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Bad For Her by Christi Barth

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 9th October 2017
Bad For Her by Christi BarthBad for Her by Christi Barth
Series: Bad Boys Gone Good #1
Published by Avon Impulse on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 432
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three-stars

Doctor Mollie Vickers loves the tight-knit community of her tiny Oregon town. But she’s not a fan of the limited dating options. Sleep with a guy who tried to copy off her in junior high? Pass. Mollie’s sex life is flatlining… until a deliciously handsome man she’s never seen before stops to help her fix a flat tire.

As an ex-mobster, Rafe Maguire’s no saint. But he’s trying to turn over a new leaf. Although he probably shouldn’t kiss the hot doctor on the side of the highway. Or suggest a no-strings fling with a woman he has no business pursuing. Rafe’s life is too complicated for love—his new WITSEC-provided identity doesn’t fit him at all and there’s a U.S. Marshal watching his every move. He can’t tell Mollie the truth… but their chemistry is scorching and being good doesn’t mean he can’t be a little bad.

Mollie can’t resist the guy who looks rough, talks tough, and is loyal to the bone. But it’s obvious Rafe is keeping secrets. When the truth comes out, Mollie must decide if she could ever love an ex-mobster… or if this bad boy has truly gone good.

Three bothers in witness protection, facing nothing but uncertainty after being uprooted from the life they know, finding their own HEA a book at a time? ‘Bad For Her’’s novel premise intrigued me from the start. The originality of the blurb reeled me in immediately and Christi Barth’s marvellous storytelling took it the rest of the way.

Admittedly, I strangely found myself more interested in the brothers’ interaction with each other than I was in the romance this time around—which almost felt like an afterthought. It’s strange not to be swept up in the romance though; Mollie Vickers wasn’t a protagonist interesting enough for me to buy into the pairing, especially when she paled in contrast to the larger-than-life Rafe Maguire. Embodying the best definition of ‘bad boy’ I’ve read about in recent memory, Rafe’s loyalty to his brothers, the sacrifices he made for them and the all-round good guy that he strove to be somehow carved out a sharper silhouette of him than Mollie—and after a while, it was pretty much because of him and his brothers that I read on.

That, and the surprising, consistent thread of snide humour that ran throughout this book, courtesy of Rafe and his brothers who should have found side-jobs at comedy gigs.

In fact, the laughs kept me going and the sarcastic commentary from the characters that was either accidental or deliberate went a long way in keeping this an upbeat journey of three men stumbling around and finding their own way to survive in a whole new world so far from their comfort zone. In ‘Bad For her’, I lived through Kellan, Flynn and Rafe’s shenanigans in a town so far from the city slickers that they were, laughed at their antics, felt their paranoia and sympathised with Rafe’s efforts to keep them safe. Bottom-line is, there’s so much I love about these guys and having each of them anchor the next few books is bound to be an entertaining ride. Here’s crossing my fingers.

three-stars

Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 21st June 2017
Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura BrownFriend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown
Published by Avon Impulse on June 27th 2017
Pages: 384
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one-star

I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.

Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.

When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.

I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.

I guess the only thing we can do is try…

‘Friend (With Benefits) Zone’ started out very promising, with the blurb sounding a growing-up story of 2 deaf people trying to find their way in the world just as the notion of building a career looms large. But beyond that, I liked the idea of putting people with disabilities in the spotlight and showing that they actually do lead lives as ‘normal’ as those who don’t—and thought that this would provide a different edge to the best friends turned lovers type of read.

But with the sexual tension between Jasmine and Devon shattering so early on, the direction in which the story was going to go became rather unclear. And I found myself unpleasantly surprised when maturity (or the lack of it) came into play and formed the major part of the conflict—driven mostly by Jasmine. She started out as strongly independent, but that soon moved to bullheadedly, stupidly stubborn when she started insisting on being an island and going at it all on her own, pushing everyone else away because that was the way she wanted it to be. Not accepting help from Devon and her closest friends (then have them trying to reel her back in), using sex avoid the issue, vacillating between wanting Dev and wanting her own way were just signs of her irrational immaturity that frustrated me to no end, which actually went on ad nauseum to the point where I thought they should have given up on her because there was no getting her to see reason.

As much as Devon’s desire to help her and support her in everything, he did come across as somewhat spineless towards the end, when he needed to leave Jasmine on her own for her to finally come to her senses. Instead, he couldn’t quite let her go or do a complete break, even when he had his own share of dodging the intended career path that his family wanted for him throughout. In fact, I needed to see that Jasmine wanted their relationship Devon even if she had nothing to her name. But because Devon had arranged it such that she could have her bar and own it (with the startup costs included as a loan), it felt as though it was only with her future secured and in place that it was easy to get back with him.

This constant push-pull vibe that got stronger, as well as the anti-climatic ending did, unfortunately, grate on me. I couldn’t quite shrug away how much I disliked the characters by the end and this sadly, tanked the whole story for me.

one-star

Holding Out for a Hero by Codi Gary

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews 15th October 2016
Holding Out for a Hero by Codi GaryHolding Out for a Hero by Codi Gary
Series: Men in Uniform, #3
Published by Avon Impulse on November 8th 2016
Pages: 384
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two-stars

He wasn’t looking for love...
Two years after the death of his wife, Sergeant Blake Kline is still hurting. He isn’t ready to date, but whenever he stops by his local diner and sees the friendly smile of his favorite waitress, he feels a spark of true happiness again. And when her life is unexpectedly threatened, Blake discovers his feelings for her might not be as platonic as he thought.
She was holding out for the hero of her dreams...
Bookworm Hannah York has always been a hopeless romantic—preferring book boyfriends to blind dates—and she’s been day-dreaming about Blake since the moment he came into her diner. She’s convinced they’ll never be more than friends... until Blake kisses her and “weak in the knees” becomes more than just a line from her favorite romance novel. The closer Blake and Hannah get, however, the harder he fights to keep her at a distance.
But forever has a way of sneaking up on you...
When their blossoming relationship takes a complicated turn, Blake will have to face his past… or risk losing Hannah forever.

‘Holding out for a hero’ seems a bit of a misnomer for a book that’s centred around a widower trying to live and love again and a shy, head-in-the-clouds woman who is insistent on seeing him as the hero he isn’t quite.

But if I could appreciate the fact that Blake and Hannah are neither players nor people who flit from a partner to another, I did find myself struggling with their characterisation—more the latter than the former—that made them hard to connect with. As much as I could sympathise with Blake’s inability to move on from his wife’s death, his blowing hot and cold along with Hannah’s passive-aggressive behaviour frustrated me as both walked into this relationship that always seemed to take a step forward and two steps back. Much of the story followed this trend from the start, as Blake finds himself wanting Hannah but unwilling to put himself out there again as Hannah gets annoyed over the slightest thing and retaliates by giving him the cold shoulder.

For most of it, I was wondering if she was ever going to adjust her own unrealistic expectations as she held Blake to her own impossible standards, but that never really happened. Instead, she did the same thing—running away and not facing up to the problem at hand—that she’d constantly accused Blake of doing. Irrational and annoying, too self-indulgently emotional and cowardly when it mattered most, I found Hannah difficult to like as a heroine way more than I could connect with Blake and his own issues. More importantly however, I found myself uncomfortable with the implication that grieving and mourning should happen within a fixed period of time as seen by the amount of insistent cajoling and pushing everyone did to get Blake out of his funk and right into his own HEA, even if it seemed Blake couldn’t face his own reality after 2 years.

With a rushed reconciliation and an even quicker fast-forward to their big family HEA, ‘Holding out for a hero’ might be for those who stand firmly in Hannah’s shoes (in essence, those who firmly need that HEA that spares no expense); unfortunately, it isn’t quite for me.

two-stars

Mixing Temptation by Sara Jane Stone

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews 19th August 2016
Mixing Temptation by Sara Jane StoneMixing Temptation by Sara Jane Stone
Series: Second Shot #3
Published by Avon Impulse on September 13th 2016
Pages: 192
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four-stars

After a year spent living in hiding—with no end in sight—Caroline Andrews wants to reclaim her life. But the lingering trauma from her days serving with the marines leaves her afraid to trust the tempting logger who delivers friendship and the promise of something more.

Following an accident that nearly robbed him of his hopes for the future, Josh Summers believes life has given him a second chance. He wants to settle down with the woman who stole his attention and his heart. And he’s willing to wait until she’s ready to be more than “just friends.” When fear of discovery leaves Caroline pretending to be his date, Josh tempts her to try the real thing—a relationship built on trust, not lies.

But then the past threatens and Caroline must risk everything—including her freedom—to bury her demons before she can take a chance on happy-ever-after.

Easily the most outstanding of the series, ‘Mixing Temptation’ deals with trauma and its very difficult aftermath. The hair trigger here is sexual assault and the very frank and brutal tacit admission that justice isn’t fully served even in fiction because of victim-blaming, masochistic attitude that is too rife in the military service – a fact that I can and do appreciate.

Both Josh and Caroline have suffered in different ways but Sara Jane Stone has written both their characters in such a sensitive manner that I can’t help but like both of them immensely in the slow, gradual build-up of their relationship. Josh’s good-natured patience and optimism – the all-round good guy can and does wins – is in fact, a perfect counter to Caroline’s wariness and broken past. I like their honesty with each other from the beginning and Josh’s perfect (almost preternatural) timing probably lifts him way above many heaving, neanderthal alpha romantic leads because in this very rare case, the beta-guy actually gets the girl. The conflict that arises between them has little to do with their developing relationship and more to do with a situation which subsequently forces Caroline to do something about her AWOL status. Seeing Josh’s and the rest of the gang’s unwavering support ultimately turns the story into a feel-good one with a well-deserved ending for the both of them.

I did feel though, that there was an aspect of the story that was left hanging – Helena’s own experience with sexual violence and Ryan’s none-too-brotherly concern for her – towards the end of the story. Ms. Stone doesn’t address this part beyond using it as a catalyst for Caroline to turn herself in and I found myself wondering about what could be another potential pairing that was never explored, all the more so considering this is the final installment of the series.

four-stars

Torch by Karen Erickson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews 27th July 2016
Torch by Karen EricksonTorch by Karen Erickson
Series: Wildwood #3
Published by Avon Impulse on August 16th 2016
Pages: 336
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three-stars

Most women swoon over Tate’s devilish grin and firefighter uniform. But Wren couldn’t be less impressed by his good looks and flirtatious banter—in fact, she seems to downright despise him. She thinks he’s a player, but his attraction to her is no game. Wren is unlike anyone he’s ever known and he isn’t about to let the feisty, gorgeous woman slip through his fingers. Wooing Wren would be so much easier if she didn’t hate him…
Or does she?

Wren Gallagher’s and Tate Warren’s story has been teased about in Karen Erickson’s previous books and I was eager for this frenemies-in-lust trope to come to fruition here. To some extent, I wasn’t disappointed, because ‘Torch’ did exceed my expectation when it came to resolving Wren’s and Tate’s initial impressions of each other and how it progressed onto something more…precipitated by friends’ gatherings, an ex and a case of arson that left Wren with close to nothing.

Even as these events provided interesting twists and turns to the story, they don’t exactly amount to much by the time we reach the end of the book. There is an ongoing case of arson that’s been the constant thread in the Wildwood books, yet nothing comes out of it here, which I found disappointing. Wren’s house goes up in flames but the ongoing investigations fade into the background as the rocky, slow-burn relationship between Wren and Tate is prioritised. The ex-boyfriends returns, and barely forms a credible threat before slinking away, the overprotective brother-behaviour is taken a notch too high and Wren’s own half-formed plans to move away are not addressed fully enough, not even by the end. Those bits were let-downs to me, particularly because the last three-quarters of the book felt contrived, as though Wren’s overreaction was writ-large simply to provide a source of conflict (and climax) – as the large obstacle a couple needs to go through before they’re baptised by fire – before ending abruptly with nothing in the arson case resolved at all. Perhaps ‘Torch’ could have gone from a decent to stellar read had Erickson tightened the loose threads that were hung up so tantalisingly in the beginning, so that I didn’t feel as though I was reading only half a book with the pages ripped out of the other half.

But for shorties like this, the lead characters do drive the plot and I did think Wren was relatable, and her desire to make something more of her life resonated with me except for the last bit that seemed completely out of character for her. I felt much less for Tate though because I couldn’t quite decide if he was a player or someone who was trying to shrug off that label. All Erickson makes clear is that he wants Wren, but never quite provides an impetus other than the idea that she is a challenge for someone who never had to fight for a woman before.

There’s of course, a HEA – an albeit rushed one – but it’s all but left me wondering if ‘Torch’ closes this series or if there’s more in the works, because so much of it still feels incomplete.

three-stars

Stirring Attraction by Sara Jane Stone

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 14th July 2016
Stirring Attraction by Sara Jane StoneStirring Attraction by Sara Jane Stone
Series: Second Shot #2
Published by Avon Impulse on June 7th 2016
Pages: 256
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three-stars

When Dominic Fairmore left Oregon to be all he could be as an Army Ranger, he always knew he’d come back to claim Lily Greene. But after six years away and three career-ending bullets, Dominic is battered, broken, and nobody's hero—so he stays away. Until he learns Lily has been the victim of a seemingly random attack. He’ll do anything to keep her safe . . . even go home.
Lily is starting to find a life without Dominic when suddenly her wounded warrior is home and playing bodyguard—though all she really wants is for him to take her. But she refuses to play the part of a damsel in distress, no matter how much she misses his tempting touch. He’ll leave as soon as she’s safe and Lily knows her heart will never heal.
But as attraction stirs to so much more, danger closes in. With more than Lily’s heart at stake, Dominic can no longer draw a line between protecting Lily and loving her . . .

Well then.

When a man returns home, near completely broken only because the woman he loves faces a threat, what’s she to do when the motivation to keep her safe is the only thing that will keep him where she needs him to be?

I’m a little torn here because I loved the absolute devotion Lily and Dominic showed each other even when they were apart – the sheer lack of this these days makes their hold on each other all the more precious – but that is pretty much all the story is about: Dominic working through his stubborn ‘I’m not the man you need’ beliefs while Lily fights her own push and pull factors when it comes to the love of her life. I did think however, that the suspense was somewhat weak and looked on the verge of escalating but never quite did, yet was enough to be the catalyst to bring them together once more. Some transitions and dialogue didn’t seem to flow too well, but I’d attribute it to Sara Jane Stone’s particular way of writing that I couldn’t exactly get used to.

In short, I’m mixed about the story as a whole, but Lily/Dominic will still go down in memory for being the couple to stick together even when they never quite were.

three-stars

Ignite by Karen Erickson

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 15th March 2016
Ignite by Karen EricksonIgnite by Karen Erickson
Series: Wildwood #1
Published by Avon Impulse on March 15th 2016
Pages: 288
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two-stars

Weston Gallagher is falling hard-for the wrong woman.One night of passion has haunted him for years.Now he’s got a second chance to get the girl of his dreams…but there’s just one problem:She hates him.
Eight years after he stormed out of Wildwood, California, West has returned to his hometown as a firefighter. His friends and family are thrilled he’s back-with the exception of Harper Hill. His best friend’s sister is all grown up and in all the right ways. He knows she’s going to do everything she can to protect her heart and keep him at arm’s length, but West has other ideas.
He will win the girl that got away. No matter what it takes…

A blast from the past returns, but there isn’t much of a spine in either protagonist to work things out between them, leaving us with the same ol’ spiel of ‘sex only’ while secretly harbouring thoughts of more. I wished Harper had stood up a bit more for herself when it came to West’s appalling behaviour, who, unfortunately, isn’t helping his case by being one of the most wimpy male leads I’ve had the dubious honour of reading about.

But the rocky transition from sex to a proper relationship wasn’t a believable journey; rather, Harper and Weston’s sudden coming together by the end seemed to happen only because of a bad case of panic after an arson-case at a bar. Both didn’t seem to be characters I’d put an approval stamp on, but strangely enough, what ‘Ignite’ really did for me was the introduction of its secondary characters that look way more interesting than the main pairing…and whose stories I’d be waiting for.

two-stars
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