Author: Jen McLaughlin

The Backup Plan by Jen McLaughlin

The Backup Plan by Jen McLaughlinThe Backup Plan by Jen McLaughlin
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on March 19th 2018
Pages: 254
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I’m beyond help...

I threw a football before I could walk. Everything in my life revolved around football–and I loved every second. I was a star. Until, suddenly...I wasn’t. Now everyone thinks I’m the monster who killed his best friend. I’m an outcast on campus, silent and alone. Then Taylor Selmer walks back into my life. When will she learn–I’m beyond saving.

I need to save him...

Chase and I used to be friends. But after the accident, nothing was the same. We used to have something special–until we didn’t. But he doesn’t smile anymore. Doesn’t talk. Doesn’t play. It hurts me to see him this way, and I will do everything I can to get him back in the game. Whether he likes it or not.

Jen McLaughlin’s ‘The Backup Plan’ isn’t quite what I’m used to each time I dive into a book of hers. This one’s a New Adult read with specific collegiate issues of future plans, identity-crises, leftover teenage angst and overflowing hormones that I admittedly struggle to get into as the years roll on. It means as well, that my own expectations require a bit of adjustment.

Still, I thought it started off quite well, as Mclaughlin pits Taylor’s sass and never-say-die attitude against the piss-poor one of Chase in a rather odd arrangement by Chases father. The rough start is expected, but delicious in a way doubles the tension and the release of it later.

I thought the pacing seemed a little awkward in parts nonetheless; the sudden change in personality that Chase seemed to display at the quarter-mark of the story—it felt almost like a personality-transplant—when he turned from jerk to sweet boyfriend for one, along with the quickness with which Taylor fell for Chase’s own funny and sometimes unpleasant brand of unpredictability.

Mix in a conniving ex-girlfriend (ugh) and a manipulative father and things really go awry to the point where you wonder if the irony is such that only Taylor and Chase can’t see that they’re the ones being played. In the end, the small fires do add up to create a conflict I could see happening from a mile away, and the resolution is one that you always hoped they would have taken before it all blew up in their faces anyway.

However, ‘The Backup Plan’ does sit squarely in the category of college drama, complete with a dose of typical high-school ‘politics’ with a hazy but hopeful HFN. Still, there’s nothing really unexpected here that threw me off and sometimes, there’s actual relief in predictability.


Dare to Lie by Jen McLaughlin

Dare to Lie by Jen McLaughlinDare to Lie by Jen McLaughlin
Series: The Sons of Steel Row, #3
Published by Berkley on February 7th 2017
Pages: 336
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As an undercover DEA agent in the most powerful gang in Boston, Scott Donahue accepts the risks of living a double life. But when Tate Donovan, leader of the Sons of Steel Row, assigns Scotty to take his place in a bachelor’s auction sponsored by his sister’s sorority, he’s exposed to a whole new level of danger. Even though Tate makes it very clear—Skylar is off limits—the second Scotty sees her, he’s a goner. But how does he tell Sky she’s falling for a man who doesn’t exist?
Sky can’t resist Scotty’s cool confidence or the raw, edgy power oozing from his perfect body. She’s always been the good girl, but he brings out the bad in her. And even though she knows so little about who he really is, Sky’s willing to take the biggest risk of all. But putting her heart on the line is no guarantee that Scotty won’t slip through her fingers...

Skylar Daniels has been the head honcho’s secret, a precious sister who has been hidden in the shadows because of her connections to the Sons of Steel Row, only emerging when her brother tasks Scott Donahue to attend a bachelor auction in his place. Skylar’s winning bid on Scotty however, throws the status-quo into question, as her presence suddenly ups the stakes for the DEA undercover agent—who, apparently until Skylar, had been whoring around—and for those associated with him.

‘Dare to Lie’ is as enthralling as it is riveting, laying out the dangerous action and the brutal gang wars like an oncoming train wreck that I couldn’t look away from. Too often, I wondered how things could end in anyway resembling picture-perfect when Jen McLaughlin’s gritty characters show no mercy as they try to juggle the needs of their families and their loyalties and with several wild-west-style shootouts, tussle always for territory in a battleground that even Scotty can’t hope to save, not when his life is fabricated out of lies upon lies and deals that aren’t watertight. Above all however, I loved Skylar Daniels from the start, much more than Scott not least because she gave so much meaning to ‘virgin who takes no crap’ and pretty much set the blueprint for how I’d love my heroines to behave. That she refused to give in to both her brother and to Scott’s machinations was admirable, even though I wished they’d both done better by her after stringing her along and doling out the hurt only hardened men know how to do.

There are twists and turns as the story nears its inevitable (bloody) end and finally, I got to see the cold as ice leader Tate Donovan behave in a way that made me long for his own story.

Consider me hooked.


Dare to Stay by Jen McLaughlin

Dare to Stay by Jen McLaughlinDare to Stay by Jen McLaughlin
Series: The Sons of Steel Row, #2
Published by Signet on August 2nd 2016
Pages: 336
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Bruised and bloodied on Boston’s mean streets, Chris O’Brien is reeling from the loss of his childhood best friend. But after barely escaping a hit placed on his head, Chris is desperate to live. A safe haven comes to mind—the home of the perfect girl from his childhood, Molly Lachlan. Before he has fully considered what it would mean to involve her in his mess, he finds himself on her doorstep.

When Molly agrees to let Chris inside her home, she realizes she’s also letting him into her life. Danger and desperation are coming off of him like steam, and yet she can’t bring herself to turn him away. His bad boy charm always had a hold on her, but now there’s a soulfulness and sorrow in him that she’s never seen before. And despite the heart-stopping risk of helping him, she hopes against all reason that he’ll stay...

The anti-hero, lost and despairing, in search of redemption, with all his existential, fatalistic trappings – has long intrigued me, even if they’re best kept examined with some kind of distance. To see them popping up from time to time in this genre (although they do seem more common now) is always a reminder that men who dwell in all shades of grey can be written as a shining example of a credible male lead – while getting all he doesn’t quite deserve by the very end of the story.

Chris O’Brien is that man who’s convinced he doesn’t deserve anything beyond guns, alcohol, brotherhood and meaningless sex because, well, as a product of this very squalid and hostile environment, he simply doesn’t know better. Perhaps it’s only fitting that woman he has known for years and admired from afar is the complete, diametric opposite of this world, even if her angelic qualities might really have been exaggerated in his perspective. Hence, that constant self-recrimination of never being good enough plays out constantly in his mind, ad nauseum, because Molly Lachlan, if anything, is frustratingly naive and only determined to see the ‘good’ side of him without really wanting to know what he really does on the streets.

I hadn’t read the first book and delving into this one is in a way more rewarding than going at it straight from the very beginning. There’s a back story that I had no problem catching up on, and a meaty game of double-crossing and whistle-blowing that leaves Chris, Molly and Scotty mere heartbeats away from danger. A gang war is in full swing and players aren’t quite who they seem and that perhaps, was the key element in ‘Dare to Stay’ that kept me hooked and the pages turning, rather than the on-off, yes/no game that Chris and Molly inadvertently kept playing throughout the book because of their indecision about each other.

The happy-for-now ending however, is also what I strangely appreciate, when it’s clear that the next book will build on what has already been established here. The violence doesn’t miraculously cease because a couple finally gets their act together and the story after all, isn’t quite over until the streets are cleaned up. Surprisingly, I find myself wanting more – more of Scotty’s story, even Tate, perhaps – too quickly, too much, only to wonder if I’ll end up disappointed when it finally comes.