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True Hearts by Jeannine Allison

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 26th June 2017
True Hearts by Jeannine AllisonPure Hearts by Jeannine Allison
Published by Amazon Digital Services on June 22nd 2017
Pages: 391
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two-stars

She gave me her kidney. I gave her my heart...

Nicholas Blake learned a long time ago that nobody does anything for free. He’s felt the pain of lies and manipulations enough times to know that people only look out for themselves, and that all good deeds come with a price. So when he wakes up from a near deadly car accident and finds out a stranger is offering to donate her kidney, he’s immediately suspicious of her intentions.

What he doesn’t expect is Iris Chamberlain, a beautiful woman with a big smile and an even bigger heart, claiming she just wants to help. The more time Nick spends with Iris, the more he starts to believe in what he always thought was impossible: a pure heart.

But betrayal leaves a bitter mark. Will Nick be able to let go of his past and let Iris in? And will Iris be able to show him what it truly means to have a pure heart?

’True Hearts’ is a very much a feel good type of read, with a kind of New Adult-ish introspective vibe about the cynic who is inclined call everyone’s action out as self-serving until proven otherwise who goes up against a someone who wholly (or at least habitually) believes in human goodness and sincerity.

And that was where my reservations slid in.

Call that my own cynical self talking here, especially when it begins with the donation of a kidney after what appears like a paranormal ‘sign’ that fates are intertwined—with no expectations thrown into the mix. I found it difficult to accept the very selfless and positive Iris Chamberlain when it was way easier to sympathise with Nick and his understandable behaviour traits knowing what he’d gone through. Iris was, well, surreal in her giving selflessness, when the way she chose to see nothing but good made her more like a saint about to be canonised than a flawed character. But Jeannine Allison makes Iris out to be the exact kind of person that Nick actually needs—at least, a person who is determined to wear down his cynicism—though she stumbled where it really mattered most, or at least where I needed her not to.

Throughout the book, I felt mostly caught between Iris and Nick, never quite able to step out of Nick’s more ‘realistic’ way of perceiving the world as opposed to Iris’s steadfast one-woman stand against Nick’s fatalistic pessimism. In fact, I found myself repetitively questioning Iris’s naïveté, the appalling behaviour of her relatives, and how the characters did nothing but try to turn Nick into a happier version of himself without acknowledging too much that his own perception of the world had merit. That they’d tried to defend their own behaviour, implicitly putting the fault mostly on Nick’s door was quite the last straw for me.

I think the long and short of it is that ‘True Hearts’ is a rose-tinted affirmation of the goodness left in humanity, though it’s a simplistic ideal here that I can’t quite buy into.

two-stars

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

Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 21st June 2017
Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura BrownFriend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown
Published by Avon Impulse on June 27th 2017
Pages: 384
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one-star

I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.

Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.

When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.

I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.

I guess the only thing we can do is try…

‘Friend (With Benefits) Zone’ started out very promising, with the blurb sounding a growing-up story of 2 deaf people trying to find their way in the world just as the notion of building a career looms large. But beyond that, I liked the idea of putting people with disabilities in the spotlight and showing that they actually do lead lives as ‘normal’ as those who don’t—and thought that this would provide a different edge to the best friends turned lovers type of read.

But with the sexual tension between Jasmine and Devon shattering so early on, the direction in which the story was going to go became rather unclear. And I found myself unpleasantly surprised when maturity (or the lack of it) came into play and formed the major part of the conflict—driven mostly by Jasmine. She started out as strongly independent, but that soon moved to bullheadedly, stupidly stubborn when she started insisting on being an island and going at it all on her own, pushing everyone else away because that was the way she wanted it to be. Not accepting help from Devon and her closest friends (then have them trying to reel her back in), using sex avoid the issue, vacillating between wanting Dev and wanting her own way were just signs of her irrational immaturity that frustrated me to no end, which actually went on ad nauseum to the point where I thought they should have given up on her because there was no getting her to see reason.

As much as Devon’s desire to help her and support her in everything, he did come across as somewhat spineless towards the end, when he needed to leave Jasmine on her own for her to finally come to her senses. Instead, he couldn’t quite let her go or do a complete break, even when he had his own share of dodging the intended career path that his family wanted for him throughout. In fact, I needed to see that Jasmine wanted their relationship Devon even if she had nothing to her name. But because Devon had arranged it such that she could have her bar and own it (with the startup costs included as a loan), it felt as though it was only with her future secured and in place that it was easy to get back with him.

This constant push-pull vibe that got stronger, as well as the anti-climatic ending did, unfortunately, grate on me. I couldn’t quite shrug away how much I disliked the characters by the end and this sadly, tanked the whole story for me.

one-star

Irresistible You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 19th June 2017
Irresistible You by Kate MeaderIrresistible You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 14th 2017
Pages: 300
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four-stars

Three estranged sisters inherit their late father’s failing hockey franchise and are forced to confront a man’s world, their family’s demons, and the battle-hardened ice warriors skating into their hearts.

Harper Chase has just become the most powerful woman in the NHL after the death of her father Clifford Chase, maverick owner of the Chicago Rebels. But the team is a hot mess—underfunded, overweight, and close to tapping out of the league. Hell-bent on turning the luckless franchise around, Harper won’t let anything stand in her way. Not her gender, not her sisters, and especially not a veteran player with an attitude problem and a smoldering gaze designed to melt her ice-compacted defenses.

Veteran center Remy “Jinx” DuPre is on the downside of a career that’s seen him win big sponsorships, fans’ hearts, and more than a few notches on his stick. Only one goal has eluded him: the Stanley Cup. Sure, he’s been labeled as the unluckiest guy in the league, but with his recent streak of good play, he knows this is his year. So why the hell is he being shunted off to a failing hockey franchise run by a ball-buster in heels? And is she seriously expecting him to lead her band of misfit losers to a coveted spot in the playoffs?

He’d have a better chance of leading Harper on a merry skate to his bed…

‘Irresistible You’ has an irresistible setup: a team down in the dumps, a bastard ex-owner, his three daughters who are estranged half-sisters, a near-hostile meeting between a new owner (who’s really been screwed over by her father) and an unwilling trade in hockey, with sparks and secret deals all around.

Kate Meader’s stylish, confident writing shows up so clearly here, and it’s easy to get swept along by the plot and her characters. It had me wanting to know how Remy Du Pre and Harper Chase would get from ‘enemies’ to lovers so to speak, and I loved the tension from the very beginning and the inevitable pull they felt towards each other in Remy’s stomping ground in the exotic (and some say magical) New Orleans.

The progression did lag in the middle for me as Remy and Harper dwelled too much on the potential consequences of carrying on as a couple. I didn’t exactly like Harper’s slowness and unwillingness to fight for Remy (who never gave up on her) just as the latter’s good humour and laid-back candidness won me over. Yet Harper does alright in the end and their happy-for-now is most likely just the start of what’s going to be a longer journey in a bigger story arc that I suspect, will involve the entire team as time goes on.

The uneven pacing aside, hockey isn’t my sport, so the terminology is lost on me, but Meader does make it more about the pairing than the actual sport and the management of it as Remy/Harper’s relationship goes from grudging respect to something more. I loved how well-crafted both of them really are (here, the tiny details make the cake) as Meader does brilliant work enunciating their insecurities and their motivations while leaving the potential for a deadbeat team to reach the playoffs. With Harper’s sisters wait in the wings for their own HEAs, that’s a hook and a teaser I can’t say no to.

four-stars

Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th June 2017
Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne BrockmannSome Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann
Series: Troubleshooters #17
Published by Ballantine Books on July 11th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Navy men don’t come tougher than Lieutenant Peter Greene. Every day he whips hotshot SEAL wannabes into elite fighters. So why can’t he handle one fifteen-year-old girl? His ex’s death left him a single dad overnight, and very unprepared. Though he can’t relate to an angsty teen, he can at least keep Maddie safe—until the day she disappears. Though Pete’s lacking in fatherly intuition, his instinct for detecting danger is razor sharp. Maddie’s in trouble. Now he needs the Troubleshooters team at his back, along with an unconventional ally.

Romance writer Shayla Whitman never expected to be drawn into a real-world thriller—or to meet a hero who makes her pulse pound. Action on the page is one thing. Actually living it is another story. Shay’s not as bold as her heroines, but she’s a mother. She sees the panic in her new neighbor’s usually fearless blue eyes—and knows there’s no greater terror for a parent than having a child at risk. It’s an ordeal Shay won’t let Pete face alone. She’s no highly trained operative, but she’s smart, resourceful, and knows what makes teenagers tick.

Still, working alongside Pete has its own perils—like letting the heat between them rise out of control. Intimate emotions could mean dangerous, even deadly, consequences for their mission. No matter what, they must be on top of their game, and playing for keeps . . . or else Pete’s daughter may be gone for good.

Where do I even begin with Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series? There’s so much diversity in the pairings, so much differing action (you never quite know what you’re going to get) with just so many things going on… to the extent where some of her books have had the power to bore me limp, while others have brought me to my knees with a swoon-worthy type fairytale ending.

With ’Some Kind of Hero’, I was left disappointing unmoved and a more than a tad bit incredulous. But what’s clear however, is that it isn’t quite a standalone.

The initial meeting between Peter Green and Shayla is an out-of-nowhere jump into a car on the street to search for a missing teenager. And during the search, Peter finds himself telling his life story to Shayla while the latter finds herself using her skills as a writer to figure out just what Peter’s teenager could have gotten herself into. Their (coincidental) joint-effort simply eschews Brockmann’s very slow burn between characters that spans books and the quickness with which Peter and Shayla jumped into bed took out any sense of anticipation that I’ve come to expect. Instant-love or lust aside, the shenanigans with the teenagers just felt like an elaborate plot to bring 2 very opposing characters—whose lives otherwise wouldn’t ever intersect—together and it was difficult to buy into this forced connection when it simply felt more like bad parenting going out of control over a teenager who might or might not have done unsavoury things.

In many ways, this story left me in a bind, which on a whole, pretty much describes my entire Brockmann reading experience. There were parts that I couldn’t stop turning the pages, just as there were parts that had me skimming, despite the some amusing meta-details of what is means to be a romance author, fictional voices in head and scatterbrained-moments notwithstanding. On the other hand, Brockmann’s heroes never quite do what you think they do and here, there’s hardly enough SEAl action involved that could make me think of Peter as a SEAL instructor or his friend Izzy as a fellow brother-in-arms when the way they speak or act just lacked that intensity and the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that have pretty much defined the RS ‘alpha’ hero.

Maybe it’s because I’ve not read the entire series that ‘Some Kind of Hero’ made little sense to me overall, but this read (judging from the books that made my favourites list at least) unfortunately fell short by a long way.

two-stars

Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 14th June 2017
Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyStay by Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Series: WAGs, #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 259
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five-stars

Can you fall in love with someone you've never even met?
Hailey Taylor Emery has a hunch that her favorite client at Fetch--an anonymous virtual assistant service--is actually hockey star Matt Eriksson.
Although it's against the rules for her to check his file, she's 95% sure she spends at least part of each day texting with her lifelong crush and catering to his every need. Still nursing a wounded heart thanks to her recent breakup, Hailey is perfectly content with some harmless online flirting...until she has to meet her client. Face to face. Cue: utter panic.
Matt Eriksson is no stranger to heartbreak. He's still not over the destruction of his marriage, and it sucks to be the only guy on the team who knows the truth--that hockey and long-term relationships are a toxic mix. He barely sees his kids, and dealing with his ex makes him feel insane. The only person in his life who seems to understand is someone who won't show her pretty face.
But it's nothing that a pair of fourth row hockey seats can't fix. Hailey can't resist the offer. Matt can't resist Hailey. Good thing he doesn't have to. Fire up the kiss cam!
Warning: Contains rabid hockey fans, misunderstood dick pics, hockey players at the opera and exploding ovaries.

I hadn’t realised that revisiting the team and seeing how far all of them have come since Wes and Jamie got off their rocky beginnings actually made me somewhat wistfully nostalgic enough to want to re-read the entire series.

If I haven’t yet mentioned how much I loved the ‘Him’ and ‘WAGs’ series, then well, mea culpa. ‘Stay’ couldn’t make me love this particular group of people more.

Matt Eriksson is the older guy in the Toronto hockey team and with a divorce just behind him and retirement a few years down the road, still struggles with handling his twin daughters, a nasty ex-wife and a virtual personal assistant who somehow, knows what he needs. Little does he know that a call to walk the dog would lead to premier tickets for a hockey match and that the online relationship he’s always had with the person handling tiny details in his life would turn out into something much more than he can ever expect.

Yet he is still the all-round good guy who’s easy to love, juggling life post-divorce with a gruelling schedule and kids who are not often around enough. For Matt at least, the divorce is a big failure that has him second guessing himself and his ability to be a good husband and parent while being a professional athlete. It has also made him cynical and jaded and a little gun-shy about sharing that same kind of lifestyle with another woman whom he thinks would come to resent him for it.

There’s a ring of maturity and a kind of stuttering rhythm that mirrors real life going through Matt’s and Hailey’s story, which is probably the story’s strongest selling point. Too often, the protagonists go off wild benders (hookups, as it typically goes) in the wake of a bad breakup and turn a hundred-eighty into commitment-phobes because they can’t apparently, trust another member of the opposite sex as they’re now painted with the same broad brushstrokes that their ex-es are coloured with. In ‘Stay’, we get instead quiet doubts about failure, self-confidence and the fear of putting oneself out there once again that gives the story depth and heart. I loved above all, that Matt and Hailey aren’t characters who simply react to the heartache of divorce by sleeping around then pushing each other away but instead, struggle with their inadequacies in different ways that I can believe and respect.

Yet it’s also swoony, steamy and in parts, funny and deeply romantic. What more do I need?

five-stars

Burning Love by Trish Morey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 12th June 2017
Burning Love by Trish MoreyBurning Love by Trish Morey
Series: Hot Aussie Knights #4
Published by Tule Publishing on June 12th 2017
Pages: 96
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two-stars

Caleb Knight’s ex accused him of being married to his firefighter job, and maybe she was right. He’s given up looking for happy ever after and finds what he needs between Ava’s scorching sheets. But lately, he’s wondering whether this thing with Ava might become more permanent…

Artist Ava Mattiske's ability to trust was shattered long ago. Her steamy fling with Caleb is perfect until he starts talking long-term. She puts on the brakes, but when a bushfire threatens her studio and Caleb is on the scene, Ava realizes that there is one man she can count on... But will it be too late?

Caleb Knight turned up in his twin brother’s book and it got me curious about how evasive he’d been with Dylan. But when Caleb finally burst onto the page, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed and maybe that was because I just couldn’t feel any particular investment in a couple that was simply making the difficult transition from temporary to permanent with several speed bumps along the way.

‘Burning Love’ is unusual in that it takes place a year into Caleb’s and Ava’s casual arrangement with the story picking up from there, alternating between their hookup sessions, Ava’s art and Caleb’s job, though it’s a cycle that rinses and repeats until something gives. As a whore to her parents’ business to the time she has reinvented herself, Ava nonetheless lets her past dictate her future because of the scars that has left on her, convinced that she wants nothing to do with anything remotely resembling affection or love. Somehow Caleb gets beneath her skin and their agreement to just burn up the sheets in bed for the past year on a casual basis is something she uses against him when he finally wants more.

Apart from some parts that had the camaraderie of the guys on show, it was personally hard for me to get into a relationship that felt lopsided and unequal, made up of pull-push dynamic from start to end as Caleb finally grows past the casual hookup stage with Ava and pushes for more, just as Ava pushes him away in denial that gets rote after a while. The later part of their relationship is one made up of more of the same, except that Caleb spends most of his time trying to reaffirm Ava and rebuilding the shattered confidence that she’d lost in her youth. He’s a top bloke undoubtedly, but for most of the story, it felt like he was the one doing all the work while waiting for Ava to come to her senses—which she did only frustratingly, after a life-threatening event. His hard work pays off, though that much made me think of him playing the role of caretaker/therapist/lover all in one for a needy woman who hides a brittle interior.

I’d hoped that the wrap-up to this interesting series could have been better for me; sadly I never could quite get into this pairing as much as I could the rest.

two-stars
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