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I actually laughed

Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 14th August 2017
Under Locke by Mariana ZapataUnder Locke by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on June 24th 2014
Pages: 496
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one-star

He was my boss, my brother's friend, a Widow, an ex-felon, and a man I'd seen casually with a handful of women. But he was everything that gripped me, both the good and the bad. Worst case scenario if things turned awkward between us, I could go somewhere else. I'd gotten over epic heartbreak before, one more wouldn't kill me. -- After moving to Austin following six months of unemployment back home, Iris Taylor knows she should be glad to have landed a job so quickly... even if the business is owned by a member of the same motorcycle club her estranged father used to belong to. Except Dex Locke might just be the biggest jerk she's ever met. He's rude, impatient and doesn't know how to tell time. And the last thing they ever expected was each other. But it was either the strip club or the tattoo shop. ... she should have chosen the strip club. -- "Babe, I've handpicked everythin' and everyone in here. I know what I want and I get what I want," he breathed. "And I keep what's mine."

Lordy, I had a tough time with this one.

I think it takes a special sort of day and strength to read Mariana Zapata’s intimidatingly long books. They go on so long on a slow burn that you feel torn between tossing it and wanting to just finish it for the perverse pleasure of saying you’ve triumphed over the convoluted plot which could definitely have benefitted from about a hundred fewer pages of inner monologues. I’d managed ‘Kulti’ and ‘Dear Aaron’ without too much trouble, but ‘Under Locke’ proved a huge challenge to say the least.

My biggest problem nonetheless, was my inability to like both protagonists consistently throughout the book. Frankly, I was so put off by Zapata’s characters that I still ask myself why I tried to finish the story as it became apparent that my struggle began about halfway through when the problems with the MCs turf war, Iris’s deadbeat father and her supposedly one-sided love for her dominating, unreasonable bastard of a boss started to dovetail.

Zapata typically only writes in the female POV, so that pretty much shunts what every male lead of hers is thinking. You’ll need to infer from what everyone else in the book says about the hero in question and what you think you might be able to glean from the unreliable narrating of the female lead. Which isn’t to say Zapata’s female protagonists aren’t likeable though; they are mostly very relatable, sometimes wryly funny and I definitely can see shades of the everyday (wo)man in these leads.

Yet I mostly vacillated between sympathising for Iris’s honest, stuttering, down-to-earth blabber and hating her spineless, rollover behaviour, while pretty much despising Dex for being everything I hate in a male protagonist…who, despite being a mega-prick, actually amazed me when he got the woman he insulted crudely and for generally existing as an all-round possessive chauvinist pig. Throw in the manwhore and virgin extremes here and that just derailed the reading experience for me.

I had to call it in, which is a pity because I do like Zapata’s writing style. But ‘Under Locke’ just wasn’t the book for me—particularly so when I felt relief to put the story behind me.

one-star

Twisted Twosome by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th August 2017
Twisted Twosome by Meghan QuinnTwisted Twosome by Meghan Quinn
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on July 16th 2017
Pages: 251
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three-stars

Racer McKay is a broody bastard. From the moment I met him, he's been rude, irritable, and unbearable. And worse? He's broke. A contractor working to remodel my parents pool house for extra cash, he stomps around in those clunky construction boots with his tool belt wrapped around his narrow waist, and a chip on his shoulder. Racer McKay is also infuriatingly . . . sexy as hell. I want to take that pencil tucked behind his ear, and draw lazy lines slowly up and down his body all the while wanting to strangle him at the same time. We try to stay out of each other's way . . . that is until I have no other option but to ask for his help. But what I don't realize is he needs me just as much as I need him. I have money he's desperate for, and he holds the key to making my dreams come true. Our pranks turn from sarcastic banter, to sexual tension and lust-filled glances. Bickering matches quickly morph into slow burn moments. We're hot, we're cold. We push and pull. I need him, I don't want him. We're on the verge of combusting with an agreement dangling dangerously between us. Neither one of us can afford to lose one another and yet, we're finding it quite hard to decipher the line that rests between love and hate.

Sometimes a character surprises you in the best way, particularly when it’s a secondary character from another book that couldn’t be taken seriously at all. Racer was such a character in Meghan Quinn’s first book and I didn’t quite know what to make of him. In fact, I barely gave him a thought at all until ‘Twisted Twosome’ came out and then my reading world got squeezed through the rabbit hole of this rather complicated man.

But Racer is, no doubt about it, the shining star of the story, because he’s so much more than the front he shows, and damn if that front is hilariously obnoxious, unapologetically arrogant and deliberately crude. I had the laugh of my life especially when he pitted himself against Georgiana until their love-hate, antagonistic relationship turned into something else entirely as the jibes grew less mean and increasing like foreplay.

Admittedly, it did get a bit much sometimes, but overall, I liked what Racer represented and how real he was as a character was underneath the insults, pranks and the fuck-all, mega man-child front. Quinn does writes his grief—and all the desperate financial struggles especially after losing the closest person he’d ever been to—in such a tangible way that I couldn’t help but wish for something better for him as he lurches from a project to another just to get by.

Racer and Georgiana do sort of make a believable pair, but it’s one that is solidified by constant arguing and banter—if that’s what could be considered the cornerstone of a relationship, because along with the taunts, so does the sexual tension mount along with them. Yet I was still caught by surprise when they fell into bed, because I didn’t think they liked each other enough for it. That part happened somewhat suddenly, though the conflict between their ‘social class’ was something I could sniff out a mile away. And as a little too neatly wrapped up as the end was, Quinn did have me rooting for them after all, because I was mostly invested in the both of them from the start.

three-stars

Disorderly Conduct by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 2nd August 2017
Disorderly Conduct by Tessa BaileyDisorderly Conduct by Tessa Bailey
Series: The Academy #1
Published by Avon on August 29th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…

Police academy cadet Charlie Burns can’t believe his luck when the gorgeous blonde he meets in a bar murmurs those magic words: “Nothing serious, ’kay?” Mind-blowing, no-strings sex with Ever Carmichael—it’s the holy grail of hookups for a guy who’s too busy following in his law enforcement family’s footsteps to think about getting serious. Charlie’s all about casual…that is, until Ever calls it quits and his world tilts on its axis.

Ever knows that when you control the relationship game, you can’t get played. But for the first time, she wants more than short-term satisfaction. Step one: end her fling with commitment-phobic Charlie. Step two: sacrifice herself to the ruthless NYC dating scene. Yet everywhere she turns, there’s Charlie, being his ridiculously charming self. No online match or blind date compares to the criminally hot cop-in-training, but they’re over. Aren’t they?

If love is a four-letter-word, why does the idea of Ever seeing someone else tie Charlie up in knots?  Now he’s desperate to win her back…and a little date sabotage never hurt anyone, right?

The bad? The ridiculous, cheesy cover. Also, the ridiculous name that is Ever Carmichael.

Everything else however, was pretty good, particularly since I found myself quite entertained for a sustained period of time. In a nutshell: woman stops a no-strings fling in order to get into a serious relationship. Unhappy and offended guy who has been booted out of this fling abruptly sabotages every effort of hers to do so, having been classified as the kind who wouldn’t commit.

Charlie’s panic about losing Ever as a friend-with-benefits is amusing precisely because he’s in love without having put a name to it yet. The ways in which he sabotaged her efforts to get into serious dating were funny and to a lesser extent, the sheer anxiety he’d had about finding every excuse in the book to throw at her about being friends. Operating on irony and what the readers know that the characters don’t, Tessa Bailey also gives it a twist by throwing the spotlight as well on Charlie’s own abandonment issues—he’s been screwed over by his own mother as much as Ever had—and the plot is as much about him as it is about Ever’s willingness to do what it takes to please her mum.

In most romances that I’ve come across, sex is never the problem for the couple in question anyway; it’s only what comes before and/or after that matters to me more because it shows the characters for who they really are and how well an author can pull together plot strings and character minus writing an nth variation of slotting pointy object A into soft opening B. Bailey’s sex scenes are a bit too over-the-top and porn-ish for me—it’s amazing how characters manage to speak and think in long sentences in the midst of a passionate tumble—but apart from this, I still liked her writing much better here. It’s more lighthearted, and pitched well as a rom-com with a (thankfully) less ball-busting, steamrolling alpha male who can apparently give their heroines a season ticket’s worth of rides on his orgasm train.

There is some (unnecessary) angst of the New Adult flavour, one might say, and the story could have been cut short had Ever/Charlie honestly communicated what really needed to be said.

But where would the drama be otherwise? Or the crazy antics you’d never catch an ‘adult’ doing? Along with the cringeworthy 80s-style cheesy grovelling, Bailey infuses into every page that sense of optimism and the nervous feeling of crossroads that most people in their twenties have and truth be told, I had a ball of a time reliving it.

three-stars

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

Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 9th June 2017
Cover Fire by Jess AnastasiCover Fire by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, Entangled: Select Otherworld on June 19th 2017
Pages: 267
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four-stars

He'll protect her with his life...but who will protect his heart?

If the assignment is crazy, dangerous, or a little of both, Sub-Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne can’t help but take on the challenge. So when Command Intelligence tags him to fly one of their agents behind enemy lines, it seems like just another routine death-defying mission. Crash landing on the planet was a piece of cake, but the gorgeous agent he delivered safely to her meeting is now believed dead and he must return to retrieve her body.

After Agent Jenna Maxwell realizes her own people attempted to have her killed, she enlists the hot stick jockey’s help. His new mission? Sneak her back onto his ship to ferret out who wanted to get rid of her and why. But she fears her growing feelings for Seb have blinded her to his reckless insistence on helping her stay alive, and his rash behavior will cause them both to lose their lives.

Coming back to the Valiant Knox series is like peeking back into the lives of old friends through a small, open doorway. But it’s also plain fun to see how some of the loveable heroes of the fighter pilot force go down, sometimes literally, then wonder, how the hell they’d been so dumb to get themselves into such situations.

‘Cover Fire’ is one of those reads, as cocksure, flirty, impulsive but honourable-at-his-core fighter pilot Sebastian Rayne meets more than his match in intelligence officer Jenna Maxwell, never once believing that it would bring him down one of the most reckless paths he’s ever been down yet. But since he’s no stranger to going balls-deep into danger and finding every experience exhilarating, what’s one more hole in his belt to get that adrenaline going?

By and large, it has been a fun ride. It was amusing too, to see Seb lurching from disaster to disaster with nothing but wits (that fail at times) and reckless impulse, all of which ends badly for him when most situations call for skills he doesn’t have outside that of being a fighter pilot. And it’s a refreshing change as well to have Jenna as the competent one, or at least as the cool spy who knows what’s she doing more than Seb. The romance did seem a little rushed for me, and their penchant for having sex in inappropriate places and at inopportune times—in a cramped cargo hold of a ship, or while barely recovering from a bad injury— left me more incredulous than turned-on as I wondered how the hell Seb really got it up while injured and in pain.

Superman-tendencies aside, Seb and Jenna proved somehow that desire can trump pain and injury as they get their happy ending for now and a promotion to boot. I only wished we saw more of the crew working together instead of Seb/Jenna vs. the rest of them, but that’s merely a minor quibble as I’d always loved the team dynamics in the Valiant Knox anyway.

There’s such a strong visual element in Jess Anastasi’s writing such that reading every book of hers is akin to watching a novelisation of a fast-paced tv episode that’s a combination of a space opera and a summer blockbuster. And it rings every bell that I have and for most part, the action, intrigue and romance make me a happy camper by the end of it.

four-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

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
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