Tag: Bloody regret this

Maybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlin

Maybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlinMaybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlin
Series: Whiskey and Weddings #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 27th 2018
Pages: 300
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one-star

Jen Mackenzie has been knocked down more than a few times, but she always gets up and makes sure she has the last word. It’s the reason she now considers herself equal parts self-sufficient and free-spirit. But since losing her job and trying to help her mother beat cancer, real life―and her occasional careless choices―have begun to catch up with her. Her one saving grace: The Stag, a boutique distillery that has become Kansas City’s go-to wedding venue. The only catch: One of the owners, TJ Laughlin, happens to be the one man who somehow manages to make Jen feel inadequate.

TJ has secretly had a thing for Jen since high school. Now, as her new boss, it’s a daily struggle between revealing his feelings and wringing her beautiful neck. Only one thing is for certain: he can’t stand idly by and watch the woman he cares for struggle. She may be convinced that accepting TJ’s help is a weakness. But all he sees in Jen is beauty and strength, inside and out. As things finally heat up between them, can TJ find a way to convince Jen that love is about give and take―and having it all, together?

While I definitely liked Nicole McLaughlin’s first book in this series, ‘Maybe This Time’ was a different kettle of fish unfortunately. Perhaps what made it worse was that I’d been wanting TJ to find his HEA particularly after pining after someone who absolutely didn’t deserve him at all.

There were so many aspects of the story that simply didn’t gel with me, though my primary issue lay with Jen, who rubbed me the absolute wrong way from the start. It began with the childish taunting she did of TJ—if this isn’t the childish equivalent of taunting the one you secretly have a thing for like—, the self-pity, the lashing out at people who didn’t deserve it all because she felt trodden down by life.

If I had any sympathy for the acrimonious struggles she faced with her mother and being stretched in all ways, that wore off quickly enough in her overcompensation for it by generally being a bitch to others, particularly TJ, who had (inexplicably) been panting after her for so long. That she tried to measure against herself against the women she thought TJ liked, then justified her own insecurities by putting TJ’s date down convinced me that this wasn’t a ‘heroine’ I could ever root for, much less even grow to like when she’d actually thrown her hookups in his face in the previous book and then being defiant about being late at work because of it.

For most part, I thought Jen pretty much acted like the whole world owed her something, and seemed petty over almost everything. And lordy, how I loathed her. I didn’t like how TJ had given up his own job for her, when she’d all but selfishly left him to pursue her own dreams. Mostly, I felt sorry for TJ, who seemed to be at the losing end of the deal, couldn’t understand what the hell he actually saw in her, and generally thought of their romance as a lacklustre one that I couldn’t see working out down the line.

And that pretty much clinched it for me. I couldn’t quite go on anymore after that, especially when I detested this so, so much. It’s a review that’s clearly against the grain, and admittedly, my strong reaction is one that shows my own issues with the type of characters I can and want to get on board with in romantic fiction. That said, I think I’m still cautiously optimistic about Jake’s story though—he and Alexis do seem to be headed down a path that isn’t pretty—though I’m still feeling burnt by this particular installment.

one-star

Playing House by Amy Andrews

Playing House by Amy AndrewsPlaying House by Amy Andrews
Series: Sydney Smoke Rugby #5
Published by Entangled: Brazen on February 12th 2018
Pages: 250
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two-stars

Eleanor is content with her boring life—mostly. She’s even fine being the quirky sister in a bevy of beauties. So imagine her surprise when one of her brother’s Sydney Smoke mates hits on her at an engagement party. Her. The weird sister, who wears vintage dresses and prefers her books to parties.

Bodie is shocked the next morning to find the soft, sexy virgin who seduced him with corsets is his best friend’s little sister. If he could kick his own ass, he would. And two months later, she’s got an even bigger surprise for him. Now he needs to convince the corset-loving wallflower that he loves her uniqueness if they’ve got a chance at forever.

He always did love a challenge…

‘Playing House’ did kind of fall flat for me with the stereotypes that Amy Andrews played with here—the virgin and the supposed ‘accidental’ manwhore who used to be a committed boyfriend but was cheated on—but I’m writing this review with the understanding that this imprint is more to do with smexy times than anything else. Much of Bodie/Nell’s interactions were unsurprisingly, sex-based, so their time in between the sheets were prioritised over the harder and difficult issues that crop up in romance.

Andrews’s writing is superlative as always, so if you could adjust your expectations about this imprint, then Andrews definitely delivers, objectively speaking. Nell and Bodie did scorch the sheets via a deception Nell played because she just couldn’t wait any longer to lose her virginity.

Personally, I didn’t exactly buy into this pairing somehow—not when it seemed more about animal attraction and lust that apparently overrode every ounce of common sense and worse yet, when Nell simply delayed telling Bodie about the accidental pregnancy because they frustratingly did everything else and got on with sex except to deal with the actual issue at hand. In fact, I found myself skimming the sex scenes and that was when I knew I’d completely missed the point of the Brazen line.

I’m afraid that this book isn’t for me—too many bodily functions seemed to have gone into feeding frenzy along with a heroine whom I couldn’t sympathise with at all for her dodging and running away—at all, though I probably should have known better going into this particular imprint of Entangled’s.

two-stars

Virgin Territory by Lia Riley

Virgin Territory by Lia RileyVirgin Territory by Lia Riley
Series: Hellions Angels #3
Published by Avon Impulse on March 6th 2018
Pages: 131
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one-star

Practice Makes Perfect

Patrick “Patch” Donnelly has what it takes to be the best goalie in the NHL…if only he could learn to control his temper. When Coach orders him to get his head in the game with private yoga classes, Patch isn’t having it. There’s no way this tough Boston guy would be caught dead downward dog-ing his way to inner peace. But if he refuses, he risks his starting position and the dream he sacrificed everything for, including joining the priesthood.

Yoga instructor Margot Kowalski is over men. After yet another toxic relationship, she’s eager to forget love and focus on growing her business. Doing the Hellions head coach a favor by helping out a troubled player can't hurt, and it might give her career a high-profile boost. But free-spirited Margot is soon charming the pants off Patch. Literally. Her sassy combination of sweet and sexy proves irresistible to the goalie. Before Patch can give into temptation though, he’ll have to confess his biggest secret:

He’s a virgin.

But Patch is hiding more than sexual inexperience, and his dark past soon threatens to destroy his shot at true love.

I like Lia Riley’s writing—which strangely reminds me of the cocksure voices of authors like Kimberly Kincaid, Avery Flynn and a few others—and the self-assured tone that’s found throughout makes the reading process a breeze. And that was enough to request for an ARC of this book, though the premise of the story when I first read it, admittedly made me very wary of it, particularly when this thing called ‘virginity’ comes into question.

So this is all me, my own writerly and readerly hang-ups, that are being reflected in this review.

The imbalance of sexual experience, for want of a better way of putting it, isn’t exactly trope I like to read about; the role reversal here didn’t make much of a difference—the sexually-experienced woman and the virgin man, with the former going as far as to instruct the latter. And that makes me cringe, because reading romance novels has never been a tit-for-tat issue for me; I don’t purposefully go for books that deliberately try to turn the tables on supposed stereotypical gender roles simply because there have been too many manwhores and inexperienced women. While readers may crow about and love the role reversal here, my own reason deviates somewhat: I delve into romance to actually root for a couple that I think I can genuinely get behind and for a few hours of escapism from reality which good writing has the capability of doing, rather than for the purpose of gender shaming or the robust defence of one over the other.

Unfortunately, ‘Virgin Territory’ felt like that for me from the start—too much of it like a woman’s slamming rant against sexist men in order to reinforce what women should be allowed to do/believe in the 21st century. Like in ‘Head Coach’, there was a tad bit much of what sounded like meta-speak for women’s rights: why slut-shaming is wrong, why women should be free to have the sex they want, yada yada and it did come across as somewhat preachy at times…all through the mouth of Margot, whose repetitive, defensive insistence of it felt annoying after a while, particularly when it stemmed from a position of insecurity and loneliness.

There’s also the problem that seems inherent in ‘virgin’ romances, whether the virgin character is male or female—that a huge, huge deal is made out of it, or that it is either a huge stumbling block that makes people pause or that virginity is something pesky to be gotten rid of. Admittedly, that Patch’s religion had a part in this story, that he wanted sex to mean something and for once, I could actually appreciate how the church had been an anchor in his life, rather than the usual interpretation of toxic religion that much of romantic fiction uses as a crutch against love and sex. I felt for Patch, the difficult history he’s had, and the self-awareness he had of himself, which already put him far above many heroes I’ve read about.

Needless to say, for reasons that are clearly my own, ‘Virgin Territory’ was an excruciating read. I found that I couldn’t go on past the halfway mark, not because I don’t like Riley’s style, but because the subject matter put me off too much.

one-star

Run to Me by Cynthia Eden

Run to Me by Cynthia EdenRun To Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #4
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 223
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two-stars

He’s used to getting what he wants…

Jennings “Jay” Maverick is a tech billionaire. He has the world at his feet, and he thinks he can buy anything…but he can’t buy her. One look at the mysterious Willow, and Jay knows that he is a goner. He wants to give her anything and everything she desires, but he’s the man responsible for the pain in Willow’s life, and getting close to her—well, that’s not going to be easy.

Her life is a nightmare that she can’t escape.

Willow woke up in one of the “Lazarus” research facilities. She now has increased strength, incredible speed, and some scary psychic bonuses. Because of the danger associated with her new gifts, she’s afraid to touch anyone. One touch from her, and a man’s darkest fears will seemingly turn into reality. But Jay isn’t afraid of her touch. Instead, he seems to…crave it. To crave her.

She can’t trust him, and he won’t let her go.

Willow knows that Jay has been involved with Lazarus in the past, but he swears he only wants to help her. She never expects the white-hot desire that burns between them, a desire that grows more with every moment that passes. Thrust together as allies, Willow finds herself wanting to put her faith in Jay, wanting to find someone she can rely on, but Jay may still be keeping secrets from her. Secrets that could get them both killed.

When darkness and danger close in…RUN TO ME.

There’s undoubtedly a darkly seductive, nightmarish insane edge to Cynthia Eden’s super soldiers engineered to always come back from the dead. And that keeps <i>me</i> coming back.

However, this far down the series, I’ve found things that I both like and dislike about the narrative arc and Eden’s peculiar characterisation of her protagonists here in particular—which I suspect I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of this series—bugs me quite a bit. So this puts me in the minority (what’s new?), having found ‘Run To Me’ a disappointment, all the more so because I was looking forward to Willow’s and Jay’s book.

Willow runs; Jay tries to chase and atone; the baddies aren’t too clear-cut and the race for ‘normalcy’, if there’s ever such a thing, continues—my gross oversimplification, of course. The non-stop action is a draw, as are the twists and turns in this story, though having gone through all the books in the series thus far, I find myself running into several issues that I can’t seem to ignore.

One thing that personally irks me in this book is that there are entanglements or conflicts built around ex-lovers who are still in the picture, and that these drive a wedge—no matter how big or small—between the pairing that Eden tries to bring together. Somehow the involvement of other women/other men diminishes the impact or the force of the pairing that I want to get behind…and now can’t exactly quite because of this particular white elephant that shines rather brightly in the room with them.

For this reason, I actually think it’s darkly ironic that all the other characters kept inadvertently saying things that further damned Jay in Willow’s eyes, when all he wanted was to protect her and atone for his misdeeds in the Lazarus project. Jay/Willow’s relationship is an uphill battle as a result, which after a while, becomes a repetitive push-pull of chasing and running away. Yet if I expected a hard, kickarse heroine, Willow seemed the opposite, never quite able to get past her own demons to rise above them.

Something else that niggles: there isn’t much that differentiates one alpha male from another, apart from the possession of a super power or whether they wear a suit or not. I find myself struggling here Eden’s heroes after a while, as they tend to meld into each other. Jay Maverick—who isn’t a super soldier—suddenly acts like one instead of the technological-baron billionaire he is and his stepping up as alpha—not that I don’t appreciate the possessive and protective vibes he gives out—just didn’t set him apart anymore from the behaviour of other protagonists like Sawyer or Flynn, minus the superpower.

I think I keep coming back to this series in the hope that the overall plot would get better and better, but they haven’t yet worked out too well yet. ‘Run To Me’ is the weakest of the series so far however, and I’m still wishing—or is it wishful thinking?—that the waters would be less muddied the next time around.

two-stars

Scoring with the Wrong Twin by Naima Simone

Scoring with the Wrong Twin by Naima SimoneScoring With the Wrong Twin by Naima Simone
Series: WAGS #1
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Brazen) on January 15th 2018
Pages: 236
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one-star

Shy, awkward Sophia Cruz has a hard time telling her vivacious identical twin “no.” But when her sister begs her to swap places for a modeling shoot, she caves … again. Then Zephirin Black walks onto the set. The brooding, aloof, and gorgeous tight end for the Washington Warriors. But she can keep it professional… She has to. Because the adorkable Cruz twin has no luck with guys once they compare her to her sister.

After a bad break-up, Zeph hasn’t been big on second chances—and even less with trust. But he finds himself giving please-call-me-by-my-middle-name-Sophia both. The woman he’d dismissed as a spoiled cover model is different from the first time he met her. Quirkier. Funnier. Definitely sexier. What started as one night turns into another…and another…and another…

Still, Sophia can’t go on keeping her secret from him. But telling Zeph the truth will mean losing him for good.

Giving a 1-star review to a Naima Simone book is shocking even for me, particularly because I do like Simone’s writing and her play of emotions that tends to jump out at every turn of the page.

Where do I even start?

I went into ‘Scoring with the Wrong Twin’ knowing that deception was going to play a part in this story, though I’d hoped it wouldn’t be the primary source of the conflict that carried the plot. Or that the story would have taken a different turn after their one-night stand, where Sophia admitted early on that she simply wasn’t who she was.

Unfortunately, this turned out exactly the way I wish it didn’t, as Sophia allowed her identity deception to continue for a multitude of reasons, all of which that had to do with her supposed inability to be comfortable in her own skin and her low esteem that badly needed bolstering by a celebrity football player who would apparently, otherwise, have never turn her way. If I’d initially felt sorry for her, as the girl who’d been left in the shadow of her more glamorous model sister, my sympathy turned into irritation when she deliberately led Zephirin on, without having the courage to face up to her lie. Having the self-awareness of her own guilt, then ignoring it just made matters worse for me.

Too many times have such ‘heroines’ given such excuses and as time goes on, I’ve found myself getting more and more intolerant of behaviour that was simply too irksome to ignore. In fact, Sophia irked me so much that I couldn’t continue reading, leaving me sputtering at not just her delaying telling him the truth, but also her justification of her behaviour after her apologies, even after finding out that what she’d done was to strike precisely at Zeph’s achilles heel.

I stopped reading there and then; how Zeph and Sophia finally patched things up simply didn’t interest me anymore, especially not with a ‘heroine’ I merely thought of as cowardly and defensive.

one-star

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye Harris

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT SEAL Bride by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: HOT SEAL Team #4
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on January 16th 2018
Pages: 255
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two-stars

Sold to the highest bidder…

For the past fourteen years, Princess Antonella Rossi has been a virtual prisoner. She has no friends, no fun, and she’s not allowed to leave her aunt and uncle’s Virginia compound without an escort.

But today is her wedding day. A rich sheikh has bought her virginity, and with it her freedom. Any hope of independence Ella’s ever cherished will disappear the instant she faces him across the altar. With time running out and the wedding party gathering, Ella seizes the opportunity to run as far and fast as she can.

Navy SEAL Cash “Money” McQuaid isn’t looking for trouble, but trouble always seems to find him. This time trouble is five foot four and wearing a wedding dress. Rescuing a runaway princess has consequences though, and with his face plastered on the evening news and his career on the line, he realizes there’s only one way out of this mess—he has to marry her!

It’s a marriage in name only, just until he can clear his name and win Ella the freedom she seeks. But shacking up with a gorgeous virgin isn’t as easy as it seems, especially when the sparks snapping between them are hotter and more dangerous than anything Cash has ever experienced. By the time he realizes it’s too late to resist his virgin bride, an unseen enemy is intent on taking her away from him.

Cash is gonna need all his skills—and his friends on the Hostile Operations Team—in order to rescue his princess bride and give her the happily-ever-after she deserves.

What do you do when a man is allergic to love, not to mention marriage? You force and trap him into one, in a twist of circumstances that apparently leaves him no other way out, then hem him in with reasons to do with ‘doing the honourable thing’ because this simply has to extend to his rescuing-people-in-need white knight syndrome. In this case, an escapee virgin princess, kept in her gilded tower or prison.

I got into this with trepidation, because of the virginity and the royal-angle that can go so wrong in many ways. And for me, it did.

‘HOT Seal Bride’ reads like a traditional, old-school Harlequin story (with a title that could have well been ’Tempted by a Virgin’), with very set gender-defined roles (complete with several, infuriating sexist stances the male protagonist typically exhibits)—the manwhore-soldier and the innocent, helpless virgin princess—and that was the most excruciating thing I had to get over because by and large, I actually do like quite a few books in Lynn Raye Harris’s HOT series despite the stereotypes that could be perpetuated in them.

But Cash McQuaid, who understood that love was merely fiction and indignantly sprouted arguments (paraphrased in different ways through the story) why virgins were a no-go and how jaded non-virgin women knew the score just…left me enraged. The many repeated references about how he’d slept with ‘innumerable’ women as was his routine and wanted nothing to with any virgin certainly didn’t leave me too hot either.

I do know that there are many readers who love seeing such bed-hoppers ‘tamed’ and finally acknowledging that yes, the fairytale is also for them. However, I don’t count myself among them, the rather…unenlightened attitude of such male protagonists being the primary issue here. And along with it, the rather simplistic assumption that a woman who hasn’t has sex would in fact, confuse sex with love and want a relationship felt like an enormous step back from the other contemporary romances that I’ve read.

Along with the disrespectful instances of ‘locker room’ talk that I actually found offensive – go ahead, argue that that’s normal, unfiltered and honest talk anyway – Cash’s so-called falling in love with Ella felt superficial because he wanted her in his bed and couldn’t well imagine other men taking his place.

Whether this is merely a view that Harris puts across of her protagonist or whether the author subscribes to it didn’t matter here. That the notion itself existed in a book meant for women written by a woman rubbed me the wrong way.

Plainly put, it’s a peculiar notion of virginity and sex that I can’t subscribe to at all, because it should not have been a big deal at all, particularly after having read books which didn’t deal with virginity like a central commodity to be argued about or the primary source of conflict. But because ‘HOT Seal bride’ took this route, the events that happened in the book followed like clockwork, as was the ultimate ‘downfall’ of the eternal bachelor because holy matrimony was the sole solution—again, this left me very sceptical—out of Ella’s conundrum.

I’d hoped that Harris’s HOT SEAL series would have worked for me as well as some books in the actual HOT series did. So far, it hasn’t seemed that way unfortunately and I’m not so sure right now, if it would get better.

two-stars

Until You’re Mine by Cindi Madsen

Until You’re Mine by Cindi MadsenUntil You're Mine by Cindi Madsen
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 393
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one-star

You might’ve heard of me, Shane Knox, the guy who rose quickly through the MMA fighter ranks, only to crash just as fast. No one cares about personal reasons when it comes to losing fights and money. I’m determined to get back to where I was. For you to hear my name again. I’ve finally convinced the owner of Team Domination to take a chance and get me back in fighting—and winning—shape. What I didn’t bargain for is the guy’s spitfire of a daughter. Factor in her two professional-fighter brothers who are acting as my coaches and the fact that my career hangs in the balance, and Brooklyn’s the last girl I should be fantasizing about. The closer we get, the more I want Brooklyn. The stakes are high, and I know there’s a big chance of both of us getting hurt, but I won’t stop until she’s mine.

Is there someone you want so much, that you’d do anything it takes, including crossing some lines to make sure that person’s yours?

That was the question that jumped out at me the further I got into “Until You’re Mine”; the rest were just details. I did like Cindi Madsen’s writing, the whole MMA world that she’d created as well as the characters’ back stories, up until that point when I realised that I was actually struggling through the first half of the book.

Brooklyn’s and Shane’s chemistry wasn’t in doubt. Sparks flew. Chests heaved. Clothes nearly came off. But not quite. The only complication? Brooklyn was taken, in a stable relationship that admittedly didn’t have that much fire, which was the only thing that held both Brooklyn and Shane back from burning up the sheets.

And that was where I stopped reading, then struggled to put my thoughts together. The bottom-line was that I found it hard to respect Shane, who kept aggressively pushing the boundaries with Brooklyn—the deliberate moves he put, the heavy innuendos—when she’d all but made it clear a few times that she had a boyfriend. Heroes who go balls-deep in their pursuit of the woman can be fun to read about, but not when they cross some lines and show their lack of common decency.

That Brooklyn had allowed it despite the thin veneer of sense when it came to avoiding Shane she seemed to have made it equally hard to root for her. She did try of course which made me like her a bit more, but her constant engagement with Shane, her quick breakup with her boyfriend after humiliating him in the gym (thanks to Shane again) then jumping into bed with him the very same night somehow made a mockery of that relationship she seemed to exult as safe and treasured because it was exactly the world she wanted out of. It was sort of implied that Brooklyn’s boyfriend had someone else on the line as well who might have been a better fit for him (this was still innocent, unlike Shane/Brooklyn’s hot and heavy stuff), though that shouldn’t have been an excuse just to get both protagonists together, guilt-free.

This wasn’t quite cheating in the physical sense of the word, but it all felt very close to it, which made this pairing difficult to get behind. Admittedly, this wasn’t the sanctity of marriage that was being breached, but I found myself very, very uncomfortable with the general lack of respect for the relationship that Brooklyn was in as both Brooklyn/Shane flirted into unsafe territory, as though it was just a shackle that tied her down and to be gotten rid of.

Clearly, this is just not the book for me. Madsen’s writing is one that I do go back to however (it’s almost a guarantee), but after feeling a little burnt by this read, I’m more than a little wary of the rest of this series.

one-star