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Leveled by Cathryn Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 13th December 2017
Leveled by Cathryn FoxLeveled by Cathryn Fox
Series: Blue Bay Crew #2
Published by Swerve on January 16th 2018
Pages: 155
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three-stars

Jamie Owens doesn’t trust women. Especially not the rich, entitled women looking for a summer fling with a boy from the wrong side of town. But one look at Kylee Jensen in a tiny bikini, and Jamie decides that some rules are made to be broken.

Kylee is tired of being the obedient daughter, and Jamie—shirtless, in a tool belt—is the perfect opportunity to do something for herself, so she hires Blue Bay Construction to work on her cottage. Their hot summer days turn scorching until it’s revealed that Kylee has ties to Jamie’s dark past, forcing them to decide if their dreams, and their relationship, are worth fighting for.

Leveled is a steamy page turner with sizzling emotional intensity and an ending that will hammer readers’ hearts and never let go!

I actually felt nervous when I started ‘Leveled’; Cathryn Fox isn’t always an author whose erotica hits the right spot for me, but I’m actually happy to say that I got my dose of smut with Jamie and Kylee, whose one-night stand-turned-summer-fling because way more than that. Both had a chemistry as well as an ease around each other that I found believable and while some parts became a bit like a porn-movie, it was fun reading about, well, the various ways a hard long object can go into an expandable slot.

The struggle to keep their own personal pasts out of the equation however, came alongside the overwhelming need to keep it about sex only. Jamie’s own demons revisited him in the form of the rich girl looking for fun, though he could barely discern that Kylee was in fact, trying to be only the rich girl looking for fun because of a father who had long dictated her behaviour and choices in life. It’s sort of strange to see both of them coming at it from opposite angles, with this kept up till nearly the end of the book as they try to rein in and downplay their affair as a simply summer fling.

Interfering relatives on the other hand, are the bane of most of the stories I’ve read so far, especially when their irksome actions can span the entire spectrum of giving abysmal advice to being absolutely controlling. Unfortunately, this wasn’t too different in ‘Leveled’, where they actually played a role—how large the role is probably up to interpretation—in keeping both Kylee and Jamie apart, though admittedly, both could have engaged in something called communication instead of running away. I didn’t like how Kylee walked away without the gumption to find out the truth about Jamie’s past and her inability to put herself out there when it mattered kept me frustrated, while on Jamie’s part, the past that came back to revisit him didn’t feel at all resolved.

Obviously, climaxes and resolutions can be tricky; leave it too late and the conclusion and HEA can feel rushed. I don’t doubt that Jamie/Kylee’s HEA was definitely deserved, but I did wish however, that Fox had written things differently at the end which would have made me a more convinced believer in a pair who could fight equally for each other without stumbling when push came to shove.

three-stars

Don’t Go by Alexa Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th December 2017
Don’t Go by Alexa RileyDon’t Go by Alexa Riley
Series: For You #3
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 78
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three-stars

CEO Henry Osbourne has only ever desired one woman—the one who got away.

I’ve spent the past ten years convincing myself that what I felt for her was teenage infatuation. That love so consuming couldn’t be real. Then everything went to shit, and in an instant, she was gone.

Kory Summers knew returning to New York meant running into Henry. The way her heartbeat picked up at just the thought was nervousness—not anticipation. Oh, no. She never expected to find him on her doorstep looking as handsome as ever.

She’s mine. She always has been. I’ve waited this long for her…but time’s up. I’ll use all my power, all my connections, to convince her she’s the one.

Kory ran from a boy, but a man of power and persuasion now stands in his place.

‘Don’t Go’ is in fact, part of the ‘For You’ series, though it’s now Miles/Mallory’s son’s story, which can be a little jarring since it wasn’t too long ago that I read his parents’ HEA, though in Riley’s fictional world of the Osbournes, over 2 decades have gone by. The biggest issue I have with this series is the lack of chronological order in which the books come about and the time-gap that these stories span—which is at least a generation, but that might just be splitting hairs here.

Alexa Riley’s commitment to short and safe might cause some raised brows when it comes to instalove (or lust) and the all-in stance of the male protagonist. And, honestly, I do sometimes count myself among these brow-raisers. But in rare cases, Riley’s short and safe novellas can and do make an impact.

In ‘Don’t Go,’ Riley writes about 2 people so devoted to each other as well as the memories of that single Cinderella-esque night that there wouldn’t be space to ask the messy and difficult questions that typically appear as part of a second-chance romance. In fact, questions about the contentious separation period and the believability of the pairing’s second-chance romance don’t really factor into the equation here, simply because there have been no one else for Henry and Kory.

From there onwards, it’s pure Alexa Riley that takes over: the instalove (this is sufficiently warned by the authors to be fair), the possessive hero and the iron-clad HEA that probably spans a quarter of the entire short book. It’s not for everyone, clearly, because of how implausible and admittedly unrealistic the pairing and story might come across, but if devotion that sometimes seems out of the real world is what you’re looking at, then Alexa Riley is the kind of read to go for.

three-stars

Roomies by Christina Lauren

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 9th December 2017
Roomies by Christina LaurenRoomies by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on December 5th 2017
Pages: 368
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four-stars

Marriages of convenience are so…inconvenient.

Rescued by Calvin McLoughlin from a would-be subway attacker, Holland Bakker pays the brilliant musician back by pulling some of her errand-girl strings and getting him an audition with a big-time musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until he admits his student visa has expired and he’s in the country illegally.

Holland impulsively offers to wed the Irishman to keep him in New York, her growing infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves from awkward roommates to besotted lovers, Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway. In the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting, what will it take for Holland and Calvin to realise that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?

Have you ever wanted something so much that you’d do anything for it, particularly when life is in limbo?

‘Roomies’ seems to revolve around this central question with the fake marriage trope, when a series of events actually leads to the courthouse to get around immigration issues, until feelings get thrown into the mix.

I’m going to say from the start that I’m quite simply blown away by Christina Lauren’s prose. That much alone kept me up late at night, though I did have to give into the pillow by the time I was a third through. Still, the meta-speak about authorship, the nuanced understanding of dreams that grow smaller and flit away as the years go by, the fear of never being the person you’ve aspired to—they’re all very adult-themes that are written into this story, woven with metaphors of performance, music and the being players on life’s very stage which I loved and wanted to linger over. How long has it been since I’ve had a book like this, after all?

This, by extension, made Holland a very relatable protagonist, well, at least up to three-quarters of the way when I empathised with her and walked in her shoes. Written wholly in her POV, the authors stripped Holland raw—the embarrassing bits don’t get put away and shoved into a closet; they were instead, brought out to light via her rambly thoughts, in a manner that had me grimacing and cringing with her because stuff to do with infatuation can’t always be remembered through rose-tinted lenses particularly when you’re confronted directly with it. By and large, I loved the slow burn, the gradual development and the deepening of Holland’s and Calvin’s connection past the crush and down to the nitty-gritties of a relationship.

But ‘Roomies’ did take a bit of an unwelcome turn that felt like unnecessary angst with small obstructions here and there, as was the whole cliché of needing to reinvent oneself or trying to find oneself in that journey to sort out the emotional mess that I found myself rolling my eyes at. That bit, that enforced separation, simply felt like a way of forcing ‘character growth’ while keeping them miserable and to some extent and wallowing in self-pity while a supposed transformative work of art was in the making during this turning point.

In movie-speak, it’s the dawning of the new day after blustery, electricity-popping thunderstorm before the HEA happens—essentially, the waxing-lyrical about the need to rediscover those years of lost self-worth.

And I hated it with a passion.

Not just the clichéd conflict but also the whole new level of Holland’s self-absorption, paranoia and low self-esteem that seemed to take the story apart after the glorious build, just as I wanted to scream that every relationship took work despite the screw-ups and that this separation felt more like running away than anything else, because no one seemed the better for it.

Kicking Calvin out to take time for herself, then getting angry when she had a glimpse of him apparently moving on and making assumptions without really finding out what happened? Just what became of the Holland of the earlier pages that I near-idolised, who in fact, seemed to have become more brittle and more cowardly than the one who meandered her way around searching for purpose a few months past her walking away? Had this break really served its purpose, then, if all I got at the end was a weepy, egg-on-her-face woman who’d lost more than I thought she’d gained?

Some may say Holland/Calvin’s HEA was hard-won. I can only shake my head and say that it could have come sooner, with a lot less drama and well, stupidity—without taking the fun out of it to boot.

four-stars

Home for Christmas by Tracey Alvarez

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 5th December 2017
Home for Christmas by Tracey AlvarezHome For Christmas by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Due South #9
Published by Icon Publishing on December 1st 2017
Pages: 136
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three-stars

They’re dreaming of a White Christmas…

Carly Gatlin can’t wait to take her fiancé to Colorado for a snuggly snow-filled Christmas, only a freakish summer storm sweeps in disabling everyone’s plans. Still, with holiday surprises in store and even a secret admirer for Stewart Island’s elderly notorious matchmaker, the happy couples of Oban might not mind being home for Christmas after all.

Tracey Alvarez’s ‘Home For Christmas’ delivers such a nostalgic punch for the folks of Stewart Island, with her trademark snark and witty humour. Maybe the best part of it here is that it’s a virtually no-angst and engaging dive into a series I like very much, with a hint of more to come.

‘Home for Christmas’ is quite cleverly plotted and structured: every chapter focuses on a different pairing that had come together in her previous books (pick your favourite here) and provides the badly-needed catch-up that I need of them from time to time, even if it’s just to see how they’re getting on past their happy-ever-after, thanks to bad weather changing the best-laid plans on Stewart Island. There’s also the unique Christmas cheer and the days leading up to it small-town style and culmination of it all in the gathering of the whole township for the event, as well as a sneak-peek into the sexy cop’s story which I can’t wait for.

If anything, the sweet holiday-vibe comes on strong here, and even from another side of the world where the season are reversed, who says Christmas can’t be festive without snow?

three-stars

About that Kiss by Jill Shalvis

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss 3rd December 2017
About that Kiss by Jill ShalvisAbout That Kiss by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay #5
Published by Avon on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

When love drives you crazy . . .

When sexy Joe Malone never calls after their explosive kiss, Kylie shoves him out of her mind. Until she needs a favor, and it’s a doozy. Something precious to her has been stolen and there’s only one person with unique finder-and-fixer skills that can help—Joe. It means swallowing her pride and somehow trying to avoid the temptation to throttle him—or seduce him.

the best thing to do . . .

No, Joe didn’t call after the kiss. He’s the fun time guy, not the forever guy. And Kylie, after all she’s been through, deserves a good man who will stay. But everything about Kylie makes it damned hard to focus, and though his brain knows what he has to do, his heart isn’t getting the memo.

… is enjoy the ride.

As Kylie and Joe go on the scavenger hunt of their lives, they discover surprising things about each other. Now, the best way for them to get over “that kiss” might just be to replace it with a hundred more.

I’m a bit at a loss here when it comes to writing this particular review. I often associate Jill Shalvis’s books with romantic comedy with touches of the whimsical thrown in, so ‘About That Kiss’ threw me off a little with the genres it straddled.

There were pockets of quirky humour that I associate with Jill Shalvis’s writing and those were ever-present here, as were the cast of nosey supporting characters who’d long gotten their HEA while dishing out the weirdest advice about love thereafter. The fun part was definitely there as well, especially with the rather cute (and near-benign) case of a wooden penguin turning up in the Amélie-like manner in precarious positions—how does Shalvis think of these things?!—and the amusing chase after the potential suspects who might have been doing threatening things to a precious but inanimate object.

But it wasn’t long before ‘About That Kiss’ felt oddly familiar, like a pared-down, lighthearted version of romantic suspense minus the tense and hard-edges, with the kind of protagonists that I usually expect to see in the romantic suspense genre: the commitment-free male protagonist—either military or ex-military—who is emotionally unavailable (then uses this as an excuse to play fast and loose with many women) and the strong, stubborn female protagonist who promises nothing more will come out of a friends-with-benefits type arrangement until she realises that she can’t.

Joe and Kylie for most part, fitted those categories, though the context of their coming together (along with some TSTL behaviour) somehow felt gentler in Shalvis’s Heartbreaker Bay world that’s buoyed with feel-good laughter and caring characters rather than heavy angst and hard-driven suspense. For this reason, this ‘softer landing’ so to speak, makes ‘About That Kiss’ a very accessible read and while the stereotypes of the protagonists made it a little hard for me to get invested in Joe/Kylie as a pairing, I’m nonetheless glad that this series isn’t quite over given the very intriguing tease about yet another couple which I do hope Shalvis follows up with.

three-stars

Falling for Mr. Wright by Robyn Neeley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 3rd December 2017
Falling for Mr. Wright by Robyn NeeleyFalling for Mr. Wright by Robyn Neeley
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Lovestruck) on December 4th 2017
Pages: 214
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two-half-stars

After being dumped two weeks before his wedding, civil engineer Ryan Wright’s not interested in love. Been there, done that, had the wedding deposits to prove it. Still, he can’t help lusting after the fiery redheaded executive assistant who’s stirring up feelings that aren’t exactly appropriate for the office. 

Sarah Leonard is determined to make the CEO fall in love with her. To execute her plan, she’s going to need a little help in the form of her lunch buddy, the 6’2” office hottie who just so happens to be their boss’s best friend. Who better to tell Sarah everything she needs to know to win the other man’s heart?

Ryan agrees to help Sarah put her plan in motion, but he has no intention of helping her win anything. In fact, it’s time to show his office crush that he’s the guy she should be falling for…

Crippled by the fact that his ex-fiancée left him for another man years ago, Ryan Wright simply decided that this experience should define his entire dating life: anti-relationship and anti-commitment now rule his dating life, though it’s an office colleague who has the hots for his best friend finally gets under his skin. But this same woman has a never-ending crush on his best-friend and boss, and her recruitment of Ryan to get an ‘in’ with Logan twists him inside out. Torn between steadfastly holding that bachelor card and wanting Sarah Leonard, Ryan’s plotting takes on a desperate edge when things between his best friend and the woman he wants suddenly move forward in a way that he doesn’t need it to.

Despite the blurb, this isn’t quite a love triangle, which I’m utterly thankful for. And if I was initially wary of 2 men competing for a woman’s affection and another losing out along the way, well, there isn’t too much of that actually, because the third party isn’t even in the running for it.

‘Falling for Mr. Wright’ is in fact, a light-hearted, holiday-themed romance and somewhat low on the angst, if that’s the sort of easy read you’re looking for. It definitely has all the rom-com vibes along with all the seasonal feel-goods, though it could be somewhat cookie-cutter in its characters and predictability.

But there was where the problems began for me. It was fun at first to see the commitment-phobe guy being given a taste of his own medicine (the pining woman typically takes this role in many books) though it was harder to root for Ryan who seemed to be the perpetrator for the confusion and the messy emotions. His complete lack of communication, his inability to decide whether he wanted Sarah or the anti-commitment banner he’d been flying all along, and the heap of denial he had somehow fashioned him into the TSTL heroine that I usually take issue with.

Not only was he completely mute about his feelings, he’d adamantly sent out mixed signals to Sarah about not wanting commitment, so I couldn’t blame the latter at all for wanting to protect her heart when he acted like a wishy-washy, undecided fool. This was also where the story seemed to fall into a own trap of its own making: that Ryan finally admitted he’d loved Sarah at first sight in retrospect, then dated other women casually over that time while having the hots for her and not doing a thing about it simply didn’t push him up any higher in my esteem of him.

Sarah, on the other hand, seemed to switch the object of her affections so easily, just as she didn’t seem to question Ryan’s sudden own switch in wanting to give her his heart after all: did that mean the months-long crush on Logan simply disappeared or was that transferred to Ryan?

I think ‘Falling for Mr. Wright’ left me with more questions than answers that weren’t satisfactorily addressed, despite the festive cheer and the love-is-in-the-air kind of feels that the story wanted to create. So while it was a sweet and easy read, I wasn’t entirely able to believe the development of this pairing—cute as the circumstances could have been in bringing them together—not when both characters hadn’t convincingly shown that all they really wanted were each other.

two-half-stars

Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 29th November 2017
Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya EbyMan Hands by Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby
Series: Man Hands, #1
Published by Rennie Road Books on December 11th 2017
Pages: 180
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two-stars

He puts the "screw" in screwball comedy...

BRYNN

At thirty-four, I’m reeling from a divorce. I don’t want to party or try to move on. I just want to stay home and post a new recipe on my blog: Brynn’s Dips and Balls.

But my friends aren’t having it. Get out there again, they say. It will be fun, they say. I’m still taking a hard pass.

Free designer cocktails, they say. And that’s a game-changer.

Too bad my ex shows up with his new arm candy. That’s when I lose my mind. But when my besties dare me to leap on the first single man I see, they don't expect me to actually go through with it.

TOM

All I need right now is some peace and quiet while my home renovation TV show is on hiatus. But when a curvy woman in a red wrap dress charges me like she’s a gymnast about to mount my high bar, all I can do is brace myself and catch her. What follows is the hottest experience of my adult life.

I want a repeat, but my flying Cinderella disappears immediately afterward. She doesn’t leave a glass slipper, either—just a pair of panties with chocolate bunnies printed on them.

But I will find her.

Stripped to its core, ‘Man Hands’ is about a woman reeling from her divorce, then getting back on the saddle with a one-night stand by riding a jaded womaniser of a tv personality after a crazy evening when she bumps into her ex…thereafter does a Cinderella-disappearing act on him thereafter. And predictably, this celebrity—used to female attention—is intrigued because the sex is the most memorable he’s ever had. Then comes a sex tape scandal and the damage-control that eventually blows up in their faces.

If the plot is familiar, it’s the execution of it that isn’t. ‘Man Hands’ is a stark departure from the usual Sarina Bowen style that I’m used to, and it was a ride that left me wondering how zany things could get before I could see my feet back on terra firma. Frankly, it was all a little too mad for me as characters stepped out of reality straight into slap-stick land and did/said/thought things that no sane person would try, I think.

I do understand that rom-coms can be tricky: get the balance of the humour and the lovey-dovey bits just a tad wrong and it dumps us into cheesy territory or overdoses us with cavity-inducing sweetness. Overdo the serious stuff and the complaints come fast and furious that the story should have been better classified as angsty drama.

But when everything about ‘Man Hands’ got inflated, dramatic and exaggerated so that hyperbole became comedy, I found myself barely able see past the over-the-top silliness to the point where it was hard to connect with the characters, or at least, with their voices which I hard a hard time reconciling with 30-ish-year-old adults. Scrub out the wacky lines, the erections that come when the slightest wind blew and the hysterical inner monologues that filled the pages, and I couldn’t quite get the substance behind this particular style.

If Brynn barrelling into the first man she saw which led immediately to hot sex wasn’t batty enough, Tom simply came across as sleazy as he straddled the line between being a pining teenager and a man obsessed with his own dick despite having broken his short stint of celibacy.

The long and short of it is, I was just incredibly disappointed by this one, maybe because I wanted so badly to see what Bowen could do with romantic comedy and felt let down when nothing went right somehow. But if ‘Man Hands’ was one that back-fired spectacularly, judging from the glowing reviews, I daresay it’s probably a brand of humour that didn’t resonate with me in any way.

two-stars
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