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To Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 20th September 2016
To Love and to Cherish by Lauren LayneTo Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles, #3
Published by Pocket Books on October 18th 2016
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Alexis Morgan has spent the past eight years devoted to turning her tiny start-up into Manhattan’s premiere wedding planning company, The Wedding Belles. Now that her business is thriving, it’s time to turn towards her much neglected personal life, and Alexis approaches her relationships like she does everything else: with a plan. Not a part of that plan is Logan Harris, the silent partner in the Belles, and the one person who’s been there for her since the very beginning. But Alexis needs someone fun, and Logan’s all business, all the time—except when a late night at the office ends with an unexpected kiss that leaves the usually cool and together Alexis reeling.
Logan has lusted after Alexis since the day he walked into the tiny Harlem apartment that used to double as her office. But the ambitious wedding planner has always been untouchable...until now. Alexis has made it clear that she’s on the dating market—and equally clear that he’s not in the running. But when Alexis finds herself in need of a date for her sister’s last minute wedding in Florida, Logan knows it’s the perfect time to show Alexis that there’s more to him than numbers and spreadsheets—and beneath the pinstripes and glasses lies a hot-blooded heartthrob. As Florida’s sultry days turn into even hotter nights, Logan’s out to convince Alexis that the fling of a lifetime could just maybe turn into forever...

‘To Love and to Cherish’ pretty much explores the longterm consequences of heartbreak—through circumstances no one could have really envisioned—and well…the cowardly behaviour it can incite. And it’s found in the form of Alexis Morgan, whose wedding planning company (ironically a business that puts down how happy-ever-after should begin) has taken the place of relationships and love in her life. The story is a fun, quick read and evidently responsible for taking a few needed hours of sleep away, despite it being an entirely predictable one from the beginning.

Logan Harris has indeed been lusting after Alexis for a long time, and lust is pretty much the term I’d use here rather than love, given that he’s really done nothing but pine from a distance while taking up with other women as he passively waits for her to notice him. Alexis on the other hand, refuses to see him as anything else than her accountant and her silent business partner, but that isn’t because there have been overt, numerous hints thrown her way. Yet for them to declare that they’ve loved each other from the start had me frowning in scepticism, because it seemed more like attraction than anything deeper and an impulsive decision of a ‘recovering student’ to throw in an inheritance behind a business that has yet to get off the ground.

Logan and Alexis, while frustrating at times, do however, seem more sympathetic than the rest of the couples in the Wedding Belles series; their connection as partners and as friends was evident at the start and to make the leap into a relationship didn’t seem an implausible one, even if those years did seem somewhat wasted on nothing happening. I felt for Alexis and her continued reticence, although I did wonder why it took Logan that long to man up and straighten it out when it was clear he needed something drastic for a first move.

There aren’t huge spikes in passion or angsty valleys of depressing lows however, which made for some lull in the storytelling itself but what kept it somewhat interesting is the reversal of roles, where Alexis is finally forced to reexamine her stance on keeping distant from everyone while Logan runs himself to the ground finally trying to make her see him the way he wants.

There’s perhaps some kind of finality to this book with all the belles happily paired off, and ‘To Love and to Cherish’ is a fitting farewell to a series that has frankly left me part lukewarm and somewhat neutral for their predictability. Wedding planners finding their own HEAs—and have those living up to hype of the weddings they plan—might be a little too sugary sweet for my liking but because a few of Lauren Layne’s Oxford and Stiletto books had made her an author to watch out for, I’m still as always, eager to see what else she has up her sleeve.

three-stars

For Better or Worse by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 27th July 2016
For Better or Worse by Lauren LayneFor Better or Worse by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles #2
Published by Pocket Books on August 30th 2016
Pages: 368
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three-stars

When small-town girl Heather Fowler finally gets promoted from assistant to actual wedding planner, she’s determined to make it as one of Manhattan’s elite Wedding Belles. Unfortunately, her first client demands an opulent black-tie affair at the Plaza…in five months’ time. Heather’s days quickly become a flurry of cake tastings, dress-fittings, RSVP cards, and bridal tantrums. But what she’s really losing sleep over is the live music blaring from her playboy neighbor’s apartment all night.
Five years ago, Josh Tanner was an up-and-comer on Wall Street, complete with the penthouse and the migraines. But a grim cancer diagnosis made him realize there is more to life than the corner office. If only he could convince his pretty, workaholic neighbor to let loose, too. As Heather lets down her guard, Josh is surprised when he starts falling for the sweet, vulnerable woman hiding beneath those power suits. Soon, it’s Heather’s turn to convince Josh to take the biggest risk of all: love.

The wedding frills come again and I got the jitters, but it’s hard to pass up any opportunity to read Lauren Layne.

‘For Better or Worse’ is classic Lauren Layne: urbanite and contemporary, with typical character leads that I’ve come to expect – an apparently easy-going manwhore who grins and jokes while hiding his secrets and a steady lady who has her career prioritised above a relationship. The hookup begins casually as they all do, until someone develops feelings and it all goes to pot.

Yet the titular phrase takes on different meaning once we find out that Josh has been battling cancer and is still too afraid to live life to the fullest. In strongest self-denial mode, he thinks he does with the piss-poor excuse of not wanting to let any woman down while he takes up the mantle of an overgrown fratboy who hooks up indiscriminately while chumming it out with his band buddies. In short, he’s drifting and living without purpose, thinking he’s rocking it – literally – but really isn’t.

There’s some sweetness and depth to this because it delves into what life-threatening illness can do, but beneath it, I did find myself getting bored after a while, because it was, well, predictable. I did guess how it was going to go down – the last-minute bail-out, the grovelling and the big ending – and wasn’t at all surprised when Heather and Josh steamrolled down the aisle by the end of it all.

But if I could say Heather was everything I expected her to be, it was more difficult to like Josh, who pretty much acted like he had the excuse to own the world and stomp on others because he thought he had a reason to – after beating Leukaemia. I tried to rationalise his behaviour – maybe to the point of making excuses for him when he was plain disrespectful and childish – as someone’s extreme reaction to having suffered a life-changing disease and is still battling it, but failed miserably at times. For most of the book, he kept Heather at arm’s length and needless to say, this is the main source of their conflict when it all comes to a head and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the relationship was developed mostly on Heather’s side while Josh mostly enjoyed the physical aspects of it. I must admit that I’d hoped for more maturity all around: that perhaps, working a way forward might have been a better idea after some form of disclosure instead of keeping mum and making the arse-executive decision for everyone concerned that Josh was better off alone. He hadn’t even talked to Heather about the reason why Danica broke up with him and his subsequent illness; the latter was something learned from his mother. Consequently, Josh’s proposal after the pep talk by his twin felt sudden and abrupt and in some ways, a way of making amends because he’d let Heather down. There’s this sobering sense each time a lead character battles major illness, but my sympathy can only extend so far when that sort of character growth spurt happens only in the last 3 chapters.

I didn’t have a hard time getting into the book though; Layne has always been easy reading with a style that makes the pages fly by. I did like the set-up of Alexis and Logan and the camaraderie between the Belles – these seem like minor points however – and would definitely want to know how Alexis/Logan’s story pans out.

three-stars

To Have and To Hold by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 9th June 2016
To Have and To Hold by Lauren LayneTo Have and to Hold by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles #1
Published by Pocket Books on July 26th 2016
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon
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three-stars

Discovering her fiancé is an international con man just moments before they exchange vows devastates celebrity wedding planner Brooke Baldwin’s business—and breaks her heart. Now a pariah in Los Angeles, she seeks a fresh start in New York City and thinks she’s found it with her first bridal client, a sweet—if slightly spoiled—hotel heiress. Then she meets the uptight businessman who’s holding the purse strings.
Seth Tyler wishes he could write a blank check and be done with his sister Maya's fancy-pants wedding. Unfortunately, micromanaging the event is his only chance at proving Maya’s fiancé is a liar. Standing directly in his way is the stunning blonde wedding planner whose practiced smiles and sassy comebacks both irritate and arouse him. He needs Brooke’s help. But can he persuade a wedding planner on a comeback mission to unplan a wedding? And more importantly, how will he convince her that the wedding she should be planning…is theirs?

Brooke Baldwin’s new start in New York is really an act of running away from the humiliation of a failed wedding and her new job at a premier wedding planning firm is her new and hopefully, triumphant start on a different coast. But what she doesn’t count on is the domineering brother of the bride on her first case as well the rich hotel tycoon financing everything who gives her another shot at love. He also happens to be the man determined to stop this wedding, convinced that the groom isn’t who he says he is.

The sniping attraction between them comes as much as a surprise to Seth Tyler, whose need to protect his family (and his own heart) rubs people the wrong way, but there is no denying that Brooke burrows her way quickly underneath that cold, icy exterior before long.

The world of wedding planning is as horrifyingly frou-frou and foreign to me as a language I’ve never been able to master. Ultra feminine, bridezillas and overflowing with tulle – aspects of womanhood even I don’t proclaim to understand.

‘To Have and to Hold’ is an introduction to this world – the business of love, so to speak – through the rose-tinted sheen of romantic comedies, which I found both fascinating and well, so exclusive that I could only get a peek of this fictional world through Lauren Layne’s writing.

But Ms. Layne’s setup was good enough that I was sold on Seth and Brooke whom I thought had their own issues to deal with, although I did feel the conflict was made bigger than it really was for the sake of creating drama and tension.

I couldn’t shake the feeling however, that Brooke was simply making a mountain of a molehill about Seth’s hiring of a P.I., which I found absolutely nothing wrong with. Her behaviour as a consequence, seemed always like an overreaction to Seth’s earnest attempts to keep the people around him happy in the only way he knew how, coloured strongly by her memories of ex-fiancé and transferred unfairly onto Seth.

In spite of Ms. Layne’s persuasion of the readers to feel loads of pity for Brooke’s big wedding write-off, I found myself instead empathising with Seth more than any other character. I thought him short-changed so many times by the people closest to him because all they could see was his controlling nature which was frankly, made a bigger thing than it was. And because Seth was a more than decent character, I didn’t quite like how he was made out to be the only one who’d wronged others, especially when Brooke had actually done more unforgivable things to him – such as comparing him in some way to her ex, which had me flabbergasted.

Even if the core drama surrounding Seth and Brooke turned me off somewhat, I found myself liking the secondary characters a lot and am gratified that the rest of the Wedding Belles would have their own stories. I did wish though, that there’d been more on the conflict between the bride and Seth’s best friend for instance, whose chemistry and hidden story had more to be written about. Given that this is a wedding planning series, we’re somewhat left with a HFN ending at least, which made me grateful that everything wedding-related wasn’t oversold.

three-stars
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