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So Over You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 17th October 2017
So Over You by Kate MeaderSo Over You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #2
Published by Pocket Books on December 19th 2017
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Isobel Chase knows hockey. She played NCAA, won silver at the Games, and made it thirty-seven minutes into the new National Women’s Hockey League before an injury sidelined her dreams. Those who can’t, coach, and a position as a skating consultant to her late father’s hockey franchise, the Chicago Rebels, seems like a perfect fit. Until she’s assigned her first job: the man who skated into her heart as a teen and relieved her of her pesky virginity. These days, left-winger Vadim Petrov is known as the Czar of Pleasure, a magnet for puck bunnies and the tabloids alike. But back then... let’s just say his inability to sink the puck left Isobel frustratingly scoreless.

Vadim has a first name that means “ruler,” and it doesn’t stop at his birth certificate. He dominates on the ice, the practice rink, and in the backseat of a limo. But a knee injury has produced a bad year, and bad years in the NHL don’t go unrewarded. His penance? To be traded to a troubled team where his personal coach is Isobel Chase, the woman who drove him wild years ago when they were hormonal teens. But apparently the feeling was not entirely mutual.

That Vadim might have failed to give Isobel the pleasure that was her right is intolerable, and he plans to make it up to her—one bone-melting orgasm at a time. After all, no player can perfect his game without a helluva lot of practice...

Hockey isn’t a game I follow at all, but the premise of Kate Meader’s series is easy enough to understand. Three estranged sisters—broken in their own way by a father who still wreaks destruction from beyond the grave—, a switch in management of a hockey team and the struggle to stay afloat with a change this momentous. For those who don’t understand the game, then the details or lack thereof are sparse enough that you can focus on the drama surrounding the couple and the management team in question.

‘So Over You’ is Isobel’s story and a Russian player who’s as ‘Russian’ as they come (that however, depends on your perspective), though it was for me sadly, more of a surprising miss than a hit as the first book. Quite a bit of the story made a mountain of a molehill of Isobel not getting an orgasm when Vadim took her virginity (or in a more cringeworthy way of putting it—‘making her a woman’) close to a decade ago and how Vadim obsessed increasingly over this salient point because he wanted to prove otherwise now.

In this book, that’s not just a backstory; it’s in fact, like a niggling ghost of Christmas past that wouldn’t go away because both parties remembered it in different ways, not to mention the aftermath that was significant enough that this had become a point of contention with the both of them.

To be fair, the dour sex they had as teenagers wasn’t all that the story revolved around, though the little sub-plots in between did little to distract me from watching out for the next pairing (Cade! Dante!) in the sequel, which was a clear indicator of how difficult I found it to be invested in Isobel and Vadim. On the one hand, I could understand Isobel’s need to define herself apart from hockey, or simply as a WAG of yet another famous player in the league when her own career fell to pieces.

Yet it was hard to sympathise with that self-same selfish ambition that ran over people in the process; neither could I accept her interfering with Vadim’s relationship with his mother as she projected her own daddy-issues onto his markedly different parental situation. Vadim, on the other hand, apart from his awful heavy-handed ways, sometimes leaned towards becoming a caricature—broody, with speech patterns of a non-English speaker that’s either archaic or with mixed metaphors meant to be amusing somehow—or at least a character that seemed to conform to the stereotypes of how some parts of the world view Russians these days.

I’m just going to put this particular book down as an aberration in a series that I do like quite much. There’s still so much going for it: Meader’s writing, for one, but the tease for Cade and Dante is enough to keep me watching out for the next book that can’t come soon enough.

two-stars

After Hours by Lynda Aicher

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 21st September 2017
After Hours by Lynda AicherAfter Hours by Lynda Aicher
Series: The Boardroom #1
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 218
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three-stars

The Boardroom. After hours, it’s where Bay Area moguls indulge their fantasies. Ties are loosened. Inhibitions, too.

Assistant Avery Fast watched from a distance, mouth gaping, blood roaring wildly in her ears as she stared at the naked woman on the table before her. At executive Carson Taggert ordering a man to pleasure her. It made her feel guilty, embarrassed…and hot.

Carson watched and waited. Waited for Avery to notice him in the Boardroom. Waited for her to like what she saw. Waited to see what she’d do the next day. And the next. He couldn't let her go—not when she'd seen what goes on in the Boardroom. He couldn't stop thinking about the desire in her eyes, the flush on her cheeks, her obvious arousal.

Getting her to join was easy. But now Carson wants Avery all to himself.

‘After Hours’ is a curious read. It’s clearly erotica, where sexual exploration of any kind—where voyeurism initially plays a large part—is done in a boardroom, spearheaded by none other than the chief technology officer, under very strict rules that we aren’t exactly privy to until further on in the book.

It’s seedy and fascinating at the same time to see how something else darker and seductive comes out to play (and the upper echelon of the prestigious office do get busy) when the lights go out after the work day. At the heart of it all, the characters seem to lead double lives that are only unveiled as Avery Fast finally gains access by accident into this hedonistic playground where the garden of delights so to speak, is finally revealed to her. Part glamorous retro porn movie (or at least it seems that way in technicolor) and part noir-ish sensuality, I struggled to find my footing with the characters who seem more enigmatic than relatable.

I didn’t get the entire picture of what the Boardroom was supposed to be at first, though a lot of it seemed to be about commands, control and boundaries, which is probably the paradox of such sexual play just like in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’: freeing yet binding, open but secretive as hell, exploratory yet reined in, highly sexualised but devoid of intimacy. Bottom-line is, it still demands trust, more on one side than the other, until emotions suddenly get into play and rips apart the detachment required in the Boardroom as Avery goes on that twisty journey of sexual awakening.

Does love then, have a part to play in this, considering romance is supposed to underscore the entire story? At the very least, it’s about the various contradictions that Avery has about her own conservative brand of sexuality: the shame of not being able to be the person other than she’s brought up to be even though she’s far from virginal, yet wanting more than just sex with no limits through experimentation in the Boardroom that nonetheless, tethers her with its strict parameters. I don’t feel as though I know Avery or Carson very well by the end of it but the story does lapse more comfortably into the ‘romance category’ when it’s made clear that the Avery still wants the family and the picket fence as the very non-committal Carson finally falls prey to it.

As a result, Avery’s and Carson’s liaison is so far beyond the typical office romance that I’m unclear how to classify it, or rather, I’m still not sure how I feel about the book simply because erotica always keeps me unbalanced no matter how many times I delve into it. ‘After Hours’ does crystallise at the end with a very strong (and perhaps prescriptive) message, almost like the moral of the story that proclaims to all female readers who’ve always complained about the double standards in romance, that women shouldn’t be embarrassed about what they liked about their sexual preferences as Avery comes out of that experience unapologetic and supposedly more enlightened about her sexual self—thanks to Carson.

Stylistically speaking, ‘After Hours’ is well-written, well-paced and done with a deftness that I can appreciate. Lynda Aicher’s a new author to me, but as uncertain as I am about the subject matter and that defiant, feminist message that got me straight in the face thanks to Avery and a secondary character, Aicher makes a huge impression with her prose. It got me past my comfort zone in dealing with open relationships and it’s handled in a way that kept me off-centre the whole time.

three-stars

Beneath the Truth by Meghan March

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th August 2017
Beneath the Truth by Meghan MarchBeneath The Truth by Meghan March
Series: Beneath #7
on August 8th 2017
Pages: 350
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three-stars

I used to believe there were lines in life you don't cross. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't steal.Until I learned people don't always practice what they preach.I turned in my badge and gun and walked away from everything.Then I got the call no one wants, and I’m back in New Orleans.What I don't expect is for her to be here too.Another line you don’t cross?Don't touch your best friend’s little sister.She's always been off-limits. Too bad I don't follow the rules anymore.

Second-chance romances or unrequited crush/love stories have always been tricky for me, and I admit that it’s got to leap over a heap of scepticism that I’ve developed when it comes to such tropes. That’s mostly because my vindictive, cynical self always has a basic set of questions which are more often than not, left unsatisfactorily answered. Maybe this is a defensive reaction, because most of the time, someone (typically the heroine) caves way too fast and too easily, without giving the other party a hard time about it—call it payment for years of pain and longing, I guess.

In essence, this trope spurs me to ask: what flipped that switch? Why only now, after all this time? Did this ‘second-chance’ happen only because one party (typically the hero’s side) suddenly decide that his blinkers fell off and that he needed to ‘claim’ a woman who had been there and pining all along? Or did this opportunity just happen to come along and someone decided to go along with it, without having given a thought to the other protagonist for years and doing anything about it?

Rhett Hennessy’s and Ariel Sampson’s relationship fits this to a tee. A lifelong crush on Ariel’s part, with Rhett determinedly ignoring her until one day he decides he’s going to move in for the kill like a neanderthal, on his own time. It was frankly, hard to accept when it didn’t take too much effort on his part to do so because every single bit of attention he paid her apparently got her panties wet, but thankfully, Meghan March doesn’t dwell on this too long.

Rhett and Ariel do slide into a relationship a tad bit too easily, but that’s also because a suspense/mystery plot takes over. The romance sorts itself the moment Rhett/Ariel got their act together early on and my strong opinions dulled when the dirty cop mystery grew. I did think however, that the story did try to juggle a little too much though—the mess with an ex-boyfriend, dirty cops and mafia involvement seemed to mesh in a way that stretched my ability to suspend disbelief.

The long and short of it is, it was an alright read; I didn’t hate it but I wasn’t blown away either. ‘Beneath the truth’ is definitely much more than just unrequited crushes fulfilled, though I couldn’t have guessed how much it tries to incorporate suspense when I haven’t read the rest of the series. But it’s perfectly fine as a standalone, though a little catching up to get into it might be needed.

three-stars

Tempt the Boss by Natasha Madison

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th May 2017
Tempt the Boss by Natasha MadisonTempt The Boss by Natasha Madison
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on April 3rd 2017
Pages: 230
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three-stars

Going back to work was supposed to be a painless transition, but when my new boss turns out to be an arrogant, cocky jerk, he quickly turns my professional life into a world of torture. Okay, fine, calling him an asshat before knowing he was my boss wasn't my finest moment. Hating him should be easy. I just never counted on him being so gorgeous or charming when he's not annoying me.
AustinI expected my new assistant to be professional and punctual, but all I'm getting are dirty looks and rude comments. I should fire the little hellion, but instead all I can think about is bending her over my desk and breaking every rule I've ever made for myself.
One look. One touch. One night. If we break the rules, our lives will never be the same again.
Good thing rules were made to be broken. And besides, it feels so good to Tempt the Boss.

My first instinct after reading ‘Tempt the Boss’ was to surreptitiously check the back cover for the plaster cast of feminists because it reads so much like a contemporary, older woman’s fantasy. In fact, I’m tempted to call the book one of the shining examples (or even a manifesto) of the post-fem-lib movement.

Our recently-divorced heroine is a mother of 2 who gets back so successfully into the workforce after a decade away, that she aces her job while managing to snag the attractive boss along the way, though not without several war games both in and out of the bedroom. And as a woman with experience, Lauren knows exactly what she wants sexually as well, so it’s equality all around, with sass, witty comebacks and all thrown in with it. I found that I wasn’t even bothered by her cheating ex at all as Lauren definitely knew how to deal with him yet keep her head as a responsible mother taking on the world once more—that loudly does Natasha Madison shout for the liberated 21st century woman whom Lauren definitely personifies.

But as much as I liked the initial antagonism of this pairing, I wasn’t expecting the war games that they played with each other which were alternatively hilarious and juvenile. The laugh-out-loud moments took me by surprise and those made for a very entertaining first half despite the laddish behaviour and comments from secondary characters which I found abhorrent. My interest also began to wane slightly the moment the sexual tension broke however, and the little bumps along the way made the story a tad more predictable from then onwards.

Don’t get me wrong though, ‘Tempt the Boss’ is a very easy, very entertaining read all around, with a very strong heroine who steals the limelight the whole way. I only wish these men can grow up and keep up.

three-stars

The Negotiator by Avery Flynn

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 20th April 2017
The Negotiator by Avery FlynnThe Negotiator by Avery Flynn
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Select Contemporary) on April 24th 2017
Pages: 315
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three-stars

Wanted: Personal Buffer
Often snarly, workaholic executive seeks “buffer” from annoying outside distractions AKA people. Free spirits with personal boundary issues, excessive quirks, or general squeamishness need not apply. Salary negotiable. Confidentiality required.
Workaholic billionaire Sawyer Carlyle may have joked he needed a “buffer” from their marriage-obsessed mom, but he didn’t need a waiting room filled with “candidates” to further distract him. (Thanks, bro.) But when a sexy job applicant shooes his mom and the socialite in tow out of his office, Sawyer sees the genius of the plan. And the woman. In fact, Miss Clover Lee might just get the fastest promotion in history, from buffer to fake fiancé…
This “free-spirit” might look like hot sunshine and lickable rainbows, but she negotiates like a pitbull. Before Sawyer knows what hit him, he’s agreed to give up Friday nights for reality tv, his Saturdays for flea markets (why buy junk still baffles him), his Tuesdays and Thursdays for “date nights” (aka panty-losing opportunities if he plays his cards right). And now she wants lavender bath salts and tulips delivered every Monday?
Yup, she’s just screwing with him. Good thing she’s got this non-negotiatable six-weeks-and-she’s-gone rule or Sawyer may have just met this match…

A workaholic billionaire needs to keep his mother off his heels, especially when the search for a wife gets tiring, tedious and damn inconvenient. The solution? A personal buffer, an off-the-cuff job ad that brings the unlikeliest of candidates to his office and into his life, in an effort to throw off the women his snooty mother keeps shoving at him.

From a personal buffer (sounds like a flaky job opening I’d probably apply for after losing my life’s calling) to a hurried, fake engagement, Clover Lee’s quirky, non-committal, flighty and adventure-seeking ways are given a complete hose-down when faced (literally) with a brick wall who’s quite the stick-in-the-mud about routines and business. Her weird demands teach Sawyer Carlyle a different kind of spontaneity, but then Clover also has a lesson coming for her as she manipulates her way through his money to pay for her next adventure in Australia.

Clover’s calculating edge and well, her blindness to her own family needs weren’t quite so likeable—I was a few paces away from wondering about her being a gold-digger—but it’s basically a story where the hero has a lot more to learn from life than the heroine somehow. The grovelling happens because Sawyer speaks of partnerships and business but can’t seem to understand love and connection, though I didn’t quite think Clover should have been exempt from meeting him halfway.

While not entirely unpredictable, ‘The Negotiator’s got the jaunty tone of rom-coms, that snort-laugh type of jokes (which definitely places you in entertaining fictional la-la-land), the instant attraction and lust metre amped up to max and some kind of comic timing that makes it a fun read. It’s also an easy one to get through, perfect for a lazy afternoon.

three-stars

Eye Candy by Jessica Lemmon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 18th April 2017
Eye Candy by Jessica LemmonEye Candy by Jessica Lemmon
Published by Loveswept on July 25th 2017
Pages: 205
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three-stars

Jacqueline: As an adult woman--and the vice president of a marketing firm--I shouldn't be waiting by my office window to ogle the mystery man who jogs by every morning at 11:45. Sure, he's a gorgeous, perfect specimen of the human race, but I can't bring myself to hit on a total stranger. However, my best friend-slash-colleague Vince Carson thinks I should do more than talk to the guy. In fact, he's borderline obsessive about "getting me laid." (His words.) But the more time we spend together, the more it's clear: The one I'm falling for is Vince.
Vince: Jackie Butler's got it bad for some pompous, over-pumped A-hole who struts his stuff past her window. That doesn't bother me. I know she deserves nice things. What does bother me is that she friend-zoned me big-time last year, so I can't ask her out myself. But what if I set her up with Mr. Steroids? Then, when he breaks her heart, I can swoop in and save her like the nice guy I am. Everything's going according to plan . . . until we share a ridiculously epic kiss. And suddenly anything is possible.

Vince Carson tries to convince his best mate and colleague Jackie to go after some anonymous hot runner with the intention of swooping in when it falls apart. But the best laid plans go awry as always and somehow, Vince and Jackie find themselves in a position where their professional and personal boundaries start blurring.

Aye-ay-ay.

What a tangled mess this is. ‘Eye Candy’ is rom-com in full-steam, as adults (vice-presidents of a marketing company no less) plot, manipulate and go the excruciatingly painful, roundabout way of trying to get back into a kind of dating game that really should be banned from this age-group.

But who knew that adults haven’t quite left this behind?

I couldn’t quite believe that Vince would play such games, though it was admittedly snort-funny to see a man for once, taking on the characteristics of what is traditionally ascribed to the insecure, plotting female protagonist along with the bar-confiding moments with another equally broken friend—all because he was probably afraid to really figure out what he wanted. I felt sorry however, for Jackie, swept along as she was for the ride and not getting everything upfront as she should have been getting, when it appeared that the men in her life couldn’t well, man-up.

I was frustrated more than entertained though, because of the lack of clarity that just didn’t seem to come in places where the sun doth shine. Getting exasperated with Jackie/Vince’s lack of communication—and I mean about the topics that bother them and not of the unintelligible kind—when it was going to be the main form of conflict in the book was probably a sign that I could barely tolerate the vacillating indecisiveness of both parties towards the end.

But those who like lighter reads, with the kind of tension and pacing found in rom-coms, ‘Eye Candy’ hits the mark. Jackie’s and Vince’s voices are distinctive enough to bridge the NA/adult contemporary gap, even though I’m not convinced that the whole dizzying set-up (that veers uncomfortably closely to issues like cheating and two-timing and getting back on the saddle to ‘use’ random women) is really suited for me. That said, I do enjoy Jessica Lemmon’s writing and well, even if ‘Eye Candy’ wasn’t exactly a story I could get into, it’s a series I’ll be keeping a sort-of-curious eye out for.

three-stars

Revenge by Lexi Blake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th April 2017
Revenge by Lexi BlakeRevenge by Lexi Blake
Series: Lawless #3
Published by Berkley Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 352
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three-stars

When Drew Lawless discovers a fatal flaw in his plan to avenge his parents' deaths, he turns to the one woman he promised he wouldn't touch. He offers her a deal, one that will bring her into his investigation, his life, and his bed. Investigative reporter Shelby Gates never dreamed how twisted the case would become--or how fascinated she would be with Drew. Every day they spend together binds them. And every night brings her closer to realizing he might be the man for her. As Drew's feelings for Shelby grow, so does the danger. From the streets of Dallas to Austin's high-tech business world, Drew and Shelby play a game begun twenty years before--a game they will win, or die trying.

‘Revenge’ isn’t meant to be a standalone—that much becomes evident after the first few paragraphs into chapter 1. Too much has happened to the Lawless siblings and the murder mystery surrounding their parents and while Drew’s plot for revenge is detailed in the beginning, it involves manipulation and a rehash of so many details that a reader who hasn’t yet gone through the rest of the previous books would have difficulty assimilating all of them. But it’s also a setup of Drew/Shelby’s story, starting with his trying to convince her of taking up a contract and a non-disclosure agreement to work with him with several dangling carrots for her at the end of it all, only to take it all away.

I liked Shelby at first; she seemed sharp and capable as a reporter, lured as she is by Drew’s false promise that she would get a story of a lifetime while helping the family find justice. It was also difficult not to feel sorry for her, knowing she was also just a pawn to be moved about if Drew really had his way. Yet there’s a core of softness and naïveté that seemed out of place for an investigative reporter that had her being taken advantage of too easily. Drew, on the other hand, is as large a bundle of contradictions as Shelby: cold, manipulative, yet childlike in his need for touch and comfort. There are however, discrete parts of Drew and Shelby’s personalities that don’t fit and perhaps that’s what really threw me off, as did the idea that a family could be so rotten to the core—affairs all around, with psychopathic tendencies thrown in—where money and ambition instead of love fuel every action.

But the plot wasn’t quite what I expected as it took some strange turns along the way that made the storyline a little odd with characters turning on each other and muddying up the black and white lines drawn within the Lawless family. It’s also dialogue-heavy and much like a chess-game, with many threads that you can be expected to untangle right up until the climax of the story where a psychopathic mother finally faces off her own children.

‘Revenge’ straddles the line between intrigue, mystery and romantic suspense, and while actual action is lacking, the corporate espionage and the many bedroom games can keep you entertained…if this is the sort of thing that thrills you.

three-stars
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