Publisher: Avon Impulse

Torch by Karen Erickson

Torch by Karen EricksonTorch by Karen Erickson
Series: Wildwood #3
Published by Avon Impulse on August 16th 2016
Pages: 336
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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.


Stirring Attraction by Sara Jane Stone

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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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.


Ignite by Karen Erickson

Ignite by Karen EricksonIgnite by Karen Erickson
Series: Wildwood #1
Published by Avon Impulse on March 15th 2016
Pages: 288
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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.


Serving Trouble by Sara Jane Stone

Serving Trouble by Sara Jane StoneServing Trouble by Sara Jane Stone
Series: Second Shot, #1
Published by Avon Impulse on April 12th 2016
Pages: 304
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Five years ago, Josie Fairmore left timber country in search of a bright future. Now she's back home with a mountain of debt and reeling from a loss that haunts her. Desperate for a job, she turns to the one man she wishes she could avoid. The man who rocked her world one wild night and then walked right out of it.
Former Marine Noah Tager is managing his dad's bar and holding tight to the feeling that his time overseas led to failure. The members of his small town think he's a war hero, but after everything he's witnessed, Noah doesn't want a pat on the back. The only thing he desires is a second chance with his best friend's little sister.
Josie's determined to hold onto her heart and not repeat her mistakes, but when danger arrives on Noah's doorstep and takes aim at Josie, they just might discover that sometimes love is worth the risk.

‘Serving Trouble’ seems to find a way around the second chance romance + the best friend’s forbidden sister trope by adding a lot of occurrences, issues and side-plots to mess up the main characters’ road to happy ever after, to the point where I found the plot a trip on a merry-go-round to nowhere.

There’s the constant thread of withholding emotions and holding back for the fear of getting hurt and/or not being worthy enough to offer anything when it came to what really mattered; the emotional game that Josie and Noah played with each other – even unwittingly so – got tiresome quickly because neither side dared to make a commitment at all or talked it out in a mature fashion in a way I’d expected. Instead, the words ‘jerk’ and ‘hero’ had been used so often that it left me wondering about the amount of dignity and self-respect I’d like to see in a story’s protagonists. Mired in their own set of problems, Josie and Noah do battle realistic issues in a small town, yet there was never a sense of this pairing belonging solidly to each other at all. I wished I could say I found the start to this spin-off series a compelling one, but this just didn’t do it for me.


When We Kiss by Darcy Burke

When We Kiss by Darcy BurkeWhen We Kiss by Darcy Burke
Series: Ribbon Ridge #5
Published by Avon Impulse on February 16th 2016
Pages: 400
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Denver real estate mogul, Liam Archer, has always been a thrill-seeker, and the loss of his identical twin brother has only intensified his reckless behavior. Sky diving, heli-skiing, motorcycle riding…he’s tried everything once. Except falling in love. Liam doesn’t do relationships, but a no-strings fling with Aubrey Tallinger—the smart, gorgeous lawyer handling his brother’s estate—is totally his speed.
At first, hooking up with Liam whenever he’s in Ribbon Ridge is perfect; but Aubrey fears she could fall hard for the sexy daredevil, if he’d only stop refusing to acknowledge the demons he’s trying to outrun. To protect herself from heartbreak, Aubrey ends their affair. But this time, Liam isn’t leaving town and instead of seduction, he wants to be…friends.
The white hot attraction between them still sizzles but Liam knows that winning Aubrey back won’t happen in his bed. He’ll have to convince her that he’s more than the careless, adrenaline junkie she believes him to be. Because when they kiss, Liam feels whole again… and he isn’t ready to give her up without a fight.

Perhaps it’s unfair that ‘When We Kiss’ is taking the brunt of my frustration with the formulaic tropes that are tossed out so easily when it comes to characterisation.

There’re a lot of family-type interactions which I’d normally appreciate for the different dynamics, but I took immediate offence at the selfish and reckless behaviour of the male lead, whose actions showed nothing of concern for others but himself – even if he attributes it to repressing his twin brother’s death which I found it even harder to swallow. But for this man-child (who miraculously still manages to be a player), Darcy Burke has at least chosen a passable heroine who nevertheless, still crumbles at his every touch, despite her determination to resist him. Liam Archer was a ‘hero’ whose shallows I was not inspired to plumb and many times, I wondered why Aubrey even bothered.

I was hard-pressed to continue with the story, let alone get invested in this pairing, as disappointed as I was with these characters.


Dirty Thoughts by Megan Erickson

Dirty Thoughts by Megan EricksonDirty Thoughts by Megan Erickson
Series: Mechanics of Love, #1
Published by Avon Impulse on June 16th 2015
Pages: 352
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Some things are sexier the second time around.
Cal Payton has gruff and grumbly down to an art...all the better for keeping people away. And it usually works. Until Jenna MacMillan-his biggest mistake---walks into Payton and Sons mechanic shop all grown up, looking like sunshine, and inspiring more than a few dirty thoughts.
Jenna was sure she was long over the boy she'd once loved with reckless abandon, but one look at the steel-eyed Cal Payton has her falling apart all over again. Ten years may have passed, but the pull is stronger than ever... and this Cal is all man.
Cal may have no intention of letting Jenna in, but she's always been his light, and it's getting harder to stay all alone in the dark. When a surprise from the past changes everything, Cal and Jenna must decide if their connection should be left alone or if it's exactly what they need for the future of their dreams.

Cal Payton has forgotten how to live. Weighed down by the burden of bringing up his brothers and lost in the wake of a failed teenage relationship, this rough-hewn, blue-collar guy is well on his way to becoming the grumpy, chain-smoking loner in the mould of his own father.

Until the same blast from his past blows back into town. Jenna MacMillan is the unexpected jerk back to life that Cal needs but he isn’t going down (or up, in this case) without a fight of his own after ten years of digging deep into the only life he knows. Between them, there are issues to sort out, their blistering chemistry notwithstanding, especially when it becomes clear that Jenna is here to stay.

I thought this was a fantastic read, but it’s probably because the grumpy, solitary ones always get to me the hardest. Coupled with many moments of hilarity – Cal’s decision to stop smoking and Brent’s sarcastic wheedling for instance -, ‘Dirty Thoughts’ turned out to be perfect distraction of the day.


Need Me by Tessa Bailey

Need Me by Tessa BaileyNeed Me by Tessa Bailey
Series: Broke and Beautiful, #2
Published by Avon Impulse on April 21st 2015
Pages: 288
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When Honey Perribow traded in her cowboy boots for stilettos and left her small Kentucky town to attend Columbia University, she never expected to find a dirt-cheap apartment or two new best friends. No stranger to hard work, Honey is completely focused on her medical degree … until she sees newly minted professor Ben Dawson, and her concentration is hijacked. Honey is fascinated by her gorgeous young English professor and vows to find a crack in his tweed-wearing, glasses-clad exterior.
At an off-campus party, an accident lands Ben in a dark, locked closet with a sexy-sounding Southern belle … and their chemistry is explosive. But when he discovers that the girl in his arms is the same beautiful student he can't stop thinking about, he is stunned. Student-teacher relationships are strictly forbidden … yet no matter how hard he tries, Ben can't stay away from Honey.
And when his attempt to fight their attraction nearly ruins the best thing that ever happened to him, Ben will do anything to prove how much he needs her.

I think Tessa Bailey just brought my dirty, secret fantasy to glorious life with Ben Dawson, only that my own professors weren’t ever that hot all those years ago. (And that she’ll have a stellar career writing handbooks on how to teach men to talk dirty, if she wasn’t already putting that underrated talent to good use in all her books) A five-year age gap isn’t the world’s most unsurmountable one, but it means everything with the forbidden line drawn between students and teachers. And that exactly, is what Tessa Bailey tries to overcome in this book. There are many obligatory mistakes made along the way, mostly by the professor who’s desperately running from the childhood demon poking its pitchfork straight into his shoulder the moment Honey sails into English class with her perfect essays and her golden eyes.

Ben and Honey do that strange but very compelling student-teacher dynamic in Need Me – ok, so it’s probably my fetish speaking. There is some literary flair, at least of the soaring, idealistic kind that peppers NA narratives, but self-reflexive enough to reference the wonders of the literary language, woven so cleverly into the passages expounding Ben’s frame of mind that I couldn’t help but mentally categorise this as a favourite halfway through the book.