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The Negotiator by HelenKayDimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 8th November 2017
The Negotiator by HelenKayDimonThe Negotiator by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #2.5
Published by Avon Impulse on November 14th 2017
Pages: 128
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one-star

Lauren Gallagher’s life changed almost three years ago. After her husband disappeared at sea, she was left with a failing pleasure boat company and more than a few secrets. Now, after years spent rebuilding the business and paying off the pile of debts, she finally feels in control. But when she finds her husband, actually dead, on the floor, she becomes the leading suspect in his murder investigation.

Garrett McGrath wants Lauren in his bed, not his heart. He doesn’t do emotions, but every time he sees her, holding himself back gets harder and harder. When Lauren comes under suspicion for killing her previously presumed-dead husband, he knows he has to help her, any way he can.

But as the danger becomes more intense and Garret and Lauren grow closer than either planned, they’re in danger of losing everything…including their hearts.

HelenKay Dimon’s ‘Games People Play’ series is an odd one. Mostly about men who’d grown up disenfranchised, emotionally stunted but wealthy, their HEAs come in such unexpected ways that I don’t really know what to expect in each book. And that arguably, can either be the series’ selling point or its glaring flaw, because it hasn’t quite worked too well for me so far.

Having seen Garrett flit in and out of the series and from the odd, charming way he’d done so, I’ve known from the start that I wanted his story told. But ‘The Negotiator’ was however, a disappointing one—all the more so because I was hoping for a more heart-pounding ride—and I struggled quite a bit to get into it. I’m not too sure what it was, but there was something about the way the narrative—nothing with Dimon’s writing style really—unfolded that just couldn’t hold my attention. There were just insufficient spikes/drops and excitement to keep my interest in the story, a lack of driving focus slowing the pace down even, from the odd way it started to the way it developed with so many details and names stuffed into the first few pages.

I couldn’t finish the story as a result and perhaps it’s also time to say that this series isn’t one I’ll be continuing any longer.

one-star

Man Candy by Jessica Lemmon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 15th October 2017
Man Candy by Jessica LemmonMan Candy by Jessica Lemmon
Series: Real Love #3
Published by Loveswept on January 9th 2018
Pages: 191
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two-stars

Dax:
After spending the summer buried up to my eyeballs in my family’s affairs, I’m ready for a break. The kind of break where I can spend two solid weeks camping and fishing in the company of absolutely no one. Then I find myself directly in the path of a drop-dead gorgeous tornado by the name of Becca Stone. Who can resist a night with a damsel in distress? Especially when she happens to be a leggy blonde? The last thing I expect is for Becca to show up on my cabin doorstep the next night, shivering in the rain and ready for seconds.

Becca: One minute I’m admiring the rock-hard jaw of the Magic Mike lookalike who walks into my bar, and the next I’m getting fired by my own brother. Loudly. In front of everyone. Luckily Dax Vaughn is a gentleman who aims his white-hot smile at me. Oh, it’s on. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. Then a torrential storm washes out the main road and causes a massive power outage, giving us two whole weeks to enjoy each other’s company. At which point Dax will go back home, leaving “us” in the rearview mirror. That’s the plan. Or it was . . . until I started falling for him.

Overall, an underwhelming read, particularly so when we’re simply taken through a bar hook-up, a lot of flirting and a session in bed thereafter, all within the starting pages.

Without the buildup of sexual tension or even any inkling of where Dax and Becca were going, I couldn’t quite see a direction for the story for the first half of the book, much less a couple with a path ahead of them since all they wanted was one night together.

With a lacklustre meeting, a hookup and inclement weather that forces a pairing together who really shouldn’t be together, the truth is, I was bored. Dax—the older hero who’s gotten his thoughts and convictions straight in his head—chases while Becca gives every excuse to run. And that’s the holding pattern that we see, which made it hard to see the point of their interaction, especially given a flaky female protagonist with a penchant for running away and not grow up.

Admittedly, I do prefer my heroines who dig in, get dirty (and not just in bed) and put themselves out there while holding up their big-girl panties in order to make the big decisions that really matter, so Becca just didn’t do it for me when all we get from her was insecure deflection and frustrating evasion because she simply couldn’t hold anything down, much less admit that she wanted Dax for longer than she thought. Commit-less, rootless and an emotional coward in every sense of the word, Becca’s contrast to Dax is a stark one and Jessica Lemmon’s attempt to bridge this gap through the slow revealing of their personal histories past the sex merely seemed to show how ill-suited they were for each other past their bedroom antics.

Somehow, ‘Man Candy’ reads like a story that I’ve come across elsewhere a hundred times—even role-reversal stories where the female protagonist only wants temporary arrangements are dime a dozen. While there is a huge amount of flirtation, scorching sex (which is never the problem in romance books anyway), I pretty much struggled with the lack of depth and the predictability in this book, as well as with a pairing forged out by lust and not too much else.

two-stars

The Pretender by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 23rd September 2017
The Pretender by HelenKay DimonThe Pretender by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #3
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

They say it takes a thief to catch a thief, and Harrison Tate is proof. Once a professional burglar, he now makes a lawful living tracking down stolen art. No one needs to know about his secret sideline, “liberating” artifacts acquired through underhanded methods. At least until one of those jobs sees him walking in on a murder.

Gabrielle Wright has long been estranged from her wealthy family, but she didn’t kill her sister. Trouble is, the only person who can prove it is the sexy, elusive criminal who shouldn’t have been at the island estate on that terrible night. She’s not expecting honor among thieves—or for their mutual attraction to spark into an intense inferno of desire.

Under the guise of evaluating her family’s art, Harris comes back to the estate hoping to clear Gabby’s name. But returning to the scene of the crime has never been riskier, with their hearts and lives on the line.

‘The Pretender’ is HelenKay Dimon’s third foray into a group of mysterious men who do mysterious things and it’s one of those books that tend to leave me (as the previous books in this series have) with a very unfulfilled sense of ending, because of the very nature of these men and women who are frankly, difficult to get into.

It isn’t a slight on Dimon’s writing at all, because that itself is quite polished and I love this particular bit about Dimon that keeps me coming back for her books. In fact, the beginning chapter sucked me in straight as a watching art thief gets embroiled in a vicious murder, whose presence—should he confirm it—would exonerate a woman accused of many things. But from there onwards I found myself putting down and picking up the story so many times over the span of about a week or so, just unable to get deeper into the mystery that didn’t unfold as quickly for me as I liked.

There is a boat load of things going on, as there is a weird claustrophobic feel of the island setting as characters find themselves as potential pawns and suspects, but the pieces of this puzzle are doled out piecemeal and very sparingly in the first half.

It was tooth-clenchingly hard to get them put together, and I was frustrated when the pacing stuttered because the protagonists chose sex over talking too often, leaving half-truths on the table as trust is treated almost as secondary to passion. There is some form of continuing deception and dishonesty on both Harris and Gabby’s sides while a murderer is running loose, and this proves ultimately not only distracting but puts the whole relationship on shaky foundation that consequently made it hard to get invested in.

But because ‘The Pretender’ tried to juggle the whodunnit element of a mystery thriller with the obstacles of what deception might to do a relationship that began on the wrong footing, there were parts where the mystery was going nowhere when motives didn’t generally become that much clearer even as the story went on. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed with this one—the difficulty in finishing the book was enough proof of it.

two-stars

Hard Justice by April Hunt

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 5th September 2017
Hard Justice by April HuntHard Justice by April Hunt
Series: Alpha Security, #3
Published by Forever on August 29th 2017
Pages: 352
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two-stars

A DATE WITH DANGER As the first female operative at Alpha Security, Charlotte "Charlie" Sparks has her work cut out for her. Sure, she can wrestle a man to the ground and hit a target at 200 yards with the best of them. But sometimes, being surrounded by all that testosterone can drive a woman to distraction-especially when that distraction is six-and-a-half feet of cocky, confident, Alpha-trained muscle. Ex-SEAL commander Vince Franklin has been on some of the most dangerous missions in the world. But pretending to be Charlie's fiancé on their latest assignment in Miami is his toughest challenge yet. Vince and Charlie are like oil and water; they just don't mix. And when their fake romance generates some all-too-real heat, Vince learns that Charlie is more than just arm candy. She's the real deal-and she's ready for some serious action.

When a relationship begins with antagonism, I’m typically up to my ears with glee because the 180-degree flip later is typically steamy, jaw-dropping and plain old fun to read. I’d hoped ‘Hard Justice’ was going to be that, since working undercover on a case together seemed to be just the catalyst of what was supposed to ignite the latent attraction between Vince and Charlie at least.

And to some extent, it started off that way. I fed off the hostile push-pull vibes at the beginning and really did think that Charlie stood her ground well against Vince. But as the action wore on and Charlie’s complicated past came to light, it wasn’t long before doubts started to creep in about whether this pairing was meant to be, especially when 2 very strong and very opposing personalities seem to clash and clash always without passable compromise.

At every turn, Vince and Charlie went up against each other for 1 reason or another—the former trusts careful planning while Charlie more impetuously dives straight into action—and I found this never-ending tussling (punching, yelling, shouting, insulting) between them more wearying than titillating. If it was supposed to be amping up sexual tension, all I could really see was scrappy, irascible arguing with a side dose of lust, which eclipsed the case of abducted women and human trafficking they were supposed to be working on. There was a basic lack of trust and very reactive behaviour—I wasn’t even sure if they liked each other!—on both sides so far down the line that I think I got emotional whiplash from their lashing out at each other when neither could really sit down to communicate honestly.

It was a struggle to stay interested in the story thereafter, not just because of their tussling but ever harder to believe that it had all turned to love by the end of it, which isn’t’ to say it isn’t a decent read. There’s certainly action, suspense and a very Hollywood-type climax and ending (all the ingredients for RS)—and April Hunt does write quite well for that matter—which leaves me thinking that the pairing and the story just didn’t appeal to me as much as I thought it would.

two-stars

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
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