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True Hearts by Jeannine Allison

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 26th June 2017
True Hearts by Jeannine AllisonPure Hearts by Jeannine Allison
Published by Amazon Digital Services on June 22nd 2017
Pages: 391
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two-stars

She gave me her kidney. I gave her my heart...

Nicholas Blake learned a long time ago that nobody does anything for free. He’s felt the pain of lies and manipulations enough times to know that people only look out for themselves, and that all good deeds come with a price. So when he wakes up from a near deadly car accident and finds out a stranger is offering to donate her kidney, he’s immediately suspicious of her intentions.

What he doesn’t expect is Iris Chamberlain, a beautiful woman with a big smile and an even bigger heart, claiming she just wants to help. The more time Nick spends with Iris, the more he starts to believe in what he always thought was impossible: a pure heart.

But betrayal leaves a bitter mark. Will Nick be able to let go of his past and let Iris in? And will Iris be able to show him what it truly means to have a pure heart?

’True Hearts’ is a very much a feel good type of read, with a kind of New Adult-ish introspective vibe about the cynic who is inclined call everyone’s action out as self-serving until proven otherwise who goes up against a someone who wholly (or at least habitually) believes in human goodness and sincerity.

And that was where my reservations slid in.

Call that my own cynical self talking here, especially when it begins with the donation of a kidney after what appears like a paranormal ‘sign’ that fates are intertwined—with no expectations thrown into the mix. I found it difficult to accept the very selfless and positive Iris Chamberlain when it was way easier to sympathise with Nick and his understandable behaviour traits knowing what he’d gone through. Iris was, well, surreal in her giving selflessness, when the way she chose to see nothing but good made her more like a saint about to be canonised than a flawed character. But Jeannine Allison makes Iris out to be the exact kind of person that Nick actually needs—at least, a person who is determined to wear down his cynicism—though she stumbled where it really mattered most, or at least where I needed her not to.

Throughout the book, I felt mostly caught between Iris and Nick, never quite able to step out of Nick’s more ‘realistic’ way of perceiving the world as opposed to Iris’s steadfast one-woman stand against Nick’s fatalistic pessimism. In fact, I found myself repetitively questioning Iris’s naïveté, the appalling behaviour of her relatives, and how the characters did nothing but try to turn Nick into a happier version of himself without acknowledging too much that his own perception of the world had merit. That they’d tried to defend their own behaviour, implicitly putting the fault mostly on Nick’s door was quite the last straw for me.

I think the long and short of it is that ‘True Hearts’ is a rose-tinted affirmation of the goodness left in humanity, though it’s a simplistic ideal here that I can’t quite buy into.

two-stars

Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 21st June 2017
Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura BrownFriend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown
Published by Avon Impulse on June 27th 2017
Pages: 384
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one-star

I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.

Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.

When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.

I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.

I guess the only thing we can do is try…

‘Friend (With Benefits) Zone’ started out very promising, with the blurb sounding a growing-up story of 2 deaf people trying to find their way in the world just as the notion of building a career looms large. But beyond that, I liked the idea of putting people with disabilities in the spotlight and showing that they actually do lead lives as ‘normal’ as those who don’t—and thought that this would provide a different edge to the best friends turned lovers type of read.

But with the sexual tension between Jasmine and Devon shattering so early on, the direction in which the story was going to go became rather unclear. And I found myself unpleasantly surprised when maturity (or the lack of it) came into play and formed the major part of the conflict—driven mostly by Jasmine. She started out as strongly independent, but that soon moved to bullheadedly, stupidly stubborn when she started insisting on being an island and going at it all on her own, pushing everyone else away because that was the way she wanted it to be. Not accepting help from Devon and her closest friends (then have them trying to reel her back in), using sex avoid the issue, vacillating between wanting Dev and wanting her own way were just signs of her irrational immaturity that frustrated me to no end, which actually went on ad nauseum to the point where I thought they should have given up on her because there was no getting her to see reason.

As much as Devon’s desire to help her and support her in everything, he did come across as somewhat spineless towards the end, when he needed to leave Jasmine on her own for her to finally come to her senses. Instead, he couldn’t quite let her go or do a complete break, even when he had his own share of dodging the intended career path that his family wanted for him throughout. In fact, I needed to see that Jasmine wanted their relationship Devon even if she had nothing to her name. But because Devon had arranged it such that she could have her bar and own it (with the startup costs included as a loan), it felt as though it was only with her future secured and in place that it was easy to get back with him.

This constant push-pull vibe that got stronger, as well as the anti-climatic ending did, unfortunately, grate on me. I couldn’t quite shrug away how much I disliked the characters by the end and this sadly, tanked the whole story for me.

one-star

Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th June 2017
Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne BrockmannSome Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann
Series: Troubleshooters #17
Published by Ballantine Books on July 11th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Navy men don’t come tougher than Lieutenant Peter Greene. Every day he whips hotshot SEAL wannabes into elite fighters. So why can’t he handle one fifteen-year-old girl? His ex’s death left him a single dad overnight, and very unprepared. Though he can’t relate to an angsty teen, he can at least keep Maddie safe—until the day she disappears. Though Pete’s lacking in fatherly intuition, his instinct for detecting danger is razor sharp. Maddie’s in trouble. Now he needs the Troubleshooters team at his back, along with an unconventional ally.

Romance writer Shayla Whitman never expected to be drawn into a real-world thriller—or to meet a hero who makes her pulse pound. Action on the page is one thing. Actually living it is another story. Shay’s not as bold as her heroines, but she’s a mother. She sees the panic in her new neighbor’s usually fearless blue eyes—and knows there’s no greater terror for a parent than having a child at risk. It’s an ordeal Shay won’t let Pete face alone. She’s no highly trained operative, but she’s smart, resourceful, and knows what makes teenagers tick.

Still, working alongside Pete has its own perils—like letting the heat between them rise out of control. Intimate emotions could mean dangerous, even deadly, consequences for their mission. No matter what, they must be on top of their game, and playing for keeps . . . or else Pete’s daughter may be gone for good.

Where do I even begin with Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series? There’s so much diversity in the pairings, so much differing action (you never quite know what you’re going to get) with just so many things going on… to the extent where some of her books have had the power to bore me limp, while others have brought me to my knees with a swoon-worthy type fairytale ending.

With ’Some Kind of Hero’, I was left disappointing unmoved and a more than a tad bit incredulous. But what’s clear however, is that it isn’t quite a standalone.

The initial meeting between Peter Green and Shayla is an out-of-nowhere jump into a car on the street to search for a missing teenager. And during the search, Peter finds himself telling his life story to Shayla while the latter finds herself using her skills as a writer to figure out just what Peter’s teenager could have gotten herself into. Their (coincidental) joint-effort simply eschews Brockmann’s very slow burn between characters that spans books and the quickness with which Peter and Shayla jumped into bed took out any sense of anticipation that I’ve come to expect. Instant-love or lust aside, the shenanigans with the teenagers just felt like an elaborate plot to bring 2 very opposing characters—whose lives otherwise wouldn’t ever intersect—together and it was difficult to buy into this forced connection when it simply felt more like bad parenting going out of control over a teenager who might or might not have done unsavoury things.

In many ways, this story left me in a bind, which on a whole, pretty much describes my entire Brockmann reading experience. There were parts that I couldn’t stop turning the pages, just as there were parts that had me skimming, despite the some amusing meta-details of what is means to be a romance author, fictional voices in head and scatterbrained-moments notwithstanding. On the other hand, Brockmann’s heroes never quite do what you think they do and here, there’s hardly enough SEAl action involved that could make me think of Peter as a SEAL instructor or his friend Izzy as a fellow brother-in-arms when the way they speak or act just lacked that intensity and the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that have pretty much defined the RS ‘alpha’ hero.

Maybe it’s because I’ve not read the entire series that ‘Some Kind of Hero’ made little sense to me overall, but this read (judging from the books that made my favourites list at least) unfortunately fell short by a long way.

two-stars

Burning Love by Trish Morey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 12th June 2017
Burning Love by Trish MoreyBurning Love by Trish Morey
Series: Hot Aussie Knights #4
Published by Tule Publishing on June 12th 2017
Pages: 96
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two-stars

Caleb Knight’s ex accused him of being married to his firefighter job, and maybe she was right. He’s given up looking for happy ever after and finds what he needs between Ava’s scorching sheets. But lately, he’s wondering whether this thing with Ava might become more permanent…

Artist Ava Mattiske's ability to trust was shattered long ago. Her steamy fling with Caleb is perfect until he starts talking long-term. She puts on the brakes, but when a bushfire threatens her studio and Caleb is on the scene, Ava realizes that there is one man she can count on... But will it be too late?

Caleb Knight turned up in his twin brother’s book and it got me curious about how evasive he’d been with Dylan. But when Caleb finally burst onto the page, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed and maybe that was because I just couldn’t feel any particular investment in a couple that was simply making the difficult transition from temporary to permanent with several speed bumps along the way.

‘Burning Love’ is unusual in that it takes place a year into Caleb’s and Ava’s casual arrangement with the story picking up from there, alternating between their hookup sessions, Ava’s art and Caleb’s job, though it’s a cycle that rinses and repeats until something gives. As a whore to her parents’ business to the time she has reinvented herself, Ava nonetheless lets her past dictate her future because of the scars that has left on her, convinced that she wants nothing to do with anything remotely resembling affection or love. Somehow Caleb gets beneath her skin and their agreement to just burn up the sheets in bed for the past year on a casual basis is something she uses against him when he finally wants more.

Apart from some parts that had the camaraderie of the guys on show, it was personally hard for me to get into a relationship that felt lopsided and unequal, made up of pull-push dynamic from start to end as Caleb finally grows past the casual hookup stage with Ava and pushes for more, just as Ava pushes him away in denial that gets rote after a while. The later part of their relationship is one made up of more of the same, except that Caleb spends most of his time trying to reaffirm Ava and rebuilding the shattered confidence that she’d lost in her youth. He’s a top bloke undoubtedly, but for most of the story, it felt like he was the one doing all the work while waiting for Ava to come to her senses—which she did only frustratingly, after a life-threatening event. His hard work pays off, though that much made me think of him playing the role of caretaker/therapist/lover all in one for a needy woman who hides a brittle interior.

I’d hoped that the wrap-up to this interesting series could have been better for me; sadly I never could quite get into this pairing as much as I could the rest.

two-stars

Alaska Wild by Helena Newbury

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 31st May 2017
Alaska Wild by Helena NewburyAlaska Wild by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on December 16th 2016
Pages: 396
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four-stars

Mason Boone. A former Navy SEAL who lives deep in the mountains, sleeps under the stars and hunts for his food. He’s rugged, untamed and gorgeous. And completely off limits: I’m an FBI agent and he’s a fugitive on his way to a military prison. But when another prisoner on our flight stages a breakout and the plane crashes, stranding us in the Alaskan wilderness, Mason becomes my only hope.
We're on opposite sides of the law...but the way he looks at me makes me melt. Could he really be innocent and can I help him overcome the past that haunts him? We're going to need to work together to survive but the greatest danger we face isn't nature: the other prisoner and his gang are out there...and they're hunting us.

As far as romantic suspense goes, there’s a huge amount of suspending disbelief that must be put in during the reading process and the extent to which I can hold back this disbelief is based on how much I’m engrossed in the action, the pacing and the characterisation.

For ‘Alaska Wild, I was hooked from the start as the action moved from a plane crash, to the wilderness to the frigid winter sea bordering Russia. Admittedly, it was harder to ignore the instant doses of lust emanating from a fugitive and an FBI agent (those long, bodily descriptions of sexual arousal came through way too early on), perpetuated supposedly by his big, strong body and his muscles upon muscles.

That bit aside, Kate Lydecker and Mason Boone do make a compelling pair from the start as the harsh elements of Alaska leave no space for histrionics or stupid behaviour when death quite literally stares them in the face in several instances. They are likeable, willing to fight for each other once the truth came out and pretty much made a good team together. Yet there is more than a touch of superhero-ing going on which I found rather ridiculous as no one truly gets injured in the many close shaves they have. Injuries, when they happen, seem to have no effect on Boone who goes on like an energiser bunny even when shot and apparently runs around sleeveless in arctic weather without feeling cold.

But while the focus was on dodging the bad guys and surviving not just their bullets but the brutal weather and landscape, I’d also hoped to read more about Boone’s eventual acquittal. That however, was confined to a few, succinct lines in the epilogue and how his military transgressions were cleared by the jury, leaving me feeling as though Boone deserved bit more than that. So when Boone and Kate finally ride off into their Alaskan sunset, I was strangely dissatisfied at the end when the hasty wrap-up of a story so lovingly crafted from the start just didn’t do justice to it.

four-stars

Locke and Key by Cristin Harber

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 27th May 2017
Locke and Key by Cristin HarberLocke and Key by Cristin Harber
Series: Titan #8
Published by Mill Creek Press on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 312
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two-stars

THE STOIC SPECIAL FORCES OPERATOR There’s only one person to blame for darkening the last years of Locke Oliver’s military career: Cassidy Noble. And damn if he doesn’t have to save her from the side of a frozen mountain. Even after the job is done, he can’t shake the woman from his thoughts. He blames her for the deaths in his Army unit so many years ago, and he’s not ready to let that go. It’s driving him to the point of distraction, and now his Titan Group boss says to get his act together or get out.
THE FEISTY, FALLEN REPORTER Cassidy is a disgraced journalist, once accused of treason—Or she’s an American hero. It depends on who you ask. She’s on a mission to rebuild her name and started with a simple question but discovered a complex web of spies and possible human trafficking. Titan Group believes in her. Locke does not. Until he can’t deny the truth any longer about the past or what she’s uncovered in her investigation.
BECOME AN INSEPARABLE TEAM Cassidy volunteers to go undercover. Locke would do anything to stay by her side as she slips into the network and is sold to the highest bidder. All is going right until everything goes wrong. Nothing is as they expect, including falling in love with the woman he thought he hated.

It took me an extraordinarily long time to go through this book that I’m actually wondering whether it’s sort of the end of the Titan series for me right now.

Having been a fan of Titan in the early days, I wondered how Cristin Harber was going to go on with the series after Jared Westin’s core team had found their respective HEAs. ‘Locke and Key’ is a book past that particular series arc but I’ve been struggling since the chapter closed on the core team.

I’ve admittedly found myself lukewarm and half-hearted about the Titan series after Parker’s book came out as a dud for me but the biggest problem in ‘Locke and Key’ was that I couldn’t find any character likeable, despite them having been fantastic protagonists in their own time in previous books who have since undergone some personality transplants. Here, they came across as volatile idiots lacking compassion or any sense of kinship and that famous ‘brotherhood-in-arms’ spirit which I tend to read about in RS books seemed sorely lacking here. Instead, what I saw was loads of peacock strutting, macho posturing and too many over-the-top type of reactions that felt like petty and unnecessary squabbles.

In essence, the volatility of the characters’ behaviours resulted in my own volatile reactions to difference scenes and dialogues. There were chapters that made me think I could get behind some characters and other chapters that had me rolling my eyes and ready to give up the book. The only things that kept me going were the secondary characters whose fight Titan inevitably became a part of to reunite their family and I read on, cheering for them alone.

Obviously, it’s one of those books that grated on me, but I’m hoping at least, that the overall sense of dissatisfaction with the series might pass. Whether there’ll still be Titan or Delta in my to-be-read list however, well, that’s still something that’s up in the air for me.

two-stars

Cheater’s Regret by Rachel Van Dyken

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 25th May 2017
Cheater’s Regret by Rachel Van DykenCheater's Regret by Rachel Van Dyken
Series: Curious Liaisons #2
Published by Skyscape on May 23rd 2017
Pages: 244
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one-star

Austin Rogers’s dreams of domestic bliss involved watching Netflix and eating hot dogs with the love of her life. But then he cheated on her. And dumped her—as if the whole thing was her fault. To maintain her pride and restore her sanity, she decides to get revenge. It feels immensely satisfying to plot her ex’s downfall—but so does kissing him.

Thatch Holloway, a plastic surgeon straight out of residency, knows he ruined the best thing that ever happened to him. But not all cheaters are created equal. He got himself into this messed-up situation—true—but he has his reasons for what happened, and he’d do it all again to protect Austin.

He’s not over her. And she’s not over him.

Austin wants closure, but since Thatch refuses to give it to her, she takes matters into her own hands. She needs to write a human-interest piece for her MBA, so she demands the full plastic-surgery experience. Sparks fly as they’re forced to work together. But Thatch isn’t afraid to play dirty in return. And he’s still hiding something—something that has the power to destroy not only Austin but their second chance at finding forever…

Thatch has smooched someone else, on purpose (and for a reason that we won’t know until the end) in order to end a relationship that wrecks him both in a good and bad way. Make no mistake –
it’s a cowardly act that has him trying every which way to remedy but fails, until things do come to a head. That in a nutshell, is the start of the drama and admittedly, it’s not that often an author would go so boldly into the murky waters of writing about the aftermath.

The brazen title drew me to this story, I’ll say from the start. It’s self-explanatory, bold and quite the blatant announcement that it crosses no-go territory for many readers. But I genuinely wanted to know how Rachel Van Dyken was going to go through this premise when the story takes place after Thatch Holloway treats Austin Rogers like garbage in trying to do everything to drive her away.

But curiosity did get the better of me and despite years of having known that Van Dyken isn’t quite the author for me personally, I wanted to see how the story would unfold before I started calling it ‘Reader’s Regret’ in my mind. In some ways, I’ve been testing my own limits in wanting to know what would be good enough a reason that would justify such an asinine decision to cheat instead of orchestrating a straight-out breakup?

The direction of the story took a turn I couldn’t entirely be enthusiastic about. As friends of their respective best friends, Austin and Thatch can’t avoid each other and what starts off as a (rather juvenile) revenge ploy turns into Austin ‘shadowing’ Thatch for her final assignment in graduate school, as both of them start the push-pull/hot-cold attraction thing once again. And as much as I thought Austin had a right to be furious, I simply wanted her to hold her head up high and date others in the wake of the heartbreak, but instead got someone who was as needy and desperate for the man who cheated on her, hung up so much on him that she became the very kind of woman she already proclaimed she hated. The pages of her own self-recrimination just couldn’t cancel out her glutton-for-punishment desperation that had me rolling my eyes and wishing she hadn’t shed her dignity along with her clothes in the needy bid to get back with a man who is trying to push her away when he couldn’t even give her the courtesy of coming clean.

The long, drawn-out deception was what made me give up on the story in the end though; that Thatch could not be honest enough to put himself out there was the sort of character growth I think I needed to see when all he seemed to be doing thus far was to perpetuate the same cheating cycle he caught his parents in. Distracting Austin from the truth with sex didn’t improve my impression of him at all, particularly when he had so many opportunities to begin everything on a clean slate but didn’t. That it all eventually caught up with him was unsurprising, though it was by this time my sympathies had officially run as dry as a well for every character in the book.

I wish that ‘Cheater’s Regret’ had been a better read, given the really bold and eye-catching premise it begins with. But having been disappointed in too many stories that went awry like this, I think I’m going to stay far away once more from these sort of books while I desperate grab for my favourites right now to wash my own regret away.

one-star
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