Tag: Chick lit

Stay with Me by Jules Bennett

Stay with Me by Jules BennettStay with Me by Jules Bennett
Series: Return to Haven #1
Published by Zebra on March 27th 2018
Pages: 221
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three-stars


Small-town Haven, Georgia, is home to generations of families, plenty of Southern charm, and an airport that's seen better days. But as three friends are about to discover, love gives everything wings . . .


At eighteen, Olivia Daniels left Haven behind and never looked back. Doggedly climbing the corporate ladder, she's finally nearing the top when her father dies--leaving her part-owner of the run-down airport that was his first love. It's a complication Olivia intends to wrap up quickly--buying out her co-owner and selling the land. Good thing her childhood best friends are with her for moral support. Because one look at her new partner is proof that her tidy plan has hit turbulence . . .

Jackson Morgan practically grew up in Haven's airport, and no one could have been a better mentor than Olivia's dad. Flight is in Jackson's blood, but his roots are firmly planted, and there's no way he's giving up the airport--not even for sassy, headstrong Olivia, his childhood crush. Coming to an agreement won't be easy, especially when the attraction between them soars to new heights every day. Love definitely wasn't on the itinerary, but is it enough to keep them together for a lifetime trip? . . .

‘Stay with Me’ is simply a book that tries to bring 2 very different people, their differing goals and their diverging circumstances together and finally trying to make it work. It’s not exactly rom-com kind of material, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect with this story, but there wasn’t any doubt that this is a light-hearted, small town read with an unusual enough premise for Olivia to meet Jax again—the younger man who’d nursed an adolescent crush on her and is now all man to know what he wants.

There were misunderstandings along the way, past hurts that come to light as both Olivia and Jax needed to work through that on their own, and a 4-year-old who spoke in a way that was way too old for her age. Throw in the perfect setup of future couples and the trilogy for Jules Bennett’s ‘Haven’ series is set.

In fact, it wasn’t hard to like Jax at all, who, despite being younger (but capable single-father), showed more sense and maturity than Olivia who spent more time denying her emotions, running away and reiterating how much her career meant to her. Yet if this was to prove that age difference was merely a number and not a sign of the older being better, I thought ‘Stay with Me’ succeeded a little too well. Not that I naturally expected Olivia to behave better because she was older of the pairing, but because I didn’t expect that she would be a ruthless corporate shark in one life and a petulant, delusional coward out of her office comfort zone who didn’t give an inch at all.

The angsty build-up took me by surprise as a consequence, and I couldn’t get over the pacing of the impending climax and the abrupt resolution—Jax’s constant, exhausting chase vs. Olivia’s capitulation, and the love declarations that quite literally happened in the last 2 pages—which made for an ending that actually had me examining the file to see if I’d downloaded a corrupted and/or incomplete version of the ARC. A longer denouement and a shorter run through of Jax/Olivia’s push-pull would have eased the strung-out plot towards the end somewhat and made the pairing a more believable one.

My disgruntled mood aside, ‘Stay With Me’ is nonetheless, a decent read and an easy introduction to this new series. A HFN-ending might not exactly be what many others want, but if you’re perfectly happy with a resolution no matter the speed, then this is a ride that wouldn’t be bumpy at all.

three-stars

Crossing Promises by Kimberly Kincaid

Crossing Promises by Kimberly KincaidCrossing Promises by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Cross Creek #3
Published by Kimberly Kincaid Romance on March 5th 2018
Pages: 273
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one-star

For Owen Cross, the only thing that matters more than family is farming. As the oldest Cross brother, the land is his legacy, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make Cross Creek a success—including hiring local widow Cate McAllister to manage the bookkeeping tasks that are growing in his office like weeds. Cate’s as pragmatic as she is pretty, and she rattles his hard-fought composure at every turn.

Cate had known a lot of things about her husband before he died three years ago in a car accident, but how much debt he’d gotten them into wasn’t one of them. She needs her job at Cross Creek, even if her boss is both gruff and gorgeous. But Owen’s a family man, through and through, and the last thing Cate is interested in is anything—or anyone—with strings attached.

As Owen and Cate join forces to right the farm, they discover there’s more to the other than the surfaces shows, and that passion can be found in unexpected places. Can Cate heal from the loss of one family to gain the love of her life? Or will the past prove too much for the promise of the future?

I’ve always been interested in Kimberly Kincaid’s ‘Cross Creek’ series, for its 3 brothers so wildly different that it was almost a guarantee you’d get very different stories out of them. ‘Crossing Promises’ is Owen Cross’s story— the pain-in-the-arse grump, the responsible brother, the long-suffering (and not too silent) chump and it wasn’t hard to develop a soft spot for the own who bore things on his shoulders and carried on for everyone else because he needed to.

Unfortunately, this particular book disappointed me more than the rest in the series, more so because I was looking forward to Owen’s story. But my dislike stemmed from my inability to get on with this pairing, with a ‘heroine’ I found more annoying than sympathetic and one who looked as though she needed to be treated with kid-gloves lest her sensibilities be offended.

As work partners, Cate and Owen were fabulous. Their synchronised way of running Cross Creek was a marvel to behold and for most part, it was enjoyable to see Owen happy and settled. I empathised with Cate from the start, seeing her struggle with the memories and as well as with how she found it hard to get back on her feet.

But ultimately, Cate wasn’t a protagonist I could get on board with at all. While I understood how she wanted to move on with her life as her own person, I never quite got past the idea that she remained fragile as glass, turning to frenzied baking as a way to deal with her unsettled state of mind. That she also kept something fairly monumental from Owen until the end put her straight in the ‘stupid’ category for me and I thought that the fault could be roundly laid at Cate’s door for that. To use children (or the lack of them) a method to ‘rein’ someone in or as a way of shaping a particular lifestyle however, is an idea I absolutely despised and while I hated how it’d been done to Cate, I hated it even more when she’d unconsciously held it over Owen later without even realising it.

The definition of the family/family legacy (and the issue of children) was made out to be a problematic one here and that eventually, did become an issue here for me as well. What I didn’t like was Cate’s lack of compromise at the end with the conflict that came up—both Owen and Cate were entitled to their own wishes—but I was fairly unhappy with the rushed ending that had Owen bending backwards for Cate who essentially, used the bitter lessons from her past against Owen.

For Cate not giving Owen’s view on family any consideration at all killed it for me and while picking sides isn’t exactly that I want to do in a romance, and the ending of ‘Crossing Promises’ somehow did that for me. In fact, I thought the story ended in a way (with Owen’s grovelling that really felt like forced repentance after a talk with Marley) that never suggested Cate had merely thought about what she’d wanted, then selfishly held those up to Owen as a checklist to see if he would be with her in spite of it.

I definitely wished I could have given this a better rating because I’ve always liked Kincaid’s writing. But because I could barely tolerate Cate as someone for Owen, ‘Crossing Promises’ simply went south too unexpectedly for me.

one-star

Maybe This Time by Nicole McLaughlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

one-star

The Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton

The Love Coupon by Ainslie PatonThe Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton
Series: Stubborn Hearts #2
Published by Carina Press on March 9th 2018
Pages: 253
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three-stars

Can you fall in love if you have the right coupon?

Tom O’Connell had a problem. His temporary roommate, Flick Dalgetty was noisy, messy, made of bees and had enough energy to power an amusement park. The problem was he shouldn’t have kissed her.

Flick Dalgetty had a problem. Her landlord, Tom O’Connell was made of granite. He was a big, repressed anti-social ogre, but the man knew how to kiss. The problem was he felt guilty about hooking up and she wanted more.

Until Flick’s gift of thirty coupons, each entitling Tom to one guilt and obligation free activity, from bowling and bubble bathing to morning delight and lingerie buying, removed all the guesswork of being incompatible partners and temporary roommates.

Now the only problem was Flick had to leave and Tom needed to stay and they might be falling in love—and there wasn’t a coupon for that.

Love can be a sexy game until it becomes the only one your stubborn heart wants to play.

Quirk is the order of the day each time I read an Ainslie Paton novel, from the (sometimes hilarious) descriptions of her characters to the even odder situations that they find themselves in. But these can also be a refreshing change from the monotony of encountering variants of the same type of plots that have been reworked in so many ways.

Paton’s style however, does take getting used to—from metaphors that never quite occur to you make regular occurrences to odd, long dialogues to hyperboles that give you pause—and I suspect it might put some readers in one camp or the other. ‘The Love Coupon’ safe to say, follows this kind of pattern in what’s essentially, a roommates to lovers story based on Flick Dalgetty pulling Tom O’Connell out of his comfort zone in every direction he’d never anticipated.

Make no mistake, Flick Dalgetty came in with a bang. True to her name (like a fly you want to flick off), Flick was already made out to be a circus-act protagonist who went at everything like the Duracell Bunny and then some—just to read in third person about her was exhausting. As a character who seemed to exist to poke the conservative, routine-based Tom out of his comfort zone, I couldn’t help but at times find her pesky, needy and almost petulantly acting up when it came to the long-suffering Tom—essentially rubbing me the wrong way because she didn’t know how to leave things alone. There were parts about her family though, that made her vulnerably relatable and those were the bits that I enjoyed reading the most.

What I found odd was that the love coupon part of the story didn’t come in until at least half the story later, the first of which felt like long dialogues and Tom/Flick rather quickly feeling their way around each other, at parts literally. I did however, appreciate Paton establishing their odd relationship first, before the coupon idea came in, which definitely helped solidify this weird bond that they had going by then.

Still, while I’m sold on the premise of the story, Tom/Flick felt like a batty idea that I couldn’t quite shake by the end of their tearful declarations that they couldn’t live without each other. There was overall, still an oddity about ‘The Love Coupon’ that felt a tad ‘off’ to me—this is obviously just me—as Tom/Flick abruptly and impulsively rode off into their (Washington) sunset before the credits rolled. It’s definitely rom-com worthy though, so if that’s your sort of thing, ‘The Love Coupon’ is a perfect bet.

three-stars

Forget You by Nina Crespo

Forget You by Nina CrespoForget You by Nina Crespo
Series: The Kingman Brothers #1
Published by Pocket Star on April 16th 2018
Pages: 200
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one-star

Sophie Jordan dreams about hooking up with Nicolas “King” Kingman—the gorgeous CEO of her company—but as her boss, he’ll always remain out of reach. King knows he isn’t built for happily-ever-afters and only indulges in brief romantic encounters. But when Sophie agrees to fill in as his last-minute date to a charity gala, an unexpected discovery quickly escalates their platonic relationship to one of passion.

King is determined to ignore their attraction and, feeling betrayed, Sophie severs ties with him and the company. Everything changes, however, when he’s injured in an accident, and Sophie agrees to help until he closes a major deal. Unfortunately, he’s developed amnesia, and although he doesn’t remember their night together, desire binds them in ways they can’t resist.

Time is running out on closing the deal, as well as Sophie moving on to her new career. Will King deny love in favor of winning and lose Sophie forever?

I’d expected a romcom going into this, because a disgruntled assistant being forced to stay on in her job after a one-nighter with the boss gone wrong…sounded like a fantastic premise that promised lots of laughs. That alone made me want to know how Sophie got on with a difficult boss who’d conveniently forgotten he’d been an arse.

Unfortunately, ‘Forget You’ was the kind of read that worked me up into a fit and that mostly had to do with the main characters who not only needed to grow some sense, but conformed to the stereotypical H/hr in contemporary romance that I couldn’t do anything but roll my eyes at every turn.

I couldn’t warm up to King, who seemed like the usual arse of the rich businessman who thought that commitment wasn’t in his DNA as the perfect excuse for the way he lived his philandering life while becoming a clone of his womanising father. Scheduling another hookup straight after his one-night stand with Sophie however, made him a special breed of bastard.

There have been sufficient rants in my reviews throughout the years about numerous stock characters like King who take the easy way out, so lighting into King is probably a useless endeavour. Or perhaps my frustration has to do with the writing of characters that don’t go beyond this stereotype to explore the grey areas of people who have had bad examples of commitment in their childhood. Of course this colours King’s entire life as he easily uses it as an excuse to stack women back to back without even evaluating why. In this same manner, Sophie joined the ranks of other numerous female protagonists who know exactly what they aren’t being offered, yet go in laughingly believing they could enjoy themselves and settle for what they can get. Of course, it never works out that way. Of course they can’t call this short-term fling as just sex anymore. And of course they end up getting hurt.

Apart from having expected too much of King and Sophie—my own big mistake—I think the other big issue was that I just couldn’t find any hilarity in this, unless I really missed something here.

Simply put, ‘Forget You’ started out and continued with angsty drama rather than the humour I was expecting. I wavered between feeling sorry for the delusional Sophie, who really thought that King would have given her more than he would, and rolling my eyes at her delusional state for seriously believing that she was going to be more than another notch on his bedpost, then behaving hurt and pissed when he didn’t. Her willingness to bend over backwards for him post-accident was nonetheless inexplicable; her listening to someone else to enjoy the ride (pun intended) on her own terms just made it seem sillier when she went against her own good sense to move on instead of playing with fire and getting burned.

The final grovelling scene didn’t match the crime as well—a few pages of mere words didn’t seem to fit what King had done to Sophie, untested as King was as a newly minted committed guy—and I had a hard time believing that this was a pairing that could go beyond a happy-for-now ending. That it had to take a bad accident and amnesia for King to change his outlook just felt like a last ditch effort in reforming an unrepentant womaniser which simply didn’t feel like an achievement to crow about.

I wished I could have liked this better, but seeing as how I finished the story having lost every bit of zen I had, it’s pretty obvious ‘Forget You’ isn’t my kind of read.

one-star

Playing House by Amy Andrews

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

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

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

He always did love a challenge…

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

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

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

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

two-stars

From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata

From Lukov with Love by Mariana ZapataFrom Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on February 1st 2018
Pages: 493
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three-stars

If someone were to ask Jasmine Santos to describe the last few years of her life with a single word, it would definitely be a four-letter one.

After seventeen years—and countless broken bones and broken promises—she knows her window to compete in figure skating is coming to a close.

But when the offer of a lifetime comes in from an arrogant idiot she’s spent the last decade dreaming about pushing in the way of a moving bus, Jasmine might have to reconsider everything.

Including Ivan Lukov.

I do have a love-hate relationship with the slow burn novel, over which Mariana Zapata seems to be the reining monarch. If the frequent complaint about novellas is the instant love/lust and the unrealistic view of a HEA that results because of it, the slow burn story tries to address this lack of believability by going in the opposite direction—to the chagrin of some readers, particularly when it doesn’t work out too well.

What the slow-burn does however, is allow the passing of (a lot of) time to do its magic…and for hidden sides of Zapata’s protagonists to emerge when it’s least expected. I did appreciate the multi-faceted character of Jasmine, though ultimately, I couldn’t find her entirely likeable. While I could empathise with her issues and cheer her burning ambitions, often she merely came off as self-absorbed and childishly juvenile, prone to outbursts of temper, vehemently disagreeing with everyone else for the bloody sake of saving her own pride. I did love Ivan, in contrast, for his ability to give it back as good as he got from Jasmine, for his loyalty and his unwavering support as she went through her mood swings and the quirky rescue animals he kept as a completely separate part of his life.

Still, ‘From Lukov with Love’ didn’t resonate with me that much, not because of the believability of it, but because of the pacing that crammed a romantic relationship in the last 30 pages of the book, while rest of it seemed to deal mostly with a developing friendship and a young woman’s own journey towards being better while getting some enlightenment about it in the process. I waded and skimmed through pages and pages of dialogue, cringing at weird descriptors such as ‘the redhead who had given birth to me’ just threw me off (what was wrong with simply using the word ‘mother’?!) and the copious repetitive blinking Ivan/Jasmine did, while wondering when the tension between them was finally going to break.

When it finally did, the switch was rushed and abrupt, without the sense of satisfaction I needed to feel because their friendship simply felt stretched past the point of elasticity. In fact, I thought the key moments of Ivan/Jasmine’s interactions could have made the story more streamlined and less cumbersome—not every scene or every recording of Jasmine’s inner monologues seemed necessary—especially when written with the deep, cutting emotional fervour that Zapata is capable of.

It isn’t the first time I’ve finished a Zapata book asking myself what the hell just happened, particularly when the HEA passes by in a blink. It’s akin to queuing hours for a ride at a carnival and only to have the thrill ride over in about 2 minutes and then I’m left to stumble out after being dazzled for a few moments, wishing the wait was more worth it.

three-stars