Category: Contemporary Romance

Digging a Hole by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Digging a Hole by Mimi Jean PamfiloffDigging a Hole by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: OHellNo, #3
Published by Mimi Boutique on 19th June 2018
Pages: 173
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three-stars

HE’S THE MEANEST BOSS EVER.SHE’S THE SWEET SHY INTERN.THEY’RE ABOUT TO WRECK EACH OTHER CRAZY.

My name is Sydney Lucas. I am smart, deathly shy, and one-hundred percent determined to make my own way in the world. Which is why I jumped at the chance to intern for Mr. Nick Brooks despite his reputation. After ten failed interviews at other companies, he was the only one offering. Plus, everyone says he knows his stuff and surely a man as stunningly handsome as him can’t be “the devil incarnate,” right? Wrong.

Oh…that man. That freakin’ man has got to go! I’ve been on the job one week, and he’s insulted my mother, wardrobe shamed me, and managed to make me cry. Twice. Underneath that stone-cold, beautiful face is the evilest human being ever. But I’m not going to quit. Oh no. For once in my life, I’ve got to make a stand. Only every time I open my mouth, I can’t quite seem to muster the courage. Perhaps my revenge needs to come in another form: destroying him quietly.

Because I’ve got a secret. I’m not really just an intern, and Sydney Lucas isn’t my real name.

There’s always a bizarre lick to Mimi Jean Pamfiloff’s stories that I can’t seem to shake off each time I begin a book of hers. ‘Digging a Hole’ isn’t too different, where in alternating chapters, the flashback story of a crazy-arse tycoon tries to kidnap his own family and subject them to naked yoga is recounted. Add this to the general storyline of Georgie Walton/Sydney Lucas applying incognito for an internship within her family’s company under a mean, lean boss a few months later, the crazy does go a few notches up.

But I’ll admit that my challenge with a Pamfiloff read is always sifting the good from the insane. And as a large part of the story had to do with what happened a few months prior to Sydney/Georgie working for Nick, well, that bit came off as the least believable.

So needless to say, ‘Digging a Hole’ started off zany.

Georgie banked on the fact that she was invisible to people, without a fake identity or social security card—because it was glossed over. On the other hand, Nick Brooks had no sweet side. He abused, she cowered. He insulted, she cried, even if it was deliberate bullying as a test to see if she stood up for herself. But when all was finally untangled, their convoluted, complicated relationship merely showed the gap (in every sense of the word) between Georgie and Nick, especially the former’s naïveté and at-times juvenile behaviour, with some cringe-worthy scenes that I actually wished didn’t happen.

I did think that the characterisation of Georgie/Nick was shaky though, and them blowing hot and cold didn’t make it easy to get a grasp on either Georgie or Nick who seemed like 2 entirely different people by the time I was three-quarter way through the story.

The long and short of it is, if Pamfiloff dialled down the zany in her writing, I really think I could have liked this a lot more. Fiction obviously calls for the suspension of disbelief, but every Pamfiloff book that I’ve read swings back and forth between being absorbing and plain mad while aiming to keep a rom-com lightness to everything—just sometimes makes it impossible to do so. That she’s got some gems of insights, unexpected twists and some good ol’ writing for a solid plot cushioned in between made the book worth it for me, though I really wished these took centre stage instead of the over-the-top weirdness that hit me full-frontal.

Essentially, ‘Digging a Hole’ got good halfway through, as the odd bits finally, finally got left behind and the real thing kicked in, when the title finally made so much sense. I’m glad I pushed through to finish this.

three-stars

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-MillsI Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills
Series: The Hook Up #2
Published by CreateSpace, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on 29th October 2018
Pages: 209
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two-stars

Sexy Athlete: I bet you…Penelope Graham: Burn in hell, quarterback.

The text is random but Penelope figures out exactly who “Sexy Athlete” is. And why she shouldn't take his wager.

Ryker Voss. Football star. Walks on water and God's gift to women.Just ask him.

His bet? He promises Penelope he’ll win her the heart of the guy she’s been crushing on. His plan—good old-fashioned jealousy. Once her crush sees her kissing Ryker, he'll realize what he's missing. Sounds legit, right? The only question is…why is Ryker being so nice to her?

Penelope Graham. Virgin. Lover of sparkly vampires and calculus. His mortal enemy.

Penelope knows she shouldn’t trust a jock, but what’s a girl to do when she needs a date to Homecoming? And Ryker’s keeping a secret, another bet, one that could destroy Penelope’s heart forever.

Will the quarterback score the good girl or will his secrets mean everyone loses this game of love?

‘I Bet You’ started off as a mixture of odd and affected, with the protagonists acting like they’ve been pretending at being something that they’re not at first. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the high-school-type narrative—admittedly one that I wasn’t expecting at all—complete with the sorority/frat house bitch-testosterone kind of vibe was off-putting at first.

Then again, this is can probably be attributed to my growing wariness and intolerance of the N/A genre, particularly when hormonal characters are still driven by their lustful instincts, which I didn’t expect ‘I Bet You’ to be.

Add the virgin-player trope to it and I was questioning my decision to read this halfway through, but I pushed on because some reviews had suggested that this wasn’t a story that entirely stuck straight to stereotypes and an all-too-predictable ending.

Unfortunately, this didn’t fare all too well for me. Penelope at first glance, came off as flighty and insecure while trying to be spunky. Her somewhat archaic ideas coming from her bodice-ripper mind—losing her mind every single time Ryker came near, blowing hot and cold—felt even more out of place for a N/A virgin heroine who somehow managed to ensnare the usual manwhore quarterback (apparently 4 months of no-sex is a great accomplishment to laud), whose interest in someone-not-his-type seemed inexplicable.

Essentially, much of the entire book had to do with confusing game-playing (and not just in the field), hedging, chasing and pushing. What also felt like bits of the historical-romance genre sensibilities had crept into the story and threw me off quite badly because of how incongruous these were considering the college setting. By the end of it, I still found it hard to buy into a pairing which I thought could have ended up colouring outside the lines of these well-worn tropes but ultimately didn’t.

two-stars

Riven by Roan Parrish

Riven by Roan ParrishRiven by Roan Parrish
Series: Riven #1
Published by Loveswept on 29th May 2018
Pages: 262
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three-stars

Theo Decker might be the lead singer of Riven, but he hates being a rock star. The paparazzi, the endless tours, being recognized everywhere he goes—it all makes him squirm. The only thing he doesn’t hate is the music. Feeling an audience’s energy as they lose themselves in Riven’s music is a rush unlike anything else . . . until he meets Caleb Blake Whitman. Caleb is rough and damaged, yet his fingers on his guitar are pure poetry. And his hands on Theo? They’re all he can think about. But Caleb’s no groupie—and one night with him won’t be enough.

Just when Caleb is accepting his new life as a loner, Theo Decker slinks into it and turns his world upside-down. Theo’s sexy and brilliant and addictively vulnerable, and all Caleb wants is another hit. And another. That’s how he knows Theo’s trouble. Caleb can’t even handle performing these days. How the hell is he going to survive an affair with a tabloid superstar? But after Caleb sees the man behind the rock star, he begins to wonder if Theo might be his chance at a future he thought he’d lost forever.

Put together a reluctant rockstar and a supposed washout in the ever-fickle music industry and the result is a volatile cocktail that results in several life-changing decisions. Theo Decker’s fame is wholly unwanted, and like a lost little boy, wanders through the fog of being with a band that breaks every music chart but leaves him on the outside of a firm circle of friendship, until Caleb Blake Whitman powers through his life as an accidental one-night stand.

‘Riven’ is my first Roan Parrish read and I’m starting to see how it’s a style of storytelling that moves some readers to tears and others to boredom. It’s just an odd mix of purple prose and perceptive insights, but also with some New Adult traits that felt a little too naive for this entire plot. Meaning, the rest of their journey is status-quo: most of the book read like a ton of push-pull, of Caleb running away and Theo constantly taking him back (accompanied by bruising reconciliation sex)—in the name of protecting him and them in some warped way—until some sort of balance is reached, past that point of acknowledging their kind of brokenness.

The strange (and sometimes wonderful) thing about Parrish’s writing is that there isn’t quite the focus on the characters’ pasts, but rather, the sensations that their memories dredge up which then serve to reconstruct them in bits and pieces.

Caleb’s drugged-up past and subsequent rehabs? A done deal, recounted repetitively merely as a tether to the present. Theo’s broken family and the litany of self-recrimination of not being enough for anyone? Also glossed through with some of the prerequisite angst that NA books tend to shed in all the pages, written not in flashback but in dialogue or as inner monologue, as being a private failure that he can’t overcome even with his current success.

Much of ‘Riven’ is the reconciliation of emotions, of feelings, of sorting oneself out when faced with yet another obstacle too big to see behind after all, so it isn’t a surprise that with each round of repetitive self-castigation for Caleb and Theo comes some kind of deeper understanding of themselves as well. Still, this ended up as a middling read for me; I wished I was more moved by Caleb/Theo’s rocky road to happiness, but well, I found myself simply neutral by the time they rode off into their countryside sunset.

three-stars

Crave the Heat by Marnee Blake

Crave the Heat by Marnee BlakeCrave the Heat by Marnee Blake
Series: The Smokejumpers #2
Published by Lyrical Liason on January 15th 2019
Pages: 189
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three-stars

Smokejumper Dak Parrish has come home to Oregon to fight fires—and to mend fences with his family. He left the Warm Springs Tribal Reservation after feuding with his father. Now, with tribal lands threatened by an arsonist, Dak gets a chance to make amends by acting as a liaison between the reservation and the forest service criminal investigator—a woman who sparks a surprising and hungry flame in him.

After a trauma on the east coast, Heidi Sinclair left DC to start fresh as a criminal investigator in Oregon. But her first serious investigation provides one stubborn obstacle after another—including an arrogant firefighter she suspects knows more than he's saying. Though she tries to battle her attraction to Dak, it’s too late. As they track down the arsonist, someone will do whatever it takes to keep old secrets buried, even if it turns everything Heidi and Dak have fought for to ashes...

I do like Marnee Blake’s ‘The Smokejumpers’  series – a series of elite firefighters is one that’s hard to resist after all. ‘Crave the Heat’ is Dak Parrish’s story, whose convoluted family history plays a prominent role in the latest case of arson that brings his path into a spectacular collision with forest service criminal investigator Heidi Sinclair.

The lines of battle were clearly demarcated here at least: Dak’s loyalties were torn between his family and his own need to work the right side of the law with Heidi, though it became clear that the plot was always going to lead to a point where these ties frayed and broke.

The attraction was fast and furious between Dak and Heidi, though I struggled to believe their near-instant connection at times, particularly when Heidi’s mixed signals bleeped strong despite the smidgen of self-awareness she had. Her constant pushing away Dak did get annoying after a while as she projected her own traumatic past and fears – rather unfairly – onto everything Dak said or did. In turn, the poor guy doubted himself more and more and frankly, I thought, deserved better all the times she cut and ran.

Blake’s insertion of some suspense drove the story forward nonetheless, even if the few twists in the story left me a bit nonplussed and more so, with a resolution that felt a little less than complete.  Still, the writing, like in all of Blake’s books, is straightforward and steady, and makes it all go down quite nicely for a few hours of escapism.

three-stars

The One You Fight For by Roni Loren

The One You Fight For by Roni LorenThe One You Fight For by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away, #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 1st January 2019
Pages: 416
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four-half-stars

How hard would you fight for the one you love? Taryn Landry was there that awful night fourteen years ago when Long Acre changed from the name of a town to the title of a national tragedy. Everyone knows she lost her younger sister. No one knows it was her fault. Since then, psychology professor Taryn has dedicated her life's work to preventing something like that from ever happening again. Falling in love was never part of the plan...

Shaw Miller has spent more than a decade dealing with the fallout of his brother's horrific actions. After losing everything―his chance at Olympic gold, his family, almost his sanity―he's changed his name, his look, and he's finally starting a new life. As long as he keeps a low profile and his identity secret, everything will be okay, right?

When the world and everyone you know defines you by one catastrophic tragedy...How do you find your happy ending?

The tragedy of Long Acre mirrors so much of the contemporary violence in schools but I’ve never read a romance series that details the lives of those who actually live on in the aftermath of it—and how a single, catastrophic event drastically alters everything they’ve done or believed in.

In ‘The One You Fight For’, Taryn Landry and Shaw Miller—victims in their own right as siblings of the victim and the perpetrator of the shooting—still find themselves reeling from the events more than a decade ago, still paying in their own ways for what they perceive as their penance for playing a part for what went down and upturned their lives. For all of Loren’s focus on the victims and the fallout of the shooting in her previous books, I hadn’t considered at all, how close relatives would have dealt with this and Loren finally forces this into the limelight with Shaw/Taryn taking centre stage in this instalment.

Shaw and Taryn meet in a series of serendipitous events that took a number of twists and turns getting there: from an anonymous song at a bar, to a run where Taryn collapses and eventually signs up at a ninja-warrior-type gym where Shaw and his friend are setting up.

Loren’s brilliance at portraying brokenness and the ‘relatability’ of characters however, is as heartbreaking as it is compelling to read about: each of her protagonists, guilty for the small things they thought they’d done to contribute to the tragedy, each trying to make up for their perceived culpability in their own ways.

What moved me the most however, was the utterly downtrodden Shaw, who couldn’t see beyond the need to punish himself for something he didn’t commit for his entire life: for being related to the shooter is by proxy meant that he was guilty as charged, for how he’d never been able to shrug away the stigma, at the abuse he’d received from so many (the sharp, acid tongue from Taryn notwithstanding when she said some cruel things), for the yearning to only be ‘normal’.

I had a sort of inkling how this would go down from start to end. Taryn and Shaw aren’t hostile rivals to begin with, but what binds them is something more devastating and perhaps even notoriously taboo in the place where they live.

Conflict after conflict seem to await them up to a point where their loyalties are stretched and pulled in different directions, to the extent where the climax is a predictable one from the lead-ins and hints that have been given, as is their bittersweet resolution. Taryn/Shaw’s rather abrupt epilogue is hard-won nonetheless, though I did somehow wish for a more-iron-clad one that’s more inferred than given past the last page.

four-half-stars

Bending the Rules by Tracey Alvarez

Bending the Rules by Tracey AlvarezBending The Rules by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Due South #10
Published by Icon Publishing, Tracey Alvarez on 20th October 2018
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Cop Noah Daniels doesn't believe in unicorns or true love, not since his life went to hell six years ago. Emotions are easier to handle when they're out of sight, out of mind. But when script writer Tilly Montgomery crash-lands into his world on Stewart Island for a month, she might just be the one to convince him that unicorns and true love do exist. If they're prepared to bend the rules a little…

Tracey Alvarez’s Due South series has always been a special one for me; that it’s set in beautiful NZ with its unique Maori culture—Alvarez’s clear love for her country bleeds through so enthusiastically that I can’t help feel it—is just a bonus.

Noah Daniels finally, finally gets his story, though it isn’t quite one that I’d expected, but then, I hadn’t expected my own reaction to be lukewarm at best.

I think few things really happened, even though I was partway though: there were a few to-and-fro moments that felt dragged out, the usual flitting in and out of the Due South characters who had had their HEAs already written and the slow unfolding of Tilly’s great-aunt’s grand affair with a man through her journal.

As a result, it took me days to finish this (never happened before with an Alvarez book!) and while I love the writing that’s a mixture of action, humour and quirk—sometimes all in a paragraph—it was a struggle to see Tilly/Noah together when I couldn’t really even buy into their attraction to begin with. Tilly was mildly annoying—the constant, mindless chatter, the cop-cling thing just got to me—and with Noah’s emotional disengagement, this was a pairing that made it surprisingly hard to see getting off the ground given how much they took turns to push each other away. Having these lines of conflict drawn quite early between them however, meant that there was a steady climb to a climax that I could see coming and it definitely got better towards the end.

‘Bending the Rules’ ended up a middling read for me, and it’s hard to say if I was really disappointed or not. I found myself firmly in neutral territory after turning the last page but then I thought immediately of the other characters who have yet to have their HEA and I was excited again knowing that this series would be continuing.

three-stars

Out of Time by Monica McCarty

Out of Time by Monica McCartyOut of Time by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon, #3
Published by Berkley Books on 31st December 2018
Pages: 384
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three-half-stars

With his men scattered to all corners of the globe after a disastrous secret op in Russia, Lieutenant Commander Scott Taylor is trying to find out who was responsible for leaking the information that killed half his platoon. Were it not for Natalie Andersson, the woman he had been secretly dating in the Pentagon who had warned him of the danger, he knows they would all be dead. Scott is devastated when he hears that the woman he loved and hoped to marry has been killed for helping him--until he learns that Natalie was the spy who betrayed them. But when his search to clear his name brings him face-to-face with a very-much-alive Natalie, Scott realizes that justice and vengeance might not be as clear-cut as he thought.

Natalie Andersson, or, as she was born, Natalya Petrova, has put the memories of her early childhood in Russia behind her. She never dreamed that she would be at the center of an elaborate "sleeper" espionage program. Even when she learns the truth, she refuses to spy for the country of her birth, until the Russians threaten the lives of the only family she has ever known. But Natalie is the worst spy in the history of spying, falling for her target. When her attempt at misdirection leads to irreversible consequences, she is forced to run for her life, with her lover hot on her tail.

At the heart of it, ‘Out of Time’ is one of assumed betrayal, even more assumptions that the protagonists have of each other and the elasticity of truth, all of which revolve around a botched mission, a missing SEAL team and questionable loyalties.

Natalie Andersson isn’t who she seems and as the story progresses, it’s evident that there’re contradictory gaps in both what Scott Taylor and Natalie believe of each other. The former’s a huffing and puffing betrayed military man, the latter? Quite possibly the worst spy in history. But the Russian sleeper agent and the elite American soldier form a pairing that’s charged with so many overtones in today’s political climate and that Monica McCarty takes it on makes ‘Out of Time’ a sort of contemporary forbidden trope and one that I really wanted to read.

By and large, I did like Nat/Scott’s story though I found the secondary couple of Colt/Kate more compelling in the whole narrative arc of lies, deceit and vengeance as the characters pursued some kind of justice for themselves and for the dead men. Dealing with 2 couples isn’t an easy feat by any means, though the focus on 4 major characters did mean less focus on each couple, which left me a feeling little short-changed about it. For all the build-up, I thought the ending was somewhat anti-climatic, with less of a bang and more than a whimper than I’d hoped. I couldn’t tell though, if there is going to be a continuation of the series or not—McCarty doesn’t give any hint of how resolved things really are—but I’m still hoping for the secondary characters to get their own books somehow.

‘Out of Time’ is not a standalone and that much becomes obvious when the opening few chapters leaned hard on prior knowledge of previous books to get the story of Natalie and Scott going. McCarty does take the effort to get any new reader up to speed however, though it’s through a certain style of storytelling that eventually got to me—this is obviously a personal nitpick.

Beyond the rather exciting prologue that was easy enough to follow, the first few chapters were a mash of telling and showing (sometimes more of the former), with a recounting of past events inserted into the protagonists’ POVs in the present timeline and thus forcing the reader to straddle a scene within a scene. As a result, I did get confused and mildly frustrated, having needed to pause multiple times to mentally untangle and piece together what had gone down, when and with whom. The use of flashbacks or at least, something more linear as a storytelling device would have worked better than the mental gymnastics it took at times.

It isn’t to say however, that ‘Out of Time’ isn’t a decent read. I thought it was the best out of McCarty’s series in fact…only that it could have been longer and a bit more drawn-out—given the scope of the story and the pairings involved—for a less abrupt ending.

three-half-stars