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Indecent Exposure by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 27th November 2017
Indecent Exposure by Tessa BaileyIndecent Exposure by Tessa Bailey
Series: The Academy #2
Published by Avon on January 30th 2018
Pages: 384
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four-stars


Is there a problem, Officer?

Jack Garrett isn’t a police officer yet, but there’s already an emergency. His new firearms instructor—the one who just dropped every jaw in the academy gym—is the same sexy Irish stranger Jack locked lips with last night. The Olympic gold medalist and expert markswoman is now officially off-limits, but Jack’s never cared much for rules . . .

Katie McCoy’s been cooped up in a shooting range for too long. A wild love affair is just what she needs to let loose, though she never imagined it would be with her smokin’ hot trainee. She cannot get involved with Jack—but a quick fling? Perfect. Falling hard for a charismatic recruit with an equal amount of sex appeal and secrets? Bloody stupid.

Jack’s charmed the pants off plenty of women (literally), yet few have ever looked beyond his perfect surface. Until Katie. He’ll do anything to keep her in his life . . . except tell her about his past. But a tiny lie of omission never hurt anyone, right?

Tessa Bailey’s ‘The Academy’ series is shaping out to be quite a gem of all her books. ‘Indecent exposure’ is engaging, fun, appropriately angsty when the occasion calls for it and more emotionally resonant than the first book in the series.

A deadbeat loser was what I’d thought of Jack Garrett and I was nothing but sceptical when Bailey insisted on writing his HEA. But Bailey’s rather insightful articulation of Jack’s issues, emotions and personal demons deserve some applause here, as she makes him a sympathetic hero whose upbringing and past explains—though doesn’t necessarily excuse—the way he always behaves. Just as Jack is the drifter with no ambition in life, Katie McCoy’s upbringing has been the exact, regimented opposite with high after high and prize after prize.

In many ways, Jack and Katie are complete opposites and their coming together is probably nothing short of a miracle save for Katie’s honesty, openness and compassion which makes Jack need to level with her. I was in fact, surprised at the speed at which they shared so many things about each other when I’d barely gotten to a quarter of the book, but it does in fact, smooth the way for sizzling sexy times (which are frankly, over-the-top as usual) and a more intimate connection where there would be none.

Nonetheless, I did think however, that Jack really needed some time apart from Katie to work on himself and to fix his issues—time and the skin-flaying kind of therapy. Katie did hit the nail on the head when she said that she couldn’t be a crutch for him as he started his long recovery and I wished that Bailey had actually separated them, just so that Jack could meet her as a better man and in a better position from when they first started. I would have liked to see them together 6 months or a year down the road though, as a yardstick of how far they’d come together, but the epilogue—just a mere 48 hours after the climax—wasn’t sufficient for me to believe the rather rushed and abrupt HEA that Bailey wraps up for them both.

That said, I’m liking this series quite a lot and with a fiery recruit and a stodgy lieutenant next in line? Bring it on.

four-stars

Beautiful Lawman by Sophie Jordan

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews 26th November 2017
Beautiful Lawman by Sophie JordanBeautiful Lawman by Sophie Jordan
Series: Devil's Rock #4
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Pages: 368
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three-stars

From the wrong side of the tracks and with most of her family in jail or dead, Piper Walsh is used to everyone in town thinking the worst about her. It doesn’t seem to matter that she’s worked hard to build a good life for herself. So she isn’t surprised that when she comes into contact with Sweet Hill’s wildly irresistible, arrogant sheriff, Hale Walters, they’re instant adversaries. Piper has nothing in common with the town golden-boy-turned-lawman—and she refuses to be a notch on his bedpost.

Despite rumors, Hale avoids fooling around with the women of Sweet Hill, many of whom are hoping to get him to the altar. But staying out of Piper’s path is proving near impossible. The infuriating troublemaker clearly has no respect for his badge. As she continues to push his buttons, it becomes clear to Hale that he must either arrest Piper—or claim her as his own.

Whatever it is—jobs or money or security—that most people take for granted, Piper Walsh hasn’t had an easy time of it.

It isn’t often that I feel a huge affinity for a protagonist, but Piper certainly made my chest ache big time. There was so much I loved about her: her work ethic, her willingness to sacrifice so much for her family, as she silently took the barbs in about being the town’s loser family (with the often run-in with law enforcement and several family members in jail) that can do nothing right. But that desperation hasn’t eliminated her pride and her thick-skinned, desperate search for a way out in a town dripping with nothing but disdain for her was just so admirable.

In steps Sheriff Hale Walters at the strip club where she works and that very thing changes the course of small town history so to speak, because he’s absolutely the worst person—considering the Walshes’ history with the police and the town—that Piper can ever get into bed with. The cop and the perceived delinquent…it’s a toxic mix, at least on paper.

This antagonistic sniping doesn’t last long though, and the shift to full-blown desire and fumbling still caught me by surprise because I didn’t quite feel that they’d gone past their dislike of each other to give lust its full reign, just as I was more convinced that their relationship at the end still had more to do with lust than love. I was definitely sold by their sexual compatibility but not by their falling for each other, because there just didn’t seem to be enough persuasive scenes of Hale or Piper reaffirming each other’s qualities beyond how explosive they were physically together—the criterion of not being able to imagine being with another person in bed seemed to be a good enough argument why they should stay together, in fact.

Overall, ‘Beautiful Lawman’ became more of Piper’s story for me than Hale/Piper together, despite the pairing being the primary part of the romance bit of the book. Sophie Jordan’s ‘Devil Rock’ series has been a standout for its unusual premise to begin with and even though it sounds like I’m nitpicking in this review, it’s a series that I do like and want more of.

three-stars

A Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 21st November 2017
A Cold Dark Promise by Toni AndersonA Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice #8.5
on November 14th 2017
Pages: 144
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five-stars

In the midst of wedding preparations, a shadowy figure from Alex Parker's past reappears and threatens the joy he’s found with Mallory Rooney.

Four years ago, Jane Sanders’s rich and powerful ex-husband kidnapped their young daughter and Jane hasn’t seen her since. Now she finally has a lead on her location and she knows just the man to help her get her daughter back. Trouble is, he’s an assassin. And he terrifies her.

Despite his upcoming nuptials, Alex agrees to help, but it doesn’t take long for the routine operation to turn complicated—and deadly. Can the former CIA operative make it home in time to marry the woman he loves, or will his dark past destroy all hope for their future?

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of ‘A Cold Dark Promise’—the wedding novella of Alex Parker and Mal Rooney—except for the fact that it was a long time in coming, circling back to the original couple that sparked off the whole Cold Justice series. After all, Mal’s unending pregnancy was starting to feel like the official ‘measurement’ for the time it took for all of the series’s characters to fall in love and get their HEA.

‘A Cold Dark Promise’ is nonetheless a special one: Alex Parker is the enigmatic, mysterious brooding man who started it all and I’m pleasantly surprised to see him as the more compassionate man who had grown some funnies along the way as the rest of the Cold Justice books went by. Despite him popping up here and there in other books as a supporting character, I simply liked seeing him taking centre stage again after all this time.

Anderson’s dry British humour flexes its mighty muscles here (unless I’m not supposed to laugh, which means I’ve gotten it so wrong), and that definitely made the book more lighthearted and fun read than the rest of her other Cold Justice books. Her characters were pulled out of their usual comfort zones to do things they didn’t normally do (the Parker/Frazer bromance!) in a last-minute op that had the characters flying by the seat of their pants. Now this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience to read about, all the more so with the slight comedic elements thrown in with the suspense and thrills.

The reunion of all the cast members simply shows how far we’ve come in the series and I think I simply fangirled each time my favourite couples poked their noses out and came out to play, even for a sentence or two. For a novella and a sort-of roundup to the series (though Anderson promises it isn’t the end), ‘A Cold Dark Promise’ packs a huge punch—it’s brilliant, hilarious in parts and proof positive that a wedding could still go off without a hitch (barely) because it took a village for that to happen.

five-stars

An Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th November 2017
An Ex for Christmas by Lauren LayneAn Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne
Series: Love Unexpectedly #5
Published by Loveswept on November 7th 2017
Pages: 218
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two-stars

When a psychic tells spunky, superstitious Kelly Byrne that she’s already met her true love, she becomes obsessed with the idea of tracking him down before Christmas. Kelly immediately writes up an “Ex List” and starts contacting old boyfriends to figure out which one is the one. When her college sweetheart rolls into town, Kelly convinces herself that they’re meant to be. The trouble is, sparks are flying with someone she’s never given a chance: her best friend, Mark.

Mark Blakely has watched the guys on Kelly’s list break her heart, and he’s not looking forward to watching them do it all over again. Mark’s always been there for her, but the timing’s never worked out for their relationship to be something more. Now, just as Mark is ready to move on, the sexual tension between them is suddenly off the charts. With Christmas morning around the corner, he just hopes Kelly will wake up and realize that everything she wants has been right in front of her all along.

I’m starting to wonder if Lauren Layne and I should start to part ways. When I’ve loved her earlier works, these days, I’ve taken more and more issues of late with her characters whom I can’t seem to like at all—and my recent lowered ratings of her books might be an unfair attempt to recapture what I’ve felt about her previous books.

The friends-to-lovers (with an unrequited element) romance is one where I tread very, very carefully, because there’re just too many entanglements and questions that tend not to be satisfactorily answered before a typical, teary grovelling session happens just a page or 2 before both parties ride off into the sunset. Romantic-comedy or not, I do like my couples evenly-paired emotionally at the very least, which means that I do need to see, while reading the romance genre, that both are on the same page when it comes to their feelings for each other, rather than a protagonist hankering after another for an extended period of time, then having the other playing catch up only in the last few pages. Where’s the satisfaction in that?

“An Ex for Christmas” was just that for me, though I was under the impression that it was more of a timing-not-right sort of thing for them, instead of one where an obtuse woman stomps on a man’s heart unknowingly.

For want of a better way of putting things, Kelly seemed to bring out the latent violent tendencies in me as I found myself caught between wanting to smack her and throwing a chair at her for her steadfast refusal to see how much she’d put Mark in the friend zone. Kelly’s perky obliviousness and inability to recognise what was in front of her all along—while flaunting the plan to dates ALL of her ex-es in front of the guy who’s always loved her—was not just cringeworthy, but thoughtless and stupid, considering this came off some screwed-up, superstitious conclusion based on an old woman’s prediction.

In fact, I felt so bad for Mark and actually wished he found someone else other than a woman who’d never seemed to return his feelings beyond platonic friendship. I thought he deserved better instead of Kelly’s ‘sudden’ realisation that she ‘thought she loved’ him despite him going to bat for her—the obstinate search for her ex-es even though those tanked disastrously proved it sufficiently, and I couldn’t blame him at all for finally wanting to give up while the woman he wanted simply went off doing her own merry thing.

Obviously my sentiments lie in the minority here—unrequited love stories tend to do that for me, particularly with the one who pined for a long time—but exasperation and irritation just got the better of me for this one. So I skimmed, if only for poor Mark, feeling relieved when I got to the end, though not any happier about it still because their love affair all sat wrong with me. Like I said, maybe this is sort of the end of the road for me when it comes to Layne’s stories; never say never though, but I’m going to be taking a wide berth for now.

two-stars

Head Coach by Lia Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews/ Sports 8th November 2017
Head Coach by Lia RileyHead Coach by Lia Riley
Series: Hellions Angels #2
Published by Avon Impulse on November 21st 2017
Pages: 158
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three-half-stars

Neve Angel’s life is all work and no play, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. One of Denver’s top sports reporters, she's fought hard to make it in a male-dominated world, and she won’t back down from a fight with anyone–not even the Hellions’ gruff head coach, Tor Gunnar. Her hostile relationship with the icy Scandinavian is the stuff of local legend.

Tor Gunnar hates dealing with the media; at best, they are a nuisance and at worst, a distraction. And no one distracts him more than the scrappy, sexy reporter who gets him hot under the collar. When he wins a not-so-friendly bet with Neve, he decides it’s high time they either kiss or kill each other, and invites her as a date to an out-of-town wedding.

But what happens when enemies become lovers? Will they be able to smother their sizzling attraction, or is it time to start playing for keeps?

‘Head Coach’ is a enemies to lovers romance—a favourite trope of mine—with a conflict built into ‘opposing’ careers: a sports journalist and the celebrity coach of a famous team who have certainly done enough egging and prodding each side over the years. So it was more than fun to watch that relationship flip on its head one weekend as Tor Gunnar and Neve Angel suddenly waded into uncharted but scorching hot territory.

Yet this conflict that had conveniently put them in opposing camps now worked against their relationship past that infamous weekend—I did cringe at how reactive Neve could get sometimes—though Lia Riley does get through it a little too easily before this rather short story closed on their HEA. But apart from the all-too-convenient resolution that seemed to come out of nowhere that made it all the more unbelievable as a quick resolution, ‘Head Coach’ was still an easy read with the angst kept at a minimum and the immaturity metre dialled to low.

I do like Lia Riley’s writing as well; it reminds me of the assured style of Tessa Bailey complete with the dirty-talking alpha males while her characters sometimes get into unexpected situations that came out of the blue.

‘Head Coach’ is my first Lia Riley story and it definitely wouldn’t be my last.

three-half-stars

Mountain Man by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th November 2017
Mountain Man by Sherilee GrayMountain Man by Sherilee Gray
Series: The Smith Brothers #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on November 7th 2017
Pages: 99
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three-stars

Hank Smith saved my life, carrying me through a blizzard to his mountain cabin. He doesn’t like strangers, and he doesn’t like leaving his sanctuary. Now I’m trapped here with him until the snow melts. 

I see him looking at me. He tries to hide behind a gruff exterior, but I see the longing and the heat burning in his eyes. I know he wants me, and I can’t resist him. I want to feel those big, rough hands all over my body.

But once he’s unleashed his raw, barely tried desire on me, will I be able to leave my mountain man behind, or will he make me his?

I really enjoyed Sherilee Gray’s ‘Breaking Him’ and this foray into erotica continues with ‘Mountain Man’ with a solitary, gruff and somewhat emotionally vulnerable hero who saves a woman and then doesn’t quite know what to do with the both of them.

It’s a straight up-and-out sort of read and very easy to go through within a hour or so, not to mention the scorching hot times between the sheets that made the short anticipation worth it. Hank Smith definitely made the book for me; I wished that Birdie – whose odd name really reminded me of an old woman’s – had a bit more courage for go after what (and who) she wanted instead of taking off in a way she’d known all her life. I felt more for the former than the latter, but was still gratified with the happy end that I thought Hank really deserved.

three-stars

Hooking Up by Helena Hunting

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th November 2017
Hooking Up by Helena HuntingHooking Up by Helena Hunting
Published by Swerve on November 1st 2017
Pages: 259
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one-star

Amalie Whitfield is the picture of a blushing bride during her wedding reception–but for all the wrong reasons. Instead of proclaiming his undying love, her husband can be heard, by Amalie and their guests, getting off with someone else. She has every reason to freak out, and in a moment of insanity, she throws herself at the first hot-blooded male she sees. But he’s not interested in becoming her revenge screw.

Mortified and desperate to escape the post-wedding drama, Amalie decides to go on her honeymoon alone, only to find the man who rejected her also heading to the same tiny island for work. But this time he isn’t holding back. She should know better than to sleep with someone she knows, but she can’t seem to resist him.

They might agree that what happens on the island should stay on the island, but neither one can deny that their attraction is more than just physical.

Not having read the first book, I’m guessing that the implications of Amalie and her secret hook-up are much larger than I think, though ‘Hooking Up’ does clearly work as a standalone.

Having said that, I had the inkling that the book wasn’t for me at all—an inkling that grew like an ominous thundercloud by the time I got to the part where the shenanigans started a few minutes post-wedding.

Cheating and a tit-for-tat vibe in the story are what push the narrative along: out of spite, Armstrong swopped into get the girl (one which the mystery man sees first), then quite publicly cheated on her in a cringeworthy manner during the wedding reception. The brokenhearted Amalie in turn, went on her honeymoon alone, hooked up with the man who quite literally saw her first while her divorce hadn’t gone through (though it’s pretty much expected that the marriage is over by then). That personally is a trigger for me, so I was struggling with this early on, which clearly places me in the minority as I kept wondering if Amalie/mystery man’s actions were justified nonetheless, especially since this merely took place a few days after the disastrous wedding and not after the dust properly settled.

I also found it hard to sympathise with the jilted woman, whose choice in bad boyfriends (and husband) merely reinforced her lack of judgement and her inability to rein everything in. And unlike our mystery man who seemed stalwart in his desire for her, Amalie merely stayed a whiny, flaky protagonist who spent most of the story vacillating between her regrets and her own abysmal history in ‘love’ which she projected onto mystery man.

I couldn’t finish the story after all—it’s an issue I typically have with characters and issues like cheating. The ease of reading just didn’t surpass how much I disliked the characters in the book save for the mystery man of the story and was actually happy to put Amalie and her antics far behind me.

one-star
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