maat was impossible to read. Smart, ambitious, and emotionally detached. Hotter than anyone's boss should ever be and definitely hiding something...

He told himself that getting to know her would help him take down her father. She told herself that getting under his skin would distract her wrecked heart from its misery.

Neither predicted their private war would lead to an intimate battle in which the victor would be the first one to SURRENDER.

It has been a long, long time since I’ve read a Tammara Webber book and coming back to one is a reminder of ‘Contours of the Heart’ as one of the first few books that actually made me aware of the then-emerging New Adult (sub)genre that had suddenly scored big hits with so many people.

As the rocky relationship between Isaac Maat and Erin McIntyre emerges in the first few chapters however, what I’d evidently also forgotten is Webber’s seductively poetic and perceptive writing of this pairing—particularly so for a NA story—just as her portrayal of her characters are realistic, quite multifaceted and believable, with the undertones of racial bias that sets up the conflict of the story years before Isaac and Erin are even on the scene.

These alone makes ‘Brave’ easy to go through, as Webber unravels the heroine, strips her bare, then puts her in front of the reader like a bold testament to the flawed (and young) heroine…complete with broken dreams, scorching fantasies, colossal fuck-ups and everything else in between. With only Erin’s POV available to us though, it is more difficult to figure out who Isaac really is, and my own inference in this case, coming through the filter of Erin’s own perceptions, doesn’t peel back that much. Consequently, Isaac remains relatively shrouded in mystery (and very alluringly sexy) but as unreadable and unattainable as Erin makes him out to be.

I did find myself somewhat bored for the first half—the slow burn also translates into slow pacing—as Erin and Isaac take a while to warm up to each other, then flatten out until the climax near the end and a hurried resolution that’s unsatisfactory because of its swiftness and abruptness. The romance at some points, seems to flicker out, only to return when Erin/Isaac sort out the fallout from the big reveal and this, coupled with the rushed (and only) sex scene at the end, just left me needing a lot more than a HFN conclusion.