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The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 20th August 2017
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana ZapataThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on February 28th 2016
Pages: 403
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four-stars

Vanessa Mazur knows she's doing the right thing. She shouldn't feel bad for quitting. Being an assistant/housekeeper/fairy godmother to the top defensive end in the National Football Organization was always supposed to be temporary. She has plans and none of them include washing extra-large underwear longer than necessary.

But when Aiden Graves shows up at her door wanting her to come back, she's beyond shocked.

For two years, the man known as The Wall of Winnipeg couldn't find it in him to tell her good morning or congratulate her on her birthday. Now? He's asking for the unthinkable.

What do you say to the man who is used to getting everything he wants?

I survived another Mariana Zapata book and am damned proud of it. The length of her stories are daunting, make no mistake, and to go through all near-500 pages of a wry, sometimes-neurotic, sometimes-hilarious female voice telling only her side of the story can and does take patience, though the experience isn’t necessarily a dull and colourless one. I do always think twice before embarking on a Zapata story however and length does play a significant role in this decision.

But honestly, I’m not too sure if this book could be shorter though and functioned just as well. The aloof, impersonal start of Van and Aiden and the gradual transformation of their relationship—years!—from trying-to-please PA to a begging Aiden (with a marriage of convenience thrown in after Van quits) rightly needed a slow burn and Zapata’s style of writing certainly suits this kind of plot line.

Instalove? Not in Zapata’s vocabulary. That bit is gratifying, particularly since there are too many gooseflesh-raising stories trying to sell the unbelievable with alpha, dirty-talking men falling hard inexplicably for a woman and want nothing but to ‘claim’ and ‘breed’ her.

In this case, (real) time is as always, Zapata’s solution to the answer for a relationship to turn, with gaps so painstakingly filled in, sometimes mundane, everyday scenes appear as though they’re randomly inserted that there’s no need for the byline ‘x number of years later’. That much I can appreciate, because the result is a multifaceted and real character (at least for Vanessa) that comes through the pages, though the single POV makes Aiden still somewhat of a closed-off ‘hero’ when all I can extrapolate of his brick-ish, stony personality is what Vanessa and other secondary characters say of him. Aiden/Van’s HEA is as well, unequivocally ironclad and that’s also a kudos to Zapata’s careful development of their relationship.

I’m not exactly an apologist for the excruciatingly long, slow burn, despite my defence of the justifiable length of ’The Wall of Winnipeg and Me’. I found myself absorbed for most part without my interest really slipping and for most part, it was so easy to like the characters in this book that it certainly wasn’t a pain to go on and on before the bed finally called to me.

It isn’t to say I wouldn’t take a deep breath before plunging into another Zapata book, because I will. I still look at the books by her that I’ve not yet read (there’s just one more that I want to tackle) and I still think that I don’t have the courage yet to take it on. But having just been brought on a satisfying journey with Van and Aiden, that day might be sooner rather than later.

four-stars

Beautiful Beast by Aubrey Irons

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 21st July 2017
Beautiful Beast by Aubrey IronsBeautiful Beast by Aubrey Irons
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on July 17th 2017
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two-stars

Anastasia:

Here’s the first thing you should know: this is not a fairytale. Happily-ever-afters are fables, and Prince Charming is a sweet little lie.I know all this because he taught me.Once upon a lifetime ago, the rich, arrogant, sinfully gorgeous, and tragically broken dark prince of the Hamptons was my tormentor. My darkness, my shameful attraction, my all-consuming, forbidden temptation.I hate Sebastian Crown because nine years ago, for one night, I was stupid enough to think I loved him. And I’ve been paying for it ever since.Except now, he needs me to help him save his empire.…And he’s not taking no for answer.

Bastian:

She’s my nemesis. My addiction. My weakness.My obsession.I used to tell myself I hated Anastasia Bell - for being poor, for not worshipping the ground I walked on, for looking at me like she pitied me for being me.When the rest of my world always told me yes, she was the ever-provoking no.She thinks I’m a monster - a tragic, fucked-up, broken beast.She doesn’t know the half of it.Because she can’t begin to know the crimes of my past, or imagine the things I’ve done to her behind the scenes since she left this place.Years ago, I thought breaking her would fix me.I was wrong.Now I’ve got her in my sights again, and this time, I won’t be letting her go. Even if it means we both go down in flames...

The warning does say it all: this isn’t a fairytale of a prince and an impoverished princess. Instead, be prepared to read about one of the most obsessive-compulsive, manipulative and biggest bastards of them all, which is safe to say is what slid me straight into objective, neutral territory as I read this twisted fairytale where the briar-covered HEA is lined with thorns and spikes.

To be fair, I had those trigger-warnings and I went straight into this knowing that I was going to read about characters and their so-called love story from a protracted distance that I don’t normally take with romance books. With this mindset, or this particular disconnect, rather, locked in place, it was easy to read on and on, which was also in part due to Aubrey Irons’s compelling writing that kept me glued to the story.

Because the characters sure as hell didn’t.

Sebastian Crown isn’t someone I could like at all, but what I couldn’t understand as well was Ana’s little resistance that crumbles so easily at his advances when all he’d done was to shatter her spirit and break her heart, even behind her back. She flops happily at his masterful puppeteering somehow, never gets her strings cut and generally goes too easy on him where I would have wielded a scythe and sent Bastian straight to the lowest levels of hell for eternity.

I finished the story, which, on its own, is easy to get lost in as it doesn’t go down without several twists and turns. But did I like it? Not exactly. Yet neither did I exactly dislike it, because I knew from the start how I was going to approach the book—with critical eyes and indifferent shrugs at 2 protagonists who can’t see beyond each other though they’re probably better off without each other, with no strings attached. It did come down to whether I could get invested in the characters and whether they were likeable enough for me to form any connection with them.

The answer is: no.

I found nothing redeemable about Sebastian , who seemed more like the antagonist rather than the protagonist throughout and I actually felt bloodthirsty, grim satisfaction and hard-won poetic justice when he hit rock bottom for all the fucking he did with Ana’s life.

The point here is that Irons simply provides an alternative definition of obsessive ‘love’ that has nothing self-sacrificial about it and how it’s in fact, given other names such as ‘addiction’ or ‘obsession’, with several generous servings of masochism and uncontainable lust.

Ultimately though, Ana/Bastian’s flimsy representation of love is not quite the romantic ideal I subscribe to. It’s a version of romance that I can’t exactly calibrate with the kind of escapist fantasy that I want to get lost in, nor with the sort of characters I want to read about, so it’s most likely back to the straight and narrow for me.

two-stars

Tied by Carian Cole

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 29th June 2017
Tied by Carian ColeTied by Carian Cole
Series: Devils Wolves #2
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on June 26th 2017
Pages: 280
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four-stars

He was the myth and the legend of our small town. But no one knew the truth... except me.

Me My childhood was stolen by a monster. I've forgotten what love feels like. What happiness feels like. What hope feels like. I am numb.

Him He's possibly as damaged as I am. Maybe even more. Scarred just as much on the inside as the outside. Just like me. He doesn't speak. He doesn't smile. He hides in the woods like an animal. I should be scared of him. But I'm not. He's the only one that has ever made me feel. And I want to make him feel, too. Everything...

Carian Cole’s ‘Tied’ is so different from its predecessor that I don’t quite know how to rate and review this.

If Tor and Kenzi were a couple with deliciously forbidden ties, Tyler and Holly are a different breed altogether: scarred, damaged and so screwed up in the head that I thought it would take a mountain of trying just to get them together. In fact, both Tyler and Holly have issues upon issues, years of festering guilt and self-doubt and put together, their combined baggage weight would break an elephant’s back.

But like an oncoming train wreck, I couldn’t look away. The pages kept turning and the slow burn kept burning, especially when it took that long a time to get trust (and by extension, touch and intimacy) to build between 2 scarred people. Cole is quite painstakingly thorough with this process, which I could definitely appreciate and the hiccups they faced along the way seemed sufficiently realistic for me to believe. Tyler/Holly is a pairing that had me sceptical at first, but Cole does convince, to an extent, that healing can come in many forms and sometimes, that comes from another person who is as equally damaged as you.

It’s in short, a completely unexpected read, intensely emotional and bordering on the dramatic at times, but different enough that I’ll probably look at what else Cole has in store for this series.

four-stars

Hemi by Anna Hackett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 7th June 2017
Hemi by Anna HackettHemi by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #13
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on May 30th 2017
Pages: 115
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three-stars

In the middle of an alien invasion, a big, tough, tattooed former mercenary is finally going to chase down his woman.

Camryn McNab knows love is a lie. Okay, maybe not for everybody--her fellow soldiers on Squad Nine have managed to fall in love in the middle of a vicious alien attack. But it's not for her. She comes from two people incapable of love. For now, her life is about survival, fighting to protect others, and kicking some alien raptor butt. What she doesn't need is a certain wild, bearded, tattoo-covered soldier always underfoot, messing with her things, and driving her crazy. But no matter how hard she tries to outrun Hemi Rahia, she can't seem to shake him, and a terrified part of doesn't even want to...

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Hemi knows his squad has a reputation for not following the rules and being a little wild. Former bikers, mercenaries, and...other less savory things, they fight hard and party harder. But Hemi has known for a while now that there is only one woman for him. One courageous, sexy, attitude-filled woman he wants to claim as his own. But he has to catch her first.

Tasked with a top-secret mission deep in alien creeper territory, Hemi and Cam will fight side-by-side to achieve their dangerous goal. Their chemistry is off the charts, but persistent Hemi wants more than Cam's body...he wants her heart and soul as well. As their battle with the aliens turns deadly, they will have to fight not only for their love, but for their very survival.

‘Hemi’ officially ushers in the Berserker squad and I’m glad we’ve come a way with this particular group of wild and rough-riding people. When they first appeared, they seemed to be a bunch of hairy things closer to grunting apes than humans who rode souped-up motorcycles that were used as mini-weapon-launching platforms to combat the aliens; which is sort of cool, but probably not quite the swashbuckling type of heroes I could envision. But Anna Hackett’s development of the squad is quite remarkable and I’ve come, over time, to see them fleshed out as individuals with even rougher and questionable pasts that are erased when the alien apocalypse happens.

Hemi Rahia’s and Camryn McNab’s story has been building for a while and make no mistake, that tension there beneath the pranks finally comes to fruition here. For every couple that Hackett focuses on, there is also a new, vile alien development that is specific to their getting together and it’s no different here. Hemi’s determination to win over Cam is as strong as her need to run away from him and this push-pull finally gives when forces bigger than them (read: disgusting alien parts that act as incubators) eventually show that couple disputes are more petty in the light of the fact that dying can happen any time. In the spirit of carpe diem, the action and the way the characters throw themselves into the fray, is fun with many shades of wild, rodeo-riding antics and good partying times.

As much as I enjoyed how fast-paced the action is, I thought that there’s also a bit more focus on Hemi/Cam’s personal drama here with several repetitive—and perhaps sweeping—lines about how men and women pretty much were into casual sex as a sign of the times, up until the point where they find the one they’re ‘meant’ for. While I did like Hemi/Cam and every little alien discovery the teams make, I think I would also have liked to see more of the big-picture, or at least some reference to a larger story arc that would show how war with the aliens is progressing and if there is an end (or some kind of HEA wrap-up for all involved), no matter how distant, in sight.

three-stars

My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th June 2017
My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan QuinnMy Best Friend's Ex by Meghan Quinn
Published by Amazon Publishing on June 1st 2017
Pages: 248
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five-stars

When I found an eviction notice taped on my apartment door, I had two options: find a comfortable cardboard box to call home, or move in with Tucker Jameson.
Seeing that cardboard makes me feel itchy, I chose the latter. Which shouldn't be that big of a deal since Tucker is one of my good friends. And because he's still pining after his ex-girlfriend and I'm trying to finish my nursing degree, there is nothing to worry about in the romance department, making my last semester an easy one to conquer.
Boy, was I wrong.
Rules are set, dinners are made, conversations are had, and a shirtless, swoony roommate walks around in nothing but a pair of black briefs, ruining me for every other man.
Before I know it, I turn into a panting, lust-filled woman begging for Tucker to kiss me, touch me, and show me exactly what is hiding under those briefs.
But with great orgasms, comes great consequences.
Tucker might be my friend and roommate but he’s also my best friend's ex-boyfriend, making him completely off-limits. At least that's what my brain is telling me, my heart is speaking an entirely different language.

At this very point in time—the very moment I finished turning the last page of this book—I’m inclined to think that I’ve barely yet recovered from the amazing Tucker Jameson (who made my heart break many times throughout for him yet I loved him more for it) before I needed to pound out a review for a story that pretty much took my breath away.

‘My Best Friend’s Ex’ is so much more than what the flirty little blurb suggests; it’s instead a perfect mix of funnies and heartbreaking moments that leave you breathless with laughter then wrung out completely the next.

And that’s mostly due to Tucker and Emma—2 characters with so much chemistry and so much love between them that you can’t help but think there’s no better out there for either of them. I loved every bit of the build-up and how they re-established their relationship and despite some cock-blocking moments, was gratified when they finally hit the sheets. I’ve no desire really, to read the first book that introduced Tucker as a broken, peripheral character (especially if he’s the one left behind in it), who’d been alone in dealing with his bitterness, guilt and hurt when the group of friends he had pulled away from him as well.

But even with a huge load of tragedy behind him, Tucker is admirable in the way he pulls himself up and away from it, finally putting himself out there again for Emma, who is as compassionate and understanding as they come, living up to her reputation as the one who has always taken care of others. But because they’d been friends long before that, the journey is slightly easier, softened by years of memories and camaraderie, so this friends-to-lovers trope is in some way, easier to bear, given their history.

There isn’t much more that I can say, except that this has been a perfect afternoon indulgence that made me run the entire gamut of emotions and then once again. And if this genre can’t do it, then what can?

five-stars

Tempt the Boss by Natasha Madison

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th May 2017
Tempt the Boss by Natasha MadisonTempt The Boss by Natasha Madison
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on April 3rd 2017
Pages: 230
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three-stars

Going back to work was supposed to be a painless transition, but when my new boss turns out to be an arrogant, cocky jerk, he quickly turns my professional life into a world of torture. Okay, fine, calling him an asshat before knowing he was my boss wasn't my finest moment. Hating him should be easy. I just never counted on him being so gorgeous or charming when he's not annoying me.
AustinI expected my new assistant to be professional and punctual, but all I'm getting are dirty looks and rude comments. I should fire the little hellion, but instead all I can think about is bending her over my desk and breaking every rule I've ever made for myself.
One look. One touch. One night. If we break the rules, our lives will never be the same again.
Good thing rules were made to be broken. And besides, it feels so good to Tempt the Boss.

My first instinct after reading ‘Tempt the Boss’ was to surreptitiously check the back cover for the plaster cast of feminists because it reads so much like a contemporary, older woman’s fantasy. In fact, I’m tempted to call the book one of the shining examples (or even a manifesto) of the post-fem-lib movement.

Our recently-divorced heroine is a mother of 2 who gets back so successfully into the workforce after a decade away, that she aces her job while managing to snag the attractive boss along the way, though not without several war games both in and out of the bedroom. And as a woman with experience, Lauren knows exactly what she wants sexually as well, so it’s equality all around, with sass, witty comebacks and all thrown in with it. I found that I wasn’t even bothered by her cheating ex at all as Lauren definitely knew how to deal with him yet keep her head as a responsible mother taking on the world once more—that loudly does Natasha Madison shout for the liberated 21st century woman whom Lauren definitely personifies.

But as much as I liked the initial antagonism of this pairing, I wasn’t expecting the war games that they played with each other which were alternatively hilarious and juvenile. The laugh-out-loud moments took me by surprise and those made for a very entertaining first half despite the laddish behaviour and comments from secondary characters which I found abhorrent. My interest also began to wane slightly the moment the sexual tension broke however, and the little bumps along the way made the story a tad more predictable from then onwards.

Don’t get me wrong though, ‘Tempt the Boss’ is a very easy, very entertaining read all around, with a very strong heroine who steals the limelight the whole way. I only wish these men can grow up and keep up.

three-stars

The House Mate by Kendall Ryan

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 22nd April 2017
The House Mate by Kendall RyanThe House Mate by Kendall Ryan
Series: Roommates #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on April 18th 2017
Pages: 180
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one-star

What’s sexier than a bad boy? A bad ass man who’s got his shit together.
Max Alexander is nearing thirty-five. He’s built a successful company, and he’s conquered the professional world, but he’s never been lucky in love. Focusing so much time on his business and raising his daughter, adulting has come at the expense of his personal life.
His social skills are shit, his patience is shot, and at times, his temper runs hot.
The last thing he has time for is the recently single, too gorgeous for her own good young woman he hires to take care of his little girl. She’s a distraction he doesn’t need, and besides, there’s no way she’d be interested. But you know what they say about assumptions?

This review is clearly going to go against the grain.

A gruff single-dad, a hot nanny and a cute dream of a little girl? It’s mostly likely guaranteed to make many female readers’ ovaries explode (!), but right now, I like mine where they are: safe, tucked away and unmoved by this apparently domestic scene. It’s not so much as that it’s a version of the manwhore/casual player vs the virgin (or at least, the very experienced man vs. the woman who is fairly inexperienced) that chafed my backside because it is, but rather how suddenly a male protagonist can conveniently fall for a woman and suddenly realise he can commit when he’d never given others a chance to do so, while spending most of the book having 3 women sort of tussling over him in a silent territory war.

The truth is, I found it extremely difficult to like the characters at all straight from the start, though Addison’s insecurity about barely being able to ‘please’ her own ex might have played into it as well. A single-father by accident, Max had never expected that his neat, I’m-the-centre-of-my-own-universe to tilt on its axis, first by a baby, then by the nanny that he employs. And that’s pretty much the story, as both Max and Addison negotiate the bends of their relationship (complete with the dumb-struck, hit-by-lust-moment when they meet) both professionally and personally.

Not only was it hard to accept that Max had difficulty committing to any woman—not least his ex, whom I thought he wronged so badly—and then suddenly wanting to do do with the nanny when she turned out to be the beautiful, nurturing type that attracted him immediately just smacked of hypocrisy to me. It was only because I think, that he’d never stuck around long enough to do so with any other woman, and that this only happened because they were stuck in close quarters for an extended amount of time. I also couldn’t get past the fact that all he really wanted was to scratch the itch he felt while keeping things casual, yet not being interested in fixing what was broken with his ex.

I didn’t have anything against Addison, but this premise alone—of Max just going on with life and leaving everything else in the dust, as he did with many other women—made the entire book difficult to finish. But that Addison herself was insecure about her own femininity made her an easy ‘target’ to fall prey to Max’s propositions to get into another fling. When he finally gotten her where he wanted her, Addison was suddenly the ‘tighest’, best woman he’d ever been with, the woman he couldn’t remember wanting more, the woman with whom it felt ‘so right’.

Unfortunately, ’The House Mate’ is definitely not the book for me, especially not when everything rubbed me the wrong way and raised every heckle I have. In fact, the vehement reaction I had to this particular book surprised even myself, despite my wanting to give it a fair chance.

one-star
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