Author: Nicole McLaughlin

Maybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlin

Maybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlinMaybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlin
Series: Whiskey and Weddings #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 27th 2018
Pages: 300
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one-star

Jen Mackenzie has been knocked down more than a few times, but she always gets up and makes sure she has the last word. It’s the reason she now considers herself equal parts self-sufficient and free-spirit. But since losing her job and trying to help her mother beat cancer, real life―and her occasional careless choices―have begun to catch up with her. Her one saving grace: The Stag, a boutique distillery that has become Kansas City’s go-to wedding venue. The only catch: One of the owners, TJ Laughlin, happens to be the one man who somehow manages to make Jen feel inadequate.

TJ has secretly had a thing for Jen since high school. Now, as her new boss, it’s a daily struggle between revealing his feelings and wringing her beautiful neck. Only one thing is for certain: he can’t stand idly by and watch the woman he cares for struggle. She may be convinced that accepting TJ’s help is a weakness. But all he sees in Jen is beauty and strength, inside and out. As things finally heat up between them, can TJ find a way to convince Jen that love is about give and take―and having it all, together?

While I definitely liked Nicole McLaughlin’s first book in this series, ‘Maybe This Time’ was a different kettle of fish unfortunately. Perhaps what made it worse was that I’d been wanting TJ to find his HEA particularly after pining after someone who absolutely didn’t deserve him at all.

There were so many aspects of the story that simply didn’t gel with me, though my primary issue lay with Jen, who rubbed me the absolute wrong way from the start. It began with the childish taunting she did of TJ—if this isn’t the childish equivalent of taunting the one you secretly have a thing for like—, the self-pity, the lashing out at people who didn’t deserve it all because she felt trodden down by life.

If I had any sympathy for the acrimonious struggles she faced with her mother and being stretched in all ways, that wore off quickly enough in her overcompensation for it by generally being a bitch to others, particularly TJ, who had (inexplicably) been panting after her for so long. That she tried to measure against herself against the women she thought TJ liked, then justified her own insecurities by putting TJ’s date down convinced me that this wasn’t a ‘heroine’ I could ever root for, much less even grow to like when she’d actually thrown her hookups in his face in the previous book and then being defiant about being late at work because of it.

For most part, I thought Jen pretty much acted like the whole world owed her something, and seemed petty over almost everything. And lordy, how I loathed her. I didn’t like how TJ had given up his own job for her, when she’d all but selfishly left him to pursue her own dreams. Mostly, I felt sorry for TJ, who seemed to be at the losing end of the deal, couldn’t understand what the hell he actually saw in her, and generally thought of their romance as a lacklustre one that I couldn’t see working out down the line.

And that pretty much clinched it for me. I couldn’t quite go on anymore after that, especially when I detested this so, so much. It’s a review that’s clearly against the grain, and admittedly, my strong reaction is one that shows my own issues with the type of characters I can and want to get on board with in romantic fiction. That said, I think I’m still cautiously optimistic about Jake’s story though—he and Alexis do seem to be headed down a path that isn’t pretty—though I’m still feeling burnt by this particular installment.

one-star

Should’ve Been You by Nicole McLaughlin

Should’ve Been You by Nicole McLaughlinShould've Been You by Nicole McLaughlin
Series: Man Enough #3
Published by Swerve on January 30th 2018
Pages: 250
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two-stars

National Guardsman Jase Beckford wants to live a quiet life raising cattle and taking care of his mother. His childhood friend and neighbor Hannah is still his best friend, but when he walks into the Walters house one morning and sees her twin sister Becca for the first time in five years, he wonders if he missed out on something special.

Becca Walters has nursed a secret crush on Jase since childhood, but he always preferred Hannah, so she buried her feelings assuming her sister and Jase would one day turn their flirtation into a real relationship. And this Christmas, she is anticipating a proposal of her own, so Jase’s reappearance in her life doesn’t mean anything. Much. Okay, maybe more than Becca would like to admit.

However, when Becca’s sister gets engaged to someone who’s not Jase, Becca and Jase find themselves spending more together. And when secrets are revealed, suddenly those dormant feelings come back to life; but is the possibility of something between them worth risking the happiness of everyone they love?

I do like Nicole McLaughlin’s writing and was hoping that ‘Should’ve been you’ could recreate the sort of feels I got with ‘Maybe I Do’.

What a mess this turned out to be.

Let’s start with the unrequited love (or crush) that Becca had on Jase for many years. But he was the boy who never noticed her because he and her twin sister Hannah had always seemed to be on the edge of something more. And though they’d never gotten there, Becca had since moved away and on with her life, to get to get out of their way, and to escape the pain of feeling something for someone who doesn’t reciprocate.

I do root for the underdog, so the character who nurses a secret crush, and tries to do something about it instead of pining for decades without moving on gets my sympathy and vote. But what I found out to my horror however, was a love triangle of sorts where everyone seemed unsure of what they felt and ended up instead playing each other, whether intentionally or not.

Jase/Hannah/Becca were never too sure about where the boundaries between friends and lovers lie and as a consequence, I couldn’t be sure myself if the Jase/Becca were the main pairing here or relegated to secondary characters in their own story, given how much Jase/Hannah seemed to take centre stage in the first half of the book. Throw in Becca’s own jealous ex and things get doubly more complicated and convoluted, particularly when Jase finally decided that he wanted Becca after clarity finally struck…at a somewhat bad time in their lives.

Jase and Becca did eventually get their act together, though their rushed HEA, after all the drama (some of it bordered on cheating, perhaps, depending on your definition of it), didn’t seem as though it’d come convincingly. It’d felt too conveniently like Jase jumping from one sister to the other and I couldn’t quite believe that he and Becca had actually sufficiently worked out their years of angst, misunderstandings and their own confused desires before they jumped into bed and declared all was well with the world. For all that McLaughlin had laid out for us, their colossally knotted issues would have taken more than just the whole Christmas period to untangle.

Sadly, ‘Should’ve been You’ turned out to be more of a disappointment because it fell flatter than I expected. There’s no denying that it is a cute story with everything nicely wrapped up in a bow-tie kind of end, more so because it’s a holiday book where you see the snowflakes and feel the holiday cheer. But looking past the glitter, I simply couldn’t feel that kind of book-satisfaction and the couple-love despite their happy ending.

two-stars

Maybe I Do by Nicole McLaughlin

Maybe I Do by Nicole McLaughlinMaybe I Do by Nicole McLaughlin
Series: Whiskey and Weddings #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on August 29th 2017
Pages: 300
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four-stars

She doesn’t believe in fairy tales. He is married to his job. Maybe whiskey is the secret ingredient that will bring them together–and give true love a shot.

Wedding photographer Charlotte Linley loves her work –even though she hates weddings. Sure, she still holds a grudge after being left at the altar by her high-school sweetheart. But today Charlotte is just happy to have complete control over her career, which is flourishing. Especially since she joined forces with one of the three gorgeous owners of The Stag, a boutique distillery that has become Kansas City’s hottest wedding venue.

Dean Troyer, bitter after the end of his own marriage, knows that Charlotte is the real deal–beautiful, talented, and successful. He may flirt with her every time she comes to The Stag, but Dean is determined to keep his professional distance…particularly now that she’s helping him with his own sister’s wedding. The only problem? The more time Dean spends with Charlotte, the deeper their connection grows. Is this a rom-com cliche’ or could it be that these two jaded souls in the wedding business have finally found their real-life happily ever after?

Books that deal directly with weddings do give me pause. Fussy bridezillas, miles of (pink) sequinned fluff, colour-coordinated decor, crazy cakes and the general wedding fever that gets most characters scurrying around can and often give me nightmares, but I do like Nicole McLaughlin’s writing and ‘Maybe I do’ was pretty much a shoo-in.

I was nonetheless surprised to read though, that beyond a long-term flirtation that turned into something more, much of it shone the spotlight Dean’s hesitation, his indecisiveness and his insecure second-guessing that made him blow hot and cold. These were also what created many of the speed bumps in the story when he had, for 3 years, built a wall between Charlotte and him. That was understandable to an extent, clearly, because McLaughlin does write an irresistible older hero who has already been dented by the hard knocks of life multiple times. Dean’s case is a sympathetic one, yet I thought he needed to get himself sorted sooner and man up (and grovel) where Charlotte was concerned.

Charlotte on the other hand, grabbed me from page one, made me root so much for her and pretty much made the day for me. Amidst a slew of immature heroines who flounce their way into over-the-top hysterics when the situation never calls for it, Charlotte stands out like a sparkling gem. I loved how measured and thoughtful her responses and reactions were as much as I loved how upfront she was with Dean and how put-together she had it all despite how he treated her.

There were some distracting issues that did seem to take a bit of focus away from Charlotte/Dean themselves, so it isn’t quite the perfect read for me since what Dean and Charlotte had to sort out did seem monumental but were dealt with only in the closing chapters (as well as the epilogue) and I was left wondering just how much they really understood each other despite Charlotte’s admirable way of assimilating Dean’s revelation. The nitty-gritty of Dean’s sister’s wedding planning got lost on me, as much as I couldn’t quite get past the issues with both Dean’s and Charlotte’s ex-es, who were more than just ghosts of the ugly past.

I’m mildly curious about the next few books in the series, though I’m going to be on the fence for now—a secondary character who just might be a protagonist in the next story isn’t entirely likeable at all so that put a damper in it already. But to get back to the present instead of projecting a bit too much, I’ll have to say that ‘Maybe I do’ is definitely an enjoyable (and emotional) read and with a sparkling heroine who jumped out from the pages and kept me in a girl-crush for the entire duration? That made a near-sleepless night worth it.

four-stars