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The Pretender by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 23rd September 2017
The Pretender by HelenKay DimonThe Pretender by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #3
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

They say it takes a thief to catch a thief, and Harrison Tate is proof. Once a professional burglar, he now makes a lawful living tracking down stolen art. No one needs to know about his secret sideline, “liberating” artifacts acquired through underhanded methods. At least until one of those jobs sees him walking in on a murder.

Gabrielle Wright has long been estranged from her wealthy family, but she didn’t kill her sister. Trouble is, the only person who can prove it is the sexy, elusive criminal who shouldn’t have been at the island estate on that terrible night. She’s not expecting honor among thieves—or for their mutual attraction to spark into an intense inferno of desire.

Under the guise of evaluating her family’s art, Harris comes back to the estate hoping to clear Gabby’s name. But returning to the scene of the crime has never been riskier, with their hearts and lives on the line.

‘The Pretender’ is HelenKay Dimon’s third foray into a group of mysterious men who do mysterious things and it’s one of those books that tend to leave me (as the previous books in this series have) with a very unfulfilled sense of ending, because of the very nature of these men and women who are frankly, difficult to get into.

It isn’t a slight on Dimon’s writing at all, because that itself is quite polished and I love this particular bit about Dimon that keeps me coming back for her books. In fact, the beginning chapter sucked me in straight as a watching art thief gets embroiled in a vicious murder, whose presence—should he confirm it—would exonerate a woman accused of many things. But from there onwards I found myself putting down and picking up the story so many times over the span of about a week or so, just unable to get deeper into the mystery that didn’t unfold as quickly for me as I liked.

There is a boat load of things going on, as there is a weird claustrophobic feel of the island setting as characters find themselves as potential pawns and suspects, but the pieces of this puzzle are doled out piecemeal and very sparingly in the first half.

It was tooth-clenchingly hard to get them put together, and I was frustrated when the pacing stuttered because the protagonists chose sex over talking too often, leaving half-truths on the table as trust is treated almost as secondary to passion. There is some form of continuing deception and dishonesty on both Harris and Gabby’s sides while a murderer is running loose, and this proves ultimately not only distracting but puts the whole relationship on shaky foundation that consequently made it hard to get invested in.

But because ‘The Pretender’ tried to juggle the whodunnit element of a mystery thriller with the obstacles of what deception might to do a relationship that began on the wrong footing, there were parts where the mystery was going nowhere when motives didn’t generally become that much clearer even as the story went on. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed with this one—the difficulty in finishing the book was enough proof of it.

two-stars

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews 2nd September 2017
Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill ShalvisChasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay #4
Published by Avon on September 26th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Meet cute...

Run for the hills—temporarily. That's Colbie Albright's plan when she flees New York for San Francisco. Wrangling her crazy family by day and writing a bestselling YA fantasy series by night has taken its toll. In short, Colbie's so over it that she's under it. She's also under the waters of a historic San Francisco fountain within an hour of arrival. Fortunately, the guy who fishes Colbie out has her looking forward to Christmas among strangers. But she's pretty sure Spencer Baldwin won't be a stranger for long.

Make merry...

Spence's commitment to hiding from the Ghosts of Relationships Past means he doesn't have to worry about the powerful—okay, crazy hot chemistry—he's got with Colbie. Just because she can laugh at anything, especially herself... just because she's gorgeous and a great listener just because she gets Spence immediately doesn't mean he won't be able to let Colbie go. Does it?

and hope for a miracle.

Now the clock's ticking for Colbie and Spence: Two weeks to cut loose. Two weeks to fall hard. Two weeks to figure out how to make this Christmas last a lifetime.

I’ve always wanted Spence’s story—the hot, smart but lonely geek always there for his friends but also always caught up in his work—and I’m so glad that Jill Shalvis has delivered “Chasing Christmas Eve” just as I thought this poor guy was going to be left behind. And this is a typical Shalvis read as well: light-hearted, never too heavy on the angst, with several scenes and dialogues that have comedic timing down pat.

There hasn’t been a hint of who would be Spence’s other half and it is a surprise in a way, to see that Shalvis pairing him with a famous author who’s unwilling to reveal the kind of fame she has. But like quite a few of Shalvis’s heroines, Colbie tends to run first, shut down, then analyse later, so unsurprisingly, it’s Spence—the more solid yet sweeter and steadfast one—whom I thought would get heartbroken in the end. After all, their affair was meant to burnt bright and hot…and temporary. But the expiry date comes and goes, and with the Christmas magic in the air, miracles do happen and Spence does get his HEA after all. He’s my soft spot after Elle Wheaten and I do admit that I wasn’t as invested in Spence/Colbie as much as I was in Elle/Archer, but that’s obviously a personal preference for character coming through here because I didn’t find Colbie as much as a standout as I’d hoped.

A particular highlight of the book however, is the return of the usual gang and I definitely dig the group dynamics of the Heartbreaker Bay series, especially since it’s always written with charm and quirk that contribute to the quiet sense of comedy. For this alone, I’ll be waiting for the next book to get back into Cow Hollow just to get back the feel-goods.

three-stars

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Posted in Historical Romance/ Reviews 28th August 2017
The Duchess Deal by Tessa DareThe Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
Series: Girl Meets Duke #1
Published by Avon on August 22nd 2017
Pages: 370
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four-stars


When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:- They will be husband and wife by night only.- No lights, no kissing. - No questions about his battle scars.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:- They will have dinner together every evening.- With conversation.- And unlimited teasing.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

Not having dipped my wick into historical romances in yonks, it always surprises me to see how much of an ‘updated’ feel—writing style, dialogue and characterisation—they have for contemporary readers who balk at anything that’s got a whiff of anti-feminism. In fact, this probably strays quite far from what history books say but I’ll readily admit that these reinterpretations (so to speak) are probably better suited to me.

‘The Duchess Deal’ is my first Tessa Dare book and it was quite a ride. The plot isn’t the most original, but there is something in the execution of it that kept me amused, laughing and enraptured. I dug every moment of Ash’s and Emma’s spirited banter—again, very much like a rom-com with a very creative use of some archaic words to boot—and found myself surprised at every turn because the protagonists just didn’t do or say the things I expected them to even though it bordered the ridiculous and unbelievable in certain parts.

But frankly, Ash was hilarious. Over the top. Sometimes extreme, but in the comedic way that doesn’t quite delve into the dark tormenting pit of despair and end-of-the-world angst that these heroes can sometimes be written into. So if he’d given Emma good time, I daresay he gave me an even better one. I’m sold, then, if only for this gruff, scarred, sarcastic wordsmith whose ability to make me laugh is so much more than his appearance.

four-stars

Ride Wild by Laura Kaye

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews 25th August 2017
Ride Wild by Laura KayeRide Wild by Laura Kaye
Series: Raven Riders #3
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Brotherhood. Club. Family.They live and ride by their own rules.These are the Raven Riders...

Wild with grief over the death of his wife, Sam “Slider” Evans merely lives for his two sons. Nothing holds his interest anymore—not even riding his bike or his membership in the Raven Riders Motorcycle Club. But that all changes when he hires a new babysitter.

Recently freed from a bad situation by the Ravens, Cora Campbell is determined to bury the past. When Slider offers her a nanny position, she accepts, needing the security and time to figure out what she wants from life. Cora adores his sweet boys, but never expected the red-hot attraction to their brooding, sexy father. If only he would notice her...

Slider does see the beautiful, fun-loving woman he invited into his home. She makes him feel too much, and he both hates it and yearns for it. But when Cora witnesses something she shouldn’t have, the new lives they’ve only just discovered are threatened. Now Slider must claim—and protect—what’s his before it’s too late.

‘Ride Wild’ focuses on the emotional journey of a widower struggling to get his life back, though it isn’t for the reason every one imagines it to be. It’s only the arrival of a babysitter (a secondary character who escaped the clutches of her evil father in previous books) needing her own sense of worth and identity that his life starts to turn around.

By and large, that was done fairly well. I did like Slider and Cora together, because both did seem ready to move on, needing only the right motivation to do so without the usual push-pull dance that most pairings undergo. Slider had my sympathy when his reasons for withdrawal from everything became clear, as did Cora—to some extent—as she struggled with trying to figure out her life at 24.

There isn’t too much angst on the romance aspect which Kaye heavily throws the spotlight on for most of the book; it’s a gradual journey of attraction and desire to a domestically blissful relationship that is established before the MC affairs kick in which sort of provide the suspense towards the end of the book.

Kaye’s ‘Raven Riders’ doesn’t quite read like a usual MC romance though; it skirts the hardcore, violent edge instead, (‘Ride Wild’ even more so) and presents female characters a little more needy and weepy than I’m used to in contrast to the large, tattooed men with even larger motorcycles. It’s not a bad mix really, though Kaye’s portrayal of the MC as a big, happy, loyal family got me sceptical at times, along with the significant age gap between the more ‘experienced’, career-established older men and the women who are younger and less sure-footed about their lives. Still, there are rival gangs, the problem of dogfighting and corrupt police officers though those really don’t take the shine away from Slider’s and Cora’s happy times in what has to be one of the most affirming MC stories I’ve ever read.

three-stars

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd August 2017
Hate to Want You by Alisha RaiHate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts, #1
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

One night. No one will know.

That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts-and the last names that made them enemies.

Until the night she didn’t show up.

Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want…so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?

Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence–and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.

Being together might be against all the rules…but being apart is impossible.

‘Hate to Want You’ starts off fabulously—Alisha Rai’s writing drew me in immediately—with a hostile relationship that’s got its odd quirks: 2 people who started off as a couple who became ex-es who then became annual hookups. I liked forbidden elements to relationships, which was why I wanted to dive straight into it.

I hesitate to call this a modern day Romeo and Juliet retelling, but that’s my stubbornness talking about what I feel is Shakespeare’s worst (and most farcical) play ever. But Nicholas’s and Livvy’s strange arrangement made me want to know more and it did take a while before I could really try to make sense of why they are that way.

But I generally didn’t see Nicholas and Livvy as exactly star-crossed lovers; they are just a couple pulled apart by family pressures and their own inability to handle themselves beyond that. That they went on that way for nearly a decade simply seemed inconceivable to me when one of them could have simply pulled back and stopped or pushed and gone all the way, especially when there was a pain-pleasure cycle which they seemed to perversely enjoy. Much of the ‘action’ is tuned inwards, concerned with revelations, realisations and changing perceptions and there’s a constant angsty thread that seem to belong in the NA genre with erotica thrown into the mix.

Getting to the bottom of their story however, is really about getting through a huge load of family drama and a family feud that’s irreparable. It’s overwhelming to see just how bitchy everyone can be—yes, even the protagonists—but the backstabbing and the underhanded plots for vengeance and avoidance did get tiresome after a while. At some parts it became a soap opera that shows up how dysfunctional everything is in every sense of the word and it’s accompanied by self-flegallation and so much deep emoting that it merely becomes a hot mess of bitter familial relations.

Overall, I wasn’t entirely convinced about this pairing not because the emotional depth is lacking but because Nicholas and Livvy’s HEA still seemed marred by too much history that made me wonder if they were really better apart with clean breaks after all. ‘Hate to Want You’ however, is catnip for those who love drowning in angsty reads and while I’m still sort of wondering how the rest of the pairings will play out, having more ‘forbidden’ pairings to come within the dysfunctional feuding families is frankly, an intimidating prospect.

three-stars

Disorderly Conduct by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 2nd August 2017
Disorderly Conduct by Tessa BaileyDisorderly Conduct by Tessa Bailey
Series: The Academy #1
Published by Avon on August 29th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…

Police academy cadet Charlie Burns can’t believe his luck when the gorgeous blonde he meets in a bar murmurs those magic words: “Nothing serious, ’kay?” Mind-blowing, no-strings sex with Ever Carmichael—it’s the holy grail of hookups for a guy who’s too busy following in his law enforcement family’s footsteps to think about getting serious. Charlie’s all about casual…that is, until Ever calls it quits and his world tilts on its axis.

Ever knows that when you control the relationship game, you can’t get played. But for the first time, she wants more than short-term satisfaction. Step one: end her fling with commitment-phobic Charlie. Step two: sacrifice herself to the ruthless NYC dating scene. Yet everywhere she turns, there’s Charlie, being his ridiculously charming self. No online match or blind date compares to the criminally hot cop-in-training, but they’re over. Aren’t they?

If love is a four-letter-word, why does the idea of Ever seeing someone else tie Charlie up in knots?  Now he’s desperate to win her back…and a little date sabotage never hurt anyone, right?

The bad? The ridiculous, cheesy cover. Also, the ridiculous name that is Ever Carmichael.

Everything else however, was pretty good, particularly since I found myself quite entertained for a sustained period of time. In a nutshell: woman stops a no-strings fling in order to get into a serious relationship. Unhappy and offended guy who has been booted out of this fling abruptly sabotages every effort of hers to do so, having been classified as the kind who wouldn’t commit.

Charlie’s panic about losing Ever as a friend-with-benefits is amusing precisely because he’s in love without having put a name to it yet. The ways in which he sabotaged her efforts to get into serious dating were funny and to a lesser extent, the sheer anxiety he’d had about finding every excuse in the book to throw at her about being friends. Operating on irony and what the readers know that the characters don’t, Tessa Bailey also gives it a twist by throwing the spotlight as well on Charlie’s own abandonment issues—he’s been screwed over by his own mother as much as Ever had—and the plot is as much about him as it is about Ever’s willingness to do what it takes to please her mum.

In most romances that I’ve come across, sex is never the problem for the couple in question anyway; it’s only what comes before and/or after that matters to me more because it shows the characters for who they really are and how well an author can pull together plot strings and character minus writing an nth variation of slotting pointy object A into soft opening B. Bailey’s sex scenes are a bit too over-the-top and porn-ish for me—it’s amazing how characters manage to speak and think in long sentences in the midst of a passionate tumble—but apart from this, I still liked her writing much better here. It’s more lighthearted, and pitched well as a rom-com with a (thankfully) less ball-busting, steamrolling alpha male who can apparently give their heroines a season ticket’s worth of rides on his orgasm train.

There is some (unnecessary) angst of the New Adult flavour, one might say, and the story could have been cut short had Ever/Charlie honestly communicated what really needed to be said.

But where would the drama be otherwise? Or the crazy antics you’d never catch an ‘adult’ doing? Along with the cringeworthy 80s-style cheesy grovelling, Bailey infuses into every page that sense of optimism and the nervous feeling of crossroads that most people in their twenties have and truth be told, I had a ball of a time reliving it.

three-stars

Wrecked by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 27th April 2017
Wrecked by Cynthia EdenWrecked by Cynthia Eden
Series: LOST #6
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Pages: 248
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four-stars

SHE LEFT HIM ONCE.

LOST Agent Ana Young was only fourteen when she was abducted by a madman, but unlike many kidnapping victims, she did go home. Now, her mission is to find the missing. But her new case has her on the hunt for the escaped convict who’s obsessed with her. And Ana has an unlikely partner—the sexy, supposedly-by-the-book FBI agent she had one amazing night with and had to forget.

NOW HE HAS TO PROTECT HER 24/7…

FBI Special Agent Cash Knox knows that Ana, the petite, tough-ass former bounty hunter, can get the job done again. But this time, someone else leads them to “Bernie-the-Butcher,” someone who’s been watching Ana. Waiting for her.

FROM A CRAZED KILLER.

Now, catching a deranged murderer means Ana must trust her guarded heart to the gorgeous, complicated G-man she wasn’t supposed to fall for.

Cynthia Eden’s LOST series has thus far, been a mixed bag for me, but there are several ones which I do like and ‘Wrecked’ is one of them. It’s exciting to dive into a world where shades of grey operate and where characters are never what they seem, up until the very end, so everything that Eden throws up is a potential twist in the plot.

‘Wrecked’ is Ana Young’s story, one of the latest additions in Gabe Spencer’s outfit, whose bounty hunter past had been decided for her when she’d been tortured as a child, except that those walls of hers can be pulled down—by the unlikeliest of people in FBI agent Cash Knox. He’s back in her circles because a hunter of serial killers is at large and him needing her help is just as much an order from his boss as it is his need to see her again. Their very brief history is their only foundation, but even then, Cash’s own link to her isn’t merely because law enforcement dictates it. The mystery trail is complex and sometimes confusing, but Cash and Ana need to sort through their own issues as they search for a perpetrator that seems way too brilliant for their liking.

As far as Romantic Suspense goes, ‘Wrecked’ is an entertaining read, where connections are (sometimes coincidentally) forged from dark pasts and love found in the oddest of places, even from a one-night stand that isn’t as accidental as it seemed. Eden writes about perpetrators who are as much victims as they are of circumstances, warped only because they’d been traumatised, but also of love found so near and yet so far from where one’s personal demons lurk. Some parts of the book do seem a bit more dramatic and over the top than I thought they should have been—but it does rack up the chill factor at times and the psychological insights are one of a kind. Overall, it’s a story that’s hard to put down and in that vein, that’s more than good enough for me.

four-stars
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