Author: Tracey Alvarez

Bending the Rules by Tracey Alvarez

Bending the Rules by Tracey AlvarezBending The Rules by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Due South #10
Published by Icon Publishing, Tracey Alvarez on 20th October 2018
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Cop Noah Daniels doesn't believe in unicorns or true love, not since his life went to hell six years ago. Emotions are easier to handle when they're out of sight, out of mind. But when script writer Tilly Montgomery crash-lands into his world on Stewart Island for a month, she might just be the one to convince him that unicorns and true love do exist. If they're prepared to bend the rules a little…

Tracey Alvarez’s Due South series has always been a special one for me; that it’s set in beautiful NZ with its unique Maori culture—Alvarez’s clear love for her country bleeds through so enthusiastically that I can’t help feel it—is just a bonus.

Noah Daniels finally, finally gets his story, though it isn’t quite one that I’d expected, but then, I hadn’t expected my own reaction to be lukewarm at best.

I think few things really happened, even though I was partway though: there were a few to-and-fro moments that felt dragged out, the usual flitting in and out of the Due South characters who had had their HEAs already written and the slow unfolding of Tilly’s great-aunt’s grand affair with a man through her journal.

As a result, it took me days to finish this (never happened before with an Alvarez book!) and while I love the writing that’s a mixture of action, humour and quirk—sometimes all in a paragraph—it was a struggle to see Tilly/Noah together when I couldn’t really even buy into their attraction to begin with. Tilly was mildly annoying—the constant, mindless chatter, the cop-cling thing just got to me—and with Noah’s emotional disengagement, this was a pairing that made it surprisingly hard to see getting off the ground given how much they took turns to push each other away. Having these lines of conflict drawn quite early between them however, meant that there was a steady climb to a climax that I could see coming and it definitely got better towards the end.

‘Bending the Rules’ ended up a middling read for me, and it’s hard to say if I was really disappointed or not. I found myself firmly in neutral territory after turning the last page but then I thought immediately of the other characters who have yet to have their HEA and I was excited again knowing that this series would be continuing.

three-stars

Break Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Break Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezBreak Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Bounty Bay, #5
Published by Icon Publishing on 15th June 2018
Pages: 227
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two-stars

Fake girlfriend. Real sizzle. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam Ngata has the talent of creating something out of almost nothing in his successful wood carving business, Kauri Whare. That talent doesn’t extend to producing a serious girlfriend out of nowhere when he implies to a huge overseas investor that he’s a one-woman kind of man. Big on domestic bliss and honesty, the investor is due to arrive in less than ten days time with a deal that’d provide Sam’s family-operated business with invaluable future security. Now Sam just has to find a woman willing to fake it until they make it — the deal, that is — with no strings attached.

Single mum Vee Sullivan needs a man in her life like a flightless kiwi bird needs wings to soar. She has a precocious little girl to provide for and she’s in the middle of expanding her clothing business — with an eye on Kauri Whare’s newest retail space. Unfortunately, it’d take a small miracle for her to afford the lease. So when childhood crush, Sam, offers her a one week only role of pretending to be his ‘serious’ girlfriend in exchange for three months waived lease, Vee is sorely tempted. But saying yes to fake girlfriend means she might not be able to say no to real passion. Someone’s going to get their heart broken…

Surfer-dude-player-slash-artisan badly needs to convince an overseas investor to get his business made. Cue the fake girlfriend (who so happens as well to be a childhood acquaintance that didn’t exactly run in his circles) to help project a wholesome reputation that’s so far from what he’s been. Add the dog and the child as well, since the fake girlfriend just so happens to be a single mum who is so far from his regular hookups. And of course, it all goes sideways towards the end, forcing this farce out into the light.
I was a little hesitant when I saw the direction in which Tracey Alvarez was going to take Sam Ngata’s story, but Alvarez’s writing is one that I always come back to, so it was with some apprehension that I dove into this book.
But after the high of Isaac’s book which I loved to bits, ‘Break Your Heart’ sadly, brought me to a new low. While I loved all the descriptions of the Kiwi landscape, I didn’t quite enjoy this as much as Sam’s brother’s (Isaac) story, since it felt a little more clichéd-driven (though there’s plenty of heat and lust which somehow get mistaken for falling in love) and more of a playing-to-stereotypes kind of read with the player, non-committal bachelor suddenly looking for a fake girlfriend for his business to perk up.
I thought Sam was too cocky, too full of himself—a veneer that he didn’t quite seem to shrug off anyway—while Vee simply sought to protect her daughter and her own heart. The admission that he’d hooked up with every girl but her because he wanted her so much over the years was simply an explanation I couldn’t and wouldn’t buy into in any case; most of all, it simply painted Sam in an awful and hypocritical light, period. How could he have always wanted her when they’d moved in different circles anyway? And then, saying that he’s always been hers, always wanted her when he’s gone around with other women in sight for decades?
What made this a particularly hard review to write was this pervading sense of disappointment (and some disgust) that I was left with after finishing an Alvarez book, more so because I typically do like what she writes: the style and her obvious love for her country make Alvarez that kind of stand-out author. But ‘Break Your Heart’ trod repeatedly on my triggers and left me foaming at the mouth despite the jaunty writing that Alvarez is known for and it became a book that I couldn’t wait to forget. Admittedly, this is all me, though, and my review is most likely one that will be the anomaly.
two-stars

Quake by Tracey Alvarez

Quake by Tracey AlvarezQuake by Tracey Alvarez
on March 9th 2018
Pages: 236
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three-stars

He’ll shake her foundations…

Ana Grace is living a single mother’s worst nightmare. Separated from her two kids by a catastrophic earthquake, she’s trapped in her office building with a man she’s only just met. He’s a sexy former soldier, and possibly the only man able to help her navigate the dangerous landscape home.

Daniel Calder is tired of failing people he’s tried to help, but since Ana is his younger sister’s boss, he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. That rock keeps shifting under his feet, shaking his determination not to become emotionally involved with another damsel in distress.

But when an unforeseen enemy rises from a city in chaos, Ana Grace and her family are in the crosshairs. There’s so much more at stake than just their hearts, and the clock is ticking.

‘Quake’ resonated with me in more ways than one. Apart from the devastating quakes that have stolen the headlines in New Zealand over the past few years, that Tracey Alvarez has chosen to set her book in Wellington—a place which I adore—and its familiar surrounds made me walk in these footsteps once again. It was all too easy to imagine the windiest city in the world swept away in the tsunami that resulted because of the fictional quake, the landslides and mudflow and the aftershocks crumbling everything that I remember all too well.

‘Quake’ is a departure from Alvarez’s ‘Due South’ and ‘Far North’ series, and I was beyond intrigued (but eager) to see how she’d tackle this book. Here, Alvarez’s distinct rom-com voice is replaced with a more sombre, direct narrative, though it’s no less engaging, well-written and realistic, more so since it’s about an area built on a faultline that has and is likely to see more of these quakes to come. The small bit of suspense does not entirely kick in until later, with the first half being more of a catalogue of how the desperate survive, though the insinuation that there are those who would take advantage of chaos to further their own malicious agendas is a brilliant idea, if a little baffling in this instance. Still, Ana’s and Daniel’s accidental, longer-than-expected involvement is only that is mostly believable, given the adrenaline and tension of a natural disaster forging stronger bonds.

It was admittedly harder to get invested in this pairing than I thought. If Daniel was the hero I thought he was, Ana’s appalling behaviour and emotional cowardice didn’t make me a fan of hers at all. The numerous times she pushed Daniel away and hurt him made me think that a smack was in fact, sorely needed, despite the spurts of courage and bravery that she showed while making her way home to her children. Painting Daniel with the same brush as her father and ex was unfair and she knew it but ultimately, Ana’s repetitive but brutal actions towards him—all the way to the very end—made her a lot less easy to like than Daniel whose loyalty and devotion seemed misplaced and undeserved.

My reservations about Ana however, shouldn’t be a deterrent to those who like disaster-type stories with romance and a hint of suspense thrown in. There is so much that’s unique about ‘Quake’’s premise but my own bias about New Zealand is probably showing here; Alvarez’s assured and confident writing just makes the pot that much sweeter.

three-stars

Home for Christmas by Tracey Alvarez

Home for Christmas by Tracey AlvarezHome For Christmas by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Due South #9
Published by Icon Publishing on December 1st 2017
Pages: 136
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three-stars

They’re dreaming of a White Christmas…

Carly Gatlin can’t wait to take her fiancé to Colorado for a snuggly snow-filled Christmas, only a freakish summer storm sweeps in disabling everyone’s plans. Still, with holiday surprises in store and even a secret admirer for Stewart Island’s elderly notorious matchmaker, the happy couples of Oban might not mind being home for Christmas after all.

Tracey Alvarez’s ‘Home For Christmas’ delivers such a nostalgic punch for the folks of Stewart Island, with her trademark snark and witty humour. Maybe the best part of it here is that it’s a virtually no-angst and engaging dive into a series I like very much, with a hint of more to come.

‘Home for Christmas’ is quite cleverly plotted and structured: every chapter focuses on a different pairing that had come together in her previous books (pick your favourite here) and provides the badly-needed catch-up that I need of them from time to time, even if it’s just to see how they’re getting on past their happy-ever-after, thanks to bad weather changing the best-laid plans on Stewart Island. There’s also the unique Christmas cheer and the days leading up to it small-town style and culmination of it all in the gathering of the whole township for the event, as well as a sneak-peek into the sexy cop’s story which I can’t wait for.

If anything, the sweet holiday-vibe comes on strong here, and even from another side of the world where the season are reversed, who says Christmas can’t be festive without snow?

three-stars

Mend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Mend Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezMend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Bounty Bay #4
Published by Tracey Alvarez on September 15th 2017
Pages: 247
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five-stars

An idiot’s guide to falling for your best friend’s widow…

Former rugby star Isaac Ngata was New Zealand’s golden boy until five years ago when a tragic accident took the life of his friend and team mate. Now he’s a pariah with a screwed up knee and a burden of guilt toward his friend’s wife and daughter. Best thing for him to do is sink into the anonymous safety of his hometown. An even better thing to do would be to stop picturing Natalie in his arms.

For someone who doesn’t know a dummy pass from a drop kick, Natalie Fisher just wants to keep her late husband’s passion for sport in the past. But their teenage daughter’s rugby team is in desperate need of a coach and the man she can’t stand to be around has volunteered. A long buried attraction flares to life between Natalie and Isaac, one they can’t run far or fast enough to avoid. Soon rugby fever isn’t the only thing heating up Bounty Bay. Crossing the line never had such high stakes…

I’ve somehow always hesitated to jump into Tracey Alvarez’s Far North/Bounty Bay series, but this is probably because I’m so attached to her Down South crew that I’m probably as possessive of them as Alvarez is. But ‘Mend Your Heart’s blurb sounded heartbreaking from the start and I knew immediately that I wanted Isaac Ngata’s story desperately as much as I wanted my next Down South fix.

The family-like bonds in every series is probably Tracey Alvarez’s forte, as secondary characters float in and out of the whole book while propping the whole narrative as well as the protagonists up with a sly yet subtle kind of humour I’d be hard-pressed to find outside of Australia and New Zealand. Alvarez’s writing is definitely no slouch either, though it can take some getting used to her style, as well as the references to a sport that can be rather obscure for those who live on the other side of of the Pacific ocean. But rugby is everything in Kiwi-land and I love Alvarez’s deliberate spotlight on the All Blacks who aren’t, despite popular opinion, the only famous thing about this place.

But I digress.

Back to the plot as we know it: Isaac’s professional career and reputation went up in flames 5 years ago in an incident that destroyed any kind of relationship between his (now dead) best mate’s wife and daughter, and that’s just the beginning of what we know. It unravels slowly from here onwards, with bits and pieces that come along with the truth that you know is contrary to what Isaac (and popular opinion) has claimed. Natalie and Olivia are in essence, too close and yet too far for this guy to find his HEA, though it’s clear that it’s high time for him to.

Isaac himself jumped out from the pages and became an immediate hero-to-die-for when it became clear what he did to protect people he owed nothing to. The grumpy facade, that shell he’d retreated into and the emotions he didn’t quite try to hide and run away from like almost every alpha book hero I know, made him a shining beacon among the thorny arses in romantic fiction. I loved every moment of his interaction with Natalie, Olivia as well as the all-girls school rugby team, just as much as I cheered for their HEA with their nosy but well-meaning mates in the background. For a few hours, I’d been happily part of their whanau and needless to say, I’d gladly leap back in when Vee’s and Sam’s story comes out of the works.

five-stars

Saying I Do by Tracey Alvarez

Saying I Do by Tracey AlvarezSaying I Do by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Due South #8
Published by Tracey Alvarez on May 19th 2017
Pages: 235
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four-stars

Marriage and happily-ever-after are for suckers…
Joe Whelan was fooled once on the way to the altar, and the Irish doctor isn’t about to be an eejit over a woman again. Especially not one who witnessed his broken-hearted humiliation years ago. He won’t be swayed by the sparks that fly whenever his eyes meet MacKenna’s or distracted by her sweet kisses. The only thing Joe cares about is preventing his sister from making the biggest marital mistake of her life.
MacKenna Jones loves a good wedding—so long as she’s sewing the bride’s gown, not walking down the aisle herself. Falling for Joe Whelan’s sexy bedside manner wasn’t on the cards, neither was a seven-day road trip with him to Las Vegas, the Marriage Capital of the World. When the stakes are so high, will these two gun-shy cynics ever say I Do?

I’ve always been fond of the Due South cast (some couples more than others, admittedly) and every new book in this series is like revisiting the motley crew who live in Stewart Island, so far from the rest of the world yet so happy in their windswept, isolated community with a record number of HEAs minted there.

Dr. Joe Whelan’s turn finally arrives in this book and it’s fate, or rather, Alvarez, who chooses to pair him up with Mackenna Jones, a gun-shy wedding-dress maker who flees when it comes to making a hard and fast commitment. But Joe isn’t all that jaded despite his past and even after attraction turns into something more, his ability to look forward might be the only thing that will see him across the finish line especially when Mac herself falters and stumbles.

I think the only part of the book that was difficult was the ‘final conflict’ so to speak where I found it unforgivable of Mac for what she did in the end to Joe (hitting him where it hurts the most) though, and was incredulous for Joe’s seeming acceptance and easy forgiveness of it. I did love Joe from the beginning and that did play a part in my own judgement of Mac not really deserving him at the very moment he needed her to step out for the both of them. Maybe it’s me being cynical and petty, but I did expect better of her despite her own reservations and her cowardly inability to decide what she really wanted. She did treat him unfairly, first running, then leaving a note that barely explained a thing—and her actions didn’t seem congruous of the love she proclaimed to have for him—especially when seen in contrast to Joe’s steadfast loyalty. But I’d be the first to admit that I prefer my heroines who dare to put themselves out there with a bit more pluck, particularly when their other halves show themselves as determined and unmovable.

The best part about ‘Saying I Do’ however, is that nothing is all that it seems. There’s no straight case of one-upping each other or a straight road where the jilted protagonist comes around to the idea of marriage, but multiple layers of (self?)deception, denial and desire that overlap like a finely-made pastry that’s a mouthwatering feast. It’s also characteristic of Tracey Alvarez’s quirky but stylish writing, but I loved the additional and rather authentic use of Irishisms here (or rather, the typical vocab used in the British Isles) that gave the story its strong flavour. Already, I want more of the gossipy Due South crew, in all their smugness, laughter and love.

four-stars

Playing For Fun by Tracey Alvarez

Playing For Fun by Tracey AlvarezPlaying For Fun by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Due South #6
Published by Smashwords Edition on December 17th 2015
Pages: 300
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four-stars

Wanted: A woman for Ford.Ford Komeke can’t deny he could use an up-skill in the dating arena. It’s a local in-joke that his game, as far as women go, sucks. Thanks to the meddling of New Zealand’s worst octogenarian matchmaker, he’s got an online dating profile, a new wardrobe, and a haircut from Stewart Island’s sexy hairdresser, Holly Parker. But since he’s well and truly mired in the friendzone with Holly, what’s the harm in exploring his options? A little jealousy could work wonders.
Offered: Dream job with a catch.What do you say when you’re offered an un-turn-downable career opportunity? You say, hell-to-the-yeah! Only there’s a problem. To get the dream job Holly must leave Stewart Island and her two best friends, Shaye and Ford. But if Holly can distract Shaye with wedding planning and set Ford up with a nice girl so she can stop imagining him naked, neither will notice if she exits stage right. Neither will notice if her feelings for Ford stop being strictly platonic.
Warning: One kiss is never enough.As addictive as the chocolate stash Holly hides in her fridge, one kiss forces them out of the friendzone—way out of the friendzone. Heat and hunger explode, but the ugliness in Ford’s past hold his heart hostage. Playing for fun or playing for keeps? Holly and Ford must decide because the consequences of falling in love means that someone’s heart or someone’s dream will ultimately end up shattered.

Ford Komeke’s (near non-existent) love-life takes a tumble and spin when the small town gossip’s meddling ways pushes him way past his comfort zone…into online dating, a haircut that he never really wanted and new clothes which he doesn’t think he needs. But the hilarity that ensues thereafter merely confirms that it is Holly Parker, his longtime friend, whom he wants. Holly’s own unmoving state of denial however, means he’s got his work cut out for him and the huge elephant in the room that’s his messed-up childhood promises that he’ll probably screw things up before anything can even begin.

In short, ‘Playing for fun ‘ was an incredibly clever and fun friends-to-lovers read. I loved every moment of Holly/Ford – also probably because of the delicious UST that Tracey Alvarez has got going in the early chapters of the book, especially when their relationship is charted against Supernatural’s seasons, fumbling blind dates and rock solid love scenes that thankfully steered clear of TSTL limits. It was great to revisit the rest of the nosy but oh-so-loyal characters in Due South and even if Piper/West still hold my heart, I think Holly and Ford come a very close second to knock that particular touch-rugby trophy off its ledge.

four-stars