Tag: Chick lit

Meant to Be by Nan Reinhardt

Meant to Be by Nan ReinhardtMeant to Be by Nan Reinhardt
Series: Four Irish Brothers Winery #2
Published by Tule Publishing on July 18th 2019
Pages: 193
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two-stars

Best friends since grade school, high-powered Chicago attorney, Sean Flaherty, and small-town mayor Megan Mackenzie have always shared a special bond. When Sean is shot by a client’s angry ex, Megan rushes to his side, terrified she’s about to lose her long-time confidant.

Upon his return to River’s Edge to recuperate, Sean discovers that his feelings for his pal have taken an undeniable turn for the romantic. While Megan struggles with an unfamiliar longing for Sean, she worries that he may be mistaking a safe place to land for love.

Can Sean help her realize that they are truly meant to be so much more than friends?

Scepticism is generally what I battle with the friends-to-lovers thing and ‘Meant to be’ was another cautious attempt at trying to see if this is a trope that will sit well this time around.

Not quite so, unfortunately.

Sean and Megan are lifelong best friends, separated by distance until an accident brings him home, though it suddenly seems as if Sean is now looking at the small town’s mayor with fresh eyes while the latter thinks that she’d aways unconsciously compared all her dates to him. It would have been well and good, had I read a version in which Sean and Megan were actively making their way back to each other as well, in the intervening years.

Perhaps it’s due to the lack of build-up as well that I couldn’t understand how their friendship turned into romance only now, like a switch had been suddenly flipped in Sean’s mind and he suddenly saw Megan as a woman that he loved only after his life faced an upheaval, which immediately went flush into a proposal. What gave? In fact, Megan’s argument about her being the safe choice after his chaotic run in Chicago made sense and whatever Sean did to counter that just wasn’t convincing enough to overcome that particular hurdle she threw his way. And if they’d always wanted each other unconsciously, would it really have taken them decades to realise it?

This far into the series, the parade from characters from previous books could be bewildering, not having read any of their stories. I was flummoxed at the number of group scenes and the characters whose history I knew nothing about. The focus that I felt should have been on the main pairing was spent on secondary characters and their activities instead—Megan actually dated someone different for a third of the book—, eclipsing a tentative, growing romance which disappointingly fizzled to embers by the end.

two-stars

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

Teach Me by Olivia DadeTeach Me by Olivia Dade
Series: There's Something About Marysburg #1
Published by Hussies & Harpies Press on 28th March 2019
Pages: 276
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four-half-stars


Their lesson plans didn't include love. But that's about to change...

When Martin Krause arrives at Rose Owens's high school, she's determined to remain chilly with her new colleague. Unfriendly? Maybe. Understandable? Yes, since a loathsome administrator gave Rose's beloved world history classes to Martin, knowing it would hurt her.

But keeping her distance from a man as warm and kind as Martin will prove challenging, even for a stubborn, guarded ice queen. Especially when she begins to see him for what he truly is: a man who's never been taught his own value. Martin could use a good teacher--and luckily, Rose is the best.

Rose has her own lessons--about trust, about vulnerability, about her past--to learn. And over the course of a single school year, the two of them will find out just how hot it can get when an ice queen melts.

I didn’t know what to expect from Olivia Dade’s ‘Teach Me’ but a romance set in school (one that begins with a bit of hostility) between 2 older, scarred , divorced people wasn’t it. Yet it surprised me once I got going, past the initial friction between Rose Owens and Martin Krause after the school administrator did a bit of deliberate reshuffling intended to sting hard.

Rose/Martin are exceptional educators—I suspect Dad wouldn’t write them otherwise—but Dade excellently juggles the demands of teaching with the issues teachers themselves face…along with a burgeoning attraction at the workplace that neither of whom quite knows how to navigate.

Dade beautifully captures the inner workings of human behaviour with her characterisation, laying out the complicated bundle of emotions tangled up with even messier histories and self-esteem issues that can’t be miraculously shrugged off even by age. And by doing so, lays out a new standard of sexy that isn’t defined by blindingly-movie-star looks or bulging muscles that many male romantic protagonists exude, but rather, one that’s grounded in quiet integrity, steadiness and fierce intelligence.

The slow burn between Martin and Rose is something to be savoured really; Martin dismantles Rose’s hard shell of emotional armour with patience and so much gallantry that it’s impossible not to love him as a romantic hero, especially when it’s clearly so against the usual romantic-male-type that one gets by the dozen in the genre. He’s a dreamboat, in short, whose age has given him enough hindsight, perspective and maturity in dealing with Rose’s issues as well as his own scars to know what he wants and needs.

But ‘Teach Me’ is particularly enjoyable because of the uber-maturity that resounds everywhere—where restraint is prized over emotional outbursts, where things are talked about and calmly discussed, where behaviour isn’t ruled by petty, hormonal renderings. That it’s so well-written, so brilliantly articulated is a treat. Rare is the occasion—and one I rue here—where I want more smutty interactions and if this is the book’s only shortcoming, then it’s obviously on me.

four-half-stars

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyTop Secret by Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 7th May 2019
Pages: 267
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three-half-stars

LobsterShorts, 21Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.

LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.
SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.
LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?
SinnerThree: All the time. I'm an equal opportunity player. You?
LobsterShorts: [crickets!]

SinnerThree, 21Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF.

SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?
LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit.
SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries...
LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?
SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me.
LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing...

In a rivals-to-lovers frat house story, Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen head straight into M/M territory after ‘Him’ and ‘Us’ (one of my first few and most memorable stories) once again and I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t excited about this rushed announcement of their collaboration that took off like wildfire all those years ago.

It’s a new pairing all around this time, though the flavour and the context—the college years with all the raunchy going-ons mostly revolving around hook-up culture and to some extent, toxic behaviour regarding sexuality and gender roles—is not too different from what Kennedy and Bowen have been dipping their pens into for quite a while.

Luke Bailey (student, stripper, never commits when it comes to attachments and strapped for cash) and Keaton Hayworth II (poor, rich boy never meeting his daddy’s expectation) clash as rivals for fraternity president, though their mutual dislike stems from something far deeper than that. But they meet online, oddly when Keaton starts researching dudes for a threesome for his girlfriend’s birthday party, and things start taking a turn for the…interesting. Rivals in real life, sexting buddies online—what starts out like a rather twisted version of ‘You’ve Got Mail’ eventually becomes a mortifying discovery about each other and themselves, though it’s not without a huge amount of push-pull and settling for something neither could have ever imagined.

Kennedy and Bowen is a collaboration that does work obviously, and at times, dare I say, write better together than apart: their characters are hilarious and there’re more unexpected turns in ‘Top Secret’ than I could ever have imagined, which kept me guessing at how the story would eventually end.

I can’t help the comparison between this book and Jamie/Wes nonetheless, the latter of which stay pretty close to my heart, which probably accounts for my somewhat less enthusiastic rating for the book. There’s probably nothing more insidious than a reader upholding past characters as a standard for what authors have to meet in the future and I’m guilty here of that. Luke/Keaton were fun, but ultimately, didn’t move me as much as Jamie/Wes, for the amount of pushing away that Luke kept doing, or that Keaton had to fight for everything when Luke just couldn’t meet him halfway. I wasn’t entirely convinced as a result, that Luke would have the guts to stay committed to Keaton when his first instinct was to always run.

The minor quip aside, ‘Top Secret’ is a fun and easy read—there’s never too much angst that bogs the story down—though the writing duo of Kennedy and Bowen should be enough to make M/M readers sit up and take note.

three-half-stars

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Well Met by Jen DeLucaWell Met by Jen DeLuca
Published by Berkley Books on 3rd September 2019
Pages: 336
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four-stars

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon's family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn't have time for Emily's lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she's in her revealing wench's costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they're portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can't seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

When Emily Parker moved to Willow Creek to help her sister and niece after an accident, getting roped into being a tavern wench during the summer Renaissance Faire under the disapproving eye of a buttoned-up, uptight Simon Graham—the local high school literature teacher and also the surly man in charge—wasn’t the turn she expected her life to take.

But the Faire—the make-believe and physical transformation and the layers of identities that the characters took on—and its supposed Elizabethan magic could work wonders. The friction between Emily and Simon turned into something other than constant arguing…with a slow-burn that proved to be quite rewarding by the time the sparks turn to fire, because the feisty tavern wench and the swaggering pirate can play at something in all their interactions, even if their real life personas are more riddled with confusion about the mutual attraction.

In fact, seeing Simon’s layers coming apart was perhaps, the best parts of the book.

In all, ‘Well Met’ is cute and light-hearted and honestly, thoroughly enjoyable, more so because it was an easy read that handled the sniping and the humour with quite a bit of panache with a cast of characters that were in their own ways, memorable. The heavier themes like grief, emotional healing and moving on were handled with the knowledge that these are more complicated than we always make them out to be without weighing the entire story down with angst. The only thing that I couldn’t entirely get on with was Emily’s insecurity about not being the priority in people’s lives—a point that she rued often and made it a bigger issue with Simon than it should have been—as it felt like amplified conflict when it didn’t have to be.

Still, I had loads of fun to the point where this ended up being one of the rare stories where I alternated between dreading finishing it and wanting to savour the swoon-worthy chemistry between Simon and Emily as much as I could (which mean turning the pages at a furious pace just to see how it would develop). For those who love everything about Shakespeare and his time? This book’s yours to hug close.

four-stars

Faker by Sarah Smith

Faker by Sarah SmithFaker by Sarah Smith
Published by Berkley on 8th October 2019
Pages: 320
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four-stars

Emmie Echavarre is a professional faker. She has to be to survive as one of the few female employees at Nuts & Bolts, a power tool company staffed predominantly by gruff, burly men. From nine to five, Monday through Friday, she's tough as nails--the complete opposite of her easy-going real self.

One thing she doesn't have to fake? Her disdain for coworker Tate Rasmussen.

Tate has been hostile to her since the day they met. Emmie's friendly greetings and repeated attempts to get to know him failed to garner anything more than scowls and terse one-word answers. Too bad she can't stop staring at his Thor-like biceps...

When Emmie and Tate are forced to work together on a charity construction project, things get...heated. Emmie's beginning to see that beneath Tate's chiseled exterior lies a soft heart, but it will take more than a few kind words to erase the past and convince her that what they have is real.

‘Faker’ surprised me much, in a good way, more so considering it’s Sarah Smith’s debut book with the enemies-to-lovers trope that I always dig.

Still, I couldn’t help but look at the many shades of Sally Thorne’s ‘The Hating Game’ colouring Emmie’s and Tate’s circumstances and relationship from the start: a love-hate relationship in the office underlaid with more conflicted and complicated emotions that both seem to harbour for each other, a holding pattern of sniping, arguments and clenched jaws (and lip-trembling, withheld tears) up until the point where something changes the dynamics of it, the slow-burn that follows the turnaround.

Written wholly in Emmie’s POV, the whole narrative is more introspective, more centred about her emotions and her changing perceptions—and her interpretations of Tate’s overreactions that the reader sees as something else other than hate and dislike. Seeing Tate through Emmie’s eyes is an experience in and of itself–some descriptions are hilarious, and in other parts, a little cringeworthy.

It all ends up quite endearing and buoyant in some ways, though the slow, slow burn and the multiple cock-blocking scenes made me impatient at parts.

In essence, apart from the exteriors that both Emmie and Tate wear, much of ‘Faker’ reads like the honeymoon phase of a relationship: the effusive optimism about falling in love (more so as Emmie turns into a stalwart fan of Tate), the thrill of seeing someone with fresh eyes, the yearning for constant physical closeness and all. It’s bubbly, and oddly heart-twinging in some bits, and past the last page, I find myself hoping that Emmie and Tate actually do last.

four-stars

The Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson

The Friend Zone by Sariah WilsonThe Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson
Published by Montlake Romance on 11th June 2019
Pages: 304
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three-stars

Disgraced college quarterback Logan Hunt was on his way to NFL stardom when he messed up big-time. Now the Texas star player with a bad temper has a new option: Seattle’s EOL College—as in End of the Line, to his fellow misfit recruits. It’s Logan’s last chance. If he can follow the rules.

No parties, no fighting, no swearing, and oh, no dating the coach’s daughter, Jess. Simple. Yeah, right. For Logan, there has never been a rule he’s more tempted to break.

The deal is “just friends.” The pretty, confident, and fiercely smart math whiz is fine with pizza, tutoring, and keeping Logan in line. But the closer Jess gets, the more receptive she is to his warm heart and spirit—not to mention his irresistible off-field passes.

With defenses down, they’re both heading into the danger zone.

It’s more than thrilling. It’s love. It’s also a game changer that could sideline Logan’s NFL goals—and more important, a future with Jess. But dreams are worth fighting for, right?

Sariah Wilson’s ‘The Friend Zone’ harks back to a time when I remember YA/NA reads to be a lot more innocent and docile, both in speech and thoughts and deeds—or at least, when more risqué activities were kept firmly behind closed doors and stayed there, where the hottest things got were kisses and monologue-driven, self-actualising type of pining and many, many scorching looks.

It does take getting used to though, having this version of sparkly clean YA/NA sports romance graze my e-reader after being inured to a million sex scenes, to the uninhibited partying lifestyles of manwhore athletes and the women who prostrate themselves without care at their feet. So much so, that I kept wondering if Logan Hunt and Jess were going to go beyond censoring themselves and feeling hot under the collar after their bouts of denial, the chest-heaving sense of attraction, the running away and the pushing and pulling.

The answer, in short, is…no.

Wilson instead, does it the old school, slow-burn way: through friendship with some romantic, underlying tension and lets it grow and grow and…well, grow, with some bouts of humour in between. There isn’t a climax that ends up in torn clothes and smexy times (that did leave me somewhat disappointed anyhow) and with an ending that felt a little rushed and one that by-passed the physical nature of their relationship, I turned the last page still somehow wishing there had been more.

three-stars

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. TuckerSay You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 6th August 2019
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.

On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus, she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.

Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group Industries, and coincidentally the first love of her life.

The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counsellors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.

Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is not only alive but stronger than ever, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.

The rich girl—entitled and privileged and knows it while walking the fine line between being smug and modest about her status—with a guy on the wrong side of the tracks come together during a fateful summer camp? It sounds partway like ‘Grease’ with a bit of a twist and the added growing pains that still impact adulthood over a decade later. Or at least, there’s lots of nostalgic and wistful recollection of the days tainted rose-gold as people always fondly say ‘those were the days’ in reference to the years gone by.

The summer lovin’ that K.A. Tucker writes about between Kyle Miller and Piper Calloway sit fully in the New Adult category—there’s a huge element of teenagers simply trying being teenagers, testing and breaking every boundary just because they can—as past and present are simultaneously told in alternating chapters. And as with Tucker’s writing, the way to a happy-ever-after is paved with thorns and the ending always bittersweet, never one that’s allowed to be all sunshine and roses.

Painting Kyle/Piper’s teenage love as absolutely unforgettable even though their time together lasted just a few weeks allows Tucker to use this particular point in time as the base event to which everything in the present was tied to. However, reconnecting 13 years later with no contact between the 2 protagonists whatsoever was still a bit of a stretch for me, because the weight of the past didn’t feel momentous enough for me to buy into the fact that the teenagers who had grown into adults with diverging paths, changing priorities and life goals, still wanted what they had so long ago and for so short a time.

‘Say You Still Love Me’ is undoubtedly more layered and complex than the typical NA/YA novel that revolves around hormonal shenanigans. But it did feel a tad too long, filled with too many details that helped with the building dread of Kyle/Piper’s separation but didn’t seem fully relevant to the forward momentum and the big-reveal at the end. With a rushed HFN ending after the pages of build-up, I think I finished the story still mixed…needing a more concrete ending after the angst but not quite getting it.

three-stars