Tag: Idiotic Lead Character

One Small Thing by Erin Watt

One Small Thing by Erin WattOne Small Thing by Erin Watt
Published by Harlequin Teen on 26th June 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Beth’s life hasn’t been the same since her sister died. Her parents try to lock her down, believing they can keep her safe by monitoring her every move. When Beth sneaks out to a party one night and meets the new guy in town, Chase, she’s thrilled to make a secret friend. It seems a small thing, just for her.

Only Beth doesn’t know how big her secret really is…

Fresh out of juvie and determined to start his life over, Chase has demons to face and much to atone for, including his part in the night Beth’s sister died. Beth, who has more reason than anyone to despise him, is willing to give him a second chance. A forbidden romance is the last thing either of them planned for senior year, but the more time they spend together, the deeper their feelings get.

Now Beth has a choice to make—follow the rules, or risk tearing everything apart…again.

In some ways, going back to NA/YA can be frustrating no matter the author, only because it’s hard to step back into a teen’s POV when your older self wants nothing but to smack these characters…though not before wondering if your younger self were ever this way. Teenage angst galore is what ‘One Small Thing’ opens with—an act of rebellion that turns into a hookup (the start of a familiar downward spiral) that in turn reveals a whole slew of ugly emotions and self-destructive behaviour with generous helpings of hate, guilt, misery and selfishness.

We’re thrown in the deep end from the start, only because Erin Watt doesn’t shy away from wading into the aftermath of a death that happened 3 years ago…and how people the closest to this tragedy deal with it. Elizabeth Jones, who’s smack in the centre of the hurricane is a difficult one to like, for this reason. Hemmed in by her parents, her subsequent lashing out is understandable but still cringeworthy, since it’s admittedly hard to read about a protagonist who doesn’t know her own mind for a large part of the book, who wavers in doing what she clearly knows she should do and whose self-absorption and naïveté make it hard to be sympathetic to her plight.

But character growth has always been imperative in such books, and Watt certainly offers a ton of it, if you can get past the melodrama that tends to accompany the usual dose of teenage angst. In contrast to the negativity that permeates so much of the book, at some point in time, forgiveness and redemption need to come into the picture and they do, as the lessons are learned from the most unexpected source.

Objectively speaking, the characterisation is well done, even if the story ends on a note that can’t really be classified as a HEA or a HFN. The teens act exactly how I expected them to, amplified with the kind of existential angst they face along with their identity crisis and there’s always the sense of a fresh new start (though somewhat abruptly done in the conclusion) and nothing but a blank slate down the road. Watt’s storytelling is compelling nonetheless, though I wasn’t as moved by this as much as I thought I would be.

three-stars

Aiden by Melanie Moreland

Aiden by Melanie MorelandAiden by Melanie Moreland
Series: Vested Interest, #2
Published by Moreland Books Inc on 7th May 2018
Pages: 237
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two-half-stars

Three young men meet in university and form a lifelong friendship.

Their pasts dictate the men they are, but their present shapes their future. What happens when these men meet the one person they are destined to be with? Can they fight their feelings and walk away? Or will they each succumb and learn the sweet agony of love?

Aiden

Haunted by memories of his past, Aiden plays the part of the happy-go-lucky friend. Always ready with a teasing smile or a joke, he is good at hiding his pain. Using his impressive physique as a shield, he keeps his past buried beneath his rugged exterior. Except, one woman sees through his façade. Her green eyes see too much, even as her body tempts him. Even as his heart yearns for her. Cami is determined to make him realize that he is worthy of being loved. He pushes her away at every turn, yet finds himself unable to keep her at arm’s length. Who will win this battle of love?

Melanie Moreland is a new author to me but the premise of the series did sound promising: 3 friends, a booming business and 3 women in their circle as they eventually pair up in 3 successive books.

Aiden Callaghan’s hiding deep pain—what exactly we don’t really know till much later, except that it’s so painful he won’t talk about it, gets rude and shuts people down when the slightest thing said reminds him of it. It’s hidden behind jokes and banter, but the guy’s got issues. Cami knows it, but wants to change his mind, wants him to think that her love would change them, or that their sex-only, hush-hush arrangement would shift once he gets deeper into it.

The surprise of surprises? He doesn’t.

It’s hard reading about a Hr who just ’took it’ and didn’t call out the H for behaviour I wouldn’t even accept from my friends, let alone from a lover who should have shown at the very least, some kind of decency in facing what he’d done. Instead, Aiden’s hot-cold behaviour gave me whiplash to the extent where I knew therapy and not Cami, would have done him more justice. But Cami behaved exactly like a kicked puppy, or a glutton for punishment and I alternated between admiring her for her big-hearted persistence and feeling appalled with her for being an easy and nice pushover.

The storytelling surprised me as well; the voices felt a little ‘off’ for what I expected to be a partial corporate romance but instead every chapter felt like a recounting of the day-to-day activities of the various characters that didn’t quite lead anywhere, except for the stalker problem Cami starting having. Which of course, proved to be the turning point where Aiden suddenly realised his foolishness and made the 180-degree flip about his opinions regarding Cami.

‘Aiden’ proved to be quite a frustrating mental exercise, akin to watching hits and misses or an oncoming train wreck. I’m cautiously awaiting ‘Maddox’, but not if it’s anything like this one.

two-half-stars

In Bed with The Beast by Tara Sivec

In Bed with The Beast by Tara SivecIn Bed with the Beast by Tara Sivec
Series: , #2
Published by Swerve on 5th June 2018
Pages: 304
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one-star

Living in her overprotective dad’s basement, shy Belle lives her life through books. Being a part of the Naughty Princess Club is the first adventure she’s ever had, plus she desperately needs the money to save one of her favorite places - the local library.

But when her new friends and new business gets her kicked out of her dad’s house, Belle is rescued by the surly Vincent “Beast” Adams who invites her to be his house guest until she gets back on her feet. Despite his attitude problem and long list of rules, Belle finds herself warming to the muscled man with a penchant for growling and starts seeing a gentle side to him that wasn’t there before.

Yet there’s a room that Beast keeps locked and Belle keeps getting hints that Beast is hiding something…can a nerdy librarian tame the beast or will their romance be over before it has a chance to blossom?

It’s hard to give the modern fairytale retelling a pass in my case—sucker that I am for all of spins and takes we can possibly have on them—which is why ‘In Bed with the Beast’ was one that I was eager to get my hands on.

In this case, it’s about a librarian and a bouncer, aka, Belle and the Beast, the supposedly shy librarian and the surly bouncer. Throw in the home stripping business that 3 women have started into the mix and I was beyond intrigued at this risqué proposition and take on the fairytale.

But this didn’t start off well for me, with characters generally behaving like hormonal tweens to the extent where I had to relook their ages. A smothered Belle, who was 25 and her father, who spoke like a man who’d regressed into childhood. Her friends, who didn’t behave much better, with exaggerated actions and reactions to every single thing you know can only appear in rom-coms and nowhere else.

In short, what I suspect was supposed to have been the book’s selling point—the craziness of the 3 good friends—grated on and fell flat for me. The humour and the liberal use of capital letters in the storytelling just made it feel a lot more juvenile than it should have been for characters well into their twenties: Belle’s hyperbolic inner monologues, the shrill petulance of her reactions, the spouting random facts just didn’t make me laugh at all; neither did the unbelievable antics of her 2 other friends which involved a bit of slapstick stuff and the overly dramatic behaviour that was more eye-rolling than funny.

In the end, I couldn’t find myself interested in these characters at all and only the mysterious, gruff Vincent Adams and his secret locked door kept me trudging (or skimming) on. But seeing as I couldn’t wait to get this over with, it’s clearly not the read for me.

one-star

Total Control by Jackie Ashenden

Total Control by Jackie AshendenTotal Control by Jackie Ashenden
Series: 11th Hour #2
on 26th June 2018
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two-stars


Once they were soldiers. Now they answer only to honor . . .

 
The 11th Hour is made up of men and women who are no longer deemed fit to serve their country, but still need to fight a war. They work in shadows, keep their secrets—and follow their hearts . . . 

Helicopter pilot Kellan Blake has always hated being told what to do, so being discharged from the army for insubordination doesn't come as much of a surprise.

What does surprise him is that when he joins up with the elite, underground 11th Hour squad instead, they send him straight home. The nest of vipers that calls itself his family is the next target for the team’s tech unit, so he’ll either have to brave their traps and deceptions himself—or watch his sweet, shy friend Sabrina walk into them alone . . .  

Sabrina’s no femme fatale, but since there's no one else with the tech skills to get the info they need, she’ll put on a party dress and take one for the team. But whoever decided she should pretend to be Kellan’s new fiancée hit a little too close to home. How can she concentrate on a dangerous mission when she's worried about giving away what she really feels for her loyal, passionate, smoking hot partner? At least she isn’t likely to blow their cover. Until she’s in the line of fire, and neither Kellan's demons nor his heart are hers to tame . . .  

‘Total Control’ started out fantastically, I have to say. The conflict was established early on, as Kellan Blake went all out to prove his father’s innocence when the 11th Hour crew had all but deemed his guilty of crimes too horrific to imagine. But it was the undercover mission involving him and fellow operative and best friend Sabrina however, that had things going completely awry for me, along with a set of revelations and corresponding behaviour that made me think twice about rooting for this pairing.

Combining the unrequited love, best friends-to-lovers trope here, Jackie Ashenden focuses less on the action and more on the drama surrounding both Kellan and Sabrina, though it’s the former’s intrusive past that has been brought to light in a very unpleasant way, overshadowing the original mission. And that was what spoiled the broth for me, so to speak. I wanted to see how Ashenden addressed his inability to see Sabrina for who she was given she was under his nose all these years, but this didn’t happen; instead, all I got was more of Kellan bulldozing his way through to proclaim Sabrina was what he wanted after 2 weeks undercover and several nights of hot sex.

In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a more emotionally-manipulative and controlling ‘hero’ than Kellan, who uses every weapon in his arsenal to get his way (that includes sex) to railroad his best friend under the guise of wanting to protect her. His inability to see her as an operative, his unquestioning acceptance of the his sudden but inexplicable attraction to her despite the fixation on anything and everything else but her didn’t make him a protagonist deserving of a woman who was insecure enough in measuring her self-worth in terms of usefulness to him and whose only crime was to stupidly let herself be controlled by him.

The constant repetition of what Kellan did years ago grated on me—a character who made her presence felt without appearing nonetheless—made the story like a lopsided love triangle when that became the focus at the end instead of the mission that we started out with. The result was an ending scene that became an emotional mess and both Sabrina and Kellan tried different ways to rationalise what they’d done…until I failed to see any logic in their arguments.

In essence, the direction the story took was immensely disappointing, particularly after the pretty cool build-up from the start. And more’s the pity, because ‘Total Control’ could have gone down so differently for me but ultimately didn’t.

two-stars

After We Break by Katy Regnery

After We Break by Katy RegneryAfter We Break by Katy Regnery
Published by Katy Regnery on January 8th 2014
Pages: 304
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one-star

She was the girl.
The only girl.
The only girl I ever wanted.
The only girl I ever loved.
The only girl I could ever love.
And I killed it.
I destroyed it.
I threw her love away.
For nine years, I've kept the memory of her locked in the deepest corner of my heart...all the while hating myself for what I did to her.
To us.
Now, without warning, she's walked back into my life.
I'm covered in tats.
She's covered in Polo.
I write heavy metal songs.
She writes chick-lit.
My eyes are angry.
Her eyes are sad.
I still long for her with every fiber of my being.
But I have no idea if she feels the same.
I guess it's time to find out.

What kind of masochist would take part in this? Apparently the answer seems to point back to me.

Having been scorched and thoroughly burnt by a book I read recently, I fell back into what appears to be the exact plot and trope rehashed here, which left me beyond incredulous and unimpressed with the compendium of clichés and the laughably predictable behaviour of protagonists who simply acted the way I thought they would.

I’m tempted to sentence the second-chance romance to the death penalty.

Katy Regnery’s ‘After We Break’ is essentially an exercise in grovelling, where a decade ago, a scared-of-true-love male hero runs away from a woman declaring her love. Fast forward this nearly 10 years, the woman moves on with 1 man for a long time and the hero devolves into a tatted, metal-loving songwriting manwhore who has never forgotten his mistake and the first love that he can’t acknowledge.

I don’t think there’s much more to say as I skimmed through cliché after cliché where both characters have apparently never stopped loving each other, where a spineless heroine, despite her reservations, falls back into bed with the hero because he’s hot and can’t resist his newly-formed rough-edged sex appeal. The latter spends most of the time trying to convince her of his love as well as the idea of fate bringing them back together, when all along, never quite satisfactorily addresses the idea he would have been happy going on not searching for her or fighting for what he supposedly always wanted.

Believability, apart from being the core issue, ranks low on my scale here, more so when all I got was immense frustration with a malleable, weak-ish ‘heroine’ (who couldn’t move on from him properly) and an even weaker ‘hero’ (who downplays his numerous flings and then has the nerve to accuse the former of having slept with her boyfriend for years) whom I thought were better apart.

one-star

More Than Words by Mia Sheridan

More Than Words by Mia SheridanMore Than Words by Mia Sheridan
Published by Forever on 12th June 2018
Pages: 336
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one-star

The moment she met Callen Hayes, eleven-year-old Jessica Creswell knew he was a broken prince. Her prince. They became each other's refuge, a safe and magical place far from their troubled lives. Until the day Callen kissed her--Jessica's first real, dreamy kiss—and then disappeared from her life without a word.

Years later, everyone knows who Callen Hayes is. Famous composer. Infamous bad boy. What no one knows is that Callen's music is now locked deep inside, trapped behind his own inner demons. It's only when he withdraws to France to drink his way through the darkness that Callen stumbles into the one person who makes the music return. Jessica. His Jessie. And she still tastes of fresh, sweet innocence . . . even as she sets his blood on fire.

But they don't belong in each other's worlds anymore. There are too many mistakes. Too many secrets. Too many lies. All they have is that instinctive longing, that need—and something that looks dangerously like love.

The blurb for ‘More of You’ was intriguing and given that there are some of Mia Sheridan’s work I do like, I have to say that this book tested my patience and crossed several personal boundaries for me: adultery and cheating, even though it’s probably Sheridan’s idea to show how far Callen had fallen before the journey of his redemption begins, with a girl whom he’d once shared some dreams with.

From the start, I had the inkling that ‘flights of fancy’ might have been the phrase to describe the sort of relationship Jessica and Callen had. In the prologue, Jessica and Callen had a connection forged in in fairytales and fantasies which felt fanciful for me, but then this is probably my cynical self speaking—I found it less grounded in reality and more wrapped in cotton-wool in fact. Granted, as children, seeking to escape the difficult situations at home, this was a scenario that I could accept.

But it was hard to continue thereafter—maintaining objectivity was harder if I was supposed to be invested in this story as a romance—when it became clear Callen wasn’t a character who had integrity, whose reprehensible, degenerate behaviour wasn’t what I could or wanted to root for in the beginning, much less care about his journey back to ’normalcy’ from the start. Having spent most of the book insisting that he was could not be the man Jessica deserved and pushing her away merely gave weight to what he really was after all: unworthy.

That Jessica, who remained an inexperienced virgin throughout the 10 years and kept trying to see him as her prince with rose-coloured glasses didn’t make her any less bewildering or weak a character for doing so. Her caving so easily to his charms while he became a manwhore was the last straw for me, especially when it sounded like this was going to be a contrived virgin-saves-the-rake-with-her-purity and goodness sort of tale.

I couldn’t scrub my mind off this book quickly enough. I never quite thought this day would come, but my stabby, explosive and fit-throwing reaction to ‘More of You’ is probably a good sign that Mia Sheridan and I need to part ways.

one-star

Built to Last by Julie Ann Walker

Built to Last by Julie Ann WalkerBuilt to Last by Julie Ann Walker
Series: Black Knights Inc., #12
Published by Sourcebooks on 3rd July 2018
Pages: 384
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two-stars

Masterful, mysterious, and completely ruthless, Jamin “Angel” Agassi joined the Black Knights Inc. after a mission-gone-wrong forced him to undergo extensive plastic surgery and change his name. He's going to bring down the world's worst crime syndicate, and hopefully keep Sonya Butler, a love from his past, from discovering who he really is...

When a dark-eyed stranger gets caught up in Sonya’s latest mission, she starts to question all her hard-won instincts. Something about Angel tells her he's more than he seems, and sometimes, when she least expects it, he reminds her of a man she used to know. As the bullets fly, she realizes that in love and war nothing is ever what it seems...

As the tail-end of Julie Ann Walker’s ‘Black Knights Inc.’, ‘Built to Last’ has an interesting premise and one that reminds me strongly of another book that I’ve read and found confounding, but the lure of black-ops, action and suspense is always hard to resist.

No doubt this has a sweeping narrative arc—a feature of the typical romantic suspense novel that I love—and coming into this so late in the game means that it can be hard keeping the story straight in my head. I lacked the context about the hows and whys of this particular mission and being dropped like this into the story was disconcerting. My bad here.

But this much I knew: Jamin “Angel” Agassi felt like most remote of the lot and as an agent, well, he’s one to be admired and feared for doing his job well. Country above everything. Duty above love. The righteousness of sacrifice being the mantra he works according to, which happens to give leeway to do things using a bewildering number of identities. And that’s all the positive things that I can give about this character.

Walker writes a second-chance romance and I was hoping that this would be one of the rare few that would work for me. The validity of the explanations for the separation and what both characters did in the years are usually the answers that I seek in this trope.

‘Built to Last’ unfortunately, couldn’t satisfy those prerequisites I have.

My scepticism about Angel’s and Sonya’s romance stems from the fact that Angel had buried his head in the sand after he’d chosen his country over Sonya, destroyed the both of them, tried to forget her, then had a woman in every port, all the while saying that he still loved her. And then continued reprehensibly, to lie to her about his identity as she felt guilty about projecting her feelings for a man she thought dead onto him, while knowing full well about the consequences of his own actions that he didn’t want to face.

Perhaps this sits perfectly fine with other readers who like this sort of star-crossed kind of vibe where the number of bed partners they’ve had in the intervening years is inconsequential. This connection between Sonya and Angel, supposedly forged long ago and sparking to life again, wasn’t one I could buy into, more so on Angel’s part, given that he’d done nothing to question his own choices—and wouldn’t have—until he saw Sonya again. For this reason I couldn’t believe that they belonged together, not when Angel (the only one who could but didn’t) didn’t move heaven and earth to be with Sonya. Merely paying lip service to the expansive declaration that he’d loved her for a decade, the regrets he expressed at the end merely seemed too panicky, too little, too late.

In short, less the past romance is crowed about and exalted, the less I feel compelled to argue for the kind of hypocrisy involved in ‘moving on’.

So for the hero that Angel is to the rest of the world, I could only call him a coward.

My beef with characterisation aside, Angel/Sonya’s story, interspersed with sudden flashbacks, POVs from the villain and another pairing, did feel disjointed as well. The sly but strange insertions of humour (?) and exaggerated snark sometimes seemed ill-fitting, bordering the absurd for the situation at hand when all I wanted was a more straightforward progression of the plot and the relationship.

The conclusion as a result, felt abrupt considering the plot juggled more than just a pairing here, but I’m guessing that this would deliriously please the hard-core fans of this series who have been invested in the characters and the narrative from the beginning.

‘Built to Last’ isn’t good as a standalone. Would I have been a happier camper having gone through all the other books? Perhaps. But this swan-song, long-awaited or not, wasn’t one I could enjoy at all, unfortunately.

two-stars