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When It’s Real by Erin Watt

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 3rd June 2017
When It’s Real by Erin WattWhen It's Real by Erin Watt
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 30th 2017
Pages: 416
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Meet Oakley Ford-teen celebrity, renowned pop star, child of famous movie stars, hottie with millions of fangirls… and restless troublemaker. On the surface he has it all, but with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry, and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley's team decides it's time for an intervention. The result: an image overhaul, complete with a fake girlfriend meant to show the world he's settled down.
Enter seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett-devoted sister, part-time waitress, the definition of "normal." Under ordinary circumstances she'd never have taken this gig, but with her family strapped for cash, she doesn't have much of a choice. And for the money Oakley's team is paying her, she figures she can put up with outlandish Hollywood parties and a team of publicists watching her every move. So what if she thinks Oakley's a shallow, self-centered jerk? It's not like they're going to fall for each other in real life…right?

‘When it’s Real’ is an undoubtedly fun read and an absolute guilty pleasure…and I was entertained throughout, which is more than I can say for many books these days. But re-tune your inner voices for teenage drama and high-school antics because it’s a NA/YA book with teenage characters who well, behave in a way you completely expect them to.

I read this in one sitting because I did like the voices of both Vaughan and Oakley and it was interesting to see how Oakley became more and more likeable while the initially-grounded Vaughan became a little stupid in the middle.

There are also, so many echoes of the cynical world of showbiz written into this and I couldn’t help but grin wryly at the not-quite-blatant references to the type of tabloid headlines and social media feeds that construct a world that as fake or as real as you want it to be. The oblique pokes at how certain music celebrities (and their fans) behave these days is as obvious as daylight too, which thoroughly delighted me as I saw these parodied so well here.

‘When it’s real’ ends with the same euphoric high of the ending notes of the concert, which is mostly HFN bliss for the newly-minted couple in question, but in the fickle world of celebrity-happiness and coupledom, it’s probably for the best.


Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid Paulson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 24th March 2017
Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid PaulsonWhy I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid Paulson
Published by Entangled: Teen on June 6th 2017
Pages: 287
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Per her 537 rules, Harper Campbell keeps her life tidy—academically and socially. But the moment Sterling Lane transfers into her tiny boarding school, her twin brother gets swept up in Sterling’s pranks and schemes and nearly gets expelled. Harper knows it’s Sterling’s fault, and to protect her brother, she vows to take him down. As she exposes his endless school violations, he keeps striking back, framing her for his own infractions. Worst of all, he’s charmed the administration into thinking he’s harmless, and only Harper sees him for the troublemaker he absolutely is.
As she breaks rule after precious rule in her battle of wits against Sterling and tension between them hits a boiling point, she’s horrified to discover that perhaps the two of them aren’t so different. And maybe she doesn't entirely hate him after all. Teaming up with Sterling to save her brother might be the only way to keep from breaking the most important rule—protecting Cole.

This is one of the oddest, most entertaining and weird books I’ve read in a long, long while. There’s the stilted speech of English boarding schools (the kids sound like uptight lawyers-in-training with sticks up their arses) and good ol’ teenage pranks wrapped up in the scheming of Cruel Intentions, the cold malice of mafia movies and the calculative manoeuvrings of some spy shows.

But you know what they say about hate being the other side of the coin of love. At least I think it is, because I couldn’t quite be sure by the time I finished the book when denial and doublespeak hadn’t quite let down yet. Written wholly in Harper’s POV, I couldn’t decide where she was the judgemental, self-righteous, rule-following shrew or whether Sterling was truly the devil’s spawn wrapped up in sheep clothing. And without Sterling’s POV, he never quite appeared more than a shady character whose personality way surpassed his rich-kid stereotype who sort of decided that he could be more serious about his future post-boarding school.

The book really begins with a ‘mortal enemies’ type of situation, where rule-follower (and breaker) Harper is determined to take down the rich, spoiled lazy kid whose schemes actually match hers for deviousness. Attraction only creeps in way, way later and their ‘relationship’ is barely formed when the book finally ends. I had a few good laughs though (the pranks *were* hilarious), despite my bewilderment at the tone, the setup and the characterisation and perhaps, the story’s prominence simply lies in how much it differs from the typical NA/YA books that have sailed by as ships passing in the night.


The Heartbeat Hypothesis by Lindsey Frydman

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 9th March 2017
The Heartbeat Hypothesis by Lindsey FrydmanThe Heartbeat Hypothesis by Lindsey Frydman
Published by Entangled Publishing on March 20th 2017
Pages: 221
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Audra Madison simply wanted to walk in the shoes of Emily Cavanaugh, a free-spirited teenager who died too young. After all, Audra wasn’t supposed to be here.
Thanks to Emily, Audra has a second chance at life. She’s doing all the things that seemed impossible just two years ago: Go to college. Date. Stargaze in the Rocky Mountains. Maybe get a tattoo. You know, live.
Jake Cavanaugh, a photographer with mysterious, brooding gray eyes, agrees to help chronicle her newfound experiences. She makes him laugh, one of the only people who can these days. As they delve into each other’s pasts – and secrets – the closer they become.
But she’s guarded and feels like she can’t trust anyone, including herself. And he’s struggling with the fact that his beloved sister’s heart beats inside her.

Reading ‘The Heartbeat Hypothesis’ is like hearing a new voice that speaks out for teenage angst that’s fully captured in its powerful, moody glory. But the subjects that Lindsey Frydman deals with here are difficult, heavy and weighed down with the solemnity of death, life and deception.

Here, high school melodrama is eschewed in favour of melancholic episodes, wistful photographing of lonely landscapes and soulful conversations as teenagers live through and attempt to define how cosmic justice (if I could ever find a better term) has played a role in their lives. It’s more than a search for identity now; their questions turn into a search for the reasons for living (deep, angsty stuff) as the beginning chapters made me hold my breath in anticipation of how things would develop between a girl who has been given a new lease of life with the heart of a dead girl and her brother who clearly hadn’t yet sorted out his grief.

Both Jake and Audra are damaged in their own ways and while I liked them to begin with, I think I couldn’t understand the tangent the story took towards the end. I couldn’t understand, least of all, why Audra suddenly poked her nose into Jake’s business when she had no right to, leaving us with a so-called mystery that would never be solved. In fact, by the time I was through the last quarter, nothing seemed to fall into place except that after a string of tragedies, Jake and Audra kind of thought they could still belong to each other. Frydman’s nuanced writing draws out Audra’s emotions perfectly, yet only her motivations and sense of purpose are made clear. On the other hand, Jake himself and his family remained as frustratingly obscure as ever, without any light shed on the events a few years earlier that I’d frankly expected.

Consequently, if I was overwhelmed in the beginning, I finished the story more bewildered than satisfied, wondering if there was some chunk of the book that I’d actually missed.


Operation Prom Date by Cindi Madsen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Young Adult 25th January 2017
Operation Prom Date by Cindi MadsenOperation Prom Date by Cindi Madsen
Series: Tactics in Dating #1
Published by Entangled: Crush on March 13th 2017
Pages: 190
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Kate ships tons of fictional couples, but IRL her OTP is her and Mick, the hot quarterback she’s crushed on since, like, forever. With only one semester left of senior year, it’s now or never if she wants to land him in time for prom. Since she’s flirtationally challenged, she enlists Cooper Callihan, the guy who turned popular seemingly overnight but who used to be a good friend.

Cooper lives and breathes rowing, but his partner just broke his wrist. When he remembers Kate’s good with a set of oars, he strikes a deal: help him train, and he’ll make sure her crush notices her. Only he didn’t know how addicting spending time with her would be. Or how the more successful the Operation is, the more jealousy he experiences.

The mission has been set. The troops have their marching orders. But what if the target is the wrong guy all along?

If you ever need a good ol’ teenage movie with that particular kind of drama and a particular kind of angst that assail teens finding their footing in college and adulthood, I’d say ‘Operation Prom Date’ is the best fix for it.

There’s nothing unpredictable about the story but there are also no surprises that threw me off and left me clinging on a cliff’s edge. The friends-to-more trope is tackled here and there really isn’t a waiting time where one party is suddenly hit in the head about how attractive the other person is. Instead, I was struck by how natural Cooper and Kate were as they went from barely knowing each other to liking each other…and how attraction simply came because they talked and did things together, which is more than what I can even say for some of the more ‘adult’ books I’ve read where mature characters regressed in age.

The honest truth is, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. With characters that behaved their age and some storm-in-a-teacup moments, stories like these have that propensity to make me look back with those rose-tinted glasses I thought I’d misplaced long ago.


Pushing the Boundaries by Stacey Trombley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 1st December 2016
Pushing the Boundaries by Stacey TrombleyPushing the Boundaries by Stacey Trombley
Series: , #1
Published by Entangled: Crush, Entangled: Teen on January 16th 2016
Pages: 169
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Myra goes to Haiti with one goal: take the photograph that will win a scholarship and prove to her uber-traditional family that she has what it takes to be a photographer instead of a doctor. Her camera has always been her shield against getting too close to anyone, but she didn’t expect the hot teen translator who has an ability to see past her walls.

Elias needs his job as a translator to provide for his siblings. He can’t afford to break the rule forbidding him from socializing with a client. Except this girl Myra insists on going outside the city to capture the perfect picture, and he steps in as her guide in order to keep her safe.

The deeper they travel into the country, the harder they fall for each other. Now they’re both taking risks that could cost each other their dreams.

If they get too close—it could ruin both their lives.

A trip to Haiti is just what Myra needs to prove her worth in something else other than being a doctor, but what she doesn’t count on is the Haitian translator who pushes her beyond what she is comfortable with.

Much of the story reads like a positive reinforcement of—or an argument for—cross-cultural exchange and cross-ethnic pairings, as the differences between Elias and Myra are emphasised and celebrated. But there’s also the acknowledgement that with it comes familial disapproval and the ramifications of starting a relationship that can’t possibly have a happy end. Combined with the teenage angst and the rebellion that comes with parent-teenager conflicts, I found myself ready to give up when Myra’s reticence in letting people in crossed the line into ignorance, selfishness and stupidity as the story wore on.

Unfortunately, it’s simply not a story that resonates with me at all despite Stacey Trombley’s very positive attempt at portraying the difficulties in a relationship that defies stereotypes and gender expectations. While I did like the heart-wrenching descriptions of Elias’s family situation and the conditions that the Haitian people face, the happy-for-now ending seemed somewhat implausible, even as it cutely marked the start of something hopeful.


Words I Couldn’t Say by Tessa Teevan

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 28th November 2016
Words I Couldn’t Say by Tessa TeevanWords I Couldn't Say by Tessa Teevan
Series: Promise in Prose #1
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on November 2nd 2016
Pages: 215
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You know the old adage "if you love something, set it free?" It's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. The dumbest thing I've ever done. I loved her. I lost her. Hell, I let her go. And then spent five miserable years without her. To cope with the loss, I put pen to paper and wrote her a love story, knowing when she was ready she'd hear the words I couldn't say all those years ago. Turned out, not only would she hear them, but when Hollywood came calling, I made sure she got the lead role. After all, no one else could portray the character whom she'd inspired. Now she's within arms' reach and finally, she'll know the truth in my heart. Because that other cliche, "Actions speak louder than words?" I'm going to prove it. My words may have brought Ava Banks back into my life; I have to be enough to make her stay."

There’s something sweet about the boy (or the girl) next door type stories, but now with a bit more than the teenage angst thrown in. Gun-shy now, Tucker Manning’s hesitation when wanting to move forward with Ava Banks is understandable as he keeps his eyes on the present. Afraid to plan for a future, it’s up to Ava to convince him that she is worthy of her trust after an incident five years ago derailed their plans to have the romance that’s just like Jeremy’s and Sierra’s.

So the Banks family returns in all its glory and I’d never been happier.

It did take a while for me to start this story because it’s a preference of mine to keep brilliant pairings frozen in time so that they’ll be remembered for their perfection, and I’m glad I succumbed. As odd as it is to read about a fantastic pairing all grown up with children who are now falling in love, I loved the little inserts of Sierra’s and Jeremy’s ever-lasting affection for each other as seen from their children’s eyes; they’re just as hilarious now as they had been even after they’ve settled into married bliss and raising their children while still starry-eyed in love.

Yet my love-hate relationship with second chances rears its ugly head again when my trigger response is to root for the wronged party. As much as I liked Ava admitting the stupid blunder she’d made by giving Tucker up, I detested the platitudes that came after that regret was expressed—that time apart was perhaps a necessity—because it felt as tough excuses were simply made for a mistake that should be fully owned up to. But hard, cynical and jaded as I am, I actually felt that Tucker was too easy on Ava, a girl who’d essentially walked away and stayed away without the least bit of empathy for the dire family situation he’d found himself in. That he seemed to find himself in a position where he needed to hunt her down made me feel as though he deserved better, but it was gratifying to learn that Ava—despite several TSTL moments—did seem genuinely determined not to let Tucker go again.

There is much to like about Ava/Tucker nevertheless—their devotion to each other mirrors Jeremy’s and Sierra’s stalwart relationship—but don’t quite hold a candle to the latter still. But as I’ve written in several reviews: it’s probably just me.


In the Eye of the Storm by Robert Thier

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Historical Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 26th November 2016
In the Eye of the Storm by Robert ThierIn the Eye of the Storm by Robert Thier
Series: Storm and Silence #2
Published by Robert Thier on June 6th 2016
Pages: 252
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Egypt... land of romance, mystery, and exploding camels. Lilly Linton thought she'd be ready for anything after one month of working for her boss - cold, calculating businessman Rikkard Ambrose. But when they embark on a perilous hunt through the desert, she has to face dangers beyond anything she has encountered before: deadly storms, marauding bandits, and worst of all, a wedding ring!
Can the desert's heat truly be enough to melt the cold heart of Britain's richest financier?
With additional chapters from the perspective of Mr Rikkard Ambrose.

A grand adventure in Egypt, complete with bandits, a mysterious search for an enemy who seems to have a huge underworld of connections in his hand and an epic sandstorm bring Lilly and Ambrose ever closer. As always, Robert Thier’s special brand of humour is the storytelling’s prominent feature and never more so does ‘In the Eye of the Storm’ feel like a filmic narrative that’s like ‘The Mummy’ minus the paranormal bits. Instead, those are replaced by epic rides through the desert, endless kisses (though this are apparently done in under pretence and out of necessity) and several ridiculous, laugh-out-loud scenes that definitely require the suspension of disbelief.

I’ve come to think of Lilly/Ambrose as an ongoing TV ‘ship’ because it defies conventional romance pairing development at every turn, seeing as there seems to be no ending yet when it comes to the very interesting – but exhausting and frustrating – love-hate relationship that has developed between them. Where the sniping and insults do amusingly provide a convenient cover (and source of humour) for how they feel about each other, the tug of attraction between this pair is never quite admitted to, with both Lilly and Ambrose still very deep in denial as they attempt to rationalise away their smitten behaviour through increasingly hysterical mental reminders that they will never be attracted to someone they apparently despise.

The return to status-quo at the end of the book disappointed me however, with a resolution that went nowhere, especially with the ridiculous notion that Lilly would have been escorted back to England by a soldier who never questioned her inopportune appearances in Egypt and the lies he must have known she was telling. That Lilly and Ambrose returned to work in the ending chapter as though nothing had taken place left me equally dissatisfied with an ending worthy only of drama serials: to be continued.

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