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Hooking Up by Helena Hunting

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th November 2017
Hooking Up by Helena HuntingHooking Up by Helena Hunting
Published by Swerve on November 1st 2017
Pages: 259
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one-star

Amalie Whitfield is the picture of a blushing bride during her wedding reception–but for all the wrong reasons. Instead of proclaiming his undying love, her husband can be heard, by Amalie and their guests, getting off with someone else. She has every reason to freak out, and in a moment of insanity, she throws herself at the first hot-blooded male she sees. But he’s not interested in becoming her revenge screw.

Mortified and desperate to escape the post-wedding drama, Amalie decides to go on her honeymoon alone, only to find the man who rejected her also heading to the same tiny island for work. But this time he isn’t holding back. She should know better than to sleep with someone she knows, but she can’t seem to resist him.

They might agree that what happens on the island should stay on the island, but neither one can deny that their attraction is more than just physical.

Not having read the first book, I’m guessing that the implications of Amalie and her secret hook-up are much larger than I think, though ‘Hooking Up’ does clearly work as a standalone.

Having said that, I had the inkling that the book wasn’t for me at all—an inkling that grew like an ominous thundercloud by the time I got to the part where the shenanigans started a few minutes post-wedding.

Cheating and a tit-for-tat vibe in the story are what push the narrative along: out of spite, Armstrong swopped into get the girl (one which the mystery man sees first), then quite publicly cheated on her in a cringeworthy manner during the wedding reception. The brokenhearted Amalie in turn, went on her honeymoon alone, hooked up with the man who quite literally saw her first while her divorce hadn’t gone through (though it’s pretty much expected that the marriage is over by then). That personally is a trigger for me, so I was struggling with this early on, which clearly places me in the minority as I kept wondering if Amalie/mystery man’s actions were justified nonetheless, especially since this merely took place a few days after the disastrous wedding and not after the dust properly settled.

I also found it hard to sympathise with the jilted woman, whose choice in bad boyfriends (and husband) merely reinforced her lack of judgement and her inability to rein everything in. And unlike our mystery man who seemed stalwart in his desire for her, Amalie merely stayed a whiny, flaky protagonist who spent most of the story vacillating between her regrets and her own abysmal history in ‘love’ which she projected onto mystery man.

I couldn’t finish the story after all—it’s an issue I typically have with characters and issues like cheating. The ease of reading just didn’t surpass how much I disliked the characters in the book save for the mystery man of the story and was actually happy to put Amalie and her antics far behind me.

one-star

Cuffed by K. Bromberg

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 29th October 2017
Cuffed by K. BrombergCuffed by K. Bromberg
Series: Everyday Heroes #1
Published by JKB Publishing, LLC on October 23rd 2017
Pages: 394
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one-star

“I hate you. I never want to see you again.”

Grant Malone is not the reason I moved back to Sunnyville—at least that’s what I tell myself. Yet, those parting words I said to him back in third grade, ring in my ears every time a townsperson brings up one of the Malone boys. I thought time had healed my wounds. I was wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for how I felt when I finally saw him again.

Twenty years does a lot to turn a boy into a man. One who hits all my buttons—sexy, funny, attractive, and a police officer. But Grant is off limits because he knows too much about my past.

But I’m drawn to him. That damn uniform of his doesn’t hurt either. It’ll be my downfall. I know it.

What’s one night of sex going to hurt . . . right?

***

I’ve always loved Emmy Reeves.

That’s why I’m shocked to see her all these years later. The shy girl I once knew is all grown up.

Adventurous and full of life, she owns my heart now, just as much as she did back then. Convincing her of that is a whole different story.

I’ll give her the one night she asks for—like that’s a hardship—but when it comes to letting her walk away after, she has another thing coming. There’s no way in hell I’m letting her go this time without a fight.

‘Cuffed’ and I got off on the wrong foot.

I gritted my teeth and struggled on for the first half, wondering about the glowing reviews that this book has received, determined to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

After all, there was nothing remotely attractive in a petulant woman holding a childish grudge for a mistake made 20 years ago against a police officer, acting like the biggest flake in the world all because she’s running, commitment-free, from a past that’s yet to be revealed. And the mature woman she’s grown into knows just as well that it’s easier to blame her lack of trust and intimacy on a past she hasn’t gotten over, which is admittedly a tough one.

But there’re an equal number of books these days after all, that deal with the role-reversal of a woman not wanting any strings and being bitchy in her defence of it, whether the rationale for it is justified or not. Nothing really made Emerson any different from those other protagonists who are worn down by the charms of Grant Malone, who has been, up to this point, walking away from every woman he sleeps with because he’s only been ‘passing time with them’, knowing he’s loved her all along.

One would think that two decades might be a tad bit long for a grudge, or that the perception that she’s gained from it should have helped in the intervening years. Evidently not.

I think neither protagonist really interested me, nor could I like them much, which meant I kept reading on just to discover what Grant did in grade school though there are sufficient hints about what really happened. But to get to that is a frustrating exercise seeing Emerson pushing Grant away, just as Grant couldn’t let her go for when he sees her again, resulting in hostile sniping without getting to the heart of the issue…ad nauseam.

In the end, I found it was impossible to get past even the halfway point. There’s just something about the characters that rubbed me the wrong way and clearly ‘Cuffed’, as I suspected from the start,  just isn’t the book for me.

one-star

The Charmer by Avery Flynn

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 16th September 2017
The Charmer by Avery FlynnThe Charmer by Avery Flynn
Published by Entangled: Select Contemporary on September 25th 2017
Pages: 212
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two-stars

Hot, filthy rich, and usually irresistible, Hudson Carlyle just met the one woman in Harbor City who’s immune to his legendary charm. Nerdy ant researcher Felicia Hartigan is the unsexiest dresser ever. She trips over air. And she’s in love with totally the wrong man. Hudson can’t stop thinking about her.

His regular moves won’t work here. He’s going to need a new plan, starting with helping her win over the man she thinks she wants. And if in the process she ends up falling for Hudson instead? Even better. Step one, charm her panties off. Step two, repeat step one as frequently as possible.

But what if the famous Carlyle charm finally fails him when he needs it most? Or worse, what if she figures out the one secret he’s kept from everyone, including his family, and walks away for good?

It’s evident from the beginning that ‘The Charmer’ is like a flip-off to the brother’s best-friend trope, a twist which is in itself, an interesting though tricky one. I don’t know why books that involve academics/geeks/researchers or brainy protagonists appeal so much, but they do. The moment I saw ‘Ant researcher’ in the blurb, I was quite sold on reading this, but was disappointed when it didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped.

Yet it’s somewhat slow going though and it was strangely hard to buy into Felicia and Hudson as a couple, particularly since there were several layers of deception, a ton of denial as well as instances of molehills being made mountains which, as staples of the rom-com, should have made me laugh but didn’t. Instead, both Felicia and Hudson were clichéd in the ways that define romantic comedy: the geeky, awkward woman with the tendency to say inappropriate (but apparently adorkable) things and the smarmy, cocky, smug manwhore millionaire who never needed help getting notches on his bedpost yet is strangely attracted to the ‘plainer’ one who is wary of him. Not only did I struggle to get past these stereotypes, I also found myself becoming as frustrated by Felicia’s inability to decide what or whom she really wanted as I was with Hudson’s inability to own what he does as well as his general dishonesty with Felicia—whom he’d never intended to end up with Tyler anyway despite his so-called help.

Their steamy scenes weren’t really the problem—Avery Flynn writes them scorching enough—only that those actually faded into the background and mattered less simply because the bottom-line was that I couldn’t get invested in Felicia and Hudson together with a whole farcical setup that was really leading nowhere for most of the story. I ended up skimming the last half of ’The Charmer’, interested only to see how it all blew up between them before the grovelling began. Unfortunately, I’m going to say that this isn’t a book for me at all.

two-stars

Broken Rebel by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 16th September 2017
Broken Rebel by Sherilee GrayBroken Rebel by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #2
Published by Swerve on October 10th 2017
Pages: 244
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one-star

They used to be best friends...but now, all they do is fight each other at every turn. She's loved him since he saved her from her evil stepmother all those years ago. He's sworn to never love her for fear of tainting her innocence with his criminal past.

What do you do when the one person you love is the one person you can’t have?

I’ll say from the start that I love Sherilee Gray’s writing, which is probably even harder to admit that the Lawless Kings series has been a sore disappointment so far. Gray’s prose is always easy to get through and her stories are decently plotted, so it was a huge surprise (or shock even) when I ended up with the problem of trying to get behind the protagonists and failing miserably.

‘Broken Rebel’ is in essence for me, a version of a toxic relationship—of enabling and needing—that presents a different definition of love that I find myself struggling to subscribe to. It’s something that the protagonists do acknowledge as well, which forms the basis for the screwed up relationship that they’ve always had. Having known each other all their lives and coming from broken pasts, Neco has always assumed the role as protector when she needed him. The years pass and Ruby appears to yearn for that status-quo, doing everything she can to get his attention back on her, which he rebuffs by doing every cruel and vile thing possible (including screwing a woman so that Ruby could see it) in the attempts to wean her off him.

I found it immensely difficult to even get on Neco’s side as he gives the (rather hypocritical and unbelievable) rationale that he is not good for her—having done unsavoury things—and is protecting her even from himself and his shady criminal past. With the idea that she’s forbidden goods, Neco’s repetitive justification of keeping her at a distance, saying hurtful things and screwing women while pretending it’s Ruby just didn’t sit with me at all. I got unhappier with page after page of the injustice he’d done to her, then suddenly turning up to ‘claim’ her as her man after she gets hurt badly and he wasn’t there to respond because he was preparing to get a blowjob in a strip club.

There were parts where I felt sorry for Ruby for enduring all that she had to endure just to get Neco’s attention, though her desperation for him made me cringe at times. Taking him back so easily after her short, albeit failed attempt to be the strong independent woman free of him meant she got him after all this time (with him reciprocating), though his obnoxious, protective and controlling behaviour even after this finally made me give up on the story.

Truth is, I’m conflicted about rating this book the way I have, all the more so because I know Gray has written books that I love. But the long and short of it is, ‘Broken Rebel’ doesn’t quite feel like a romance to me. Instead the ingredients for a ‘darker’ type of erotica are there, like the scorching sex, the alpha posturing, the overprotective ‘claiming’, but with Neco/Ruby having been caught in the game of hurtful push-pull for ages, the chest-heaving, angsty emotions that bled off the page merely convinced me that both these broken rebels might have really been better off without each other.

one-star

Game On by Lynn Stevens

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 22nd August 2017
Game On by Lynn StevensGame On by Lynn Stevens
Published by Entangled Publishing (Embrace) on September 18th 2017
Pages: 293
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one-star

Olivia Dawson doesn’t make mistakes. Unless those mistakes are a tall, broad-shouldered, cocky baseball player named Devon Miller. Devon and Olivia have been competing in their engineering classes since freshman year, and he seems to want nothing more than to get under her skin and shake her confidence. Unless you count that one time when he got under more than just her skin…

Now, they’re pitted against each other for a coveted internship that could open tons of doors for each of them. Only one of them can win. And they’re both ready to fight dirty if they need to.

Could Devon be playing for more than just his own gain—could he be after her heart?

Olivia is about to find out.

Game on.

‘Game On’ is a step back for me into New Adult, or rather, a college-age sports romance and after reading a few more ‘adult-ish’ books, took a wee bit of mental adjustment. Normally the transition is typically near-seamless, particularly if the plot and characters are stellar and there isn’t a huge step back in maturity levels. With the rivals to lovers trope in play here, ‘Game On’ sounded like something I could dig into.

But what I hadn’t counted on—which made me decidedly lukewarm—was Olivia Dawson’s past one-night stand with baseball player Devon Miller that happened when she was with another guy, who later broke up with her after she confessed that affair. It’s admittedly in the past and considered ‘just a mistake’ under the influence of alcohol, though that didn’t give me the best impression of her, not when she continued being judgemental, pugnacious and just an all-round pain in the arse after all this time.

That she nevertheless ends up with Devon—the guy she cheated with—while having a relationship somehow made light of that remorse. Cheating isn’t my thing (neither do I get off on it, though lately I find myself getting increasingly intolerant of it) and that tanked the book for me early on, as it tainted my whole impression of Olivia. With the entire story in her POV as well, ‘Game On’ was quite a let down from the start, especially when I found myself unable to take anymore of Olivia and gave up midway.

Obviously this series just isn’t for me—my preference rearing its head again quite strongly here—but as I’ve said before, it’s probably someone else’s cup of tea.

one-star

Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 14th August 2017
Under Locke by Mariana ZapataUnder Locke by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on June 24th 2014
Pages: 496
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one-star

He was my boss, my brother's friend, a Widow, an ex-felon, and a man I'd seen casually with a handful of women. But he was everything that gripped me, both the good and the bad. Worst case scenario if things turned awkward between us, I could go somewhere else. I'd gotten over epic heartbreak before, one more wouldn't kill me. -- After moving to Austin following six months of unemployment back home, Iris Taylor knows she should be glad to have landed a job so quickly... even if the business is owned by a member of the same motorcycle club her estranged father used to belong to. Except Dex Locke might just be the biggest jerk she's ever met. He's rude, impatient and doesn't know how to tell time. And the last thing they ever expected was each other. But it was either the strip club or the tattoo shop. ... she should have chosen the strip club. -- "Babe, I've handpicked everythin' and everyone in here. I know what I want and I get what I want," he breathed. "And I keep what's mine."

Lordy, I had a tough time with this one.

I think it takes a special sort of day and strength to read Mariana Zapata’s intimidatingly long books. They go on so long on a slow burn that you feel torn between tossing it and wanting to just finish it for the perverse pleasure of saying you’ve triumphed over the convoluted plot which could definitely have benefitted from about a hundred fewer pages of inner monologues. I’d managed ‘Kulti’ and ‘Dear Aaron’ without too much trouble, but ‘Under Locke’ proved a huge challenge to say the least.

My biggest problem nonetheless, was my inability to like both protagonists consistently throughout the book. Frankly, I was so put off by Zapata’s characters that I still ask myself why I tried to finish the story as it became apparent that my struggle began about halfway through when the problems with the MCs turf war, Iris’s deadbeat father and her supposedly one-sided love for her dominating, unreasonable bastard of a boss started to dovetail.

Zapata typically only writes in the female POV, so that pretty much shunts what every male lead of hers is thinking. You’ll need to infer from what everyone else in the book says about the hero in question and what you think you might be able to glean from the unreliable narrating of the female lead. Which isn’t to say Zapata’s female protagonists aren’t likeable though; they are mostly very relatable, sometimes wryly funny and I definitely can see shades of the everyday (wo)man in these leads.

Yet I mostly vacillated between sympathising for Iris’s honest, stuttering, down-to-earth blabber and hating her spineless, rollover behaviour, while pretty much despising Dex for being everything I hate in a male protagonist…who, despite being a mega-prick, actually amazed me when he got the woman he insulted crudely and for generally existing as an all-round possessive chauvinist pig. Throw in the manwhore and virgin extremes here and that just derailed the reading experience for me.

I had to call it in, which is a pity because I do like Zapata’s writing style. But ‘Under Locke’ just wasn’t the book for me—particularly so when I felt relief to put the story behind me.

one-star

Disavowed by Tee O’Fallon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 1st August 2017
Disavowed by Tee O’FallonDisavowed by Tee O'Fallon
Series: NYPD Blue & Gold #3
Published by Entangled Publishing (Select Suspense) on August 28th 2017
Pages: 363
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one-star

NYPD Detective Dom Carew can’t forget the violent way his lover was killed in Afghanistan fifteen years ago. The pain and trauma of her death still haunt him, and since then he hasn’t let a woman under his skin. Until one incredible, hot and steamy night with stunning and sassy Daisy Fowler.

Sexy, gorgeous, and hunky doesn’t begin to describe Dom Carew, but Daisy’s been burned by Dom before. A year ago, he bolted from her bed in the middle of the night without so much as a gee you were great in the sack, babe. Never laying eyes on his handsome face again is the plan. If only their paths didn’t keep crossing. If only she didn’t still find him irresistible as sin.

Seeing Daisy again sets Dom’s blood on fire, but he’s about to embark on the most dangerous undercover op of his life—infiltrate the Pyramid, an international organization of assassins. Love has no place in his heart or his world, but when the dangers of his job threaten Daisy, he’ll destroy anyone in his path to protect her.

This is my first Tee O’Fallon read but finding myself cringing and grimacing for most of the book doesn’t bode too well. There are times when I can sort of ‘ignore’ the protagonists and concentrate fully on the suspense and there are others when characters do trump everything else. And when a book—or rather, a main character—annoys you in the first chapter, that just feels like an ominous start.

For ‘Disavowed’, the latter held true and I found it difficult to get past the idiocy of the male protagonist enough to even enjoy the suspense. My hopes for it getting better waned when it appeared that Dom Carew spoilt it all from the beginning and the journey then on was a torture, at least when it came to the development of the relationship he and Daisy never really had.

I couldn’t get past the pure drivel that Dom kept spouting, let alone feel any sympathy for a ‘womanising asshole’ who, from the very beginning who uses women and leaves them in the middle of the night because of his own self-piteous reasoning that he was no good for anyone after his first and only love died in Afghanistan 15 long years ago.

Oh, boo hoo.

And of course Daisy stayed celibate in this one year and Dom continued going through women, though in his own words, he’d apparently never stopped thinking about her and behaving like he owned her. Adding to the hypocritical attitude is some jealous territorial behaviour that goes into overdrive when Daisy inadvertently gets involved in a case that he’s working undercover. That he’d put Daisy in an untenable position by using the excuse of work and his own personal heartbreak to keep her away yet taking every advantage of their sexual chemistry felt beyond unforgivable because she truly deserved better than his cavemannish ways.

Daisy on the other hand, pined a little too much. Though I understood her need to want some belonging, I found myself wishing she’d moved on from Dom as thoroughly as she could have, then flaunting it in his face as much as he used up every excuse in the book to remain an emotional coward. And why, oh why, did Daisy have to justify Dom’s behaviour when fifteen years surely must have been long enough even for her to stop making those same excuses for him?

Unfortunately, ‘Disavowed’ frustrated me to the point where I couldn’t read on. It’s clearly not the book for me in this case, particularly when I found myself way too annoyed to enjoy anything properly.

one-star
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