Category: Contemporary Romance

Down With Love by Kate Meader

Down With Love by Kate MeaderDown with Love by Kate Meader
Series: Love Wars, #1
Published by Loveswept on 7th August 2018
Pages: 237
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two-stars

Sparks fly when the hot-shot divorce lawyer meets the high-powered wedding planner. The only question is, what kind?

If you ever get married, remember my name: Max Henderson. In my line of work, you acquire a certain perspective on supposedly everlasting unions. . . .

1. Pre-nups are your friend. 2. The person you married is not the person you’re divorcing. 3. And I hope you didn’t spend much on the wedding because that was one helluva waste of hard-earned cash, wasn’t it?

But some guys are willing to take a chance. Like my brother, who thinks he’s going to ride off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams in a haze of glitter on unicorns. And the wedding planner—the green-eyed beauty who makes a living convincing suckers to shell out thousands of dollars on centerpieces—is raking it in on this matrimonial monstrosity.

The thing is, Charlie Love is not unlike me. We’re both cogs in the wedding-industrial complex. As the best man, I know her game—and I can play it better than her. But after one scorching, unexpected kiss, I’m thinking I might just want to get played.

Wedding-planner, come meet the divorce lawyer: 2 occupations at odds with each other, down to the fundamental beliefs that the people working in these lines should hold. Right? ‘Down with Love’ is where Kate Meader bravely tackles these opposites and tries to prove the contrary with Max Henderson (the first victim, so to speak) and Charlie Love—whose last name is ironically appropriate for her occupation.

Excited as I was by Meader’s blurb of this new series, I was also a little wary, because beneath it lies the stereotypical trope of a commitment phobic player paired with a woman who tries to be sassy and stumbles when the charm comes out. And with Meader’s style of writing, I can say—objectively—that it’s perfectly tailored for the rom-com style that many readers would expect. Meader’s writing is pitched exactly like the voices you hear in romantic comedy, that is, pitch-perfect, if that’s your sort of thing, in other words. That much, it delivers.

Max Henderson kicks of the start of Kate Meader’s new series of cynical men who think they’ve seen the worst of humanity in the battlefield of court when divorce inevitably hits couples. But I think the male POV is tricky to write, period. Getting the fine balance right between voice, hints of vulnerability and the cocky front that many authors try to portray of their alpha males who apparently know so much about women is one that either has me grimacing or smirking. The usual smug, self-satisfied, arrogant tone of Max crosses the line into bar-smarmy faux smoothness and sleazy bad taste and it isn’t frankly something I want to read of a male romantic protagonist who’s head seems to be constantly filled with women’s body parts and what he’d like to do to them. (Here, I’m reminded of another author who’s done the same previously and it isn’t that good a memory, sad to say.)

But because many rom-coms are retellings and rehashes of tropes with varying contexts, character histories and storytelling styles, ‘Down With love’ still feels at its core, one that doesn’t deviate too much from the well-worn but well-loved formula: a woman who finally gives the cynical Max what he’s always fed other women (nothing beyond a night or two) and then it’s the typical reversal of him finally getting a taste of his own medicine just as he realises she’s unlike the others. Cue the game to wear her resistance down, thanks to the perpetual player, no-one-gets-hurt reputation Max strives to cultivate in the first place.

There are a few bits of talking ‘out’ to the reader as well—better known as breaking the fourth wall here, when a character steps out of the fictional word briefly and breaks through the invisible wall separating reader and the cast—and I’m not too sure how I feel about that here. Perhaps Meader seeks to bridge that connection between Max and me when the use of the second person pronoun ‘you’ seems to…mediate this distance that I subconsciously hold, first to convince me that he’s anti-marriage and then later, to convince me that he’s a reformed man. Or perhaps I’m just over-reading this.

In short, I think I wasn’t really feeling this at all sadly—not the pairing, not the context and not the plot. ‘Down With Love’ didn’t exactly move me much even as Meader tries to work out the opposing beliefs of Max and Charlie, and given the many times I managed to walk away and came back to the book (rinse and repeat) it’s clear this isn’t the story for me, as much as I really like Meader’s writing.

two-stars

Out of Reach by Kendall Talbot

Out of Reach by Kendall TalbotOut of Reach by Kendall Talbot
Series: Maximum Exposure #1
Published by Lyrical Liason on 8th May 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

In a place where a city can be lost hundreds of years . . . they can still find each other.

Lily saw the temple of Agulinta on television: a vast stone structure swallowed by the Yucatan jungle, rediscovered only now after hundreds of years. So why did the papers she found after her father’s death show the same mysterious carvings that puzzled archaeologists at Agulinta? Her search for answers pulls her to Mexico’s southern border, where the journey to the lost temple will take her through jungle and mountain, over waters home to crocodiles and drug runners, and into uncomfortably close quarters with a man whose need to wander has become a way of life . . .

Australian Carter Logan’s work as a nature photographer has given him the excuse he needs to roam wherever his restless feet take him. But in all the time he’s traveled, he’s never been drawn to anyone the way he is to this determined, cagey young American. Lily’s perseverance through dirt, sweat, and danger to the heart of the ancient temple fires through him. But when the two of them are left alone and stranded in a vicious wilderness, their connection might prove the difference between life and death . . . if the secrets of the past don’t come between them first.

A search for answers, not treasure, is what drives ‘Out of Reach’ and that alone, made me pick it up.

But to call it romance might be stretching it a little thin. The first half of the story read more a linear journey of an explorer’s adventure—don’t get me wrong, it was an exciting one, with detailed descriptions of the hike and the arduous journey to get to the archaeological ruins. And Kendall Talbot didn’t white-wash it too much—her characters started to smell, got injured after going at it rough and desperately scrabbled to be inventors when it came to food and makeshift items.

In fact, Carter and Lily started their own paths here with minimal interaction (some conversations were snippy and others were of the small-talk variety), their relationship—if this could even be called one—felt too superficial and shallow for most of the book, like strangers who coincidentally met for a short trip before they parted. Admittedly both weren’t keen on each other prying into their lives, but that also had the unfortunate result of getting no inroads made on them coming together as a pair.

Individually, we knew of their motives for being on this journey but together, Carter/Lily as a pairing only seemed like an afterthought as Talbot focused more on the documentary-like recounting of the journey (and their individual travails) than building their chemistry or deepening friendship, up until the point that they had to work together to survive. Much like the title, the the romantic angle felt out of reach for the first half of the book, when it became clear a lot of action had to do with Carter and Lily just trying to survive.

Colour me surprised and disbelieving thus, when the love declarations came out of nowhere when Lily and Carter had barely interacted enough to warrant that depth of feeling; worse yet were some TSTL scenes where Lily crossed the line from sensible to irrationally stupid just when I was starting to buy into the idea of them working solidly together. This left me sceptical, not least when it came to Lily’s convenient survival skills that seemed incongruous up with her upbringing, along with the flimsy, rushed ending of even more rushed promises that didn’t include a convincing glimmer of their future together.

For this unusual take on suspense, given the lack of the treasure-hunting angle that typically accompanies archaeological-adventure romance novels, ‘Out of Reach’ is a standout, but for a valid romantic connection, I was still left wanting.

three-stars

Filthy Gods by R. Scarlett

Filthy Gods by R. ScarlettFilthy Gods by R. Scarlett
Series: American Gods #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on May 15th 2018
Pages: 119
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five-stars

Young. Wealthy. Elite. Attractive. The gentlemen’s secret society at Yale was filled with them.

And Nathaniel Radcliffe, the bane of my existence, was one of them.

As the right hand of the American Gods, he was conceited and arrogant. A dangerously handsome man in a tailored custom suit and shiny black oxford loafers.

The classroom was our battlefield. We made a sport out of arguing and debating, ready to do anything in order to win over the other.

Deadly opponents, deadlier minds.

I'd sworn I'd never give him the upper hand, until...

The secret I’ve been hiding for the last three years?

He just discovered it… and now he has all the power.

R. Scarlett is a new author to me, but ‘Filthy Gods’ won me over completely with sultry writing shot through with that delicious tinge of darkness I can’t seem to resist.

The name of the series itself was eye-catching, so much so that I thought of Neil Gaiman’s mythical story of the same name where types of mythological figures populate a fictional, worn-down America. Scarlett’s series revolving around rich, untouchable, blue-blooded elite boys of society isn’t quite that similar, though it might just be too early to tell given we’re barely into the start of it with a hot summer affair between 2 college rivals: the right-hand man of the American gods and the girl who has worked her way up with her own resources.

Nathaniel and Juliette left me hot and bothered from the start with simmering tension that was shiver-inducing—from the hostility, to the chase, to the scorching clashes both outside and in bed. Reducing this to the rich boy and the poor girl story however, wouldn’t do ‘Filthy Gods’ justice, because it feels like there’s still so much more waiting behind the proverbial curtain: the undercurrents and the dynamics of the strange but odd relationships, the intriguing back drop that frames the privilege of this highly-exclusive gentleman’s club, the secrets that burst at the seams waiting to be revealed.

The brevity of this prelude to the series did have something going for it: providing the forward momentum that drove Nathaniel and Juliette from enemies-to-lovers without sagging in the middle, without the games that I loathe. Still, I thought it was over too soon, with the climax and ending did come a wee bit too quickly when all I wanted was more of the both of them.

This gentlemen’s club and secret society rolled into one, the not-quite brotherhood that borders indecency almost (given the amount of obscene power and wealth they all wield)?

I think I want in.

five-stars

Bloodtree River by Sarah Barrie

Bloodtree River by Sarah BarrieBloodtree River by Sarah Barrie
Published by HQ Fiction on 23rd April 2018
Pages: 352
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three-half-stars

From the author of the bestselling Hunters Ridge series comes this stand-alone twisty rural suspense, this time set against the dark backdrop of Tasmanian mountains. Indiana O'Meara is no stranger to the forces of evil.

Her own past is full of violence. Now a policewoman, Indy is always fighting to redeem herself and defeat the dark. So when girls begin to go missing at a remote cattle station in Tasmania, she is quick to agree to go undercover to investigate chief suspect, the owner of Calico Mountain Lodge, Logan Atherton, even though last time she went undercover it came to a bloody end. But her early encounter with Logan Atherton reveals a man full of contradictions. His deep empathy for horses and those he cares for is obvious but he is also taciturn to the point of rudeness, and there is a strange atmosphere at the lodge. It doesn't add up. As Indy begins to dig deeper into the secrets at the Lodge, she finds herself embroiled in a murderous web more complex and terrifying than she could ever have imagined...

Sarah Barrie writes a rather slow but steadily-building mystery of disappearing girls in a remote part of Tasmania and an undercover stint that goes badly awry. Still, it’s a spin-off book for Indy O’Meara, tough cop and determined woman—who’d initially turned up in Barrie’s Hunters Ridge series—in the wilds of Tassie to work under a man who’s the suspect in this case…well, who could resist?

‘Bloodtree River’ however, has a plot that requires you to actively (or make the effort at least) stay engaged in the story nonetheless. Written mostly from Indy’s perspective, I was conscious of her status as an outlier but by extension, felt like a reader who was merely tangentially observing the action happening through an outlier’s eyes.

Still, it was easy to get swept along once I had the names and the context of the Athertons’s screwed up family business straightened out in my head—this much was imperative to understanding and getting caught up in the drama. There were twists and turns that got exponentially more interesting—more suspension of disbelief required though—in the last quarter of the story, though I did find the romantic bits less than convincing because of the circumstances that dictated the slow burn and the eventual rift between Indy and Logan. Indy’s undercover duties did prove to be a barrier—one that didn’t at least allow for Indy to be honest with Logan and the push-pull that resulted because of this—though having her walk the tight rope between being a cop and an employee under Logan was a balance that Sarah Barrie did sort of handle quite well. It was deception for a legitimate reason, so to speak, with the complications arising only when attraction and emotions started to get involved.

Simply put, Logan/Indy was a pairing that didn’t quite get off the ground sufficiently for me, lost as it was in the flurry of the drama and the web of lies spun in Calico Mountain Lodge, to the point where ‘Bloodtree River’ would have functioned equally well without the romance. It was a pretty decent read nonetheless, with a large enough story arc and an established base that can be stretched over a few books—which I hope Barrie does.

three-half-stars

You Send Me by Jeannie Moon

You Send Me by Jeannie MoonYou Send Me by Jeannie Moon
Series: Compass Cove, #2
Published by Tule Publishing on 29th May 2018
Pages: 224
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two-stars

Jordan Velsor didn’t want to need anyone. After dumping her cheating fiancé, caring for her sick dad, and nearly being crushed along with her car during a violent storm, she’s pretty much at her breaking point. If anyone needs some luck, it’s Jordan, but the last thing she wants is gorgeous Nick Rinaldi, her landlord’s grandson, hovering over her while she nurses a bad cold. The wounded Navy doctor seems too good to be true… which means he probably is.

Nick Rinaldi left the Navy broken and adrift, wondering if he would ever practice medicine again. When his grandparents’ tenant is almost killed by a falling tree during a storm, he discovers Jordan is not only in shock, but suffering from pneumonia. Not one to miss an opportunity to play white knight, Nick arrives at her cottage to take care of her during the storm… But the lovely teacher has a a fierce independent streak, and as he learns more about her, he wants to do more than merely help.

Can Jordan and Nick let go or their separate pasts and seize their future together?

‘You Send Me’ started out well enough with the kind of drama that sounded promising: a sick woman (who’s also warily heartbroken from a failed engagement), a doctor who goes above and beyond the call of duty and a snow storm that comes at the most convenient timing. Cue the tension and the hot and heavy sparks, right?

The problem was that I got bored when things began to crawl as I read on, made worse by the rather harebrained scheme of Nick—it felt so far-fetched and out of the realm of adult-behaviour, but then, it’s romancelandia here—that obviously snowballed into a situation that neither protagonist wanted nor expected. Add that to the number of nosy characters slipping in and out of the story (because it just seems to be a feature of small-town behaviour), it was just harder and harder to keep my interest up when Nick and Jordan went round and round the merry-go-round of ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ and going through the repetitive reasons of why they could or couldn’t.

While the level of angst was low with a clear number of small-ish obstacles to leap over, it wasn’t too hard to see Nick and Jordan get to where they were supposed to be, despite the overly-tortuous process which did fill like page-filler more than necessary. Admittedly though, I did end up skimming quite a bit before the halfway mark when Nick/Jordan went in circles instead of forward as my initial investment in them waned.

In all, ‘You Send Me’ feels like a simple, while-away-the-afternoon easy read without the startling dramatic, emotional highs and lows, but for something more than overall small-town sweetness and a faster-moving plot, it’s best to look elsewhere.

two-stars

Falling For Mr. Slater by Kendall Day

Falling For Mr. Slater by Kendall DayFalling for Mr. Slater by Kendall Day
Published by Howling Mad Press on 23rd May 2018
Pages: 305
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one-star

He was the worst teacher I ever had. I was the worst student he ever taught.

ROXIE RAMBLING

I can’t believe I’m standing on the steps of Bracken Middle School again.

Ten years ago, this place was my worst nightmare, no thanks to Jack “McSlutbag” Slater, the teacher who blocked my shot at a full basketball scholarship. But time heals many wounds, and I’m only a few months away from earning my undergrad in education, despite the hell Slater once put me through.

Now I’m the teacher. I’ll help kids rather than destroy them. If I can just get through this semester without too many fouls, I’ll be fine.

But it’s not fine. Because when I go to meet my new supervisor, McSlutbag’s sitting behind the desk, looking like a gorgeous, vengeful god ready to mete out punishment for slights—some real, most perceived—committed by the hellion I used to be.

Worse? The cold hatred I once felt for him has turned hot enough to set my drawers on fire.

I want him. In a bad way.

So long, dream internship. Hello, sexy nemesis.

McSlutbag’s about to meet his match. Again.

Scandal, teachers straining at their leashes and all the dirty things beneath the buttoned-up collars in middle school. Well then. Kendall Day’s ‘Falling For Mr. Slater’ sounded like one of those enemies-to-lovers romance that I’d love to have gotten my hands on. Written around a student-teacher type of relationship, I was well, sold by the attractive blurb, up until the opening lines of the story that made me want to toss it in immediately.

But apparently, to add spice to a teacher-student romance is to get a manwhore-teacher who goes around bagging women and brags about it during a summer screwfest pair up with his greatest nightmare of a student, all the while conveniently blaming his damaged mentality on commitment on said character. Really?

But I guessed the nickname ‘McSlutbag’ should have given me a clue to what a prick this male protagonist could be, because the teachers I know (and I’ve been there myself personally a long time ago in a galaxy far away) just don’t behave that way—they’re simply stressed about everything both in and out of the classroom.

Whatever free time they have is spent on a hurried vacation being stressed about other things and I’m sure teachers separate their scandalous private lives from their professional ones, though there’s seldom a clear line drawn because the latter often spills into the former.

And the talk about McSlutbag’s former student’s ‘gorgeous’ body in crude terms? I cringed and cringed (hits close to home as well, considering there was a case like this this I’ve seen that brought serious consequences). On the flip side, Roxie-moxie is the equivalent of McSlutbag, only a decade behind in terms of professional experience. Everything else, she’s done it and is only slightly none the wiser about this.

Written as a rom-com, ‘Falling For Mr. Slater’ did feel as though typical archetypes of romance protagonists were simply forced into the teacher and student roles and Jack Slater and Roxie Rambling do fit in those to a ’T’. The thought of a bad-girl student to rock Slater’s expectations and what they’ve apparently done to each other in the past kept me plodding on—for a chapter or two more before I simply stopped reading because I objected to pretty much everything.

At this point, it’s probably best to leave it at ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

one-star

Manic Monday by Piper Rayne

Manic Monday by Piper RayneManic Monday by Piper Rayne
Series: Charity Case #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 24th April 2018
Pages: 290
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two-stars

The perfect man for me is a charming, sexy, hot as hell lawyer who knows how to negotiate his way into my panties.

#Pfftwhatever

Been there.Done that.Burned the T-shirt.

I didn't swear off all men after my divorce, but I sure as hell swore off anyone remotely like my ex. On the top of that list? Attorneys. Everyone knows they can't be trusted.

Now that I've moved back into my childhood home in Chicago, my focus is my daughter, my mom and me. I haven't given up on finding my happily-ever-after, it's just on hold-indefinitely. Yup, life is in a real upswing.

Then I see Reed Warner again, and I'm reminded of all my mistakes. I push him away, but somehow he weasels his way into every part of my life, not willing to take no for an answer.

In spite of my better judgment I can't stop thinking about the way his designer suits fit his muscular frame, or the way his blue eyes seem to eat me up with every glance.

You know when you're on a diet and even hummus seems irresistible? Reed is like the equivalent of chocolate éclair and my willpower is fading fast.

The problem? Not only is he a lawyer…

He was the best man at my wedding.

‘Manic Monday’ is a book that’s been on my reader for a while but had unfairly been passed along for other reads, which I immediately sought to remedy the moment I had a free slot. The once-bitten-twice-shy thing runs practically in all romance books after all, the only difference being the extent to which this has shaped characters’ behaviour and subsequently, the entire course of the novel.

I can well understand a woman’s uncertainty in stepping back into the dating world with a particular man—a lawyer and the ex-best man whom she hasn’t seen in a long time—and her newfound determination to not sacrifice anything of hers (dreams, future and hopes) in the meantime. The problem was, it all felt after a while, like this was about Victoria’s needs, her wants, her insecurities and damn anyone else who suggests that relationships are about compromise and since she’d gone through this tough period of losing herself, the world now apparently owed her something.

Being badly burnt in the past isn’t a sure ticket to behaving badly or rudely, not least towards the person only peripherally associated with the nasty ex-husband of hers. I just felt that Victoria was given too much ‘authorial’ leeway, so to speak, to behave like a very prickly hedgehog as possible simply because her awful past supposedly entitled her to do so. More so when she kept pushing a perfectly nice guy away and unfairly expected Reed to make every leap for her while she stood and waited for him to jump over hurdle after hurdle in an effort to prove himself unlike her ex.

Which brings me to the idea of the ‘chase’ in romance—it’s a thrilling aspect of this genre, I’ll admit, though too rarely do I find couples fighting for each other nonetheless (and the book that actually has this tends to get my wholehearted attention). Often, it’s taken too far, when one party—mostly the male protagonist—does all the work while the other taps her foot and expects him to hit milestone after milestone while positioning herself as the ultimate prize to be won and just not doing her part of the compromise.

And that was how I found myself detesting Victoria’s own brand of selfishness, to the extent where Reed had to make the sacrifice of his career for her without her actively trying to fight for their relationship at all.

I loved Reed in contrast who was a good guy all around and adorably (and acceptably) imperfect—his confidence in his own identity, his stalwart determination in giving back to society as a mentor and his insinuations into every part of Victoria’s life—as a male protagonist who just wasn’t fazed by Victoria’s issues at all, but gladly jumped into this challenge from the beginning.

‘Manic Monday’ in short, was a bit of a mixed bag for me, mostly because I liked one protagonist way more than the other, the latter of which I felt didn’t exactly deserve the former. Piper Rayne’s set up of 3 friends and the books to come did look promising however, though it did get a little too emotionally dramatic for me in parts, and it has made me wonder how this series is going to progress.

two-stars