Publisher: Carina Press

Making Up by Lucy Parker

Making Up by Lucy ParkerMaking Up by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities #3
Published by Carina Press on May 28th 2018
Pages: 318
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Once upon a time, circus artist Trix Lane was the best around. Her spark vanished with her confidence, though, and reclaiming either has proved…difficult. So when the star of The Festival of Masks is nixed and Trix is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, it’s exactly the push she needs. But the joy over her sudden elevation in status is cut short by a new hire on the makeup team.

Leo Magasiva: disgraced wizard of special effects. He of the beautiful voice and impressive beard. Complete dickhead and—in an unexpected twist—an enragingly good kisser.

To Leo, something about Trix is…different. Lovely. Beautiful, even though the pint-size, pink-haired former bane of his existence still spends most of her waking hours working to annoy him. They’ve barely been able to spend two minutes together for years, and now he can’t get enough of her. On stage. At home. In his bed.

When it comes to commitment, Trix has been there, done that, never wants to do it again. Leo’s this close to the job of a lifetime, which would take him away from London—and from Trix. Their past is a constant barrier between them.

It seems hopeless.

Utterly impossible.

And yet…

I don’t have much experience with reading Lucy Parker’s books, but ‘Making Up’s enemies-to-lovers blurb drew me right in.

I loved the chaotic opening that was full of sensory delights mixed with the drama that happens both onstage and offstage—that’s what you get for sinking the story straight into one of Westend’s best runs, complete with the out-of-the-world costumes, death-defying acts, impossible characters and finally, the stripped-down actors behind them.

Parker paints stunning pictures with words, no doubt, with so much of the side-of-your-mouth kind of humour here both dry and witty—blink and it’s gone—that ups the pace and makes the pages fly. Even the antagonism between Trix and Leo fell into romcom land as they traded barbs with the frenemies vibe and slung such spirited snarky insults that I was tempted to steal some those in order to expand my own swearing vocabulary.

I did like Parker’s chosen setting of performance art, and the support that went on behind the scenes…Trix and Leo were the furthest from the typical stock characters you see in romance these days and that alone kept me reading. Quirk aside (and there’s quite a fair bit of it that can be funny, if the humour and writing do appeal), I still sort of had a hard time trying to place where ‘Making Up’ fell on my personal ratings spectrum.

It’s far from a bad read, but there were parts that I felt were stylistically overdone: the constant hyperboles and the smart cracks could have been dialled back a wee bit, which, combined with a full boatload of drama—don’t expect any less from the theatre people—nearly caved my head in. The pygmy hedgehog however, was the extra special sparkle in all of it.


Hot Response by Shannon Stacey

Hot Response by Shannon StaceyHot Response by Shannon Stacey
Series: Boston Fire #4
Published by Carina Press on April 24th 2018
Pages: 285
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Gavin Boudreau lives for the job, but he also believes in “work hard, play harder.” As the youngest guy in Ladder 37, he figures he’s got plenty of time before settling down becomes a priority. Soft, pretty women who aren’t looking for promises are exactly his type, and he’s comfortable with that. Working with a gorgeous EMT isn’t going to change who he is.

The last thing Cait Tasker needs in her personal life is a firefighter whose challenges on-scene have been a thorn in her side from minute one. Her plate’s too full for a man anyway. Back in her childhood home to help her family cope with an unexpected tragedy, she’s got enough to handle without throwing a hot, testosterone-laden fireman into the mix.

As long days on the job lead to long nights together, Gavin and Cait will discover how far temptation can take them—and what happens when the one you thought was all wrong for you turns out to be the person you can’t live without.

Shannon Stacey’s firefighters are always fantastic entertainment but I think ‘Hot Response’ has so far, knocked this series out of the park as a firefighter and an EMT get off on the wrong foot due to a small series of unintended misunderstandings.

Gavin Boudreau and Cait Tasker didn’t seem like the kind of characters who would have worked out based on the blurb, but the story that Stacey tells turned out to be quite a different one. I never quite even got the idea that Gavin was only up for a good time, and that he tuned out to be an absolute prize—all about family, thoughtful and considerate—surprised me pleasantly, as much as how into the relationship with Cait when that finally took off. That their relationship was hampered by a large issue in Cait’s life was going to be a conflict that I saw coming from afar, though I was glad to see that resolved relatively quickly (though a little abruptly).

What stood out however, was the progression of their relationship; none of it felt forced nor boring, as I was engrossed in the day-to-day routines of them working as first responders and how their jobs intersected from time to time. The episodes with their own families did made me cringe at times, as were the very relatable struggles that both faced, particularly Cait’s, though I could understand Gavin’s own position on Cait’s reluctance to move on.

In any case, ‘Hot Response’ made a perfect weekend read for me: there was a comfortable mix of angst, action and banter and I loved reading about the interactions between the whole fire crew. My only tiny complaint is the rather abrupt resolution and end to the book, though it’s not something I should be nitpicking about because there’s clearly more of this beloved crew to come.


The Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton

The Love Coupon by Ainslie PatonThe Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton
Series: Stubborn Hearts #2
Published by Carina Press on March 9th 2018
Pages: 253
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Can you fall in love if you have the right coupon?

Tom O’Connell had a problem. His temporary roommate, Flick Dalgetty was noisy, messy, made of bees and had enough energy to power an amusement park. The problem was he shouldn’t have kissed her.

Flick Dalgetty had a problem. Her landlord, Tom O’Connell was made of granite. He was a big, repressed anti-social ogre, but the man knew how to kiss. The problem was he felt guilty about hooking up and she wanted more.

Until Flick’s gift of thirty coupons, each entitling Tom to one guilt and obligation free activity, from bowling and bubble bathing to morning delight and lingerie buying, removed all the guesswork of being incompatible partners and temporary roommates.

Now the only problem was Flick had to leave and Tom needed to stay and they might be falling in love—and there wasn’t a coupon for that.

Love can be a sexy game until it becomes the only one your stubborn heart wants to play.

Quirk is the order of the day each time I read an Ainslie Paton novel, from the (sometimes hilarious) descriptions of her characters to the even odder situations that they find themselves in. But these can also be a refreshing change from the monotony of encountering variants of the same type of plots that have been reworked in so many ways.

Paton’s style however, does take getting used to—from metaphors that never quite occur to you make regular occurrences to odd, long dialogues to hyperboles that give you pause—and I suspect it might put some readers in one camp or the other. ‘The Love Coupon’ safe to say, follows this kind of pattern in what’s essentially, a roommates to lovers story based on Flick Dalgetty pulling Tom O’Connell out of his comfort zone in every direction he’d never anticipated.

Make no mistake, Flick Dalgetty came in with a bang. True to her name (like a fly you want to flick off), Flick was already made out to be a circus-act protagonist who went at everything like the Duracell Bunny and then some—just to read in third person about her was exhausting. As a character who seemed to exist to poke the conservative, routine-based Tom out of his comfort zone, I couldn’t help but at times find her pesky, needy and almost petulantly acting up when it came to the long-suffering Tom—essentially rubbing me the wrong way because she didn’t know how to leave things alone. There were parts about her family though, that made her vulnerably relatable and those were the bits that I enjoyed reading the most.

What I found odd was that the love coupon part of the story didn’t come in until at least half the story later, the first of which felt like long dialogues and Tom/Flick rather quickly feeling their way around each other, at parts literally. I did however, appreciate Paton establishing their odd relationship first, before the coupon idea came in, which definitely helped solidify this weird bond that they had going by then.

Still, while I’m sold on the premise of the story, Tom/Flick felt like a batty idea that I couldn’t quite shake by the end of their tearful declarations that they couldn’t live without each other. There was overall, still an oddity about ‘The Love Coupon’ that felt a tad ‘off’ to me—this is obviously just me—as Tom/Flick abruptly and impulsively rode off into their (Washington) sunset before the credits rolled. It’s definitely rom-com worthy though, so if that’s your sort of thing, ‘The Love Coupon’ is a perfect bet.


Syncopation by Anna Zabo

Syncopation by Anna ZaboSyncopation by Anna Zabo
Series: Twisted Wishes #1
Published by Carina Press on April 9th 2018
Pages: 295
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Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter. If Ray’s up for the challenge.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. And Zavier has always had big dreams; this gig was supposed to be temporary. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

Music excites me and everything about the blurb of ‘Syncopation’ was catnip: a fledgling garage band on the verge of making it big, a new cocky (and talented) drummer taking the place of the old one, an unspoken, straining attraction between 2 people who’d had a rocky relationship years ago and the slow unravelling of a frontman who takes on too much on his own shoulders.

The title ‘Syncopation’ is a fitting one somehow—the beat that the band conjures, that Zavier and Ray dance to…it’s a story paced like a musical score, a build-up, with several sparks thrown in, then finally the climax that leaves one breathless. I loved the rush, the electrifying atmosphere that exploded to life on the page and the highs and the lows that Zabo writes so intricately about. In fact, Zabo’s descriptions of the exhilaration of performing and the adulation of the audience felt spot-on, as were her ways of talking about synaesthesia in the way it gave voice to music through shapes, colours and lines.

There are tons of triggers here, though, so going into this with eyes wide open is a necessity. What I personally hadn’t expected was the BDSM, the brutal, power-play kinks and the absence of love declarations in the traditional sense, though these were edgy enough to give the story a dirtier, flintier side as Zavier and Ray worked through their history while on tour. And as the tour amped up with each stop, so did the tension between them which I knew was going to explode in a fit so spectacular taking cover was probably necessary.

Still, I couldn’t exactly shake the feeling that for at least the first half, Zavier and Ray didn’t feel like equals (the former never looked like an open book, even by the end of it), coloured as they were by Zavier’s arrogant assumption about Ray’s punk status (10 years earlier!)—a subtle dynamic that seemed to have carried over to their interactions in the band. But I liked their slow, almost-grudging shift into friendship, the vulnerability that had Ray stripped bare, the inherent contradictions in both Zabo’s protagonists: the confidence, the conviction and the absolute commitment Ray had in the band and Zavier’s protectiveness towards him, then their role reversal in the bedroom.

My tastes are admittedly, a tad bit vanilla for all that went on however, as the BDSM really kicked in by the second half of the story. While I loved Zabo’s writing and the masterful pacing this story, the other bit of me cringed when the kinks took me for a ride—pun intended—longer and deeper than I was hoping for. With an ending that defied the usual ‘HEA/HFN’, I’m not entirely sure how to classify my own reaction to ‘Syncopation’ and it’s a rating that reflects that. Will there be more Zabo books in the future for me? Possibly so, since the secondary characters here have hooked me in and I’m already leaning towards wanting to read their stories.


Claimed by Alexa Riley

Claimed by Alexa RileyClaimed by Alexa Riley
Series: For Her #3
Published by Carina Press on March 27th 2018
Pages: 314
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Jordan Chen is the man behind the screen. As part of the elite security team for Osbourne Corporation, he has an iron grip on protection, all without having to make close connections with people. Until he meets the beautiful Jay, and suddenly his quiet life doesn't seem so perfect anymore. He needs more. He needs her.

A workaholic to her core, Jay Rose doesn't have a lot of men in her life. Smiling in the face of her enemies gets her the results she wants at work, but doesn't exactly project a warm, welcoming vibe. So she's surprised when the enigmatic security expert strikes up a friendship with her—surprised but flattered, and maybe a little bit turned on.

A company as powerful as Osbourne Corporation has powerful enemies, and when Jay becomes a target, Jordan realizes there's nothing he won't do to bring her home safe.

It’s no surprise that I’ve often complained about the brevity of the dynamic (and instalove) duo Alexa Riley’s stories. The novella-length and even shorter tales they weave have tended to be—in part due to the length—full of alpha males who take over their women so thoroughly that they sometimes consume them whole, developing tunnel, caveman vision to the point where they see nothing but the words ‘mine, mine, mine’. It’s ‘crazy love’, as a villain in ‘Claimed’ says, or devotion so complete it could well be religious—a style that any Alexa Riley reader needs to get accustomed to first.

But Riley’s full-length stories, in the ‘For Her’ series at least, have gone a long way to ease this somewhat extreme vision of theirs, as the plot—as well as the action—unfolded and stretched over chapters rather than mere paragraphs. The drawn-out storytelling is a boon in this case and the burn between Jay/Jordan more believable because of it.

Yet if I thought ‘Claimed’ started out quite well, the story and characterisation faltered for me as the pages wore on. I liked the initial awkwardness between Jay and Jordan, even as Riley pushed their relationship straight into the deep end rather quickly without much angst at all. And while Jordan was quite the bossy protagonist to remember, what I couldn’t quite get was Jay’s seeming inability to use her brains around Jordan—her total dependence on him, her concealment of the threat pushing her into TSTL behaviour, her helplessness later on—and her sudden pliancy when it came to just becoming a passive taker as she got in deeper with Jordan. That said, a caveat: my confessed preference for stronger, take-charge heroines is definitely showing up here however, particularly since Riley has written some suspense into the story but not too much that it overwhelms the romantic elements in it.

While ‘Claimed’ isn’t my favourite of the series, it’s one I jumped onto because just the thought of a full-length Alexa Riley story is irresistible. Riley’s iron-clad reaffirmations of HEAs (multiple epilogues!), over the top as they might be, do sometimes work out after all quite nicely—this book’s tooth-achingly sweet, drawn-out ending fits the bill.


Don’t Go by Alexa Riley

Don’t Go by Alexa RileyDon’t Go by Alexa Riley
Series: For You #3
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 78
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CEO Henry Osbourne has only ever desired one woman—the one who got away.

I’ve spent the past ten years convincing myself that what I felt for her was teenage infatuation. That love so consuming couldn’t be real. Then everything went to shit, and in an instant, she was gone.

Kory Summers knew returning to New York meant running into Henry. The way her heartbeat picked up at just the thought was nervousness—not anticipation. Oh, no. She never expected to find him on her doorstep looking as handsome as ever.

She’s mine. She always has been. I’ve waited this long for her…but time’s up. I’ll use all my power, all my connections, to convince her she’s the one.

Kory ran from a boy, but a man of power and persuasion now stands in his place.

‘Don’t Go’ is in fact, part of the ‘For You’ series, though it’s now Miles/Mallory’s son’s story, which can be a little jarring since it wasn’t too long ago that I read his parents’ HEA, though in Riley’s fictional world of the Osbournes, over 2 decades have gone by. The biggest issue I have with this series is the lack of chronological order in which the books come about and the time-gap that these stories span—which is at least a generation, but that might just be splitting hairs here.

Alexa Riley’s commitment to short and safe might cause some raised brows when it comes to instalove (or lust) and the all-in stance of the male protagonist. And, honestly, I do sometimes count myself among these brow-raisers. But in rare cases, Riley’s short and safe novellas can and do make an impact.

In ‘Don’t Go,’ Riley writes about 2 people so devoted to each other as well as the memories of that single Cinderella-esque night that there wouldn’t be space to ask the messy and difficult questions that typically appear as part of a second-chance romance. In fact, questions about the contentious separation period and the believability of the pairing’s second-chance romance don’t really factor into the equation here, simply because there have been no one else for Henry and Kory.

From there onwards, it’s pure Alexa Riley that takes over: the instalove (this is sufficiently warned by the authors to be fair), the possessive hero and the iron-clad HEA that probably spans a quarter of the entire short book. It’s not for everyone, clearly, because of how implausible and admittedly unrealistic the pairing and story might come across, but if devotion that sometimes seems out of the real world is what you’re looking at, then Alexa Riley is the kind of read to go for.


Hold Tight by Alexa Riley

Hold Tight by Alexa RileyHold Tight by Alexa Riley
Series: For You #2
Published by Carina Press on October 16th 2017
Pages: 64
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A hotshot consultant hired to streamline Osbourne Corp. meets his match in Pandora Justice—the more she plays hard to get, the more he wants her.

They say that like recognizes like, and the day I looked into her deep blues, I met my other half.

Pandora Justice took over as head of security at Osbourne Corp. after her father's retirement. Eighty-hour workweeks are normal; being brushed up against by hot consultants with ridiculous names is not. And she doesn't like it. Not even one bit.

It's amazing how easily she can lie to herself.

I had to have her. Plain and simple.

The first time Pandora sees Royce in the ring—all tattoos and sinew, covered in sweat—he looks at her like he's just won more than the fight. Like he won her.

I won't play games with her. I'll wait, and it will kill me, but I'll do it for her.

Royce's cocky grin with deep dimples makes Pandora melt. Once she wanted to smack that look off his face—now all she wants to do is kiss it. For the rest of her life.

The thought of spending the rest of my life with Pandora warms the place in my chest I didn't think was alive. I've put my claim on her—she's the one, and I'm done. It's that simple.

Alexa Riley’s formula should be well-known by now: instalove, a hero who goes alpha the moment he sees his significant half, decides he wants her and does everything to claim her as his territory. Be prepared for over-dramatic moments interspersed with sex that can be scorching, though you might question the validity of the connection between the protagonists because of this.

‘Hold Tight’ is Pandora’s book – something I’ve looked forward to for a while – but its sheer brevity (this tops out at a mere 64 pages) magnifies the faults I find with Riley’s books. Had it been a longer, more drawn-out version, I think I would have liked and rated the story a lot higher with greater character depth and development. Still, Riley delivered a safe(ish) read, with a guaranteed HEA, so it could be a balm for readers discouraged and cynical about their romance reads.