Browsing Tag

Gave me the willies

Risky Redemption by Marissa Garner

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th October 2017
Risky Redemption by Marissa GarnerRisky Redemption by Marissa Garner
Published by Forever Yours on November 7th 2017
Pages: 416
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one-star

Four years ago, Angela Reardon was brutally attacked, and she still bears the physical scars and traumatic memories. While she's worked hard to overcome her fears and build a successful business, she's still haunted by her inability to identify her assailant. Now Angela only wants to be left alone-until a shadowy stranger reignites her desire to be loved. But their time together may be brief...because someone wants her dead.

CIA assassin Jake Stone's targets deserved to die. Until now. Until he falls in love with the innocent woman he's been hired to kill. Jake can't fight his attraction to Angela, and he knows that someone else will be sent to finish the job. So can he save Angela and redeem himself by uncovering who wants her killed? When the trail leads him into the carnal underbelly of L.A., the truth is more shocking than even he could ever imagine.

From the blurb, ‘Risky Redemption’ sounds exactly like the type of read that’s up my alley: a woman with amnesia, mistaken for a mark for treasonous activity and is put as a target for a honey trap, until she really disappears when her innocence is proven. Angela Reardon’s secrets however, aren’t the type that should concern the CIA at all and in a case that’s not just about mistaken identity, the rot in the system appears too little too late, until she looks to be the kind of collateral damage swept under a rug unless a valiant, truth-seeking hero uncovers the dirt.

That was as much as I could put together for the first half of the book given the constant and numerous flashbacks interspersed with the present which made it difficult to get the timeline straight in my head. With a time gap that the storytelling struggled to bridge (the number of events that’d led us to this point only unfurl through flashbacks), the hints that were dished out merely left me with an increasing stockpile of questions that weren’t addressed as the pages turned.

With the narrative was constantly broken up between Jake/Angela’s first few meetings and the point where she apparently disappears, I had a hard time grasping the story’s coherence—it felt more like a jigsaw that frustratingly, couldn’t be put together at all—with the constant refrain of Jake’s self-recrimination, the lamenting of his lack of moral compass and generally, the weight of his regrets that seemed to pour off the pages instead of a hard, forward momentum that I’d expected of this genre. Unevenly paced, the middle-half of the book dealt solely with Jake’s investigations and Angela’s absence was starkly felt, except for her appearances in the flashbacks.

But throughout, I couldn’t get over the fact that Jake acted like a man-child who blew hot and cold with his emotions and was generally petty in a manner that I associated more with tantrum-throwing children than a grown adult. Too many lines about how easy he had it with women throwing themselves at him which he took every advantage of cemented my impression of him as a highly-reactive protagonist whose uncontrolled moods swings above all, just didn’t seem to fit the bill of the cold contract killer that Marissa Garner was trying to flesh out. Proudly proclaiming that he hadn’t had sex since he’d met her a mere 2-3 weeks ago, then trying to take on the mantle early on as her sex ‘helper’ to escape her past as a rape victim and get her to enjoy sex again—before getting frustrated because his own sexual needs weren’t satisfied when she hesitated—just upped the creep factor…and pretty much made me stop reading after this.

There were secrets to uncover and too many gaps to fill, without a doubt. But having found the protagonists generally unlikable and having struggled so much with the style of the storytelling, I can only say this just isn’t the book for me when I found I couldn’t pay attention long enough to discover what those secrets were.

one-star

Broken Rebel by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 16th September 2017
Broken Rebel by Sherilee GrayBroken Rebel by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #2
Published by Swerve on October 10th 2017
Pages: 244
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one-star

They used to be best friends...but now, all they do is fight each other at every turn. She's loved him since he saved her from her evil stepmother all those years ago. He's sworn to never love her for fear of tainting her innocence with his criminal past.

What do you do when the one person you love is the one person you can’t have?

I’ll say from the start that I love Sherilee Gray’s writing, which is probably even harder to admit that the Lawless Kings series has been a sore disappointment so far. Gray’s prose is always easy to get through and her stories are decently plotted, so it was a huge surprise (or shock even) when I ended up with the problem of trying to get behind the protagonists and failing miserably.

‘Broken Rebel’ is in essence for me, a version of a toxic relationship—of enabling and needing—that presents a different definition of love that I find myself struggling to subscribe to. It’s something that the protagonists do acknowledge as well, which forms the basis for the screwed up relationship that they’ve always had. Having known each other all their lives and coming from broken pasts, Neco has always assumed the role as protector when she needed him. The years pass and Ruby appears to yearn for that status-quo, doing everything she can to get his attention back on her, which he rebuffs by doing every cruel and vile thing possible (including screwing a woman so that Ruby could see it) in the attempts to wean her off him.

I found it immensely difficult to even get on Neco’s side as he gives the (rather hypocritical and unbelievable) rationale that he is not good for her—having done unsavoury things—and is protecting her even from himself and his shady criminal past. With the idea that she’s forbidden goods, Neco’s repetitive justification of keeping her at a distance, saying hurtful things and screwing women while pretending it’s Ruby just didn’t sit with me at all. I got unhappier with page after page of the injustice he’d done to her, then suddenly turning up to ‘claim’ her as her man after she gets hurt badly and he wasn’t there to respond because he was preparing to get a blowjob in a strip club.

There were parts where I felt sorry for Ruby for enduring all that she had to endure just to get Neco’s attention, though her desperation for him made me cringe at times. Taking him back so easily after her short, albeit failed attempt to be the strong independent woman free of him meant she got him after all this time (with him reciprocating), though his obnoxious, protective and controlling behaviour even after this finally made me give up on the story.

Truth is, I’m conflicted about rating this book the way I have, all the more so because I know Gray has written books that I love. But the long and short of it is, ‘Broken Rebel’ doesn’t quite feel like a romance to me. Instead the ingredients for a ‘darker’ type of erotica are there, like the scorching sex, the alpha posturing, the overprotective ‘claiming’, but with Neco/Ruby having been caught in the game of hurtful push-pull for ages, the chest-heaving, angsty emotions that bled off the page merely convinced me that both these broken rebels might have really been better off without each other.

one-star

The Knocked Up Plan by Lauren Blakely

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 25th June 2017
The Knocked Up Plan by Lauren BlakelyThe Knocked up Plan by Lauren Blakely
Published by Lauren Blakely Books on June 23rd 2017
Pages: 225
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four-stars

There are three little words most guys don’t want to hear on the first date. Not those…I mean these… “knock me up.”

This single gal has had enough of the games, the BS and the endless chase. I know what I want most, and it’s not true love. It’s a bun in the oven, and I’m not afraid to hit up my sex-on-a-stick co-worker to do the job. Ryder is gorgeous, witty and charming — and he’s also a notorious commitment-phobe. That makes him the perfect candidate to make a deposit in the bank of me.

I won’t fall for him, he won’t fall for me, and there’s no way baby will make three. Right?

****There are four words every guy wants to hear on the first date — “your place or mine?”

When my hot-as-sin co-worker makes me a no-strings-attached offer that involves her place, my place, any place — as well as any position — I can’t refuse. After all, my job is like a coach and my latest assignment for the good of mankind is to create a fail-safe, battle-tested, proven guide of what to do or say to get a woman to fall into your bed — I mean, fall for you. So when Nicole says she’s game to work through my list in a hands-on way, I take her up on her deal even with her one BIG condition.

There’s no way I’ll want more from one woman than any position, any where, any night? Except . . . what if I do?

Pregnancy and baby romances aren’t my cup of tea and that’s my straight-out admission about my whole stance on the issue. Make it the central plot around which a relationship is built and I’m out of the door quicker than my own shadow can cringe and wave goodbye. But Lauren Blakely can offer something good (Blakely can be a mixed-bag author for me) and this is why I’ve picked up the story—to be planted straight in chick-lit zone, even if it’s just pure fiction indulgence, more so than ever.

Honestly, I was squeamish. And got even more squeamish as the pages went on.

‘The Knocked up Plan’ is a title that says it all: a plan to have children, with or without a man, simply because a woman can do it on her own the way Nicole believes. Except that the sperm donor that she wants is a friend and a colleague and the arrangement has to be exactly what it is—a transaction that has has Ryder uninvolved past the process of knocking Nicole up. But the catch is always coming—minus the distancing sterile environment of a sperm bank and the gift that anonymity presents, and no matter how much fun in and out of bed both of them have, feelings will and do get in the way. Basically, what Ryder and Nicole think might be a good idea is a bad idea all around and it’s plainly obvious to all but the protagonists themselves because if there’s actual sex in the mix between two people who like and respect each other, it’s just a sweeter deal.

It was easy to power through the book nonetheless, because there’s a confident woman who can easily be the representative for the independent 21st century feminist and a somewhat broken man who’s more real than many of the protagonists I’ve read about recently. There’s minimal angst really, unless you count the hormonal mood swings of pregnancy, and there’s a tooth-achingly sweet HEA that Blakely drives home.

Some parts do read laughably like pure exaggeration (making it too clear that this is a woman writing a romance for woman, imagining a man’s thoughts) and I do cringe at some descriptions that seem to take the metaphors of sex way too far. But Ryder isn’t a clueless, emotionally-challenged idiot and neither is Nicole a clingy soul and the lack of drama along with the dual POVs go a long way in making the entire book a sweeter deal for me.

four-stars

Deceiver by Robin Lovett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 23rd June 2017
Deceiver by Robin LovettDeceiver: A Dark Revenge Romance by Robin Lovett
Series: Dark Stalker #2
Published by Swerve on July 11th 2017
Pages: 215
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two-stars

The plan was to ruin a man’s life. Not seduce the man’s daughter. But sometimes, the unlikeliest of people becomes the target. And sometimes revenge can make a man vulnerable in ways he didn’t know existed…

I’m bored. Tired of my meaningless life. The garden parties, the white sundresses, and politely saying “no” to the sliver of cake—it’s the life my mother and father wanted for me, worked tirelessly for me to have. And the monotony makes me reckless.

But when I go to Blake Vandershall’s party, his dark, menacing eyes and his hard, unyielding stare make me want things that have never been offered to me before. He’s the type who would ravish you in your father’s law office. The kind who would lie without blinking an eye in order to get what he wants.

And the repressed bad girl in me wants to give him what he needs.

**

Daisy Nowell is nothing to me.

I don’t care that underneath that blue-blood lifestyle, she’s burning to be unleashed. My victim is her father—the one man who had the chance to save my mother from a brutal fate. The coward did nothing, and it’s my turn to make his life a living hell.

He’s about to lose his precious daughter to me, a man whose sole mission is to destroy him. I’ll do anything, say anything, in order to tear this woman from her safe life as I hurtle down my path towards destruction. But I didn’t count on her seeing through me. I didn’t count on her tapping into my weaknesses, pushing my dark heart in ways I don’t want. Ways I hate.

I need to find a way to exact my vengeance and leave this all behind. Before this woman ruins me for good.

A revenge plot—of enemies to lovers—turns one of my reading screws, always.

But after the somewhat abrupt ending of the previous book—with a pairing that was difficult to buy into—I was rather hesitant about this one when the opening of ‘Deceiver’ was just as awkward and abrupt and seemingly without context: Blake Vandershall hosts a party to lure Daisy Novell in through seduction as part of his scheme to bring her father down. Like the first book, there’s a close stalker element to this as well, as Blake mows down the Lovells’ carefully-constructed lives and exults in it.

What I couldn’t really understand was how Daisy couldn’t quite see through his scheme or remain stubbornly oblivious to it, as Blake wasn’t at all subtle about it—that much she needed to cut herself free of the stifling lifestyle she lived that any ol’ distraction would do? In fact, I wondered why she wasn’t too suspicious, and was astounded even, when she dallied, played the game and flirted without quite having any 6th sense that something was off with Blake when he’d pretty much revealed he knew all about her and her family. Yet all it takes is an orgasm very early on to have Blake remorseful about his own behaviour while the simmering anger that he seems to carry around is enough to turn Daisy on.

Daisy in essence, is attracted to an arse of a man (which might be a trigger for some) but as the blurb unapologetically goes, don’t expect any ‘normal’ romance character traits here. As with a story like this, the turn from enemies to lovers can’t simply be an uneasy truce with sex thrown in for me; it’s made all the more difficult because I need more than the usual convincing that such a pairing—while not all sunshine and roses—is a viable one and it’s what I’ll be looking out for. To some extent they are the perfect pair in a twisted manner of speaking, as one uses the other for their own selfish motives consciously: Daisy as a means to break out of her caged life and Blake who uses her as an outlet.

Seen in this light, ‘Deceiver’ probably succeeds and for that reason, I’m not sure how to rate this read. But take a chance on this if you like hate (and taunting-type) sex, ambiguous and deviant relationships that defy every trope you like in romance.

two-stars

The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th June 2017
The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne WhiteThe Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White
Series: Angie Pallorino #1
Published by Montlake Romance on June 20th 2017
Pages: 524
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three-stars


He surfaced two years ago. Then he disappeared ...

But Detective Angie Pallorino never forgot the violent rapist who left a distinctive calling card—crosses etched into the flesh of his victim’s foreheads.
When a comatose Jane Doe is found in a local cemetery, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and nearly drowned, Angie is struck by the eerie similarities to her earlier unsolved rapes. Could he be back?​Then the body of a drowned young woman floats up in the Gorge, also bearing the marks of the serial rapist, and the hunt for a predator becomes a hunt for a killer. Assigned to the joint investigative task force, Angie is more than ready to prove that she has what it takes to break into the all-male homicide division. But her private life collides with her professional ambitions when she’s introduced to her temporary partner, James Maddocks—a man she’d met the night before in an intense, anonymous encounter.
Together, Angie and Maddocks agree to put that night behind them. But as their search for the killer intensifies so does their mutual desire. And Angie’s forays into the mind of a monster shake lose some unsettling secrets about her own past . . .
How can she fight for the truth when it turns out her whole life is a lie?

There’s no doubt that Loreth Anne White writes excellent police procedurals in their gritty, brutal glory. Her angst-ridden characters, worn down by the nature of their work, are jaded and cynical with nary an ounce of optimism in them and as we tend to learn at the start of the book, wrestle with their own broken lives as they keep disappointing their families before they find some kind of equilibrium by the end of it. Their behaviours tend to mirror the nature of the crimes they’re investigating, stopping short of going past the grey areas into the forbidden and while the psychology behind it all is intriguing, I always find myself coming out of every White suspense read unsure, uncertain and strangely in need of a thorough cleaning.

Irascible, combative and abrasive, Angie Pallorino is straight out, a character difficult to like or side with, unlike a typical romance heroine for whom an author tries to get the readers to have an affinity. Everything about her, like White’s protagonists, can and does rub me the wrong way especially in the manner she uses people and men. But her tenacity is also what makes her a good detective and her career is probably all she has.  Like Angie, James Maddocks is running on his own fumes, rebuilding his life in a place where he can hopefully also rebuild his relationship with his daughter. They don’t get off to the best start: a one night stand that ends in coitus interruptus followed by a hostile meeting at the work place. But Maddocks is the upstanding, strong one who’s got his head on relatively straight in contrast and I liked that steadying presence he seems to provide throughout.

There’s very little on the romance in White’s latest suspense books and this is no different. The multiple POVs and the doubts cast on each and every character does a good job of distancing you from them, bringing into focus instead, the complicated but excellent set up of the crime scenes. The search for justice and laborious police work are White’s focal points—along with the superb Hitchcockian suspense kind of writing—and her characters merely players as they try to untangle this web of brutal deaths. It’s packed with tons of details that makes it a difficult read in that sense, and heavy-going in a way gritty crime fiction can be, which naturally brings me to the question that I’ve always struggled with when it comes to romantic suspense that’s heavy on the suspense: is it possible to ‘love’ a read when it’s simply about the case (that’s fantastically set up, no doubt), even if there are characters you don’t exactly connect with or feel for?

Angie’s story however, is pretty much unfinished. ‘The Drowned Girls’ seems to end on tenterhooks, on a tipsy toast that hopes for a better tomorrow, but with the sequel in store, you just know it’s going to unravel once more, until you’re back down through the looking glass, as dislocated as the characters who themselves don’t know any better but to screw things up.

three-stars

Arm Candy by Jessica Lemmon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 1st June 2017
Arm Candy by Jessica LemmonArm Candy by Jessica Lemmon
Series: Real Love #2
Published by Loveswept on September 5th 2017
Pages: 191
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two-stars

Davis:
I’ve had my eye on Grace Buchanan for a while now. Unlike the bubbly blondes I usually date, the feisty, flame-haired bartender both intrigues and bewilders me. Something about Grace—the tattoos? the nose ring?—makes every part of me sit up and beg. There’s only one problem: She hates me. Trading insults and one-liners has become our M.O. But when Grace bets me that I can’t get a date with a non-blonde if my life depends on it, I’m determined to prove her wrong by landing the ultimate non-blonde: her.
Grace:
I’m used to regulars hitting on me, and I’ve turned them all down, except for one: Davis Price. I like giving him a hard time, and he’s kind of cute in his suit and tie—if you’re into that kind of thing. Anyway, I don’t care how many blondes he takes home . . . until one of them sidles up to him in my bar. Nuh-uh. But after my little bet with Davis backfires, our first date lands us in the sack. So does the second. And the third. Neither of us wants more than the best sex of our lives. The trouble is, it’s not a question of what I want. It’s what I need. And what I need is Davis.

Jessica Lemmon’s sassy, confident writing is what had me requesting this ARC, though this turned out to be yet another chick-lit book that disappointed me with its predictability from start to finish, with main characters that are dime a dozen in the romance genre. 2 non-committal people make the (rather cynical) sex-only agreement, then find out they could be more thereafter, though it was an uphill climb to believe that genuine trust, respect and love could blossom out of chemistry in the bedroom and months of foreplay, as it always is when sex is done and out of the way so very early on in the story.

Admittedly though, the rating reflects a case of my liking a main character and intensely disliking the other—rather than the quality and style of Lemmon’s writing itself. Davis has had his heartbroken a few years ago and the default mode (as with most male protagonists in the romance genre, being cowardly and gun-shy after that) he goes back to after that wedding incident is being a manwhore about his dates and being unapologetic about deliberately living in an environment where he and the rest of the women can walk away after sex before anything can begin. It’s his way of ‘killing time’ supposedly, but no matter how Davis tries to rationalise it to convince himself that Grace is worth it, I couldn’t quite buy the fact that he wanted it all simply after a bet that Grace has impulsively taken up.

My own personal biases against such players do prevent me from liking protagonists like Davis, whose shallowness I couldn’t get over—the offering of the ‘Davis’ package then flaunting his hookups just to get Grace to take up a bet was quite the last straw which I found more sleazy than charming. It was in short, difficult to think of Davis as something other than a huge cliché whose background and personal history dictate his behaviour with women and his escort-like packages and frankly, it was more of a turn-off than anything else. Grace on the other hand, is as jaded as Davis and yet there seemed to be more nuances to her character, although her own fear of commitment—for different reasons other than Davis’s ones—certainly isn’t hampered by her falling prey to Davis’s charm.

In short, without a grounding belief that Davis and Grace could work together, the rest of the story was hard to follow through when I stayed sceptical of them throughout when both characters seemed at various points in time, to have a foot out the door because fear, as always, took control up until the very end. ‘Arm Candy’ was unfortunately, a story that left me frustrated and less than enthused, because it simply felt like another variation of 2 people getting invested in each other after getting the best-of-their-lives-smexy times.

two-stars

Too Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 30th April 2017
Too Hard to Forget by Tessa BaileyToo Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #3
Published by Forever on April 25th 2017
Pages: 336
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three-stars

This time, she's calling the shots. Peggy Clarkson is returning to her alma mater with one goal in mind: confront Elliott Brooks, the man who ruined her for all others, and remind him of what he's been missing. Even after three years, seeing him again is like a punch in the gut, but Peggy's determined to stick to her plan. Maybe then, once she has the upper hand, she'll finally be able to move on. In the years since Peggy left Cincinnati, Elliott has kept his focus on football. No distractions and no complications. But when Peggy walks back onto his practice field and into his life, he knows she could unravel everything in his carefully controlled world. Because the girl who was hard to forget is now a woman impossible to resist.

I dove into ‘Too Hard to Forget’ with trepidation, because the Clarksons series hasn’t been quite one for me so far. But a second-chance romance makes me curious and suspicious simultaneously and I did want to read what the hype was about when there were so many layers of the forbidden in this Bailey book.

Peggy Clarkson’s chance to get left behind at this stage of the road trip is also the reason for her 4 failed engagements in the past 3 years, and that is mostly because of the very stoic and unfeeling football coach with whom she’d had a secret relationship before graduation. Back then, she was his greatest shame and mistake and the impetus for revenge now is strong…until she realises that Elliott Brooks can easily beat her at her own game.

I’m plainly uncomfortable with the oppressive religious type of bondage that Elliot holds himself to and I’ll say straight out that this is just my prejudice against the exaltation or the denigration of organised religion that’s mixed in with the romance genre showing up here. There’s too much of the sacred and the profane that Tessa Bailey plays up especially in the first quarter of the book, where ‘sin’ and trespasses and easy labels are accorded to Peggy’s supposed behaviour and Elliott’s stoic sense of right and wrong.

Not only because I had been given the image of a ‘monk’ sinning willingly because of a seductress, but also because of the way religious faith has been positioned here as the ultimate stumbling block concerning ‘moral standards’, around which characters either fall so spectacularly short of or end up poking fun at. Frankly, I would have been infinitely happier had it been left out entirely. That said, adding Elliott’s devout Catholicism into the mix certainly makes for complex characterisation and it does make both the H/hr more multifaceted gems as a result—which I’m sure is Bailey’s intention all along—but I’m more than happy that the religious bit lightened up in the second half of the story.

It’s not to say though, that ‘Too Hard to Forget’ is written badly. Far from it. Peggy/Elliott’s story is emotional and heart-wrenching and that’s all because of Bailey’s sharp, well-honed writing style (the alpha, dirty-talking male makes yet another appearance here), especially when the switch is suddenly flipped at the halfway mark and the grovelling actually starts—just as Peggy finally decides to walk away. I liked the mess that Elliott had to sort out in his own head before he could pursue Peggy, just as I appreciated Peggy’s ability to see that she needed to heal apart from Elliott’s damaging impact on her personality. The added complication of a pre-teen daughter merely heaped on the growing sense of conflict because their emotional ties couldn’t be so easily severed. That much made for entertaining reading and the book was for most part, difficult to put down after I got past the heavy religious part.

There’s only Belmont and Sage now though and it’s mostly bewilderment that I’m left with about their strange, unhealthy co-dependency relationship. It has been mysteriously hinted at in this book and while I do find myself sort of eager to see just what they’re about, there’s part of me hoping that it wouldn’t be too bizarre.

three-stars
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