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Too Close to Call by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 18th June 2017
Too Close to Call by Tessa BaileyToo Close to Call by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #3.5
Published by Evil Eye Concepts, Incorporated on June 13th 2017
Pages: 136
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four-stars

All-American wide receiver Kyler Tate’s life is about to change. A fairytale college career skyrocketed him to the NFL draft. Adoration and opportunity are thrown in his direction wherever he goes, thanks to being chosen in the first round by the Los Angeles Rage.

None of the accolades mean anything, though, without his high school sweetheart, Bree Sutton, by his side. Four years ago, she walked away from Kyler, choosing a quiet life over the flash and notoriety his career would someday bring.

Now he’s back in their Indiana hometown, refusing to leave for Los Angeles without her. Demanding she give their life together a shot. Her heart never stopped bleeding for the love of her life, but Bree’s decision was final. Too bad their wild attraction has only been amplified by their separation, and Kyler won’t quit until Bree is wearing his ring.

Kyler burst onto the scene in Brooks’s book and immediately I knew there was a story there that I wanted to read. ‘Too Close to Call’ is one that got me, not just because of the devotion of this soon-to-be football star, but his single-mindedness about wanting to get the love of his life back once and for all, despite Bree having ended it all 4 years ago.

With the tons of manwhores in college sports peppering the books these days in search of commitment-free hookups, Kyler stands out like some shining gem in the mud because he could never let Bree go. I did sort of wish that he’d tried to get on with it given the way she’d so callously broke things off with the intention of never seeing him again, just as I wished Bree had more gumption and chutzpah to fight for their relationship the way he did. That she’d stayed on the fence the whole time up until the end made me wonder about if she thought Kyler less important than her supposed duty to the family coupled with the flimsy excuse that she was only holding him back.

My only complaint really is how Tessa Bailey manages to make every hero of hers into an alpha, dirty-talking male though…to the point where they become indistinguishable in the way they burn up the sheets. Somehow the couple in question lose their distinct identities when they finally have sex (it inevitably ends up with a woman panting and begging and a man talking her ear off) only to regain these after the heights of orgasm are reached. Kyler/Bree in this case, could be Elliott/Peggy or even Ginger/Derek or anyone else and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, which is a far cry from the earnest, determined college student I first encountered in ‘Too Hard to Forget’.

Yet ‘Too Close to Call’ is short, rather satisfying read nonetheless, perhaps only because I thought Kyler deserved what he searched for all these years. At least it has the straightforward sort of clarity that I couldn’t quite get from this series from the very start, and that’s good enough for me.

four-stars

Too Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 30th April 2017
Too Hard to Forget by Tessa BaileyToo Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #3
Published by Forever on April 25th 2017
Pages: 336
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three-stars

This time, she's calling the shots. Peggy Clarkson is returning to her alma mater with one goal in mind: confront Elliott Brooks, the man who ruined her for all others, and remind him of what he's been missing. Even after three years, seeing him again is like a punch in the gut, but Peggy's determined to stick to her plan. Maybe then, once she has the upper hand, she'll finally be able to move on. In the years since Peggy left Cincinnati, Elliott has kept his focus on football. No distractions and no complications. But when Peggy walks back onto his practice field and into his life, he knows she could unravel everything in his carefully controlled world. Because the girl who was hard to forget is now a woman impossible to resist.

I dove into ‘Too Hard to Forget’ with trepidation, because the Clarksons series hasn’t been quite one for me so far. But a second-chance romance makes me curious and suspicious simultaneously and I did want to read what the hype was about when there were so many layers of the forbidden in this Bailey book.

Peggy Clarkson’s chance to get left behind at this stage of the road trip is also the reason for her 4 failed engagements in the past 3 years, and that is mostly because of the very stoic and unfeeling football coach with whom she’d had a secret relationship before graduation. Back then, she was his greatest shame and mistake and the impetus for revenge now is strong…until she realises that Elliott Brooks can easily beat her at her own game.

I’m plainly uncomfortable with the oppressive religious type of bondage that Elliot holds himself to and I’ll say straight out that this is just my prejudice against the exaltation or the denigration of organised religion that’s mixed in with the romance genre showing up here. There’s too much of the sacred and the profane that Tessa Bailey plays up especially in the first quarter of the book, where ‘sin’ and trespasses and easy labels are accorded to Peggy’s supposed behaviour and Elliott’s stoic sense of right and wrong.

Not only because I had been given the image of a ‘monk’ sinning willingly because of a seductress, but also because of the way religious faith has been positioned here as the ultimate stumbling block concerning ‘moral standards’, around which characters either fall so spectacularly short of or end up poking fun at. Frankly, I would have been infinitely happier had it been left out entirely. That said, adding Elliott’s devout Catholicism into the mix certainly makes for complex characterisation and it does make both the H/hr more multifaceted gems as a result—which I’m sure is Bailey’s intention all along—but I’m more than happy that the religious bit lightened up in the second half of the story.

It’s not to say though, that ‘Too Hard to Forget’ is written badly. Far from it. Peggy/Elliott’s story is emotional and heart-wrenching and that’s all because of Bailey’s sharp, well-honed writing style (the alpha, dirty-talking male makes yet another appearance here), especially when the switch is suddenly flipped at the halfway mark and the grovelling actually starts—just as Peggy finally decides to walk away. I liked the mess that Elliott had to sort out in his own head before he could pursue Peggy, just as I appreciated Peggy’s ability to see that she needed to heal apart from Elliott’s damaging impact on her personality. The added complication of a pre-teen daughter merely heaped on the growing sense of conflict because their emotional ties couldn’t be so easily severed. That much made for entertaining reading and the book was for most part, difficult to put down after I got past the heavy religious part.

There’s only Belmont and Sage now though and it’s mostly bewilderment that I’m left with about their strange, unhealthy co-dependency relationship. It has been mysteriously hinted at in this book and while I do find myself sort of eager to see just what they’re about, there’s part of me hoping that it wouldn’t be too bizarre.

three-stars

Wound Tight by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 14th November 2016
Wound Tight by Tessa BaileyWound Tight by Tessa Bailey
Series: Made in Jersey #4
Published by Entangled: Brazen on December 5th 2016
Pages: 162
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three-stars

When CEO Renner Bastion walks into a room, everyone keeps their distance. Well, everyone but the sarcastic, tattooed, Boston-bred security guard whose presence has kept Renner in New Jersey longer than intended. As if the unwanted attraction isn’t unsettling enough, Renner finds out his protector isn’t as unavailable as originally thought.
Milo Bautista just came out to his wealthy, ultra-confident boss, a man he secretly respects and admires…in more ways than he’ll admit. Worldly, experienced Renner would never look in his direction, let alone share some of that confidence he wears like a cloak, so Milo has set his sights on someone else to be his first.
Until Renner offers him private lessons in seduction...

Seldom do I venture into M/M territory but when I do, the stories have never failed to disappoint me. Tessa Bailey’s first M/M story surprised me and yet didn’t, in so many ways, and because I’ve always hankered after Renner Bastion’s story, I was curious to see how he’ll close the entire ‘Made in Jersey’ series with his own HEA.

But I never quite expected him to be paired with the unlikeliest of guys: the ex-military security guard who isn’t too sure if he likes women or men, or both, until Renner shows him the possibilities and helps cement what Milo Bautista needs. Hence, Bailey’s road to their HEA is a convoluted path of discovering boundaries, class, sexuality and identity, even if it’s not as fluid as she makes it out to be. There are in essence, lessons to be learnt, hot sex to get past and well, world enough and time for lust to turn to love, even if I’m not entirely sure how that switch was made.

As with every Bailey book, there’s always some kind of exaggeration and contortionist sex as characters suddenly spill their dirtiest talk while getting down hot and dirty. Honestly, it made me laugh at times when I try to imagine how it all goes down (pun fully intended), but for some reason, Renner/Milo made it a tad more believable than the previous pairings in this series. The happiest of epilogue is probably found here as well, with a hilariously teasing ending line for the readers…that is, HEAs will prevail up until their progeny begins the cycle of angst all over again.

three-stars

Worked Up by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Reviews 1st August 2016
Worked Up by Tessa BaileyWorked Up by Tessa Bailey
Series: Made in Jersey #3
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 1st 2016
Pages: 182
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three-stars

Factory mechanic Duke Crawford just wants to watch SportsCenter in peace. Unfortunately, living with four divorcee sisters doesn’t provide much silence, nor does it change his stance on relationships. But when a fellow commitment-phobe stumbles into his life, getting him good and worked up, he can’t deny his protective instincts.
Samantha Waverly’s brother just put her in an impossible situation. The only way out? Marry huge, gruff, gladiator look-alike Duke—for show, of course. She doesn’t make promises—she knows too well how easily they can be broken—and this is no exception.
As the blistering attraction between them grows, the lines around the no-strings relationship blur. But Duke and Samantha’s marriage is only for show…or is it?

‘Worked Up’ is classic Bailey: always a little strange and quirky in the way the characters think and speak, the abundance of dirty talk, the sudden, alpha cock-blocking behaviour, the exaggerated heaving breaths and the impossible sex that they have after an impossibly short period into the book. It’s 21st century bodice ripping, wrapped up in coarse, dirty language that can be simultaneously hot and weird, complete with animal metaphors and references when the male is always walking around with a hard on and is close to coming.

At least it’s how I’ve felt about the more recent Tessa Bailey books, after it all went through Twilight zone erotica for me.

This book is all that and more. Both Duke and Samantha are not quite the typical hero and heroine of any other romance or erotica novel – the commitment phobic trend aside – and like insects under a microscope, I couldn’t help but want a closer, longer peek at these strange characters who sometimes behave more like caricatures than three-dimensional ones. But they’re interesting and good for hours’ worth of entertainment, if not altogether to be taken that seriously.

Physically, Duke isn’t perfect at all and the closest I’ve ever seen to resemble the ordinary man in a genre that elevates physical perfection and reduces flaws into ‘distractions’ that readers find ‘acceptable’; Sam on the other hand, steers a little closer to the romance-book heroine while holding the damsel-in-distress card a little too strongly for my liking. Yet I also thought Duke made Sam weaker than she could have been, coddled her when she needed to step out and say what she wanted. It was frustrating not because he was that overbearing, but that Sam simply wilted under that sort of intense pressure and turned wimpy when it mattered for her to fight back. But all of this simply showed and fleshed out Duke more than Sam as a character that’s worth remembering, even if it made Bailey’s characterisation somewhat unbalanced and skewed towards the males she tends to favour.

But then, who am I to complain, when Duke is quite possibly, one of the better (and real) ones that have been churned out of Bailey’s troves?

three-stars

Raw Redemption by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 21st June 2016
Raw Redemption by Tessa BaileyRaw Redemption by Tessa Bailey
Series: Crossing the Line #4
Published by Entangled: Select Suspense on June 13th 2016
Pages: 304
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two-stars

Disgraced cop Henrik Vance is having a shit year. Banished to a derelict undercover squad, he’s been tasked with hunting down the daughter of Chicago’s most dangerous criminal. His obsession with saving the beautiful girl destroyed his career. And this time, it might cost his life.
Ailish O’Kelly doesn’t need a hero. She’ll save herself from her father’s violent criminal dynasty, thank you very much. Unfortunately, the sexy as sin cop who crashes her hideout isn’t hearing reason—especially not after the kiss that becomes much more.
His boss wants her as an informant. Ailish wants Henrik to keep whispering filthy things against her skin. But she knows too well the evil they’re up against, and when it comes down to protecting the man who owns her body and soul, she only has one choice...

I think I’ve only just been able to pin down what exactly bothers me about Tessa Bailey’s books of late that have rubbed me raw the wrong way: it is her penchant for over-exaggeration which is, oddly enough, in part due to her clever ability to write in a way that pushes the envelope straight out of the pocket. The case for instant lust and inexplicable actions done in the name of men thinking with their dicks, I think the dirty talk is starting to bore me as well simply because the sheer extravagance of language catapults every steamy sex scene into the realm of unbelievable rather than hot.

And yet, I go back for more each time, hoping for a plausible story that will rend my composure apart, bring out my deepest sympathies for the H/hr – because Bailey can do that if she wishes to – only to get disappointed every time.

That being said, Henrik and Ailish are still one of the ‘better’ characters in this series and that isn’t saying very much about the rest of those who have bypassed the grey areas and slipped into questionable ones here. Anti-heroes they may all be, but I’m yet to be convinced that they are even heroes in their own books.

two-stars

Too Hot to Handle by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 18th May 2016
Too Hot to Handle by Tessa BaileyToo Hot to Handle by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #1
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 17th 2016
Pages: 336
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two-stars

When rescue looks like a whole lot of trouble . . .
The road trip was definitely a bad idea. Having already flambéed her culinary career beyond recognition, Rita Clarkson is now stranded in God-Knows-Where, New Mexico, with a busted-ass car and her three temperamental siblings, who she hasn't seen in years. When rescue shows up---six-feet-plus of hot, charming sex on a motorcycle---Rita's pretty certain she's gone from the frying pan right into the fire . . .
Jasper Ellis has a bad boy reputation in this town, and he loathes it. The moment he sees Rita, though, Jasper knows he's about to be sorely tempted. There's something real between them. Something raw. And Jasper has only a few days to show Rita that he isn't just for tonight---he's forever.

This started out rather amusing, like a dysfunctional family comedy that veered off into an accidental romance which I couldn’t quite buy into because of the glaring instant love element that smacked me straight into a wall, as well as the lack of believability of the romantic leads.

I never quite felt the connection between Rita and Jasper who seemed to get together in order to put their own personal ghosts to bed: Rita needing to forget her failure in the culinary business and Jasper for his desperation to shrug off his tramp-like reputation in the small town where he’d been seen for a long time only a joke – with the first outsider to come along. Even if I could admire Jasper’s eagerness to pull himself out of that rut and make a name for himself, I felt that Rita/Jasper’s relationship seemed to happen out of serendipitous convenience and unbeatable lust rather than a shared history, bewilderingly compounded by the fact that it took only 72 hours for Jasper to somehow determine that Rita was the one he wanted to marry.

But to be fair, I’d readily admit that the instant-love trope would work definitely better for others than a sceptic like me.

Tessa Bailey’s writing certainly isn’t in question here and all her hallmarks are found in abundance in this book: the dirty-talking hero, the novel way her steamy scenes are constructed, the strong element of quirk that’s present in all her characters that they can almost be caricatures in some comic-strip and the extreme flaws that either make them tear-jerkingly sympathetic or absolutely abhorrent. Or maybe even both.

Personally, I’m simply not too convinced by the start of this series however, and I’ll remain on the fence with this one for now.

two-stars

Boiling Point by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews 26th January 2016
Boiling Point by Tessa BaileyBoiling Point by Tessa Bailey
Series: Crossing the Line, #3
Published by Entangled: Select on January 26th 2016
Pages: 352
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one-star

Falling for a con man is the most dangerous game of all…
Con artist Austin Shaw’s been in disguise so long he’s not sure where his fake identities end and he begins. Now that he’s been strong-armed into working for a specialized undercover unit working with the Chicago police—criminals with unique “skills”—the last thing he needs is to risk his iron control. Especially when it comes to a certain stunningly sexy hacker who tempts him with every look of disdain.
Polly Banks will never, ever trust a con man. On the trail of a ruthless crook who destroyed the only family she’s ever known, Polly is unnerved by the shadow who follows her every move. The one who makes her pulse pound and breath short with lust. Austin. He’s infuriating, enigmatic, and pure sex appeal, and she’s determined to resist him.
But an untrustworthy man of disguise can become anyone he wants…including a man that Polly must trust if she’s to escape their dangerous game alive.

Austin Shaw’s number is up, and his allegiance to the undercover squad is only a thin veneer, as long as he gets what he wants: a glimpse of an illegitimate daughter of a woman he’d fleeced and slept with a few years back, his former partner…and more recently, Polly Banks, who has her own reasons for going after that same partner he used to have.

Frankly, this was tortuous to read and I’m excruciatingly aware that this is an opinion that clearly places me in the 0.0001% of the number of reviewers here. The lack of direction and shallow character depth are issues that I have with this story, but as with an increasing number of Tessa Bailey’s books, main characters tend to allow raging sexual need to overrule good sense. Consequently, the sheer number of explicit sex scenes detracts from – and diminishes – the entire story and its characters.

But mostly it’s the anti-hero himself who has tanked this story for me. I hadn’t warmed up to Austin (of whom I couldn’t get a mental grasp) and even if Ms. Bailey has done a credible job of making his slippery personality so ingrained that all he can do is move and talk within nebulous shades of grey, his insistence on living half-truths irked me when all it did was obscure a depth of character we could have plumbed. Even for an anti-hero, he was difficult to get behind when all I felt was revulsion for his con-man deeds, his bizarre stalkerish behaviour, leaving only a nagging feeling that he couldn’t quite earn his redemption in this tale that straddles the lines of morality.

one-star
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