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Stay Close by Alexa Riley

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th June 2017
Stay Close by Alexa RileyStay Closer Series: For You #1
Published by Carina Press on July 17th 2017
Pages: 69
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four-stars

A former Russian mafia soldier is hired to protect a friend’s young daughter, but he knows he’ll do more than keep her safe–he’ll make her his. Forever.

If she were to simply whisper my name, I would be at her feet, begging to touch what I shouldn’t, taste what doesn’t belong to me, run my hands along the sweet innocence she taunts me with.

Penelope Justice is eighteen, old enough to graduate high school but—according to her parents—not old enough to live without 24/7 security. Practice has made her an expert at ditching her bodyguards. One look at Ivan and she never wants to run again.

I’ve been hired to protect her.

I can’t help but think that perhaps someone should have protected her from me.

Ivan steals the breath right out of her lungs, something no boy has ever done. Then again, he’s far from a boy. This man, this man who looks like he could kill someone with the flick of a wrist, is everything. He is her future.

I can’t let her go and I won’t give her up. I’ve done bad things in my life, and I don’t deserve her. But I can’t do the honorable thing.

I’ve never been noble, and I’m not starting now.

Alexa Riley, as I’m starting to learn (that’s really late of me, I know) is pure escapism. Forget the harness of reality, throw out the doubts of instant love and lust and usher in the unapologetic over-the-top type of devotion and adoration that can come from both protagonists, not matter how old or young they are.

Age gap? Bad pasts? Bah. Of no consequence, mostly. What matter here is that the connection is instant, the want is mutual and the pledging of hearts is eternal, as far as Riley is concerned.

‘Stay Close’ is an indulgent read (and an off-shoot of the ‘For Her’ series), an unlikely pair that come together in the form of a coming-of-age-woman and her bodyguard with a dubious background. Angst is virtually non-existent on the whole and somewhat short journey ends deliriously happy with an epilogue that seals the entire deal.

So put the blinkers on your eyes, stop the jaded snorts when some cheese comes in, because that’s what reading Riley tends to demand – a complete suspension of disbelief and the investment in a pair only meant for each other.

four-stars

My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th June 2017
My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan QuinnMy Best Friend's Ex by Meghan Quinn
Published by Amazon Publishing on June 1st 2017
Pages: 248
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five-stars

When I found an eviction notice taped on my apartment door, I had two options: find a comfortable cardboard box to call home, or move in with Tucker Jameson.
Seeing that cardboard makes me feel itchy, I chose the latter. Which shouldn't be that big of a deal since Tucker is one of my good friends. And because he's still pining after his ex-girlfriend and I'm trying to finish my nursing degree, there is nothing to worry about in the romance department, making my last semester an easy one to conquer.
Boy, was I wrong.
Rules are set, dinners are made, conversations are had, and a shirtless, swoony roommate walks around in nothing but a pair of black briefs, ruining me for every other man.
Before I know it, I turn into a panting, lust-filled woman begging for Tucker to kiss me, touch me, and show me exactly what is hiding under those briefs.
But with great orgasms, comes great consequences.
Tucker might be my friend and roommate but he’s also my best friend's ex-boyfriend, making him completely off-limits. At least that's what my brain is telling me, my heart is speaking an entirely different language.

At this very point in time—the very moment I finished turning the last page of this book—I’m inclined to think that I’ve barely yet recovered from the amazing Tucker Jameson (who made my heart break many times throughout for him yet I loved him more for it) before I needed to pound out a review for a story that pretty much took my breath away.

‘My Best Friend’s Ex’ is so much more than what the flirty little blurb suggests; it’s instead a perfect mix of funnies and heartbreaking moments that leave you breathless with laughter then wrung out completely the next.

And that’s mostly due to Tucker and Emma—2 characters with so much chemistry and so much love between them that you can’t help but think there’s no better out there for either of them. I loved every bit of the build-up and how they re-established their relationship and despite some cock-blocking moments, was gratified when they finally hit the sheets. I’ve no desire really, to read the first book that introduced Tucker as a broken, peripheral character (especially if he’s the one left behind in it), who’d been alone in dealing with his bitterness, guilt and hurt when the group of friends he had pulled away from him as well.

But even with a huge load of tragedy behind him, Tucker is admirable in the way he pulls himself up and away from it, finally putting himself out there again for Emma, who is as compassionate and understanding as they come, living up to her reputation as the one who has always taken care of others. But because they’d been friends long before that, the journey is slightly easier, softened by years of memories and camaraderie, so this friends-to-lovers trope is in some way, easier to bear, given their history.

There isn’t much more that I can say, except that this has been a perfect afternoon indulgence that made me run the entire gamut of emotions and then once again. And if this genre can’t do it, then what can?

five-stars

When It’s Real by Erin Watt

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 3rd June 2017
When It’s Real by Erin WattWhen It's Real by Erin Watt
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 30th 2017
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Meet Oakley Ford-teen celebrity, renowned pop star, child of famous movie stars, hottie with millions of fangirls… and restless troublemaker. On the surface he has it all, but with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry, and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley's team decides it's time for an intervention. The result: an image overhaul, complete with a fake girlfriend meant to show the world he's settled down.
Enter seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett-devoted sister, part-time waitress, the definition of "normal." Under ordinary circumstances she'd never have taken this gig, but with her family strapped for cash, she doesn't have much of a choice. And for the money Oakley's team is paying her, she figures she can put up with outlandish Hollywood parties and a team of publicists watching her every move. So what if she thinks Oakley's a shallow, self-centered jerk? It's not like they're going to fall for each other in real life…right?

‘When it’s Real’ is an undoubtedly fun read and an absolute guilty pleasure…and I was entertained throughout, which is more than I can say for many books these days. But re-tune your inner voices for teenage drama and high-school antics because it’s a NA/YA book with teenage characters who well, behave in a way you completely expect them to.

I read this in one sitting because I did like the voices of both Vaughan and Oakley and it was interesting to see how Oakley became more and more likeable while the initially-grounded Vaughan became a little stupid in the middle.

There are also, so many echoes of the cynical world of showbiz written into this and I couldn’t help but grin wryly at the not-quite-blatant references to the type of tabloid headlines and social media feeds that construct a world that as fake or as real as you want it to be. The oblique pokes at how certain music celebrities (and their fans) behave these days is as obvious as daylight too, which thoroughly delighted me as I saw these parodied so well here.

‘When it’s real’ ends with the same euphoric high of the ending notes of the concert, which is mostly HFN bliss for the newly-minted couple in question, but in the fickle world of celebrity-happiness and coupledom, it’s probably for the best.

four-stars

Casey by Kelly Hunter

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 2nd June 2017
Casey by Kelly HunterCasey by Kelly Hunter
Series: American Extreme Bull Riders Tour #3
Published by Tule Publishing on May 23rd 2017
Pages: 145
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four-stars

Rowan Harper has traveled the American Extreme Bull Riders tour circuit with her stock-contractor father since she was four years old. She's seen the best rides and the worst wrecks. And then there's TJ who impressed her most when he didn't ride at all.

T.J. Casey walked away from his rightful place in last year's bull riding finals in order to bury his father. His sponsors are gone, but he's back to stake his claim. He wants the buckle, sure, but he also wants the woman who treats her bucking bulls like lambs.

Can T.J. really score the championship and the girl? Or will he have to choose between the two..once and for all?

T.J. Casey’s eye has been on Rowan Harper for a while, a woman who has only known bull-riding and breeding all her life, yet family tragedy has derailed him from pursuing her outright. It’s only when he’s back, comfortable in the saddle this time around that he asks her out, though not without more accompanying family drama that could threaten the happiness they have with each other.

Much of the story is told with wry humour and with deliberate pacing, building on bits of revelation of their lives and back stories that makes you appreciate the growing intimacy and the slow-burn that builds up over weeks between them. It’s certainly a change for me but one that is enjoyable nonetheless.

Casey’s and Rowan’s relationship is first clandestine, then public but deftly handled by Kelly Hunter in a way that leaves no space for excessive theatrics between 2 adults who really do know the type of behaviour that’s befitting their ages. It doesn’t hurt that Casey and Rowan are good together, mostly because they are distinct individuals—both of them not fitting in the stereotypes of characters typically populating the bull-riding circuit—who actually know what they want and aren’t too afraid to get it. Casey’s steadfastness and his encouragement of Rowan’s continued discovery of herself, starting with something as innocuous as going dress shopping is as appealing as Rowan’s unwavering determination to carve out a distinct career for herself in a place that she has been all her life. For these reasons, ‘Casey’ is an easy but unique read—more heartfelt than action-driven—but capped off with a fitting HEA that doesn’t feel trite nor rushed.

four-stars

Arm Candy by Jessica Lemmon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 1st June 2017
Arm Candy by Jessica LemmonArm Candy by Jessica Lemmon
Series: Real Love #2
Published by Loveswept on September 5th 2017
Pages: 191
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two-stars

Davis:
I’ve had my eye on Grace Buchanan for a while now. Unlike the bubbly blondes I usually date, the feisty, flame-haired bartender both intrigues and bewilders me. Something about Grace—the tattoos? the nose ring?—makes every part of me sit up and beg. There’s only one problem: She hates me. Trading insults and one-liners has become our M.O. But when Grace bets me that I can’t get a date with a non-blonde if my life depends on it, I’m determined to prove her wrong by landing the ultimate non-blonde: her.
Grace:
I’m used to regulars hitting on me, and I’ve turned them all down, except for one: Davis Price. I like giving him a hard time, and he’s kind of cute in his suit and tie—if you’re into that kind of thing. Anyway, I don’t care how many blondes he takes home . . . until one of them sidles up to him in my bar. Nuh-uh. But after my little bet with Davis backfires, our first date lands us in the sack. So does the second. And the third. Neither of us wants more than the best sex of our lives. The trouble is, it’s not a question of what I want. It’s what I need. And what I need is Davis.

Jessica Lemmon’s sassy, confident writing is what had me requesting this ARC, though this turned out to be yet another chick-lit book that disappointed me with its predictability from start to finish, with main characters that are dime a dozen in the romance genre. 2 non-committal people make the (rather cynical) sex-only agreement, then find out they could be more thereafter, though it was an uphill climb to believe that genuine trust, respect and love could blossom out of chemistry in the bedroom and months of foreplay, as it always is when sex is done and out of the way so very early on in the story.

Admittedly though, the rating reflects a case of my liking a main character and intensely disliking the other—rather than the quality and style of Lemmon’s writing itself. Davis has had his heartbroken a few years ago and the default mode (as with most male protagonists in the romance genre, being cowardly and gun-shy after that) he goes back to after that wedding incident is being a manwhore about his dates and being unapologetic about deliberately living in an environment where he and the rest of the women can walk away after sex before anything can begin. It’s his way of ‘killing time’ supposedly, but no matter how Davis tries to rationalise it to convince himself that Grace is worth it, I couldn’t quite buy the fact that he wanted it all simply after a bet that Grace has impulsively taken up.

My own personal biases against such players do prevent me from liking protagonists like Davis, whose shallowness I couldn’t get over—the offering of the ‘Davis’ package then flaunting his hookups just to get Grace to take up a bet was quite the last straw which I found more sleazy than charming. It was in short, difficult to think of Davis as something other than a huge cliché whose background and personal history dictate his behaviour with women and his escort-like packages and frankly, it was more of a turn-off than anything else. Grace on the other hand, is as jaded as Davis and yet there seemed to be more nuances to her character, although her own fear of commitment—for different reasons other than Davis’s ones—certainly isn’t hampered by her falling prey to Davis’s charm.

In short, without a grounding belief that Davis and Grace could work together, the rest of the story was hard to follow through when I stayed sceptical of them throughout when both characters seemed at various points in time, to have a foot out the door because fear, as always, took control up until the very end. ‘Arm Candy’ was unfortunately, a story that left me frustrated and less than enthused, because it simply felt like another variation of 2 people getting invested in each other after getting the best-of-their-lives-smexy times.

two-stars

Easy Fortune by Kristen Proby

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 30th May 2017
Easy Fortune by Kristen ProbyEasy Fortune by Kristen Proby
Series: Boudreaux #5.5
Published by Ampersand Publishing on May 30th 2017
Pages: 66
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one-star

Lena Turner has spent her life as the outsider. Thanks to her extraordinary gifts, she’s learned to be independent—especially when it comes to men. She’s content to live her life in New Orleans as a schoolteacher, dating casually and dedicated to her small family. Long term is not part of her plan. Sometimes the past catches up with you…

Leaving Lena behind to pursue his career was the most difficult thing Mason Coulter ever did. He told himself that it was for the best, had even convinced himself that he had only Lena’s best interests in mind. But now, after six long years, he’s back in New Orleans to settle his late eccentric aunt’s estate. All he has to do is get in and out of the city without submitting to the need to see Lena. But to Mason’s dismay, his aunt made other plans. And sometimes the future and the past collide… Having Mason walk back into her life is something Lena never saw coming. She could refuse to help him, but she’s never been good at telling Mason no. So she’ll do what she can to get the estate settled and Mason out of her life for good. At least, that’s the plan. But Mason has plans of his own…

‘Easy Fortune’ is, well, an easy read and incredibly short even for a novella. It packs a second-chance romance, a cute treasure-hunt and a resolution that’s too neatly wrapped-up with promises of true love after a week of sex and fun, though I do think it would have been better had it been a longer, more-drawn out story that wouldn’t have otherwise, put an easily-forgiving female protagonist and a selfish bastard of a male main character back together easily.

But that’s cynical, jaded ol’ me speaking and I’d be the first to raise my flag in support of the mantra that second-chances romances have a hell of a lot to prove before they actually satisfy. Maybe I just wanted an extended time of grovelling and a taste of Mason’s own medicine shoved down his throat; maybe I wanted more than just sex that heated the sheets but a deeper development that went past a treasure hunt and a letter that pretty much explained to the MCs why love is important and why both characters should be together.

My problem with this particular second-chance story is that Mason’s apology and return to Lena’s life really felt like an afterthought: circumstances had brought him back to where he used to be not because of choice and that his meeting with Lena (and subsequent apology) would not have happened because he never would have sought her out of his own will independently. Throughout, I couldn’t help but think that he was nothing but a self-serving idiot—leaving the woman to pursue his dream without even managing to bother with an explanation when she would have been supportive of him—especially he’d presumptuously and genuinely thought he leaving her without a word really was the best decision for her.

It didn’t seem like a decision that anyone sensible could come back from (let alone easily), particularly after the emotional damage Mason did to Lena, which was why her easy forgiveness of his thoughtless actions left me incredulous, as it merely felt like a hurdle the author wanted to get over and done quickly with before they could move forward together.

The only saving grace, perhaps, was that Lena left in the end yet even so, I was left sceptical in the manner in which Mason came back after trying to redeem himself in a (laughably) big way.

My rant could go on and on. But it’s not a new argument that I’m rehashing against second-chance romances because there are so many things that make this particular trope problematic for me. ‘Easy Fortune’ sadly, isn’t quite one that I could swallow hook, line and sinker.

one-star

The Bet by Elizabeth Hayley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 29th May 2017
The Bet by Elizabeth HayleyThe Bet by Elizabeth Hayley
Series: The Players #1
Published by Swerve on June 27th 2017
Pages: 254
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two-stars

Jace "the Jet" Benning is a legend on the football field. And off. He has the arm, the charm, and the reputation of being the hottest player in the league.
Too bad Dr. Alessandra Mastrazacoma is not impressed.
With a busy schedule and a bruised heart, Alessandra doesn't have time to date, but when she is lured into making a friendly bet with her best friend, she finds herself agreeing to go out with the next guy that asks...and to give him three shots, three dates, before pulling the plug.
Jace also has a friendly wager with his friends going, and it involves making sure the slightly klutzy, but very pretty, doctor will be his date to the biggest night in sports. With two wagers and two hearts on the line, will Aly and Jace win or are they betting to lose?

‘The Bet’ is mostly an angst-free, light-hearted read of an accidental meeting between a doctor and a famous player (whom the former doesn’t know at all) which progresses mostly because of a bet between friends.

 

Alessandra Mastrazacoma (now that’s a mouthful) and Jace Benning are an unlikely pair and the whole story feels like a journey of the both of them finding common ground, apart from nailing sexual compatibility in the bedroom. Neither of them really pretend to be who they aren’t; Alessandra is outrightly blunt and in unapologetic for being so while Jace still struggles with his poor, smalltown roots but isn’t quite afraid to put everything on the line for her.

The ride isn’t fully of peaks and valleys – and this will probably appeal to readers who are tired of adult histrionics better confined to the high-school classroom – but is instead, one that catalogues each and every step of Aly and Jace getting into their relationship proper. The ending is a predictably neat wrap-up after some grovelling on Jace’s part, a HEA that pushes Aly and Jace into a happily committed relationship after that small hiccup.

As light-hearted and easy a read ‘The Bet’ is however, I found myself mostly uninspired by this pairing, which is probably a just a case of my bucking the trend again. I thought their chemistry rather non-existent as the move straight into the bedroom very early on eschewed any tension that could have made the anticipation more worth it. And as well and good the sex scenes may be written, I was bored (and skimmed those scenes) because I couldn’t find anything compelling about this couple. Consequently, it was difficult to follow the progression of Aly/Jace’s relationship as there just didn’t seem to be anything else to look forward to, except for the bet that Jace made with his buddies and the fallout that you know would come from it at the very end.

 

two-stars
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