Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace

The Backup Plan by Jen McLaughlin

The Backup Plan by Jen McLaughlinThe Backup Plan by Jen McLaughlin
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on March 19th 2018
Pages: 254
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I’m beyond help...

I threw a football before I could walk. Everything in my life revolved around football–and I loved every second. I was a star. Until, suddenly...I wasn’t. Now everyone thinks I’m the monster who killed his best friend. I’m an outcast on campus, silent and alone. Then Taylor Selmer walks back into my life. When will she learn–I’m beyond saving.

I need to save him...

Chase and I used to be friends. But after the accident, nothing was the same. We used to have something special–until we didn’t. But he doesn’t smile anymore. Doesn’t talk. Doesn’t play. It hurts me to see him this way, and I will do everything I can to get him back in the game. Whether he likes it or not.

Jen McLaughlin’s ‘The Backup Plan’ isn’t quite what I’m used to each time I dive into a book of hers. This one’s a New Adult read with specific collegiate issues of future plans, identity-crises, leftover teenage angst and overflowing hormones that I admittedly struggle to get into as the years roll on. It means as well, that my own expectations require a bit of adjustment.

Still, I thought it started off quite well, as Mclaughlin pits Taylor’s sass and never-say-die attitude against the piss-poor one of Chase in a rather odd arrangement by Chases father. The rough start is expected, but delicious in a way doubles the tension and the release of it later.

I thought the pacing seemed a little awkward in parts nonetheless; the sudden change in personality that Chase seemed to display at the quarter-mark of the story—it felt almost like a personality-transplant—when he turned from jerk to sweet boyfriend for one, along with the quickness with which Taylor fell for Chase’s own funny and sometimes unpleasant brand of unpredictability.

Mix in a conniving ex-girlfriend (ugh) and a manipulative father and things really go awry to the point where you wonder if the irony is such that only Taylor and Chase can’t see that they’re the ones being played. In the end, the small fires do add up to create a conflict I could see happening from a mile away, and the resolution is one that you always hoped they would have taken before it all blew up in their faces anyway.

However, ‘The Backup Plan’ does sit squarely in the category of college drama, complete with a dose of typical high-school ‘politics’ with a hazy but hopeful HFN. Still, there’s nothing really unexpected here that threw me off and sometimes, there’s actual relief in predictability.


Until You’re Mine by Cindi Madsen

Until You’re Mine by Cindi MadsenUntil You're Mine by Cindi Madsen
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 393
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You might’ve heard of me, Shane Knox, the guy who rose quickly through the MMA fighter ranks, only to crash just as fast. No one cares about personal reasons when it comes to losing fights and money. I’m determined to get back to where I was. For you to hear my name again. I’ve finally convinced the owner of Team Domination to take a chance and get me back in fighting—and winning—shape. What I didn’t bargain for is the guy’s spitfire of a daughter. Factor in her two professional-fighter brothers who are acting as my coaches and the fact that my career hangs in the balance, and Brooklyn’s the last girl I should be fantasizing about. The closer we get, the more I want Brooklyn. The stakes are high, and I know there’s a big chance of both of us getting hurt, but I won’t stop until she’s mine.

Is there someone you want so much, that you’d do anything it takes, including crossing some lines to make sure that person’s yours?

That was the question that jumped out at me the further I got into “Until You’re Mine”; the rest were just details. I did like Cindi Madsen’s writing, the whole MMA world that she’d created as well as the characters’ back stories, up until that point when I realised that I was actually struggling through the first half of the book.

Brooklyn’s and Shane’s chemistry wasn’t in doubt. Sparks flew. Chests heaved. Clothes nearly came off. But not quite. The only complication? Brooklyn was taken, in a stable relationship that admittedly didn’t have that much fire, which was the only thing that held both Brooklyn and Shane back from burning up the sheets.

And that was where I stopped reading, then struggled to put my thoughts together. The bottom-line was that I found it hard to respect Shane, who kept aggressively pushing the boundaries with Brooklyn—the deliberate moves he put, the heavy innuendos—when she’d all but made it clear a few times that she had a boyfriend. Heroes who go balls-deep in their pursuit of the woman can be fun to read about, but not when they cross some lines and show their lack of common decency.

That Brooklyn had allowed it despite the thin veneer of sense when it came to avoiding Shane she seemed to have made it equally hard to root for her. She did try of course which made me like her a bit more, but her constant engagement with Shane, her quick breakup with her boyfriend after humiliating him in the gym (thanks to Shane again) then jumping into bed with him the very same night somehow made a mockery of that relationship she seemed to exult as safe and treasured because it was exactly the world she wanted out of. It was sort of implied that Brooklyn’s boyfriend had someone else on the line as well who might have been a better fit for him (this was still innocent, unlike Shane/Brooklyn’s hot and heavy stuff), though that shouldn’t have been an excuse just to get both protagonists together, guilt-free.

This wasn’t quite cheating in the physical sense of the word, but it all felt very close to it, which made this pairing difficult to get behind. Admittedly, this wasn’t the sanctity of marriage that was being breached, but I found myself very, very uncomfortable with the general lack of respect for the relationship that Brooklyn was in as both Brooklyn/Shane flirted into unsafe territory, as though it was just a shackle that tied her down and to be gotten rid of.

Clearly, this is just not the book for me. Madsen’s writing is one that I do go back to however (it’s almost a guarantee), but after feeling a little burnt by this read, I’m more than a little wary of the rest of this series.


Absolved by Marnee Blake

Absolved by Marnee BlakeAbsolved by Marnee Blake
Series: Altered #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on December 11th 2017
Pages: 174
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Since a brain-altering drug killed most of Luke Kincaid’s town—including his father—and left him telekinetic, he’s determined to stop the fanatic who stole the drug to create his own super-powered army. That means working with scientist Dr. Beth Jenkins, whose graphic tees and beautiful smile are some of Luke’s biggest distractions.

A science prodigy, Beth works with the FBI and solves the toughest crimes, but she can’t figure out what caused her mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The drug that ravaged Luke’s town is volatile, and the mortality rate is still high, yet Beth is convinced it holds the key to saving her mother, even if sexy and tortured Luke doesn’t believe it should be adapted for commercial use.

When bodies start to pile up, though, the two loners must decide if the goals that tie them together are greater the fears that would tear them apart.

Plunging into ‘Absolved’ felt like being hurled into the deep end of the pond and swallowing mouthfuls of pond water while trying to stay afloat, despite having read the first 2 books of Marnee Blake’s Altered series. The break between books meant that it was difficult to catch up on (and remember) what had happened during an apocalypse-like situation where a drug kills half the population and infuses the other half with telekinetic/mind-reading superpowers.

What I could figure out early on was that there were baddies to fight—bad guys with the notion that the drug responsible for the fall of the human race can help create a new world order—with a ragtag band of people to fight them, as was the growing push-pull tension between a scientist prodigy and a tortured computer guy trying to atone for his misdeeds woven into the whole story.

A prologue perhaps, or some insertion of context would have made ‘Absolved’ a lot easier to get into especially for first time readers; placing the scene or working out the back story out was an exercise in frustration because it was difficult to get to a point where pieces had to fall into place before I could get lost in the narrative without needing to re-read the first 2 books. That said, though it took a while for me to get into it, to sort out the details of what really happened before I could actually sit back and enjoy the story, ‘Absolved’ by and large, took off as soon as I fought my way through the bits that needed time to fall into place.

Clearly then, this isn’t a standalone, and as a YA/NA-type book, the sexual situations never quite went all the way, so to speak (as with all the books in this series) because the romance took a back seat to the rush to make the ruined world right again. Beth and Luke, like all the other pairings in the rest of the series, become the ‘heroes’ when hit by the drug, in contrast to the few who become villains because of it, but it was a pairing I couldn’t exactly get into.

Apart from the conflict that kept both Luke and Beth on opposing sides of the argument for most of the story, I found myself preferring ‘old’ Beth more before she was hit by the drug somehow—the problematic definition of what it meant to be heroic came into play for me here, though it’s probably nitpicking on my part or my rooting for the underdog—and was vaguely disappointed that she could suddenly achieve what she did and get past Luke’s feelings only when she had super-enhanced senses, which felt almost like a cop-out for the solution to her problems. Would a ‘normal’ person then, not be able to do what she did and help save the world, by this implication? Along with the change, the ‘new’ Beth became someone I couldn’t recognise and was frustrated with when it often seemed to be on Luke to fight that uphill battle to get back into her graces when it was clear he had demons of his own to fight—when she could seem to do no wrong in contrast.

Unfortunately, while I really liked Blake’s 2 previous books, I think ‘Absolved’ fell somewhat flat at all for those reasons above. I just wished I’d liked this one a lot more, but there just wasn’t enough for me to cheer for, not least the characters who went from push-pull to a rushed HEA that was hard to swallow.

Solo by Lauren E. Rico

Solo by Lauren E. RicoSolo by Lauren E. Rico
Published by Entangled Publishing on May 8th 2017
Pages: 364
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When graduate student Katherine Brenner walked into my class, I couldn’t stand her -- all perfect skin and big, blue eyes -- just like the woman who broke my heart.
If it wasn’t for that blizzard, if her car hadn’t broken down outside my house, if she hadn’t looked amazing by the firelight, I never would have kissed her. No matter how hard I try, every excuse I make not to see her comes up flat.
I can’t stop thinking of her lips. Or the way her curves fit perfectly in my hands. There’s a million reasons why this won’t work. I’m her professor. It’s against university policy.
And if this gets out, I could lose everything.

There was so much I loved about this book, not least because the subject matter had me so captivated. Not only was it the forbidden relationship that had developed out of an initially antagonistic one that drew me in, but the fact that it was built around and based on a love for classical music that had me turning the pages and losing sleep, bringing me back to a time when it’d played a large role in my life. It felt like a reminder of (or maybe even a stunning tribute to) the power of music and it was easy to be swayed when Lauren E. Rico’s clear investment in her characters and love for the subject shone through so clearly.

Yet ‘Solo’ is also a story of two people trying to rise from the ashes after years of conflict and hostility—I wished the book cover and the suggestive and short blurb reflected this! After getting past my incredulity, the story took over and I gobbled it down hook, line and sinker, loving the complexity already written into this problematic set-up from the very start.

Drew Markham has it out for his graduate student (taking out his anger unconsciously on a woman who resembles his ex) while all Kate is trying to do is to lie low and distance herself from her ‘celebrity’ status as a Senator’s daughter. Serendipity brings a huge snowstorm to their small mountain town however, just as an assignment deadline looms large, and forces this switch that morphs into friendship, tentative attraction and eventually, full-blown affection.

I think the bottom line for me was that both Kate/Drew were sympathetic enough characters that it was easy to cheer for them as a couple. As an aspiring female conductor with enough gumption to get through grad school on her own, Kate gained my admiration early on, although it was harder to warm up to Drew’s volatile nature, especially when he wronged her too many times for my liking. Nonetheless, I liked how natural it felt as Drew and Kate took days to work out their differences—the injection of maturity and the communication really helped—but also how their HEA doesn’t come without consequences as well. The dose of realism that you could see coming miles away was painful to take in, though not unexpected and Rico doesn’t shy away from laying it out. But once Drew/Kate got going however, their rocky road together was far from easy and even as I’d hoped for a more conclusive epilogue, their happiness seemed hard-fought and consequently, deserved as they weathered the whole fall-out.