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To Have and To Hold by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 9th June 2016
To Have and To Hold by Lauren LayneTo Have and to Hold by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles #1
Published by Pocket Books on July 26th 2016
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Discovering her fiancé is an international con man just moments before they exchange vows devastates celebrity wedding planner Brooke Baldwin’s business—and breaks her heart. Now a pariah in Los Angeles, she seeks a fresh start in New York City and thinks she’s found it with her first bridal client, a sweet—if slightly spoiled—hotel heiress. Then she meets the uptight businessman who’s holding the purse strings.
Seth Tyler wishes he could write a blank check and be done with his sister Maya's fancy-pants wedding. Unfortunately, micromanaging the event is his only chance at proving Maya’s fiancé is a liar. Standing directly in his way is the stunning blonde wedding planner whose practiced smiles and sassy comebacks both irritate and arouse him. He needs Brooke’s help. But can he persuade a wedding planner on a comeback mission to unplan a wedding? And more importantly, how will he convince her that the wedding she should be planning…is theirs?

Brooke Baldwin’s new start in New York is really an act of running away from the humiliation of a failed wedding and her new job at a premier wedding planning firm is her new and hopefully, triumphant start on a different coast. But what she doesn’t count on is the domineering brother of the bride on her first case as well the rich hotel tycoon financing everything who gives her another shot at love. He also happens to be the man determined to stop this wedding, convinced that the groom isn’t who he says he is.

The sniping attraction between them comes as much as a surprise to Seth Tyler, whose need to protect his family (and his own heart) rubs people the wrong way, but there is no denying that Brooke burrows her way quickly underneath that cold, icy exterior before long.

The world of wedding planning is as horrifyingly frou-frou and foreign to me as a language I’ve never been able to master. Ultra feminine, bridezillas and overflowing with tulle – aspects of womanhood even I don’t proclaim to understand.

‘To Have and to Hold’ is an introduction to this world – the business of love, so to speak – through the rose-tinted sheen of romantic comedies, which I found both fascinating and well, so exclusive that I could only get a peek of this fictional world through Lauren Layne’s writing.

But Ms. Layne’s setup was good enough that I was sold on Seth and Brooke whom I thought had their own issues to deal with, although I did feel the conflict was made bigger than it really was for the sake of creating drama and tension.

I couldn’t shake the feeling however, that Brooke was simply making a mountain of a molehill about Seth’s hiring of a P.I., which I found absolutely nothing wrong with. Her behaviour as a consequence, seemed always like an overreaction to Seth’s earnest attempts to keep the people around him happy in the only way he knew how, coloured strongly by her memories of ex-fiancé and transferred unfairly onto Seth.

In spite of Ms. Layne’s persuasion of the readers to feel loads of pity for Brooke’s big wedding write-off, I found myself instead empathising with Seth more than any other character. I thought him short-changed so many times by the people closest to him because all they could see was his controlling nature which was frankly, made a bigger thing than it was. And because Seth was a more than decent character, I didn’t quite like how he was made out to be the only one who’d wronged others, especially when Brooke had actually done more unforgivable things to him – such as comparing him in some way to her ex, which had me flabbergasted.

Even if the core drama surrounding Seth and Brooke turned me off somewhat, I found myself liking the secondary characters a lot and am gratified that the rest of the Wedding Belles would have their own stories. I did wish though, that there’d been more on the conflict between the bride and Seth’s best friend for instance, whose chemistry and hidden story had more to be written about. Given that this is a wedding planning series, we’re somewhat left with a HFN ending at least, which made me grateful that everything wedding-related wasn’t oversold.

three-stars

Cuff Me by Lauren Layne

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 31st March 2016
Cuff Me by Lauren LayneCuff Me by Lauren Layne
Series: New York's Finest #3
Published by Forever on March 29th 2016
Pages: 384
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four-stars

Vincent Moretti is one of the NYPD's top homicide detectives-and one of the most eligible bachelors in town. His family, however, thinks he should date his longtime partner, Jill-a sassy, sexy, smart-mouthed blonde who drives him absolutely crazy.
Behind the quiet authority, tough-guy demeanor, and dark aviator glasses lies a man with a big soul-and a hard body that can soften any girl's heart. After years as his coworker, Jill Henley has given up hope that anything could happen between her and Vin. Besides, loving him would break all the rules. But seeing Jill with someone else triggers feelings in Vincent he never knew he had. Now he'll have to stop playing good cop/bad cop-and find a way to convince her to be his partner for life. . .

It all comes to a head for Jill Henley and Vin Moretti when Jill returns after a 3-month break, ready for work and newly engaged, in this classic case of a very slow burn friends/partners-to-lovers story.

I appreciated the manner in which Lauren Layne respectfully dealt with Jill’s other half while she was engaged. Tom wasn’t written as an arse as a foil to show up how good the main characters would be as a pairing; instead, I found him likeable and was almost regretful that he didn’t quite get what he needed from Jill.

It proved refreshing as well, to read about a female lead who isn’t for once, a jaded and cynical detective (even if Valentine’s Day being her favourite does push the envelope a wee bit much), keeping in line with the light-hearted feel of what I never thought possible: a so-called ‘light’ crime mystery with a very heavy focus on developing relationships as well as the romance. Vincent is as well, a character who’s intriguing enough, with depths that weren’t entirely plumbed throughout the book: his disconnection stemming not from disenchantment but simply, a lack of feeling because he didn’t think he was built that way – a type of behaviour that is only reinforced and perpetuated by him and others around him. Lauren. Layne does a credible job in matching these opposites in both Jill and Vincent; they are by far, one of her more convincing couples in this series.

Yet I couldn’t help but be disappointed in what’s probably a minor quibble to most readers: for every story that involves a long time before that particular transition to lovers happens, I expect a bloody good reason for that delay. Ms. Layne at least goes partway to try to address the issue, even if it does seem a rather flimsy explanation in my opinion. I wished we could have seen more of Vincent’s yearning, or at least some form of self-actualisation, which would have made his need for Jill less like a reflex action of wanting her only after another man has proven her attractive and ‘worthy’ of a long-term commitment.

‘Cuff Me’ is nonetheless, a very unusual mix of suspense (and I’d use that term very loosely here) and romance, which makes me now look forward to the rest of the Morettis to come.

four-stars

Good Girl by Lauren Layne

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 30th March 2016
Good Girl by Lauren LayneGood Girl (Love Unexpectedly, #2) by Lauren Layne
Series: Love Unexpectedly #2
Published by Loveswept on May 17th 2016
Pages: 220
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two-stars

Lauren Layne brings all the unpredictable heat of her USA Today bestseller Blurred Lines to an all-new cast of characters! Country music’s favorite good girl is hiding away from the world—only to find herself bunking with a guy who makes her want to be a little bad.   Jenny Dawson moved to Nashville to write music, not get famous. But when her latest record goes double platinum, Jenny’s suddenly one of the town’s biggest stars—and the center of a tabloid scandal connecting her with a pop star she’s barely even met. With paparazzi tracking her every move, Jenny flees to a remote mansion in Louisiana to write her next album. The only hiccup is the unexpected presence of a brooding young caretaker named Noah, whose foul mouth and snap judgments lead to constant bickering—and serious heat.   Noah really should tell Jenny that he’s Preston Noah Maxwell Walcott, the owner of the estate where the feisty country singer has made her spoiled self at home. But the charade gives Noah a much-needed break from his own troubles, and before long, their verbal sparring is indistinguishable from foreplay. But as sizzling nights give way to quiet pillow talk, Noah begins to realize that Jenny’s almost as complicated as he is. To fit into each other’s lives, they’ll need the courage to face their problems together—before the outside world catches up to them.

The whole premise was unbelievable to start with: an accidentally famous singer renting a remote space, mistaking the filthy rich owner for a caretaker. ‘Good Girl’ has all the earmarks of a romantic comedy synopsis but none of ingredients that make this endeavour work, which I found quite unusual for a Lauren Layne book.

Having tried her Stiletto and Oxford series (to varying success), moving on to Ms. Layne’s NA books seemed like a natural progression. ‘Good Girl’ was unfortunately, was a first attempt that didn’t exactly work out – and a more laborious reading process than I’d expected. I thought the main characters trite and essentially stupid, behaving in a juvenile manner that induced more eye-rolling than laughs, even though I typically love the banter, the humour and the right amount of angst that are hallmarks of Ms. Layne’s books.

Clearly, from the high ratings given from various reviews I’m in the minority, but this one just didn’t work for me. ‘Good Girl’ clearly isn’t a deterrent; I’d definitely continue to see what Ms. Layne has in store this year, but I’m going to approach it all with a tad bit more caution.

two-stars

I Wish You Were Mine by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 1st December 2015
I Wish You Were Mine by Lauren LayneI Wish You Were Mine by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford, #2
Published by Loveswept on February 2nd 2016
Pages: 260
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three-stars

A year ago, Jackson Burke was married to the love of his life and playing quarterback for the Texas Redhawks. Now he’s retired, courtesy of the car accident that ruined his career—and single, after a nasty scandal torpedoed his marriage. Just as he’s starting to get used to his new life as a health and fitness columnist for Oxford magazine, his unpredictable ex shows up on his doorstep in Manhattan. Jackson should be thrilled. But he can’t stop thinking about the one person who’s always been there for him, the one girl he could never have: her younger sister.
Mollie Carrington can’t say no to Madison. After all, her older sister practically raised her. So when Madison begs for help in winning her ex-husband back, Mollie’s just glad she got over her own crush on Jackson ages ago—or so she thought. Because as Mollie reconnects with Jackson, she quickly forgets all her reasons to stay loyal to her sister. Tempted by Jackson’s mellow drawl and cowboy good looks, Mollie is sick and tired of coming in second place. But she can’t win if she doesn’t play the game.

Jackson Burke is not right in the head – that much we know from the teaser in the last Oxford book – and the person who helps him, as always, to sort it out is Mollie Carrington, the sister of his cheating, malicious ex-wife. The new life that he’s been dragged into at Oxford magazine isn’t working out too well and still, he yearns for a return to football in any way he can take it. Confronting Mollie as a single man however, makes their recent encounters charged with something else that he can’t seem to put his finger on. Throw in a scheming ex-wife however, and both Mollie and Jackson have their work cut out for them.

I’ll be the first to say that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the the vaguely incestuous strain running through as Jackson Burke falls for his ex-sister-in-law, who has been his rock and his confidante for the past 8 years. Throw in her unrequited love for him and what becomes evident here is a romantic mess that can only take superb, nuanced writing to sort out. The problem is, I’m not too sure if Ms. Layne succeeded here, even with her more than decent exposition of both Mollie’s and Jackson’s internal processes.

But where Irresistibly Yours was well, irresistible, I’m purely on the fence with ‘I wish you were mine’ and that has more to do with the characters themselves than the circumstances they find themselves in.

Is Jackson Burke hero-material? Perhaps.

But he isn’t a nice, likeable one as he constantly lashes out at everything and everyone. The womanising aspect – which Layne seems to trumpet as the core of her series – of men and the disposable way they treat women, apart from the core group of characters, bothers me a lot and if it’s something I barely overlook in her other books, it’s getting harder and harder to do so now. Jackson’s careless manner about his flings post divorce is distasteful and his willingness to string Mollie along makes him more of an arse than a character I wanted to get behind. Mollie’s own refusal to pull the wool from her eyes when it comes to her sister frustrated me as much as Jackson’s behaviour did. Her insistence in keeping Madison as a third party seems to indicate a lack of a spine – even if it’s unintentional – but I could at least, appreciate that it felt like the best she could do considering the circumstances.

Could I get behind this pairing? I wish.

Despite the disappointment I felt about this book, I adored the team dynamics that lifted the story past the Jackson/Mollie fracas and makes the book worth going through for it. They were scene-stealers for me (especially the blunt ones with Riley) and the most memorable of the lot. And of course, the slight peek behind the sleaziness of Lincoln’s ‘manufactured’ behaviour is probably going to make the womenfolk swoon even harder.

three-stars

Irresistibly Yours by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 14th August 2015
Irresistibly Yours by Lauren LayneIrresistibly Yours by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford #1
Published by Loveswept on October 6th 2015
Pages: 236
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four-stars

Hotshot sports editor Cole Sharpe has been freelancing for Oxford for years, so when he hears about a staff position opening up, he figures he’s got the inside track. Then his boss drops a bombshell: Cole has competition. Female competition, in the form of a fresh-faced tomboy who can hang with the dudes—and write circles around them, too. Cole usually likes his women flirty and curvy, but he takes a special interest in his skinny, sassy rival, if only to keep an eye on her. And soon, he can’t take his eyes off her.   Penelope Pope knows all too well that she comes off as just one of the guys. Since she’s learned that wanting more usually leads to disappointment, Penelope’s resigned to sitting on the sidelines when it comes to love. So why does Cole make her want to get back in the game? The man is as arrogant as he is handsome. He probably sees her as nothing more than a barrier to his dream job. But when an unexpected kiss turns into a night of irresistible passion, Penelope has to figure out whether they’re just fooling around—or starting something real.

My first foray into Lauren Layne’s chick-lit writing was a pleasant surprise, even though I have the sinking feeling that what I’m going to get in this series is a string of womanising men (to the point where it gets nearly unreal) and gorgeous women who finally get them to change their ways through differing circumstances that revolve around magazine publication in New York.

The good?
‘Irresistibly Yours’ is funny, sharp and fun, ultimately proving to be irresistible because of the guileless and very refreshing heroine whose boyish figure and no-games nature carried the story from start to end. Finally, a geek chick with no pretenses or overly dramatic awkwardness! I didn’t know who Cole was at all because I didn’t read Ms. Layne’s previous books; neither was I armed with the back-stories of the rest of the characters (though I could guess what their personalities and stories would have been like) but this was an easy book to go through because I found myself rooting for Pen the whole way, even if her willingness to let Cole’s appalling behaviour off the hook so easily seemed to cheapen her strength of character.

The bad?
I’d hoped to see more varied characters really, rather than read about differing reasons for why a particular behaviour (womanising in this case) exists, to the extent where Jake and Cole simply looked like peas in a pod lining up on a factory conveyor belt for their own HEA sunsets.

four-stars
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