Category: Reviews

Game On by Nicola Marsh

Game On by Nicola MarshGame On by Nicola Marsh
Series: Women of W.A.R #1
Published by Escape Publishing on February 20th 2018
Pages: 63
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two-half-stars

Are they playing to win…or playing for keeps?

Angelica Bryant has a dream. The only child of a soccer legend, she pays her bills by working at her father’s bar while pursuing her goals: a role in sports management and a place in the newly established Women’s Aussie Rules league. Football is her passion, and she won’t let anything get in her way: including an ill-advised one-night-stand with one of Australia’s most successful agents.

Jaxon Flint thrives on success. His workaholic lifestyle keeps his agency and the athletes he represents at the top of their game – and all of his emotions at bay. Until he meets Angie, W.A.R.’s newest star, who undermines his carefully laid plans and gets under his skin. Is he willing to relinquish his careful control both in and out of the bedroom?

When Angie and Jaxon end up working together, it’s game on!

I started out the Women of W.A.R. series in reverse order, leaving Nicola Marsh’s novella for the last, and to my relief, discovered that reading the books in any order had no bearing on my understanding of the timeline at all.

There was so much I liked about the initial setup, the pacing of the opening scenes and the conflict that Marsh had set up between Jaxon and Angie. And then it felt like everything was over before it began. It was clear that both Angie and Jaxon struggled with issues that I was looking forward to see Marsh unentangling, which unfortunately, didn’t quite happen at all. As a result, Jaxon seemed more like a bundle of contradictions (and an arse to boot in the way he blew hot and cold with Angie despite his own self-awareness), whose flat denial about not wanting commitment in order to keep his life uncomplicated wasn’t entirely given much depth, as was Angie’s somewhat abruptly resolved situation with her father as she tried to find her own way forward.

While Marsh did capture key moments for Angie and Jax, the brevity of this novella meant that the passing of time felt very pronounced with each chapter and with it, came a bit more telling rather than showing. I thought ‘Game On’ had so much potential, but was ultimately, disappointed by the lack of development that could have otherwise, made this a brilliant read.

two-half-stars

Long Game by Catherine Evans

Long Game by Catherine EvansLong Game by Catherine Evans
Series: , #2
Published by Escape Publishing, Escape Publishing - Harlequin Enterprises, Australia Pty Ltd on February 1st 2018
Pages: 108
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three-stars

oes she dare pursue all her dreams?

Everyone in Grong Grong knows Cress Kennedy’s childhood dream is to play Aussie Rules Football, so when the Sydney Sirens sign her in the new Women’s Aussie Rules competition, she heads to the big city to pursue her dream. But no one in Grong Grong knows of Cress’s other dreams: the ones that revolve entirely around Quin Fitzpatrick.

Quin Fitzpatrick left Grong Grong as an eighteen-year-old to play Aussie Rules in Sydney, but after eight years the shine has gone from the lifestyle. When his best friend’s little sister follows in his country-to-city footsteps, he promises to look after her. She can stay with him and he’ll protect her as best he can. Besides, Watercress is the little sister he never had.

But Cress is all grown up now and playing Women’s Aussie Rules, and it’s about time that Quin sees her as a woman too..

I’ve always loved the idea of competitive women sports and Women in Aussie Rules – women playing Australian Footy – is the perfect platform to build budding romances in each regional team in the series. Catherine Evan takes on the Sydney Sirens with Cress Kennedy and her longtime childhood crush Quin Fitzpatrick, who was the first to leave their hometown of Grong Grong nearly a decade ago to follow that very dream they both shared.

The friends-to-lovers trope has always made me wary, because for me, there always had to be a set of criteria that should ideally be met; otherwise, I’d start questioning the validity of the pairing. Nonetheless, Quin/Cress do sort of work under the very specific circumstances that Evans has laid out: Quin left Grong Grong way before Cress really grew up, so their meeting again simply set the stage for a childhood friendship that deepened in the weeks they spent together in Sydney.

The setting couldn’t be more perfect – the Sydney harbour bridge climb was something I wanted to do some time ago, then balked at the horrific prices – and Evans’s way of writing Quin’s and Cress’s relationship did pull me in, despite the slow, slow burn. On the flip side of the coin, their hesitation to get involved any more deeply with each other was a source of frustration when the rushed conclusion and their less-than-ideal circumstances made for a HFN ending that made me wonder if this pairing would work out.

‘Long Game’ ended on a note of hope instead of a guaranteed Quin/Cress future when everything was still up in the air. And while I loved their commitment to each other because of it, the last bit proved somewhat dissatisfying especially after the long wait for Quin and Cress to finally end their dance around each other. In all, it was a mixed read for me – I certainly enjoyed myself, but definitely wished things could have turned out differently.

three-stars

Deadly Intent by Pamela Clare

Deadly Intent by Pamela ClareDeadly Intent by Pamela Clare
Series: I-Team, #8
Published by Pamela Clare on February 21st 2018
Pages: 238
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four-stars

Secrets buried in the sand…

Former US Army Captain Mia Starr has built a new life for herself in Denver, far away from camel spiders and sand—and the terrible secrets of her first deployment to Iraq. She isn’t looking for a relationship, especially not with an intrusive photojournalist. Joaquin Ramirez might be sexy, but in her experience, photojournalists only want to make a buck off other people’s suffering. Still, the universe must have a sick sense of humor because it keeps throwing her together with Joaquin, making the desire she feels for him harder and harder to resist.

An undeniable attraction…

As a Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer, Joaquin has everything a single straight guy could want—except the right woman. When he meets Mia while shooting a crime scene, he immediately sees beyond her cold exterior to the vulnerable woman beneath. Though the police consider her a suspect, he’s sure she’s innocent. Someone is killing soldiers—and trying to pin the blame on her. Unable to resist the pull between them, Joaquin stands by her only to find himself snared in the killer’s net as well.

A twisted soul hungry for revenge…

Mia can’t help it when the heat between her and Joaquin melts away her preconceptions. As their passion explodes, danger draws ever closer. When it becomes clear that Mia is the killer’s true target, she must trust Joaquin with a secret that could ruin her … or risk losing the love of a lifetime.

‘Deadly Intent’ is a reminder of how much I’ve missed Pamela Clare’s I-Team series, or rather the kind of romantic suspense that I’ve always associated Clare with, given the sharp ring of authenticity that comes from the author’s own journalistic background.

A bit of a confession here: it did take me a while to warm up to the idea of Joaquin Ramirez having his own story—I’d frankly forgotten about him after Zach/Natalie’s book—but Clare has a way of shaping him into a romantic hero that I championed wholly by the first quarter of the story.

And how far he’d come since then.

As a photojournalist, Joaquin broke some moulds which won me over quickly: instead of the gun-toting alpha male with bulging muscles who was ex-military (nor did he occupy expensive real estate in a security company while running around jaded and cynical), we got red-hot salsa moves and an impressive amount of heart he had for people around him. For that alone, I was sold on this very compelling protagonist whom I knew needed someone special to see him for who he was.

For all the heroines I’d ever imagined for Joaquin, I never expected the idea of a former military Captain as his other half but had no problem falling straight into this pairing hook, line and sinker once their relationship progressed beyond their rocky start. Much of their story was riveting enough—from their first dance that had me fanning myself to the seamless buildup and their crackling chemistry—that I got through ‘Deadly Intent’ in a matter of hours, then itched immediately to go back and re-read it.

The writing style is a little different here but ‘Deadly Intent’ is an excellent example of a more straight-forward RS read, not quite carrying the same complexity or unpredictability (plot-wise) as a few of Clare’s other I-team books, yet still well-paced with multifaceted protagonists whom I knew I could cheer for. It also bears the hallmarks of Clare’s collaborative efforts with another RS writer Kaylea Cross (another author whom I follow) and consequently, has a different feel to it, carrying a mesh of styles and subject-matter, along with the darker overtones of sexual assault and harassment of women in the military resonating deeply in the wake of the #MeToo hashtag dominating the media of late.

All things considered, I thought this was still a fabulous read. Revisiting the I-Team simply reminded me how much I liked Marc/Julian’s bromance and while catching up with Clare’s other couples was a hoot, I’m hoping that even with Joaquin/Mia’s iron-clad HEA, Clare has more in the works to come.

four-stars

Stay with Me by Jules Bennett

Stay with Me by Jules BennettStay with Me by Jules Bennett
Series: Return to Haven #1
Published by Zebra on March 27th 2018
Pages: 221
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three-stars


Small-town Haven, Georgia, is home to generations of families, plenty of Southern charm, and an airport that's seen better days. But as three friends are about to discover, love gives everything wings . . .


At eighteen, Olivia Daniels left Haven behind and never looked back. Doggedly climbing the corporate ladder, she's finally nearing the top when her father dies--leaving her part-owner of the run-down airport that was his first love. It's a complication Olivia intends to wrap up quickly--buying out her co-owner and selling the land. Good thing her childhood best friends are with her for moral support. Because one look at her new partner is proof that her tidy plan has hit turbulence . . .

Jackson Morgan practically grew up in Haven's airport, and no one could have been a better mentor than Olivia's dad. Flight is in Jackson's blood, but his roots are firmly planted, and there's no way he's giving up the airport--not even for sassy, headstrong Olivia, his childhood crush. Coming to an agreement won't be easy, especially when the attraction between them soars to new heights every day. Love definitely wasn't on the itinerary, but is it enough to keep them together for a lifetime trip? . . .

‘Stay with Me’ is simply a book that tries to bring 2 very different people, their differing goals and their diverging circumstances together and finally trying to make it work. It’s not exactly rom-com kind of material, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect with this story, but there wasn’t any doubt that this is a light-hearted, small town read with an unusual enough premise for Olivia to meet Jax again—the younger man who’d nursed an adolescent crush on her and is now all man to know what he wants.

There were misunderstandings along the way, past hurts that come to light as both Olivia and Jax needed to work through that on their own, and a 4-year-old who spoke in a way that was way too old for her age. Throw in the perfect setup of future couples and the trilogy for Jules Bennett’s ‘Haven’ series is set.

In fact, it wasn’t hard to like Jax at all, who, despite being younger (but capable single-father), showed more sense and maturity than Olivia who spent more time denying her emotions, running away and reiterating how much her career meant to her. Yet if this was to prove that age difference was merely a number and not a sign of the older being better, I thought ‘Stay with Me’ succeeded a little too well. Not that I naturally expected Olivia to behave better because she was older of the pairing, but because I didn’t expect that she would be a ruthless corporate shark in one life and a petulant, delusional coward out of her office comfort zone who didn’t give an inch at all.

The angsty build-up took me by surprise as a consequence, and I couldn’t get over the pacing of the impending climax and the abrupt resolution—Jax’s constant, exhausting chase vs. Olivia’s capitulation, and the love declarations that quite literally happened in the last 2 pages—which made for an ending that actually had me examining the file to see if I’d downloaded a corrupted and/or incomplete version of the ARC. A longer denouement and a shorter run through of Jax/Olivia’s push-pull would have eased the strung-out plot towards the end somewhat and made the pairing a more believable one.

My disgruntled mood aside, ‘Stay With Me’ is nonetheless, a decent read and an easy introduction to this new series. A HFN-ending might not exactly be what many others want, but if you’re perfectly happy with a resolution no matter the speed, then this is a ride that wouldn’t be bumpy at all.

three-stars

Crossing Promises by Kimberly Kincaid

Crossing Promises by Kimberly KincaidCrossing Promises by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Cross Creek #3
Published by Kimberly Kincaid Romance on March 5th 2018
Pages: 273
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one-star

For Owen Cross, the only thing that matters more than family is farming. As the oldest Cross brother, the land is his legacy, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make Cross Creek a success—including hiring local widow Cate McAllister to manage the bookkeeping tasks that are growing in his office like weeds. Cate’s as pragmatic as she is pretty, and she rattles his hard-fought composure at every turn.

Cate had known a lot of things about her husband before he died three years ago in a car accident, but how much debt he’d gotten them into wasn’t one of them. She needs her job at Cross Creek, even if her boss is both gruff and gorgeous. But Owen’s a family man, through and through, and the last thing Cate is interested in is anything—or anyone—with strings attached.

As Owen and Cate join forces to right the farm, they discover there’s more to the other than the surfaces shows, and that passion can be found in unexpected places. Can Cate heal from the loss of one family to gain the love of her life? Or will the past prove too much for the promise of the future?

I’ve always been interested in Kimberly Kincaid’s ‘Cross Creek’ series, for its 3 brothers so wildly different that it was almost a guarantee you’d get very different stories out of them. ‘Crossing Promises’ is Owen Cross’s story— the pain-in-the-arse grump, the responsible brother, the long-suffering (and not too silent) chump and it wasn’t hard to develop a soft spot for the own who bore things on his shoulders and carried on for everyone else because he needed to.

Unfortunately, this particular book disappointed me more than the rest in the series, more so because I was looking forward to Owen’s story. But my dislike stemmed from my inability to get on with this pairing, with a ‘heroine’ I found more annoying than sympathetic and one who looked as though she needed to be treated with kid-gloves lest her sensibilities be offended.

As work partners, Cate and Owen were fabulous. Their synchronised way of running Cross Creek was a marvel to behold and for most part, it was enjoyable to see Owen happy and settled. I empathised with Cate from the start, seeing her struggle with the memories and as well as with how she found it hard to get back on her feet.

But ultimately, Cate wasn’t a protagonist I could get on board with at all. While I understood how she wanted to move on with her life as her own person, I never quite got past the idea that she remained fragile as glass, turning to frenzied baking as a way to deal with her unsettled state of mind. That she also kept something fairly monumental from Owen until the end put her straight in the ‘stupid’ category for me and I thought that the fault could be roundly laid at Cate’s door for that. To use children (or the lack of them) a method to ‘rein’ someone in or as a way of shaping a particular lifestyle however, is an idea I absolutely despised and while I hated how it’d been done to Cate, I hated it even more when she’d unconsciously held it over Owen later without even realising it.

The definition of the family/family legacy (and the issue of children) was made out to be a problematic one here and that eventually, did become an issue here for me as well. What I didn’t like was Cate’s lack of compromise at the end with the conflict that came up—both Owen and Cate were entitled to their own wishes—but I was fairly unhappy with the rushed ending that had Owen bending backwards for Cate who essentially, used the bitter lessons from her past against Owen.

For Cate not giving Owen’s view on family any consideration at all killed it for me and while picking sides isn’t exactly that I want to do in a romance, and the ending of ‘Crossing Promises’ somehow did that for me. In fact, I thought the story ended in a way (with Owen’s grovelling that really felt like forced repentance after a talk with Marley) that never suggested Cate had merely thought about what she’d wanted, then selfishly held those up to Owen as a checklist to see if he would be with her in spite of it.

I definitely wished I could have given this a better rating because I’ve always liked Kincaid’s writing. But because I could barely tolerate Cate as someone for Owen, ‘Crossing Promises’ simply went south too unexpectedly for me.

one-star

Watching You by Leslie A. Kelly

Watching You by Leslie A. KellyWatching You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #1
Published by Forever Yours on March 13th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

In the shadows, someone is always watchingAspiring screenwriter Jessica Jensen grew up on movies starring heartthrob Reece Winchester, the eldest brother of a Hollywood dynasty. She never thought she'd meet the man in person, though. Actor, director, millionaire, and gorgeous mystery man-he's every woman's fantasy.

Reece wants Jessica the moment he sees her, and he's a man who always gets what he wants. At first he was only after a night in her bed, but as he comes to know the smart, confident woman beneath the stunning exterior, he realizes once will never be enough.

Unfortunately, Jessica's real-life Cinderella story is about to take a deadly turn...

Reece's world is filled with fierce ambition and dark family secrets the Winchesters desperately want to hide. But he and his brothers aren't the only ones who know those secrets. Someone else is out there, waiting to strike. Waiting-and always watching.

When danger finally steps out of the shadows, Reece will have to face his past. And Jessica will have to decide just how far she can trust the man she loves with her heart...and her life.

‘Watching You’ reads like the establishing book of a series that it is: there’s a big back story kept under lock and key for ages, loose hanging threads that don’t necessarily come together, multiple POVs that aren’t confined to the male/female protagonists and possibly a cliffhanger which no one’s fond of.

And it’s tricky business, I understand, because the first book always needs to get the narrative arc just right without compromising the romance while leaving too many loose ends. A little of the Cinderella story is also written into this by nature of the plot (top director with an unknown, aspiring screenwriter), though Leslie A. Kelly’s version of Hollywood is one that’s filled with backstabbing nasties, sudden danger, numerous characters with their own less-than-noble agendas and the putrid stink of catty insincerity.

The start was admittedly a hard one for me, and made me question the ‘legitimacy’ of the pairing, so to speak. I found it difficult to understand Reece’s sudden, inexplicable obsession over a woman whom he’d first seen through security cameras, let alone his setting up a first meeting in such a calculated way that it simply came out as creepy.

Love at first sight seemed a rather mild way of putting what felt like a stalkerish situation, given the manipulatively controlling manner that Reece used to manoeuvre Jessica into his planned seduction. I was mollified however, as the author acknowledged this misstep of his and then later rectified it with several twists in the story that sort of helped tilt my worldview upright again. Kudos as well, to a heroine who pushed back and called Reeces out for behaviour that can’t and shouldn’t be excused.

I found myself absorbed nonetheless, as the story came slowly (maybe a little too slowly) together. There were many loose, hanging threads, multiple POVs that came in later in the book, which merely expanded the puzzle that I thought would have started coming together by the three-quarter-mark of the story. What I also thought of as interlinked incidents turned out to be somewhat entirely separate issues and not tied together in the greater mystery of Reece’s shady past that Kelly had been constantly hinting at, and that was somewhat disconcerting given the build-up. It did however, come out as a flood of revelations at the end worthy of a Hollywood climax, though it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock considering what has been dominating the celebrity-world headlines in the past few months.

As the first book in the series, ‘Watching You’ is more than a decent read. There were parts I couldn’t totally get on board with, but there is a goodly amount of suspense, intrigue and mystery to keep me past my bedtime, and Kelly has sunk the 3 Winchester brothers deep enough in my book psyche for me to be wanting the rest of their stories.

three-stars

Maybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlin

Maybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlinMaybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlin
Series: Whiskey and Weddings #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 27th 2018
Pages: 300
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one-star

Jen Mackenzie has been knocked down more than a few times, but she always gets up and makes sure she has the last word. It’s the reason she now considers herself equal parts self-sufficient and free-spirit. But since losing her job and trying to help her mother beat cancer, real life―and her occasional careless choices―have begun to catch up with her. Her one saving grace: The Stag, a boutique distillery that has become Kansas City’s go-to wedding venue. The only catch: One of the owners, TJ Laughlin, happens to be the one man who somehow manages to make Jen feel inadequate.

TJ has secretly had a thing for Jen since high school. Now, as her new boss, it’s a daily struggle between revealing his feelings and wringing her beautiful neck. Only one thing is for certain: he can’t stand idly by and watch the woman he cares for struggle. She may be convinced that accepting TJ’s help is a weakness. But all he sees in Jen is beauty and strength, inside and out. As things finally heat up between them, can TJ find a way to convince Jen that love is about give and take―and having it all, together?

While I definitely liked Nicole McLaughlin’s first book in this series, ‘Maybe This Time’ was a different kettle of fish unfortunately. Perhaps what made it worse was that I’d been wanting TJ to find his HEA particularly after pining after someone who absolutely didn’t deserve him at all.

There were so many aspects of the story that simply didn’t gel with me, though my primary issue lay with Jen, who rubbed me the absolute wrong way from the start. It began with the childish taunting she did of TJ—if this isn’t the childish equivalent of taunting the one you secretly have a thing for like—, the self-pity, the lashing out at people who didn’t deserve it all because she felt trodden down by life.

If I had any sympathy for the acrimonious struggles she faced with her mother and being stretched in all ways, that wore off quickly enough in her overcompensation for it by generally being a bitch to others, particularly TJ, who had (inexplicably) been panting after her for so long. That she tried to measure against herself against the women she thought TJ liked, then justified her own insecurities by putting TJ’s date down convinced me that this wasn’t a ‘heroine’ I could ever root for, much less even grow to like when she’d actually thrown her hookups in his face in the previous book and then being defiant about being late at work because of it.

For most part, I thought Jen pretty much acted like the whole world owed her something, and seemed petty over almost everything. And lordy, how I loathed her. I didn’t like how TJ had given up his own job for her, when she’d all but selfishly left him to pursue her own dreams. Mostly, I felt sorry for TJ, who seemed to be at the losing end of the deal, couldn’t understand what the hell he actually saw in her, and generally thought of their romance as a lacklustre one that I couldn’t see working out down the line.

And that pretty much clinched it for me. I couldn’t quite go on anymore after that, especially when I detested this so, so much. It’s a review that’s clearly against the grain, and admittedly, my strong reaction is one that shows my own issues with the type of characters I can and want to get on board with in romantic fiction. That said, I think I’m still cautiously optimistic about Jake’s story though—he and Alexis do seem to be headed down a path that isn’t pretty—though I’m still feeling burnt by this particular installment.

one-star