Publisher: Amazon Publishing

Buried by Brenda Rothert

Buried by Brenda RothertBuried by Brenda Rothert
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 15th November 2018
Pages: 167
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two-stars

Do you believe in fate?

I didn’t. I’d worked since childhood to become an NFL starting quarterback. All the blood, sweat, and tears were about to pay off with my name in the record books. Setting an NFL record was going to be the crowning achievement of my career. Hell, of my life.But then fate, the cagey bitch, threw me a curveball I never saw coming. I ended up trapped in a doomsday bunker with four strangers, my chances at that record slipping away as days turned into months.

I never would’ve given Erin a second look. She was gorgeous, sure, but not my type. I liked women who were strong. Fearless. Resilient. Not to mention that she hated me.

But I was so wrong about her. And in that bunker, I fell in crazy, stupid love. I thought a record would be my greatest triumph. But now, all I want is a shot with Erin. I’ve faced down massive linebackers intent on ending me. For her, I’ll go toe-to-toe with fate.

I’ll say from the outset that ‘Buried’ rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but putting people in a forced underground bunker albeit by accident wasn’t the scenario I’d envisioned at all. Being stuck in close quarters or rather, cabin fever does make people do things they normally wouldn’t—including hooking up with other people who don’t normally cross their radar.

The life-changing event took place long enough to get everyone’s priorities rearranged while showing up the good, bad and the ugly. But that this was the basis of Erin’s and Derek’s relationship bothered me more than it should, because I wasn’t convinced that he would have spared her a second glance otherwise, nor chosen a woman like her to fit that smarmy playboy athlete lifestyle. How often has the excuse of sports taking up so much time that it becomes a valid reason to become a player on and off the field?

That he also had the urge not to ‘fuck’ her as he did with other women (as usual, she made him want more when he never wanted before, though I’d question if this was just prolonged cabin fever talking)…was a comparison that proved the last straw and an absolute put-off.

It was far easier to like Erin’s more even keel and compassion, and her matter-of-fact view of the player lifestyle not meshing with hers, and how she didn’t turn hysterical when it was clear that their time together was up.

The twist at the end felt more like something done for shock value (things just didn’t really add up satisfactorily as well), after which we were skipped straight to the epilogue. It didn’t seem to do much more other than add an unfinished touch to the entire story, instead worsening what already was a middling read for me.

two-stars

The Tycoon by Molly O’Keefe

The Tycoon by Molly O’KeefeThe Tycoon by Molly O'Keefe
Series: King Family #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 12th July 2018
Pages: 246
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two-stars

The cruel and beautiful man who ruined my life has everything he wants—everything except me.

Five years ago, Clayton Rorick loved me. Or so I thought. Turned out he only wanted to get his hands on my daddy’s company. Heartbroken, I ran away with nothing but the clothes on my back. Like a twisted Cinderella. When my father dies, leaving my sisters in a desperate situation, it’s up to me to help them.

I’ll have to beg the man who broke my heart to save us.

But Clayton hasn’t forgotten me and what he wants in exchange for his help is…my body, my heart and my soul.

‘The Tycoon’ took me an extraordinarily long time to finish, despite the novella-length of the whole story. Admittedly, I was distracted with everything else that left reading the last priority on my list.

But still, I got through it, albeit on first or second gear throughout, and at a snail’s pace and there just wasn’t enough rev for me to keep my eyes glued to it. The long story short is: woman finds out that she’s been played by her father and fiancé all along; 5 years later, they’re reunited unwittingly and in a twist of events, she gets manoeuvred into a marriage to help save her sisters who are all in some trouble of their own.

Molly O’Keefe tackles a tricky second-chance romance trope; I think most readers, after reading the injustice done to Veronica would expect some sort of grovelling or some grand gestures that would place Clayton on a playing field where he could ‘earn’ back Veronica’s affections. What we got however, were Veronica’s own musings and doubts about Clayton’s supposed change and how much he was willing to compromise for her this time, though her wariness didn’t always seem backed up by his actions.

But an imbalance in the POVs here meant that we mostly had Veronica’s side of the story—her struggles, her feelings, her emotions—while Clayton’s few scenes in his POV simply made him as remote, aloof and cold-hearted as ever. Acknowledging his mistake with Veronica 5 years ago and apologising in so few lines, then expecting Veronica to cave to his manipulative marriage demands made him seem an unsympathetic, unremorseful character, especially since he’d admitted to using sex as a way to get her defences down.

Seriously?!

It levelled out eventually: less lies, more truth, less obscuring, more sharing and the easing into forgiveness, though by that time, I was bored and skimming. ‘The Tycoon’ would have been a better read for me if there’d been more peaks and valleys—more spikes of the emotional fallout, I guess, but since that didn’t happen, it ended up more exasperating than exciting.

two-stars

Love Around the Corner by Sally Malcolm

Love Around the Corner by Sally MalcolmLove Around the Corner by Sally Malcolm
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 29th November 2018
Pages: 125
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three-stars

Real life enemies, online lovers. Two lonely men, destined for each other--if only they knew it.

Real life enemies.

Alfie Carter grew up in New Milton, caring for his sick father and keeping their auto repair shop on its feet. He’s touchy about his poor education and doesn’t take kindly to snide remarks from the town’s prickly bookstore owner—no matter how cute he looks in his skinny jeans. Leo Novak’s new life as owner of Bayside Books is floundering. And he could do without the town’s gorgeous, moody mechanic holding a grudge against him after an unfortunate—and totally not his fault— encounter last Christmas.

Online lovers.

Left to run the family business alone, Alfie spends his lonely evenings indulging his secret passion for classic fiction and chatting online with witty, romantic ‘LLB’ as they fall in love over literature. Leo's still reeling from a bad breakup and struggling to make friends in New Milton, so seeks comfort instead in his blossoming online romance with thoughtful, bookish ‘Camaro89’.

But as the holidays approach, ‘LLB’ and ‘Camaro89’ are planning to meet, and realities are about to collide…

Two lonely men, destined for each other—if only they knew it.

I’m not too sure how to rate a book that captures my love for ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and my general disdain (a recent thing) for a few of Jane Austen’s books, which were admittedly my favourites until they stopped.

Sally Malcolm’s ‘Love Around the Corner’ is a combination of both, revolving around their love of books between Leo Novak and Alfie Carter. This connection is made online, over a period of a year, until a planned meeting goes wrong. The trajectory of the plot is a predictable one – as long as you know Jane Austen’s more famous works and ‘You’ve Got Mail’ – and there is much deviation from it unless you count the different ways in which someone grovels at the end.

Maybe it’s the short length of the story, but I couldn’t exactly get into both Leo Novak and Alfie as a couple: there was something oddly pretentious about Novak that I couldn’t quite get around, while Alfie seemed like a more down-to-earth sweetheart whose appearances just didn’t match what he was on the inside.

Malcolm’s writing is faultless however, and I’ve always liked what she does with words. It certainly isn’t the last of New Milton that I think we’ll be seeing, but this one was just lukewarm for me.

three-stars

Destruction by J.M. Madden

Destruction by J.M. MaddenDestruction by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #2
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on September 25th 2018
Pages: 286
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four-stars

Going back into the torture camp where he’d been so brutally abused is the last thing Navy SEAL Drake Fontana wants to do, but if there are other men being experimented upon he has to be the one to get them out. And he has to give them an option other than to be a test subject to the Silverstone Collaborative, the pharmaceutical company funding the diabolical experiments. If he had his way, Drake would go in alone, but he’s assigned a team of retired, disabled military from the Lost and Found group. They all have strengths, but he hates being responsible for their safety. The most vital of the team is Jordan Madeira. The woman has fire in her blood and her heart, and she has contacts in the Amazon he could never find on his own. More than that, though, Jordan holds an immediate, dangerous attraction for Fontana. As the team crosses the jungle destroying research camps and searching for survivors, he realizes that she is what his heart has always been longing for. Home. But Fontana has always had to fight for everything he’s gotten in life, and Jordan’s heart will be no different.

The ‘Dogs of War’ series is one that I do find compelling—the super-soldier experimentation kind of storyline always gets my juices going—and by and large, J.M. Madden keeps expanding this particular universe with a military conspiracy, a potential take-down of the perpetrators and even more characters that might in fact, find themselves as part of future books. As of now however, the series follows the hard journey of 3 former military men with paranormal abilities, the survivors of their batch, who now seek to tighten the noose on the necks of those who’d first captured them.

‘Destruction’ is Drake Fontana’s story as he takes point in the vengeful hunt for their captors and the rescue of the soldiers experimented on with a team from LNF (Madden’s other series). Unlike some other RS super-soldier books that I’ve gone through however, Madden’s guys stand out because their paranormal abilities aren’t grossly exaggerated and that they’ve not been turned loose on the reader like grunting alpha-males with unrelenting sex-drives, über-dirty-talk and barbaric tendencies. They’re all scarred and battle-worn one way or the other in any case, and the women themselves it seems, aren’t spared the torture as well. But out of the crucible comes Jordan Madeira as one of the most kick-arse heroines who has gone through her own brand of hell and tragedy.

However, the writing style did take odd turns at times with the use of even weirder metaphors, but this is merely a personal writing peeve of mine where the words don’t exactly fall into place or make perfect sense. The language did throw me off for a bit (maybe a bit more editing was needed), but as jarring as it was, the plot was engaging enough that I could dust myself off and go on.

Suspense takes priority in ‘Destruction’—Madden’s focus on the team and action means that there’s not as much time on the pairing of Fontana/Jordan as much as I liked with the sex scene at the end happening almost like an afterthought before the story ends on an unfinished note. To this extent was the romance unsatisfying, but the thought of the next book keeps me hoping for more anyway.

four-stars

No Tomorrow by Carian Cole

No Tomorrow by Carian ColeNo Tomorrow by Carian Cole
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 13th September 2018
Pages: 488
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three-stars

The people we love are thieves.They steal our hearts. They steal our breath.They steal our sanity.And we let them.Over and over and over again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

They say you never forget your first time. Mine was with a homeless musician who effed my brains out under a bridge.

He was my first love. And fourteen years later, I still can’t get him out of my head.

He broke all my rules.He also broke my heart.

I watched him climb to stardom, cheering him on from afar.But I was never a fan; just a girl in love.

Like a tornado, he spiraled, leaving a path of destruction in his wake.

But love conquers all, right? It has to. Because here I stand, ravaged and ruined, needing it to be true.

You can’t go back, but I want to. Back to the bridge. Back to when he sang only for me. Before he was famous. Before he shattered my heart.

I thought I knew everything about him.But I could not have been more wrong.

He promised me every tomorrow. And here I am, waiting. And hoping. Again.

Carian Cole isn’t a new author to me and in my mind, there’s a particular space I have put away for her in my head because of her rather unusual characters and storytelling.  ‘No Tomorrow’ however, left me floundering with a pair so toxic that for half of it is it’s akin to watching a slow-sinking ship that starts barely afloat and nosedives towards the bottom of the seabed.

If this book is partly about the dangers of drugs, mental illness and the effect of addiction, then consider the entirety of ’No Tomorrow’ a trigger-warning for those who are already frustrated by a push-pull relationship even without the heavy baggage of what Cole writes about. Because much of it’s about denial, self-pity (with the defiant refusal to want to get better) and the consequences of the ‘classic’ rocker/artistic lifestyle that destroys as much as it creates…and the people who are sucked into it with seemingly no way out until something gives. Ad nauseam.

Which pretty much describes the relationship—full of the same ups and downs and endless emotional tantrums—between Piper and Blue, who are swept into a whirlwind of destruction and false starts amidst the outsider voices that come against them.

Spanning a huge gap of 14 years, a pretty much screwed-up definition of love is what I think I got out of the end of the book instead of an epic tale of love that I thought Cole might be giving us—starting off with a protagonist who seems like a flighty flake shirking every responsibility with mood swings so sharp that it’ll slap you in the face every time and a blindly, obstinately loyal woman who never manages to let go of her naïveté about love.

The narrative is quite bloated as a result of this merry-go-round of yearning, angst and muck. In fact, I thought the story could have easily been halved and the emotional impact no lesser because of it. Objectively, I do understand the build up of romance and the slow burn that Cole wishes to write, cloistered as we are in the intimate world of Piper and Blue when they first meet and embark on that shaky relationship. I appreciated Cole’s portrayal of Piper’s own doubts about her actions, her second-guessing (which anyone with a modicum of sense would do) and her naïveté in some way, about their future, but also the part about love that’s hard—the kind that sticks around when the daily grind gets monotonous and impossible to bear.

But mental disabilities in all their forms are just plain hard. Having seen some relatives struggle with it for years, Piper/Blue’s HEA seems like a pipe dream, a quickly-resolve conclusion where for many, the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t there at all. That there’s a sweet epilogue and a romance 2 decades in the making should have given me the fluffy bunnies, but in truth, I came out feeling more exhausted than anything else.

three-stars

Changed by T.S. Murphy

Changed by T.S. MurphyChanged by T.S. Murphy
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on August 1st 2018
Pages: 301
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three-half-stars

Kate McGuire has loved her brother’s best friend for years—an older guy who didn’t know she existed and whose smoking-hot girlfriend could punch her into next week. But now Kate’s eighteen and Quinn Haley is girlfriend-free and looking at her like she’s definitely outside the friend zone. Everything is working out perfectly—until a devastating medical diagnosis throws her life into a tailspin.

Quinn Haley has dealt with abuse and rejection his entire life, but when he finally breaks up with his cheating girlfriend while home from college for Christmas, he realizes his best friend’s little sister has always been there for him. Only now, Kate’s all grown up and frankly adorable. Definitely not someone he wants to keep in the friend zone.

Kate’s entire future will be a lifetime of no. No children. No sex. No Quinn. And when Quinn won’t take no for an answer, she fights him every step of the way.

All the way into love.

The premise of ‘Changed’ is beyond unusual, which certainly makes this more than an unrequited-love-for-the-brother’s-best-friend type of story and I dove into this, wondering how T.S. Murphy was going to tackle the major issue that seemed near insurmountable for many people. Not least, for a protagonist for whom, at the age of 18, everything is writ large with the hormonal teenage tendency to bring with it the ‘end of my world’ kind of vibes. I can only imagine, from the author’s afterword, how personal this must have been to write and that much gave me a greater appreciation for Murphy’s bringing to light an issue that I barely knew existed.

In many ways, ‘Changed’ is Kate’s rather rocky journey navigating love and life with a serious condition to boot, with people rallying around her. I did feel for her, even liked the rather realistic portrayal of her reaction and confusion, though not so much of the requisite push-pull, the moody lack of communication (expected but nonetheless frustrating) and the sudden inability to trust the closest ones around her, even Quinn, who’d been a good friend before. The shenanigans between Kate/Quinn are thankfully not a minefield to go through and Murphy does write as though they are both meant for each other, which makes the pairing easy to get on board with.

Context and premise aside, I did think however, that the storytelling could have been ‘tighter’, so to speak, with some meanderings here and there which laterally expanded (and dragged down) the plot instead of driving it forward. The detailed insertions of Kate and Quinn with their exes, along with scenes that told convoluted family histories felt superfluous at times; instead I wanted to see more vital bits between the couple in question elaborated on, which disappointingly weren’t. There were parts of the book when I was definitely less engaged than others as a result, diving back in only more enthusiastically when the storytelling got back to Kate and her condition—as well as her burgeoning relationship with Quinn.

Slow-moving as it was nonetheless, ‘Changed’ was eye-opening in some ways—all of which had nothing to do with the romance-front for one. In essence, Murphy’s honesty with Kate’s condition kept me glued to the pages—fictionlandia as this is however, the HEA by the end is still much, much appreciated.

three-half-stars

Happy Hour by Piper Rayne

Happy Hour by Piper RayneHappy Hour by Piper Rayne
Series: Charity Case #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 12th July 2018
Pages: 306
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The perfect man for her is the one she hates most. #gofigure

Dating is hard. Dating in your thirties is even harder. Dating in Chicago is harder still.

I haven't given up on finding my happily-ever-after, but in the age of swiping right and Netflix and chill, I'm wondering if everything is as temporary as my marriage turned out to be.

Truth is, there is one guy I can't get my mind off of.

Roarke Baldwin has salt and pepper hair I've dreamed of running my hands through and I'm pretty sure that if I checked he really does have a six pack of abs underneath his suit. And I've always wondered what that stubble on his face would feel like between my thighs.

The problem? He's the one man I hate more than my ex-husband…

His divorce attorney.

The enemies-to-lovers trope is one that I really like and ‘Happy Hour’ is one of the few that I wanted to get into if only to read how a woman falls head over heels over her divorce attorney—one who helped her ex-husband screw her over (monetarily, at least).

Still, the sparks between Roarke Baldwin and Hannah Crowley have been hinted at for a while now and ‘Happy Hour’ is a story of a lost venue, a grudging turn to a nemesis and the subsequent build of a relationship that one has been hankering after more than the other.

The subsequent 5 favours that Roarke asks of the gun-shy Hannah is sweet-amusing in some ways; they’re all non-sexual and non-demeaning, as part of the contract and it was by and large fun to see how Roarke desperately tries to manoeuvre Hannah to where he wants her. The journey onward is predictable as a result: the favours draw Hannah and Roarke together, catalysing what we as readers know and expect that it would all end up as time between the sheets. The conflict itself is just as inevitable nonetheless and it’s something that’s been done dime a dozen times—addressing Hannah’s skewed view of men, their purpose and the place they play in her life.

The conclusion proved unsatisfying as a result. I did think it was unfair of Hannah to write marriage off completely after her very first one, even to a man who’d gone to bat for her in the end because it seemed to show there were some obstacles that Roarke couldn’t overcome in her life still, this being one of them, so much so that it felt as though they were still living in a compromised state as long as Hannah didn’t open herself to that possibility once more.

In contrast, Roarke came off as the sweeter, more open and vulnerable of the two, unlike the corporate shark I thought him to be. Solely written in Hannah’s POV, thereby exposing all her thought-processes that turned neurotic and paranoid at times, I know I would have preferred a glimpse into Roarke’s mind as well, particularly what he’d been thinking ever since he stuck her with the 5-favour-contract.

Most of the time, it felt as though Roarke had an insurmountable mountain to climb when it came to Hannah (her idiotic and sometimes bitchy self-denials and her refusal to trust) and what made me hesitant about my own rating about this book was how Hannah used her her mistrust of men after her disastrous marriage to judge everyone else who comes after. That she knew and admitted it, yet acted stupidly about it, made me feel sorrier for Roarke’s efforts that were doomed to fail because of her insecurities.

So if ‘Happy Hour’ started happy for me, it degenerated into more eye-rolling as I read on, mostly because I was rooting for Hannah to rise above her past—to be that sort of heroine is the kind I ship—but never quite got it by the end of it all.