Tag: cookie-cutter-cliches

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-MillsI Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills
Series: The Hook Up #2
Published by CreateSpace, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on 29th October 2018
Pages: 209
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two-stars

Sexy Athlete: I bet you…Penelope Graham: Burn in hell, quarterback.

The text is random but Penelope figures out exactly who “Sexy Athlete” is. And why she shouldn't take his wager.

Ryker Voss. Football star. Walks on water and God's gift to women.Just ask him.

His bet? He promises Penelope he’ll win her the heart of the guy she’s been crushing on. His plan—good old-fashioned jealousy. Once her crush sees her kissing Ryker, he'll realize what he's missing. Sounds legit, right? The only question is…why is Ryker being so nice to her?

Penelope Graham. Virgin. Lover of sparkly vampires and calculus. His mortal enemy.

Penelope knows she shouldn’t trust a jock, but what’s a girl to do when she needs a date to Homecoming? And Ryker’s keeping a secret, another bet, one that could destroy Penelope’s heart forever.

Will the quarterback score the good girl or will his secrets mean everyone loses this game of love?

‘I Bet You’ started off as a mixture of odd and affected, with the protagonists acting like they’ve been pretending at being something that they’re not at first. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the high-school-type narrative—admittedly one that I wasn’t expecting at all—complete with the sorority/frat house bitch-testosterone kind of vibe was off-putting at first.

Then again, this is can probably be attributed to my growing wariness and intolerance of the N/A genre, particularly when hormonal characters are still driven by their lustful instincts, which I didn’t expect ‘I Bet You’ to be.

Add the virgin-player trope to it and I was questioning my decision to read this halfway through, but I pushed on because some reviews had suggested that this wasn’t a story that entirely stuck straight to stereotypes and an all-too-predictable ending.

Unfortunately, this didn’t fare all too well for me. Penelope at first glance, came off as flighty and insecure while trying to be spunky. Her somewhat archaic ideas coming from her bodice-ripper mind—losing her mind every single time Ryker came near, blowing hot and cold—felt even more out of place for a N/A virgin heroine who somehow managed to ensnare the usual manwhore quarterback (apparently 4 months of no-sex is a great accomplishment to laud), whose interest in someone-not-his-type seemed inexplicable.

Essentially, much of the entire book had to do with confusing game-playing (and not just in the field), hedging, chasing and pushing. What also felt like bits of the historical-romance genre sensibilities had crept into the story and threw me off quite badly because of how incongruous these were considering the college setting. By the end of it, I still found it hard to buy into a pairing which I thought could have ended up colouring outside the lines of these well-worn tropes but ultimately didn’t.

two-stars

Fragments of Ash by Katy Regnery

Fragments of Ash by Katy RegneryFragments of Ash by Katy Regnery
Series: A Modern Fairytale, #7
Published by Katharine Gilliam Regnery on 25th September 2018
Pages: 358
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three-stars

My name is Ashley Ellis…

I was thirteen years old when my mother – retired supermodel, Tig – married Mosier Răumann, who was twice her age and the head of the Răumann crime family.

When I turned eighteen, my mother mysteriously died. Only then did I discover the dark plans my stepfather had in store for me all along; the debauched "work" he expected me to do.

With the help of my godfather, Gus, I have escaped from Mosier's clutches, but his twin sons and henchmen have been tasked with hunting me down. And they will stop at nothing to return my virgin body to their father

…dead or alive.

With a flip in gender-roles occurring here, Katy Regnery takes on the Cinderella story with ‘Fragments of Ash’ and starts off with brutality. But then again, the fairy-tales in their original incarnations were morality stories with barely leashed-undertones of violence, which in some way, are well-captured in what Regnery is trying to write. They offer no happy endings but rather, grim and disturbing outcomes. In this case, the loss of innocence—not only sexually—is what these origin tales do indirectly talk about, and Regnery’s portrayal of Ash’s own loss of innocence certainly fits into this particular framework.

As the downtrodden, unwanted heroine, Ashley battles these circumstances, or at least, tries to find her own self-worth as she tries to escape a life of servitude. Her temporary place of refuge brings her to an older, disgraced ex-law-enforcement man, whose experience, in contrast to her naïveté, is as jarring as their decade-old-plus age-gap.

But if this started out deliciously dark and ominous, the story did take a bit of a downward turn thereafter. I couldn’t quite get Julian’s cold-to-hot stance that felt like the flip of a light switch; one moment he was lamenting about how he never trusted women anymore and in the next he was suddenly all in like an alpha-male protector with Ash that it gave me whiplash.

From that point onwards however, there was nothing more in ‘Fragments of Ash’ that resembled the significant bits of the Cinderella story—no ball, no magical meeting with a prince, no lost glass slipper, no country-wide hunt for the rags-to-riches girl. And I guess I was quite disappointed when those bits didn’t show up, even if a retelling is obviously, one that’s expected to veer off course, off the straight and narrow into new paths forged.

The shades of grey were lacking here in any case—given the archetypal nature of the fairy tale—so villains are evil to the core, and the good, well, stay resolutely good, though there were parts where the stylised stereotypes became unwittingly hilarious more than hair-raising.

In short, ‘Fragments of Ash’ turned out to be middling read: it’s good for a day’s worth of escapism at least, as Regnery’s retellings typically are.

three-stars

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna HackettMission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #2
Published by Anna Hackett on October 7, 2018
Pages: 159
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two-stars

When archeologist January’s plane is shot down over the Guatemalan jungle, she knows she’s being hunted for the invaluable Mayan artifacts she’s carrying. Only one man and his team can save her…the covert, black ops Team 52, and the distrusting former CIA operative who drives her crazy…

Dr. January James has a motto: live life to the fullest. A terrible incident in her past, where she lost both her mother and her innocence, taught her that. Now she spends her days on archeological digs doing the work she loves. When her team uncovers a pair of dangerous artifacts in an overgrown temple, she knows they need to be secured and safeguarded. But someone else knows about the artifacts…and will kill to get them.
Working for the CIA, Seth Lynch learned the hard way that people lie and will always stab you in the back. He has the scars to prove it. He lives for his work with Team 52—ensuring pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. When he learns that the feisty, independent archeologist who works his last nerve has died in a plane crash, he makes it his mission to discover who the hell is responsible.

Deep in the jungle, Seth rescues a very-much alive January and it is up to him to keep both her and the artifacts safe. Hunted from every side, their attraction is explosive and fiery, but with January’s life on the line, Seth must fight his own demons in order to rescue the woman he can no longer resist.

‘Mission: Her Rescue’ is the second instalment of Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, which, as a spin-off of Hackett’s Treasure Hunter series, gives more credence to theories of advanced ancient civilisations with hints of the paranormal appearing within the story. Seth Lynch is paired with January Jones here, which is apparently an enemies-to-lovers trope, though the enemies part is one that happens off-page (and retold by other characters), so the slide into lust is quick and more baffling.

Of all the Hackett’s books I’ve gone through however, I’m afraid ‘Mission: Her Rescue” resonated the least with me for a variety of reasons: a heroine who was petulantly stubborn for the sake of being argumentative and difficult (leading to some TSTL moments as well), for the same clichéd push-pull in the pairing, for a hate-to-love trope between 2 leads whose chemistry felt just non-existent, more so when it turned into instant love after a good tumble in bed, for the same type of enemies they face.

I’ll be the first to honestly admit that this isn’t a series I’ve been particularly enthusiastic about, given the rinse-and-repeat themes that appear here, along with the same-ish issues that plague the protagonists for not trusting each other as well as the same kind of baddies that populate each book (essentially, there are too many shades of the Treasure Hunter series here).

Thus far, this mysterious team hasn’t been a stand-out at all despite their purpose and their intriguing ability to slip between the cracks of politics and military agendas. I generally do like Hackett’s wild imagination and what she writes about, so it was a surprising struggle even to finish Seth/Jan’s story even (this slid down into a trite and clichéd-ridden HEA that made me cringe), despite the short length of it, though these are clearly my own nitpicking and personal preferences that have contributed to the book being a disappointment.

two-stars

The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo by Kerrigan Byrne

The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo by Kerrigan ByrneThe Duke with the Dragon Tattoo (Victorian Rebels, #6) by Kerrigan Byrne
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on 28th August 2018
Pages: 333
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four-stars

The bravest of heroes. The brashest of rebels. The boldest of lovers. These are the men who risk their hearts and their souls—for the passionate women who dare to love them…

He is known only as The Rook. A man with no name, no past, no memories. He awakens in a mass grave, a magnificent dragon tattoo on his muscled forearm the sole clue to his mysterious origins. His only hope for survival—and salvation—lies in the deep, fiery eyes of the beautiful stranger who finds him. Who nurses him back to health. And who calms the restless demons in his soul…

A LEGENDARY LOVE

Lorelei will never forget the night she rescued the broken dark angel in the woods, a devilishly handsome man who haunts her dreams to this day. Crippled as a child, she devoted herself to healing the poor tortured man. And when he left, he took a piece of her heart with him. Now, after all these years, The Rook has returned. Like a phantom, he sweeps back into her life and avenges those who wronged her. But can she trust a man who’s been branded a rebel, a thief, and a killer? And can she trust herself to resist him when he takes her in his arms?

Kerrigan Byrne writes the most tortured, menacing and sinister men in Victorian Rebels, which is a feat considering this is no less than an old-school bodice ripper that can be indulged in simply because the story does turn out to be way more than the stereotypes it plays to.

Ash, first a victim of his circumstances, now an unapologetically ruthless pirate, leads the charge in Byrne’s sixth book as the predominant force that helps turn the pages. Rather, this shadowy and fearsome pirate steers not just his own ship but also the plot, looming so much larger than life that Lorelai, who, portrayed as the angelic, innocent one (though with some spine to her personality), pales in comparison to the darkness and the unrelenting personality that he has.

The power of fiction here however, lies in its ability to bestow super-human strength and resistance to its protagonists, though truthfully it’s still difficult to swallow the incredulity that keeps popping up each time Byrne puts Ash through the wringer only to survive it all under such dire conditions when lesser people would have long succumbed to heinous illness.

In fact, I constantly wondered how Ash lived past the age of 18, from the very day he was found by Lorelai—given the brutal, unsanitary conditions of Victorian times and all—, let alone through nearly 40 years of cruel, indentured servitude. Consequently, a lot is packed into a reunion after 2 decades apart (through no fault of the protagonists at all), and Ash powers through it in a dazzling contradiction of emotions dictating his actions, while Lorelai remains the genteel Angel determined to reclaim the boy she once nursed back to health.

Ash/Lorelai’s relationship however, characterised by Byrne’s prolific purple prose, simultaneously enraptured and bothered me. Hyperbolic descriptions of every emotion and every touch stretch into embellished metaphors and analogies, made for both passionate, poetic moments—that undoubtedly made her characters wonderfully nuanced—and cheesy over-doneness.

In any case, along with the growing action towards the end and Byrne’s revelation of the intriguing connections between her male protagonists, I’d say this is enough of a hook to keep a watch out for the next book to come.

four-stars

Ache for You by J.T. Geissinger

Ache for You by J.T. GeissingerAche for You by J.T. Geissinger
Series: Slow Burn #3
Published by Montlake Romance on 6th November 2018
Pages: 362
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one-star

In this fairy tale with a sexy twist, she’s a penniless San Francisco seamstress. He’s the king of Italian couture. Who’s got designs on whom?

Boutique owner Kimber DiSanto has seen better days. She’s been dumped at the altar by Prince Charmless, her business went up in flames (literally), and now she’s stuck in Florence, Italy, with an ice-queen stepmother, to try to save her late father’s failing dress shop. Only one thing could make it worse: another man in her life. The arrogant Italian fashion tycoon offering to buy her father’s shop is as rich as he is sexy, and their attraction is off the charts. But Kimber’s not about to get burned again.

Women don’t say no to Matteo Moretti—and certainly not with Kimber’s stinging precision. With all the heat and fury sparking between them, Matteo can’t resist baiting the gorgeous American. His plan? Win her over one scorching kiss at a time.

Kimber tells herself it’s all just a game. That her broken heart isn’t in danger, and that Matteo’s touch does not make her Lady Land dance with joy. But sometimes it takes the fieriest of enemies to turn a fantasy into a real-life romance.

Down-on-her-luck Kimber—dumped by a wealthy fiancé at the altar—makes it to Italy, though not without more drama following her around, mostly in the form of another rich Italian tycoon. Only to realise that her dying father has remarried a calculative barracuda, left her with 2 stepsisters, and an evil stepmother.

If this rings familiar, that’s because ‘Ache for You’ is a Cinderella tale of sorts from riches to rags and riches again, only that it involves a truly unlikeable heroine and a mysterious Italian fashion magnate who somehow gets turned on by rudeness and a judgemental attitude.

Kimber’s tendency to overreact, her exaggerated hysteria and self-pity pouring through the pages from the start as she makes everything all about her and her misery had me wondering if I’d accidentally stumbled onto a bitchy reality series instead of a reconstructed fairytale romance. Gritting my teeth, I hoped it would get better as I read on but instead, it became more and more farcical to be believable. I just couldn’t get the connection between Kimber and Matteo—are sparks supposed to fly if the latter gets off on being verbally abused?

In essence, as much as fairytales are supposed to be much-beloved archetypes, I thought Geissinger’s own characters felt too ‘locked’ in their stereotypes (the rom-com, first person POV style of writing confirms this) to be anything more than caricatures flitting through the winding plot.

As much as I liked the first book in the series, which did actually seem promising, I’m unfortunately going to count this as a total bust for me: the signs couldn’t be clearer when I found myself simply more exasperated than enthralled just a quarter way through.

one-star

Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis

Hot Winter Nights by Jill ShalvisHot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay, #6
Published by Avon on 25th September 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars


Who needs mistletoe?

Most people wouldn't think of a bad Santa case as the perfect Christmas gift. Then again, Molly Malone, office manager at Hunt Investigations, isn't most people, and she could really use a distraction from the fantasies she's been having since spending the night with her very secret crush, Lucas Knight. Nothing happened, not that Lucas knows that — but Molly just wants to enjoy being a little naughty for once...

Whiskey and pain meds for almost-healed bullet wounds don't mix. Lucas needs to remember that next time he's shot on the job, which may be sooner rather than later if Molly's brother, Joe, finds out about them. Lucas can't believe he's drawing a blank on his (supposedly) passionate tryst with Molly, who's the hottest, smartest, strongest woman he's ever known. Strong enough to kick his butt if she discovers he's been assigned to babysit her on her first case. And hot enough to melt his cold heart this Christmas.

There aren’t many books that I know of that mix very, very light suspense with chick-lit, but it seems that Jill Shalvis is carving that niche on her own with the Heartbreaker Bay series, with stories (quirky cases and droll banter and cozy girl talks) that never get pulled into heavy angst and convoluted conspiracy theories with James Bond-like action but still manage to stay on the side of the light-hearted rom-com.

‘Hot Winter Nights’—possibly tailored for the winter season—takes a little getting used to when it’s being read when the sun shines too hot and bright still, but that’s a silly little quibble here.

The brother’s sister and fellow employee being off-limits is what Shalvis tackles, with a case that Molly Malone is itching to take on, sick as she is with paperwork and handling things from behind a desk. Lucas Knight is tasked to be her babysitter in secret and predictably, for two people who have been dancing around each other for ages, nothing quite good can come out of the attraction that zings around like mad.

My struggle however, lies with the similarities of the protagonists that are featured in this series: the men, many from Archer Hunt’s company, are cut from the same cloth, with the same (non)outlook towards relationships while the women stand out more in their differences and fight the men a little more with their own brand of sass.

And as with a typical rom-com, the tropes here—good friend’s sister and the fear of stepping out of line, the emotional dance between non-committal people play a major role—are played to their max, along with a small-time case that wouldn’t even make a ripple on the national stage.

In essence, there were parts that I felt more engaged in (the shady Santa business got somewhat boring) and parts where I had a problem feeling the connection between Lucas and Molly, the former of whom inexplicably suddenly seemed to want her (because she’s more closed off than him?) when all he’d wanted for years was not to get involved with any woman emotionally.

But ‘Hot Winter Nights’, like the rest of the books in the Heartbreaker Bay series, is a typical Shavis-read…even if it didn’t fully work for me, it isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be a good read for readers who like Shalvis’s patented style of storytelling.

three-stars

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina LaurenJosh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on 4th September 2018
Pages: 320
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two-stars

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?

Josh and Hazel are apparently undateable together—that much power-writing duo Christina Lauren wants to bring across. But the irony is that they are never better matched despite their opposite ways, as the story trundles on. Both go on blind double dates (mostly disasters), get on as good friends (loads of banter and nonsense talk), then finally realise that they do actually belong together.

After having quite a good time with a few of this duo’s books, jumping into Lauren’s ‘Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating’ was something I eagerly did…that is, until the very first chapter caught me out with the antics of a female protagonist I had a bad feeling about.

There’s no other way for me to say this, but I simply found Hazel cringe-worthy. At least, there’s the part where the adorable, bumbling fool kind of woman would probably find purchase with many readers because it’s so obvious how flawed she is. Unfortunately, she simply read like a protagonist who couldn’t grow up and stayed that way so as to become as a plot device mirroring the loud, clueless millennial—as reported about with derision in the newspapers these days—who stumbles over everything and says whatever her mouth decides to say without engaging her brain.

But unlike Bridget Jones, she appears fully formed, owns her quirks, and pretty much heads the movement for how women should be themselves (and proud of it for going through men, not wanting commitment) without changing for anyone…which is a good thing right?

Um.

For me, it was too much, too hard, too affected because it felt like the authors were trying too hard to make her the kind of woman who’s just like a commitment-phobic male protagonist unable to hold a relationship. Written as larger than life because it’s fiction and drawn up so deliberately like a character in a sitcom or as a mirror of this kind of male hero, Hazel simply made me sigh in resignation and not in a good way.

Unlike the usual style of Lauren’s that compelled me to read what this writing duo has done so far—the first person narrative, the huge touch of the insane in this romcom—this book started as a rough ride for me, oddly so because of its very lighthearted feel that just didn’t leave me clutching my sides in laughter. It did get somewhat better as Josh and Hazel find their groove together first as good friends, but I couldn’t really hold an interest in a book where the protagonists obliquely get closer together while dating others.

In short, it’s a story that will appeal to many, but it isn’t one for me.

two-stars