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Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 14th June 2017
Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyStay by Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Series: WAGs, #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 259
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five-stars

Can you fall in love with someone you've never even met?
Hailey Taylor Emery has a hunch that her favorite client at Fetch--an anonymous virtual assistant service--is actually hockey star Matt Eriksson.
Although it's against the rules for her to check his file, she's 95% sure she spends at least part of each day texting with her lifelong crush and catering to his every need. Still nursing a wounded heart thanks to her recent breakup, Hailey is perfectly content with some harmless online flirting...until she has to meet her client. Face to face. Cue: utter panic.
Matt Eriksson is no stranger to heartbreak. He's still not over the destruction of his marriage, and it sucks to be the only guy on the team who knows the truth--that hockey and long-term relationships are a toxic mix. He barely sees his kids, and dealing with his ex makes him feel insane. The only person in his life who seems to understand is someone who won't show her pretty face.
But it's nothing that a pair of fourth row hockey seats can't fix. Hailey can't resist the offer. Matt can't resist Hailey. Good thing he doesn't have to. Fire up the kiss cam!
Warning: Contains rabid hockey fans, misunderstood dick pics, hockey players at the opera and exploding ovaries.

I hadn’t realised that revisiting the team and seeing how far all of them have come since Wes and Jamie got off their rocky beginnings actually made me somewhat wistfully nostalgic enough to want to re-read the entire series.

If I haven’t yet mentioned how much I loved the ‘Him’ and ‘WAGs’ series, then well, mea culpa. ‘Stay’ couldn’t make me love this particular group of people more.

Matt Eriksson is the older guy in the Toronto hockey team and with a divorce just behind him and retirement a few years down the road, still struggles with handling his twin daughters, a nasty ex-wife and a virtual personal assistant who somehow, knows what he needs. Little does he know that a call to walk the dog would lead to premier tickets for a hockey match and that the online relationship he’s always had with the person handling tiny details in his life would turn out into something much more than he can ever expect.

Yet he is still the all-round good guy who’s easy to love, juggling life post-divorce with a gruelling schedule and kids who are not often around enough. For Matt at least, the divorce is a big failure that has him second guessing himself and his ability to be a good husband and parent while being a professional athlete. It has also made him cynical and jaded and a little gun-shy about sharing that same kind of lifestyle with another woman whom he thinks would come to resent him for it.

There’s a ring of maturity and a kind of stuttering rhythm that mirrors real life going through Matt’s and Hailey’s story, which is probably the story’s strongest selling point. Too often, the protagonists go off wild benders (hookups, as it typically goes) in the wake of a bad breakup and turn a hundred-eighty into commitment-phobes because they can’t apparently, trust another member of the opposite sex as they’re now painted with the same broad brushstrokes that their ex-es are coloured with. In ‘Stay’, we get instead quiet doubts about failure, self-confidence and the fear of putting oneself out there once again that gives the story depth and heart. I loved above all, that Matt and Hailey aren’t characters who simply react to the heartache of divorce by sleeping around then pushing each other away but instead, struggle with their inadequacies in different ways that I can believe and respect.

Yet it’s also swoony, steamy and in parts, funny and deeply romantic. What more do I need?

five-stars

My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th June 2017
My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan QuinnMy Best Friend's Ex by Meghan Quinn
Published by Amazon Publishing on June 1st 2017
Pages: 248
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five-stars

When I found an eviction notice taped on my apartment door, I had two options: find a comfortable cardboard box to call home, or move in with Tucker Jameson.
Seeing that cardboard makes me feel itchy, I chose the latter. Which shouldn't be that big of a deal since Tucker is one of my good friends. And because he's still pining after his ex-girlfriend and I'm trying to finish my nursing degree, there is nothing to worry about in the romance department, making my last semester an easy one to conquer.
Boy, was I wrong.
Rules are set, dinners are made, conversations are had, and a shirtless, swoony roommate walks around in nothing but a pair of black briefs, ruining me for every other man.
Before I know it, I turn into a panting, lust-filled woman begging for Tucker to kiss me, touch me, and show me exactly what is hiding under those briefs.
But with great orgasms, comes great consequences.
Tucker might be my friend and roommate but he’s also my best friend's ex-boyfriend, making him completely off-limits. At least that's what my brain is telling me, my heart is speaking an entirely different language.

At this very point in time—the very moment I finished turning the last page of this book—I’m inclined to think that I’ve barely yet recovered from the amazing Tucker Jameson (who made my heart break many times throughout for him yet I loved him more for it) before I needed to pound out a review for a story that pretty much took my breath away.

‘My Best Friend’s Ex’ is so much more than what the flirty little blurb suggests; it’s instead a perfect mix of funnies and heartbreaking moments that leave you breathless with laughter then wrung out completely the next.

And that’s mostly due to Tucker and Emma—2 characters with so much chemistry and so much love between them that you can’t help but think there’s no better out there for either of them. I loved every bit of the build-up and how they re-established their relationship and despite some cock-blocking moments, was gratified when they finally hit the sheets. I’ve no desire really, to read the first book that introduced Tucker as a broken, peripheral character (especially if he’s the one left behind in it), who’d been alone in dealing with his bitterness, guilt and hurt when the group of friends he had pulled away from him as well.

But even with a huge load of tragedy behind him, Tucker is admirable in the way he pulls himself up and away from it, finally putting himself out there again for Emma, who is as compassionate and understanding as they come, living up to her reputation as the one who has always taken care of others. But because they’d been friends long before that, the journey is slightly easier, softened by years of memories and camaraderie, so this friends-to-lovers trope is in some way, easier to bear, given their history.

There isn’t much more that I can say, except that this has been a perfect afternoon indulgence that made me run the entire gamut of emotions and then once again. And if this genre can’t do it, then what can?

five-stars

Silver Silence by Nalini Singh

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 26th May 2017
Silver Silence by Nalini SinghSilver Silence by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity #1
Published by Berkley Books on June 13th 2017
Pages: 423
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five-stars

Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him. Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan. Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...

It’s impossible to go into any of the Psy-Changeling books and not get blown away by the intricately detailed, futuristic world that Nalini Singh has shaped over the past 15 books. ‘Silver Silence’ is Silver Mercant’s story, the stoic, emotionless psy who finally meets her match in the Valentin Nikolaev the bear alpha and their epic romance—from wary suspicion to brief happiness to heartbreak—feels like a great love story unfolding amidst a shifting world that’s hurtling towards an unknown future.

The book isn’t a standalone, but admittedly, it can function as one especially if you don’t exactly wish to go through the first 15 books of the series to get to this point and half the title itself is the name of a mysterious psy who has appeared as Kaleb Krychek’s tough, capable but emotionless aide in the past few books. After ‘Allegiance of Honor’ closed the previous arc, Silver’s story heralds in a new age, so to speak, ushering in Psy-Changeling’s “season 2” and focusing on a period where all three races look towards unity as they seek to heal their deeply-fractured world.

In fact, ‘Silver Silence’ takes up the complicated threads from the end of the last book and adds even more layers to this shifting world that inexorably hurtles towards an unknown future even as new and recurring characters find their mates. It also feel like a reboot of the series that is making me feel the excitement I haven’t felt in forever when a good book comes along.

There are light-hearted moments as there are heart-wrenching ones and while I felt overwhelmed by the details at times as ‘Silver Silence’ kicks the action all back up into high gear, it’s hard not to look back at every turn and wonder just how far we’ve come since the first book. I laughed so hard at Singh’s introduction of the Bear changelings—their irrational behaviour that still somehow endears people to them above all—and loved every moment detailing how different they seemed to the rest of the changelings and pretty much fell for this bear clan as I did the wolves. There’s also renewed focus on the Human Alliance (though there’s already some gutting tragedy here!) which I hope will play a bigger role in the upcoming books and I simply can’t wait to see how far Singh goes to integrate these races in this new age.

Singh pits opposing characters here as she normally does in her stories—an emotional, primal changeling with a psy conditioned for absolute control—but adds an intriguing history behind the distinguished Mercant family line and the Stonewater clan that makes Silver’s and Valentin’s story so much more than just an opposite-attracts kind of story. The type of pairing isn’t new (a psy with an alpha changeling) but Singh’s storytelling never gets dull here, because Silver/Valentin’s relationship is tied so deeply to the instability during the Age of Trinity yet isn’t compromised by the unfolding of events. It’s also deftly handled such that it’s hard not to root for both Silver and Valentin, who are well-matched and unwavering when it comes to loyalty and desire, as they show the same kind of determination to be with each other no matter the circumstance. Their conflict and their different stances on sex (the virgin vs the experienced male) aren’t simply written for the sake of adhering to a particular romance-novel format, but rather the history of these races explains why Silver/Valentin behave the way they do and does actually lend a measure of credibility for readers who like challenging these well-established romance tropes.

After having gotten the rather fierce affirmation of Silver/Valentin’s HEA, to finish the first ‘episode’ of the new season is akin to waking up rudely to reality and the garish morning light, making you want to crawl back into the reading cave for the sequel…which isn’t yet on the horizon.

five-stars

Talk of the Town by Rachael Johns

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 16th May 2017
Talk of the Town by Rachael JohnsTalk Of The Town by Rachael Johns
Published by Mira on May 1st 2017
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Lawson Cooper-Jones has two priorities in life – his son, Ned, and the survival of the dairy farm that has been in his family for generations. Despite the best efforts of the town matchmakers and the determined pursuit of local girl Adeline Walsh, Lawson’s heart belongs still, and only, to his late wife.
But when a flat tyre strands Lawson and Ned in nearby Rose Hill, he’s surprised to find a woman living alone in the old general store of the deserted town. Ned immediately forms a bond with the beautiful stranger called Meg, and Lawson is surprised to find himself captivated by her too.
Although shy at first, Meg starts to open up to him about the haunting secrets of her new home and, with Lawson unable to get her out of his head, they agree to investigate the history of the old building together. Soon they find their friendship has bloomed into something more.
But when meddling Adeline makes it her mission to uncover the truth about the newcomer and her real identity is revealed, Lawson and Meg’s budding romance comes crashing down. Can they both learn to forgive in order to claim a future for their damaged hearts?

The Australian small-town, rural romance is always one of a kind for me and getting deep into a story that works is simply a treat that I savour. Rachael Johns has written some books that I liked very much and ‘Talk of the Town’ is yet another lovely read that I’ll probably remember for a while.

It’s not an entirely unpredictable story nonetheless, with a very slow-burn and touches of the paranormal. There’re typical ups and downs in the narrative but the drama and romance that unfold aren’t over-the-top, with very real characters who struggle with daily lives, their emotions and their efforts in rebuilding after tragedy strikes.

Along with Lawson/Meg who help spin the magic of the narrative, the evocative feel of Western Australia and the agricultural community that I remember – along with the gorgeous Margaret River stretch that’s mentioned in there- contribute hugely to stamping the story in my memory.

four-stars

Solo by Lauren E. Rico

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th April 2017
Solo by Lauren E. RicoSolo by Lauren E. Rico
Published by Entangled Publishing on May 8th 2017
Pages: 364
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four-stars

When graduate student Katherine Brenner walked into my class, I couldn’t stand her -- all perfect skin and big, blue eyes -- just like the woman who broke my heart.
If it wasn’t for that blizzard, if her car hadn’t broken down outside my house, if she hadn’t looked amazing by the firelight, I never would have kissed her. No matter how hard I try, every excuse I make not to see her comes up flat.
I can’t stop thinking of her lips. Or the way her curves fit perfectly in my hands. There’s a million reasons why this won’t work. I’m her professor. It’s against university policy.
And if this gets out, I could lose everything.

There was so much I loved about this book, not least because the subject matter had me so captivated. Not only was it the forbidden relationship that had developed out of an initially antagonistic one that drew me in, but the fact that it was built around and based on a love for classical music that had me turning the pages and losing sleep, bringing me back to a time when it’d played a large role in my life. It felt like a reminder of (or maybe even a stunning tribute to) the power of music and it was easy to be swayed when Lauren E. Rico’s clear investment in her characters and love for the subject shone through so clearly.

Yet ‘Solo’ is also a story of two people trying to rise from the ashes after years of conflict and hostility—I wished the book cover and the suggestive and short blurb reflected this! After getting past my incredulity, the story took over and I gobbled it down hook, line and sinker, loving the complexity already written into this problematic set-up from the very start.

Drew Markham has it out for his graduate student (taking out his anger unconsciously on a woman who resembles his ex) while all Kate is trying to do is to lie low and distance herself from her ‘celebrity’ status as a Senator’s daughter. Serendipity brings a huge snowstorm to their small mountain town however, just as an assignment deadline looms large, and forces this switch that morphs into friendship, tentative attraction and eventually, full-blown affection.

I think the bottom line for me was that both Kate/Drew were sympathetic enough characters that it was easy to cheer for them as a couple. As an aspiring female conductor with enough gumption to get through grad school on her own, Kate gained my admiration early on, although it was harder to warm up to Drew’s volatile nature, especially when he wronged her too many times for my liking. Nonetheless, I liked how natural it felt as Drew and Kate took days to work out their differences—the injection of maturity and the communication really helped—but also how their HEA doesn’t come without consequences as well. The dose of realism that you could see coming miles away was painful to take in, though not unexpected and Rico doesn’t shy away from laying it out. But once Drew/Kate got going however, their rocky road together was far from easy and even as I’d hoped for a more conclusive epilogue, their happiness seemed hard-fought and consequently, deserved as they weathered the whole fall-out.

four-stars

Viable Threat by Julie Rowe

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 5th April 2017
Viable Threat by Julie RoweViable Threat by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force, #1
Published by Entangled Publishing (Select Suspense) on May 22nd 2017
Pages: 393
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five-stars

Special Forces soldier and medic Walter River would give anything to snatch more than a few seconds of down time to see if he can rattle the no-nonsense and incredibly hot Dr. Lloyd he's protecting, but dodging explosions, snipers, and student radicals who've unleashed a lethal bio-engineered microorganism have made that almost impossible. Maybe he'll get a chance—if he can figure out how to keep them both alive.
CDC microbiologist Ava Lloyd races to find a cure for a bio-terrorism organism sweeping El Paso. The few stolen moments with her very hunky bodyguard River have been explosive, but no matter how alluring he is, she can't afford to get distracted. The clock is ticking, people are dying by the hundreds, and once this crisis is solved, they'll both be off on their next assignment, thousands of miles apart.

I think Julie Rowe has written a winner with this one. ‘Viable Threat’ is thrilling, heart-pounding, a fast-paced ride that whisks you through the tense situation of a sudden outbreak and a series of attacks in the city that point to biological terrorism. And in the maelstrom, a Special Forces soldier and a microbiologist join forces to help contain it and get to ground zero, but the journey ahead is fraught with nothing but danger and minefields.

There’s also a lot of arguing over territory, conflicting agendas and hidden motives as the ugly politics of emergency management come to the fore…while bodies drop like flies during a plague. As dry as this bit of the conflict can be, Rowe handles it well, with way more realism than I expected and throws in more than a spicy dash of conspiracy theories and odd, but not unwelcome bits of humour that kept me wide-eyed and entertained.


That’s the beauty of fast-paced action and suspense in the RS genre when done right. But the characters as well as the protagonists ground the story, so strongly-crafted and so memorable that they’ll probably stay in my mind for a long time. A side-note here: the Drill Sergeant gets my vote as a fan favourite, by the way.

But River and Ava stole the show completely. River was serious and confident when he needed to be, quietly flirtatious with his ‘mouse’ in a way that made me laugh, unfailingly loyal when given his orders to stick by Ava yet never quite overstepping his boundaries as he defers to her—a rare quality in any case, matched only by his atypical appearance that isn’t quite what the usual RS hero looks like. I loved how competent they both were without the necessary posturing and their partnership—as put together as it is—did seem like a good, solid one that will outlast this outbreak.

There’s no dancing around their attraction or silly games because the stakes are too high for anything else. Battling the sudden outbreak takes priority and everything else fades into the background for now, which is what both characters do, dedicated as they are to their jobs. Yet bonds are forged in risky, life-and-death-type situations and Ava/River’s growing loyalty to each other is no less reminiscent of the brotherhood formed among soldiers who go to war together. It’s an added dimension to the usual physical and emotional connection that most readers crave for in romances and with this unshakeable bond forming in times of emergency, ‘Viral Justice’ gives this burgeoning relationship depth, but it’s compressed so much within this short time span (just over 24 hours) that made me wonder if it’s merely adrenaline and sexual tension sparking between them.

The somewhat rushed conclusion aside, Rowe’s Outbreak Task Force is going to be a series I’ll be keeping an eye on—if the sequels are going to be anything like this explosive thriller, I’m down for the count.

five-stars

Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 10th March 2017
Goodbye Paradise by Sarina BowenGoodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen
Series: Hello Goodbye #1
Published by Sarina Bowen on March 21st 2017
Pages: 223
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five-stars

In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world.

But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves.

It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.

Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires.

Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels?

I’m not a constant reader of M/M romance books, but thanks to Sarina Bowen’s mind-blowing introduction to them with ‘Him’ and ‘Us’, I’d be the first to raise my hand for the ARC if Bowen does any more of these. It’s her excellent exploration of gender preferences and stereotypical ‘gendered’ behaviours—whether learned or not—that made me want to get straight into ‘Goodbye Paradise’ and nowhere do these issues show up best than in her M/M books.


As I suspected, ‘Goodbye Paradise’ didn’t disappoint at all, following the journey of 2 boys (who’d been best friends in a polygamist cult from the time they were born) over a period of a year or so as they grew into their own identities and come to terms with their sexuality. Josh/Caleb are striking from the very start with distinct and unique voices that show the extent of their ‘worldliness’ and their naïveté, but also their bond that only got stronger with time. Along with the kind-heartedness of strangers and family along the way, both Josh and Caleb found more confidence in themselves as time went on as they learned what living outside the cult’s boundaries really meant. They aren’t typical protagonists from a romance novel—which I loved—but rather, sympathetic, well-rounded characters with their own abilities and their own insecurities that, by the time the story comes to an end, could have gone separate ways but yet chose consciously to stay together. Their edgy, growing desire for each other—sometimes sublimated, sometimes not—felt as natural as breathing, and their declarations of love were deeply…humanist, without fanfare but all too real.

‘Goodbye Paradise’ is in short, calibrated, controlled storytelling done with much panache and aplomb. I loved Bowen’s nuanced ways of challenging traditional roles of men/women in households, which was certainty made easier by the strict and hypocritical rules of the cult that Josh and Caleb had to live by. It’s also less angsty than I thought it would be (thank god), but no less fulfilling by the time I finished the book—in a single sitting.

five-stars
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