Category: Contemporary Romance

Outcast by Jamie Schlosser

Outcast by Jamie SchlosserOutcast by Jamie Schlosser
Series: The Good Guys
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 15th 2018 by
Pages: 251
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KAYLA My infatuation with Ezra Johnson started how all obsessions begin—with a simple crush. Over the years I silently soaked up every shy smile and random act of kindness, wrestling them away to a secret place in my heart meant for unrequited love. Because if it wasn’t for the fact that I tutor him once a week, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even know I exist. Then I find his sketchbook. And it changes everything.

EZRA There are two certainties in my life: I’ve been in love with Kayla Reynolds since I was fourteen, and I can’t have her. I’ve spent years settling for a two-dimensional fantasy world, capturing her beauty with a pencil and paper. She’s kind, smart, gorgeous… And she belongs to someone else. Or so I thought. An interesting turn of events makes me realize things aren’t always how they appear on the outside, and now I’ve got my chance to be the man she deserves. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been called a loser. The cripple. An outcast. But maybe—just maybe—this time the good guy won’t finish last.

If I didn’t like Jamie Schlosser’s ‘Dropout’, I knew however, that Ezra Johnson’s story, from the way he was described in the book, was one I wanted already. Sometimes, it feels as though ‘Outcast’ is the sugary-sweet, feel-good New Adult book that I’ve always wanted to read. It ticks so many of my boxes after all: protagonists who have eyes only for each other, who journey together in their emotional and sexual development and who pretty much know what they want, despite their insecurities.

Schlosser’s diverse cast win a thumbs-up from me, as do the number of positive ‘messages’ that are incorporated in the story without sounding preachy or incredulously (but falsely) positive. I’m also applauding the rarity here of 2 protagonists who actually don’t go the well-trodden path of a sub-genre laden with numerous and meaningless hookups/identity-crises, who navigate the tricky waters of college life that wraps in an overwhelming all’s-well-that-ends-well way.

I sailed through this book (and actually put down several others I was reading just to get my grabby hands on this), lapped up every bit of awkward high-school interaction (Schlosser ups the clichés about the pretty girl and the unpopular, shy boy), gleefully laughed over their stupid-sweet secret crushes, and swooned at the frog-prince-type transformation after Ezra’s fat camp.

Apart from my vague alarm of their incredibly early marriage (clearly my own reservations speaking), ‘Outcast’ kept me going more than caffeine could because I was determined to finish the it. The bottomline is that it’s such a happy story (and possibly an unrealistic one for detractors who prefer angsty reads), and leaves you thinking for a sliver of a time that all can be right in the world.


Making Up by Lucy Parker

Making Up by Lucy ParkerMaking Up by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities #3
Published by Carina Press on May 28th 2018
Pages: 318
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Once upon a time, circus artist Trix Lane was the best around. Her spark vanished with her confidence, though, and reclaiming either has proved…difficult. So when the star of The Festival of Masks is nixed and Trix is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, it’s exactly the push she needs. But the joy over her sudden elevation in status is cut short by a new hire on the makeup team.

Leo Magasiva: disgraced wizard of special effects. He of the beautiful voice and impressive beard. Complete dickhead and—in an unexpected twist—an enragingly good kisser.

To Leo, something about Trix is…different. Lovely. Beautiful, even though the pint-size, pink-haired former bane of his existence still spends most of her waking hours working to annoy him. They’ve barely been able to spend two minutes together for years, and now he can’t get enough of her. On stage. At home. In his bed.

When it comes to commitment, Trix has been there, done that, never wants to do it again. Leo’s this close to the job of a lifetime, which would take him away from London—and from Trix. Their past is a constant barrier between them.

It seems hopeless.

Utterly impossible.

And yet…

I don’t have much experience with reading Lucy Parker’s books, but ‘Making Up’s enemies-to-lovers blurb drew me right in.

I loved the chaotic opening that was full of sensory delights mixed with the drama that happens both onstage and offstage—that’s what you get for sinking the story straight into one of Westend’s best runs, complete with the out-of-the-world costumes, death-defying acts, impossible characters and finally, the stripped-down actors behind them.

Parker paints stunning pictures with words, no doubt, with so much of the side-of-your-mouth kind of humour here both dry and witty—blink and it’s gone—that ups the pace and makes the pages fly. Even the antagonism between Trix and Leo fell into romcom land as they traded barbs with the frenemies vibe and slung such spirited snarky insults that I was tempted to steal some those in order to expand my own swearing vocabulary.

I did like Parker’s chosen setting of performance art, and the support that went on behind the scenes…Trix and Leo were the furthest from the typical stock characters you see in romance these days and that alone kept me reading. Quirk aside (and there’s quite a fair bit of it that can be funny, if the humour and writing do appeal), I still sort of had a hard time trying to place where ‘Making Up’ fell on my personal ratings spectrum.

It’s far from a bad read, but there were parts that I felt were stylistically overdone: the constant hyperboles and the smart cracks could have been dialled back a wee bit, which, combined with a full boatload of drama—don’t expect any less from the theatre people—nearly caved my head in. The pygmy hedgehog however, was the extra special sparkle in all of it.


The Hook-Up Experiment by Emma Hart

The Hook-Up Experiment by Emma HartThe Hook-Up Experiment by Emma Hart
Series: The Experiment, #1
Published by Emma Hart on March 13th 2018
Pages: 179
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1.Hate-screw my high school nemesis.2.Remember to hate him.3.Prove my brother wrong.It should be easy.It isn’t.

As the owner of Pick-A-D*ck, New Orleans’ premier hook-up website, my job is simple. Connect two people for a no-strings, no-expectations hook-up. The plus for my clients is that I’m the one who gets to sift through the d*ck pics—except this time, they're required.

My problem? My brother, co-owner of Pick-A-D*ck’s sister dating site, doesn’t believe it’s possible to hook up with someone three times and not fall in love. I disagree. I know it’s possible.

And my disagreement is exactly how I end up reconnected with my high school nemesis, Elliott Sloane. The guy who asked me to junior prom and then stood me up. Who egged my car when I rejected him, and convinced my senior homecoming date to ghost me.

It should be easy to hate-screw him. If only he was still that person, instead of a hot-as-hell single dad, working as a builder to make ends’ meet, fighting for custody of his daughter.

Three hook-ups.One outcome.Right?

Having a job that involves looking at dick pics isn’t one I’d personally pick for myself, though that alone is off-kilter enough to keep me reading in what is a really…loud, messy and mostly angst-free story. ‘The Hook-Up Experiment’ is as the title describes: a bet made to see if love can can still be taken out of the equation in a 2-week hookup.

This is upbeat, rom-com land (a style that works well for Emma Hart) and a read so easy to breeze through in a few hours. Hart’s relationship building is clearly the book’s strongest point, and the strong links we have between Peyton, her friends and Elliott form the backbone of the story, which, incidentally also provides the launching pad for the next book in this duet.

But while I did like Hart’s snappy, smart-alecky style, I think the issue for me here could probably be summed up in 2 words: ten years. A bloody decade that is actually, a long time. Especially in the years 18-28. Life happens—people marry, get divorced, have children, earn great highs and go through new lows and in the process, get worn down a little, see some things differently, and generally, change as they age.

That Peyton hadn’t gotten past something that happened when she and Elliott were teens seemed increasingly ridiculous as time wore on, so the weak premise of the plot made me frown at first. I couldn’t get past how Peyton hadn’t let go of the immature grudge—surely there were other things more important in life that came in the course of the next decade to stew on than a missing prom date?—where I’d expected distance, time and maturity to have made some sort of change. Consequently, for much of the story, I wondered if Hart would ever be able to close the supposed ‘age-gap’ between Peyton’s neurotic adulting and Elliott’s maturity when there was actually none.

Still, it was a story I mostly enjoyed—the quirks of Hart’s very strong secondary characters (bound to have their own book soon) were the highlight for me though they skirted the boundaries of being juvenile—and even if ‘The Hook-Up Experiment’ felt at times like ‘Friends’ on steroids, I’m saying right now, to put me down for the next one.


Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein

Never Sweeter by Charlotte SteinNever Sweeter by Charlotte Stein
Series: Dark Obsession, #2
Published by Loveswept on April 19th 2016
Pages: 262
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Letty Carmichael can’t believe her eyes when she catches a glimpse of her high school tormenter, wrestling champ Tate Sullivan, on campus. College was supposed to be her escape from Tate’s constant ridicule. Now he’s in her classes again, just waiting for his chance to make her life hell. But when Letty and Tate are partnered up for an assignment—on sex in cinema, of all things—she starts to see a kinder, gentler side of him. And when she realizes Tate knows more about sex than she could ever guess at, he soon starts making her blush in a whole new way.

Tate Sullivan is haunted by regret over his cruelty toward Letty. So when she agrees to work with him, he seizes his chance to make amends. He can’t blame her for not believing he’s for real, but soon Tate starts to break down her wall. She wants to know about passion, desire, lust—topics he is well versed in. And in return she offers the one thing he always wanted: the chance to be more than just a jock.

Letty is shocked by how sensitive Tate can be. Still, desiring him feels ludicrous. Loving him is impossible. Craving him is beyond all reason. So why can’t she stop?

‘Never Sweeter’ is my first plunge into Charlotte Stein’s writing and I knew from the first page that this was a very different New Adult read than what normally comes across my feed. The issues of NA books can and sometimes do resonate with me though not necessarily always, which are probably enough (sucker that I am) make me continue with this genre that I can get very conflicted about.
The typical idea that boys bully girls they like takes a more sinister turn here, and out of the very real damage of such an act, Stein builds a second-chance romance between a tormented, defensive girl who has since learned to use her wit and her former bully. Much of Tate’s and Letty’s interactions are made up of banter, words that grow deeper and more meaningful after being paired on a steamy project. And I found it…cute in fact, after a while, as Tate somehow managed to worm himself into both mine and Letty’s good graces eventually, even though the good boy bit he shows is just so incongruous with what Letty actually remembers.
Then the story went the way of erotica (almost) and I blinked, many times. Not that these scenes weren’t scorching though, because they were. But because they felt like a huge departure from the emotional build of the first half and straight to the down and dirty, which admittedly does work after the relationship groundwork has been done.
’Never Sweeter’ wasn’t a perfect read: the supposed, sudden change that Tate underwent between high school and college left me wondering what really happened, the cheesy, porny phrases when things started getting hot and heavy between them, the odd and nearly anticlimactic ending that made little sense and felt like conflict created for the sake of it. These dimmed my enthusiasm for the story a bit, even as Stein wrote parts I couldn’t straight out believe even, like Tate’s apparently range of sexual experience without having had sex, or that he’d do something (somewhat silly) in the last bit that felt like betrayal, or even the involvement of mobsters in the pot that sort of came and then flitted away. It was also difficult to differentiate Tate’s and Letty’s voices after a while because they talked and bantered with such similar styles and yes, the lack of dialogue tags annoyed me at times.
That said, I can well imagine how polarising ‘Never Sweeter’ can be. I’m a little torn between what I found unnecessary and how much I actually liked Tate/Letty’s story, but this is probably enough to put Stein on my author-watchlist.

Hot Asset by Lauren Layne

Hot Asset by Lauren LayneHot Asset by Lauren Layne
Published by Montlake Romance on May 22nd 2018
Pages: 270
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Ian Bradley is the definition of a Wall Street hotshot: seven-figure salary, designer suits, and a corner office. His drive off the floor is just as potent. Every woman who knows him has felt the rush. But now he’s met his match in Lara McKenzie—a woman with the power to bring Ian to his knees.

An ambitious, whip-smart daughter of FBI agents, Lara is a rising star in fighting white-collar crime. Her latest case—the investigation of Ian Bradley for insider trading—could make her career. She knows a scoundrel when she sees one. Ian fits the bill: a cocky, ridiculously handsome bad boy with a slick swagger.

She’ll do anything to prove he’s guilty. He’ll do anything to prove he’s not. But it’s only a matter of time before their fierce battle of wits gets oh so hot and personal. Now, taking down Ian has become more than business for Lara. It’s become a pleasure—and there’s more at risk than she ever dreamed.

Schmooze, you lose. ‘Hot Asset’ has all of the trademark Lauren Layne hallmarks in it: the sharp banter (though there’s an edge here as it starts out hostile), the reformed manwhore by the end of the story and a brewing conflict that one can see coming miles away. Layne’s character voices are distinct, along with a solid introduction to secondary characters who will get their own books, as Ian/Lara’s own tale moves along at a brisk but steady pace, making ‘Hot Asset’ an easy afternoon read.
Written in the alternating first person POV, ‘Hot Asset’ starts off ominously nonetheless—not in the horror story sort—but with a cocky and smarmy male voice who lauds his work achievements (as well as the women he always manages to snag and never for a second-time around because he casually attributes it to ‘faulty wiring’). Whatever Lauren Layne means to achieve with these few starting paragraphs, I wasn’t sure if Ian Bradley tanking to the depths in my esteem is it because he starts off as a protagonist I love to hate.
And ‘Hot Asset’ fails in this particular bit for me, because Ian is the furthest from what I can actually imagine as a romantic hero worthy of a HEA with a woman who frankly, deserves a lot better. Maybe Layne has characterised Brady all too well such that he fits the manwhore financial guru to a ’T’, to the extent where everything he says and does not only becomes predictable, but also eye-rollingly repulsive.
Lara’s steely-eyed determination and perception in contrast, unfazed as she is when faced with these men who think the world of their own invincibility, is no small pleasure I take as she and Ian clash. Still, it’s hard to recover from the respect Ian’s lost in my eyes as he talks about women as commodities or as a sum of her body parts. ‘Leftovers’ for instance, is a word I detest, because it shows the dismissive regards he has for his hookups. That he eyes every woman in terms of her looks (hot or not) and the potential of a hookup made him distasteful, or that he also uses Lara’s attraction to him as a weapon or rather, as an attack on her lack of personal life, undercuts every preconception of what a romantic hero should be when I first started ‘Hot Asset’.
I hated that Ian doesn’t stay the professional path in getting his name cleared, but uses his womanising/flirting skills to get her to prove his innocence and is hurt when it doesn’t really work. Re-thinking his meaningless work-hard, play-hard life because he’s terrified that jail will take it all away from him…surely there’s more depths to plumb in the shallows of Ian Bradley? I never quite got the idea that Lara stands out for Ian other than being someone who is off-limits to him, and that’s the only difference it makes among the sea of good-looking women he’s slept with.
I think the risk of writing such egomaniac womanisers—Layne’s constant emphasis on this truly doesn’t help the case—who finally fall for one woman, is that believability thereafter becomes the issue, where the uphill task thus falls on the author to get a reader to believe that a man like Ian can finally commit and hasn’t till now only because he hasn’t wanted to try enough. Trying to get a reader to see that there are other qualities to this man despite this glaring fault somehow didn’t work with me at all, not when I couldn’t overlook the lascivious ways he eyes women as challenges to overcome and yes, Lara as well, who has become part of his tried-and-true tricks.
I’m painfully aware this puts me in the minority, but Layne’s portrayal of sleazy Ian has been nothing but an immense disappointment. I usually expect more of male protagonists in romantic fiction, at least for integrity and respect they can show women and I struggled hard to find this in Ian, especially in the end when it was one of his (adulterous) flings that caused him to land in hot soup. The only consolation I took was in Lara’s own strength and determination (though she obviously caves to his charm) in seeing the case through, though that didn’t seem enough to redeem this couple that Layne tries hard to build.
The rant is probably enough to say that ‘Hot Asset’ isn’t a read that sat well with me, which is an understatement as it comes. It has sort of diminished my enthusiasm for the rest of the books in the series, to be honest, because I’d always thought Layne could do much, much better than this.

180 Seconds by Jessica Park

180 Seconds by Jessica Park180 Seconds by Jessica Park
Published by Skyscape on April 25th 2017
Pages: 300
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Some people live their entire lives without changing their perspective. For Allison Dennis, all it takes is 180 seconds…

After a life spent bouncing from one foster home to the next, Allison is determined to keep others at arm’s length. Adopted at sixteen, she knows better than to believe in the permanence of anything. But as she begins her third year in college, she finds it increasingly difficult to disappear into the white noise pouring from her earbuds.

One unsuspecting afternoon, Allison is roped into a social experiment just off campus. Suddenly, she finds herself in front of a crowd, forced to interact with a complete stranger for 180 seconds. Neither she, nor Esben Baylor, the dreamy social media star seated opposite her, is prepared for the outcome.

When time is called, the intensity of the experience overwhelms Allison and Esben in a way that unnerves and electrifies them both. With a push from her oldest friend, Allison embarks on a journey to find out if what she and Esben shared is the real thing—and if she can finally trust in herself, in others, and in love.

Jessica Park isn’t a new author to at all, but having loved ‘Flat-Out Love’ and the way it dealt with personality quirks, death and tragedy, I dove into ‘189 Seconds’ wondering if I was going to get the same kind of student-angst and the identity crisis that still assail young adults that we got in her ‘Flat Out’ series.
In some way, ‘180 Seconds’ is similar, as it puts the emotional effects of being shoved from foster home to foster home and the cycle of hope/rejection in the spotlight, where a popular social media ‘influencer’ so to speak and one social experiment have the power to change how an introverted, aloof and antisocial girl might see the world.
To make a world a happier place because he can (the number of followers can’t hurt either) is not a worldview that I’ve ever held, so to read about Esben’s optimistic worldview is jarring to say the least. That social, outgoing nature of his, as Jessica Park writes, is both intimidating and infectious, though it is not all roses and sunshine that drive him only to see humanity in all its good.
But oh, to have that kind of dewey-eyed, collegiate enthusiasm that Esben Baylor has because my practical, cynical self protests that 180 seconds can change the world, at least, some people’s entire outlook on things. It was almost a given that I was fairly incredulous when the social experiment conducted with Allison ended up with a mad kiss (throwing of a table and chair included, in a passionate fit) after 3 full minutes worth of raging, smouldering looks tossed between 2 people.
There’s also a dreamy, movie-quality to how things play out as it skirts the edge of melodrama. Even as the story rushes to its inevitable climax and Allison runs from a crushing blow, Park circles back to the power of Esben’s and Allison’s initial 180 seconds, and the amount of love that has resulted from it. Can it really change a life? Maybe. Maybe not. Still, Park’s continual reaffirmation of the good in people is what makes ‘180 Seconds’ a feel-good read, because in this NA world, optimism and love (in spite of tragedy) still win.

City Under Siege by R.J. Prescott

City Under Siege by R.J. PrescottCity Under Siege by R.J. Prescott
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on February 19th 2018
Pages: 412
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London is a city in flames. Tensions are high and a critical situation is about to go from bad to worse. The Prime Minister wants to send a message, and the SAS will be the ones to deliver it.

Emotional detachment is my speciality. I’m ruthless and cut throat, but there is nobody better.

Sarah Tatem is an innocent. Caught up in a world in which she doesn’t belong, and trying desperately to do the right thing. My job is to keep her safe long enough to get what’s needed, and bring an end to this siege of terror.

But something has changed. I’ve learned that the only thing stronger than loyalty is love, and now she’s gone.

My name is Lieutenant Tom Harper, and I’m about to unleash hell.

‘City Under Siege’ does have an exciting premise and to be honest, I was also lured in by the cover that depicted a post-apocalyptic London which I always seem to have an unholy fascination with.

But for someone who loves romantic suspense, this was a hard book to get through, even to the midway mark. I definitely liked the plot, which (plus points given for starting out strongly) unfortunately stuttered in the middle with the action taking a lull. Add to that endless and very long dialogues—some bordering on the ridiculous—taking place in scenes that I feel weren’t especially necessary and ‘City Under Siege’ found one of its victims in me.

Perhaps these scenes were meant to know the growing bond between Tom and Sarah, or perhaps they were meant to inject some levity into a serious situation, but these ended up mostly flat for me, with some secondary characters coming in and being over-the-top ridiculous in their villainy. Consequently, I was bored boneless and struggled to the midway mark while wondering when things were going to start rolling again.

I’m not quite sure if I’m able to put a finger on it specifically, but the combination of poor editing and the constant spelling errors like ‘metal/mettle’, ‘saught/sought’, ‘discrete/discreet’ was off-putting. In addition, I thought the plot and pacing also needed more developmental work for a better flow. ‘City Under Siege’ sadly, didn’t live up to its potential for me, more so because I had high hopes after reading all the glowing reviews about it.