Category: Chick Lit

Faker by Sarah Smith

Faker by Sarah SmithFaker by Sarah Smith
Published by Berkley on 8th October 2019
Pages: 320
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four-stars

Emmie Echavarre is a professional faker. She has to be to survive as one of the few female employees at Nuts & Bolts, a power tool company staffed predominantly by gruff, burly men. From nine to five, Monday through Friday, she's tough as nails--the complete opposite of her easy-going real self.

One thing she doesn't have to fake? Her disdain for coworker Tate Rasmussen.

Tate has been hostile to her since the day they met. Emmie's friendly greetings and repeated attempts to get to know him failed to garner anything more than scowls and terse one-word answers. Too bad she can't stop staring at his Thor-like biceps...

When Emmie and Tate are forced to work together on a charity construction project, things get...heated. Emmie's beginning to see that beneath Tate's chiseled exterior lies a soft heart, but it will take more than a few kind words to erase the past and convince her that what they have is real.

‘Faker’ surprised me much, in a good way, more so considering it’s Sarah Smith’s debut book with the enemies-to-lovers trope that I always dig.

Still, I couldn’t help but look at the many shades of Sally Thorne’s ‘The Hating Game’ colouring Emmie’s and Tate’s circumstances and relationship from the start: a love-hate relationship in the office underlaid with more conflicted and complicated emotions that both seem to harbour for each other, a holding pattern of sniping, arguments and clenched jaws (and lip-trembling, withheld tears) up until the point where something changes the dynamics of it, the slow-burn that follows the turnaround.

Written wholly in Emmie’s POV, the whole narrative is more introspective, more centred about her emotions and her changing perceptions—and her interpretations of Tate’s overreactions that the reader sees as something else other than hate and dislike. Seeing Tate through Emmie’s eyes is an experience in and of itself–some descriptions are hilarious, and in other parts, a little cringeworthy.

It all ends up quite endearing and buoyant in some ways, though the slow, slow burn and the multiple cock-blocking scenes made me impatient at parts.

In essence, apart from the exteriors that both Emmie and Tate wear, much of ‘Faker’ reads like the honeymoon phase of a relationship: the effusive optimism about falling in love (more so as Emmie turns into a stalwart fan of Tate), the thrill of seeing someone with fresh eyes, the yearning for constant physical closeness and all. It’s bubbly, and oddly heart-twinging in some bits, and past the last page, I find myself hoping that Emmie and Tate actually do last.

four-stars

The Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson

The Friend Zone by Sariah WilsonThe Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson
Published by Montlake Romance on 11th June 2019
Pages: 304
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three-stars

Disgraced college quarterback Logan Hunt was on his way to NFL stardom when he messed up big-time. Now the Texas star player with a bad temper has a new option: Seattle’s EOL College—as in End of the Line, to his fellow misfit recruits. It’s Logan’s last chance. If he can follow the rules.

No parties, no fighting, no swearing, and oh, no dating the coach’s daughter, Jess. Simple. Yeah, right. For Logan, there has never been a rule he’s more tempted to break.

The deal is “just friends.” The pretty, confident, and fiercely smart math whiz is fine with pizza, tutoring, and keeping Logan in line. But the closer Jess gets, the more receptive she is to his warm heart and spirit—not to mention his irresistible off-field passes.

With defenses down, they’re both heading into the danger zone.

It’s more than thrilling. It’s love. It’s also a game changer that could sideline Logan’s NFL goals—and more important, a future with Jess. But dreams are worth fighting for, right?

Sariah Wilson’s ‘The Friend Zone’ harks back to a time when I remember YA/NA reads to be a lot more innocent and docile, both in speech and thoughts and deeds—or at least, when more risqué activities were kept firmly behind closed doors and stayed there, where the hottest things got were kisses and monologue-driven, self-actualising type of pining and many, many scorching looks.

It does take getting used to though, having this version of sparkly clean YA/NA sports romance graze my e-reader after being inured to a million sex scenes, to the uninhibited partying lifestyles of manwhore athletes and the women who prostrate themselves without care at their feet. So much so, that I kept wondering if Logan Hunt and Jess were going to go beyond censoring themselves and feeling hot under the collar after their bouts of denial, the chest-heaving sense of attraction, the running away and the pushing and pulling.

The answer, in short, is…no.

Wilson instead, does it the old school, slow-burn way: through friendship with some romantic, underlying tension and lets it grow and grow and…well, grow, with some bouts of humour in between. There isn’t a climax that ends up in torn clothes and smexy times (that did leave me somewhat disappointed anyhow) and with an ending that felt a little rushed and one that by-passed the physical nature of their relationship, I turned the last page still somehow wishing there had been more.

three-stars

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. TuckerSay You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 6th August 2019
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.

On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus, she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.

Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group Industries, and coincidentally the first love of her life.

The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counsellors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.

Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is not only alive but stronger than ever, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.

The rich girl—entitled and privileged and knows it while walking the fine line between being smug and modest about her status—with a guy on the wrong side of the tracks come together during a fateful summer camp? It sounds partway like ‘Grease’ with a bit of a twist and the added growing pains that still impact adulthood over a decade later. Or at least, there’s lots of nostalgic and wistful recollection of the days tainted rose-gold as people always fondly say ‘those were the days’ in reference to the years gone by.

The summer lovin’ that K.A. Tucker writes about between Kyle Miller and Piper Calloway sit fully in the New Adult category—there’s a huge element of teenagers simply trying being teenagers, testing and breaking every boundary just because they can—as past and present are simultaneously told in alternating chapters. And as with Tucker’s writing, the way to a happy-ever-after is paved with thorns and the ending always bittersweet, never one that’s allowed to be all sunshine and roses.

Painting Kyle/Piper’s teenage love as absolutely unforgettable even though their time together lasted just a few weeks allows Tucker to use this particular point in time as the base event to which everything in the present was tied to. However, reconnecting 13 years later with no contact between the 2 protagonists whatsoever was still a bit of a stretch for me, because the weight of the past didn’t feel momentous enough for me to buy into the fact that the teenagers who had grown into adults with diverging paths, changing priorities and life goals, still wanted what they had so long ago and for so short a time.

‘Say You Still Love Me’ is undoubtedly more layered and complex than the typical NA/YA novel that revolves around hormonal shenanigans. But it did feel a tad too long, filled with too many details that helped with the building dread of Kyle/Piper’s separation but didn’t seem fully relevant to the forward momentum and the big-reveal at the end. With a rushed HFN ending after the pages of build-up, I think I finished the story still mixed…needing a more concrete ending after the angst but not quite getting it.

three-stars

Then Came You by Kate Meader

Then Came You by Kate MeaderThen Came You by Kate Meader
Series: Laws of Attraction, #3
Published by Loveswept on 7th May 2019
Pages: 181
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two-half-stars

In the courtroom, they’re rivals. In the bedroom, they’re . . . divorced. But could the road trip from hell lead to a second chance at love?

Aubrey Gates is the hottest divorce lawyer in Chicago, a barb-tongued stiletto with legs that go on for miles. When her cool gray eyes meet mine across the battlefield, I want her like I’ve never wanted anyone or anything. Then I remember who she is: the woman who brought me to my knees. The woman who destroyed my faith in relationships.

The woman I used to call . . . wife.

And she needs a favor from me, Grant Lincoln.

It seems my ex forgot to mention the demise of our marriage to her dear old grammie, and now we’re both expected to attend her ninetieth birthday party. In Boston. And because it isn’t already awkward enough, Aubrey and I are driving there together from Chicago. That’s more than a thousand miles of tension, heartbreak, and barely concealed lust.

A little piece of paper might say we’re over, but this road trip is the true test. I intend to get my wife back . . . and I won’t stop until “I do.”

I do have a soft spot for a second-chance story between a divorced couple (some personal conditions attached for it to be a palatable read for me) and Grant/Aubrey is what Kate Meader brings to the end (?) of this series of cynical, commitment-free divorce lawyers who ironically find their HEA. But Grant/Aubrey buck this trend in ‘Then Came You’ where a miscarriage tore them apart and after some time, find their way back to each other.

Meader can write, undoubtedly, and that’s what draws me back again and again. I’ve always enjoyed her prose, the nifty handling of characters, the emotions and plot. The feels, generally, is what good writing gives. But the past is piled on and tucked into the present, as both Grant and Aubrey recount the past in their own interior monologues—the scenes aren’t quite flashbacks per se, but the slide into years before left me somewhat disconcerted when the present suddenly disconnects from the narrative you’ve been soaking in.

But ‘Then Came You’ left me flailing in deep water, not because of the traumatic loss that both Grant and Aubrey had suffered, but how for the longest time, Grant seemed to be the only one interested in patching the holes left in the aftermath—while Aubrey merely looked at him as an afterthought, entertaining ideas that she’d be moving onto other men and saying it straight to his face.

I definitely understood and felt their loss, but it was hard to root for a couple who weren’t even on the same page when it came to reconciliation. That it took just a few days worth of holidaying to erase the years of pent-up hurt and guilt made it unbelievable.

I thought Aubrey was too paralysed to move on, stuck as she was on her inability to overcome her distant, aloof self, while Grant’s white-knight complex made him seem like the poster-child for talking things through, moving on and healing. In fact, Aubrey came across as self-absorbed to see beyond her own grief to the burden Grant was carrying on his own…essentially she shaped up to be a frustrating ‘heroine’ who never rose up to the level I expected and wanted her to be. Her simultaneous defence and castigation of her own behaviour made her bottomline argument “I don’t deserve him” the ultimate, self-defeating coward’s way out without any showing intention of fighting for them at all.

In short, a whole lot of push and pull, with so much frustration and emotion (and not all of it good) thrown in. I wish this could have been a more satisfying read—angsty but with less of a roundabout way of rehashing the same issues that come again and again and earlier character growth perhaps—but ultimately, ’Then Came You’ turned out more of a disappointment than I thought.

two-half-stars

Counterpoint by Lauren E. Rico

Counterpoint by Lauren E. RicoCounterpoint by Lauren E. Rico
Published by Harmony House Productions, Lauren E. Rico on March 28 2019
Pages: 210
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four-stars

Brilliant young pianist Alexandria is poised for classical music superstardom…until the night she unravels in front of thousands at her Carnegie Hall debut.

Brilliant young pianist Nate is poised for classical music superstardom…until the night a horrific accident took away everything—and everyone he loved.

Now fate—and a wily cowboy pianist named Wyatt—have brought them both to Texas for a summer of intensive study and healing. And, though the two butt heads almost immediately, it’s soon clear that, together, Alex and Nate possess a dazzling chemistry that eclipses anything they might have done alone.

But the real test of their longevity as partners—on stage and off—comes when Alex’s overbearing father threatens to destroy everything they’ve both worked so hard for. Painful choices must be made and lives will be changed forever.

While Nate wrestles with the gut-wrenching guilt of his past, Alex is forced to confront the grim prospects for her future. And suddenly, each must decide if there is enough power in their music and enough courage in their hearts to breach the chasm between them.

Lauren E. Rico speaks directly to the soft spot I suspect I’ll always have for classical music and the very rare bit of romantic fiction written around it, because there’s just so much to explore in what’s typically considered a big-ego, elitist and inaccessible world. And well, that it was a world that I belonged to, very briefly so long ago, makes the classic music romance, so to speak, a wistful step back into that passionate, intriguing and cut-throat space.

The unique meeting of accomplished classical pianists, both child prodigies, both fallen in their own ways and unable to pick themselves up until the intervention of a mysterious do-gooder who wanted nothing more but to get them going again….no surprise then, that I jumped on ‘Counterpoint’ as soon as the ARC was available.

Nathaniel Calloway’s and Alexandria Mickelson-Fitch’s stalled careers start to collide in a way that neither could have ever imagined, thanks to a Texan cowboy professor who seem determined to get their back their tarnished stardom. Cue the resulting family drama, the heaving chests, the loud denials and affirmations came to the fore that catapulted the storytelling into soap-opera territory at times.

There were clear hurdles to jump over here: obsessive, helicopter parenting, volatile tempers with sometime immature outbursts (throw in the broody artistic-temperament) and so much ego-shuffling. I was sceptical of the quick switch from hostility to near-instalove, got frustrated when adults started behaving like teenagers who suddenly couldn’t see reason and devolved into self-absorbed, entitled, snivelling messes who couldn’t handle themselves let alone others.

Still, I lapped up every descriptive passage of the music that both Nate and Alex played, lapped up their duets and the heady sense of the music that spilled from the pages and left me wanting more as I rode every wave of high and low with them. The music’s made magic in Rico’s hands and I could only wish there were more of such stories from her.

four-stars

Heat Stroke by Tessa Bailey

Heat Stroke by Tessa BaileyHeat Stroke by Tessa Bailey
Series: Beach Kingdom, #2
Published by Tessa Bailey on 15th March 2019
Pages: 178
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four-stars

They can't be together. They won't stay apart.

Marcus “Diesel” O’Shaughnessy is a brash, oversized CrossFit enthusiast with a naked lady tattooed on his rippling forearm. Jamie Prince is a private school teacher with an extremely low tolerance for bull. The two men have zero in common. Well, except for three things.

They’re both moonlighting as lifeguards for the summer. No matter how hard they try, they cannot stay away from each other. And both of them have secrets they’re determined to keep.

But what happens in the shadows of the Long Beach boardwalk can only remain hidden for so long, before the July sunshine reveals the hot, unrelenting connection they never expected, forcing Marcus and Jamie to decide if they’re simply caught up in a temporary heat stroke or if they’ve found something worth rescuing...

3 lifeguard brothers, 3 different stories, all long beach-centric. I’ve not read the first book but I’m eternally grateful that Tessa Bailey has done something different with Jamie’s story, seeing how seldom she ventures into M/M territory just sweetened the pot.

I had all the feels when Bailey wrote about the pain of needing to hide one’s sexuality, the struggle about finding acceptance and the fear/insecurity about facing peer pressure when push came to shove about choosing yourself and what you wanted others to see. Jamie Prince slayed me with his history, his openness and his big heart; I loved him as much as I felt for Marcus who, for the longest time, straddled between wanting to come out and staying closeted in fear of judgement for the kind of lifestyle he wanted to lead.

The issues aren’t new but in Bailey’s hand, Jamie/Marcus’s evolving emotions sprung out starker than usual, with a funny mixture of endearing sweetness and some cringeworthy scenes about cock cages and weird, non-stop erections that made Viagra’s effect pale in comparison. Cue the big talking, the (somewhat toned down) dirty bits and some inevitable push-pull…I’m just happy to say Bailey delivered that I needed to read about two characters I could and wanted to cheer for.

four-stars

Tame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Tame Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezTame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Far North #6
Published by Tracey Alvarez on 15th March 2019
Pages: 288
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three-stars

Loving your enemy is harder than you’d think…

Tui Ngata loathes the Griffin family after a wildfire tore through her family farm seventeen years ago and her father was accused of starting it. While on vacation in a tropical paradise she’s able to forget the bone-deep feud with her neighbors and find one night of pleasure in the arms of a handsome stranger. Until she finds out this stranger isn’t who she thought he was…

After his uncle died in the tragic fire that destroyed hundreds of acres of his family farm, Architect Kyle Griffin has made a life for himself far away from Bounty Bay. But he’s drawn back, forced into sorting out the mess and drama his Grandfather’s death has left behind. The distraction is hopefully one way to forget the beautiful woman who’s haunted his every waking moment since the end of his vacation. Except he can’t forget her, especially when he discovers the lasting consequences which will forever unwillingly bind them together.

But someone doesn’t want Kyle and Tui falling in love. And that someone is willing to raze their lives to ashes to prevent them fraternizing with the enemy.

Well, let’s start with this.

Tracey Alvarez’s writing always holds a special place in my reader-heart. There’ve been many times when I’ve favourited some of her books from either the Far North or the Down South series, but unfortunately, ‘Tame Your Heart’ isn’t quite one of them, even if it’s a long-awaited return to a stubborn Ngata sibling and a guy who, from the enemy-side of the fence, shouldn’t be a fantastic man but is—just as the former just refuses to see it.

And the story’s got enough hooks to pull you in, with several elements put together well enough—bad blood and even worse history between families, an accidental pregnancy, a one-night stand with the ‘enemy’, a small mystery—to keep the pages turning. What I did appreciated, was Alvarez’s subtle, nuanced portrayal of the Maori and their very personal connections to the land that they have, the stigma that had grown around the injustices they faced (and by extension, the indirect reference to the cultural trauma that they’ve suffered).

The addition of a fat ginger cat, is a bonus.

But what then, do you do, when you like 1 half of the pairing Alvarez has written and absolutely loathe the other?

I’ve always found it a fine line between someone trying to assert his/her independence and being obnoxious or TSTL about it and Tui Ngata fell into the latter category. In fleeing the very stigma she’d feared she’d become when she was a teen, Tui became the opposite thing she was afraid of: still stuck in a different rut of her own, a flight risk with a penchant for running and bolting at everything when she felt threatened at the ripe old age of 31 seeking to have fun and never being tied down.

I had a problem with her ‘wild-child’ character personally; counting the number of times she tried to leave, or storm out or deflect when the going got tough made me lose my patience with her just as Kyle seemed to have his own work cut out for him: to do everything within his means to get a fully-grown adult to learn what commitment is, who regressed into a teenage version of her hormonal self at every turn someone tried to be reasonable with her. Free-spirited she was not; instead I found her cowardly immature and rebellious for the sake of being so because she could, prone to making things all about herself and determined to deny/belittle what she had with Kyle just so that she could bail out.

My rating reflects my own conflict about the book and probably about the series so far. It’s also one that’s more disappointed than disapproving, where I wished the romance and the characters could have been done differently. The bottomline is this: there was so much I wanted to like—my own unreasoning love for New Zealand playing a big part of it along with Alvarez’s writing—and so much more I wished I could have rooted for.

three-stars