Tag: Contemporary Romance

Shattered Vows by Kaylea Cross

Shattered Vows by Kaylea CrossShattered Vows by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point #3
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 239
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two-stars

She belonged to his best friend.

Molly Boyd’s entire world unraveled when tragedy turned the man she loved into her greatest threat, and now her confusing feelings for his best friend aren’t helping matters. For years Jase has been a solid, steady source of comfort and friendship. Now she can’t stop seeing him as something more. And just as she’s wrestling with her shifting feelings, a new danger from her ex’s past threatens everything.

But she’s always been the one.

Jase Weaver is an expert at unrequited love. Years ago he stood by and watched his best friend marry the woman of his dreams, and he’s endured his suffering in silence ever since. But when Carter’s self-destructive tailspin threatened Molly, Jase stepped in to make her safe. Now he can’t stay silent any longer. He’s wanted Molly forever and it’s time she knows it. So when a new threat against her emerges, Jase will put his own life on the line to protect her, no matter the cost.

‘Shattered Vows’ is pretty much what the title suggests: the gradual breakdown of a marriage, a tragedy, some suspense(lite) and the stepping in of an ex’s best friend on which the romance finally builds.

Kaylea Cross’s latest addition however, has left me scratchy and unhappy. It isn’t as simple as Molly fleeing her PSTD-ridden abusive ex-husband, but that said ex also used to be Jase’s bestie. Throw in the latter’s unrequited feelings and there’s a touch of the forbidden here. Jase/Molly’s story was always touted as an epic tale to come (judging from the tension and angst between them in the previous books) but I think it completely fell apart for me when Cross inserted Molly’s accidental pregnancy from her ex at the end of the last book.

I always like a new start for the couple in question and this seriously threw a spanner in the works. I was concerned that Jase seemed to be getting second-best and I wanted to know how Cross would address this, or at least, how satisfactorily it would be written in. Yet it was hard not to view Jase as Molly’s consolation prize, seeing as she had chosen his best friend and not given a single glance at him in the years she was married.

But the bottom line was, having Carter’s ghost so strongly intruding in their new lives together made ‘Shattered Vows’ a story I couldn’t tolerate, despite all the lip service paid to ‘moving on’. Seeing that all Jase wanted was Molly (for years) was simultaneously pitiful and painful to read about and I’d actually hoped he could move on, instead of emotionally tying himself to a woman I wasn’t ever sure wanted him for himself, or the safety and protection he represented.

It isn’t often that Cross’s books frustrate the hell out of me, but this one did in every way. Clearly this is just me and my triggers talking here; I’m pretty sure there’ll be those who like this kind of angst and a resolution that has the guy getting the girl in the end.

two-stars

The Savior by Cristin Harber

The Savior by Cristin HarberThe Savior by Cristin Harber
Series: Aces #1
Published by Mill Creek Press on 19th December 2018
Pages: 299
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four-stars

A man loses the woman he intends to marry.A woman loses her best friend.
Retired Army Captain Liam Brosnan and US Marshal Chelsea Kilpatrick are forced to question what they know about a murder that forces them together. Uncertain connections from Liam’s military career rope them into a cloak-and-dagger investigation that offers more questions than answers.

Being duty-bound while in the throes of grief is a dangerous mixture. They struggle with unexpected sparks of passion and question their loyalty to a woman they loved while a murderer closes in on his next target.

Will the explosive solace Liam and Chelsea find in one another lead to a love neither expected? Or will it blind them to looming danger and death?

Cristin Harber’s larger-than-life military/terrorism conspiracy plots often skirt closer to the edge of the unbelievable than many of the books I’ve gone through but then again, that’s part of the basis of the romantic suspense genre: the homing in on particular individuals upon whom the fate of the country or the world hangs, no matter how ludicrous the situation might be (even when the connections are far from water-tight).

Yet ‘The Savior’ is an intriguing start to a new series that I’m curious enough to want to continue: the somewhat taboo attraction between a retired army captain and a federal agent, brought together ironically by the death of the death of his girlfriend (who also happened to be latter’s best friend).

Chelsea Kilpatrick and Liam Brosnan do make a good pairing somehow, especially so after Liam learns that the tragedy they’d both lived through was in fact, premeditated…and carefully planned over a few years.

Pile on the guilt, the hesitation, the electric sexual tension and a mite bit of push-pull. The icky dead-partner as the third party vibe isn’t altogether absent, nonetheless. We’re not quite given much of their history together however, only that they knew each other marginally through Julia, yet Liam and Chelsea ‘adulted’ quite well and I liked their inadvertent (and fairly mature) way of dealing with their burgeoning attraction to each other.

What was strangely surprising was the lack of action that brought the steady pace to a sort of lull until the last quarter of the book as things pulled together. (I didn’t get the Vietnamese-sounding terrorist names, by the way.) Harber’s writing style did feel somewhat ‘off’ and uneven at times though: some collocations didn’t quite make sense logically if you actually think carefully about it, or the moments where more was needed but wasn’t given and vice versa. Some were even jarring enough to kick me out of the narrative; well, the whole point being, I did think a finer-toothed comb was necessary in weeding out these errors, developmental or otherwise.

Being cautiously optimistic about this new series is what I’m left with by the end, abrupt as it seemed.

four-stars

In Her Sights by Katie Ruggle

In Her Sights by Katie RuggleIn Her Sights by Katie Ruggle
Series: Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 26th March 2019
Pages: 384
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two-stars

Bounty hunter Molly Pax fought hard for everything she has, turning the bail recovery business she shares with her sisters into an unqualified success. So when their sticky-fingered mother jumps bail and puts the childhood home up as collateral, Molly's horrified. To make matters worse, every two-bit criminal in the Rockies now sees her family's misfortune as their next big break.

She needs help, stat.

Enter rival bounty hunter John Carmondy: six feet of pure trouble, with a cocky grin to match. John's the most cheerfully, annoyingly gorgeous frenemy Molly's ever had the pleasure of defeating...and he may be her only hope of making it out of this mess alive.

As the caretaker of a dysfunctional family, Molly Pax handles it all: her sisters, the her manipulative mother and the very annoying (but hot) John Carmondy who can’t seem to leave her alone even though they’re both career-rivals.

I didn’t know what to expect from Katie Ruggle’s new series—my experience with Ruggles’s writing has been varied—but bounty hunting sisters finding their HEA sounded like a unique-enough premise to branch out from her Rocky Mountain books.

There was more quirk and light-heartedness than I thought for an RS book and much of the drama—to my disappointment—for at least halfway, dealt with the Pax sisters’ panic about their mother’s shenanigans and the fear of losing their house as John played a longing, moony sidekick role at the fringe. I started skimming a lot as the investigation went seemingly in circles and Molly/John’s relationship development felt more like a slow burn that had me struggling to keep my interest up. That there wasn’t a point in time I wanted to re-read what I’d missed was probably a warning red flag hoisted high about my boredom levels.

The bottomline is, I wish I were more excited about the start of Ruggle’s new series. I do like Ruggle’s writing style and her protagonists by and large (which is why I do keep coming back to her books from time to time) but the plot however, wasn’t just something I could be enthusiastic about in this mild enemies-to-lovers type story. It’s also more romantic-suspense-lite and strangely more family-friendly, so ‘In Her Sights’ is probably a book more suited to those who prefer to keep just their toes in the genre.

two-stars

Buried by Brenda Rothert

Buried by Brenda RothertBuried by Brenda Rothert
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 15th November 2018
Pages: 167
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two-stars

Do you believe in fate?

I didn’t. I’d worked since childhood to become an NFL starting quarterback. All the blood, sweat, and tears were about to pay off with my name in the record books. Setting an NFL record was going to be the crowning achievement of my career. Hell, of my life.But then fate, the cagey bitch, threw me a curveball I never saw coming. I ended up trapped in a doomsday bunker with four strangers, my chances at that record slipping away as days turned into months.

I never would’ve given Erin a second look. She was gorgeous, sure, but not my type. I liked women who were strong. Fearless. Resilient. Not to mention that she hated me.

But I was so wrong about her. And in that bunker, I fell in crazy, stupid love. I thought a record would be my greatest triumph. But now, all I want is a shot with Erin. I’ve faced down massive linebackers intent on ending me. For her, I’ll go toe-to-toe with fate.

I’ll say from the outset that ‘Buried’ rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but putting people in a forced underground bunker albeit by accident wasn’t the scenario I’d envisioned at all. Being stuck in close quarters or rather, cabin fever does make people do things they normally wouldn’t—including hooking up with other people who don’t normally cross their radar.

The life-changing event took place long enough to get everyone’s priorities rearranged while showing up the good, bad and the ugly. But that this was the basis of Erin’s and Derek’s relationship bothered me more than it should, because I wasn’t convinced that he would have spared her a second glance otherwise, nor chosen a woman like her to fit that smarmy playboy athlete lifestyle. How often has the excuse of sports taking up so much time that it becomes a valid reason to become a player on and off the field?

That he also had the urge not to ‘fuck’ her as he did with other women (as usual, she made him want more when he never wanted before, though I’d question if this was just prolonged cabin fever talking)…was a comparison that proved the last straw and an absolute put-off.

It was far easier to like Erin’s more even keel and compassion, and her matter-of-fact view of the player lifestyle not meshing with hers, and how she didn’t turn hysterical when it was clear that their time together was up.

The twist at the end felt more like something done for shock value (things just didn’t really add up satisfactorily as well), after which we were skipped straight to the epilogue. It didn’t seem to do much more other than add an unfinished touch to the entire story, instead worsening what already was a middling read for me.

two-stars

Playing For Keeps by Jill Shalvis

Playing For Keeps by Jill ShalvisPlaying for Keeps by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay, #7
Published by Avon on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 384
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two-stars


If you’re planning on falling in love…

When it comes to the confident, charismatic Caleb Parker, Sadie Lane feels the spark—the kind that comes from rubbing each other the wrong way. She’s a tattoo artist, he’s a straight-laced mogul. But after they accidentally co-rescue an abandoned dog from a storm, Sadie sees a vulnerable side to the seemingly invincible hottie.

you’d better be sure…

Caleb doesn’t do emotions. Growing up the underdog, he’s learned the hard way to build up an impenetrable wall. Perfect for business. Disastrous for relationships. He’s never worried about it before—not until he finally gets behind Sadie’s armor and begins to fall.

… someone is there to catch you.

Both guarded and vulnerable, Sadie and Caleb are complete opposites. Or are they? Shocked at their undeniable connection, can they ever admit to wanting more? That all depends on what they’re each willing to risk.

Co-parenting an abandoned dog is what brings Sadie Lane and Caleb Parker together in Jill Shalvis’s ongoing ‘Heartbreaker Bay’ series—one that I had no idea would be going on and on and on.

And much of ‘Playing For Keeps’ is about bringing down the walls that Sadie has built after an emo-filled teenage-hood and adult-life, complete with barbs, pushing away and a whole lot of questioning when the man for her finally rolls around the corner with his own special brand of baggage that he’s already overcome.

In essence, ‘Playing For Keeps’ is built upon a push-pull between Sadie and Caleb: the former is an expert at lashing out, self-sabotaging good things and running away, while the latter’s supposed proclaiming that he’d been falling for her with her for over a year yet hooking up with other women in the meantime over the past few months (maybe I’m the only one with this hang-up?) didn’t quite make them a couple I could really stand behind.

But in Shalvis’s gentle exploration of emotional self-harm and the scars that don’t really fade is also the implicit message of getting a guy who pursues you no matter how deep your issues run and puts himself out there for you until you finally soften and give in…well, that’s the core of romantic fiction that’s always been the age-old draw for readers. That much I appreciate, as much as the light-hearted storytelling that Shalvis excels at: emotions are drawn out, though not overly so and conflict is resolved as quickly as they come, leaving just gentle waves that lap at the shore that do no lasting harm, so to speak.

Yet I think the Heartbreaker Bay series is losing its sheen for me. I couldn’t find it in myself to get excited over Sadie/Caleb, even though Shalvis’s writing is as buoyant and rom-com pitch perfect as I remember. Other than the small, irksome bits I can’t seem to let go of when it comes to the characters in question, the anthropomorphising of animals (something that Shalvis does a fair bit) where a pet’s behaviour is tailored to tug at every ‘cute’ heartstring is only something I can take in small amounts.

I’m guessing that ‘Playing For Keeps’ is something a devoted Shalvis fan will enjoy and I did wish that it’d worked better for me.

two-stars

Silent Evidence by Rachel Grant

Silent Evidence by Rachel GrantSilent Evidence by Rachel Grant
Series: Evidence,
Published by Janus Publishing on 28th December 2018
Pages: 436
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four-stars


The man of her fantasies is finally hers. Sort of…

Two things haunt forensic anthropologist Hazel MacLeod: the bones of victims of genocide she examines for her work, and former SEAL Sean Logan’s rejection. But within days of moving to her cousin’s estate to take a much needed break, she finds herself faced with both.

First, she’s called in to examine a mass grave in Virginia, then, her politician cousin receives a threatening letter and insists Hazel needs around the clock protection—from none other than Sean Logan. To make matters worse, because the threat to her is classified, Hazel and Sean must pretend to be lovers to hide that he’s her bodyguard.

Sean has spent years trying to avoid his boss’s sexy cousin, but now he’s guarding her twenty-four/seven and even bringing her as his date to a romantic destination wedding. As the heat between them intensifies, Sean can’t lose sight of the danger that brought them together. But when bullets start flying, new questions arise. Are the senator’s political rivals really behind the threat, or is someone trying to silence Hazel from speaking for the dead?

The unfulfilled, unrequited type stories are what I tend to go after and ‘Silent Evidence’—touted by Rachel Grant as such—was one that I immediately pounced on when it came. Then again, reading Grant’s works is always an enthralling, absorbing experience.

‘Silent Evidence’ isn’t exactly a standalone to begin with. Characters from Grant’s previous books do play a substantial part in here—with the many references to the events of previous books providing much-needed context for how well we can understand what’s really going on—this far into the series where Grant’s speculative ‘world-building’ so to speak, is sufficiently developed to entangle everyone else apart from her protagonists in the building mystery and suspense.

The romance itself however, is fairly straightforward: Hazel MacLeod has always wanted Sean Logan, whose rebuffs have not only put her on edge and eager to avoid him, but that circumstances have somehow conspired to put them back in each other’s orbits when it becomes clear that there are odds and ends that don’t add up—with more than a touch of danger that sweeps in.

Like all Grant books, her plot and characters are layered and complex, with a hard, detailed look into fascinating fields such forensic anthropology, political manoeuvrings and a thread of racial tension woven through it all. But it did take a while to get to the meat of the story and the conspiracy as Sean and Hazel did their will-they-won’t-they dance in a fake boyfriend/bodyguard ruse that felt somewhat amateurish for this high-octane story. If Hazel suffered from all the pining, Sean’s own indecision got rather aggravating until a near-fatal accident took it all out of him and got him to buckle down for the ride.

The big reveal and the unravelling of the conspiracy did seem kind of a let down after the elaborate setup however, when it all peaked and then wrapped in the last 15 or so pages of the long, long read where telling took over showing. Left with the niggling feeling that I’d been taken for a huge, circular joyride with political and human-experimentation inserts from time to time, I finished ‘Silent Evidence’ semi-content that Sean/Hazel rode off into their HEA but wondered if the story could have been shorter and tighter.

four-stars

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

Fix Her Up by Tessa BaileyFix Her Up by Tessa Bailey
Series: Hot & Hammered #1
Published by Avon on 11th June 2019
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Georgette Castle’s family runs the best home renovation business in town, but she picked balloons instead of blueprints and they haven’t taken her seriously since. Frankly, she’s over it. Georgie loves planning children’s birthday parties and making people laugh, just not at her own expense. She’s determined to fix herself up into a Woman of the World... whatever that means.

Phase one: new framework for her business (a website from this decade, perhaps?)
Phase two: a gut-reno on her wardrobe (fyi, leggings are pants.)
Phase three: updates to her exterior (do people still wax?)
Phase four: put herself on the market (and stop crushing on Travis Ford!)

Living her best life means facing the truth: Georgie hasn’t been on a date since, well, ever. Nobody’s asking the town clown out for a night of hot sex, that’s for sure. Maybe if people think she’s having a steamy love affair, they’ll acknowledge she’s not just the “little sister” who paints faces for a living. And who better to help demolish that image than the resident sports star and tabloid favorite?

Travis Ford was major league baseball’s hottest rookie when an injury ended his career. Now he’s flipping houses to keep busy and trying to forget his glory days. But he can’t even cross the street without someone recapping his greatest hits. Or making a joke about his… bat. And then there's Georgie, his best friend’s sister, who is not a kid anymore. When she proposes a wild scheme—that they pretend to date, to shock her family and help him land a new job—he agrees. What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s real. But the girl Travis used to tease is now a funny, full-of-life woman and there’s nothing fake about how much he wants her...

Some time has passed since I’ve put my nose in a Tessa Bailey read and it’s only a reminder how assured Bailey is with words. Though I’ll be the first to say that her stories can be a hit or miss for me.

I wavered on ‘Fix Her Up’ despite the cute blurb. Tackling the brother’s best-friend, fake dating trope (crossed with the manwhore/guileless virgin one which I didn’t expect and detested), it actually started off pretty damn well, then turned predictably cringeworthy because the blurb hadn’t quite revealed the intricacies of the characters that could make or break the story for me.

Georgie had always been overlooked, or rather, looked at as the annoying and forgotten little sister, the one who never mattered enough to be other than that label. Worse yet, she’d spent her entire life in love with the famous homegrown baseball player who’s now a failure and a washout while he hopped into bed with as many women as he could while leading that famous sportsman lifestyle, then helps him indirectly pick up the pieces when he comes home wallowing in self-pity. In fact, I felt sorry for her for getting short-changed in so many ways but liked her for being the somewhat quirky, pushing-back-sort of girl who made the best she could of her situation.

Some dick-waving in the face of male competition and fake dating and some machinations later…well, their story goes as you’d expect as Travis Ford somehow manages to see past what he’d always thought of as the best friend’s pesky sister because she made him laugh and talk again and want things beyond the physical. Having his well-earned reputation thrown in my face repeatedly however, even if it was to show superficial his conquests and hundreds of one-night stands were didn’t help this while she pined afar. That Georgie—comfortable in her own clothing—seemed to have needed a makeover before Travis could see her as someone to lust after was a bothersome reminder that her looks ultimately mattered as well.

Travis’s lack of commitment was mentioned to many times and the reason for that was also given as an insecure childhood, and predictably, both his and Georgie’s issues came to the fore, or rather, where it hurt the most at the climax, after which the typical grovelling started—when the manwhore suddenly became a family, committed man out of the blue after a bit of self-talk and self-actualisation.

‘Fix Her Up’ is a classic Bailey read, nonetheless. I could power through the pages because of a writing style that I am comfortable with; my own complaints about the tropes are my own prejudices showing up here.

two-stars