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Contemporary Romance

Changing the Play by Julia Blake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 13th August 2017
Changing the Play by Julia BlakeChanging the Play by Julia Blake
Series: The Game Changer #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 21st 2017
Pages: 339
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three-stars

Rachel Pollard has never been a push-over. That’s why she’s a superstar in the world of sports management, making a name for herself with a shrewd eye for overlooked talent. She certainly isn’t taking any chances with her latest NFL draft prospect, Kevin Loder, who’s poised to shake up the league. But when Nick Ruben, a tenacious sports reporter who also happens to be the crush who ignored her all through high school, picks up the scent of a long-buried story, Rachel suddenly finds herself playing defense for the first time in years.

Nick usually doesn’t strike out with women, but his always-dependable charm isn’t getting him anywhere with Rachel or the interview he needs to save his job from his network’s impending layoffs. He knows he’s pressing hard, but she’s pushing back just as much—it’d almost be fun if his career wasn’t on the line. But after weeks of begging and finally striking a deal for an exclusive, Nick is surprised to realize he wants their relationship to be anything but professional. Now he has to figure out a way to save his job without hurting hers, and to make the girl he overlooked in high school believe he’s worth a shot at love.

Julia Blake is a new author for me, but ‘Changing the Play’ ensures I’ll be coming back for more. The book captures the mad, competitive world of sports management and journalism perfectly, with such sharp, insightful writing that I knew that it was going to be a read I wouldn’t be able to forget. I loved the frenetic rush, the constant flurry of activity of the whole sports scene that was detailed and wholly engrossing—even though it isn’t quite my thing—as well as the conflict that was so very real when Rachel and Nick clashed.

Most of all though, Blake has written such a memorable heroine for whom I found myself cheering the whole way. There was everything to love about Rachel—her tenacity, her compassion for the players she managed and how she was able to call Nick out on the bullshit he piled on her as well as the strength that it took to say no to his charm offensive that was in many ways, professionally and personally insulting. I liked her protective instincts towards her players even when they’re idiots and her actions with Kevin made her a character who really deserved better than Nick who had everything to prove but didn’t.

In contrast, I was way less impressed by Nick as the selfish, entitled playboy journalist, who had really only sought Rachel out for his own purposes rather than wanting to do so because he wanted only her with no strings. Not only that made him hard to like, but I didn’t feel as though he wanted to date Rachel for herself—that seemed to come incidentally as his job had always been his first priority—even though he brought up the sob story of being an idiot in high school who never asked her out anyway. Somehow his actions and rationale(s) never stopped being questionable the whole time and those were pretty much the major blimps that prevented ‘Changing the Play’ from becoming an exceptional story for me.

three-stars

Going Dark by Monica McCarty

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 12th August 2017
Going Dark by Monica McCartyGoing Dark by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon #1
Published by Berkley Books on September 5th 2017
Pages: 352
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three-stars

Like Rome's Lost Legion, a SEAL platoon goes on a mission and vanishes without a trace.
After walking into a trap on a covert op in Russia, the men from top secret SEAL Team Nine are presumed dead. Not knowing whom they can trust, and with war hanging in the balance, the survivors must go dark and scatter around the globe.
Marine ecologist Annie Henderson joins her new boyfriend on a trip to the Western Isles of Scotland to protest a hazardous offshore drilling venture. When she realizes that she may be swept up in something far more dangerous than she'd intended, there is only one man she can turn to. . . .
She and the mysterious but sexy dive boat captain haven't exactly gotten off to the best start, but something about his quiet confidence makes her think that he's the kind of man she can depend on. Because he's gruff and guarded, she can tell Dan Warren has secrets. But she could never imagine how high the stakes are for him to keep his cover, even as he risks everything to protect her. . . .

A SEAL team paralleling the lost Roman Legion is a mouthwatering prospect. A covert op that had gone so wrong has led to the remaining few scattered around the globe and off the grid, waiting for justice to be served? It’s catnip on a platter. As someone who isn’t really into historicals, Monica McCarty’s a new author for me and any addition to the RS sub-genre is something I’m typically happy to pounce on.

Yet the opening was at best, shaky with an overwhelming info-dump that got my head swirling, all in the midst of an op that was going to go bust. Filled with with too many names, ranks and explanations of how the team worked, the first chapter was also oddly anchored by a character who also wasn’t the protagonist, which was bewildering to say the least as you only learn of one of the secondary SEALs peripherally mentioned was going to be the hero instead in the next few chapters.

But ‘Going Dark’ hits its stride halfway in, as Dean Baylor (the once Senior Chief)—hiding away in the Hebrides two months after the botched Russian job—gets inadvertently involved in an ecoterrorist plot with a woman who could very well be collateral damage. Nevertheless, I was drawn in by the intrigue and the suspense more than the characters with whom I felt less of an affinity.

Dean/Annie weren’t quite a couple that I could see together—their fiercely opposing ideals aside—as their skin-deep connection simply felt like an adrenaline-fuelled product that would burn bright and hot, but eventually burn out. Dean’s constant rumination about his casual hookups, his usual type of women and Annie not fitting the bill were off-putting to say the least, even when these comparisons were supposed to serve as his internal monologues about Annie’s break from the mould. The latter’s environmental-saving, emotional liberalism is the still furthest from his military beliefs however, though attraction comes at the worst possible timing especially since “casual” has always defined Dean’s so-called social life to a tee. Yet Annie’s insecure naïveté—some TSTL lines were crossed—and her need to keep clinging when all they agreed to was a fling that would end when they separated got annoying when she went from a seeming no-nonsense PhD graduate to a weepy, needy woman when she near begs him to stay.

That said though, this is a thoroughly promising series; the other characters definitely intrigue me and Monica McCarty provides enough of a backstory of them as a teaser that makes me enthusiastic for the sequels to come. Action specific to each couple is the focus of every book it seems, though as of now, investigations of the overall mystery crawl on, which make the ending unsatisfactory as none of the pieces have yet fallen into place. But the bright side? There’s still more to look forward to.

three-stars

Cover of Night by Laura Griffin

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th August 2017
Cover of Night by Laura GriffinCover of Night by Laura Griffin
Series: Alpha Crew #3
Published by Pocket Star on September 4th 2017
Pages: 128
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two-stars

Journalist Karly Bonham is on her first overseas mission, covering the new United States ambassador to Thailand, when she is taken hostage by terrorists, with only her wits and courage to keep her alive—until help arrives in the form of Navy SEAL Ethan Dunn.

As part of an elite SEAL team called Alpha Crew, Ethan has been on countless harrowing missions, but he knows this one is different the instant he meets Karly—the sexy young reporter who somehow managed to escape the terrorists’ clutches. Ethan is impressed by her, especially when he learns she has intel that could be the key to a successful rescue op. Ethan knows working with a civilian raises the stakes on an already dangerous mission. But with the clock ticking down, he enlists Karly’s help to thwart a vicious plot and bring a terrorist mastermind to justice.

Laura Griffin’s ‘Alpha Crew’ series has been a very different read so far from her ‘Tracers’ series. The books in there are short, action-packed, with significant time lapses between several chapters and in many ways, a very, very distilled and disappointing version of a military/paramilitary romantic suspense novel.

The short length of the book does the whole story a disservice. I’ve no doubts about Griffin’s writing to begin with, nor with her ability to handle intricate plot lines and elaborate setups that have made some of her books so memorable for me.

But with ‘Cover of Night’ topping out at a mere 100-ish pages, I felt that Karly’s and Ethan’s connection did exist, though it was harder to be convinced by their relationship and the love declarations when all they had was a one-night stand fuelled by the thrill of a rescue and the let down of adrenaline. What for instance, made Ethan, who didn’t do relationships, want something more with Karly when there didn’t seem to be any other indication that she was different from the other women he picked up except for the fact that she rebuffed him? Moreover, Karly’s sudden change in attitude towards the end towards Ethan when he was pushing her for something more the night before he was about to be shipped out was beyond abrupt especially when the story ended just there.

In other words, everything felt too rushed and unfinished, from their relationship to the terrorist plot that was supposedly foiled with a significant arrest. ‘Cover of Night’ simply had so much potential which wasn’t quite fulfilled by the end, leaving me rather mixed about this series because it really could have been so much better.

two-stars

Last First Kiss by Sidney Halston

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 8th August 2017
Last First Kiss by Sidney HalstonLast First Kiss by Sidney Halston
Series: Iron Clad Security #2
Published by Swerve on August 29th 2017
Pages: 202
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two-stars

He's an A-list Hollywood heartthrob. She's trying to prove herself in a man's world.

For this female bodyguard, protecting her client is simply business, but what happens when sparks fly and the danger heats up?

A woman bodyguard and a male celebrity in a reversal of roles sounded exciting and ‘Last First Kiss’ did seem at first, like The Bodyguard, except that a kickass woman is taking the reins and showing the world’s who’s boss. But I found myself struggling very early on, and that was mostly with characterisation.

I had a problem with the characters not acting their ages from the start; the squabbling between the siblings of Iron Clad Security felt like a college-project quarrel, as did Rocco’s constant sexualisation of every movement that Annie made that made him like a creep than a swoonworthy hero. But Annie lashed out as well, like a teenager instead of a professional bodyguard as well in so many instances that it was hard to take her seriously, let alone a pairing that couldn’t seem to act like the adults they were. Rocco later insisted on trying to be the protector instead, and that lack of respect for Annie’s job—when all he wanted was to see her as his girlfriend and he the alpha male sort—was frustrating beyond measure when most of the squabbling was about Annie’s supposed inability to do her job.

Unfortunately, that was what did it for me. I couldn’t quite continue when both Annie and Rocco didn’t get past this issue without any more of the arguments along the lines of ‘I can’t lose you’ said by males who seem to love nothing but smothering the women.

two-stars

Twisted Twosome by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th August 2017
Twisted Twosome by Meghan QuinnTwisted Twosome by Meghan Quinn
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on July 16th 2017
Pages: 251
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three-stars

Racer McKay is a broody bastard. From the moment I met him, he's been rude, irritable, and unbearable. And worse? He's broke. A contractor working to remodel my parents pool house for extra cash, he stomps around in those clunky construction boots with his tool belt wrapped around his narrow waist, and a chip on his shoulder. Racer McKay is also infuriatingly . . . sexy as hell. I want to take that pencil tucked behind his ear, and draw lazy lines slowly up and down his body all the while wanting to strangle him at the same time. We try to stay out of each other's way . . . that is until I have no other option but to ask for his help. But what I don't realize is he needs me just as much as I need him. I have money he's desperate for, and he holds the key to making my dreams come true. Our pranks turn from sarcastic banter, to sexual tension and lust-filled glances. Bickering matches quickly morph into slow burn moments. We're hot, we're cold. We push and pull. I need him, I don't want him. We're on the verge of combusting with an agreement dangling dangerously between us. Neither one of us can afford to lose one another and yet, we're finding it quite hard to decipher the line that rests between love and hate.

Sometimes a character surprises you in the best way, particularly when it’s a secondary character from another book that couldn’t be taken seriously at all. Racer was such a character in Meghan Quinn’s first book and I didn’t quite know what to make of him. In fact, I barely gave him a thought at all until ‘Twisted Twosome’ came out and then my reading world got squeezed through the rabbit hole of this rather complicated man.

But Racer is, no doubt about it, the shining star of the story, because he’s so much more than the front he shows, and damn if that front is hilariously obnoxious, unapologetically arrogant and deliberately crude. I had the laugh of my life especially when he pitted himself against Georgiana until their love-hate, antagonistic relationship turned into something else entirely as the jibes grew less mean and increasing like foreplay.

Admittedly, it did get a bit much sometimes, but overall, I liked what Racer represented and how real he was as a character was underneath the insults, pranks and the fuck-all, mega man-child front. Quinn does writes his grief—and all the desperate financial struggles especially after losing the closest person he’d ever been to—in such a tangible way that I couldn’t help but wish for something better for him as he lurches from a project to another just to get by.

Racer and Georgiana do sort of make a believable pair, but it’s one that is solidified by constant arguing and banter—if that’s what could be considered the cornerstone of a relationship, because along with the taunts, so does the sexual tension mount along with them. Yet I was still caught by surprise when they fell into bed, because I didn’t think they liked each other enough for it. That part happened somewhat suddenly, though the conflict between their ‘social class’ was something I could sniff out a mile away. And as a little too neatly wrapped up as the end was, Quinn did have me rooting for them after all, because I was mostly invested in the both of them from the start.

three-stars

Perilous Trust by Barbara Freethy

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 4th August 2017
Perilous Trust by Barbara FreethyPerilous Trust (Off The Grid: FBI Trilogy #1) by Barbara Freethy
Series: Off the Grid #1
Published by Fog City Publishing, LLC - Hyde Street Press on August 1st 2017
Pages: 335
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three-stars

It was one dark night that brought Damon Wolfe and Sophie Parker together. They were two tortured souls, looking for escape, and they weren't supposed to see each other ever again…

Four years later, Sophie's FBI father, who is also Damon's mentor, is killed in a suspicious car crash after leaving Sophie a cryptic message to trust no one from the agency. When Damon shows up looking for her, she isn't sure if he's friend or enemy, but she knows he could easily rip apart what is left of her heart.

The last thing Damon wants is to get involved with Sophie again. It was hard enough to walk away the first time. But she's in trouble, her father's reputation is under attack, and the lives of his fellow agents are at stake if there's a traitor in their midst.

When someone starts shooting at them, they have no choice but to go on the run and off the grid. Everyone in their world becomes a suspect. They want to uncover the truth, but will it turn out to be the last thing they expect? Proving her father's innocence might just cost them their hearts…and their lives…

I get excited each time I see a new RS series and ‘Perilous Trust’ for a moment there, did get me going with a great opening, a death amidst suspicious circumstances and several parties implicated when that actually happens. Throw in an awkward ‘second-chance’ so to speak and ‘Perilous Trust’ does seem like a good mix to get into when the daughter of a dead FBI agent has her life upended and another upcoming agent who pops back into it just as things start to get messy.

But I thought that was also where storytelling faltered as well. Apart from some dialogues where characters’ speech patterns don’t seem to mirror how people actually talk, Sophie and Damon find themselves cleaning up a mess that’s caused by a peripheral (and dead) character that actually drew in quite a large cast of secondary characters and villains.

There’s also some back history of their friends and their hookup 4 years ago that felt randomly inserted into the mix, which as a result, made me feel more and more like a shipwreck survivor bobbing alone at sea than an invested party in the story clutching at anything and everything to see how it plays out. In other words, the action had ‘spiralled’ outwards so far from where we first started that it was not just difficult to get the connections down, but that I found myself becoming indifferent to them.

That for me, did take the shine off Sophie/Damon’s developing relationship and consequently, I couldn’t exactly buy into them as a couple, let alone believe that what they felt for each other could really go beyond the constructed closeness that sudden danger can bring.

This isn’t to say they aren’t likeable characters on their own though, because they are—for most part. There aren’t TSTL moments, nor random outbursts of hysterics or out-of-character childish behaviour that can tank a story for me, but I didn’t find myself on the edge of my seat or entirely anxious for Sophie/Damon to get their HEA. Perhaps it would have been easier to relate to their relationship had Barbara Freethy spent more time exploring the consequences of what they did 4 years ago but the balance of romance and suspense as always, is a difficult one to master—and please every reader as well.

‘Perilous Trust’ isn’t a bad start though and as said earlier, every new take in RS is something that gets me moist with excitement. I just wished I’d stayed moist the whole time.

three-stars

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd August 2017
Hate to Want You by Alisha RaiHate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts, #1
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

One night. No one will know.

That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts-and the last names that made them enemies.

Until the night she didn’t show up.

Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want…so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?

Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence–and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.

Being together might be against all the rules…but being apart is impossible.

‘Hate to Want You’ starts off fabulously—Alisha Rai’s writing drew me in immediately—with a hostile relationship that’s got its odd quirks: 2 people who started off as a couple who became ex-es who then became annual hookups. I liked forbidden elements to relationships, which was why I wanted to dive straight into it.

I hesitate to call this a modern day Romeo and Juliet retelling, but that’s my stubbornness talking about what I feel is Shakespeare’s worst (and most farcical) play ever. But Nicholas’s and Livvy’s strange arrangement made me want to know more and it did take a while before I could really try to make sense of why they are that way.

But I generally didn’t see Nicholas and Livvy as exactly star-crossed lovers; they are just a couple pulled apart by family pressures and their own inability to handle themselves beyond that. That they went on that way for nearly a decade simply seemed inconceivable to me when one of them could have simply pulled back and stopped or pushed and gone all the way, especially when there was a pain-pleasure cycle which they seemed to perversely enjoy. Much of the ‘action’ is tuned inwards, concerned with revelations, realisations and changing perceptions and there’s a constant angsty thread that seem to belong in the NA genre with erotica thrown into the mix.

Getting to the bottom of their story however, is really about getting through a huge load of family drama and a family feud that’s irreparable. It’s overwhelming to see just how bitchy everyone can be—yes, even the protagonists—but the backstabbing and the underhanded plots for vengeance and avoidance did get tiresome after a while. At some parts it became a soap opera that shows up how dysfunctional everything is in every sense of the word and it’s accompanied by self-flegallation and so much deep emoting that it merely becomes a hot mess of bitter familial relations.

Overall, I wasn’t entirely convinced about this pairing not because the emotional depth is lacking but because Nicholas and Livvy’s HEA still seemed marred by too much history that made me wonder if they were really better apart with clean breaks after all. ‘Hate to Want You’ however, is catnip for those who love drowning in angsty reads and while I’m still sort of wondering how the rest of the pairings will play out, having more ‘forbidden’ pairings to come within the dysfunctional feuding families is frankly, an intimidating prospect.

three-stars
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