Publisher: Tule Publishing

Meant to Be by Nan Reinhardt

Meant to Be by Nan ReinhardtMeant to Be by Nan Reinhardt
Series: Four Irish Brothers Winery #2
Published by Tule Publishing on July 18th 2019
Pages: 193
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two-stars

Best friends since grade school, high-powered Chicago attorney, Sean Flaherty, and small-town mayor Megan Mackenzie have always shared a special bond. When Sean is shot by a client’s angry ex, Megan rushes to his side, terrified she’s about to lose her long-time confidant.

Upon his return to River’s Edge to recuperate, Sean discovers that his feelings for his pal have taken an undeniable turn for the romantic. While Megan struggles with an unfamiliar longing for Sean, she worries that he may be mistaking a safe place to land for love.

Can Sean help her realize that they are truly meant to be so much more than friends?

Scepticism is generally what I battle with the friends-to-lovers thing and ‘Meant to be’ was another cautious attempt at trying to see if this is a trope that will sit well this time around.

Not quite so, unfortunately.

Sean and Megan are lifelong best friends, separated by distance until an accident brings him home, though it suddenly seems as if Sean is now looking at the small town’s mayor with fresh eyes while the latter thinks that she’d aways unconsciously compared all her dates to him. It would have been well and good, had I read a version in which Sean and Megan were actively making their way back to each other as well, in the intervening years.

Perhaps it’s due to the lack of build-up as well that I couldn’t understand how their friendship turned into romance only now, like a switch had been suddenly flipped in Sean’s mind and he suddenly saw Megan as a woman that he loved only after his life faced an upheaval, which immediately went flush into a proposal. What gave? In fact, Megan’s argument about her being the safe choice after his chaotic run in Chicago made sense and whatever Sean did to counter that just wasn’t convincing enough to overcome that particular hurdle she threw his way. And if they’d always wanted each other unconsciously, would it really have taken them decades to realise it?

This far into the series, the parade from characters from previous books could be bewildering, not having read any of their stories. I was flummoxed at the number of group scenes and the characters whose history I knew nothing about. The focus that I felt should have been on the main pairing was spent on secondary characters and their activities instead—Megan actually dated someone different for a third of the book—, eclipsing a tentative, growing romance which disappointingly fizzled to embers by the end.

two-stars

Flirting with Disaster by Jane Graves

Flirting with Disaster by Jane GravesFlirting with Disaster by Jane Graves
Series: The DeMarco Family #3
Published by Tule Publishing on 16 April 2019
Pages: 438
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two-stars

He was the man she couldn’t have…she was the woman he couldn’t forget.

On a humanitarian mission to fly doctors to a remote village in Mexico, pilot Lisa Merrick discovers something sinister lurking behind the organization in charge. Her plane is sabotaged, leaving her trapped in the Mexican wilderness with a price on her head and no way out. Injured and desperate, she contacts the one man she knows will help her: Dave DeMarco, a tough but compassionate Texas cop with whom she was once wildly in love.

Dave DeMarco is stunned when a woman from his past calls him late one night with an incredible story of smuggling, sabotage and attempted murder. Soon, though, his mission to rescue Lisa becomes a struggle for survival against an enemy who wants them both dead. When the danger they face clashes with the passion that still burns between them, Dave vows to protect the woman he never stopped loving – and keep her in his life forever.

‘Flirting with Disaster’ is my first Jane Graves book—an author that somehow slipped under my radar—and from what it looks like, a second edition reprint of a previously-published book of the early 2000s.

This does feel like reading an older style of romantic suspense so to speak: where action and passion collide, both burning hot and fast, the protagonists (linked only by a tenuous thread in their high school years very long ago) suddenly diving into each other like the end of the world is coming when danger flares. Somehow I think of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in ‘Speed’, or some other movie in that sort of similar make, where the connection is fast but cursory and I can’t think of anything else past that moment of seizing the day.

Like a movies with scenes told through multiple POVs at breakneck pace, both Dave and Lisa felt like they were carved out of stereotypes at times. The white-knight with a messiah complex, going by way of the cop family tradition and the latter, a wildcard, impulsive and petulant pilot who runs off the deep end just because she can, self-absorbed in putting her own needs and ambitions first (with several TSTL moments), and as a result turns out to be pretty much the female equivalent of the manwhore.

I wasn’t comfortable with the bashing of the dead wife, when it felt like the justification of the romance both Dave/Lisa had going on. Essentially, with the total opposites in play here—the needy, dependent late-wife vs. the fierce, independent woman who’d never left Dave’s memories at all felt like unnecessary drama and ruined it for me. What was wrong with having Dave in a happy or fulfilling marriage with a perfectly good wife before taking up with Lisa as a widower? Why was it necessary to dishonour his previous relationship by saying that Dave admit Lisa a very long time at the very end, all throughout his marriage to another woman—with emotional adultery? (I guessed this was a trigger that was pulled for me)

The secondary romance between Sera/Adam was oddly, the one that drew me in more. I liked their dynamic better, perhaps more so because it also revolved around a dead spouse without the misplaced affections.

In any case, ‘Flirting with Disaster’ was a quick read, but a middling one at best. Graves does write well undoubtedly, but it was just the pairing that didn’t do much for me.

two-stars

You Send Me by Jeannie Moon

You Send Me by Jeannie MoonYou Send Me by Jeannie Moon
Series: Compass Cove, #2
Published by Tule Publishing on 29th May 2018
Pages: 224
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two-stars

Jordan Velsor didn’t want to need anyone. After dumping her cheating fiancé, caring for her sick dad, and nearly being crushed along with her car during a violent storm, she’s pretty much at her breaking point. If anyone needs some luck, it’s Jordan, but the last thing she wants is gorgeous Nick Rinaldi, her landlord’s grandson, hovering over her while she nurses a bad cold. The wounded Navy doctor seems too good to be true… which means he probably is.

Nick Rinaldi left the Navy broken and adrift, wondering if he would ever practice medicine again. When his grandparents’ tenant is almost killed by a falling tree during a storm, he discovers Jordan is not only in shock, but suffering from pneumonia. Not one to miss an opportunity to play white knight, Nick arrives at her cottage to take care of her during the storm… But the lovely teacher has a a fierce independent streak, and as he learns more about her, he wants to do more than merely help.

Can Jordan and Nick let go or their separate pasts and seize their future together?

‘You Send Me’ started out well enough with the kind of drama that sounded promising: a sick woman (who’s also warily heartbroken from a failed engagement), a doctor who goes above and beyond the call of duty and a snow storm that comes at the most convenient timing. Cue the tension and the hot and heavy sparks, right?

The problem was that I got bored when things began to crawl as I read on, made worse by the rather harebrained scheme of Nick—it felt so far-fetched and out of the realm of adult-behaviour, but then, it’s romancelandia here—that obviously snowballed into a situation that neither protagonist wanted nor expected. Add that to the number of nosy characters slipping in and out of the story (because it just seems to be a feature of small-town behaviour), it was just harder and harder to keep my interest up when Nick and Jordan went round and round the merry-go-round of ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ and going through the repetitive reasons of why they could or couldn’t.

While the level of angst was low with a clear number of small-ish obstacles to leap over, it wasn’t too hard to see Nick and Jordan get to where they were supposed to be, despite the overly-tortuous process which did fill like page-filler more than necessary. Admittedly though, I did end up skimming quite a bit before the halfway mark when Nick/Jordan went in circles instead of forward as my initial investment in them waned.

In all, ‘You Send Me’ feels like a simple, while-away-the-afternoon easy read without the startling dramatic, emotional highs and lows, but for something more than overall small-town sweetness and a faster-moving plot, it’s best to look elsewhere.

two-stars

Top Shelf by Shelli Stevens

Top Shelf by Shelli StevensTop Shelf by Shelli Stevens
Published by Tule Publishing on April 17th 2018
Pages: 156
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two-stars

Burned in the past, Navy chief Brett Craven has sworn off serious relationships. But when he meets Kenzie McLaughlin, a gorgeous redhead with a fiery personality, his well-reasoned strategy is blown out of the water.

Years ago, a terrifying attack changed Kenzie’s life, making her trust only a few men, including her brothers and her father. After a sexy Navy guy waltzes into the family pub and doesn’t hesitate to make his interest known, there’s no denying the attraction between them. Can Kenzie let her guard down long enough to fall for Brett?

Shelli Stevens is a new author for me and ‘Top Shelf’ is my first attempt at the McLoughlin series which I can confidently say worked pretty well as a standalone.

Though that was probably as far as it went for me. If it started out well, with some kind of anticipation that built between Kenzie and Brett, that was all dashed away when it became clear that this was going to shape up to be a story about a man who behaved like a world-class moron (taking the romantic stereotypes a little too far here) and a woman who let herself be a pushover for over half of it.

For a story that’s this brief, I had frankly expected more from both protagonists, and felt disappointed when their moving forward was at best, a jerky start-stop before a metaphorical race to the finish. The hesitation to become a serious couple suddenly moved to marriage in a way that left me bewildered and incredulous, and that the book ended somewhat abruptly wasn’t that much of a satisfactory ending for me.

two-stars

Recipe for Disaster by Tracy Solheim

Recipe for Disaster by Tracy SolheimRecipe for Disaster by Tracy Solheim
Series: Men of the Secret Service #1
Published by Tule Publishing on May 7th 2018
Pages: 237
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one-star

Secret Service Agent Griffin Keller always gets his man. And his woman. In pursuit of an international counterfeiter known only as "The Artist", Griffin stumbles across paintings stolen from the White House and swapped with forgeries. His only clue to the thief's identity–a dish towel from the White House kitchen.

White House pastry chef Marin Chevalier desperately needs a date to her cousin's society wedding. Unfortunately, her busy schedule leaves her little opportunity to meet eligible men. When a sexy Secret Service agent shows up in her kitchen—and just about everywhere else she goes—Marin believes she's finally met the perfect date. But when a series of frightening accidents and near misses plague her, Marin must rely on Griffin as more than just her "plus-one."

As dead bodies begin to pile up around Marin, Griffin is convinced she’s the link to The Artist. Too bad the curvy chef has gotten under his skin like no other woman. When the clues finally fall into place and Griffin realizes Marin is not the suspect, but instead the target, he'll risk everything in his arsenal to keep her safe.

Having gone into this thinking this was straight up romantic suspense with the rather unusual pairing of a Secret Service Agent and a well-connected White House pastry chef, I wasn’t entirely too sure personally, if ‘Recipe for Disaster’ really fell into this category.

It’s perhaps best called a mix of some mystery and some romance, as all the parties involved seemed nicely ensconced in their white-tower (or house, is this case) in a way that made it difficult to relate to them, let alone get invested in a pairing that felt forced together only because a special set of circumstances that caused their paths to meet. The huge cast of characters that came in also felt more like a distraction than a boon to the story, seemingly padding out the narrative just to show how they interacted with each other without really achieving anything significant.

When it came down to the protagonists, I found Marin too weepy (or at least on the verge of sobbing) and her constant deep blushing almost anachronistic for our times; her insecurities regarding her body and her elevation of Griffin as the man who wouldn’t date women like her was annoying after a while, as was the insertion of Griffin’s FBI ex-fuck-buddy who flitted in and out of the picture. That Griffin found her resilient and strong baffled me, and the repetitions of the way he thought about her soon came across as a case of the author trying to convince us of Marin as a heroine worthy of Griffin.

Sad to say, while I was very excited about the premise of this from the blurb, ‘Recipe for Disaster’ ended up being a story I struggled to plough through, so clearly this is not the book for me and to use a trite and clichéd phrase…’it’s not the story, it’s me’.

one-star

Take a Chance on Me by Jane Porter

Take a Chance on Me by Jane PorterTake a Chance on Me by Jane Porter
Series: Love on Chance Avenue, #3
Published by Tule Publishing on March 18th 2018
Pages: 146
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one-star

Savvy stylist Amanda Wright loves Marietta, her hair salon, and her clients, and no client is more dear to her heart than eighty-year-old Bette Justice–even if her years have made her a little fragile. So when Bette asks Amanda to help her convince her determined grandson, Tyler, a successful game designer, that Marietta is the right home for Bette, Amanda can’t say no.

Tyler Justice has a one-track mind–he wants to take care of his beloved grandmother. He can’t understand her resistance to move to Texas and is sure that the young friend she keeps mentioning–Amanda–is taking advantage of his grandmother’s generosity. He reaches Marietta determined to put the salon owner in her place and bring his grandmother home…until smart, kind Amanda starts to tug at his heart in ways he never expected.

But just as Tyler and Amanda start to form a real connection, will a long-buried family secret destroy their chance at love?

I was frankly, bored with this. Bored because I could see the conflict and the eventual resolution coming, unmoved because I couldn’t feel any chemistry between Amanda and Tyler.

Porter posits Marietta as a small but pretty base where happiness is an almost-guarantee (Tule’s publishing numerous Marietta books attest to it), so it was a given that Tyler would in the end, learn to love the place as Amanda and Bette do…there was no other option available here, because apparently Marietta was the answer to problems, so the man—who apparently is the one with the one-track mind—has to do all the compromising, when it became evident that the whole book centred around getting Tyler to see the beauty of the community that was Marietta.

In fact, I didn’t think Tyler was an arse at all, not when his way of wanting to move his grandmother somewhere else had merit which no one else would see. That Amanda pushed her own issues of her past on to Tyler rather unfairly, or that Tyler seemed to be the one always giving in made it hard to read on, especially when Tyler was the only one made to go on the uphill climb to find his own feet when everyone else sang the happy song of Marietta.

‘Take a Chance on Me’ rubbed me the wrong way early in the book and sadly, I never quite got back that sense of traction or the desire to go on.

one-star

No Saint by Mallory Kane

No Saint by Mallory KaneNo Saint by Mallory Kane
Series: Louisiana Lawmen #2
Published by Tule Publishing on January 29th 2018
Pages: 227
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two-stars

New Orleans Police Detective Rick Easterling is no saint. He’s the NOPD’s best undercover cop. Known as the Man of a Thousand Faces, he’s a rogue–breaking rules to solve cases his way. But when his brother dies of a drug overdose and he’s suspected of being a dirty cop, Rick vows to clear his name and avenge his brother’s death.

Rookie police officer Lusinda Johnson has a personal axe to grind with dirty cops, so she volunteers to work undercover and shadow Rick. She tells herself she can remain immune to his sexy, brooding demeanor, but the longer they work together, the harder it is to see him as anything other than a hero.

As “Sin” and Rick investigate the corrupt underbelly of New Orleans night life, the lies they must tell each other imperil them almost as much as the drug lords closing in. Will they learn to trust each other in time to save themselves and explore their growing love?

‘No Saint’ was a mixed bag for me, though I thought the premise sounded intriguing: sending a rookie officer undercover to investigate another, who might have turned dirty in all his years of experience working in the underbelly of society.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t really buy into the characters at all, even though the beginning started out quite well. I did find Rick easier to sympathise with; his personal vendetta of avenging his brother’s death, his regret about their relationship and his compassion he showed for others when he didn’t need to made him a likeable protagonist.

I couldn’t quite say the same for Lusinda. For a rookie cop, she seemed painfully naive and amateurish with the lack of experience showing up in sharp contrast to Rick’s hardened undercover mien. Her neurotic act with roaches, the constant monologue about her uncertainty and wavering emotions made her out to be almost like a teenager playing cop, consequently making it harder to believe Rick’s fascination with her, let alone his willingness to break his own rule about getting involved while undercover.

I also thought the writing was also somewhat uneven: well-written, descriptive at times, then repetitive/simplistic at other times to the point where I found myself skimming. ‘No Saint’ had good action however; it was also a gritty romantic suspense drawing out the violence of such work and the thin lines of good and bad, particularly if you’re into books that deal with the shifting identities of undercover cops and the struggle to inhabit separate personas and the surprises that will come your way.

two-stars