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Shattered King by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 22nd June 2017
Shattered King by Sherilee GrayShattered King by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #1
Published by Swerve on June 27th 2017
Pages: 320
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two-stars

He’s out to get revenge for a crime he didn’t commit…

Hunter King just got out of prison. Incarcerated for three years though an innocent man, his rage against the people who put him there knows no bounds. First up on his list for vengeance: the woman who betrayed him years ago. The woman he loved fiercely, the one bright light in his otherwise hard, ruthless life. She has information he needs. And he’s going to kidnap her, hold her hostage, in order to get it. But one look into Lulu’s eyes unleashes the true beast within. Hunter’s never hated anyone this deeply, or wanted any woman this badly.

Lulu had no choice: Either help send Hunter to prison, or see him destroyed. She couldn’t do that to the man she loved. Couldn’t do it to the father of her child. But Hunter was locked away before he had a chance to learn about his son—and a hard layer of despair has formed around his heart that she’s desperate to crack. And if Hunter is to give himself and Lulu a second chance at love, he needs to find a way past his darkest demons.

A new series always excites me, though there’s always some trepidation because many of them don’t quite hit their stride until a few books in, especially when the starting one is full of establishing plotlines, histories and characters. ‘Shattered King’s’ blurb drew me in immediately: betrayal, secrets and lies all tangled up in a hard, brutal second chance romance after Hunter King’s life takes a turn for the worse when Lulu—the only woman he’s ever loved—sent him to prison.

My first impression of ‘Shattered King’ is the overall grittiness and the barely-leashed edge of violence that Sherilee Gray excels at here, in which hard sex plays a major role. Her characters stay just at the boundary of the wrong side of the law, crossing these lines sometimes with no qualms and are the anti-heroes who would keep you safe at any cost just as they keep your panties constantly wet. But there’s also a load of high drama and a considerable number of triggers here that might go down on the wrong side of some readers’ sensibilities.

It was hard however, to see anything beyond the overflowing lust that supposed proves compatibility, because it seemed to trump even their volatile personalities and apparently, solve most problems. The copious amount of sex replaced actual communication, because by god, it was what both Hunter and Lulu needed to do but didn’t, as body parts suddenly spoke louder than words and that proved frustrating. But this is suspense as much as it’s erotica, so I was in a way, expecting more than just sex to eclipse everything else.

I think ‘Shattered King’ would have worked better for me if the story’s protagonists weren’t always on the verge of going off the deep end at the slightest push of a button. Hunter’s sudden switch from pissed-off alpha male to possessive alpha male was too abrupt, just as I couldn’t entirely trust Lulu not to stop running, which seemed to be her only modus operandi throughout the entire story, either from her hellish stepfather or for the sake of her son. Held at ransom for so long, I’d expected a gutsier female lead despite the amount of abuse she’d faced but her tendency to not want to face things couldn’t make me warm up to her enough, especially when she couldn’t seem to take active steps to sort out the mess she’d made of her own life as well as Hunter’s. The long and short of it is that Lulu does run in the end and predictably ends up in the hands of her worst enemy like the damsel constantly in distress, even as Hunter bails her out at the last minute.

‘Shattered King’ is not a bad start to the series, but it’s probably better suited for those who like the MC-type of stories and a HEA that comes amidst bloodshed and shady activities. But just because I couldn’t really feel Hunter/Lulu’s connection doesn’t mean that anyone else can’t, and I’m simply going to continue reading because there are stories that I know Gray can write that I’ll love. It’s just not this one.

two-stars

The Bet by Elizabeth Hayley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 29th May 2017
The Bet by Elizabeth HayleyThe Bet by Elizabeth Hayley
Series: The Players #1
Published by Swerve on June 27th 2017
Pages: 254
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two-stars

Jace "the Jet" Benning is a legend on the football field. And off. He has the arm, the charm, and the reputation of being the hottest player in the league.
Too bad Dr. Alessandra Mastrazacoma is not impressed.
With a busy schedule and a bruised heart, Alessandra doesn't have time to date, but when she is lured into making a friendly bet with her best friend, she finds herself agreeing to go out with the next guy that asks...and to give him three shots, three dates, before pulling the plug.
Jace also has a friendly wager with his friends going, and it involves making sure the slightly klutzy, but very pretty, doctor will be his date to the biggest night in sports. With two wagers and two hearts on the line, will Aly and Jace win or are they betting to lose?

‘The Bet’ is mostly an angst-free, light-hearted read of an accidental meeting between a doctor and a famous player (whom the former doesn’t know at all) which progresses mostly because of a bet between friends.

 

Alessandra Mastrazacoma (now that’s a mouthful) and Jace Benning are an unlikely pair and the whole story feels like a journey of the both of them finding common ground, apart from nailing sexual compatibility in the bedroom. Neither of them really pretend to be who they aren’t; Alessandra is outrightly blunt and in unapologetic for being so while Jace still struggles with his poor, smalltown roots but isn’t quite afraid to put everything on the line for her.

The ride isn’t fully of peaks and valleys – and this will probably appeal to readers who are tired of adult histrionics better confined to the high-school classroom – but is instead, one that catalogues each and every step of Aly and Jace getting into their relationship proper. The ending is a predictably neat wrap-up after some grovelling on Jace’s part, a HEA that pushes Aly and Jace into a happily committed relationship after that small hiccup.

As light-hearted and easy a read ‘The Bet’ is however, I found myself mostly uninspired by this pairing, which is probably a just a case of my bucking the trend again. I thought their chemistry rather non-existent as the move straight into the bedroom very early on eschewed any tension that could have made the anticipation more worth it. And as well and good the sex scenes may be written, I was bored (and skimmed those scenes) because I couldn’t find anything compelling about this couple. Consequently, it was difficult to follow the progression of Aly/Jace’s relationship as there just didn’t seem to be anything else to look forward to, except for the bet that Jace made with his buddies and the fallout that you know would come from it at the very end.

 

two-stars

Enforcer by Katana Collins

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews 27th May 2017
Enforcer by Katana CollinsEnforcer by Katana Collins
Series: Harrison Street Crew #3
Published by Swerve on June 6th 2017
Pages: 293
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two-stars

Ryan Gallagher is the one who does the dirty work. The brute force in the Harrison Street Crew, he lives to have the club all for his own one day. But the one thing he can’t have is Megan Mahoney—the one woman he’s loved since she was a teenager who needed saving.
Megan never forgot the all-consuming passion she felt for Ryan, her larger-than-life, wild teenage love. But coming from a hard, shocking past has left her broken and scared—and untrusting of the Harrison Street Crew. Ten years later, she’s back in Ryan’s world to claim a promise he made to her years ago. And even though she knows she shouldn’t fall for him, Ryan still has an explosive, sensual pull on her that she can’t ignore.
Ryan’s powerful love for Megan is the only thing that could ever soothe the tempestuous beast that roars in his soul. And when she comes back to him to aid her in a dangerous quest—a deadly revenge plot he swore he would be a part of years ago—Ryan can’t say no. He lives to protect this woman. He will die loving this woman. And as the stakes get higher, the love that they have kept hidden all these years explodes and goes further and deeper than either of them expected. But with a dark threat from Megan’s past thrust headlong into their lives, can their love win out?

‘Enforcer’ sounded like an intriguing read, with an upfront anti-hero type whose life is dedicated to a car club, which he serves by using violence and coercion. And while the MC/car club type stories aren’t usually what I go for, the premise of the book was interesting enough to begin with and in many ways, it’s unapologetically rough and tumble, suitably fitting for the cast of characters that populate the pages.

Coming into ‘Enforcer’ without reading the rest of the series is a little difficult; the number of characters jumping in and out of the pages can be disconcerting, though they do serve as a reminder that there are backstories which I don’t know. But perhaps the story’s biggest selling point is that it isn’t only just a story of an unrequited crush, but one that deals with the raw brutality of child abuse (and the consequences that can bring), the messiness of revenge and a political scandal that comes to light at the end of the book. There’s just so much packed into this that you can’t helped but be engrossed, but probably more so if you’ve been invested in the characters of the Harrison Street Crew from the very beginning.

For ‘Enforcer’, I found myself liking a main character more than the other, which most likely accounts for my on-the-fence rating of the book. Megan’s toughness and sass combined appealed loads to me and I loved her take-no-prisoners strength and sharpness in most things (especially it came to dealing with rough men like the car club members) except for the blind spot when it came to Ryan Gallagher, who happens to be the only one whom she can’t resist at all, despite the awful way he’d vacillated when it came to her. Ryan on the other hand, as the anti-hero, is a more dubious character for me, despite the fact that anti-heroes are by definition, the very dearth of morality and courage. But the anti-hero also straddles the fine line of becoming plain dislikable with his actions and I found it hard to like him at all, at least when it came to Megan, because he merely looked like a coward who would sleep with any other woman but her because he always thought himself not good enough (though he’ll just be her protector), despite her obvious advances.

Katana Collins however, does know how to write a mean, intense book. It’s probably just my preferences showing up here, though objectively speaking, it’s more a story for those who like the MC-type romances.

two-stars

Forever Yours by Addison Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 24th May 2017
Forever Yours by Addison FoxForever Yours by Addison Fox
Series: The Brooklyn Brotherhood #3
Published by Swerve on June 13th 2017
Pages: 85
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one-star

Detective Cade Rossi has spent the majority of his life oblivious to Jasmine Shane. She’s always been his little sister’s best friend, but after coming to her rescue one night, Cade is starting to see the woman behind the lawyerly suits.
Since childhood, Jasmine has harbored an embarrassing crush on Cade. She’s seen him work his way through nearly every eligible bachelorette in Park Heights, Brooklyn, and Jasmine’s given up hope of them ever having a chance together.
But summer is the perfect time for a fling, and as Cade and Jasmine grow closer, what starts out as an innocent flirtation could turn into so much more…

One party pining for another (20 years in Jasmine’s case!) is always a trope that I’m uncomfortable with, only if it’s because I’ve my doubts about reciprocity. Would the “crushee” being able to live up to the expectations that the “crusher” has inadvertently placed on him/her? More importantly, can that depth of feeling ever be returned? I’m admittedly also sceptical about one party suddenly “seeing” the other person as a date rather than a familial relation, because, what really, has caused this switch to flip when it never has before? Many times, I’ve had the displeasure of reading about a female protagonist caving in too easily when the hero in question flashes a glance in her direction, “seeing” her as a woman only when she finally tells him how long she’s pined after him without him actively seeking her out. And often, the reality is that she does deserve better than him.

I come into ‘Forever Yours’ with those above-mentioned issues about unrequited love, more so if the ‘hero’ in question is a lothario who’s a player cowardly enough *not* to examine why he feels differently about a heroine despite these shifting feelings. And that Cade knew exactly his behaviour wasn’t decent (yet continued it) made me want to throw it in, yet Jasmine does exactly what so many heroines do—putting the crush to bed, literally, in order to move on. Only until both parties find that they fit and Cade, somehow magically, finds that it’s with Jasmine that he doesn’t feel suffocated at all. Bed-hopping from woman to woman is given a new spin or an excuse that I can’t excuse from Cade: that he simply hadn’t been with the “right” woman all along even though Jasmine was always in front of him. Suddenly with her, his urge to run isn’t there and instead of helping me to think that Jasmine is special, all I could conclude was that Cade is merely an arse who, unforgivably doesn’t know how treat other women better. There are some lines, that once crossed, can’t be uncrossed and I hate to say that Cade went past all of them.

The insertion of a criminal breaking parole and going after Jasmine means that that Cade gets to play hero and his actions certainly go a way into convincing Jasmine that they can be good together. The biggest surprise that came however, was his sudden declaration of love that had me wondering if that happened because it was a prelude to the coming sex scene and an easy wrap-up to end of the novella.

My rating reflects my personal prejudices clearly, but that aside, Addison Fox’s writing is more than decent. It’s primarily the reason why I chose to read this ARC in fact, because Fox’s style is confident and persuasively compelling, with enough sass that I would have appreciated had the context been different—which I’d hoped could have been different, that Cade was just misunderstood. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and ended up being one of those reads that rubbed me the wrong way entirely as I struggled even to reach for their HEA.

one-star

Just Once by Addison Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 9th January 2017
Just Once by Addison FoxJust Once by Addison Fox
Published by Swerve on February 7th 2017
Pages: 229
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two-stars

Detective Daphne Rossi needs to figure out a way to get her career out from under her family s overbearing shadow, and she may have just found her solution in genius computer whiz Landon McGee . . .
In exchange for looking deeper into a robbery at Landon s software firm, Daphne asks for a deal of her own: she needs him to play her boyfriend. A couple months of hand-holding around her family to get them off her back, and both Daphne and Landon walk away with what they want.
Just as their fake relationship starts heating up for real, a family secret shakes Landon to the core. As Landon struggles to find what is real in his life, and come to terms with the people he thought he knew, can he find solace in the one woman he thought he didn't know at all?

I thought ‘Just Once’ started quite well, though the pace and the plot went somewhat awry after the first quarter. The blurb however, doesn’t quite describe what the story really is: an attraction that blooms the moment Detective Daphne Rossi begins to investigate a break-in at an upcoming tech maven’s firm (which neither really denies), though it didn’t seem as though Daphne was asking Landon to play the boyfriend (now, wouldn’t that be unethical?) at all. Instead, the book reads like a simple case of an office break-in, but to get to the bottom of it apparently is a long, winding journey that cracks open family history and pulls every other secondary character in the periphery into the mix of things.

But it’s difficult to recommend a story when I’ve got a huge number of mixed feelings about it. I liked Landon and Daphne mostly, though their individual blow-ups at times felt a tad bit dramatic for me and the progress of their relationship itself isn’t too unpredictable though most of how they got on as filled with, well, filler.

Perhaps what got to me most were the multiple POVs and the introduction of so many strings—that weren’t tied up—which made the story all the more frustrating because the roundabout route it took for Daphne and Landon to get to their HEA felt like a plot-device deliberately intended to complicate rather than resolve. There’s some kind of short-lived investigation into the psyches of other potential relationships that were setup but left hanging, the continuing story of some weird revenge-plot for a quarter-century-old affair and the fact that every character seemed to vie for attention whether intentionally or not.

By the end of it, I was only marginally interested in the rest of the hanging strings (which, presumably and hopefully, will be tied up in the next installment of the series), though weary to the bone because I just didn’t know what my attention was supposed to be focused on for most of the book.

two-stars

At Last by Addison Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 8th October 2016
At Last by Addison FoxAt Last by Addison Fox
Published by Swerve on November 1st 2016
Pages: 248
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two-stars

After a year of turmoil, Emma Vandenburg Bradley returned home to Park Heights to run her family’s business – a Brooklyn institution – Unity brewery. Still trying to get her feet back under her, she definitely doesn’t want to be on the spectacularly bad date that ends with getting caught in a bar fight and her high school crush coming to her rescue.
Nick Kelley’s career in the NFL was cut short, but now he has a successful bar in Brooklyn and his dream of buying the Unity brewery is about to come true. Until he realizes that the mystery woman he saved—and shared a steamy kiss with—is none other than his high school chemistry partner, Emma...who happens to be a part owner of Unity. And she’s not interested in selling her family’s legacy. When Emma and Nick find themselves on opposing sides, both are willing to do anything to win. But as their connection grows deeper, they become torn: Can they choose between their love for Unity and their plans for the future—and for each other?

Nick Kelley’s days may have been cut short on the football field, but he’d poured that concentration and intensity into becoming a business owner of a very successful bar, poised to expand his business to a brewery…until he realises it’s an old school friend who stands in his way. But as the attraction grows, the deal that he and Emma Vandenburg made seems to overshadow what they both want but can’t get.

Taut and very confidently handled, Addison Fox brings together a cast of very diverse backgrounds and makes the very strong case for bonds that go beyond blood ties. More than the romance however, I liked the unusual but solid relationship between three (unrelated) boys who’d made good with their foster mother and called themselves a family and ‘At Last’ is as much as a burgeoning romance between old school friends as much as it is about family and social relationships in a gentrified area of Brooklyn.

However, I find myself torn between great writing and a plot/characters which I didn’t exactly like and my rating simply reflects this conflict. There were several aspects of the book that I couldn’t get into, namely the multiple POVs present, the sluggish pacing with the secondary love stories and the loose threads that seemed to go nowhere by the end of the book.

Fox’s writing is stellar really; it’s only the leads whom I couldn’t quite connect with as well, particularly Emma, whom I found less than a sympathetic character, taking her own insecurities and past hurts on others around her and on the very classy Nick…who truly deserved better than what she could give. And while Fox did more than a credible job unravelling the lead characters’ motivations and inner angst, ‘At Last’ didn’t pack as much of an emotional pack as I expected, even with a resolution that should satisfactorily appease most readers.

two-stars

If Santa were a Cowboy by Melissa Cutler

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 25th September 2016
If Santa were a Cowboy by Melissa CutlerIf Santa Were a Cowboy by Melissa Cutler
Series: One and Only Texas #2.5
Published by Swerve on October 25th 2016
Pages: 105
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one-star

Paul Savage loves Christmas at Briscoe Ranch Resort, when he gets to take a break from being a back country guide to play Santa in the resort’s lobby and talk to kids about toys. The last thing he expects is his high school crush to come waltzing in as his new assistant photographer, wheeling a suitcase that's more naughty than nice.
Kelly Walker is a disaster. All she’d wanted was spice up her life by saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity, which is when the universe started pelting her with ‘no’s. So when she comes across a job listing for a holiday photographer working with the sweet, scrawny boy whose advances she’d laughed off in high school, she jumps on the chance to turn her bad Karma around by giving Paul a second chance.
Trouble is, Paul’s anything but scrawny anymore, and his cowboy swagger throws her grand plans for a loop—especially when he tempts her with a red hot proposition of his own. Kelly’s in way over her head, but as she gets swept up in the magic of Briscoe Ranch’s holiday charms—and Paul’s—could Kelly’s year of ‘no’s be leading up to the ‘yes’ of a lifetime?

It’s great coming back to Briscoe Ranch, but I’ll have to admit that it’s not a story I’d recommend, for the sole reason that the characters irked me past my own tolerable limits,  particularly it’s employed as a trope of contemporary romance fiction for the bulk of the tale—festive or not.

Unfortunately, it’s one of those stories where deception and a relationship based on false premises form most of the story and the eventual conflict. And it was all I could not get past rather than revel in the reunion of 2 long-lost high school supposed sweethearts who never were.

While it was hard not to question if both of them Paul Savage and Kelly Sawyer loved the idea of each other being the lost chance that never materialised or if they did love each other at all, it was Kelly’s deception for most of the book that was frustrating to the point of me wanting to give up the story completely. In fact, I hated her from the very beginning: showing up out of the blue to take a chance with a man she’d all but tossed aside many years ago, then continued to treat him atrociously by lying to him about the shambles her life had become and then walking out of him twice without the bloody balls confess it all face to face (after driving away with his truck). If Kelly was afraid of the pedestal Paul had put her on, I hated that she continued using this particular explanation as an excuse to play happy house and not do a thing about it, for the fear of losing it all with him. Yet knowing it was an inevitable loss underscored that much of a lack of intelligence that I couldn’t stomach. That Paul took it upon himself to ‘stop playing the victim’ outraged me further, giving her that chance which I felt she didn’t deserve at all when all Kelly had done was to lead him on.

But because this is specifically written as a Christmas story, perhaps this is testament to the season of forgiveness and second chances. Perhaps it’s about rewarding the underserving. On the contrary, it hits all my uncharitable notes despite the festive season values the story wishes to espouse and I couldn’t wait to put it aside.

one-star
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