Tag: cookie-cutter-cliches

Still Burning by Leora Gonzales

Still Burning by Leora GonzalesStill Burning by Leora Gonzales
Series: Braving the Heat, #3
Published by Lyrical Press on 28th May 2019
Pages: 227
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two-stars

Sasha Kendall grew up in a family of firefighters. So when she falls hard for Jack Turner, her brother’s best friend and fellow firefighter, everyone's thrilled. But when her brother is killed in the line of duty, Sasha knows she can’t handle another loss. Jack will have to choose between her and his career . . .

Jack knew Sasha was meant for him right away—the same way he knew he was meant to fight fires and saves lives. Letting Sasha go was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. But even though she left town, he’s never given up hope that heat between them still burns . . .

Four years later, Jack and Sasha meet again at a friend’s wedding—older, wiser, and hotter than ever. Will they flame out, or do they finally have what it takes to keep their love alive for good . . .

Coming straight into this particular story without having read the previous books, the setup of the ‘Still Burning’ isn’t difficult to grasp: there’s the death of a firefighter, some grieving and a breakup—written and done in short order in the first chapter before the story picks up again 4 years later.

And this is on me, really, not having realised that this was a second-chance romance that had iffy conditions surrounding a pairing’s reunion when I requested this book. Mea culpa.

But I suppose having a protagonist rub you the wrong way didn’t bode well for the entire read at all.

There just weren’t enough emotional peaks and troughs in what I thought could have been a turbulent, heartfelt reunion between a couple who split so suddenly. I get it—the death of a loved one can make people do things. Stupid things or otherwise. But I didn’t feel it too much here, sadly, except for the gross injustice Sasha dealt Jack when she upped and left and cut off all frantic contact with him the the next 4 years, without much that she needed to make up for even when they finally met again.

That Jack suddenly muscled back in on her date out of the blue in 4 years, asking to try again, without the breathless feels, the awkwardness and the backlog of pain and angst took me by surprise for starters, at how…too easy it all went. And having come across as rash, selfish and impulsive after breaking up with Jack over the fact that Sasha couldn’t date another firefighter, to the extent where it was ‘easier’ to suffer a break up than risk him dying, playing the non-committal woman the second time around who just didn’t do enough to fight for a relationship made it all tank for me. I mean, should that poor man really do all the work here?

Throw in some odd and perplexing time jumps past their reunion, the unresolved arson case, and the unwelcome intrusion of a psychotic ex-girlfriend to stir up more drama and I was about done with the bumpy reading experience. That Jack hadn’t moved on properly, so to speak, with an insane woman stalking him and creating more drama—using the villainous ex as a plot device to steer the reader’s attention to how Sasha’s the only one for him-didn’t sit well at all.

Needless to say, ‘Still Burning’ didn’t work out as a good read for me. I’d hoped I was getting a brother’s-best-friend kind of trope, but hey, failing to read the blurb properly after the initial excitement of seeing another firefighter story? That’s my fault.

two-stars

The Risk by Elle Kennedy

The Risk by Elle KennedyThe Risk by Elle Kennedy
Series: Briar U #2
Published by Elle Kennedy Inc. on 18th February 2019
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three-stars

Everyone says I’m a bad girl. They’re only partly right—I don’t let fear rule me, and I certainly don’t care what people think. But I draw the line at sleeping with the enemy. As the daughter of Briar’s head hockey coach, I’d be vilified if I hooked up with a player from a rival team.

And that’s who Jake Connelly is. Harvard’s star forward is arrogant, annoying, and too attractive for his own good. But fate is cruel—I require his help to secure a much-coveted internship, and the sexy jerk isn’t making it easy for me.
I need Connelly to be my fake boyfriend.

For every fake date…he wants a real one.

Which means this bad girl is in big trouble. Nothing good can come from sneaking around with Jake Connelly. My father would kill me, my friends will revolt, and my post-college career is on the line. But while it’s getting harder and harder to resist Jake’s oozing sex appeal and cocky grin, I refuse to fall for him.

That’s the one risk I’m not willing to take.

Enter the raunchy world of college hookups, the infamous laddish, cocky behaviours of manwhore athletes, competitive sports (typically hockey) and the bumpy transition from hormonal young adulthood to equally hormonal adulthood. At least, this is how I’ve seen Elle Kennedy’s college campus series shaping out to be thus far—I’ve not been wrong here—and ‘The Risk’ continues in this similar fashion as Kennedy milks the shallows of college life, only with a fraternising with the enemy vibe from the beginning.

Brenna Jensen and Jake Connelly play for opposing teams though the friction that comes when they cross paths is perhaps better summed up as ‘love and hate being 2 sides of the same coin’. There are too many reasons why the mutual attraction shouldn’t be given into, and god forbid that Jake should have any say at all in who Brenna chooses to hook up with. It’s a predictable journey thereafter; emotions develop after they get down and dirty, and along with their futures getting put on the line as well.

It always takes a bit of a mental adjustment for me to get into Elle Kennedy’s construction of her New-Adult world anyhow: there’re often bursts of selfish, juvenile behaviour and several moments of ’the world is bigger than me’ revelation, which also have my sympathies for the characters going up and down like a yo-yo. My reservations, perhaps have also got to do with the feeling that I’m reading about protagonists who simply don’t show enough depth despite the angsty teenage struggles they face…and that they’ve still not done enough of growing up by the end of the book.

And for that reason I can’t quite connect or root for them. Brenna/Jake weren’t exactly likeable protagonists at all—I did think they were selfish and immature in their own ways, even though their tussles were amusing at the very least. What was somewhat frustrating was the hint of unrequited love at the end—a pining best friend doesn’t get the man she’s always wanted, while said man goes for someone who couldn’t quite be compassionate about the hurt that this caused—and that the HEAs in the series are stubbornly about people who don’t always seem the best matched couple.

Given the glowing reviews about Kennedy’s Off-Campus series and the Briar U series, I’m well aware that I’m standing off to one side being sceptical of what pairing Kennedy will churn out next. There’s no doubt that she does tell an engaging story. I just wish I could have liked it more.

three-stars

Protecting Piper by Cynthia Eden

Protecting Piper by Cynthia EdenProtecting Piper by Cynthia Eden
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on 29th January 2019
Pages: 178
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two-stars

She was off limits.

Eric Wilde has always known that Piper Lane isn’t for him. She is his younger brother’s best friend…and probably more. But that hasn’t stopped Eric from wanting her. For longing for the one woman that he can’t have. Sure, he’s rich, successful—he’s built a security empire, and he’s got the world at his feet. Only he doesn’t have her.

He is the one man she needs the most.

Free-spirited Piper Lane has always considered Eric to be the enemy. He’s seemed to resent her, and the guy just flat-out makes her nervous. Every time she’s around him, she winds up doing something horribly embarrassing. But, this time…everything has changed. This time, he’s the one man she needs the most.

Something is stalking Piper.

A stranger has broken into Piper’s home twice, and she feels like someone is following her. Watching her every move. She needs a professional to help her—so enter Eric Wilde. He promises her protection, he promises to put his best investigators on her case, and he even moves her into his house. Suddenly, the guy who has always been the villain in her life…he’s now playing the role of hero.

Everything will change as the danger mounts.

And maybe Eric isn’t so bad, after all. The more time that Piper spends with him, the more she realizes that her feelings for Eric are far more complicated that she ever imagined. Desire explodes between them even as the danger deepens around her. Someone in the dark is targeting Piper, and he is determined that if he can’t possess her…then he will destroy her.

‘Protecting Piper’ was one I was eager to read, seeing how it was not tied to any of the long-running Cynthia Eden series at all and that it does have the best friend’s brother’s trope (and the sort of liking each other from afar) in it.

Apart from the very quick suspense setup that Piper Lane had a stalker, the first half however, was off-putting.

And that was mostly in part due to Eric Wilde who acted the epitome of the bully who couldn’t use his words to pursue the girl, who bulldozed and snarled his way through every man who came near to Piper when he didn’t throughout all the years he’d known her.

That Eden played up the double standard here —having Eric question the number of lovers Piper had while he screwed around with tons of others—was rather infuriating, along with the juvenile behaviour Eric displayed of tormenting her because he supposed loved her from afar, while not manning up to do anything about it until she was in danger. Having Piper going inexplicably from teenage crush to dislike to all-in love made the inconsistencies in the characters’ emotional development even starker.

Eden’s rather simple whodunnit novella would have been more enjoyable I think, had there not been her trademark overuse of ex-lovers always circling the pond and muddying the waters between the protagonists. ‘Protecting Piper’ became a less-than-stellar read as a result, where the romance was reduced to sudden realisations that they’d been idiots all along while ex-lovers rigorously defended as meaningless.

two-stars

Touch of Eon by Anna Hackett

Touch of Eon by Anna HackettTouch of Eon by Anna Hackett
Series: Eon Warriors #2
Published by Anna Hackett on January 6th 2019
Pages: 143
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two-stars

She’ll do anything to free her sister and save the Earth from invasion, even if she’s blackmailed into stealing sacred alien artifacts…and becomes the prey of the dark, deadly warrior sent to hunt her down.

Special Forces Space Marine Lara Traynor wants to save her sister and her planet from annihilation by the deadly insectoid Kantos. Earth’s Space Corps give her one option: steal three gems sacred to the Eon Warriors. Lara has never failed a mission and she doesn’t plan to start now. What she doesn’t expect is the big, hard-bodied warrior the Eon sent to stop her.

Security Commander Caze Vann-Jad was born and raised to be the best Eon warrior in the empire. Honed by the military academy, his years as a stealth agent, and by his hard warrior father, he has never failed. He knows one weak, inferior Terran is no match for him. But when he finds himself face to face with the tough, skilled Lara, he realizes he’s underestimated the female warrior.

When they are attacked by a Kantos kill squad, it soon becomes clear that the Kantos are planning something far darker and dangerous. Caze and Lara are forced to change their dangerous battle of wits and skill into a fierce battle for survival. Neither of these fighters believe in love, but on the trail of a stolen gem, they will ignite an unstoppable desire, and discover that not only are their lives at stake, but their hearts as well.

As with every Anna Hackett book, ‘Touch of Eon’ is action-packed and a showcase of her wonderful imagination—it’s the main reason I always dive into her stories when they come out as a means of fond escapism.

The overall adventure is fun and I do see shades of all the pop culture syfy classic movies in it. The Eon world is a fascinating one, but I’d found the side-reveals—of the origins, their history—more interesting than a pairing that felt like a replication of the pairings that Hackett has been writing thus far.

I just wasn’t pulled into the characters at all; Lara Traynor’s boastful impudence and arrogance made her unlikeable from the start and the similarity the enemies-to-lovers vibe this story bears to Eve Traynor’s and Davion’s story (stubborn, super-human earth women fighting big strong eon warriors and taunting them) makes ‘Touch of Eon’ read like a copy of its predecessor save for the different challenges they go through. Throw in the instant love and attraction which happened at the speed of light between Lara and Caze and suddenly, two protagonists who never believed in relationships are pledged as mates and believers.

Essentially, the Eon series isn’t my favourite and I’m still remaining on the sceptical side of the fence with this.

two-stars

Captain Rourke by Helena Newbury

Captain Rourke by Helena NewburyCaptain Rourke by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 1st September 2017
Pages: 440
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three-stars

Captain Rourke. A brooding Scottish treasure hunter who carries a sword, lives on his boat and bears the scars of a shark attack on his muscled torso. He’s the only man who can help me. A mystery disease is attacking my family and the only cure lies on a pirate ship that sank three hundred years ago. Rourke’s a loner, determined to push everyone away...but when he looks at me, he melts my clothes right off my body.

I’m a small-town girl from Nebraska. But to save my family I’ll have to take to the sea with Rourke and enter a whole new world of smugglers, sunken gold and deadly storms. In the close confines of his boat, there’s no way I can ignore that smoldering gaze, or the way my legs go weak whenever he takes hold of me. He claims he’s no hero yet he protects me like no other. ..can I save him from the pain that’s tearing him apart? I’m from the prairies; he’s from the sea. But I need to learn his world, fast, because others want what’s on that sunken ship...and they’ll kill both of us to get it.

‘Captain Rourke’ captured my imagination in a way that few contemporary romances these days do: it felt mortifyingly like an old bodice-ripper pirate romance (the sword’s included as well) only with updated technology, a mysterious and science-defying genetic illness, treasure hunts, grizzled (and clichéd) bad guys rushing after gold and multiple instances of heaving bosoms, tight nipples, bare chests and fluttering groins.

Yet Helene Newbury pulls this off with that panache typically associated with such pirate acts anyway and it’s sort of…fascinating to go through the book with a rather naive heroine who romanticises 17th century pirate affairs, a seemingly impossible (and hard to believe) quest and a jaded, crippled captain who keeps reminding himself to push away from the woman he wants.

Apart from Newbury’s trademark use of the protagonists’ exaggerated lust and extreme sexual reactions to each other, ‘Captain Rourke’ is quite the audacious (sometimes cheesy and incredible) take on the treasure-hunting tale. Repetitive phrases however, do make the story longer than I thought necessary: Rourke’s insistence that he’s just waiting to die at sea and that Hannah deserves someone better than him; both seem to have overly long meditative monologues about how their bodies stir when they are near each other, just to begin with.

The sheer amount of action makes this an easy story to go through. I did cringe many times, reminded as I was from time to time of the historical romances that I used to read quite a long, long time ago where clichés knew no bounds. But this works solely on actively suspending any sense of disbelief, so leave every last shred of reality at the door before you start.

three-stars

The Conspiracy by Kat Martin

The Conspiracy by Kat MartinThe Conspiracy by Kat Martin
Series: Maximum Security #1
Published by HQN on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.

As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.

I thought ‘The Conspiracy’ started off quite well, with the plot quickly and decisively set up: Harper Winston’s brother has gone missing and her desperation to get him back leads her to his former best friend (and the man she’d always wanted) though they haven’t been in contact for years. That this has ties to their powerful father who has shady dealings—who might have something to do with her brother’s disappearance—upped the ante from the start.

After an exciting start however, it was towards the middle that my interest started to flag. The insertions of multiple POVs, long descriptions of place, secondary characters, their personal histories and scattered pieces of the overall puzzle, simply detracted from the momentum of the main story. I skimmed, then read on when the story got back on track (rinse and repeat)—this pretty much described the entire experience throughout the book.

The initial attraction between Harper and Chase consisted mostly of individual internal monologues revolving around their lust for each other and their indecision about making a move. Still, there’s action, some twists involved and a case of major pushing away…which also happens only to a certain extent because neither Harper nor Chase can stop wanting sex with each other.

I’m not entirely sure how to put a finger on this, but reading ’The Conspiracy’ feels curiously akin to reading an older style of romance (outfitted with contemporary themes of RS and the technology of the day) with a more erotic hook, with Kat Martin’s characterisation steeping her protagonists in more ‘traditional’ roles that historical (?) romantic fiction tends to perpetuate.

In this case, Harper cried a lot, turned pale a fair bit, gasped each time as she stared at Chase’s body, was somehow naive as hell at the heart of it yet magically transformed into someone who knew how to be part of a military op. On the other hand, Chase’s eyes burned with hunger constantly as though he was on the verge of ravishing her, got hard with the slightest thought of her and pretty much played the macho man throughout. That he used their sexual attraction to get back into her good graces felt like manipulation: did Chase have to really do stupid things while knowing it would cause Harper some pain, then bend over backwards to make it up? That it had to take something so monumental for him to turnaround to decide that he wanted her permanently when he’d initially wanted a clean break with her?

Most probably it’s Kat Martin’s style that doesn’t gel with me personally. I simply thought ‘The Conspiracy’ could have been so much more (a leaner, meaner read that could have left me reeling the good way, essentially) but fell far short of my own expectations.

This isn’t a book for me clearly; from style to characters, there were quite a few things that I couldn’t really get on board with, though I can imagine that this would be a typical offering for the RS crowd from a staple RS author.

two-stars

Saving the Princess by Helena Newbury

Saving the Princess by Helena NewburySaving the Princess by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 23rd January 2018
Pages: 430
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She's a princess. I'm a 6'6" former Marine who grew up on a farm. I know I've got no business being around someone like her. But she's so gorgeous, so gentle and sweet, I can't look away. Then someone tries to kill her. And for the first time in years, I find something worth fighting for.

She's no spoiled brat. She's brave and smart...she's the leader her country needs. But powerful people want her dead. To keep her safe, I have to go on the run with her. But every time I say "your highness," all I can think about is kissing those sweet lips and tearing that dress right off her. Neither of us can resist...but if I let her get close, she's going to see how broken I am inside. As her country spins towards war, I'm the only one who can protect her. I'm no prince. But I *will* save my princess.

I’m typically hesitant to read about fictional countries and royalty because my own mental map of Europe is set in reality as it is. Implausibility is what I struggle with the most in such romances that involve contemporary aristocrats who hail from yet another European country that doesn’t exist and the hard-to-believe factor shoots way up. So ‘Saving the Princess’ was a book that I waded in softly, softly, even when the world of difference between Kristina and Garrett became blindingly painful to read about, even as we’re plunged straight into the aftermath of an ill-fated flight that brings a jaded American ex-Marine into the path of an innocent princess.

I did think this imbalance between them needed some addressing however, at least for them to be considered equals before I could buy into them as a pairing. Helena Newbury’s enthusiasm in highlighting the rough-hewn vs. the royal, the naive innocent vs. the cynical, the protector and the victim—essentially polar opposites—also had the unwitting effect of creating a huge and nearly insurmountable gap in terms of experience between Garrett and Kristina.

Instead, there were paragraphs dedicated to their initial and relentless attraction and how much Garrett and Kristina wanted to get hot and heavy with each other (too many long descriptions of bulging biceps, smooth skin, how they wanted to rip each other’s clothes off), which detracted from the growing emotional connection that could have been more clearly brought out. So there was instant lust, but also unbending loyalty from the start and not a small amount of wanting body parts wanting to merge and wobble, but there was also a fairytale element in here as Garrett and Kristina were repeatedly put in situations where she simply needed constant rescuing.

The surprising thing however, was that it didn’t just end there. Where most books end after a building conflict, Newbury pushes it a step further with a whodunnit-mystery, adding impossibility for both Garrett and Kristina to be together after they left US soil to face yet more insurgents in her home country. As absorbing as some scenes were, ultimately, I still had a problem with the believability factor: some events and circumstances were too coincidental and too easy at times to pave the way forward for both Kristina and Garrett. By the end, I finished the book with an eyebrow still cocked in reluctant scepticism instead of waving a ‘kerchief saying ‘long live the princess (and Garrett)’.