Author: Lauren Layne

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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four-stars

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.

four-stars

To Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne

To Love and to Cherish by Lauren LayneTo Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles, #3
Published by Pocket Books on October 18th 2016
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Alexis Morgan has spent the past eight years devoted to turning her tiny start-up into Manhattan’s premiere wedding planning company, The Wedding Belles. Now that her business is thriving, it’s time to turn towards her much neglected personal life, and Alexis approaches her relationships like she does everything else: with a plan. Not a part of that plan is Logan Harris, the silent partner in the Belles, and the one person who’s been there for her since the very beginning. But Alexis needs someone fun, and Logan’s all business, all the time—except when a late night at the office ends with an unexpected kiss that leaves the usually cool and together Alexis reeling.
Logan has lusted after Alexis since the day he walked into the tiny Harlem apartment that used to double as her office. But the ambitious wedding planner has always been untouchable...until now. Alexis has made it clear that she’s on the dating market—and equally clear that he’s not in the running. But when Alexis finds herself in need of a date for her sister’s last minute wedding in Florida, Logan knows it’s the perfect time to show Alexis that there’s more to him than numbers and spreadsheets—and beneath the pinstripes and glasses lies a hot-blooded heartthrob. As Florida’s sultry days turn into even hotter nights, Logan’s out to convince Alexis that the fling of a lifetime could just maybe turn into forever...

‘To Love and to Cherish’ pretty much explores the longterm consequences of heartbreak—through circumstances no one could have really envisioned—and well…the cowardly behaviour it can incite. And it’s found in the form of Alexis Morgan, whose wedding planning company (ironically a business that puts down how happy-ever-after should begin) has taken the place of relationships and love in her life. The story is a fun, quick read and evidently responsible for taking a few needed hours of sleep away, despite it being an entirely predictable one from the beginning.

Logan Harris has indeed been lusting after Alexis for a long time, and lust is pretty much the term I’d use here rather than love, given that he’s really done nothing but pine from a distance while taking up with other women as he passively waits for her to notice him. Alexis on the other hand, refuses to see him as anything else than her accountant and her silent business partner, but that isn’t because there have been overt, numerous hints thrown her way. Yet for them to declare that they’ve loved each other from the start had me frowning in scepticism, because it seemed more like attraction than anything deeper and an impulsive decision of a ‘recovering student’ to throw in an inheritance behind a business that has yet to get off the ground.

Logan and Alexis, while frustrating at times, do however, seem more sympathetic than the rest of the couples in the Wedding Belles series; their connection as partners and as friends was evident at the start and to make the leap into a relationship didn’t seem an implausible one, even if those years did seem somewhat wasted on nothing happening. I felt for Alexis and her continued reticence, although I did wonder why it took Logan that long to man up and straighten it out when it was clear he needed something drastic for a first move.

There aren’t huge spikes in passion or angsty valleys of depressing lows however, which made for some lull in the storytelling itself but what kept it somewhat interesting is the reversal of roles, where Alexis is finally forced to reexamine her stance on keeping distant from everyone while Logan runs himself to the ground finally trying to make her see him the way he wants.

There’s perhaps some kind of finality to this book with all the belles happily paired off, and ‘To Love and to Cherish’ is a fitting farewell to a series that has frankly left me part lukewarm and somewhat neutral for their predictability. Wedding planners finding their own HEAs—and have those living up to hype of the weddings they plan—might be a little too sugary sweet for my liking but because a few of Lauren Layne’s Oxford and Stiletto books had made her an author to watch out for, I’m still as always, eager to see what else she has up her sleeve.

three-stars

For Better or Worse by Lauren Layne

For Better or Worse by Lauren LayneFor Better or Worse by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles #2
Published by Pocket Books on August 30th 2016
Pages: 368
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three-stars

When small-town girl Heather Fowler finally gets promoted from assistant to actual wedding planner, she’s determined to make it as one of Manhattan’s elite Wedding Belles. Unfortunately, her first client demands an opulent black-tie affair at the Plaza…in five months’ time. Heather’s days quickly become a flurry of cake tastings, dress-fittings, RSVP cards, and bridal tantrums. But what she’s really losing sleep over is the live music blaring from her playboy neighbor’s apartment all night.
Five years ago, Josh Tanner was an up-and-comer on Wall Street, complete with the penthouse and the migraines. But a grim cancer diagnosis made him realize there is more to life than the corner office. If only he could convince his pretty, workaholic neighbor to let loose, too. As Heather lets down her guard, Josh is surprised when he starts falling for the sweet, vulnerable woman hiding beneath those power suits. Soon, it’s Heather’s turn to convince Josh to take the biggest risk of all: love.

The wedding frills come again and I got the jitters, but it’s hard to pass up any opportunity to read Lauren Layne.

‘For Better or Worse’ is classic Lauren Layne: urbanite and contemporary, with typical character leads that I’ve come to expect – an apparently easy-going manwhore who grins and jokes while hiding his secrets and a steady lady who has her career prioritised above a relationship. The hookup begins casually as they all do, until someone develops feelings and it all goes to pot.

Yet the titular phrase takes on different meaning once we find out that Josh has been battling cancer and is still too afraid to live life to the fullest. In strongest self-denial mode, he thinks he does with the piss-poor excuse of not wanting to let any woman down while he takes up the mantle of an overgrown fratboy who hooks up indiscriminately while chumming it out with his band buddies. In short, he’s drifting and living without purpose, thinking he’s rocking it – literally – but really isn’t.

There’s some sweetness and depth to this because it delves into what life-threatening illness can do, but beneath it, I did find myself getting bored after a while, because it was, well, predictable. I did guess how it was going to go down – the last-minute bail-out, the grovelling and the big ending – and wasn’t at all surprised when Heather and Josh steamrolled down the aisle by the end of it all.

But if I could say Heather was everything I expected her to be, it was more difficult to like Josh, who pretty much acted like he had the excuse to own the world and stomp on others because he thought he had a reason to – after beating Leukaemia. I tried to rationalise his behaviour – maybe to the point of making excuses for him when he was plain disrespectful and childish – as someone’s extreme reaction to having suffered a life-changing disease and is still battling it, but failed miserably at times. For most of the book, he kept Heather at arm’s length and needless to say, this is the main source of their conflict when it all comes to a head and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the relationship was developed mostly on Heather’s side while Josh mostly enjoyed the physical aspects of it. I must admit that I’d hoped for more maturity all around: that perhaps, working a way forward might have been a better idea after some form of disclosure instead of keeping mum and making the arse-executive decision for everyone concerned that Josh was better off alone. He hadn’t even talked to Heather about the reason why Danica broke up with him and his subsequent illness; the latter was something learned from his mother. Consequently, Josh’s proposal after the pep talk by his twin felt sudden and abrupt and in some ways, a way of making amends because he’d let Heather down. There’s this sobering sense each time a lead character battles major illness, but my sympathy can only extend so far when that sort of character growth spurt happens only in the last 3 chapters.

I didn’t have a hard time getting into the book though; Layne has always been easy reading with a style that makes the pages fly by. I did like the set-up of Alexis and Logan and the camaraderie between the Belles – these seem like minor points however – and would definitely want to know how Alexis/Logan’s story pans out.

three-stars

To Have and To Hold by Lauren Layne

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

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

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

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