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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

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd August 2017
Hate to Want You by Alisha RaiHate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts, #1
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

One night. No one will know.

That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts-and the last names that made them enemies.

Until the night she didn’t show up.

Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want…so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?

Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence–and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.

Being together might be against all the rules…but being apart is impossible.

‘Hate to Want You’ starts off fabulously—Alisha Rai’s writing drew me in immediately—with a hostile relationship that’s got its odd quirks: 2 people who started off as a couple who became ex-es who then became annual hookups. I liked forbidden elements to relationships, which was why I wanted to dive straight into it.

I hesitate to call this a modern day Romeo and Juliet retelling, but that’s my stubbornness talking about what I feel is Shakespeare’s worst (and most farcical) play ever. But Nicholas’s and Livvy’s strange arrangement made me want to know more and it did take a while before I could really try to make sense of why they are that way.

But I generally didn’t see Nicholas and Livvy as exactly star-crossed lovers; they are just a couple pulled apart by family pressures and their own inability to handle themselves beyond that. That they went on that way for nearly a decade simply seemed inconceivable to me when one of them could have simply pulled back and stopped or pushed and gone all the way, especially when there was a pain-pleasure cycle which they seemed to perversely enjoy. Much of the ‘action’ is tuned inwards, concerned with revelations, realisations and changing perceptions and there’s a constant angsty thread that seem to belong in the NA genre with erotica thrown into the mix.

Getting to the bottom of their story however, is really about getting through a huge load of family drama and a family feud that’s irreparable. It’s overwhelming to see just how bitchy everyone can be—yes, even the protagonists—but the backstabbing and the underhanded plots for vengeance and avoidance did get tiresome after a while. At some parts it became a soap opera that shows up how dysfunctional everything is in every sense of the word and it’s accompanied by self-flegallation and so much deep emoting that it merely becomes a hot mess of bitter familial relations.

Overall, I wasn’t entirely convinced about this pairing not because the emotional depth is lacking but because Nicholas and Livvy’s HEA still seemed marred by too much history that made me wonder if they were really better apart with clean breaks after all. ‘Hate to Want You’ however, is catnip for those who love drowning in angsty reads and while I’m still sort of wondering how the rest of the pairings will play out, having more ‘forbidden’ pairings to come within the dysfunctional feuding families is frankly, an intimidating prospect.

three-stars

Mess With me by Nicole Helm

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 18th July 2017
Mess With me by Nicole HelmMess with Me by Nicole Helm
Series: Mile High Romance #2
Published by Zebra on August 29th 2017
Pages: 231
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two-stars

In Gracely, Colorado, it s all about the climb into the rugged Rocky Mountains, and over the obstacles that life has thrown in your way. With the right partner, the view from the top is grand . . . Sam Goodall knows how to hide. And in the years since his sister s death, he s done just that, burying himself in his work at the Evans brothers Mile High Adventures as a backpacking guide. Clients don t mind his strong, silent demeanor, and he s happy to leave the rest of the world behind when he s hiking, or holed up in the off-grid cabin he calls home. But he owes his life what there is of it to the Evans boys, and when they ask for a favor, he can t refuse. Hayley Winthrop is looking for something she s never had a true sense of family, and a purpose. Finding her half brothers was the first step discovering where she belongs in the world is the next. Could it be in the fresh air of small-town Gracely? With hunky Sam agreeing to train her as an outdoors guide, she s torn between exploring her newfound skills and getting closer to him. But chipping away at the walls around Sam could take a lifetime . . . Sam is stuck in the past, and Hayley is looking toward her future they re a mismatched pair from the start. But the connection between them right now is too good to let go . . ."

I’m a tad conflicted about ‘Mess With Me’, the second book in Nicole Helm’s Mile High Adventures series.

Sam Goodall, the tortured hero was mouthwateringly enticing—the circumstances that made him that way drew me like a moth to flame rather than his yeti-like appearance—which meant that the story started off well. But then it sagged in the middle when the plot seemed to be more of the same from the start: Hayley Winthrop gaining some courage to test out her newfound independence on the unwitting Sam, who in turn, gets drawn out from his cold shell of self-recriminating isolation because of her, all through their training sessions. In essence, there was too much to-and-fro without the sense of anything very significant happening, despite Sam’s intriguing backstory drawing me in from the start.

Hayley was one of those heroines who had me rooting for her at the beginning, only for this sentiment to fizzle out when I just didn’t see her in a better place by the end of the book. In fact, it was harder to like her by the end of it; there was this passive-aggressive vibe in her that rubbed me the wrong way, though her uncertainty and hesitance were understandable in the beginning before it got annoying in the middle. I did understand—sort of—her familial conflict and her need to please people, though her assertion of her own independence vacillated between feeling timidly guilty and then lashing out too often that I just got fed up with her.

I only perked up when Helm introduced the conflict for the next book through the character of Tori, who spiced the dynamics up between the Evans brothers a little more and finally took the focus off Hayley’s self-pity, irrational behaviour and her constant musings about her inability to fit in as the ‘outsider’. Which clearly means that I’m cautiously optimistic for Tori’s story and those years of unresolved history with Will that is bound to explode in their faces. I just hope that it’ll be a ride that would be worth it.

two-stars

All I Want for Halloween by Marie Harte

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 30th June 2017
All I Want for Halloween by Marie HarteAll I Want for Halloween by Marie Harte
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 26th 2017
Pages: 352
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two-stars

When Sadie Liberato is cajoled by her brother to attend a costume party a month before Halloween, she had no idea she'd fall for a handsome devil in a mask. Or that she'd have one hellishly fine encounter in the dark. But when her masked devil turns out to be Gear Blackstone, fallen TV reality star of the super popular show, Motorcycle Madnezz, she wonders if this is a match made in heaven or hell...

‘All I want for Halloween’ starts out fun and gossipy in a way about celebrities that had me laughing at the parody, then made it work by introducing a female lead who seemed to know just what she was doing, and yet was funny and gutsy to boot. And I’d thought there and then, that we had a winner.

After all, who can say that they’ve looked with disdain from afar, then came face to face with the very person you’ve been seeing on screen and been judgemental about? As someone watching from the outside, Sadie Liberato’s own reaction to the whole mess of a cheating ex and Motorcycle Madnezz’s end of an era on tv closely mirrored mine…minus the incidental meeting and the sexy times.

But past Gear’s and Sadie’s first (rather acrobatic) public, masked-sex at the party, it was hard to sustain interest in a pairing because I couldn’t tell just what direction their relationship was going to take. Throw in the sudden influx of characters in the midway point and the copious number of sex scenes—I really did get the point early on that sex between them was hot and stratospheric and got bored when that just went on and on—, it started to fall flat at the quarter-mark of the story, when Gear and Sadie find themselves in a semblance of dating but are convinced that they’re nothing more than that while their actions prove otherwise. Adamant that their ‘relationship’ is casual, much of it felt like lust masquerading as love still, even as both eventually do come to the conclusion that they are already there with their emotions.

Overall, I feel as though I should have liked this better than I did, but throughout it all, I simply found myself impatiently wanting to see the story get somewhere and was disappointed when it didn’t quite. Instead it dragged on and I finally started to skim, almost relieved when Gear/Sadie got it into their heads that they were on the same emotional page because that was where the story also ended.

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

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

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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