Category: Reviews

Down With Love by Kate Meader

Down With Love by Kate MeaderDown with Love by Kate Meader
Series: Love Wars, #1
Published by Loveswept on 7th August 2018
Pages: 237
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two-stars

Sparks fly when the hot-shot divorce lawyer meets the high-powered wedding planner. The only question is, what kind?

If you ever get married, remember my name: Max Henderson. In my line of work, you acquire a certain perspective on supposedly everlasting unions. . . .

1. Pre-nups are your friend. 2. The person you married is not the person you’re divorcing. 3. And I hope you didn’t spend much on the wedding because that was one helluva waste of hard-earned cash, wasn’t it?

But some guys are willing to take a chance. Like my brother, who thinks he’s going to ride off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams in a haze of glitter on unicorns. And the wedding planner—the green-eyed beauty who makes a living convincing suckers to shell out thousands of dollars on centerpieces—is raking it in on this matrimonial monstrosity.

The thing is, Charlie Love is not unlike me. We’re both cogs in the wedding-industrial complex. As the best man, I know her game—and I can play it better than her. But after one scorching, unexpected kiss, I’m thinking I might just want to get played.

Wedding-planner, come meet the divorce lawyer: 2 occupations at odds with each other, down to the fundamental beliefs that the people working in these lines should hold. Right? ‘Down with Love’ is where Kate Meader bravely tackles these opposites and tries to prove the contrary with Max Henderson (the first victim, so to speak) and Charlie Love—whose last name is ironically appropriate for her occupation.

Excited as I was by Meader’s blurb of this new series, I was also a little wary, because beneath it lies the stereotypical trope of a commitment phobic player paired with a woman who tries to be sassy and stumbles when the charm comes out. And with Meader’s style of writing, I can say—objectively—that it’s perfectly tailored for the rom-com style that many readers would expect. Meader’s writing is pitched exactly like the voices you hear in romantic comedy, that is, pitch-perfect, if that’s your sort of thing, in other words. That much, it delivers.

Max Henderson kicks of the start of Kate Meader’s new series of cynical men who think they’ve seen the worst of humanity in the battlefield of court when divorce inevitably hits couples. But I think the male POV is tricky to write, period. Getting the fine balance right between voice, hints of vulnerability and the cocky front that many authors try to portray of their alpha males who apparently know so much about women is one that either has me grimacing or smirking. The usual smug, self-satisfied, arrogant tone of Max crosses the line into bar-smarmy faux smoothness and sleazy bad taste and it isn’t frankly something I want to read of a male romantic protagonist who’s head seems to be constantly filled with women’s body parts and what he’d like to do to them. (Here, I’m reminded of another author who’s done the same previously and it isn’t that good a memory, sad to say.)

But because many rom-coms are retellings and rehashes of tropes with varying contexts, character histories and storytelling styles, ‘Down With love’ still feels at its core, one that doesn’t deviate too much from the well-worn but well-loved formula: a woman who finally gives the cynical Max what he’s always fed other women (nothing beyond a night or two) and then it’s the typical reversal of him finally getting a taste of his own medicine just as he realises she’s unlike the others. Cue the game to wear her resistance down, thanks to the perpetual player, no-one-gets-hurt reputation Max strives to cultivate in the first place.

There are a few bits of talking ‘out’ to the reader as well—better known as breaking the fourth wall here, when a character steps out of the fictional word briefly and breaks through the invisible wall separating reader and the cast—and I’m not too sure how I feel about that here. Perhaps Meader seeks to bridge that connection between Max and me when the use of the second person pronoun ‘you’ seems to…mediate this distance that I subconsciously hold, first to convince me that he’s anti-marriage and then later, to convince me that he’s a reformed man. Or perhaps I’m just over-reading this.

In short, I think I wasn’t really feeling this at all sadly—not the pairing, not the context and not the plot. ‘Down With Love’ didn’t exactly move me much even as Meader tries to work out the opposing beliefs of Max and Charlie, and given the many times I managed to walk away and came back to the book (rinse and repeat) it’s clear this isn’t the story for me, as much as I really like Meader’s writing.

two-stars

Out of Reach by Kendall Talbot

Out of Reach by Kendall TalbotOut of Reach by Kendall Talbot
Series: Maximum Exposure #1
Published by Lyrical Liason on 8th May 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

In a place where a city can be lost hundreds of years . . . they can still find each other.

Lily saw the temple of Agulinta on television: a vast stone structure swallowed by the Yucatan jungle, rediscovered only now after hundreds of years. So why did the papers she found after her father’s death show the same mysterious carvings that puzzled archaeologists at Agulinta? Her search for answers pulls her to Mexico’s southern border, where the journey to the lost temple will take her through jungle and mountain, over waters home to crocodiles and drug runners, and into uncomfortably close quarters with a man whose need to wander has become a way of life . . .

Australian Carter Logan’s work as a nature photographer has given him the excuse he needs to roam wherever his restless feet take him. But in all the time he’s traveled, he’s never been drawn to anyone the way he is to this determined, cagey young American. Lily’s perseverance through dirt, sweat, and danger to the heart of the ancient temple fires through him. But when the two of them are left alone and stranded in a vicious wilderness, their connection might prove the difference between life and death . . . if the secrets of the past don’t come between them first.

A search for answers, not treasure, is what drives ‘Out of Reach’ and that alone, made me pick it up.

But to call it romance might be stretching it a little thin. The first half of the story read more a linear journey of an explorer’s adventure—don’t get me wrong, it was an exciting one, with detailed descriptions of the hike and the arduous journey to get to the archaeological ruins. And Kendall Talbot didn’t white-wash it too much—her characters started to smell, got injured after going at it rough and desperately scrabbled to be inventors when it came to food and makeshift items.

In fact, Carter and Lily started their own paths here with minimal interaction (some conversations were snippy and others were of the small-talk variety), their relationship—if this could even be called one—felt too superficial and shallow for most of the book, like strangers who coincidentally met for a short trip before they parted. Admittedly both weren’t keen on each other prying into their lives, but that also had the unfortunate result of getting no inroads made on them coming together as a pair.

Individually, we knew of their motives for being on this journey but together, Carter/Lily as a pairing only seemed like an afterthought as Talbot focused more on the documentary-like recounting of the journey (and their individual travails) than building their chemistry or deepening friendship, up until the point that they had to work together to survive. Much like the title, the the romantic angle felt out of reach for the first half of the book, when it became clear a lot of action had to do with Carter and Lily just trying to survive.

Colour me surprised and disbelieving thus, when the love declarations came out of nowhere when Lily and Carter had barely interacted enough to warrant that depth of feeling; worse yet were some TSTL scenes where Lily crossed the line from sensible to irrationally stupid just when I was starting to buy into the idea of them working solidly together. This left me sceptical, not least when it came to Lily’s convenient survival skills that seemed incongruous up with her upbringing, along with the flimsy, rushed ending of even more rushed promises that didn’t include a convincing glimmer of their future together.

For this unusual take on suspense, given the lack of the treasure-hunting angle that typically accompanies archaeological-adventure romance novels, ‘Out of Reach’ is a standout, but for a valid romantic connection, I was still left wanting.

three-stars

Pestilence by Laura Thalassa

Pestilence by Laura ThalassaPestilence by Laura Thalassa
Series: The Four Horsemen #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 20th 2018
Pages: 382
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three-stars

They came to earth—Pestilence, War, Famine, Death—four horsemen riding their screaming steeds, racing to the corners of the world. Four horsemen with the power to destroy all of humanity. They came to earth, and they came to end us all.

When Pestilence comes for Sara Burn’s town, one thing is certain: everyone she knows and loves is marked for death. Unless, of course, the angelic-looking horseman is stopped, which is exactly what Sara has in mind when she shoots the unholy beast off his steed.

Too bad no one told her Pestilence can’t be killed.

Now the horseman, very much alive and very pissed off, has taken her prisoner, and he’s eager to make her suffer. Only, the longer she’s with him, the more uncertain she is about his true feelings towards her … and hers towards him.

And now, well, Sara might still be able to save the world, but in order to do so, she'll have to sacrifice her heart in the process.

Now then, how’s this for a monumental twist of enemies-to-lovers? Saying that ‘Pestilence’ subscribes to this trope is like putting a pram’s wheels on a Ferrari. Or some other super car. Somehow Laura Thalassa manages it at least in the beginning half with a chilling and riveting start of 4 horsemen of the apocalypse riding through earth bringing death and destruction.

Particularly visceral is the trek down the famous highway 99 from Whistler to Squamish, a dystopic vision of a lone horse rider and his unwilling companion now superimposed on my memories of one of the most scenic routes I’ve ever been down. The extended time Pestilence and Sara spend together is in itself unusual: one filled with macabre curiosity and horrors, necessitating a slow, slow burn as Pestilence somehow finds a human side to get in touch with.

Yet what started as fascination turned into uneasiness, which then turned into pure disbelief. Issues of faith, religion and judgement—or at least what Thalassa presented—were never far from my mind running as meta commentary as I kept on reading, which Thalassa definitely succeeded in doing if this was always her aim.

As a romance however, it just became painfully obvious that Pestilence and Sara was a pairing that became harder and harder to get invested in as time wore on, the primary difficulty being reconciling the idea of the otherworldly Pestilence falling prey to human charms and human fallacies with the perpetual image I have of these perfect and deadly creature who always seem far above imperfections. To be laid low by a 21-year old who pretty much showed the ever-changing sides of a young adult (part-petulant, part-annoying, part-compassionate and part-self-righteous) who came close and pushed away repetitively? It just seemed somehow below an eternal being who’d never once wavered from his monumental task since time immemorial, who was now swayed too easily by a firefighter with a crude mouth and a penchant for not making up her mind.

What finally turned me off her however, came tragically at the end, where Sara’s own twisted rationale of love gave her the courage to walk away as she finally deemed Pestilence—who had a heavenly duty to fulfil—unworthy of her affections. Accusing Pestilence of judgement when she was guilty of doing the same, then having him crawl back to her was when I felt Thalassa had personally taken off the shine of what had made Pestilence so unique as an anti-hero, before imbuing him with the earthly loyalty of a teenage boy with stars in his eyes.

On the other hand, the constant vacillation of characterisation had me struggling with Pestilence, vague as Thalassa is with his origins and more so with his personality, the reasoning being that we mere mortals can’t ever hope to understand his higher purpose (it just made him frustratingly unknowable and too mysterious for all the millennia he’d been around).

With an ending that had me more baffled than happy, the story finishes on a grim warning and a rather uneasy HFN (to put it badly, considering Pestilence had somehow condescended to be human for the time both he and Sara will be around). I was still left feeling out of my depth as a reader, unable to hang on fast a pairing that took root but didn’t quite take off.

three-stars

Filthy Gods by R. Scarlett

Filthy Gods by R. ScarlettFilthy Gods by R. Scarlett
Series: American Gods #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on May 15th 2018
Pages: 119
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five-stars

Young. Wealthy. Elite. Attractive. The gentlemen’s secret society at Yale was filled with them.

And Nathaniel Radcliffe, the bane of my existence, was one of them.

As the right hand of the American Gods, he was conceited and arrogant. A dangerously handsome man in a tailored custom suit and shiny black oxford loafers.

The classroom was our battlefield. We made a sport out of arguing and debating, ready to do anything in order to win over the other.

Deadly opponents, deadlier minds.

I'd sworn I'd never give him the upper hand, until...

The secret I’ve been hiding for the last three years?

He just discovered it… and now he has all the power.

R. Scarlett is a new author to me, but ‘Filthy Gods’ won me over completely with sultry writing shot through with that delicious tinge of darkness I can’t seem to resist.

The name of the series itself was eye-catching, so much so that I thought of Neil Gaiman’s mythical story of the same name where types of mythological figures populate a fictional, worn-down America. Scarlett’s series revolving around rich, untouchable, blue-blooded elite boys of society isn’t quite that similar, though it might just be too early to tell given we’re barely into the start of it with a hot summer affair between 2 college rivals: the right-hand man of the American gods and the girl who has worked her way up with her own resources.

Nathaniel and Juliette left me hot and bothered from the start with simmering tension that was shiver-inducing—from the hostility, to the chase, to the scorching clashes both outside and in bed. Reducing this to the rich boy and the poor girl story however, wouldn’t do ‘Filthy Gods’ justice, because it feels like there’s still so much more waiting behind the proverbial curtain: the undercurrents and the dynamics of the strange but odd relationships, the intriguing back drop that frames the privilege of this highly-exclusive gentleman’s club, the secrets that burst at the seams waiting to be revealed.

The brevity of this prelude to the series did have something going for it: providing the forward momentum that drove Nathaniel and Juliette from enemies-to-lovers without sagging in the middle, without the games that I loathe. Still, I thought it was over too soon, with the climax and ending did come a wee bit too quickly when all I wanted was more of the both of them.

This gentlemen’s club and secret society rolled into one, the not-quite brotherhood that borders indecency almost (given the amount of obscene power and wealth they all wield)?

I think I want in.

five-stars

Bloodtree River by Sarah Barrie

Bloodtree River by Sarah BarrieBloodtree River by Sarah Barrie
Published by HQ Fiction on 23rd April 2018
Pages: 352
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three-half-stars

From the author of the bestselling Hunters Ridge series comes this stand-alone twisty rural suspense, this time set against the dark backdrop of Tasmanian mountains. Indiana O'Meara is no stranger to the forces of evil.

Her own past is full of violence. Now a policewoman, Indy is always fighting to redeem herself and defeat the dark. So when girls begin to go missing at a remote cattle station in Tasmania, she is quick to agree to go undercover to investigate chief suspect, the owner of Calico Mountain Lodge, Logan Atherton, even though last time she went undercover it came to a bloody end. But her early encounter with Logan Atherton reveals a man full of contradictions. His deep empathy for horses and those he cares for is obvious but he is also taciturn to the point of rudeness, and there is a strange atmosphere at the lodge. It doesn't add up. As Indy begins to dig deeper into the secrets at the Lodge, she finds herself embroiled in a murderous web more complex and terrifying than she could ever have imagined...

Sarah Barrie writes a rather slow but steadily-building mystery of disappearing girls in a remote part of Tasmania and an undercover stint that goes badly awry. Still, it’s a spin-off book for Indy O’Meara, tough cop and determined woman—who’d initially turned up in Barrie’s Hunters Ridge series—in the wilds of Tassie to work under a man who’s the suspect in this case…well, who could resist?

‘Bloodtree River’ however, has a plot that requires you to actively (or make the effort at least) stay engaged in the story nonetheless. Written mostly from Indy’s perspective, I was conscious of her status as an outlier but by extension, felt like a reader who was merely tangentially observing the action happening through an outlier’s eyes.

Still, it was easy to get swept along once I had the names and the context of the Athertons’s screwed up family business straightened out in my head—this much was imperative to understanding and getting caught up in the drama. There were twists and turns that got exponentially more interesting—more suspension of disbelief required though—in the last quarter of the story, though I did find the romantic bits less than convincing because of the circumstances that dictated the slow burn and the eventual rift between Indy and Logan. Indy’s undercover duties did prove to be a barrier—one that didn’t at least allow for Indy to be honest with Logan and the push-pull that resulted because of this—though having her walk the tight rope between being a cop and an employee under Logan was a balance that Sarah Barrie did sort of handle quite well. It was deception for a legitimate reason, so to speak, with the complications arising only when attraction and emotions started to get involved.

Simply put, Logan/Indy was a pairing that didn’t quite get off the ground sufficiently for me, lost as it was in the flurry of the drama and the web of lies spun in Calico Mountain Lodge, to the point where ‘Bloodtree River’ would have functioned equally well without the romance. It was a pretty decent read nonetheless, with a large enough story arc and an established base that can be stretched over a few books—which I hope Barrie does.

three-half-stars

You Send Me by Jeannie Moon

You Send Me by Jeannie MoonYou Send Me by Jeannie Moon
Series: Compass Cove, #2
Published by Tule Publishing on 29th May 2018
Pages: 224
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two-stars

Jordan Velsor didn’t want to need anyone. After dumping her cheating fiancé, caring for her sick dad, and nearly being crushed along with her car during a violent storm, she’s pretty much at her breaking point. If anyone needs some luck, it’s Jordan, but the last thing she wants is gorgeous Nick Rinaldi, her landlord’s grandson, hovering over her while she nurses a bad cold. The wounded Navy doctor seems too good to be true… which means he probably is.

Nick Rinaldi left the Navy broken and adrift, wondering if he would ever practice medicine again. When his grandparents’ tenant is almost killed by a falling tree during a storm, he discovers Jordan is not only in shock, but suffering from pneumonia. Not one to miss an opportunity to play white knight, Nick arrives at her cottage to take care of her during the storm… But the lovely teacher has a a fierce independent streak, and as he learns more about her, he wants to do more than merely help.

Can Jordan and Nick let go or their separate pasts and seize their future together?

‘You Send Me’ started out well enough with the kind of drama that sounded promising: a sick woman (who’s also warily heartbroken from a failed engagement), a doctor who goes above and beyond the call of duty and a snow storm that comes at the most convenient timing. Cue the tension and the hot and heavy sparks, right?

The problem was that I got bored when things began to crawl as I read on, made worse by the rather harebrained scheme of Nick—it felt so far-fetched and out of the realm of adult-behaviour, but then, it’s romancelandia here—that obviously snowballed into a situation that neither protagonist wanted nor expected. Add that to the number of nosy characters slipping in and out of the story (because it just seems to be a feature of small-town behaviour), it was just harder and harder to keep my interest up when Nick and Jordan went round and round the merry-go-round of ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ and going through the repetitive reasons of why they could or couldn’t.

While the level of angst was low with a clear number of small-ish obstacles to leap over, it wasn’t too hard to see Nick and Jordan get to where they were supposed to be, despite the overly-tortuous process which did fill like page-filler more than necessary. Admittedly though, I did end up skimming quite a bit before the halfway mark when Nick/Jordan went in circles instead of forward as my initial investment in them waned.

In all, ‘You Send Me’ feels like a simple, while-away-the-afternoon easy read without the startling dramatic, emotional highs and lows, but for something more than overall small-town sweetness and a faster-moving plot, it’s best to look elsewhere.

two-stars

Falling For Mr. Slater by Kendall Day

Falling For Mr. Slater by Kendall DayFalling for Mr. Slater by Kendall Day
Published by Howling Mad Press on 23rd May 2018
Pages: 305
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one-star

He was the worst teacher I ever had. I was the worst student he ever taught.

ROXIE RAMBLING

I can’t believe I’m standing on the steps of Bracken Middle School again.

Ten years ago, this place was my worst nightmare, no thanks to Jack “McSlutbag” Slater, the teacher who blocked my shot at a full basketball scholarship. But time heals many wounds, and I’m only a few months away from earning my undergrad in education, despite the hell Slater once put me through.

Now I’m the teacher. I’ll help kids rather than destroy them. If I can just get through this semester without too many fouls, I’ll be fine.

But it’s not fine. Because when I go to meet my new supervisor, McSlutbag’s sitting behind the desk, looking like a gorgeous, vengeful god ready to mete out punishment for slights—some real, most perceived—committed by the hellion I used to be.

Worse? The cold hatred I once felt for him has turned hot enough to set my drawers on fire.

I want him. In a bad way.

So long, dream internship. Hello, sexy nemesis.

McSlutbag’s about to meet his match. Again.

Scandal, teachers straining at their leashes and all the dirty things beneath the buttoned-up collars in middle school. Well then. Kendall Day’s ‘Falling For Mr. Slater’ sounded like one of those enemies-to-lovers romance that I’d love to have gotten my hands on. Written around a student-teacher type of relationship, I was well, sold by the attractive blurb, up until the opening lines of the story that made me want to toss it in immediately.

But apparently, to add spice to a teacher-student romance is to get a manwhore-teacher who goes around bagging women and brags about it during a summer screwfest pair up with his greatest nightmare of a student, all the while conveniently blaming his damaged mentality on commitment on said character. Really?

But I guessed the nickname ‘McSlutbag’ should have given me a clue to what a prick this male protagonist could be, because the teachers I know (and I’ve been there myself personally a long time ago in a galaxy far away) just don’t behave that way—they’re simply stressed about everything both in and out of the classroom.

Whatever free time they have is spent on a hurried vacation being stressed about other things and I’m sure teachers separate their scandalous private lives from their professional ones, though there’s seldom a clear line drawn because the latter often spills into the former.

And the talk about McSlutbag’s former student’s ‘gorgeous’ body in crude terms? I cringed and cringed (hits close to home as well, considering there was a case like this this I’ve seen that brought serious consequences). On the flip side, Roxie-moxie is the equivalent of McSlutbag, only a decade behind in terms of professional experience. Everything else, she’s done it and is only slightly none the wiser about this.

Written as a rom-com, ‘Falling For Mr. Slater’ did feel as though typical archetypes of romance protagonists were simply forced into the teacher and student roles and Jack Slater and Roxie Rambling do fit in those to a ’T’. The thought of a bad-girl student to rock Slater’s expectations and what they’ve apparently done to each other in the past kept me plodding on—for a chapter or two more before I simply stopped reading because I objected to pretty much everything.

At this point, it’s probably best to leave it at ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

one-star