Category: Chick Lit

Huge Deal by Lauren Layne

Huge Deal by Lauren LayneHuge Deal by Lauren Layne
Series: 21 Wall Street, #3
Published by Montlake Romance on 23rd April 2019
Pages: 268
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three-stars

An alpha among the wolves of Wall Street, Kennedy Dawson rose to the top of the pack by striking the right contracts at the right times. But there’s one deal that’s been giving him a run for his money—a pact to never again let his assistant, Kate, get under his skin. She may be smart, gorgeous, and sharp as a whip, but she’s definitely off-limits.

Kate Henley isn’t a banker, but she knows a thing or two about risk management—specifically, about managing her attraction to her smolderingly sexy boss. She already fell once, and Kennedy showed no sign of paying a return on her investment. So when Kennedy’s brother starts pursuing her, Kate figures she has the best of both worlds. Jack is charming, rich, very attentive, and the spitting image of his older brother.

It’s also making Kennedy think twice. But to win Kate’s heart, he’ll have to broker the deal of a lifetime…and prove he’s worth the risk.

It’s been a while since I’ve bene on the Lauren Layne boat, and ‘Huge Deal’ was one that I stepped into warily. Layne’s recent works have revolved around certain tropes and themes (questionable ones for me at least, when they seem to have to do with sibling dating, manwhores, oblivious/unrequited love) that have made it hard to fully like her books.

And lordy, how do I even begin with this?

Yes, there are feels. And yes, my chest hurt, mostly for Kate, but ultimately, I was left with too many doubts left unassuaged, shadowed instead by feel-good platitudes, of talk but not enough grit and fight in a relationship. Especially one that begins with unrequited emotions.

First, let’s get this out of the way: there’s no question that Layne can write and quite perceptively too. There’s angst, the outpouring of emotions, some nuanced looks at human behaviour in ‘Huge Deal’…but there’s also the uncomfortable underlying implications that affections could be transferred fast and that easily with the slight hint here of double-dipping, that appearances mattered greatly when Kennedy only noticed Kate after her mini-makeover which I couldn’t shake off.

Kenendy’s utter obliviousness to Kate, his underestimation of her, his under-appreciation for her for years when it was clear she had a thing for him was painful to read about. His accidental and meaningless put-downs made it worse—or that he often made it sound like he thought nothing of her except as an assistant—didn’t make the case for coupledom any easier, until Jack the younger brother came on the scene.

Why did it have to take a little bit of competition from his brother, for God’s sake, for Kennedy to wake up and see that Kate was a woman worth being with? That without Jack to peel the blinkers off Kennedy’s eyes, Kate couldn’t stand on her own merit and be deserving of that same attention without the makeover? Would Kate and Kennedy otherwise have gone on their own individual trajectories had Jack not intervened? Would Kennedy have not bothered about Kate otherwise?

The bottomline is, many of these burning questions—appearing when some tropes themselves appear—weren’t sufficiently addressed for me to buy into Kate/Kennedy, not when I found myself reading about affections that were too shakeable, too transferable, too easily swayed, where it had to take a mountain-moving revelation or makeover for an unattainable man to finally notice the woman who’d always been in front of him while going through a score of others in the meantime.

The reversal of everything in the last quarter of the book was surprising to say the least, as Kennedy ironically played catch up and took every effort to convince Kate—whose own POV on love had changed. In fact, I needed Layne to address the imbalance of emotions more or at least why it’d taken Kennedy this much to see her for what she was, but it seemed as though she’d taken another way out with a whole emotional twist that simply felt out of character for Kate.

With the sudden rush to an abrupt ending—the ending conflict was up and done too quickly for my liking—I was still left with the feeling that Kennedy hadn’t put himself out there enough, hadn’t fought for the both of them enough, hadn’t been put through the emotional agony enough, hadn’t made himself more vulnerable enough.

That Kate had all along, been the more multi-faceted character with the most growth and change didn’t exactly put them as equals as ‘Huge Deal’ rolled up to a quick HEA that left me less than convinced at a pairing that should and could have been more tested in a crucible that never quite burned hot enough.

three-stars

Overture by Skye Warren

Overture by Skye WarrenOverture by Skye Warren
Published by Skye Warren on 19th February 2019
Pages: 176
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Forbidden fruit never tasted this sweet…

The world knows Samantha Brooks as the violin prodigy. She guards her secret truth—the desire she harbors for her guardian.

Liam North got custody of her six years ago. She’s all grown up now, but he still treats her like a child. No matter how much he wants her.

No matter how bad he aches for one taste.

Her sweet overtures break down the ex-soldier’s defenses, but there’s more at stake than her body. Every touch, every kiss, every night. The closer she gets, the more exposed his darkest secret.

She’s one step away from finding out what happened the night she lost her family. One step away from leaving him forever.

Skye Warren’s daring forbidden themes have been my catnip for a while and I jumped on ‘Overture’ for this very reason. A warning caveat about the edginess of this story: Warren respects the consensual age limit, though the age-gap between guardian and ward along with the barely-legal, forbidden but very erotic vibe here however, would be a no-go for some.

Security-firm owner Liam North’s and music-prodigy Samantha Brooks’s slowly changing relationship is where ‘Overture’ begins—during a transition point that has established norms getting flipped on their ends, leaving both Liam and Samantha at a loss when it comes to behaving around each other.

Liam is understandably conflicted and resistant (perhaps rightly so, considering his position) about desiring and seeing Samantha other than a ward to protect, though his lack of staying power, his blowing hot and cold to the very end got incredibly frustrating. Yet their smouldering connection, built up slowly through a careful interplay of push and pull and several stunning, near-erotic encounters, was one that I found myself enthralled by and left wanting more than just the accidental, hurried sexual encounter at the end–Warren’s nuanced writing carries it all.

There’s an inkling early on however, that ‘Overture’ isn’t simply a forbidden romance where 2 people try to bridge the age-gap. What threw me off was the somewhat divergent plotline of Liam’s security business, the insertion of his brothers and their activities and the mysterious history surrounding Samantha’s early childhood years that intruded in separation that came at the end. So clearly, the under-developed plot and the unhappy, unfinished ending were the story’s biggest downer, even with the promise of more to come.

I do like Warren’s prose however, and the use of music and the multiple metaphors that you can draw from it as the bridging device drew me in from the start. Being left unsatisfied with the lack of a veritable HEA is how I finished this read nonetheless, though I’m counting on the sequel to rectify this.

Back to You by Kimberly Kincaid

Back to You by Kimberly KincaidBack to You by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Remington Medical #1
on 12th February 2019
Pages: 269
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four-stars

Parker Drake wants exactly one thing—to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor. Between his reputation as a rule-breaker and the six years that have passed since his first internship ended in disaster, he knows he’s only getting one shot at a second chance. He’ll do anything to put the past behind him and reach his goal…including work with the gorgeous ex-wife he’s never gotten over losing.

All work and no play make surgeon Charleston Becker a very happy woman. But when she’s tasked with mentoring her ex-husband through his second chance as an intern, her signature calm is put to the test. She’s not interested in re-hashing the heartbreaking circumstances that ended their marriage, and the six years that have passed haven’t made Parker less reckless. The last thing she’s willing to do is trust him—even if she does find him sexier than ever.

But familiarity breeds forgiveness, which then becomes a passion that threatens the careers Parker and Charlie have worked for. Can they turn their second chance into a happy ending? Or is history bound to repeat itself?

Within the murky trope of second-chance stories, there are a few—with a lot of conditions attached, I must admit—that do work out for me.

Kimberly Kincaid’s ‘Back To You’ quite bravely tackles this as the full story behind Charlie’s and Parker’s past slowly unfolded in the midst of all the medical drama (think Grey’s anatomy, ER, House and a boatload of other shows like these) that made Remington Med come alive.
So some of the medical procedures and conditions made me squirm. But aside from the pleasant surprise from the rest of the Station Seventeen crew who made themselves seen and heard, I thought Kincaid’s new secondary characters were generally well-inserted and fleshed out the Parker/Charlie’s story quite nicely in a micro-world-building of sorts—enough at least, to make this a solid establishing read.
There’s nary a dull moment from start to finish: from the frenzied rush of the daily cases at the hospital, to the human drama that inevitably comes with it. Parker and Charlie find themselves in the unfortunate posts of intern and attending while rediscovering the spark they both thought had long gone.
And having understood both their positions, it was hard I guess, to shift the blame on either of them for their divorce considering the circumstances that surrounded it and their clashing personalities even though it’d initially seemed as though circumstances favoured Charlie’s side of the story. Instead, I found Parker an intriguing mix of reckless, compassionate and emotionally open…an all-in protagonist that grew on me like a weed.
By and large, I did like how their journey went from hostility to reconciliation to wanting to be with each other seriously again, so there aren’t many complaints from me here. (No mention of either’s dating history in the intervening years apart made me an even happier reader, somehow)
So in short, ‘Back To You’ is a pretty good start to a new series…that the crew from Station Seventeen play peripheral roles here is an additional treat I didn’t expect.
four-stars

The Risk by Elle Kennedy

The Risk by Elle KennedyThe Risk by Elle Kennedy
Series: Briar U #2
Published by Elle Kennedy Inc. on 18th February 2019
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three-stars

Everyone says I’m a bad girl. They’re only partly right—I don’t let fear rule me, and I certainly don’t care what people think. But I draw the line at sleeping with the enemy. As the daughter of Briar’s head hockey coach, I’d be vilified if I hooked up with a player from a rival team.

And that’s who Jake Connelly is. Harvard’s star forward is arrogant, annoying, and too attractive for his own good. But fate is cruel—I require his help to secure a much-coveted internship, and the sexy jerk isn’t making it easy for me.
I need Connelly to be my fake boyfriend.

For every fake date…he wants a real one.

Which means this bad girl is in big trouble. Nothing good can come from sneaking around with Jake Connelly. My father would kill me, my friends will revolt, and my post-college career is on the line. But while it’s getting harder and harder to resist Jake’s oozing sex appeal and cocky grin, I refuse to fall for him.

That’s the one risk I’m not willing to take.

Enter the raunchy world of college hookups, the infamous laddish, cocky behaviours of manwhore athletes, competitive sports (typically hockey) and the bumpy transition from hormonal young adulthood to equally hormonal adulthood. At least, this is how I’ve seen Elle Kennedy’s college campus series shaping out to be thus far—I’ve not been wrong here—and ‘The Risk’ continues in this similar fashion as Kennedy milks the shallows of college life, only with a fraternising with the enemy vibe from the beginning.

Brenna Jensen and Jake Connelly play for opposing teams though the friction that comes when they cross paths is perhaps better summed up as ‘love and hate being 2 sides of the same coin’. There are too many reasons why the mutual attraction shouldn’t be given into, and god forbid that Jake should have any say at all in who Brenna chooses to hook up with. It’s a predictable journey thereafter; emotions develop after they get down and dirty, and along with their futures getting put on the line as well.

It always takes a bit of a mental adjustment for me to get into Elle Kennedy’s construction of her New-Adult world anyhow: there’re often bursts of selfish, juvenile behaviour and several moments of ’the world is bigger than me’ revelation, which also have my sympathies for the characters going up and down like a yo-yo. My reservations, perhaps have also got to do with the feeling that I’m reading about protagonists who simply don’t show enough depth despite the angsty teenage struggles they face…and that they’ve still not done enough of growing up by the end of the book.

And for that reason I can’t quite connect or root for them. Brenna/Jake weren’t exactly likeable protagonists at all—I did think they were selfish and immature in their own ways, even though their tussles were amusing at the very least. What was somewhat frustrating was the hint of unrequited love at the end—a pining best friend doesn’t get the man she’s always wanted, while said man goes for someone who couldn’t quite be compassionate about the hurt that this caused—and that the HEAs in the series are stubbornly about people who don’t always seem the best matched couple.

Given the glowing reviews about Kennedy’s Off-Campus series and the Briar U series, I’m well aware that I’m standing off to one side being sceptical of what pairing Kennedy will churn out next. There’s no doubt that she does tell an engaging story. I just wish I could have liked it more.

three-stars

On Thin Ice by Julie Cross

On Thin Ice by Julie CrossOn Thin Ice by Julie Cross
Series: Juniper Falls #3
Published by Entangled: Teen on 26th February 2019
Pages: 340
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three-stars

Brooke Parker never expected to find herself in the tiny town of Juniper Falls, Minnesota. Of course, she also never expected to lose her dad. Or for her mom to lose herself. Brooke feels like she’s losing it…until she finds Juniper Falls hockey. Juniper Falls girls’ hockey, that is.

Jake Hammond, current prince of Juniper Falls, captain of the hockey team, and player with the best chance of scoring it big, is on top of the world. Until one hazing ritual gone wrong lands him injured, sitting on the sidelines, and―shocking even to him―finding himself enjoying his “punishment” as assistant coach for the girls’ team.

As Jake and Brooke grow closer, he finds the quiet new girl is hiding a persona full of life, ideas, and experiences bigger and broader than anything he’s ever known. But to Jake, hockey’s never just been a game. It’s his whole life. And leveraging the game for a shot at their future might be more than he can give.

I’ve not come back to Julie Cross’s Juniper Falls series in a while and to dive back into high school/college sports is still a change from what I’m used to.

Still, ‘On Thin Ice’ is more than what it reads from the blurb and the more I read, the more I realised that the romance is merely part of a larger storyline dealing with the culture of hazing and the coverup for fear of being called a tattle-tale.

I didn’t like Jake’s unwillingness to do the right thing, even after people got hurt (the point is, does an entire batch of freshmen have to die before something happens?) because of upholding stupid, supposed traditions that deem you either a ‘hero’ or a ‘loser’. But Cross does tackle this issue which does get resolved in the end, along with the slow-blossoming romance that gets tucked neatly into the bigger problems facing sports, making ‘On Thin Ice’ essentially, a story that quite warmly champions young adults as examples who finally choose the straight and narrow path.

I’m guessing this will probably appeal to the younger demographic more—in both characters and plot—and I’ll have to say that my rating really, is one given from my adult perspective that tends to get some eye-rolling in, along with the growing inability to connect with this genre of fiction that I so used to love. As a YA story though (more objectively speaking this time), it’s a pretty decent read.

three-stars

The Crush Collision by Danielle Ellison

The Crush Collision by Danielle EllisonThe Crush Collision by Danielle Ellison
Series: Southern Charmed #2
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Crush) on 18th February 2019
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three-stars

Haley Howell has had a hopeless crush on her brother’s best friend, Jake Lexington, for as long as she can remember. Too bad to him, she’ll forever be off-limits. But with senior year and acceptance to a college outside their tiny southern town of Culler, South Carolina, comes new confidence. Haley’s ready to get Jake to notice her—whatever it takes.

No one in Culler notices the real Jake anymore—to them, he’s nothing more than the star football player or the kid with the family tragedy. When one mistake lands him in mandatory community service, he’s shocked to find his best friend’s little sister there, too. Jake’s looking for an escape; Haley’s looking for a chance. Together, they’ll find exactly what they need...if only they’re willing to cross that line and risk it all.

To say that I’m reading ‘The Crush Collision’ to get my rare YA fix is partially correct, but the truth is probably closer to the fact that I do like the best friend’s sister/brother kind of trope, which throws in a hint of the forbidden or the unrequited.

‘The Crush Collision’ follows this particular trajectory. Embroiled in his own turmoil, Jake’s grades and social life are suffering and with alcohol as a constant companion, all he can see in front of him is football, his spiralling life…and a girl who’d always been in his orbit but never more than a distant friend. On the other hand, Hayley is determined to let people know that he’s just having a hard time and is misunderstood, then later makes a mountain of a molehill of how Jake should not incidentally be better for her, when she argues that he should do it for himself…and not put it on her for it.

The lady doth protesteth too much, me thinks.

I wasn’t too sure I could empathise with the minute details and the exhaustive analysis of a teen’s every action to see if this was a demonstration of whether ‘he likes me or he likes me not’, along with peer-pressure and overthinking and the prerequisite teenage angst. Then again, it’s a YA read, and Danielle Ellison does capture the voices right—it’s definitely a switch of gear downwards from the more adult romances that I dive into (I had to do some mental readjustments after all), when all that the protagonists are worried about are how their friends perceive them and their relationship.

three-stars

Remedy by Kaylee Ryan

Remedy by Kaylee RyanRemedy by Kaylee Ryan
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 15th January 2019
Pages: 310
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three-half-stars

It took one night with her to know she was my forever.It took one minute for me to climb out of bed and drive away from her.It’s taken me three years to confess that leaving her behind was the biggest mistake of my life.

I won’t stop until she knows what she means to me. I’ll convince her to listen to her heart.

It took one night for all of my dreams to come true.It took one morning, waking up alone, for those same dreams to come crashing down around me.It’s taken me three years to confess that night changed me forever.

He says this time is different, but how do I open my heart up to a man who’s already ripped it to shreds?

‘Remedy’ is an exercise in grovelling, at least for the first half of the book. The backstory is as the blurb suggest: a spurned (and now understandably gun-shy) heroine and a hero left with profound regrets and is now back to right the wrongs he’d done. Kudos to him though—Kaylee Ryan doesn’t have Grady Carmichael faltering in any sense of the word and his relentless pursuit of his best friend’s sister whom he’d left three years ago. The result is unanimous: he gets the girl, even though her resistance, as expected, proves a little bit of an obstacle at first.

What happened in their past is told in a half-hearted fashion however, and the flashbacks took place in a way that didn’t make too much of an impact on me, or at least enough to convince me that the ‘lost night’ of three years ago was a monumental as both made it seem.

Still, Kaylee Ryan does address the questions I normally have with second-chance romances (namely, why did it take him all this time? Why only now?) though I thought Grady’s explanations not as rock-solid as I would have liked. The saving grace? It’s at least remedied in his unwavering affection for Collins.

In short, if you’re in for a low-angst and a sort of uplifting, loyal-to-each-other kind of pairing, ‘Remedy’ is the kind of read to go for. I had an easy time with this story nonetheless and predictable as it might have been, it was quite a joy to breeze through it – a rare occurrence these days.

three-half-stars