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Contemporary Romance

On the Edge by Dani Collins

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 18th December 2017
On the Edge by Dani CollinsOn the Edge by Dani Collins
Series: Blue Spruce Lodge #1
Published by Tule Publishing on January 16th 2018
Pages: 299
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three-stars

When Glory Cormer’s father introduces her to ‘their’ new business partner, she’s appalled. Viking-like Rolf Johansson exudes the same alpha-intimidation that jocks used to torment her through high school. After nursing her mother the last several years, she’s trying to break out of her shell and secretly pursue a writing career, but Rolf insists she go through with the rotten deal her father struck with his brother to renovate an old chalet.

Rolf envisions this mountain as a world-class resort for elite athletes and other jet setters. As a downhill champion and owner of a world-renowned sports equipment empire, he knows what it takes to get what he wants. Nothing will stop him, especially not a hotheaded wallflower who turns the ice in his veins to lava.

‘On the Edge’ has me in a bind. Getting an antagonistic relationship—where 2 people truly don’t think much of each other in the beginning—to flip where both become lovers by the end is a favourite of mine. Throw them into a pressure-cooker environment and watch someone snap, even better.

But the story is much more than a secret-romance writer and introvert getting roped into her father’s whimsical project after her famous mother’s death, then getting stuck in someone else’s dream with a difficult business associate who shouldn’t be inspiring the tales in her head.

It’s not often when a tribute to romance authors is actually written into a story so distinctly. Or maybe it’s an ironic poke at the profession and the writers behind them, especially given the (unfair) flak that the romance genre always absorbs from its critics. No matter what it might be, I can’t help but think that ‘On the Edge’ is a sharp response to all of it.

As much as I like the self-reflexive bit that occasionally wiggles its way into a story however, there was just too much meta author-speak in ‘On the Edge’ for me. In fact, Glory’s own fictional characters were given too much free reign on the pages and the romance within a romance that Dani Collins wrote into this story, felt at best, like a distraction that broke up the main story as Glory wrote her attraction for the aloof and cold Rolf Johansson into a fictional couple who got down and dirty early on.  If there was anything to prove that Glory had her heads in the clouds, this was it. At parts, it felt as though Glory was writing her own story into her fictional heroine’s story, and that exasperated me because I couldn’t find myself interested in the ’second’ romance at all that Glory had whipped up in her head.

Instead, I wanted to see the protagonist here (not in her story) who dug down instead of constantly blushing, the one who stood toe-to-toe to Rolf instead of stammering and losing the tail end of her speech simply because a hunky guy stood near her. But to slobber and be skittish over someone as terse, unkind and disdainful as Rolf was hard to read about, particularly when he looked down on her at the start and pretty much acted the bastard because he could.

Still, I felt for her. Stuck between her own failed career and relegated to a supporting character in her dead mother’s book sales, she had to wrestle a father who’d seemingly gone off the rails, hell-bent on an investment project deep in the mountains of Montana that he knew nothing about. Hemmed in by people who didn’t appreciate the work she did in the lodge, an arse of a hero who was all arrogance and no empathy and a father who brought down her ambitions, I thought she deserved way better than the crap she’d been dealt.

It isn’t to say ‘On the Edge’ isn’t a good read; in fact, I found it entertaining, riveting and sometimes even heartbreaking and Collins’s writing was stirring enough to keep the pages turning.

But like many books, I liked and disliked several things all at once. At the very least, I was engrossed in the hostile back-and-forth that characterised so much of Rolf and Glory. I loved how Glory finally stood up to Rolf, took him to task for being an insensitive and selfish clod, how Collins took her time to develop a burn that could only take time to start after an antagonistic first half, apart from the sudden TSTL move at the end that was nothing but Glory’s own insecurity showing. I did find myself skimming the distracting parts of this book however, and thought it would have been a better, more concise story without the secondary romance.

three-stars

Stay With Me by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 16th December 2017
Stay With Me by Cynthia EdenStay With Me by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #3
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on December 12th 2017
Pages: 165
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three-stars

Shelly Hampton intends to spend the holidays alone in her family’s mountain cabin, but when a snow-covered stranger appears on her door-step, her plans are shot straight to hell. The man before her seems oddly familiar, and he stirs a dark need within her.

It’s soon apparent that John Smith is far more than a normal man—he’s too strong, too fast, and she could swear that he seems to read her thoughts…and know her most secret desires.

But is John a man that she could love…or is he someone she should fear? Because even as the snow fall deepens, a deadly threat is closing in on her little cabin. And soon, Shelly will be trapped on the mountain with a dangerous man…a man who swears that he has come back from the dead, just to be with her.

There’s always something about this series that I find constantly hovers on the edge of the hysterical. I think my biggest problem really, is the gradual departure from the realism that the story starts out with. Everything is writ so large, sometimes to the point where I can lose that ability to suspend disbelief: the insane villains so stylised that they can be out of an opera, the alpha, over-the-top hero and a heroine can sometimes manage the miraculous and whose greatest enemies are her previous lovers.

Not to say that it isn’t entertaining—Cynthia Eden can cook up a mystery and resolve it very well—but the idea of super-soldiers becoming possessive primates (the growling, snorting and rough sex included) because of their programming somehow seems more laughable than stirring.

‘Stay With Me’ reminded me of a cross between Robocop/Terminator and Pet Sematary as Christmas decorations and celebrations go on—a slice of the paranormal inserted into the holiday season, which was a tad too batty for me.

Over all, Eden’s Lazarus Rising is definitely a series I’d be continuing with, but at the same time, I’ll be taking it all in with a heaping amount of salt…more than I normally do with such sub-genres.

three-stars

In the Line of Fire by Joss Wood

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 15th December 2017
In the Line of Fire by Joss WoodIn the Line of Fire by Joss Wood
Series: Pytheon Security #3
Published by Tule Publishing on February 8th 2018
Pages: 154
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two-stars

It just got personal…

As the Delta Force legend at Pytheon International, security expert Jett Smith-Jones has run out of leads in his effort to capture criminal mastermind, The Recruiter, the head of a notorious, international human trafficking and recruitment ring. The Recruiter remains one step ahead but when he threatens the principal players at Pytheon, including Dr Samantha Stone, the game is back on. Jett, while valiantly trying to ignore his visceral attraction to the fiery red head, is determined that she have the best protective detail Pytheon can provide. He is the best they have.

PhD Samantha Stone has been tasked to profile The Recruiter’s next move as a consultant of the psychology of criminal behavior. Too bad she can’t discern her attraction to the hard-eyed Delta Force legend. She avoids men who chase danger, but she can’t stop dreaming of falling into Jett’s very muscular arms. Unfortunately for Sam, The Recruiter isn’t the only criminal wanting a piece of her…

As they tighten the net around The Recruiter, the risk to Sam increases. Jett vows he will keep her safe, but who will protect his heart? And will Jett prove to pose the biggest danger to Sam of all?

I starting reading ‘In the Line of Fire’ not knowing this was the third book in Joss Wood’s Pytheon Security series so it took a while to unravel the supporting characters and what had happened previously. With the assumption that it was a standalone, there was a bit of a mess when it came to unravelling the threats that Sam faced and I got the feeling that I’d actually been thrown deep into a situation that had its beginnings somewhere off-stage, so sorting out the context took a bit of effort.

Joss Wood definitely has a different style of writing that’s a little quirky but one that jumps out at you—the distinct lack of North American vocabulary can be a bit jarring particularly when the story is about American characters working on American soil—and her characters do and say things I don’t expect. But along with the suspense came a scene with Jett’s ex-fiancée that made me cringe, just as I couldn’t fathom how a strong, take-charge woman like Sam Stone devolved into a clingy, needy, near-TSTL heroine just as Jett blew hot and cold and was plain unkind at several moments when the danger really kicked in. In fact, I found myself barely over the distasteful way Jett sometimes treated Sam and the easy way she managed to let it go before they were already talking about their HEA.

The way the action was set-up (along with the revelation of who the baddies were made guessing somewhat easy) and the behaviour of the characters weren’t elements I could get on board with unfortunately. If ‘In the Line of Fire’ started out great, it fell flat for me by the end…but who knows? It could simply just be me and my prickly tastes.

two-stars

Leveled by Cathryn Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 13th December 2017
Leveled by Cathryn FoxLeveled by Cathryn Fox
Series: Blue Bay Crew #2
Published by Swerve on January 16th 2018
Pages: 155
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three-stars

Jamie Owens doesn’t trust women. Especially not the rich, entitled women looking for a summer fling with a boy from the wrong side of town. But one look at Kylee Jensen in a tiny bikini, and Jamie decides that some rules are made to be broken.

Kylee is tired of being the obedient daughter, and Jamie—shirtless, in a tool belt—is the perfect opportunity to do something for herself, so she hires Blue Bay Construction to work on her cottage. Their hot summer days turn scorching until it’s revealed that Kylee has ties to Jamie’s dark past, forcing them to decide if their dreams, and their relationship, are worth fighting for.

Leveled is a steamy page turner with sizzling emotional intensity and an ending that will hammer readers’ hearts and never let go!

I actually felt nervous when I started ‘Leveled’; Cathryn Fox isn’t always an author whose erotica hits the right spot for me, but I’m actually happy to say that I got my dose of smut with Jamie and Kylee, whose one-night stand-turned-summer-fling because way more than that. Both had a chemistry as well as an ease around each other that I found believable and while some parts became a bit like a porn-movie, it was fun reading about, well, the various ways a hard long object can go into an expandable slot.

The struggle to keep their own personal pasts out of the equation however, came alongside the overwhelming need to keep it about sex only. Jamie’s own demons revisited him in the form of the rich girl looking for fun, though he could barely discern that Kylee was in fact, trying to be only the rich girl looking for fun because of a father who had long dictated her behaviour and choices in life. It’s sort of strange to see both of them coming at it from opposite angles, with this kept up till nearly the end of the book as they try to rein in and downplay their affair as a simply summer fling.

Interfering relatives on the other hand, are the bane of most of the stories I’ve read so far, especially when their irksome actions can span the entire spectrum of giving abysmal advice to being absolutely controlling. Unfortunately, this wasn’t too different in ‘Leveled’, where they actually played a role—how large the role is probably up to interpretation—in keeping both Kylee and Jamie apart, though admittedly, both could have engaged in something called communication instead of running away. I didn’t like how Kylee walked away without the gumption to find out the truth about Jamie’s past and her inability to put herself out there when it mattered kept me frustrated, while on Jamie’s part, the past that came back to revisit him didn’t feel at all resolved.

Obviously, climaxes and resolutions can be tricky; leave it too late and the conclusion and HEA can feel rushed. I don’t doubt that Jamie/Kylee’s HEA was definitely deserved, but I did wish however, that Fox had written things differently at the end which would have made me a more convinced believer in a pair who could fight equally for each other without stumbling when push came to shove.

three-stars

Don’t Go by Alexa Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th December 2017
Don’t Go by Alexa RileyDon’t Go by Alexa Riley
Series: For You #3
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 78
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three-stars

CEO Henry Osbourne has only ever desired one woman—the one who got away.

I’ve spent the past ten years convincing myself that what I felt for her was teenage infatuation. That love so consuming couldn’t be real. Then everything went to shit, and in an instant, she was gone.

Kory Summers knew returning to New York meant running into Henry. The way her heartbeat picked up at just the thought was nervousness—not anticipation. Oh, no. She never expected to find him on her doorstep looking as handsome as ever.

She’s mine. She always has been. I’ve waited this long for her…but time’s up. I’ll use all my power, all my connections, to convince her she’s the one.

Kory ran from a boy, but a man of power and persuasion now stands in his place.

‘Don’t Go’ is in fact, part of the ‘For You’ series, though it’s now Miles/Mallory’s son’s story, which can be a little jarring since it wasn’t too long ago that I read his parents’ HEA, though in Riley’s fictional world of the Osbournes, over 2 decades have gone by. The biggest issue I have with this series is the lack of chronological order in which the books come about and the time-gap that these stories span—which is at least a generation, but that might just be splitting hairs here.

Alexa Riley’s commitment to short and safe might cause some raised brows when it comes to instalove (or lust) and the all-in stance of the male protagonist. And, honestly, I do sometimes count myself among these brow-raisers. But in rare cases, Riley’s short and safe novellas can and do make an impact.

In ‘Don’t Go,’ Riley writes about 2 people so devoted to each other as well as the memories of that single Cinderella-esque night that there wouldn’t be space to ask the messy and difficult questions that typically appear as part of a second-chance romance. In fact, questions about the contentious separation period and the believability of the pairing’s second-chance romance don’t really factor into the equation here, simply because there have been no one else for Henry and Kory.

From there onwards, it’s pure Alexa Riley that takes over: the instalove (this is sufficiently warned by the authors to be fair), the possessive hero and the iron-clad HEA that probably spans a quarter of the entire short book. It’s not for everyone, clearly, because of how implausible and admittedly unrealistic the pairing and story might come across, but if devotion that sometimes seems out of the real world is what you’re looking at, then Alexa Riley is the kind of read to go for.

three-stars

Undone by You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 11th December 2017
Undone by You by Kate MeaderUndone By You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #3
Published by Pocket Star on March 5th 2018
Pages: 184
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four-stars

Dante Moretti has just landed his dream job: GM of the Chicago Rebels. And screw the haters who think there should be an asterisk next to his name because he’s the first out managing executive in pro hockey. He’s earned the right to be here and nothing will topple him off that perch—especially not an incredibly inconvenient attraction to his star defenseman, Cade “Alamo” Burnett. Cade has always been careful to keep his own desires on the down low, but his hot Italian boss proves to be a temptation he can’t resist. Sure, they both have so much to lose, but no one will ever know...

As Dante and Cade’s taboo affair heats up off the ice and their relationship gets more and more intense, they’ll have to decide: is love worth risking their careers? Or is this romance destined to be forever benched?

A 12-year-age gap between a closeted player and an openly-gay manager along with the implications of a relationship that’s probably forbidden and mostly likely to be massacred by the press and the public? The odds seem unsurmountable. That Cade and Dante play starring roles here made my mind up for me to grab ‘Undone by You’ by hook or by crook.

And Kate Meader makes it work with writing that’s so confident and assured, more so since M/M stories aren’t always on my priority list.

In fact, for its relatively short length, there certainly wasn’t any time wasted with narrative meandering, which made ‘Undone by You’ short, sharp and quite to the point. Cade surprised me by his straight-shooting talk and the mindgames in the dating game that he steered of when it came to Dante won me over. That he was the pursuer took me aback at first, though it wasn’t long that Meader had me rooting wholly for him, particularly when Dante was being a frustrating arse with his inability to decide what he really wanted.

I did think the flurry of activities however, rooted Dante/Cade’s burgeoning relationship very much in the present and I couldn’t even quite determine if their happy-for-now ending was going to last. The story seemed to end on their happy-but-shaky foundation (undoubtedly hard-earned) and the odd epilogue disappointed me when I expected an HFN/HEA-type of closure and I think I would have preferred a ‘boring but normal’ one with Dante and Cade some time down the road, settled in their relationship.

Nonetheless, the aspects of coming out to family and friends and what it meant to be homosexual in a workplace as testosterone-laden as competitive sports made this book a compelling read and Meader’s prose tied these together nicely through that mix of witty dialogue and the internal monologues of both the protagonists and the supporting characters—which I can’t wait to meet again as the series goes on.

four-stars

Final Siege by Scarlett Cole

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Final Siege by Scarlett ColeFinal Siege by Scarlett Cole
Series: Love Over Duty #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 30th 2018
Pages: 300
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two-stars

IN THE LINE OF FIRE…

Former SEAL Malachai “Mac” MacCarrick is all about the future he’s created with his Navy brothers in Eagle Securities, taking assignments in the most dangerous places, and doing things no one but ex-military would attempt. But when an urgent phone call brings his troubled past—and the woman he once loved—into the present, it’s a chance to redeem himself that he can’t refuse.

STRAIGHT TO THE HEART…

An investigative journalist researching an explosive story, Delaney Shapiro tells herself she got over Mac—and his role in her brother’s death—a long time ago. But the first moment she sees him at her bedside in an overseas hospital, she knows it’s not true. Every moment together rekindles the desire that once burned between them, and now that she’s a target for an emerging Russian arms dealer, Mac won’t let her out of his sight. To protect her, he’ll risk it all—including his life…

A separation caused by tragedy, and a coincidental ‘rescue’ so to speak, 14 years later, leading to a second-chance romance did sound like the kind of story I wanted to dig into. Delaney and Mac do have weighted history and I was eager to see what Scarlett Cole would write about such a story and second chances, particularly after I got a sniff of what happened in their past.

But as an RS reader, I’m admittedly used to a style of writing that has gotten ingrained over the years, so these are my own preferences that I’m highlighting here—preferences that perhaps show how unused to Cole’s style I am.

For this reason, ‘Final Siege’ was hard to get into despite the enticing blurb, and these were mostly structural (narrative-wise) quibbles for me. Cole’s writing did throw me off in the instances of head-hopping—when the perspectives sometimes switched without warning—and the lack of demarcating in spots where scenes and dialogues just didn’t break or signal any time passing. With the lack of paragraphing and breaks, the whole narrative felt a little rambly, along with some awkward insertions of sentences that didn’t quite seem to flow with the development of a scene or aid in characterisation. Some parts, however, were well-written, though it was hard to get past the uneven way the whole story was laid out, particularly at the beginning of chapters where I found myself scrambling to make sense of context.

By and large, Delaney and Mac danced around the biggest ghost in their past that haunt them. Delaney did turn out frustrating at times: her inability to get over Mac’s supposed part in her brother’s death felt like something she hung onto simply so that she had a reason to keep on hating Mac. There was also a large focus on the push-pull happening between Delaney and Mac that got cloyingly repetitive when I’d expected the suspense to take priority after they meet again. That however, only kicked in somewhere near the halfway point, which made ‘Final Siege’ seem rather slow-paced for an RS book and in some way, like a game that went a step forward and 2 steps back.

That said, I’m not too sure how much of final revisions ARCs actually undergo. ‘Final Siege’ does unfortunately, look like a book that still needs a bit of editing; otherwise, it’ll be left as a story that’s got a potential which it never quite reached.

two-stars
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