Author: Lauren Layne

Hot Asset by Lauren Layne

Hot Asset by Lauren LayneHot Asset by Lauren Layne
Published by Montlake Romance on May 22nd 2018
Pages: 270
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Ian Bradley is the definition of a Wall Street hotshot: seven-figure salary, designer suits, and a corner office. His drive off the floor is just as potent. Every woman who knows him has felt the rush. But now he’s met his match in Lara McKenzie—a woman with the power to bring Ian to his knees.

An ambitious, whip-smart daughter of FBI agents, Lara is a rising star in fighting white-collar crime. Her latest case—the investigation of Ian Bradley for insider trading—could make her career. She knows a scoundrel when she sees one. Ian fits the bill: a cocky, ridiculously handsome bad boy with a slick swagger.

She’ll do anything to prove he’s guilty. He’ll do anything to prove he’s not. But it’s only a matter of time before their fierce battle of wits gets oh so hot and personal. Now, taking down Ian has become more than business for Lara. It’s become a pleasure—and there’s more at risk than she ever dreamed.

Schmooze, you lose. ‘Hot Asset’ has all of the trademark Lauren Layne hallmarks in it: the sharp banter (though there’s an edge here as it starts out hostile), the reformed manwhore by the end of the story and a brewing conflict that one can see coming miles away. Layne’s character voices are distinct, along with a solid introduction to secondary characters who will get their own books, as Ian/Lara’s own tale moves along at a brisk but steady pace, making ‘Hot Asset’ an easy afternoon read.
Written in the alternating first person POV, ‘Hot Asset’ starts off ominously nonetheless—not in the horror story sort—but with a cocky and smarmy male voice who lauds his work achievements (as well as the women he always manages to snag and never for a second-time around because he casually attributes it to ‘faulty wiring’). Whatever Lauren Layne means to achieve with these few starting paragraphs, I wasn’t sure if Ian Bradley tanking to the depths in my esteem is it because he starts off as a protagonist I love to hate.
And ‘Hot Asset’ fails in this particular bit for me, because Ian is the furthest from what I can actually imagine as a romantic hero worthy of a HEA with a woman who frankly, deserves a lot better. Maybe Layne has characterised Brady all too well such that he fits the manwhore financial guru to a ’T’, to the extent where everything he says and does not only becomes predictable, but also eye-rollingly repulsive.
Lara’s steely-eyed determination and perception in contrast, unfazed as she is when faced with these men who think the world of their own invincibility, is no small pleasure I take as she and Ian clash. Still, it’s hard to recover from the respect Ian’s lost in my eyes as he talks about women as commodities or as a sum of her body parts. ‘Leftovers’ for instance, is a word I detest, because it shows the dismissive regards he has for his hookups. That he eyes every woman in terms of her looks (hot or not) and the potential of a hookup made him distasteful, or that he also uses Lara’s attraction to him as a weapon or rather, as an attack on her lack of personal life, undercuts every preconception of what a romantic hero should be when I first started ‘Hot Asset’.
I hated that Ian doesn’t stay the professional path in getting his name cleared, but uses his womanising/flirting skills to get her to prove his innocence and is hurt when it doesn’t really work. Re-thinking his meaningless work-hard, play-hard life because he’s terrified that jail will take it all away from him…surely there’s more depths to plumb in the shallows of Ian Bradley? I never quite got the idea that Lara stands out for Ian other than being someone who is off-limits to him, and that’s the only difference it makes among the sea of good-looking women he’s slept with.
I think the risk of writing such egomaniac womanisers—Layne’s constant emphasis on this truly doesn’t help the case—who finally fall for one woman, is that believability thereafter becomes the issue, where the uphill task thus falls on the author to get a reader to believe that a man like Ian can finally commit and hasn’t till now only because he hasn’t wanted to try enough. Trying to get a reader to see that there are other qualities to this man despite this glaring fault somehow didn’t work with me at all, not when I couldn’t overlook the lascivious ways he eyes women as challenges to overcome and yes, Lara as well, who has become part of his tried-and-true tricks.
I’m painfully aware this puts me in the minority, but Layne’s portrayal of sleazy Ian has been nothing but an immense disappointment. I usually expect more of male protagonists in romantic fiction, at least for integrity and respect they can show women and I struggled hard to find this in Ian, especially in the end when it was one of his (adulterous) flings that caused him to land in hot soup. The only consolation I took was in Lara’s own strength and determination (though she obviously caves to his charm) in seeing the case through, though that didn’t seem enough to redeem this couple that Layne tries hard to build.
The rant is probably enough to say that ‘Hot Asset’ isn’t a read that sat well with me, which is an understatement as it comes. It has sort of diminished my enthusiasm for the rest of the books in the series, to be honest, because I’d always thought Layne could do much, much better than this.

Runaway Groom by Lauren Layne

Runaway Groom by Lauren LayneRunaway Groom by Lauren Layne
Series: I Do, I Don't #2
Published by Random House Publishing Group on January 30th 2018
Pages: 240
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For one charming playboy, getting cast on a Bachelor-esque reality TV show is the shock of a lifetime—until he finds love where he least expects it. And now the chase is on!

Gage Barrett’s reputation as a ladies’ man has been greatly exaggerated, but none of that matters after a drunken bet lands him on Jilted, a reality TV show that matches runaway grooms with wannabe brides. Now he’s stuck at a Hawaiian resort with nineteen women competing to drag him back to the altar—and one contestant who’s even more miserable than he is. Gage has no idea how feisty, independent Ellie Wright wound up in the cast, but it’s obvious she hates his guts. And if there’s one thing Gage likes, it’s a challenge. . . .

Ellie can’t believe she let her best friend talk her into exchanging her dignity for a glorified bikini contest. Still, she could use the exposure—her business is struggling—and she’ll probably be one of the first to get eliminated anyway. But Gage isn’t the shallow jerk Ellie anticipated—and he’s in no rush to send her home. As stolen kisses turn into secret trysts, she finds herself losing track of what’s real and what’s for the camera. With the wedding finale looming, this runaway groom is tempting Ellie to start believing in storybook endings.

As the kind who scoffs at reality-tv series like The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, I surprised myself even by jumping into Lauren Layne’s ‘Runaway Groom’, then spent all night reading it, at the expense of sleep. Needless to say, it was engaging enough where I found myself saying ‘just one more chapter’, though that went on and on until I hit the sugary sweet epilogue.

Avid fans of this type of reality shows probably need no introduction to the plot at all—which I don’t need to go into here—but it’s safe to say that Ellie and Gage don’t start off on the right footing and even get into some verbal scuffles before the attraction starts to bubble over. Layne makes sure that it all does not go according to script as well, because, where would be the fun in that, if it ends the way many people think it does? A famous actor, lured into the reality show because of a bet and the typical businesswoman struggling to advertise for her own company, are already an unlikely pair, but Layne writes believable chemistry between them that I could get on with.

With Lauren Layne’s combination of wit and insight, ‘Runaway Groom’ is largely, an easy, breezy read to go through. A rather cheesy ending rears its head here however, despite the unexpected twists and turns, so grit your teeth (or smile stupidly) and enjoy the Hollywood ending.


An Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne

An Ex for Christmas by Lauren LayneAn Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne
Series: Love Unexpectedly #5
Published by Loveswept on November 7th 2017
Pages: 218
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When a psychic tells spunky, superstitious Kelly Byrne that she’s already met her true love, she becomes obsessed with the idea of tracking him down before Christmas. Kelly immediately writes up an “Ex List” and starts contacting old boyfriends to figure out which one is the one. When her college sweetheart rolls into town, Kelly convinces herself that they’re meant to be. The trouble is, sparks are flying with someone she’s never given a chance: her best friend, Mark.

Mark Blakely has watched the guys on Kelly’s list break her heart, and he’s not looking forward to watching them do it all over again. Mark’s always been there for her, but the timing’s never worked out for their relationship to be something more. Now, just as Mark is ready to move on, the sexual tension between them is suddenly off the charts. With Christmas morning around the corner, he just hopes Kelly will wake up and realize that everything she wants has been right in front of her all along.

I’m starting to wonder if Lauren Layne and I should start to part ways. When I’ve loved her earlier works, these days, I’ve taken more and more issues of late with her characters whom I can’t seem to like at all—and my recent lowered ratings of her books might be an unfair attempt to recapture what I’ve felt about her previous books.

The friends-to-lovers (with an unrequited element) romance is one where I tread very, very carefully, because there’re just too many entanglements and questions that tend not to be satisfactorily answered before a typical, teary grovelling session happens just a page or 2 before both parties ride off into the sunset. Romantic-comedy or not, I do like my couples evenly-paired emotionally at the very least, which means that I do need to see, while reading the romance genre, that both are on the same page when it comes to their feelings for each other, rather than a protagonist hankering after another for an extended period of time, then having the other playing catch up only in the last few pages. Where’s the satisfaction in that?

“An Ex for Christmas” was just that for me, though I was under the impression that it was more of a timing-not-right sort of thing for them, instead of one where an obtuse woman stomps on a man’s heart unknowingly.

For want of a better way of putting things, Kelly seemed to bring out the latent violent tendencies in me as I found myself caught between wanting to smack her and throwing a chair at her for her steadfast refusal to see how much she’d put Mark in the friend zone. Kelly’s perky obliviousness and inability to recognise what was in front of her all along—while flaunting the plan to dates ALL of her ex-es in front of the guy who’s always loved her—was not just cringeworthy, but thoughtless and stupid, considering this came off some screwed-up, superstitious conclusion based on an old woman’s prediction.

In fact, I felt so bad for Mark and actually wished he found someone else other than a woman who’d never seemed to return his feelings beyond platonic friendship. I thought he deserved better instead of Kelly’s ‘sudden’ realisation that she ‘thought she loved’ him despite him going to bat for her—the obstinate search for her ex-es even though those tanked disastrously proved it sufficiently, and I couldn’t blame him at all for finally wanting to give up while the woman he wanted simply went off doing her own merry thing.

Obviously my sentiments lie in the minority here—unrequited love stories tend to do that for me, particularly with the one who pined for a long time—but exasperation and irritation just got the better of me for this one. So I skimmed, if only for poor Mark, feeling relieved when I got to the end, though not any happier about it still because their love affair all sat wrong with me. Like I said, maybe this is sort of the end of the road for me when it comes to Layne’s stories; never say never though, but I’m going to be taking a wide berth for now.


Ready to Run by Lauren Layne

Ready to Run by Lauren LayneReady to Run by Lauren Layne
Series: I Do, I Don't #1
Published by Loveswept, Random House Publishing Group on August 22nd 2017
Pages: 175
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Jordan Carpenter thinks she’s finally found the perfect candidate for Jilted, a new dating show about runaway grooms: Luke Elliott, a playboy firefighter who’s left not one but three brides at the altar. The only problem? Luke refuses to answer Jordan’s emails or return her calls. Which is how she ends up on a flight to Montana to recruit him in person. It’s not Manhattan but at least the locals in Lucky Hollow seem friendly . . . except for Luke, who’s more intense—and way hotter—than the slick womanizer Jordan expected.
Eager to put the past behind him, Luke has zero intention of following this gorgeous, fast-talking city girl back to New York. But before he can send her packing, Jordan’s everywhere: at his favorite bar, the county fair, even his exes’ book club. Annoyingly, everyone in Lucky Hollow seems to like her—and deep down, she’s starting to grow on him too. But the more he fights her constant pestering, the more Luke finds himself wishing that Jordan would kick off her high heels and make herself comfortable in his arms.

‘Ready to Run’ is sort of a spinoff take on The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, only that it ups the stakes for the guy in question in a new reality tv series that is touted to get the whole world talking. He has to be a runaway groom (which, by extension, means he’s probably a playboy who truly sweats at commitment) who’s going to find his true love on screen and be tied down as millions of eyes watch.

In this case, Luke Elliott is Jordan Carpenter’s target, and he’s so elusive that she has to fly all the way to a small town in Montana just to pitch her case. It’s a difficult return to small town life for her, though it’s way harder for Luke, whose 3 ‘failed’ altar runs aren’t exactly what they seem at all.

I’ll admit that from the beginning, Lauren Layne’s premise of this particular reality show was, well, a distasteful one to begin with – at least in the way I think of the trashy series that just goes on and on. It’s a shallow, mocking spectacle out of relationships, catering (mostly) to people who want their 15 seconds of fame and aren’t afraid to do anything to get it. But I am sort of at the point where I’ll pick up some books of Layne’s just so I can read the banter as well as some surprisingly heart-stopping moments that she’s known to write.

Consequently, there were parts I liked, and others that I didn’t as I struggled through several scenes. Characterisation was unfortunately, one of those. Luke’s nuanced backstory and his standup nature became clear as the story went on (and as I’d suspected, there was a lot more to those 3 altar failures than met the eye) and it was easy to root for Luke’s HEA, though the town’s methods of going about it were questionable and annoying. That he didn’t want to give an inch to Jordan was, frankly, his right and prerogative and I was glad to see that he stood by his own principles as much as he could.

On the other hand, I found Jordan extremely dislikable, and her intent to sell out Luke’s personal plight made her embodiment of reality tv in all its ugly glory as she canvassed the whole town for his back story when it was clear he didn’t want a thing to do with the show at all. The lack of respect she refused to give Luke as she relentlessly pried into his life was abominable and the many insulating layers that she’d put between herself and Luke made it difficult to think that the ‘connection’ between them was anything but skin deep.

The long and short of it really, is that ‘Ready to Run’ has been a mixed bag for me. Despite my qualms about Jordan, Layne quite nicely wraps up the whole ugly scenario without shortchanging either protagonist in a way that leaves you unsatisfied. That Luke and Jordan can walk into their sunset by the time the epilogue rolls around is quite the restoration of my tentative faith in this series, which I hope can only get better.


I Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren Layne

I Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren LayneI Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford #4
Published by Loveswept on June 13th 2017
Pages: 193
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Taylor Carr has it all—a sleek job in advertising, a stunning Manhattan apartment, and the perfect man to share it with: Bradley Calloway. Even after Bradley dumps her for a co-worker on move-in day, Taylor isn’t worried. She’ll get her man eventually. In the meantime, she needs a new roommate. Enter Nick Ballantine, career bartender, freelance writer—and longtime pain in Taylor’s ass. Sexy in a permanent five-o’clock-shadow kind of way, Nick knows how to push Taylor’s buttons, as if he could see right through to the real her.
Nick’s always trying to fix people, and nobody could use a good fixing more than Taylor. Sure, she’s gorgeous, with mesmerizing silver eyes, but it’s her vulnerability that kills him. Now that they’re shacking up together, the chemistry is out of control. Soon they’re putting every part of their two-bedroom apartment to good use. Then Taylor’s ex comes crawling back to her, and Nick figures she’ll jump at the chance to go back to her old life—unless he fights for the best thing that ever happened to him.

Lauren Layne takes on the enemies-to-lovers trope in the latest installment of the Oxford series, and after Lincoln’s heartbreaking story in the last one, the tone and setting of “I knew you were trouble” does come as a bit of a shock. Layne pits Nick Ballantine against Taylor Carr whom we saw in the last book as characters who hate each other for unexplained reasons but finally makes it clear here it’s not as simple as hating each other’s guts from the start. It’s instead, something that has festered over a period of a year as Nick and Taylor grew into their dislike for each other. Bad timing, lost chances and poor choices with far-reaching consequences merely exacerbated what could have been a much less antagonistic relationship as I wondered if they could ever resolve things between them despite the mutual attraction both had for each other.

I found my sympathies between Nick and Taylor shifting so frequently that it was difficult to decide whether I could really go for them as a couple. For a fair bit of the story, they used each other’s weaknesses against each other and that made it difficult to separate the fine line between love and hate simply because they couldn’t plainly say what they wanted without being snippy about it. There were times I was horrified that Nick used his words to eviscerate Taylor when she was hurting, just as much as I couldn’t understand why Taylor allowed the brief rejection from Nick to turn into unmitigated loathing as she held fast to the mantra of never appearing weak to anyone. Their own personal histories have left deep scars on them and as Layne typically writes it, these are the very aspects of themselves that they’ve used to hit each other with the hardest in the final, catastrophic fight before the resolution arrives.

In the end, the games Nick and Taylor played—whether accidentally hostile or not—felt like it simply came down to their inability to communicate plainly and their unwillingness to give themselves the chance that things could turn out both different and better. Throw some respective ex-es (rebound or not) that came into the picture and all I could think was that there was a huge, hot mess that surely had to take more than a peace treaty to untangle.

As far the Oxford series goes, “I knew you were trouble” is the most volatile one that I’ve ever been through. Somehow I emerged from this whole reading experience feeling dazed and whiplashed, still sore from the barbs and the potshots Nick/Taylor had taken at each other, but grateful nonetheless that Lauren Layne always writes an uncompromising HEA.


Walk of Shame by Lauren Layne

Walk of Shame by Lauren LayneWalk of Shame by Lauren Layne
Series: Love Unexpectedly #4
Published by Loveswept on April 18th 2017
Pages: 195
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Pampered heiress Georgianna Watkins has a party-girl image to maintain, but all the shopping and clubbing is starting to feel a little bit hollow—and a whole lot lonely. Though Georgie would never admit it, the highlights of her week are the mornings when she comes home at the same time as her uptight, workaholic neighbor is leaving to hit the gym and put in a long day at the office. Teasing him is the most fun Georgie’s had in years—and the fuel for all her naughtiest daydreams.
Celebrity divorce attorney Andrew Mulroney doesn’t have much time for women, especially spoiled tabloid princesses who spend more time on Page Six than at an actual job. Although Georgie’s drop-dead gorgeous, she’s also everything Andrew resents: the type of girl who inherited her penthouse instead of earning it. But after Andrew caps one of their predawn sparring sessions with a surprise kiss—a kiss that’s caught on camera—all of Manhattan is gossiping about whether they’re a real couple. And nobody’s more surprised than Andrew to find that the answer just might be yes.

I haven’t been following Lauren Layne’s ‘Love Unexpectedly’ series, so jumping into ‘Walk of Shame’ because of the intriguing blurb and the hilarious expressions of the models on the cover is probably as good an idea as any to start this book which sounds like a romantic comedy with minimal angst and lots of bumps along the way. A spoiled, rich woman and a hardened, jaded lawyer? Bring it on.

But it’s a story, as I’ve come to realise early on, that people would either love or hate.

I’ll be the first to admit that Georgie Watkins is the kind of character I’d love to hate and it took a long, long while to warm up a little to her: the name-dropping, the airhead monologues (too many chapters were in her POV) and the constant mindless flitting from one meaningless activity to another all told in a mug voice weren’t characteristics I could even force myself to admire in a heroine.

Georgie is like the culmination of every spoiled socialite writ large in all the mean-girl movies and Layne has gotten her down to a science. There’s definitely the effort to show us Georgie’s softer side (she’s kind, caring, concerned for her family and friends) but I think I needed to see something more substantial beyond that. I’d expected to plumb her depths (no pun intended!) given so much of what we see of her is this apparently shallow woman. I’d hoped to see a bit more of an identity shake-up after seeing how Andrew’s own stodgy, awkward personality had changed by the end of the book, which didn’t really happen. In fact, Georgie seemed like someone content to have her head in the clouds, living the only reality she knew, and because Andrew trampled on that vision, he was quickly written off and expected to grovel because she couldn’t be rational about her parents’ divorce.

The long and short of it is that ‘Walk of Shame’ was a personal disappointment. It is definitely a light-hearted read though by the end, I wasn’t convinced about their compatibility (Andrew seemed more amused by her ridiculousness than anything else and in turn, Georgie appeared infatuated with this buttoned-up mystery) and liking the colour red felt like scraping the bottom of the barrel. Layne’s banter and sniping did make the story entertaining, but even after I finished the book, I simply couldn’t see Andrew/Georgie as a couple that would ultimately last.


Someone like you by Lauren Layne

Someone like you by Lauren LayneSomeone like You by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford #3
Published by Loveswept on December 6th 2016
Pages: 228
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Lincoln Mathis doesn’t hide his reputation as Manhattan’s ultimate playboy. In fact, he cultivates it. But behind every flirtatious smile, each provocative quip, there’s a secret that Lincoln’s hiding from even his closest friends—a tragedy from his past that holds his heart quietly captive. Lincoln knows what he wants: someone like Daisy Sinclair, the sassy, off-limits bridesmaid he can’t take his eyes off at his best friend’s wedding. He also knows that she’s everything he can never have.
After a devastating divorce, Daisy doesn’t need anyone to warn her off the charming best man at her sister’s wedding. One look at the breathtakingly hot Lincoln Mathis and she knows that he’s exactly the type of man she should avoid. But when Daisy stumbles upon Lincoln’s secret, she realizes there’s more to the charming playboy than meets the eye. And suddenly Daisy and Lincoln find their lives helplessly entwined in a journey that will either heal their damaged souls . . . or destroy them forever.

The premier player of New York hides a painful secret that no one knows. The only friend who seems to understand Lincoln Mathis however, is the unlikeliest of people: the twin of two good friends, who is dealing with her own hurt and fears because her walls and pain parallel his.

Told in an episodic series of parts, ‘Someone like you’ feels like an account of unfolding grief and the unsteady steps taken back into a world that’s suddenly too bright and stunning to take in. It is however, a lot more heart-wrenching and sombre than the rest of Lauren Layne’s Oxford and Stiletto series and I do think it’s all the better for it actually, because the light-hearted banter would have probably been out of place given the weightier subject matters brought up here.

I’m glad for this chance to know what Lincoln and Daisy had been facing all along, although I had a pretty good guess from the hints already dropped in the previous books. But having some kind of plot premonition doesn’t make the story any easier to read as Lincoln’s uncertainty over his past kept its tight rein on a present that he couldn’t actually quite yet accept. It’s only in the last quarter of the book that the romantic drama really begins and where the attraction and the connection that both Lincoln and Daisy have forged finally kick in. But from here, the journey onwards is rather predictable and somewhat rushed: the usual cut-and-run part which becomes the status quo until someone breaks…and the grovelling begins up until the HEA that’s a mixture of cheesy and sweet.

I liked that their attraction played out over time—through months of grief which slowly but surely turned into attraction and longing—as well as the revelation that Lincoln really isn’t what he seems. In fact, his deep loyalties do make him out to be one of the more prominent (and unusual) romantic leading heroes who acts opposite of the reputation he cultivates in a way that assists him in remaining unavailable. Daisy Sinclair might be his worthy heroine however, although I do in some way, mourn Layne’s original choice of heroine in the form of a mousy copywriter in the first draft of the story. Still, I was absorbed as their stories came together, stuttered to a halt and then came together again in a journey that moved slowly from hopelessness to redemption. With Layne’s very sly insertion of the next pairing as a prelude of things to come, I turned the last page of ‘Someone like You’ already looking out for the next installment in the Oxford series.