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Contemporary Romance

Too Close to Call by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 18th June 2017
Too Close to Call by Tessa BaileyToo Close to Call by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #3.5
Published by Evil Eye Concepts, Incorporated on June 13th 2017
Pages: 136
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four-stars

All-American wide receiver Kyler Tate’s life is about to change. A fairytale college career skyrocketed him to the NFL draft. Adoration and opportunity are thrown in his direction wherever he goes, thanks to being chosen in the first round by the Los Angeles Rage.

None of the accolades mean anything, though, without his high school sweetheart, Bree Sutton, by his side. Four years ago, she walked away from Kyler, choosing a quiet life over the flash and notoriety his career would someday bring.

Now he’s back in their Indiana hometown, refusing to leave for Los Angeles without her. Demanding she give their life together a shot. Her heart never stopped bleeding for the love of her life, but Bree’s decision was final. Too bad their wild attraction has only been amplified by their separation, and Kyler won’t quit until Bree is wearing his ring.

Kyler burst onto the scene in Brooks’s book and immediately I knew there was a story there that I wanted to read. ‘Too Close to Call’ is one that got me, not just because of the devotion of this soon-to-be football star, but his single-mindedness about wanting to get the love of his life back once and for all, despite Bree having ended it all 4 years ago.

With the tons of manwhores in college sports peppering the books these days in search of commitment-free hookups, Kyler stands out like some shining gem in the mud because he could never let Bree go. I did sort of wish that he’d tried to get on with it given the way she’d so callously broke things off with the intention of never seeing him again, just as I wished Bree had more gumption and chutzpah to fight for their relationship the way he did. That she’d stayed on the fence the whole time up until the end made me wonder about if she thought Kyler less important than her supposed duty to the family coupled with the flimsy excuse that she was only holding him back.

My only complaint really is how Tessa Bailey manages to make every hero of hers into an alpha, dirty-talking male though…to the point where they become indistinguishable in the way they burn up the sheets. Somehow the couple in question lose their distinct identities when they finally have sex (it inevitably ends up with a woman panting and begging and a man talking her ear off) only to regain these after the heights of orgasm are reached. Kyler/Bree in this case, could be Elliott/Peggy or even Ginger/Derek or anyone else and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, which is a far cry from the earnest, determined college student I first encountered in ‘Too Hard to Forget’.

Yet ‘Too Close to Call’ is short, rather satisfying read nonetheless, perhaps only because I thought Kyler deserved what he searched for all these years. At least it has the straightforward sort of clarity that I couldn’t quite get from this series from the very start, and that’s good enough for me.

four-stars

Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th June 2017
Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne BrockmannSome Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann
Series: Troubleshooters #17
Published by Ballantine Books on July 11th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Navy men don’t come tougher than Lieutenant Peter Greene. Every day he whips hotshot SEAL wannabes into elite fighters. So why can’t he handle one fifteen-year-old girl? His ex’s death left him a single dad overnight, and very unprepared. Though he can’t relate to an angsty teen, he can at least keep Maddie safe—until the day she disappears. Though Pete’s lacking in fatherly intuition, his instinct for detecting danger is razor sharp. Maddie’s in trouble. Now he needs the Troubleshooters team at his back, along with an unconventional ally.

Romance writer Shayla Whitman never expected to be drawn into a real-world thriller—or to meet a hero who makes her pulse pound. Action on the page is one thing. Actually living it is another story. Shay’s not as bold as her heroines, but she’s a mother. She sees the panic in her new neighbor’s usually fearless blue eyes—and knows there’s no greater terror for a parent than having a child at risk. It’s an ordeal Shay won’t let Pete face alone. She’s no highly trained operative, but she’s smart, resourceful, and knows what makes teenagers tick.

Still, working alongside Pete has its own perils—like letting the heat between them rise out of control. Intimate emotions could mean dangerous, even deadly, consequences for their mission. No matter what, they must be on top of their game, and playing for keeps . . . or else Pete’s daughter may be gone for good.

Where do I even begin with Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series? There’s so much diversity in the pairings, so much differing action (you never quite know what you’re going to get) with just so many things going on… to the extent where some of her books have had the power to bore me limp, while others have brought me to my knees with a swoon-worthy type fairytale ending.

With ’Some Kind of Hero’, I was left disappointing unmoved and a more than a tad bit incredulous. But what’s clear however, is that it isn’t quite a standalone.

The initial meeting between Peter Green and Shayla is an out-of-nowhere jump into a car on the street to search for a missing teenager. And during the search, Peter finds himself telling his life story to Shayla while the latter finds herself using her skills as a writer to figure out just what Peter’s teenager could have gotten herself into. Their (coincidental) joint-effort simply eschews Brockmann’s very slow burn between characters that spans books and the quickness with which Peter and Shayla jumped into bed took out any sense of anticipation that I’ve come to expect. Instant-love or lust aside, the shenanigans with the teenagers just felt like an elaborate plot to bring 2 very opposing characters—whose lives otherwise wouldn’t ever intersect—together and it was difficult to buy into this forced connection when it simply felt more like bad parenting going out of control over a teenager who might or might not have done unsavoury things.

In many ways, this story left me in a bind, which on a whole, pretty much describes my entire Brockmann reading experience. There were parts that I couldn’t stop turning the pages, just as there were parts that had me skimming, despite the some amusing meta-details of what is means to be a romance author, fictional voices in head and scatterbrained-moments notwithstanding. On the other hand, Brockmann’s heroes never quite do what you think they do and here, there’s hardly enough SEAl action involved that could make me think of Peter as a SEAL instructor or his friend Izzy as a fellow brother-in-arms when the way they speak or act just lacked that intensity and the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that have pretty much defined the RS ‘alpha’ hero.

Maybe it’s because I’ve not read the entire series that ‘Some Kind of Hero’ made little sense to me overall, but this read (judging from the books that made my favourites list at least) unfortunately fell short by a long way.

two-stars

Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ New Adult/ Reviews 16th June 2017
Dear Aaron by Mariana ZapataDear Aaron by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on June 10th 2017
Pages: 485
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three-stars

Ruby Santos knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she signed up to write a soldier overseas.The guidelines were simple: one letter or email a week for the length of his or her deployment. Care packages were optional.Been there, done that. She thought she knew what to expect.What she didn’t count on was falling in love with the guy.

Mariana Zapata’s penchant for the slowest of burns and intimidatingly long stories was what got me tentatively reaching for ‘Dear Aaron’, as the blurb promised to be exactly the kind of story I wanted to read in a long long time.

But it was a surprisingly easy read through it all, with the first half of the book spanning nearly a year and focusing solely on emails (that range from disgusting body functions to familial relationships) and text as Aaron’s and Ruby’s own communication take a turn for the intimate. Strangely enough, it was only when the first person POV came in later that my own reading slowed down, when the transition from letters to messaging to (sometimes neurotic) inner monologues caught me by surprise.

That said, Zapata’s characters do resonate with me, at least from what I’ve read of her books so far. Zapata’s amazing consistency of her characters, the unexpected bursts of humour, the wry and ironic perfection of the aw-shucks girl? It’s pat down. I loved Ruby and her self-deprecating humour straight out, down to the insecurities and the uncertainties that an average person can relate to.

Yet with Ruby providing the sole POV, her insights into the male protagonist through her own skewed observations are the only cues in a narrative given so subtly that it does leave the hero in question in danger of becoming a jaw-tightening, mute and jealous arse who doesn’t want to say what he thinks or feels. There isn’t much I can say of Aaron sadly, who remains somewhat a mystery despite what his letters seem to say and not say and is somewhat of a player by Ruby’s standards.

That said, this doesn’t really change the fact that ‘Dear Aaron’ of definitely one of the better, cuter and sweeter reads I’ve had in a while. I just couldn’t help the nagging feeling that it could have been sharper, possibly shorter and more hard-hitting where it really mattered.

three-stars

The Story of Us by Tara Sivec

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ New Adult/ Reviews 15th June 2017
The Story of Us by Tara SivecThe Story of Us by Tara Sivec
Published by Forever Yours on June 11th 2017
Pages: 336
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three-stars

How much can a man take before he breaks?

1,843 days. That's how long I survived in that hellhole. They tried to break me, but I resisted. And I owe it all to the memory of warm summer nights, the scent of peaches, and the one woman who loved me more than I ever deserved to be loved. Now, I'll do anything to get back to her.

Only Shelby Eubanks isn't the girl I left behind all those years ago. She's someone else, a stranger. My Shelby-my little green-eyed firecracker-would never give up her dreams, would never disappear into her mother's ambitions. But I won't give up on her. On us. I may be broken, and scarred, and not the man I used to be, but I will do whatever it takes to remind her of the story of us.

High (or melo)drama and a convoluted back story make this a soap-opera-worthy kind of read, complete with a flood of tears and tons of yelling, so much so that it’s easy to forget that adults are behaving that way—some of it’s even justified—or that teenage hormonal angst is doing all the talking instead.

‘The Story of Us’ is not just about a prisoner-of-war returning to find that things have changed drastically. It’s sort of a second-chance type romance, but with layers of deception and manipulation that made this read a mountain full of angst as both Eli and Shelby vacillated between heaving sobs and tearful promises never to let each other go again.

The long and short of it is, there are so many parts to their story and each part could have a whole book on its own. In fact, I think I would have liked to have read more of Eli/Shelby during their tumultuous stable boy and post-college years, rather than have it retold in bits and pieces or as flashbacks and letters which pretty much broke the narrative for me. I wanted to see the build-up, the breaking tension and the subsequent falling apart as a whole, but having it interwoven into the present made it more confusing as I spent the time instead, trying to put things together on my own instead of focusing on the emotion and the relationship between them. More so, the huge twist that was thrown in lost its full impact because of the disjointedness of the narrative. Mix this up with severe PTSD, a parent-plot type conspiracy and a series of coincidences and a villainous ex-fiancé (whose clout with the top brass could apparently affect deployments? really?) who seemingly disappeared down the line just when I thought it was going to come together, it all ended, way too abruptly before I could digest anything.

It’s an intense read nonetheless—my issues with it aside—though the sheer amount of tragedy and drama would be better suited to those who like the introspective type of storytelling, with loads of emotion that roll off the pages without letting up. And if you’re that kind who goes for these? Get your tissues ready.

three-stars

Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 14th June 2017
Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyStay by Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Series: WAGs, #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 259
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five-stars

Can you fall in love with someone you've never even met?
Hailey Taylor Emery has a hunch that her favorite client at Fetch--an anonymous virtual assistant service--is actually hockey star Matt Eriksson.
Although it's against the rules for her to check his file, she's 95% sure she spends at least part of each day texting with her lifelong crush and catering to his every need. Still nursing a wounded heart thanks to her recent breakup, Hailey is perfectly content with some harmless online flirting...until she has to meet her client. Face to face. Cue: utter panic.
Matt Eriksson is no stranger to heartbreak. He's still not over the destruction of his marriage, and it sucks to be the only guy on the team who knows the truth--that hockey and long-term relationships are a toxic mix. He barely sees his kids, and dealing with his ex makes him feel insane. The only person in his life who seems to understand is someone who won't show her pretty face.
But it's nothing that a pair of fourth row hockey seats can't fix. Hailey can't resist the offer. Matt can't resist Hailey. Good thing he doesn't have to. Fire up the kiss cam!
Warning: Contains rabid hockey fans, misunderstood dick pics, hockey players at the opera and exploding ovaries.

I hadn’t realised that revisiting the team and seeing how far all of them have come since Wes and Jamie got off their rocky beginnings actually made me somewhat wistfully nostalgic enough to want to re-read the entire series.

If I haven’t yet mentioned how much I loved the ‘Him’ and ‘WAGs’ series, then well, mea culpa. ‘Stay’ couldn’t make me love this particular group of people more.

Matt Eriksson is the older guy in the Toronto hockey team and with a divorce just behind him and retirement a few years down the road, still struggles with handling his twin daughters, a nasty ex-wife and a virtual personal assistant who somehow, knows what he needs. Little does he know that a call to walk the dog would lead to premier tickets for a hockey match and that the online relationship he’s always had with the person handling tiny details in his life would turn out into something much more than he can ever expect.

Yet he is still the all-round good guy who’s easy to love, juggling life post-divorce with a gruelling schedule and kids who are not often around enough. For Matt at least, the divorce is a big failure that has him second guessing himself and his ability to be a good husband and parent while being a professional athlete. It has also made him cynical and jaded and a little gun-shy about sharing that same kind of lifestyle with another woman whom he thinks would come to resent him for it.

There’s a ring of maturity and a kind of stuttering rhythm that mirrors real life going through Matt’s and Hailey’s story, which is probably the story’s strongest selling point. Too often, the protagonists go off wild benders (hookups, as it typically goes) in the wake of a bad breakup and turn a hundred-eighty into commitment-phobes because they can’t apparently, trust another member of the opposite sex as they’re now painted with the same broad brushstrokes that their ex-es are coloured with. In ‘Stay’, we get instead quiet doubts about failure, self-confidence and the fear of putting oneself out there once again that gives the story depth and heart. I loved above all, that Matt and Hailey aren’t characters who simply react to the heartache of divorce by sleeping around then pushing each other away but instead, struggle with their inadequacies in different ways that I can believe and respect.

Yet it’s also swoony, steamy and in parts, funny and deeply romantic. What more do I need?

five-stars

Burning Love by Trish Morey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 12th June 2017
Burning Love by Trish MoreyBurning Love by Trish Morey
Series: Hot Aussie Knights #4
Published by Tule Publishing on June 12th 2017
Pages: 96
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two-stars

Caleb Knight’s ex accused him of being married to his firefighter job, and maybe she was right. He’s given up looking for happy ever after and finds what he needs between Ava’s scorching sheets. But lately, he’s wondering whether this thing with Ava might become more permanent…

Artist Ava Mattiske's ability to trust was shattered long ago. Her steamy fling with Caleb is perfect until he starts talking long-term. She puts on the brakes, but when a bushfire threatens her studio and Caleb is on the scene, Ava realizes that there is one man she can count on... But will it be too late?

Caleb Knight turned up in his twin brother’s book and it got me curious about how evasive he’d been with Dylan. But when Caleb finally burst onto the page, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed and maybe that was because I just couldn’t feel any particular investment in a couple that was simply making the difficult transition from temporary to permanent with several speed bumps along the way.

‘Burning Love’ is unusual in that it takes place a year into Caleb’s and Ava’s casual arrangement with the story picking up from there, alternating between their hookup sessions, Ava’s art and Caleb’s job, though it’s a cycle that rinses and repeats until something gives. As a whore to her parents’ business to the time she has reinvented herself, Ava nonetheless lets her past dictate her future because of the scars that has left on her, convinced that she wants nothing to do with anything remotely resembling affection or love. Somehow Caleb gets beneath her skin and their agreement to just burn up the sheets in bed for the past year on a casual basis is something she uses against him when he finally wants more.

Apart from some parts that had the camaraderie of the guys on show, it was personally hard for me to get into a relationship that felt lopsided and unequal, made up of pull-push dynamic from start to end as Caleb finally grows past the casual hookup stage with Ava and pushes for more, just as Ava pushes him away in denial that gets rote after a while. The later part of their relationship is one made up of more of the same, except that Caleb spends most of his time trying to reaffirm Ava and rebuilding the shattered confidence that she’d lost in her youth. He’s a top bloke undoubtedly, but for most of the story, it felt like he was the one doing all the work while waiting for Ava to come to her senses—which she did only frustratingly, after a life-threatening event. His hard work pays off, though that much made me think of him playing the role of caretaker/therapist/lover all in one for a needy woman who hides a brittle interior.

I’d hoped that the wrap-up to this interesting series could have been better for me; sadly I never could quite get into this pairing as much as I could the rest.

two-stars

Exploited by A. Meredith Walters

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th June 2017
Exploited by A. Meredith WaltersExploited by A. Meredith Walters
Series: Zero Day, #1
Published by Loveswept on July 25th 2017
Pages: 288
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four-stars

At first glance, I’m nothing out of the ordinary. I am a daughter. A sister. A friend. When you look at me you won’t see anything that warrants suspicion. I don’t look like a criminal.
My name is Hannah Whalen, but most people know me as freed0mov3rdr1v3, or “Freedom Overdrive”—one of the world’s most prolific and notorious hacktivists. My goal—my purpose—is to shed light on the evil that lurks behind the corporate and government lies we have been force-fed for too long.
My story begins with the best possible intention. Devoting my life to exposing the corrupt. The dishonest. The unethical. For that, they label me a cyber-terrorist. Wanted by the FBI, I’ve always been one step ahead.
Until I fell in love.
Because I’m sleeping with the man who’s hunting me. And he has no idea that I am his prey. Now I have to decide what’s more important: my freedom or my heart.

The romance ‘verse of hacking is a relatively unexplored one and diving into ‘Exploited’ was an absolute treat as I’ve always wanted a story that really dug into black hats, the mentality under which they operate and the scrutiny they face.

That said, I do like A. Meredith Walters’s take on vigilante justice and the shadowy line that hackers often cross. Unlike the books that delve into them, ‘Exploited’

is a raw, honest take about the power trips that hackers take they dodge the law and the huge amount of pandering to ego that we see, as much as for Hannah as it is for Mason. But ultimately, put a law enforcement officer on the tail of the hacker (and vice versa) and Walters has a cat-and-mouse game going that you already know can’t end terribly well.

The thing about ‘Expoited’ is that there’s this bleak, eerie melancholy that I can’t seem to shake off somehow. The first-person narrative here isn’t one that only brings you closer and into the characters’ heads; it suffocates you just as Mason and Hannah live their suffocating lives, twisted and burdened by tragedy and circumstances not of their own making. Anger and the burning need for revenge has driven Hannah to her double life as a hacker who doles our her own brand of criminal justice by being one herself; Mason’s own dysfunctional family has brought him down a road where he’s hemmed in both at home and in the office.

In an odd way, I found myself wholly invested in the intrigue and the characters by extension, though Mason and Hannah were a pairing that I could neither get into nor like. Mason and Hannah weren’t protagonists I could root for—the callous way they treated others around them for one—and the games they played felt more like they belonged in an erotic thriller like ‘Basic Instinct’ that has deceit underscoring the action both at work and in the bedroom. I couldn’t quite get Hannah’s connection with Mason, at least because the depth of her manipulation makes her a difficult protagonist to like, but I found myself fascinated with how she was going to twist her way out of her whole setup thanks to her mysterious hacking partner, whose motivations are equally suspect. Mason’s dalliance with a work colleague and that constant comparison to Hannah (his ability to jump between women so quickly) grated on me and that gullibility that he had with Hannah was sort of laughable.

In short, this felt more of a parody of a romance than a proper one, yet that was in itself, a fascinating layer to the suspense that kept the pages turning for me. I found that I could objectively look at two people on the opposite sides of the law playing each other and not quite have an affinity for one or the other while enjoying the tightening of the noose on Hannah’s neck. The pace-perfect cliffhanger ending is predictable though unsatisfactory and more than anything, I want to see how a HEA is even possible in the sequel to this book.

four-stars
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