Series: Taking Chances

Turned Up by Erin Nicholas

Turned Up by Erin NicholasTurned Up by Erin Nicholas
Series: Taking Chances #3
Published by Montlake Romance on August 29th 2017
Pages: 252
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three-stars

Dillon Alexander has been Kit Derby’s nemesis since third grade, when he beat her in the school spelling bee. They’ve been competing ever since, driving each other to be the best at everything from science fairs to bake sales. While working together one night during their senior year, they stopped bickering long enough to share an emotionally charged kiss. But a tragedy that same night left them both racked with guilt, driving Dillon out of town and leaving Kit determined to keep her distance.

Now an emergency room physician, Dillon has returned to their hometown of Chance, Nebraska. Soon he and Kit fall back into old habits, sparring in public while trying to stay out of each other’s arms. But when a blizzard traps them overnight at Kit’s grandmother’s farmhouse, the real competition begins: Who will be the first to give in to the feelings they’ve denied for a decade?

Erin Nicholas’s ‘Turned up’ is generally an easy, light read and while I hadn’t been invested in small town Chance for a long while, Kit’s and Dillon’s supposed enemies-to-lovers trope brought me back instantly to that simmering sexual tension that had to snap sometime.

Only that I didn’t quite know what to feel about their complicated history that started in high school which Nicholas outlined, seeing as I was expecting (and perhaps hoping for) more of a straight-up competitive ‘hate’ to love sort of relationship because those seem…hotter somehow. Yet, what it takes for them to move past the will-they-won’t-they stage is apparently some kind of disaster or a snowstorm, where dating, rather than occasional pent-up sex over the months and years will become the new norm.

But as most stories go, past the initial honeymoon stage, there’re always obstacles to flatten, some of which become the biggest thorn in the flesh that eventually lead to the pairing’s HEA. The format here isn’t too different, only that I felt emotional mountains were made of molehills that could have easily been solved by talking and some strategic and intelligent positioning so that Kit/Dillon wouldn’t have to listen to what everyone in a small town and what they had to say about their relationship.

I didn’t like how Kit gave credence to how the mayor’s wife tried to dictate the way Dillon’s and her relationship should go and that she did irked me, because it really looked as though they were getting into a whole new rhythm of their own before she starting doubting everything they had. Seriously? Worse yet, she’d started to believe that she could only be the best when Dillon was there to compete with her and push her to be better and that this eventually became the conflict in the climax seemed, well, annoyingly petty. Kit’s way of running to deal with feelings got tiring (and in some way, TSTL) as well, when her inability to face up to how relationships DO change people felt like an identity crisis that only teenagers rather than professionals should be worrying about. Thankfully though, that was brief enough, though sufficiently lengthy to trigger the personal peeve of mine when couples get together deliriously happy before someone suddenly shifts and turns tail because of an external influence and then acts completely out of their depth.

And I’m going to say right here, that this is probably splitting hairs because of my admittedly short fuse when it comes to stupid behaviour. Yet that was the only downer—with enough push-pull that just didn’t convince me at all—that would have otherwise made this a very, very good read.

three-stars

Tangled Up by Erin Nicholas

Tangled Up by Erin NicholasTangled Up by Erin Nicholas
Published by Montlake Romance on January 17th 2017
Pages: 310
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four-stars

Storm chaser Max Grady can already feel it: there’s a tornado coming to his hometown of Chance, Nebraska. Max is going after it, and the only person he wants by his side is police officer Bree McDermott, fellow adrenaline junkie, his best friend, and the woman Max has secretly been in love with for years. But when a close call with a tornado leaves them lip-locked, Max knows that the danger is only beginning.
Bree is always up for excitement. Her close and sexy encounter with Max is unlike anything she’s felt before, and she wants more. As they work together to help clean up Chance, the air between them crackles with sexual tension. But Bree has a tendency to look ahead to the next thrill, and Max knows it. Now they’re all tangled up as they chase the strongest force of nature on earth: love.

I’m going to call this my first real read of 2017, not because I’m an old coot who turns a nose up at near everything that comes my way (although it sometimes seems like it) but because I’d found myself engaged and absorbed in Max/Bree’s story for most of it.

Bree McDermott lives for the adrenaline thrill and at first glance, I’d associated her with someone who has that kind of compulsive behaviour that needs therapy at the very least. I’m glad to see Erin Nicholas pinpointing the complications of problematic risk-taking behaviour early on: that her restless nature cannot and will not permit the supposed attraction for Max to last beyond a tornado episode. That she was always seeking a newer, riskier high however, was an issue I’d waited to see if that would have been sufficiently addressed, because it seemed necessary before she and Max could move on together. But I also liked that Bree had some sense of self-awareness, that she wasn’t completely steeped in self-denial, or that she wasn’t a reckless, all-in female character who went on and on without a care for anyone else, although I thought there was definitely more to explained about when it came to the psychological issues behind how the death of her brother had affected her behaviour up until now.

For Max Grady, the attraction to Bree had always been there. Gut-deep, visceral and yearning…even though being tied to him, as Bree had once cruelly said, would have been ‘boring’. I could appreciate how Max was acutely aware of his desire never to hold her back, while recognising that she needed to see him for who he was rather than as the next high to conquer.

I was—pleasantly—thrown for a loop really: I’d expected the consequences of chasing the next high to be dire, leading to an equally, shouting-match dire climax, but Nicholas surprised me with that. Bree knew her own mind, had some personal epiphanies and while I kept waiting for her to run when the thrill wore off, she surprised me by not being afraid to see what she had been missing all along. Suddenly, it became about Max and his own gun-shy insecurities about not being able to keep up with her because he has made Bree’s noncommittal stance to be everything he didn’t want. Add to the strange ice-cream analogy, the story took off in a direction that didn’t quite conform to my expectations. And that wasn’t a bad thing, because I’d wondered whether this was going to be a straight-up story about unrequited love when it really wasn’t quite one after all.

But what I think I’m really looking forward to? Kit/Dillon’s story and judging from about of sparks generated here, well, let’s just say I’m more than up for it.

four-stars

Twisted Up by Erin Nicholas

Twisted Up by Erin NicholasTwisted Up by Erin Nicholas
Series: Taking Chances #1
Published by Montlake Romance on August 23rd 2016
Pages: 314
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three-stars

Avery Sparks is a master at controlling chaos—and she gets plenty of opportunities as fire chief and head of emergency management in her hometown of Chance, Nebraska. The only thing she can’t seem to control are her feelings when she’s around Jake Mitchell, the man who was her first everything the night of their high school graduation. But Jake was so quick to leave Chance—and Avery—behind that she swore she’d move on.
While Avery’s job is to minimize drama, Jake embraces the chaos of an emergency. After enlisting in the Army National Guard, Jake became a nationally recognized leader in disaster recovery. Yet a life on the road has left him restless. So when a class-four tornado wreaks havoc on Chance, he’s eager to return home—and to the woman never far from his mind.
Now, Avery and Jake must team up to help their hometown weather a siege of violent storms. But it’s clear to them both that nature isn’t the only force they’ll have to reckon with. Will Avery and Jake’s whirlwind love affair be an all-new disaster—or can they recover from their stormy past to build a future together?

Avery Sparks and Jake Mitchell have a history – albeit a short, intense one, until it all fell apart nearly a decade ago when Jake walked away and enlisted. But a kiss or two here and there in the past year re-ignites that flame, except that the small town isn’t exactly the ideal spot in which Jake can operate, whereas Avery is Chance’s fire chief, an entrenched figure who is finding her footing with newly minted friendships. Smack in tornado alley, Avery’s and Jake’s second-chance romance play out in the midst of disaster and recovery but when the debris is cleared, both need to reevaluate the meaning of friendship, familial bonds and what love really means.

The setting and atmosphere of the story drew me in immediately; Erin Nicholas’s stellar writing about a twister wrecking havoc in town, the subsequent recovery and morale-boosting efforts were so foreign and new that I couldn’t helped but be absorbed in it.

The lead characters and their relationship however, drew a little protest from me. Like every second-chance romance, especially those with a large time-gap between reunions, I’ve always tended to question the plausibility of each party never being able to forget each other, especially if one or the other has had multiple partners in between.

For this reason, Jake’s (in)convenient, cocky strut back into Avery’s life and town baffled me, made me wonder at his rather skewed and wavering perspective of love and commitment. As someone who’d moved on easily, his actions contradicting much of what he claimed: that Avery was the only one he’d been obsessed with over the past decade. On the other hand, I loved Avery immediately for her resilience and capable nature, and pretty much thought that she’d gotten the short end of the stick the whole time, both from Jake and his family. While I definitely do like Nicholas’s take on the nostalgic notions of home – as seen through Jake’s musings at least – I wish I were a little more convinced of Jake as a suitable partner for a heroine who deserved more.

three-stars