Tag: Idiotic Lead Character

Savor You by Kristen Proby

Savor You by Kristen ProbySavor You by Kristen Proby
Series: Fusion #5
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on 24th April 2018
Pages: 288
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two-stars

Cooking isn't what Mia Palazzo does, it's who she is. Food is her passion . . . her pride . . . her true love. She's built a stellar menu full of delicious and sexy meals for her restaurant, Seduction. Now, after being open for only a few short years, Mia’s restaurant is being featured on Best Bites TV. To say Seduction is a wild success is an understatement. All the blood, sweat, tears, and endless hours of work Mia has put into the restaurant has finally paid off.

Then Camden Sawyer, the biggest mistake of her life, walks into her kitchen . . .

Camden's celebrity chef status is world-renowned. He's the best there is, and the kitchen is where he's most at home. He can't resist the invitation to Portland for a showdown against Mia for a new television show. Mia was in his life years ago, and just like before, he's met his match in the beautiful Italian spitfire. The way she commands the kitchen is mesmerizing, and her recipes are clever and delicious. He's never had qualms about competition, and this is no different. He can't wait to go head to head with Mia. But can he convince her the chemistry they share in the kitchen would be just as great in the bedroom as well?

As Mia and Camden face off, neither realizes how high the stakes are as their reputations are put on the line and their hearts are put to the ultimate test.

I’ve a love-hate relationship with the Masterchef series. Let’s just say when the conditions are right, I’m glued to my seat, salivating as I watch the magic that’s whipped up with the freshest ingredients, the  state-of-the-art kitchen and the creative ideas that the chefs spin out of thin air. Kristen’s Proby ‘Savor You’ has that sort of feel to it which I liked and would probably appeal to die-hard foodies—involving celebrity chefs and the fascinating world of gastronomy.

But as I soon found out, the pairing didn’t appeal to me at all. There is some heavy history between Mia and Camden, until you learn that she’d done something unforgivable a decade ago in here. Yet using trite words such as ‘I’m a horrible person’ couldn’t justify the weight of her actions enough to me, nor did they simply make it alright. That Cam merely accepted them like the history didn’t matter—without a hint of anger or a grudge—left me bewildered. But then, I’m the one imagining that time doesn’t quite heal such deep wounds without scars for you to remember them.

It didn’t help that I found Mia prickly as she waffled between self-pity and bitchiness, frequently prone to overreactions and pretty much in need of valium and a psychiatrist’s chair with her control issues and emotional fluctuations. My esteem of her dropped further after learning what she did to Cam years ago and this is the part that I feel, that Proby glossed through (or called it ‘moving in’) in favour of a fluffier, less-angsty and more sex-filled read, because it did seem what Mia did so long ago required more than just blithe and brief statements of regret and apologies. But her way of ‘righting’ wrongs was only done because of the work arrangement with Cam; otherwise, it seemed as though she had no intention of revisiting that part of her life and reflecting on the enormous mistake she made.

‘Savor You’ was ultimately a middling read for me that I quickly lost interest in without the emotional spikes and valleys I’d hoped to feel given Mia/Cam’s contentious history, so it’s probably clear that this wasn’t the book for me at all.

two-stars

Top Shelf by Shelli Stevens

Top Shelf by Shelli StevensTop Shelf by Shelli Stevens
Published by Tule Publishing on April 17th 2018
Pages: 156
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two-stars

Burned in the past, Navy chief Brett Craven has sworn off serious relationships. But when he meets Kenzie McLaughlin, a gorgeous redhead with a fiery personality, his well-reasoned strategy is blown out of the water.

Years ago, a terrifying attack changed Kenzie’s life, making her trust only a few men, including her brothers and her father. After a sexy Navy guy waltzes into the family pub and doesn’t hesitate to make his interest known, there’s no denying the attraction between them. Can Kenzie let her guard down long enough to fall for Brett?

Shelli Stevens is a new author for me and ‘Top Shelf’ is my first attempt at the McLoughlin series which I can confidently say worked pretty well as a standalone.

Though that was probably as far as it went for me. If it started out well, with some kind of anticipation that built between Kenzie and Brett, that was all dashed away when it became clear that this was going to shape up to be a story about a man who behaved like a world-class moron (taking the romantic stereotypes a little too far here) and a woman who let herself be a pushover for over half of it.

For a story that’s this brief, I had frankly expected more from both protagonists, and felt disappointed when their moving forward was at best, a jerky start-stop before a metaphorical race to the finish. The hesitation to become a serious couple suddenly moved to marriage in a way that left me bewildered and incredulous, and that the book ended somewhat abruptly wasn’t that much of a satisfactory ending for me.

two-stars

Off the Grid by Monica McCarty

Off the Grid by Monica McCartyOff the Grid by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon, #2
Published by Berkley Jove on July 3rd 2018
Pages: 304
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two-stars

A team of Navy SEALs go on a mission and disappear without a trace--they are The Lost Platoon.

Investigative reporter Brittany Blake may have stumbled upon the story of a lifetime in her search for her missing brother. When he seemingly disappears overnight, she refuses to accept the Navy's less-than-satisfying explanation. She begins her own investigation, which leads her to top-secret SEAL teams, covert ops, and a possible cover up...

John Donovan is having trouble biding his time, waiting for his Commanding Officer to figure out who set up their platoon. John's best friend and BUD/S partner, Brandon Blake, was one of the many lives tragically lost in the attack against his team. When Brandon's sister, Brittany, tracks John down, looking for answers, he realizes that she may be their best bet--or bait--for finding out who is targeting SEAL Team Nine.

Monica McCarty’s ‘Lost Platoon’ series has an intriguing premise, which is why I can’t quite let go of this just yet. ‘Off the Grid’ even started off with that sense of urgency and adrenaline-high type of action which I adore in romantic suspense, and having these in the opening chapters seemed to bode well for the whole book. 2 very different couples grounded several unrelated developments as their own histories played out at the same time, the trajectories of their own discoveries dovetailing somewhat by the end.

This was until I realised that McCarty’s juggling of the conspiracy plot and 4 couples really spread the romance thinly to the point where the second-chance trope—rather glibly inserted—was worked out in a way that made out the male protagonists to be nothing but cruel, asinine arses and women who should have known better than to melt at the slightest finger wiggle.

‘Off the Grid’ ended up being a story that had so much potential which it ultimately didn’t fulfil. I felt as though I didn’t know more at the end of the book than I really did at the beginning, save for the basics that had already been laid down in the last book. My eagerness at wanting to uncover a significant chunk of the conspiracy plot turned into frustration when the storyline went nowhere: several threads were dangled as hooks, but there didn’t feel as though any significant progress was made, enough for the end to feel like a satisfying read, both on the action and on the romantic front.

Getting on board with Brittany and John was difficult when the latter merely treated her as the off-limits best-buddy’s sister, his obvious but reluctant attraction to her an unwanted thing as his motivation for getting close to her proved to be an order that he was following more than true attraction he wanted to follow up on. So much of their ‘relationship’ felt accidental as a result, when John made her out to be a burden more than a love interest, or a secondary character whom he didn’t want to want no matter the case. Wanting some other woman to screw to get his mind off things, for one, didn’t make him seem a credible romantic hero I could get behind, not to mention the other abominable ways in which he’d treated her throughout.

Much of their relationship was much more one-sided than I liked as John did nothing but push Brittany away on all fronts, while in contrast, the latter could never seem to resist this man who couldn’t give her what she wanted or needed—not even the basic respect that even strangers actually show each other. The rushed HEA (John only realising he ‘loved’ Brittany after she got captured) and the numerous instances of mansplaining away abhorrent behaviour that was subsequently too easily excused made me dislike a pairing which didn’t feel like they could successfully be together apart from burning up the sheets in bed.

There wasn’t much I could say about Kate/Colt either, whose business was given near-equal screen time, but with a lack of resolution that piled on the annoyance, despite them having formed a larger part of the narrative arc which was essentially left dangling by the end of the book.

If I started ‘Off the Grid’ on a high, I ended this on a whimper. I wished this could have worked better. I wished I didn’t struggle so hard to like the male protagonists, who gave me every reason to dislike them intensely. I wished they had more ballsy courage as the heroines did (the lack of grovelling didn’t help either). Too many wishes, too much frustration. And that was when I finally admitted defeat.

two-stars

Reckless Honor by Tonya Burrows

Reckless Honor by Tonya BurrowsReckless Honor by Tonya Burrows
Series: Hornet, #5
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on April 23rd 2018
Pages: 374
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three-stars

Jean-Luc Cavalier has only ever cared about three things: sex, booze, and the dangerous missions he undertakes with HORNET. Laissez les bons temps rouler is more than a Mardi Gras motto—it’s the way he lives his life. But all that changes the night he rescues Dr. Claire Oliver from deadly mercenaries.

Now he can’t get the gorgeous blond virologist out of his head.

Claire is running for her life. Someone wants her antiviral research and they’re willing to kill anyone and everyone to get it. She has no one to turn to except a womanizing Cajun with a silver tongue and devastating smile.

But when an ultra-deadly virus decimates the Niger Delta, saving Claire and her research becomes the least of HORNET’s concerns. The virus has all the markings of a bioweapon and Nigeria is only the testing grounds…

Jean-Luc Cavalier, like his last name suggests, has been difficult to take seriously in all of Tonya Burrows’s HORNET books I’ve gone through. The voodoo spell on his man bits that had cursed him into celibacy? Jean-Luc the manwhore had always looked like a joke to me and that’s putting it quite kindly. The womanising bastard of a language-expert hasn’t made his mark on me like some other characters in this series have, and I’ll readily admit my own scepticism when the time rolled around for his own story.

But the context in which Burrows has written his and Claire’s story is undeniably irresistible: the threat of a virus in far-flung Nigeria, the high-stakes of biological warfare coming into play? I’m fidgety with excitement. It’s a story that has its roots in the previous book (which I don’t really remember now), so I struggled a little in catching up with a plot that races through a hot-zone and tries to uncover the mystery behind a rapidly-spreading, man-made virus.

There was a bleakness to this that isn’t present in Burrows’s other books and perversely, I found myself liking the head and dankly pervasive atmosphere of the angst and the hopelessness that surrounded the dying camp that Jean-Luc and Claire found themselves in, while the geek in me slurped up every word to do with viruses and mutations. But as with most RS books, this took a suspense of disbelief to get through—the flitting from exotic location to yet another exotic location, the James Bond-esque type of action, the miraculous happenings when you least expect them.

What I wasn’t sold on was Jean-Luc, unfortunately. Not when I couldn’t shake the longstanding idea of him being a self-serving bastard and deem him a credible hero. Mostly the problem I have with manwhore types is this—I will always doubt their ability to commit no matter how special they make out a woman to be, let alone stick to that very one woman despite the extraordinary circumstances that bring them together.

Past the adrenaline rush and the intense emotions deadly situations tend to pull out of people, I couldn’t be convinced that Claire would have been enough for Jean-Luc not when nothing else has made him changed his mind on the ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’ motto he went by until the threat of violent hemorrhagic death came on him, curse on his dick aside. That he wanted a chance with Claire because the threat of pending death brought the weight of regrets down on him or that she’d helped saved him…well anything less extreme than that wouldn’t have made him change on his own volition otherwise, would it? The suddenness with which Jean-Luc opted for monogamy was beyond unbelievable as a result and I was surprised in fact, that Claire didn’t have the same reservations, the giving, determined doctor that she is.

But Claire’s constant heart-sickness and the pain she felt about her own dilemma concerning the virus and the people she’d left behind made her a heroine laden with her own burdens—so much so that I didn’t see her getting her head past it at all. From her wanting a night to forget to her inexplicable falling in love with Jean-Luc baffled me as well, when most of the book was spent dodging mercenaries, arguing about playing god and figuring their way out of tricky situations with their only connection being the virus and her determination not to let anyone die because of her.

While Claire/Jean-Luc wasn’t quite a pairing I could realistically buy into, Burrows’s writing has always appealed to me nonetheless, which is what keeps me coming back to her HORNET series. The insertion of the rest of the guys is always a boon—the slight focus on Harvard, Ian and Marcus made me want their own stories, yes, these HORNET men nearly unhinged with their own deep issues—and a timely reminder that there’re so many loose threads yet to be tied up, as each one bleeds into the next story.

three-stars

Recipe for Disaster by Tracy Solheim

Recipe for Disaster by Tracy SolheimRecipe for Disaster by Tracy Solheim
Series: Men of the Secret Service #1
Published by Tule Publishing on May 7th 2018
Pages: 237
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one-star

Secret Service Agent Griffin Keller always gets his man. And his woman. In pursuit of an international counterfeiter known only as "The Artist", Griffin stumbles across paintings stolen from the White House and swapped with forgeries. His only clue to the thief's identity–a dish towel from the White House kitchen.

White House pastry chef Marin Chevalier desperately needs a date to her cousin's society wedding. Unfortunately, her busy schedule leaves her little opportunity to meet eligible men. When a sexy Secret Service agent shows up in her kitchen—and just about everywhere else she goes—Marin believes she's finally met the perfect date. But when a series of frightening accidents and near misses plague her, Marin must rely on Griffin as more than just her "plus-one."

As dead bodies begin to pile up around Marin, Griffin is convinced she’s the link to The Artist. Too bad the curvy chef has gotten under his skin like no other woman. When the clues finally fall into place and Griffin realizes Marin is not the suspect, but instead the target, he'll risk everything in his arsenal to keep her safe.

Having gone into this thinking this was straight up romantic suspense with the rather unusual pairing of a Secret Service Agent and a well-connected White House pastry chef, I wasn’t entirely too sure personally, if ‘Recipe for Disaster’ really fell into this category.

It’s perhaps best called a mix of some mystery and some romance, as all the parties involved seemed nicely ensconced in their white-tower (or house, is this case) in a way that made it difficult to relate to them, let alone get invested in a pairing that felt forced together only because a special set of circumstances that caused their paths to meet. The huge cast of characters that came in also felt more like a distraction than a boon to the story, seemingly padding out the narrative just to show how they interacted with each other without really achieving anything significant.

When it came down to the protagonists, I found Marin too weepy (or at least on the verge of sobbing) and her constant deep blushing almost anachronistic for our times; her insecurities regarding her body and her elevation of Griffin as the man who wouldn’t date women like her was annoying after a while, as was the insertion of Griffin’s FBI ex-fuck-buddy who flitted in and out of the picture. That Griffin found her resilient and strong baffled me, and the repetitions of the way he thought about her soon came across as a case of the author trying to convince us of Marin as a heroine worthy of Griffin.

Sad to say, while I was very excited about the premise of this from the blurb, ‘Recipe for Disaster’ ended up being a story I struggled to plough through, so clearly this is not the book for me and to use a trite and clichéd phrase…’it’s not the story, it’s me’.

one-star

Dirty Bastard by Jessica Clare

Dirty Bastard by Jessica ClareDirty Bastard by Jessica Clare
Series: Roughneck Billionaires, #3
Published by Intermix on May 15th 2018
Pages: 203
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two-stars

Knox Price has always fallen short in comparison to his brothers. Boone is the ambitious one. Clay is the nice one. Gage is the handsome one. And Knox? Well, he's the cynical one. The odd man out in the ultra-wealthy but rather unique Price family. It's not that Knox hates people--it's that humanity always disappoints him. When you become an oil-rich, Texan billionaire overnight, people treat you a certain way. Just once he'd like to meet someone that isn't dazzled by his wallet.

Then, he meets struggling yoga teacher Lexi Brandon. She's weird. She's unpredictable and tends to say strange things. She lurks in the bushes and dresses in all black. She loves when people cross the street to get away from her. Lexi's definitely not his type, but she's also the first one to ever truly see him and not just another rich, dirty Price.

And that's...fascinating. But how do you catch the interest of a woman who goes out of her way to be odd? When an unexpected surprise throws them both for a loop, Knox decides it's time to get down and dirty, abandon the rules, and be who he truly is--a bastard.

I’m a little unsure about my own feelings when it comes to Jessica Clare’s roughneck billionaires. Yes, these Price brothers from different mothers are similar in their crude, blunt ways and as they’re the opposite of smooth and sleek and schmoozy, they’re refreshingly different from the suit-clad businessmen with their ability to get everything they want. But these brothers are also sometimes unavoidably simplistic and they do in some ways, remind me of Alexa Riley’s heroes who fall hard and instantly with the burning need to claim women they see at first glance as theirs.

Knox equating a one-night stand with the notion of forever does seem somewhat excessive, but the instalove that Knox feels isn’t really out of character for these Price brothers however. ‘Dirty Bastard’ does however, take a direction I didn’t expect or like nonetheless. I should have been expecting this considering the sheer stupidity of Lexi going into an affair with Knox for the express and calculated purpose of avoiding her stalker. From the start, Lexi runs away and keeps running away when this night (again due to her own recklessness) results in unintended though not unexpected consequences, then using her own issues as ammunition to petulantly refuse everything Knox offers made her thoroughly unlikeable. Acting like a spoilt teen makes their 5-year-age-gap (older woman, younger man) of no consequence as a result, as Lexi seems to regress into someone who sits on a raised chair while waiting for Knox to climb the uphill battle on his own to get into her ‘good’ graces.

From here onwards, I struggled hard to continue the book, not just because of the storytelling and characterisation that at times, made both Knox/Lexi seem like high-school figures rather than the adults they are, but also because of the way Lexi sat high and mighty while poor Knox had to bend backwards for her. As Lexi used Knox’s age as an excuse to get out of commitment by saying *he* was the one who wanted to play the field when all he did was want the opposite made me throw in the towel in the end. Not being able to get behind this pairing was almost a guarantee when there was an annoying protagonist whom I felt just didn’t deserve the title of ‘heroine’ at all, nor of Knox.

two-stars

Hot Asset by Lauren Layne

Hot Asset by Lauren LayneHot Asset by Lauren Layne
Published by Montlake Romance on May 22nd 2018
Pages: 270
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two-stars

Ian Bradley is the definition of a Wall Street hotshot: seven-figure salary, designer suits, and a corner office. His drive off the floor is just as potent. Every woman who knows him has felt the rush. But now he’s met his match in Lara McKenzie—a woman with the power to bring Ian to his knees.

An ambitious, whip-smart daughter of FBI agents, Lara is a rising star in fighting white-collar crime. Her latest case—the investigation of Ian Bradley for insider trading—could make her career. She knows a scoundrel when she sees one. Ian fits the bill: a cocky, ridiculously handsome bad boy with a slick swagger.

She’ll do anything to prove he’s guilty. He’ll do anything to prove he’s not. But it’s only a matter of time before their fierce battle of wits gets oh so hot and personal. Now, taking down Ian has become more than business for Lara. It’s become a pleasure—and there’s more at risk than she ever dreamed.

Schmooze, you lose. ‘Hot Asset’ has all of the trademark Lauren Layne hallmarks in it: the sharp banter (though there’s an edge here as it starts out hostile), the reformed manwhore by the end of the story and a brewing conflict that one can see coming miles away. Layne’s character voices are distinct, along with a solid introduction to secondary characters who will get their own books, as Ian/Lara’s own tale moves along at a brisk but steady pace, making ‘Hot Asset’ an easy afternoon read.

Written in the alternating first person POV, ‘Hot Asset’ starts off ominously nonetheless—not in the horror story sort—but with a cocky and smarmy male voice who lauds his work achievements (as well as the women he always manages to snag and never for a second-time around because he casually attributes it to ‘faulty wiring’). Whatever Lauren Layne means to achieve with these few starting paragraphs, I wasn’t sure if Ian Bradley tanking to the depths in my esteem is it because he starts off as a protagonist I love to hate.

And ‘Hot Asset’ fails in this particular bit for me, because Ian is the furthest from what I can actually imagine as a romantic hero worthy of a HEA with a woman who frankly, deserves a lot better. Maybe Layne has characterised Brady all too well such that he fits the manwhore financial guru to a ’T’, to the extent where everything he says and does not only becomes predictable, but also eye-rollingly repulsive.

Lara’s steely-eyed determination and perception in contrast, unfazed as she is when faced with these men who think the world of their own invincibility, is no small pleasure I take as she and Ian clash. Still, it’s hard to recover from the respect Ian’s lost in my eyes as he talks about women as commodities or as a sum of her body parts. ‘Leftovers’ for instance, is a word I detest, because it shows the dismissive regards he has for his hookups. That he eyes every woman in terms of her looks (hot or not) and the potential of a hookup made him distasteful, or that he also uses Lara’s attraction to him as a weapon or rather, as an attack on her lack of personal life, undercuts every preconception of what a romantic hero should be when I first started ‘Hot Asset’.

I hated that Ian doesn’t stay the professional path in getting his name cleared, but uses his womanising/flirting skills to get her to prove his innocence and is hurt when it doesn’t really work. Re-thinking his meaningless work-hard, play-hard life because he’s terrified that jail will take it all away from him…surely there’s more depths to plumb in the shallows of Ian Bradley? I never quite got the idea that Lara stands out for Ian other than being someone who is off-limits to him, and that’s the only difference it makes among the sea of good-looking women he’s slept with.

I think the risk of writing such egomaniac womanisers—Layne’s constant emphasis on this truly doesn’t help the case—who finally fall for one woman, is that believability thereafter becomes the issue, where the uphill task thus falls on the author to get a reader to believe that a man like Ian can finally commit and hasn’t till now only because he hasn’t wanted to try enough. Trying to get a reader to see that there are other qualities to this man despite this glaring fault somehow didn’t work with me at all, not when I couldn’t overlook the lascivious ways he eyes women as challenges to overcome and yes, Lara as well, who has become part of his tried-and-true tricks.

I’m painfully aware this puts me in the minority, but Layne’s portrayal of sleazy Ian has been nothing but an immense disappointment. I usually expect more of male protagonists in romantic fiction, at least for integrity and respect they can show women and I struggled hard to find this in Ian, especially in the end when it was one of his (adulterous) flings that caused him to land in hot soup. The only consolation I took was in Lara’s own strength and determination (though she obviously caves to his charm) in seeing the case through, though that didn’t seem enough to redeem this couple that Layne tries hard to build.

The rant is probably enough to say that ‘Hot Asset’ isn’t a read that sat well with me, which is an understatement as it comes. It has sort of diminished my enthusiasm for the rest of the books in the series, to be honest, because I’d always thought Layne could do much, much better than this.

two-stars