Tag: Contemporary Romance

In Bed with The Beast by Tara Sivec

In Bed with The Beast by Tara SivecIn Bed with the Beast by Tara Sivec
Series: , #2
Published by Swerve on 5th June 2018
Pages: 304
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one-star

Living in her overprotective dad’s basement, shy Belle lives her life through books. Being a part of the Naughty Princess Club is the first adventure she’s ever had, plus she desperately needs the money to save one of her favorite places - the local library.

But when her new friends and new business gets her kicked out of her dad’s house, Belle is rescued by the surly Vincent “Beast” Adams who invites her to be his house guest until she gets back on her feet. Despite his attitude problem and long list of rules, Belle finds herself warming to the muscled man with a penchant for growling and starts seeing a gentle side to him that wasn’t there before.

Yet there’s a room that Beast keeps locked and Belle keeps getting hints that Beast is hiding something…can a nerdy librarian tame the beast or will their romance be over before it has a chance to blossom?

It’s hard to give the modern fairytale retelling a pass in my case—sucker that I am for all of spins and takes we can possibly have on them—which is why ‘In Bed with the Beast’ was one that I was eager to get my hands on.

In this case, it’s about a librarian and a bouncer, aka, Belle and the Beast, the supposedly shy librarian and the surly bouncer. Throw in the home stripping business that 3 women have started into the mix and I was beyond intrigued at this risqué proposition and take on the fairytale.

But this didn’t start off well for me, with characters generally behaving like hormonal tweens to the extent where I had to relook their ages. A smothered Belle, who was 25 and her father, who spoke like a man who’d regressed into childhood. Her friends, who didn’t behave much better, with exaggerated actions and reactions to every single thing you know can only appear in rom-coms and nowhere else.

In short, what I suspect was supposed to have been the book’s selling point—the craziness of the 3 good friends—grated on and fell flat for me. The humour and the liberal use of capital letters in the storytelling just made it feel a lot more juvenile than it should have been for characters well into their twenties: Belle’s hyperbolic inner monologues, the shrill petulance of her reactions, the spouting random facts just didn’t make me laugh at all; neither did the unbelievable antics of her 2 other friends which involved a bit of slapstick stuff and the overly dramatic behaviour that was more eye-rolling than funny.

In the end, I couldn’t find myself interested in these characters at all and only the mysterious, gruff Vincent Adams and his secret locked door kept me trudging (or skimming) on. But seeing as I couldn’t wait to get this over with, it’s clearly not the read for me.

one-star

A Matter of Justice by Christy Reece

A Matter of Justice by Christy ReeceA Matter Of Justice by Christy Reece
Series: Grey Justice, #4
Published by Christy Reece on 17th April 2018
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four-stars

Their past is complicated, their future is deadly.

She came from nothing and was no one until an evil man formed her into the perfect weapon, a beautiful creature of destruction. Capturing her prey held few challenges, until her target and her heart collided, and then the world came down around her. Irelyn Raine has worked hard to bury her past, but escape isn’t always possible, especially when the one man she trusts above all others throws her back into the hell she swore she’d never revisit. Now Irelyn has no choice but to face down her demons.

Grey Justice lives by a standard few would approve or understand. Gaining justice for victims can be a messy business, and the outcome isn’t always pretty. One woman knows all his secrets—the one woman who could break him. Irelyn Raine is his weakness and his strength, his shame and his redemption.

Someone else knows all their secrets, all their sins, and he’ll use everything within his power to destroy what they’ve built together.

Surviving alone isn’t possible, but can they find their way back to each other in time? Or will one of them be left behind? This time, forever?

No one escapes justice.

‘A Matter of Justice’ closes Christy Reece’s ‘Grey Justice’ series and is a gratifying read given that it finally uncovers the odd relationship between Irelyn and Grey, who have only always been each other’s. In this aspect ‘A Matter of Justice’ is unusual for a romance, seeing as Irelyn/Grey is never a pairing in question even as the book starts after a time of personal conflict and separation. For this reason, there’s little emotional angst when Irelyn and Grey simply talk to get their problems sorted then move forward as a pair, the driving force of the plot coming instead from an external source in Irelyn’s past that they can’t quite outrun.

So much of Grey/Irelyn’s relationship has been shrouded in vague terms, with bits of their history floating in and out of Reece’s previous books that it can be difficult to put together this weird relationship that ranges the entire spectrum from love to hate. In any case, reconstructing their relationship from my perspective was an exercise in frustration, even when I was one-thirds through the book. With all the hints that Reece has been dropping about them having spent so much time together, having hurt each other so brutally, I needed the details. Their story is finally told in the later parts of the book but I still found too many gaps in Grey/Irelyn’s history—the intricacies of how they got to where the are now—that I wanted to know, which I felt Reece glossed over or didn’t address.

In fact, the main failing of the story is that there were many things that Reece expected us to take at face value, which I found I couldn’t. Battling implausibility has always been the largest obstacle in romantic suspense anyway, as it takes this part of the brain to switch off each time I watch an action/thriller film, and as always, some more so than others. Maybe a flashback or 2 in the beginning would have helped, otherwise, their history felt more like recounting/telling rather than the immersive experience that I was hoping for.

That said, it’s a pretty good end to the series, even it probably doesn’t work too well as a standalone—Reece gives a lock-and-loaded type situation, with a journey that hops all over the globe (exotic locations seem par for the course) and one that finally puts Grey Justice in action. That Grey/Justice’s HEA is done before the climax is yet another unusual thing for this story, but Reece can do the unexpected while providing the fairytale-ish ending…which is always a pleasant surprise.

four-stars

Bro Code by Kendall Ryan

Bro Code by Kendall RyanBro Code by Kendall Ryan
Published by CreateSpace on 1st May 2018
Pages: 183
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three-half-stars

There’s pretty much only one rule when you’re a guy.

Don’t be a douche.

Turns out, the fastest way to break that rule is to fall for your best friend’s sister.

Ava’s brilliant, sharp-tongued, gorgeous, and five years younger than me.

She’s the sexual equivalent of running with scissors. In a word, she’s dangerous. And completely off-limits.

Falling for her could ruin everything.

Yet I can’t seem to stop, even when her company is threatened by a lawsuit, and my promotion hinges on representing the opposing client—and winning.

I can’t see a way out of this mess that doesn’t end in a broken friendship, a broken heart, or a ruined career.

I may have broken the bro code when I fell for Ava. But do I have the balls to handle what comes next?

Sometimes I forget how satisfying it can be to read a straightforward, mutual-want-with-lust story, big brother’s sister or not.

In truth, I don’t understand the ‘bro code’ that’s laid out like the holy grail in romance—why shouldn’t the brother’s best friend or the best friend’s brother or some other permutation like this be off-limits, particularly he’s a decent guy? The only reason I can see this being frowned upon is if the man in question is a degenerate, senseless moron, in which case, merely reflects badly on the person who’s laid out the code in the first place, for even calling said moron a friend.

But that’s the only gripe I have for Kendall Ryan’s ‘Bro Code’. Bewildered as I was by all the sneaking around, Barrett felt like a decent protagonist who had a tiny bit of admiration for his best friend’s sister, who wants him back. Despite their divergent lives, the development of their relationship from awkward door greeting to the bed seemed believable as well, with a level-headed heroine who did seem to know what she was doing despite being 5 years younger. (This age difference doesn’t even register on my scale)

The clichéd big penis business (condom have to be mail ordered because normal ones won’t fit) that made the book more porn-y however, made me wince. Playing to the bigger is better stereotype, this was probably one of those times that wasn’t necessary—I didn’t need convincing about Barrett’s ding dong and Ava’s waxing lyrical over it.

In all, a decent easy read, low on the angst, perfect for a lazy afternoon.

three-half-stars

Total Control by Jackie Ashenden

Total Control by Jackie AshendenTotal Control by Jackie Ashenden
Series: 11th Hour #2
on 26th June 2018
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two-stars


Once they were soldiers. Now they answer only to honor . . .

 
The 11th Hour is made up of men and women who are no longer deemed fit to serve their country, but still need to fight a war. They work in shadows, keep their secrets—and follow their hearts . . . 

Helicopter pilot Kellan Blake has always hated being told what to do, so being discharged from the army for insubordination doesn't come as much of a surprise.

What does surprise him is that when he joins up with the elite, underground 11th Hour squad instead, they send him straight home. The nest of vipers that calls itself his family is the next target for the team’s tech unit, so he’ll either have to brave their traps and deceptions himself—or watch his sweet, shy friend Sabrina walk into them alone . . .  

Sabrina’s no femme fatale, but since there's no one else with the tech skills to get the info they need, she’ll put on a party dress and take one for the team. But whoever decided she should pretend to be Kellan’s new fiancée hit a little too close to home. How can she concentrate on a dangerous mission when she's worried about giving away what she really feels for her loyal, passionate, smoking hot partner? At least she isn’t likely to blow their cover. Until she’s in the line of fire, and neither Kellan's demons nor his heart are hers to tame . . .  

‘Total Control’ started out fantastically, I have to say. The conflict was established early on, as Kellan Blake went all out to prove his father’s innocence when the 11th Hour crew had all but deemed his guilty of crimes too horrific to imagine. But it was the undercover mission involving him and fellow operative and best friend Sabrina however, that had things going completely awry for me, along with a set of revelations and corresponding behaviour that made me think twice about rooting for this pairing.

Combining the unrequited love, best friends-to-lovers trope here, Jackie Ashenden focuses less on the action and more on the drama surrounding both Kellan and Sabrina, though it’s the former’s intrusive past that has been brought to light in a very unpleasant way, overshadowing the original mission. And that was what spoiled the broth for me, so to speak. I wanted to see how Ashenden addressed his inability to see Sabrina for who she was given she was under his nose all these years, but this didn’t happen; instead, all I got was more of Kellan bulldozing his way through to proclaim Sabrina was what he wanted after 2 weeks undercover and several nights of hot sex.

In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a more emotionally-manipulative and controlling ‘hero’ than Kellan, who uses every weapon in his arsenal to get his way (that includes sex) to railroad his best friend under the guise of wanting to protect her. His inability to see her as an operative, his unquestioning acceptance of the his sudden but inexplicable attraction to her despite the fixation on anything and everything else but her didn’t make him a protagonist deserving of a woman who was insecure enough in measuring her self-worth in terms of usefulness to him and whose only crime was to stupidly let herself be controlled by him.

The constant repetition of what Kellan did years ago grated on me—a character who made her presence felt without appearing nonetheless—made the story like a lopsided love triangle when that became the focus at the end instead of the mission that we started out with. The result was an ending scene that became an emotional mess and both Sabrina and Kellan tried different ways to rationalise what they’d done…until I failed to see any logic in their arguments.

In essence, the direction the story took was immensely disappointing, particularly after the pretty cool build-up from the start. And more’s the pity, because ‘Total Control’ could have gone down so differently for me but ultimately didn’t.

two-stars

Darkest Night by Megan Erickson

Darkest Night by Megan EricksonDarkest Night by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous, #2
Published by Forever on 31st July 2018
Pages: 320
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two-stars

Bodyguard Jock Bosh has one job: keep Fiona Madden safe. Safe from the men who've been hunting her. Safe from the bastard responsible for ruining her life. And with the attraction sizzling white-hot between them, that means keeping Fiona safe from him too.

Fiona has spent the past decade on the run. Her survival is the single greatest weapon she's had against the men out to destroy her. Until Jock. Now, with him by her side, she finally has a chance to bring them down. But when her enemies make their next move and Jock puts himself in the line of fire, Fiona realizes that there's more at stake than just her life-she's also risking her heart.

There has been drama. There have been words (some very virulent ones) that have been flung around. I’m sort of aware of the drama that has surrounded Megan Erickson in the past few months, but not having any involvement in the debate that had ignited the entire community (and pretty much blew up over the course of a few days) means that I’m still kind of bewildered over the whole thing.

But that really isn’t a disclaimer on my part in any case. I’ve been graciously handed an ARC and that’s what this is going to be about—an assessment of what I felt about the plot, characters and the style. This review is going to be just that: a book review and nothing more as all my reviews have been.

So off we got onto a start that felt somewhat abrupt where ‘Darkest Night’ left me flailing for purchase. With the barest of context alluded to about the history of Fiona Madden and Wren Lee, to the magical and mysterious appearance of a stoic bodyguard named Jock, I struggled for the first quarter for some kind of purchase. With too many questions in mind—how this was related to the previous book being the first and foremost—it was hard not to feel as though I’d come in late to the game where a huge chunk of the back story had been reduced to a few sentences of vague explanation that Jock provided for his presence as well as the danger that Fiona was in. For this reason I’m not entirely sure if ‘Darkest Night’ worked well as a standalone; needing to go back to the first book for details can be tiresome but the appearance of Roarke’s hacker crew and the story arc that seemed to be carried over in this half necessitated it.

There wasn’t the geek-heavy type of plot with hardcore coding and tech-speak that I expected with a first half slowly revolving mostly around Fiona getting used to Jock’s towering presence. With a more traditional take on the bodyguard-type (who also happened to be a hacker) story, Erickson focused on character building that came to a road block when both their pasts were brought into question. Still, Jock remained remote for most of the time, while Fiona trying her best to cut through his walls felt merely like an exercise in futility and this holding pattern (along with wildly vacillating emotions on both sides) made their connection difficult to buy into.

I could certainly appreciate the issues that Erickson wrote about—PTSD being the primary one—as much as I could ‘appreciate’ (is there a better word here?) how ‘Darkest Night’ was written around the problem of sex crimes and its victims. But having been left without solid footing for so long, along with the inability to read the protagonists or feel the depth of horror that these crimes normally elicit, I found myself more disconnected than invested nonetheless.

two-stars

After We Break by Katy Regnery

After We Break by Katy RegneryAfter We Break by Katy Regnery
Published by Katy Regnery on January 8th 2014
Pages: 304
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one-star

She was the girl.
The only girl.
The only girl I ever wanted.
The only girl I ever loved.
The only girl I could ever love.
And I killed it.
I destroyed it.
I threw her love away.
For nine years, I've kept the memory of her locked in the deepest corner of my heart...all the while hating myself for what I did to her.
To us.
Now, without warning, she's walked back into my life.
I'm covered in tats.
She's covered in Polo.
I write heavy metal songs.
She writes chick-lit.
My eyes are angry.
Her eyes are sad.
I still long for her with every fiber of my being.
But I have no idea if she feels the same.
I guess it's time to find out.

What kind of masochist would take part in this? Apparently the answer seems to point back to me.

Having been scorched and thoroughly burnt by a book I read recently, I fell back into what appears to be the exact plot and trope rehashed here, which left me beyond incredulous and unimpressed with the compendium of clichés and the laughably predictable behaviour of protagonists who simply acted the way I thought they would.

I’m tempted to sentence the second-chance romance to the death penalty.

Katy Regnery’s ‘After We Break’ is essentially an exercise in grovelling, where a decade ago, a scared-of-true-love male hero runs away from a woman declaring her love. Fast forward this nearly 10 years, the woman moves on with 1 man for a long time and the hero devolves into a tatted, metal-loving songwriting manwhore who has never forgotten his mistake and the first love that he can’t acknowledge.

I don’t think there’s much more to say as I skimmed through cliché after cliché where both characters have apparently never stopped loving each other, where a spineless heroine, despite her reservations, falls back into bed with the hero because he’s hot and can’t resist his newly-formed rough-edged sex appeal. The latter spends most of the time trying to convince her of his love as well as the idea of fate bringing them back together, when all along, never quite satisfactorily addresses the idea he would have been happy going on not searching for her or fighting for what he supposedly always wanted.

Believability, apart from being the core issue, ranks low on my scale here, more so when all I got was immense frustration with a malleable, weak-ish ‘heroine’ (who couldn’t move on from him properly) and an even weaker ‘hero’ (who downplays his numerous flings and then has the nerve to accuse the former of having slept with her boyfriend for years) whom I thought were better apart.

one-star

Threat of Danger by Dana Marton

Threat of Danger by Dana MartonThreat of Danger by Dana Marton
Published by Montlake Romance on June 5th 2018
Pages: 304
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four-stars

Jess Taylor and Derek Daley were in the throes of first love in a small Vermont town when they were kidnapped by a serial killer. They escaped his clutches—but not the trauma of the unsolved crime. With their lives changed forever and their romance cut short, they went their separate ways to exorcise their fears.

Jess is living on the edge as Hollywood’s hottest stuntwoman. It’s no longer terror thrumming through her veins. It’s adrenaline. Derek is a former Navy SEAL spinning his ordeals into heart-pounding bestselling thrillers. But when Jess is called home on a family emergency, she must face the past—and face the man she left behind, who is just as haunted and, like her, still so much in love.

Now, as an old flame reignites, Jess and Derek are taking advantage of second chances and putting their bad memories behind them. But here, in the quiet town of Taylorville, a killer is getting a second chance as well.

With Dana Marton, each book is radically different: characters, histories and backstories, all of it and it’s this kind of unpredictability that makes Marton a compelling writer. In fact, ‘Threat of Danger’ is nothing like its predecessor (save the good writing), is only very marginally linked to it and a solid standalone in its own right.

‘Threat of Danger’ is in essence, a whodunnit mystery that builds up to the revelatory moment and it’s closer to a typical ‘crime’ story rather than a military one that I’d expected. Jess/Derek’s story unfolds slowly, almost painfully as the memories return, the irrational blame that Jess places on Derek for their ordeal in the woods a decade ago coming to light as she’s forced to revisit her hometown. Jess’s family business of sugaring fascinated me, as did Marton’s deliberate but unusual pairing of a stuntwoman who lives on adrenaline highs (yet stays anonymous) and a retired SEAL who’s now a bestselling thriller writer.

Jess’s and Derek’s story is also a second-chance one that, because of the circumstances laid out, is more or less a believable one, though it does seem as though Jess and Derek come together incidentally because of her return. This pairing would absolutely not have existed otherwise save for the hand of fate so to speak, and the quick fall back in love (was it ever?) felt a mite bit forced, especially over the few weeks that Jess stayed.

The biggest issue I have is the perp’s (somewhat weak) motivation for committing crimes which didn’t entirely make too much sense, but then again, should there really be expecting a solid, logical reason for characters doing what they do? Maybe. Nonetheless, I would have liked to be more convinced about the deeper, more twisted psychological rationale behind the string of serial killings that the perp committed at least, particularly in a story that’s all about shoring up the moments until the momentous climax.

There’s no doubt that Dana Marton’s writing is thrilling, her opening scene superbly crafted, as dreaded anticipation cuts the knife edge of a vague menace that we never quite find out about. That much I knew from the prologue that I’d better buckle in for the ride that awaited me and I was right. ‘Threat of Danger’ is engrossing, compelling and thankfully, filled with mature characters (some of whom act as tragic parallels to Jess/Derek’s relationship) who add rather than detract from the entire storytelling. It’s in all, an entertaining read that had the time passing without me even knowing it, and I finished the book moist with anticipation with what else Marton has up her sleeve in the rest of this series.

four-stars