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Contemporary Romance

Love Game by Maggie Wells

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 16th November 2017
Love Game by Maggie WellsLove Game by Maggie Wells
Series: Love Games #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on February 6th 2018
Pages: 384
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Kate Snyder scored her first national championship in her undergrad days at Wolcott University, and now she’s a coaching legend. The last thing she wants is to work beside a washed-up coach escaping scandal, but the University hands her Danny McMillan.

Danny was hoping his transition at Wolcott University would go smoothly, but clashing with snarky Kate has made things difficult. Even as she finally lightens up towards him, a local reporter can’t get enough of their verbal fireworks on camera. What the cameras don’t know is that the sparks are even hotter behind the scenes…

Maggie Wells is a new author to me and I did take to her her smooth writing, even though the technical and political details of sports and its management at collegiate and semi-professional level escaped me somewhat. The enemies-to-lovers vibe was strong—especially when it came to the (justifiably) issue of gender inequality exemplified in sports—that was played out in the pages as a running theme here.

Above all, I liked Well’s articulate ‘meta-speak’ on the problems with women and the blatant inequality that they face in the workplace, more so in male-dominated industries.

What I really appreciated was the portrayal of a no-nonsense, strong heroine who has made her way in the male-dominated world of sports first as a celebrated player, then as a legendary coach. Kate’s hard-earned position simply showed what women can do today—despite the fact that she’s probably one of the rare few earning that sort of accolade—and that much kept me going, even if it was to glow (by proxy) in what fictional women can achieve. I felt for Kate nonetheless—the price she kept paying for the position she’d reached was the constant hemming in and the harassment by other male voices whether intentionally or not and it’s a struggle that I think readers can relate to which Wells writes about excellently.

Yet I hadn’t expected her to cave so easily to Danny however, especially after her continued mantra about staying strong and resisting him.

On the other hand, Danny came across as sleazy because of his past—his affair with a student, the scandal that surrounded his previous job, his ready exploitation of willing women because he could, his blatant ignoring the non-fraternisation clause—and somewhat reckless as he fell in lust with Kate and then pursued it with as much vigour as he could, along with some dick-waving episodes with the other characters in the story. That said, I thought Kate/Danny’s connection was more lust than love, which made for a copious amount of scorching sex but apart from that, I couldn’t get their emotional connection. There were parts that I actually struggled through, unable to be convinced about Danny’s declaration of love when it felt like yet another mutinous thing in he’d done in his career.

I think it’s strange to be moved more by the issues here that Wells brought up through Kate than the actual romance itself, which I couldn’t quite take a shine to. Because that was what ‘Love Game’ felt more like to me: the struggle for an independent, successful woman to just be seen as equal despite her achievements, the constant fight to stay on top and the pain borne on the way, rather than a search for a man to add colour to her life.

Love on the Edge of Time by Julie A. Richman

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Historical Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 15th November 2017
Love on the Edge of Time by Julie A. RichmanLove on the Edge of Time by Julie A. Richman
Published by Julie A. Richman on November 13th 2017
Pages: 264
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two-stars

He likes whiskey and wild womenShe likes Ben & Jerry’sHe’s about to get kicked out of his own bandShe ate her way off the Miss America pageant circuit

What could these two possibly have in common?

A psychiatrist A lot of unresolved issuesA whole bunch of shared lifetimesAnd a love that is never-ending

As bad boy rocker, Jesse Winslow, and former pageant queen, Kylie Martin, each fight the demons screwing up their lives, the one person who holds the key to healing their ills and reuniting two souls that have searched for one another, lifetime after lifetime, is the only one who knows the whole truth.

And keeping that truth from them may just be in preeminent psychiatrist Dr. Claire Stoddard’s best interests.

Claire has committed the ultimate sin in the medical world. She’s fallen for the one man she’s forbidden to love.

Her patient, Jesse Winslow.

And she’s not about to lose him to Kylie Martin... Again.

Truthfully, I don’t quite know quite how to write this review, only that I picked up this book because it felt as though there was an interesting and fairly unusual premise to it.  Julie A. Richman’s writing reminded me of the early days delving into historical/paranormal romances with stories like Jude Deveraux’s Remembrance coming to mind (damn, has it been that long?!) and the background definitely intrigued me.

The idea that 2 lives are entwined throughout history typically lends a sense of the inevitability of a star-crossed pairing of 2 people destined to find each other but always pulled apart for some reason. It’s a deeply romantic notion, heightened probably by bittersweet tragedy that comes each time the separation occurs, though objectively, you can probably extrapolate that the story happening in the present is simply a cog in the larger turning wheel of time, yet another version of the pairing at this point in time and bound to repeat some time in the future. The nebulous addition of a third person makes it less so, however.

What I hadn’t expected was a growing fascination with the idea of past lives emerging through a psychiatrist, who in part played a role in this growing love triangle, or that I couldn’t quite shake my dislike of or have any sympathy for the overindulged, narcissistically entitled and hypocritical rocker (who dared call out his girlfriend on cheating when he’d done it himself too many times) who did things without any thought about the consequences. I’m guessing that my inability to like the modern-day iterations of the protagonists—it was difficult to get past Jesse’s flakiness and Kylie’s unexpected vicious streak along—diminished the magnitude of the ‘fated-across-time’ romance along with the head-hopping that happened throughout, which got disorienting at times.

The historical parts however, kept me engrossed, so I do find myself torn between the loving the grand idea of having star-crossed lovers fated throughout (along with the strong message sent out about body image and identity) and not really liking the contemporary version of this pairing, along with the ’triangle’ and the other woman scenario.  That alone, quite clearly places me in the minority here. If anything, ‘Love on the edge of time’ is an unconventional one and even if I’m on the fence about it, it’s not to say other wouldn’t (because they do, judging from the other glowing reviews) love this read.

two-stars

Unloved by Katy Regnery

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ New Adult/ Reviews 13th November 2017
Unloved by Katy RegneryUnloved by Katy Regnery
Published by Katharine Gilliam Regnery on October 8th 2017
Pages: 325
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three-stars

My name is Cassidy Porter...

My father, Paul Isaac Porter, was executed twenty years ago for the brutal murder of twelve innocent girls.

Though I was only eight-years-old at the time, I am aware - every day of my life - that I am his child, his only son.

To protect the world from the poison in my veins, I live a quiet life, off the grid, away from humanity.

I promised myself, and my mother, not to infect innocent lives with the darkness that swirls within me, waiting to make itself known.

It's a promise I would have kept...if Brynn Cadogan hadn't stumbled into my life.

Now I exist between heaven and hell: falling for a woman who wants to love me, while all along reminding myself that I must remain...

Unloved.

Katy Regnery is a relatively new author to me, so picking up ‘Unloved’ seemed like a given, since I did like one of her modern-day fairytales quite a bit. The fact that ‘Unloved’ also deals with the disturbing suggestion that violence is hereditary—violence against women in particular stands out here—made this a more intriguing prospect that I couldn’t wait to pick up.

The book started off slow, as both Cass’s and Brynn’s paths converged after an unfortunate act of violence up in the mountains of Maine, though it did turn quite weepy before long. If Cass was determined to keep his distance because of his belief that he had the murderous/violent gene in him, the latter seemed too fragile and prone to numerous crying bouts in contrast (which was what I mostly remembered of her), where her need for Cass seemed more like transference termed as love. High-drama (sometimes overly so, with soap-operatic overtones) with too much self-loathing permeated the pages so much that I had to put the book down a few times; overall though, I felt for Cass and the torment he’d put himself through because of what he’d wrongly believed his whole life.

The twist that came towards the end however, made it a lot harder to swallow the story hook, line and sinker given my own reservations by that point in time. What was then, the whole point of setting up the opposing ideas of nature vs. nurture (very broadly speaking)? Because I wasn’t too sure by the end of it, whether the twist was it meant to give credence to the argument (in an ironic way) or render it completely moot, because I was actually looking forward to the idea that Regnery seemed to be pushing for most of the book, which was that nurture can win over nature.

In short, I’m left somewhat neutral even by the time Cass/Brynn got their HEA along with electricity and other modern amenities, but this probably has more to do with my own expectations than the story itself. It’s probably not quite a story that’ll appeal very broadly, but then again, which book really does?

three-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

Pawn by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 10th November 2017
Pawn by Mimi Jean PamfiloffPawn by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: Mr. Rook's Island #2
Published by Mimi Boutique on October 30th 2017
Pages: 266
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three-stars

SHE KNOWS HE'S BAD. THE QUESTION IS, HOW BAD?Stephanie Fitzgerald is nobody's pawn. Determined to discover the truth about a missing loved one, she lands a job at the world's most exclusive resort, working for the only man with the answers--Mr. Rook. He's shockingly handsome, thoroughly intimidating, and completely off-limits.

But the truth she seeks isn't black and white, and Mr. Rook is a far more dangerous temptation than she ever knew.

Will Stephanie resist her desires, or will she be lured into Mr. Rook's world of hidden sins?

I think Mimi Jean Pamfiloff’s Mr Rook’s Island series is one of the more bizarre reads I’ve ever come across in the romance genre at least. Like a mix of the old tv series Fantasy Island (whose protagonist’s name even resembles Mr. Rook), Survivor and Stephen King’s horror stuff with some gothic elements thrown in, ‘Pawn’ pretty much continues in the vein of the female protagonist who pokes around an island that promises every fantasy come to life.

And that’s where the fun and doubts start, because nothing is as it ever seems, period.

Written wholly in Stephanie’s POV, the reader, in the same boat as Stephanie, falls down the rabbit hole into places that take on a life of their own and with people who never quite tell the truth, though it’s unclear when and what they’re lying about. In the centre of the maelstrom itself is the mysterious enigmatic James Rook, with whom Stephanie feels a strange connection yet can’t fully trust. Dreams and nightmares start to meld into reality and you, like Stephanie, start wondering how loopy things can get before it starts to break down.

I’d initially thought that the first book was merely suspense, but ‘Pawn’ makes it clear that there is a strong paranormal element that runs through this series. There are certainly some questions answered—questions that I had from the very start—though even more remain, with several loose plot ends that the cliffhanger ending quite annoyingly leaves hanging.

As with the first book, I’m not entirely certain how to rate this one. There’re the combinations of the sacred and the profane running throughout here, so perhaps this step into the forbidden (in so many ways) and the weird paranormal is what makes the the book a hard one to put down. At the same time, it’s hard to really ‘like’ the pairing with a distrustful and flaky female lead by the time ‘Pawn’ ends and Rook’s lack of transparency, just when you think they’ve kind of found their HEA. So maybe this 3-starred rating is an arbitrary one (I’ve honestly never quite done this before), just because Pamfiloff is managing to keep me so off-centre with this.

three-stars

The Negotiator by HelenKayDimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 8th November 2017
The Negotiator by HelenKayDimonThe Negotiator by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #2.5
Published by Avon Impulse on November 14th 2017
Pages: 128
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one-star

Lauren Gallagher’s life changed almost three years ago. After her husband disappeared at sea, she was left with a failing pleasure boat company and more than a few secrets. Now, after years spent rebuilding the business and paying off the pile of debts, she finally feels in control. But when she finds her husband, actually dead, on the floor, she becomes the leading suspect in his murder investigation.

Garrett McGrath wants Lauren in his bed, not his heart. He doesn’t do emotions, but every time he sees her, holding himself back gets harder and harder. When Lauren comes under suspicion for killing her previously presumed-dead husband, he knows he has to help her, any way he can.

But as the danger becomes more intense and Garret and Lauren grow closer than either planned, they’re in danger of losing everything…including their hearts.

HelenKay Dimon’s ‘Games People Play’ series is an odd one. Mostly about men who’d grown up disenfranchised, emotionally stunted but wealthy, their HEAs come in such unexpected ways that I don’t really know what to expect in each book. And that arguably, can either be the series’ selling point or its glaring flaw, because it hasn’t quite worked too well for me so far.

Having seen Garrett flit in and out of the series and from the odd, charming way he’d done so, I’ve known from the start that I wanted his story told. But ‘The Negotiator’ was however, a disappointing one—all the more so because I was hoping for a more heart-pounding ride—and I struggled quite a bit to get into it. I’m not too sure what it was, but there was something about the way the narrative—nothing with Dimon’s writing style really—unfolded that just couldn’t hold my attention. There were just insufficient spikes/drops and excitement to keep my interest in the story, a lack of driving focus slowing the pace down even, from the odd way it started to the way it developed with so many details and names stuffed into the first few pages.

I couldn’t finish the story as a result and perhaps it’s also time to say that this series isn’t one I’ll be continuing any longer.

one-star

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
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