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Hold Tight by Alexa Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd October 2017
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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three-stars

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.

three-stars

After Hours by Lynda Aicher

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 21st September 2017
After Hours by Lynda AicherAfter Hours by Lynda Aicher
Series: The Boardroom #1
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 218
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three-stars

The Boardroom. After hours, it’s where Bay Area moguls indulge their fantasies. Ties are loosened. Inhibitions, too.

Assistant Avery Fast watched from a distance, mouth gaping, blood roaring wildly in her ears as she stared at the naked woman on the table before her. At executive Carson Taggert ordering a man to pleasure her. It made her feel guilty, embarrassed…and hot.

Carson watched and waited. Waited for Avery to notice him in the Boardroom. Waited for her to like what she saw. Waited to see what she’d do the next day. And the next. He couldn't let her go—not when she'd seen what goes on in the Boardroom. He couldn't stop thinking about the desire in her eyes, the flush on her cheeks, her obvious arousal.

Getting her to join was easy. But now Carson wants Avery all to himself.

‘After Hours’ is a curious read. It’s clearly erotica, where sexual exploration of any kind—where voyeurism initially plays a large part—is done in a boardroom, spearheaded by none other than the chief technology officer, under very strict rules that we aren’t exactly privy to until further on in the book.

It’s seedy and fascinating at the same time to see how something else darker and seductive comes out to play (and the upper echelon of the prestigious office do get busy) when the lights go out after the work day. At the heart of it all, the characters seem to lead double lives that are only unveiled as Avery Fast finally gains access by accident into this hedonistic playground where the garden of delights so to speak, is finally revealed to her. Part glamorous retro porn movie (or at least it seems that way in technicolor) and part noir-ish sensuality, I struggled to find my footing with the characters who seem more enigmatic than relatable.

I didn’t get the entire picture of what the Boardroom was supposed to be at first, though a lot of it seemed to be about commands, control and boundaries, which is probably the paradox of such sexual play just like in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’: freeing yet binding, open but secretive as hell, exploratory yet reined in, highly sexualised but devoid of intimacy. Bottom-line is, it still demands trust, more on one side than the other, until emotions suddenly get into play and rips apart the detachment required in the Boardroom as Avery goes on that twisty journey of sexual awakening.

Does love then, have a part to play in this, considering romance is supposed to underscore the entire story? At the very least, it’s about the various contradictions that Avery has about her own conservative brand of sexuality: the shame of not being able to be the person other than she’s brought up to be even though she’s far from virginal, yet wanting more than just sex with no limits through experimentation in the Boardroom that nonetheless, tethers her with its strict parameters. I don’t feel as though I know Avery or Carson very well by the end of it but the story does lapse more comfortably into the ‘romance category’ when it’s made clear that the Avery still wants the family and the picket fence as the very non-committal Carson finally falls prey to it.

As a result, Avery’s and Carson’s liaison is so far beyond the typical office romance that I’m unclear how to classify it, or rather, I’m still not sure how I feel about the book simply because erotica always keeps me unbalanced no matter how many times I delve into it. ‘After Hours’ does crystallise at the end with a very strong (and perhaps prescriptive) message, almost like the moral of the story that proclaims to all female readers who’ve always complained about the double standards in romance, that women shouldn’t be embarrassed about what they liked about their sexual preferences as Avery comes out of that experience unapologetic and supposedly more enlightened about her sexual self—thanks to Carson.

Stylistically speaking, ‘After Hours’ is well-written, well-paced and done with a deftness that I can appreciate. Lynda Aicher’s a new author to me, but as uncertain as I am about the subject matter and that defiant, feminist message that got me straight in the face thanks to Avery and a secondary character, Aicher makes a huge impression with her prose. It got me past my comfort zone in dealing with open relationships and it’s handled in a way that kept me off-centre the whole time.

three-stars

Stay Close by Alexa Riley

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th June 2017
Stay Close by Alexa RileyStay Closer Series: For You #1
Published by Carina Press on July 17th 2017
Pages: 69
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four-stars

A former Russian mafia soldier is hired to protect a friend’s young daughter, but he knows he’ll do more than keep her safe–he’ll make her his. Forever.

If she were to simply whisper my name, I would be at her feet, begging to touch what I shouldn’t, taste what doesn’t belong to me, run my hands along the sweet innocence she taunts me with.

Penelope Justice is eighteen, old enough to graduate high school but—according to her parents—not old enough to live without 24/7 security. Practice has made her an expert at ditching her bodyguards. One look at Ivan and she never wants to run again.

I’ve been hired to protect her.

I can’t help but think that perhaps someone should have protected her from me.

Ivan steals the breath right out of her lungs, something no boy has ever done. Then again, he’s far from a boy. This man, this man who looks like he could kill someone with the flick of a wrist, is everything. He is her future.

I can’t let her go and I won’t give her up. I’ve done bad things in my life, and I don’t deserve her. But I can’t do the honorable thing.

I’ve never been noble, and I’m not starting now.

Alexa Riley, as I’m starting to learn (that’s really late of me, I know) is pure escapism. Forget the harness of reality, throw out the doubts of instant love and lust and usher in the unapologetic over-the-top type of devotion and adoration that can come from both protagonists, not matter how old or young they are.

Age gap? Bad pasts? Bah. Of no consequence, mostly. What matter here is that the connection is instant, the want is mutual and the pledging of hearts is eternal, as far as Riley is concerned.

‘Stay Close’ is an indulgent read (and an off-shoot of the ‘For Her’ series), an unlikely pair that come together in the form of a coming-of-age-woman and her bodyguard with a dubious background. Angst is virtually non-existent on the whole and somewhat short journey ends deliriously happy with an epilogue that seals the entire deal.

So put the blinkers on your eyes, stop the jaded snorts when some cheese comes in, because that’s what reading Riley tends to demand – a complete suspension of disbelief and the investment in a pair only meant for each other.

four-stars

Act like it by Lucy Parker

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 31st December 2016
Act like it by Lucy ParkerAct Like It by Lucy Parker
Published by Carina Press on November 30th 2015
Pages: 216
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two-stars

Richard Troy used to be the hottest actor in London, but the only thing firing up lately is his temper. We all love to love a bad boy, but Richard's antics have made him Enemy Number One, breaking the hearts of fans across the city.
Have the tides turned? Has English rose Lainie Graham made him into a new man?
Sources say the mismatched pair has been spotted at multiple events, arm in arm and hip to hip. From fits of jealousy to longing looks and heated whispers, onlookers are stunned by this blooming romance.
Could the rumors be right? Could this unlikely romance be the real thing? Or are these gifted stage actors playing us all?

This started brilliantly for me, full of wit and banter with many instances of un-American humour that I could appreciate. But it did fall flat the further I went on, in what felt like ‘theatre-wanking’, where parts of the dialogue almost read like authorial preening rather than a sustained ‘upward and onward’ movement from a hostile relationship to a slow-burn romance that was solid by the end. Mostly, I couldn’t quite see where the story as going, beyond the part where it was expected that they’d end up together.

As a result, I couldn’t feel enough of an emotional connection between both Richard the snobbishly wealthy prick-like arse who improved later on and Lainie, the supposedly sweet thing who has been roped into a fake romance for the sake of cleaning up his reputation. The banter never let up of course, with many servings of sarcasm and odd twists of humour, but by then I’d mostly started skimming to see how it would all end past the falling into bed stage.

two-stars

Everything for Her by Alexa Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 26th October 2016
Everything for Her by Alexa RileyEverything for Her by Alexa Riley
Series: For Her #1
Published by Carina Press on December 27th 2016
Pages: 368
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four-stars

I'll never forget the way she looked, so confident and sure of herself. I watched her from a distance. She wasn't ready for me yet. I didn't approach her and I didn't disturb her, but I never once took my eyes off her.

Mallory Sullivan is ready to start her new life. After graduating at the top of her class, she's landed one of the most coveted internships in the United States. Hard work and determination have gotten her to this moment of living the life she only dreamed of while growing up in foster care.

From the start, I knew that she would be my greatest achievement, so the day I let her go, I set down a path for her. A path to me.

She never expected Oz to be the greatest culmination of those dreams. But sometimes fate determines who you fall in love with. Who makes you lose control. Who owns your soul.

And then you realize it wasn't fate at all.

I've wanted to care for and protect her since the first moment I saw her. I've constructed everything in our lives so that at the perfect moment, I could have her, could give her the life she deserves.

Alexa Riley’s stories aren’t for everyone and I can understand why.

Her characters are obsessively devoted to each other—sometimes one more than the other without much reason to the point where it feels like creepy stalking—yet Riley builds on a pairing’s dynamic in a way that makes you gratified that there isn’t any other woman or man in the picture that will ever come between them. There’s the virgin trope that’s refreshingly celebrated in all her books, and her heroes are (thankfully) never manwhores or players, but there’s also the lightning speed at which lust and apparently love come into play. And if the idea of unbreakable soul-mates isn’t enough, there’s also an indubitable HEA that has epilogue after epilogue of the couple in question months and years later—still happy and horny together.

That in a nutshell, is the core of Riley’s writing, which often leaves me conflicted about the crazy, instant dive into love and the over-the-top behaviour with hot sex to help tide you over the unbelievable bits.

The longer length of ‘Everything for Her’ do, in some ways, mitigate those bits I’ve just mentioned, although those traits are still present, only with better character development that goes a long way in framing the obsession and the manipulation Miles had going with Mallory for years. However, I couldn’t fully understand this completely possessive attitude that Riley’s heroes tend to have and Miles’s one did leave me more than a little alarmed at the stalkerish way he tracked Mallory, who after a time, did accept his reasons for doing so.

If it’s as unreal as romantic fiction could get with some shades of Christian and Ana (minus the BDSM) in it, Riley nevertheless does write something compelling between Miles and Mallory with minimal angst that dissipates as soon as every barrier—physical and emotional—is stripped away. In short, best for a good few hours of escapism so you can feel hot under the collar.

four-stars

Holiday with a Twist by Shannon Stacey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 19th October 2016
Holiday with a Twist by Shannon StaceyHoliday with a Twist by Shannon Stacey
Published by Carina Press on November 21st 2016
Pages: 104
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two-stars

After a messy breakup, Leigh Holloway is ready to start her life over. Until her parents put the family home on the market and call her back for one final, memory-making Christmas. The last thing she wants to do is deprive her mom of the perfect holiday, so she'll lie her way through the visit and worry about her future in the New Year. Too bad the only bar in town is owned by a guy she seriously wronged in high school.
Leigh's best friend broke Croy Dawson's heart, and Croy knows it was Leigh's fault. They've never liked each other, but Croy isn't cruel: he'd never turn away a pretty woman in need of some family-Christmas fortification. He doesn't expect her to drink just enough candy-cane martinis to tell him her secrets—and he definitely doesn't expect to get caught up in her holiday madness.
Despite the surprising love and laughter, Croy and Leigh can't escape the truth: he can't walk away from his family obligations and she has a life and career to reboot. But anything is possible if your holiday comes with a twist…

After years away, Leigh Holloway returns home to reconnect with family and somehow meets an old friend whom she’d lost years ago because of a thoughtless act. Croy Dawson, on the other hand, has never thought of Leigh in a romantic way at all until she returns and suddenly isn’t quite able to get enough of her.

At the risk of sounding like a cynical tosser, ‘Holiday with a Twist’ is probably what I’m starting to recognise as ‘happy holiday reading’ and as seasonal fiction, asks for more leeway because of the Christmas spirit for the suspension of disbelief. In essence, characters fall in love more easily and their readers, correspondingly, more inclined to believe it because of Christmas magic and the potential for new beginnings around the corner. There’s a HEA where things always work out and even if it’s more predictable than ever, it’s a novella for those who look actively for holiday fiction – and Shannon Stacey more than delivers.

two-stars

The Stranger by Anna del Mar

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 9th September 2016
The Stranger by Anna del MarThe Stranger by Anna del Mar
Series: Wounded Warrior #2
Published by Carina Press on August 22nd 2016
Pages: 323
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two-stars

The scars of the past have left their mark, both physical and emotional, on former military pilot Seth Erickson. Off-grid in the far reaches of the bitter Alaskan wilderness, he wants only to be left alone with his ghosts. But he can't ignore a woman in need—beautiful, stranded and nearly frozen with fear.
Summer Silva never imagined that the search for her missing sister would leave her abandoned on a wintry back road, barely escaping with her life from a cold-blooded killer for hire. Now, hiding out in the isolated cabin of the secretive wounded warrior who saved her, Summer knows she must do what she fears most. Putting her trust in a stranger is all she has left.

After a fiery first night together, Seth and Summer are bound by a need as powerful as a Bering Sea superstorm—and vulnerable to enemies just as fierce. For Seth, reawakened by desire, there is no sacrifice too great, no memory too dark, to keep Summer safe. But murder and treason lurk everywhere and Summer may not survive Alaska's ruthless winter.

Reading ‘The Stranger’ is akin to driving along several miles of straight road interspersed with the occasional slight chicane and curve on the uphill or the downhill portion before it straightens out again. Amidst the stunning but harsh Alaskan wilderness, Summer’s and Seth’s backstories build from opposing directions, but somehow, somewhere, the plot lost its focus. It simply wasn’t tightly woven enough; Summer’s search for her sister became lost in Seth’s own company woes and for long stretches I had no idea where everything was heading to at all until the mystery and the action returned only full force towards the end.

This sense of discontinuity from the alternating first person POV and the lack of flow between chapters, made the story hard to latch onto. By the time I crossed the halfway mark, I started skimmed, tired of the banter, the seemingly inconsequential plot turns that felt like dead ends and the characters who somehow don’t seem sufficiently stable to be grounded as leads. But Seth Erickson is more than just a grouchy ex-military pilot with PTSD; he’s one who looms so large that he might as well be an Avenger-type superhero, like Christian Grey with more physical scars and less kink tendencies – whose heroic deeds, lauded by all, could only be matched by Superman’s.

The contrast between the near-untouchable Seth and Summer was yet another gap that the book tried to bridge with several scenes that I thought over-inflated the plot instead. Parts of Summer’s dialogue and state of mind – don’t even get me started about that bloody weird sleepwalking and aura business – that made her seem more like a spoiled, headstrong teenager who attracts trouble than the independent, mature woman that the author wants to portray. Her decision to trust Seth’s own nemesis towards the end – then hoping that Seth would forgive her – made me wince at her at the peak of idiocy. Most other secondary characters felt like caricatures that somehow defined themselves as starched up Downton Abbey tossers, alley trash or moustache-twirling cackling villains.

I wish I could have liked this as much as I did the first in the series, which felt more raw and gutting and perhaps, closer to what I’d expect of the romantic suspense genre. Ultimately, I struggled through the pages of ‘The Stranger’, convinced that the first person POV and the drifting plot did the whole book a disservice, making the story more New-adultish and consequently, more juvenile than it should feel.

two-stars
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