Tag: Cheaters Stand up

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left Cuba by Chanel CleetonWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on 9th April 2019
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Beautiful. Daring. Deadly.

The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.

As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart...

‘When we left Cuba’ isn’t quite a sequel to Chanel Cleeton’s much-loved ’Next Year in Havana’, the latter of which I do consider one of my best reads of the year. Still, it’s a book that stands on its own feet even if it’s less sweeping than its predecessor. Still, ‘When we left Cuba’ is a compellingly written story of the oldest Perez sister who struts her way through the pages, armed with the thirst for revenge as she somehow moseys her way into the clutches of the CIA while tangling with a senator whose a player in politics and in every sense of the word.

Within the fodder material of the fabled and many attempts of the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro is where Cleeton posits Beatriz Perez after her escape from Cuba, navigating the thorny issues of policy and politics of the time. Bold, hot-headed and reckless, Beatriz carves a path for herself that’s as treacherous as you’d expect, resulting in having her loyalties sorely tested as her decisions change the course of her life.
Cleeton writes in favour of long, descriptive passages of place and emotion; the pace is slower as a result, the plot a little more convoluted. The romance isn’t quite the focus here; rather, Beatriz herself is the star of the show, front and centre. Her long, longstanding affair with a powerful senator is carried out amidst society’s expectations and the uncertain political climate, a subplot that runs alongside her involvement with the CIA.

I’ll admit though, that it is harder to be singularly or emotionally invested in Beatriz completely as I was in Cleeton’s first book about Elisa and her granddaughter. Undoubtedly, Beatriz is a colourful character who stands out sharply—sometimes too painfully sharply like a woman cut from a different cloth—not just by means of her birth but also her life experiences, but ultimately, she’s still a protagonist whose story I read about from a distance as she made her own small stamp on history, for better or worse.

Cleeton’s impactful writing carries it all here, despite the odd hollowness I felt about Beatriz by the end. It’s what took me through the politics, the lies, the dirty games and the passing of time within the pages after all and it’s what keeps me coming back.
three-stars

Clint by Debra Webb

Clint by Debra WebbClint by Debra Webb
Published by Pink House Press on November 16th 2018
Pages: 297
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four-stars

ALL SHE WANTS IS JUSTICE...

Who killed Emily Wallace's best friend ten years ago? Emily is certain it was Clint Austin, the town bad boy. As the key witness, Emily ensured Clint was convicted and sentenced for the crime. When he is released on parole, Emily is determined that he never forget what he has done.

HE WILL HAVE HIS REVENGE...

Clint Austin served ten years for a crime he did not commit. No one or nothing is going to stand in his way of finding the truth and clearing his name--not even the naive young girl he once loved from afar.

When the fire between them blazes out of control, will either one survive? Or will the real killer strike again?

The toxicity of small towns—where everyone it seems, is guilty of one thing or another—and the massive cover-up is the focus of ‘Clint’, as Debra Webb unravels the poison that people have been living with the past decade, since the murder of Heather Baker.

Finally getting parole after a decade in prison, Clint Austin’s release stirs up Pine Bluff’s anger and ruffles more than a few feathers and brings all the dirty secrets to light that most people need to see buried. Rough-hewn, cynically bitter but determined to clear his name, Clint bulldozes his way through a hometown hell-bent on getting him back in jail where they think he belongs,

I couldn’t figure out how the pieces added up somehow: there are affairs, rumours of cheating, ruthless ambitions, a corrupt police force, sideways glances that hide so many things, and dialogues that bring you to the brink of some kind of breakthrough but don’t reveal much more. A bunch of red-herrings in the multiple POVs that Webb provides certainly contributes to the confusion and the continual guessing.

That it involves a bunch of adults (still living in the same town) trying to cover their high-school depravities however, makes this feel more petty than the usual high-octane and high-level crime stories because of the subject matter and circumstances.

Nonetheless, I’ve always liked Webb’s writing and ‘Clint’ is yet another reminder why I do. Gritty, emotion-laden and full of suspense, Webb spins a web (pun intended?) of mystery that’s easy to get caught up in from the first chapter onwards, with a vivid picture of the wrongly accused man who’d wasted 10 years of his life. The complicated relationship between Clint and his unlikely enemy-turned-accomplice Emily Wallace was as intriguing—and almost forbiddingly hot—as it was unexpected, and I grew to admire Emily’s steely core as the story progressed.

I did wish however, for a conclusion that didn’t skip the HEA that Clint/Emily had ‘off-stage’ so to speak; their alliance throughout the book lasted a mere week and in that short time, I felt like I’d missed out on their enemies-to-lovers tale which did deserve a little more drawn-out attention than what was given in any case. The gripe aside, ‘Clint’—as a re-release of the story formerly known as ’Traceless’ all those years ago—is like re-discovering an old friend: it’s a reminder of the older but solid and classic romantic suspense titles (when RS was at its peak) of which I couldn’t get enough.

four-stars

Unspeakable by Elisabeth Naughton

Unspeakable by Elisabeth NaughtonUnspeakable by Elisabeth Naughton
Series: Deadly Secrets #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 20th November 2018
Pages: 304
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four-stars

All his siblings have moved on from their troubling pasts, but Rusty McClane can’t leave his behind. Not even when his freedom is in jeopardy.

Legal investigator Harper Blake can sense a bad boy. She’s drawn to them—like she is to her mysterious and brooding new client. The police believe that Rusty is involved with the case of a missing underage girl. Harper’s job is to find evidence to defend him. But is her sexy suspect a predator…or something else?

If Rusty is guilty of anything, it’s of stirring something primitive in Harper. The closer they get, the harder it is to believe the worst of him.

But in an underworld filled with sex trafficking, kidnapping, and murder, Harper will need to be cautious about whom she trusts. Because Rusty isn’t the only one with secrets.

Elisabeth Naughton’s ‘Deadly Secrets’ is a series that constantly surprises me, and much of that has to do with how Naughton weaves stories built on the unrelated personal histories of each adopted McClane sibling’s varied pasts. ‘Unspeakable’ is an engaging suspense right from the start and one that quite pointedly starts out by shaping Rusty McClane first, as a questionable protagonist and then later, a gruff and compelling shiny knight in armour living a double life and is quite worthy of the romantic-hero-accolade.

And it’s Rusty who shines, along with his demons, his irresistible vigilante persona—Stephen Amell as the Arrow keeps coming to mind—that he hides from everyone. However, I had my reservations about the disgraced ex-cop Harper Blake—her own shady history, her eagerness to work with Rusty and her personal agenda that she keeps from him—because for quite a bit of the story, the self-serving bit of dishonesty just to get her lost career back and her reliance on their sexual chemistry to get things moving kept nagging at me. With a quick-fire conflict-climax-resolution that was offered almost as an aside towards the end, it was admittedly, harder to root for a pairing as solidly as I thought I would after a spectacular beginning.

Danger and intrigue are present throughout which makes the book hard to put down once I dug in. There are brilliants scenes alternating between the gut-churning sex trade and the sultry heat that builds between Rusty and Harper, and coupled with a good number of players (and a series of ‘generational’ coincidences attributed to fate that might be a little hard to swallow) that Naughton juggles quite effortlessly.

So bottom-line here: my own quibbles with the heroine aside, ‘Unspeakable’ is a sufficiently complex, not too convoluted read and by and large, a pretty good addition to the RS genre that I’m always putting my nose in.

four-stars

More Than Words by Mia Sheridan

More Than Words by Mia SheridanMore Than Words by Mia Sheridan
Published by Forever on 12th June 2018
Pages: 336
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one-star

The moment she met Callen Hayes, eleven-year-old Jessica Creswell knew he was a broken prince. Her prince. They became each other's refuge, a safe and magical place far from their troubled lives. Until the day Callen kissed her--Jessica's first real, dreamy kiss—and then disappeared from her life without a word.

Years later, everyone knows who Callen Hayes is. Famous composer. Infamous bad boy. What no one knows is that Callen's music is now locked deep inside, trapped behind his own inner demons. It's only when he withdraws to France to drink his way through the darkness that Callen stumbles into the one person who makes the music return. Jessica. His Jessie. And she still tastes of fresh, sweet innocence . . . even as she sets his blood on fire.

But they don't belong in each other's worlds anymore. There are too many mistakes. Too many secrets. Too many lies. All they have is that instinctive longing, that need—and something that looks dangerously like love.

The blurb for ‘More of You’ was intriguing and given that there are some of Mia Sheridan’s work I do like, I have to say that this book tested my patience and crossed several personal boundaries for me: adultery and cheating, even though it’s probably Sheridan’s idea to show how far Callen had fallen before the journey of his redemption begins, with a girl whom he’d once shared some dreams with.

From the start, I had the inkling that ‘flights of fancy’ might have been the phrase to describe the sort of relationship Jessica and Callen had. In the prologue, Jessica and Callen had a connection forged in in fairytales and fantasies which felt fanciful for me, but then this is probably my cynical self speaking—I found it less grounded in reality and more wrapped in cotton-wool in fact. Granted, as children, seeking to escape the difficult situations at home, this was a scenario that I could accept.

But it was hard to continue thereafter—maintaining objectivity was harder if I was supposed to be invested in this story as a romance—when it became clear Callen wasn’t a character who had integrity, whose reprehensible, degenerate behaviour wasn’t what I could or wanted to root for in the beginning, much less care about his journey back to ’normalcy’ from the start. Having spent most of the book insisting that he was could not be the man Jessica deserved and pushing her away merely gave weight to what he really was after all: unworthy.

That Jessica, who remained an inexperienced virgin throughout the 10 years and kept trying to see him as her prince with rose-coloured glasses didn’t make her any less bewildering or weak a character for doing so. Her caving so easily to his charms while he became a manwhore was the last straw for me, especially when it sounded like this was going to be a contrived virgin-saves-the-rake-with-her-purity and goodness sort of tale.

I couldn’t scrub my mind off this book quickly enough. I never quite thought this day would come, but my stabby, explosive and fit-throwing reaction to ‘More of You’ is probably a good sign that Mia Sheridan and I need to part ways.

one-star

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

Love and Other Words by Christina LaurenLove and Other Words by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on April 10th 2018
Pages: 432
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four-stars

The story of the heart can never be unwritten.

Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away.

But when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos—the first and only love of her life—the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world—growing from her gangly bookish friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother...only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.

Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends to much more—spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco devouring books, sharing favorite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

One thing I know after reading ‘Love and Other Words’ is that that’s Christina Lauren’s searing, literary-tinged writing is the book’s standout, more so because of a romance built on intellect, the love of words and books. Lauren takes on the second-chance romance with aplomb here and I’m grudgingly admitting that the unusual mix of circumstances and events do make this scenario more plausible than many others that I’ve come across, thereby making Elliot/Macy a pairing that aren’t back together just because they decided to give it a go once again.

Told with interspersed flashbacks but only in Macy’s POV, Elliot’s and Macy’s story is one of teenage love, love lost and then found again many years later, all because a mistake turns into a history of grief and tragedy that neither could have expected. In the present, serendipity—written as fate that would inevitably draw these one-time lovers back together again—forces an awkward reunion in a coffee shop and the moment Elliot and Macy are back in each other’s orbits, their coming back together despite the circumstances is written and seen as inevitability. If the timeline in the past is one of anticipatory dread to the moment where they are torn apart, the present crawls a little, almost moving backwards as it constantly points towards the upcoming revelation of what really happened before closing with a short (and rather abrupt) resolution thereafter.

Structurally, ‘Love and Other Words’ is well-balanced between past and present, as the measured but slow pacing of Elliot’s and Macy’s relationship builds to a point where you cannot—or would not—look away from the train wreck that’s coming. The rocky road back together isn’t necessarily an enjoyable a journey for every reader nonetheless; Macy’s engagement and Elliot’s quick breakup with his girlfriend mean that secondary characters do play a role here, and it could be argued that cheating (sort-of) had been a significant part of the whole mess.

There’s breadth and depth in the storytelling and insights given into the emotional damage they’ve both carried throughout the years, though it is harder to believe however, that they could gravitate towards each other again that easily and quickly after 11 years. I actually wanted to know if there was really any comeuppance for the guilty parties involved which felt glossed over, but Lauren does not get into the tic-for-tac business nonetheless. This is my own cynical and vindictive self speaking clearly, as the focus steadfastly remains on the idea of star-crossed lovers and soul mates who, after having established their belonging to each other in their teens, seem destined to always love and find each other again no matter the distance. Elliot/Macy are, by this time, above the mistakes of their past, though I would have been happier seeing a more concrete resolution that didn’t just span the last 2 or so chapters wrapping up their HEA that prioritised their moving on and moving in together.

‘Love and Other Words’ does however, suggest that there’s only ‘the one’ without whom the other can’t function properly—it’s an idea I’m vaguely uncomfortable with, despite the commonly-held romantic notion perpetuated in fiction that 2 people are simply biding time (with others) before they can get back to each other. Furthermore, Elliot’s assumption that they could have waved the past away with an explanation of his drunken mistake without considering the ramifications of the betrayal felt overly optimistic as well; that it should be forgiven because he hadn’t known he was making the mistake at the time just doesn’t feel justified enough.

But maybe I’m grasping at straws for a pretty entertaining read; the all-is-right-with-the-world ending is what Elliot/Macy’s dreams are supposed to be made of after all, isn’t it?

four-stars

Should’ve Been You by Nicole McLaughlin

Should’ve Been You by Nicole McLaughlinShould've Been You by Nicole McLaughlin
Series: Man Enough #3
Published by Swerve on January 30th 2018
Pages: 250
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two-stars

National Guardsman Jase Beckford wants to live a quiet life raising cattle and taking care of his mother. His childhood friend and neighbor Hannah is still his best friend, but when he walks into the Walters house one morning and sees her twin sister Becca for the first time in five years, he wonders if he missed out on something special.

Becca Walters has nursed a secret crush on Jase since childhood, but he always preferred Hannah, so she buried her feelings assuming her sister and Jase would one day turn their flirtation into a real relationship. And this Christmas, she is anticipating a proposal of her own, so Jase’s reappearance in her life doesn’t mean anything. Much. Okay, maybe more than Becca would like to admit.

However, when Becca’s sister gets engaged to someone who’s not Jase, Becca and Jase find themselves spending more together. And when secrets are revealed, suddenly those dormant feelings come back to life; but is the possibility of something between them worth risking the happiness of everyone they love?

I do like Nicole McLaughlin’s writing and was hoping that ‘Should’ve been you’ could recreate the sort of feels I got with ‘Maybe I Do’.

What a mess this turned out to be.

Let’s start with the unrequited love (or crush) that Becca had on Jase for many years. But he was the boy who never noticed her because he and her twin sister Hannah had always seemed to be on the edge of something more. And though they’d never gotten there, Becca had since moved away and on with her life, to get to get out of their way, and to escape the pain of feeling something for someone who doesn’t reciprocate.

I do root for the underdog, so the character who nurses a secret crush, and tries to do something about it instead of pining for decades without moving on gets my sympathy and vote. But what I found out to my horror however, was a love triangle of sorts where everyone seemed unsure of what they felt and ended up instead playing each other, whether intentionally or not.

Jase/Hannah/Becca were never too sure about where the boundaries between friends and lovers lie and as a consequence, I couldn’t be sure myself if the Jase/Becca were the main pairing here or relegated to secondary characters in their own story, given how much Jase/Hannah seemed to take centre stage in the first half of the book. Throw in Becca’s own jealous ex and things get doubly more complicated and convoluted, particularly when Jase finally decided that he wanted Becca after clarity finally struck…at a somewhat bad time in their lives.

Jase and Becca did eventually get their act together, though their rushed HEA, after all the drama (some of it bordered on cheating, perhaps, depending on your definition of it), didn’t seem as though it’d come convincingly. It’d felt too conveniently like Jase jumping from one sister to the other and I couldn’t quite believe that he and Becca had actually sufficiently worked out their years of angst, misunderstandings and their own confused desires before they jumped into bed and declared all was well with the world. For all that McLaughlin had laid out for us, their colossally knotted issues would have taken more than just the whole Christmas period to untangle.

Sadly, ‘Should’ve been You’ turned out to be more of a disappointment because it fell flatter than I expected. There’s no denying that it is a cute story with everything nicely wrapped up in a bow-tie kind of end, more so because it’s a holiday book where you see the snowflakes and feel the holiday cheer. But looking past the glitter, I simply couldn’t feel that kind of book-satisfaction and the couple-love despite their happy ending.

two-stars

EXP1RE by Erin Noelle

EXP1RE by Erin NoelleEXP1RE by Erin Noelle
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on October 26th 2017
Pages: 168
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one-star

Numbers. They haunt me. I can't look into a person's eyes without seeing the six-digit date of their death. I’m helpless to change it, no matter how hard I try. I’ve trained myself to look down. Away. Anywhere but at their eyes.My camera is my escape. My salvation. Through its lens, I see only beauty and life—not death and despair. Disconnected from all those around me, I’m content being alone, simply existing. Until I meet him. Tavian. The man beyond the numbers. How can I stay away, when everything about him draws me in?But how can I fall in love, knowing exactly when it will expire?

I swear I felt the chills in the beginning chapter. Loved the premise, the strange oddness and the sense of foreboding that I couldn’t shake, enough to fly through the pages, and go on the armchair holiday that both Lyra and Tavian went for when a bombing at an airport derails their plans.

And if I liked their chemistry and attraction, I couldn’t shake off the blatant cheating in here when all the arguments initially put out by both Lyra and Tavian about being morally above it just fell apart because their desire trumped it. What happened to the initial self-righteous boasts about not wanting ever to be the other woman? Or not being a cheat or a lying bastard in a relationship?

That was when it all fell apart for me and everything that happened after – the sheer lack of remorse justified by the feelings they invoked in each other, the cowardice shown by Tavian, the repulsive way he treated his longterm girlfriend because he’s found his soulmate – was consequently harder and harder to swallow. I didn’t like how the story seemed to condone the cheating; neither could I like the characters for not doing anything about what they already knew was wrong, destined soulmates or not. In short, this was something I couldn’t look past and frankly, didn’t want to.

The only thing that kept me reading (though my interest had by then, waned significantly) was the twist in the story and how the author was going to resolve the problem of rewriting destiny, so to speak. A peek into the first few chapters of the second book simply showed that both protagonists had become characters I don’t recognise at all. That the author had to make the wronged party – Tavian’s Fiancée – the villain in the story when she was clearly the one who was short-changed left me flabbergasted and well, repulsed. So despite the cliffhanger ending in book 1, I’m probably more than happy to bid this goodbye, right about now.

one-star