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Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 15th August 2017
Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa BaileyToo Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #4
Published by Forever on September 26th 2017
Pages: 320
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three-stars

A love of a lifetime . . .

Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there---not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.

Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy---saving her from her past could cost him everything.

‘Too Beautiful to Break’ closes out the Clarksons series where a road trip from the west to the east coast (that’s supposed to end in a dip in the cold, cold waters of the Atlantic) based on a mother’s journal heals rifts between siblings and gets them their own love of their lives as well. Each book chronicles each Clarkson sibling’s story and I have to say, it has been a ride as Tessa Bailey picks on the oddest of triggers for each of them to use as the very catalyst to lead them to their HEAs.

Bailey has left Belmont’s and Sage’s for last, and it’s their strange interdependency rather than any sexual tension throughout the trip that finally causes Sage to up and leave Belmont who needs her to calm the demons in his head.

That’s where the story begins—with so many conflicting and contradictory emotions that Sage broadcasted which frankly, confused me. Much of Sage’s bluster about needing to push Belmont away felt like the lady doth protested too much when she realised she had been using him as much as he has been using her instead. I didn’t like her wishy-washy sense of pushing-pulling away from Belmont and that he’d needed to chase her up the mountains and down the valleys just to get her to understand that he saw her as a woman (rather than someone he needed to lean on) didn’t sit too well with me when it was evident from the start that their relationship was really about support. In other words, they were using each other as crutches because they needed to lean on each other when it was bad. Yet I couldn’t quite see what exactly was so wrong with that, because that was what partly defined a relationship as well: people needing each other in so many ways, only that their need hadn’t yet turned sexual.

Only a writer of Bailey’s calibre can sharply highlight emotions and get deeply into her characters’ heads—this much I’ll always associate with Bailey’s books and exposition about her paragraphs of her characters’ state of mind. Yet here, Bailey tries to make a distinction between need and neediness that I basically couldn’t agree with—it was unconvincingly superfluous and one that split hairs—and in doing so, has her protagonists running emotional rings around each other because they find themselves unable to go to each other for comfort with the ‘wrong’ kind of motivation.

I could understand Sage’s and Belmont’s need to fight their own demons, only that I didn’t think at all that they should have insisting on doing it alone. For Sage, it was her impoverished roots with parents who only leaned on each other and forgot about her; for Belmont it was a traumatic childhood incident that he hadn’t managed to shake off at all. In any case, there’s a small town type feel in Louisiana that’s claustrophobic and stifling, with a villain that somehow manages to ensnare both Sage and Belmont when he finally comes to her rescue and tries to take on her burdens. I only wished that Sage fought harder for Belmont as he did for her.

In ‘Too Beautiful to Break’, it all ends blissfully happy for everyone, especially for readers who want to see how other characters get on after the end of their own books. The Polar Plunge cements the Clarksons’ siblings bond and with the retro-tint of movies past, the layers of all the stories in this series come together when everyone has their HEA by the time they shake the cold water off themselves.

three-stars

Disorderly Conduct by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 2nd August 2017
Disorderly Conduct by Tessa BaileyDisorderly Conduct by Tessa Bailey
Series: The Academy #1
Published by Avon on August 29th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…

Police academy cadet Charlie Burns can’t believe his luck when the gorgeous blonde he meets in a bar murmurs those magic words: “Nothing serious, ’kay?” Mind-blowing, no-strings sex with Ever Carmichael—it’s the holy grail of hookups for a guy who’s too busy following in his law enforcement family’s footsteps to think about getting serious. Charlie’s all about casual…that is, until Ever calls it quits and his world tilts on its axis.

Ever knows that when you control the relationship game, you can’t get played. But for the first time, she wants more than short-term satisfaction. Step one: end her fling with commitment-phobic Charlie. Step two: sacrifice herself to the ruthless NYC dating scene. Yet everywhere she turns, there’s Charlie, being his ridiculously charming self. No online match or blind date compares to the criminally hot cop-in-training, but they’re over. Aren’t they?

If love is a four-letter-word, why does the idea of Ever seeing someone else tie Charlie up in knots?  Now he’s desperate to win her back…and a little date sabotage never hurt anyone, right?

The bad? The ridiculous, cheesy cover. Also, the ridiculous name that is Ever Carmichael.

Everything else however, was pretty good, particularly since I found myself quite entertained for a sustained period of time. In a nutshell: woman stops a no-strings fling in order to get into a serious relationship. Unhappy and offended guy who has been booted out of this fling abruptly sabotages every effort of hers to do so, having been classified as the kind who wouldn’t commit.

Charlie’s panic about losing Ever as a friend-with-benefits is amusing precisely because he’s in love without having put a name to it yet. The ways in which he sabotaged her efforts to get into serious dating were funny and to a lesser extent, the sheer anxiety he’d had about finding every excuse in the book to throw at her about being friends. Operating on irony and what the readers know that the characters don’t, Tessa Bailey also gives it a twist by throwing the spotlight as well on Charlie’s own abandonment issues—he’s been screwed over by his own mother as much as Ever had—and the plot is as much about him as it is about Ever’s willingness to do what it takes to please her mum.

In most romances that I’ve come across, sex is never the problem for the couple in question anyway; it’s only what comes before and/or after that matters to me more because it shows the characters for who they really are and how well an author can pull together plot strings and character minus writing an nth variation of slotting pointy object A into soft opening B. Bailey’s sex scenes are a bit too over-the-top and porn-ish for me—it’s amazing how characters manage to speak and think in long sentences in the midst of a passionate tumble—but apart from this, I still liked her writing much better here. It’s more lighthearted, and pitched well as a rom-com with a (thankfully) less ball-busting, steamrolling alpha male who can apparently give their heroines a season ticket’s worth of rides on his orgasm train.

There is some (unnecessary) angst of the New Adult flavour, one might say, and the story could have been cut short had Ever/Charlie honestly communicated what really needed to be said.

But where would the drama be otherwise? Or the crazy antics you’d never catch an ‘adult’ doing? Along with the cringeworthy 80s-style cheesy grovelling, Bailey infuses into every page that sense of optimism and the nervous feeling of crossroads that most people in their twenties have and truth be told, I had a ball of a time reliving it.

three-stars

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
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