Tag: Idiotic Lead Character

From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata

From Lukov with Love by Mariana ZapataFrom Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on February 1st 2018
Pages: 493
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three-stars

If someone were to ask Jasmine Santos to describe the last few years of her life with a single word, it would definitely be a four-letter one.

After seventeen years—and countless broken bones and broken promises—she knows her window to compete in figure skating is coming to a close.

But when the offer of a lifetime comes in from an arrogant idiot she’s spent the last decade dreaming about pushing in the way of a moving bus, Jasmine might have to reconsider everything.

Including Ivan Lukov.

I do have a love-hate relationship with the slow burn novel, over which Mariana Zapata seems to be the reining monarch. If the frequent complaint about novellas is the instant love/lust and the unrealistic view of a HEA that results because of it, the slow burn story tries to address this lack of believability by going in the opposite direction—to the chagrin of some readers, particularly when it doesn’t work out too well.

What the slow-burn does however, is allow the passing of (a lot of) time to do its magic…and for hidden sides of Zapata’s protagonists to emerge when it’s least expected. I did appreciate the multi-faceted character of Jasmine, though ultimately, I couldn’t find her entirely likeable. While I could empathise with her issues and cheer her burning ambitions, often she merely came off as self-absorbed and childishly juvenile, prone to outbursts of temper, vehemently disagreeing with everyone else for the bloody sake of saving her own pride. I did love Ivan, in contrast, for his ability to give it back as good as he got from Jasmine, for his loyalty and his unwavering support as she went through her mood swings and the quirky rescue animals he kept as a completely separate part of his life.

Still, ‘From Lukov with Love’ didn’t resonate with me that much, not because of the believability of it, but because of the pacing that crammed a romantic relationship in the last 30 pages of the book, while rest of it seemed to deal mostly with a developing friendship and a young woman’s own journey towards being better while getting some enlightenment about it in the process. I waded and skimmed through pages and pages of dialogue, cringing at weird descriptors such as ‘the redhead who had given birth to me’ just threw me off (what was wrong with simply using the word ‘mother’?!) and the copious repetitive blinking Ivan/Jasmine did, while wondering when the tension between them was finally going to break.

When it finally did, the switch was rushed and abrupt, without the sense of satisfaction I needed to feel because their friendship simply felt stretched past the point of elasticity. In fact, I thought the key moments of Ivan/Jasmine’s interactions could have made the story more streamlined and less cumbersome—not every scene or every recording of Jasmine’s inner monologues seemed necessary—especially when written with the deep, cutting emotional fervour that Zapata is capable of.

It isn’t the first time I’ve finished a Zapata book asking myself what the hell just happened, particularly when the HEA passes by in a blink. It’s akin to queuing hours for a ride at a carnival and only to have the thrill ride over in about 2 minutes and then I’m left to stumble out after being dazzled for a few moments, wishing the wait was more worth it.

three-stars

Virgin Territory by Lia Riley

Virgin Territory by Lia RileyVirgin Territory by Lia Riley
Series: Hellions Angels #3
Published by Avon Impulse on March 6th 2018
Pages: 131
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one-star

Practice Makes Perfect

Patrick “Patch” Donnelly has what it takes to be the best goalie in the NHL…if only he could learn to control his temper. When Coach orders him to get his head in the game with private yoga classes, Patch isn’t having it. There’s no way this tough Boston guy would be caught dead downward dog-ing his way to inner peace. But if he refuses, he risks his starting position and the dream he sacrificed everything for, including joining the priesthood.

Yoga instructor Margot Kowalski is over men. After yet another toxic relationship, she’s eager to forget love and focus on growing her business. Doing the Hellions head coach a favor by helping out a troubled player can't hurt, and it might give her career a high-profile boost. But free-spirited Margot is soon charming the pants off Patch. Literally. Her sassy combination of sweet and sexy proves irresistible to the goalie. Before Patch can give into temptation though, he’ll have to confess his biggest secret:

He’s a virgin.

But Patch is hiding more than sexual inexperience, and his dark past soon threatens to destroy his shot at true love.

I like Lia Riley’s writing—which strangely reminds me of the cocksure voices of authors like Kimberly Kincaid, Avery Flynn and a few others—and the self-assured tone that’s found throughout makes the reading process a breeze. And that was enough to request for an ARC of this book, though the premise of the story when I first read it, admittedly made me very wary of it, particularly when this thing called ‘virginity’ comes into question.

So this is all me, my own writerly and readerly hang-ups, that are being reflected in this review.

The imbalance of sexual experience, for want of a better way of putting it, isn’t exactly trope I like to read about; the role reversal here didn’t make much of a difference—the sexually-experienced woman and the virgin man, with the former going as far as to instruct the latter. And that makes me cringe, because reading romance novels has never been a tit-for-tat issue for me; I don’t purposefully go for books that deliberately try to turn the tables on supposed stereotypical gender roles simply because there have been too many manwhores and inexperienced women. While readers may crow about and love the role reversal here, my own reason deviates somewhat: I delve into romance to actually root for a couple that I think I can genuinely get behind and for a few hours of escapism from reality which good writing has the capability of doing, rather than for the purpose of gender shaming or the robust defence of one over the other.

Unfortunately, ‘Virgin Territory’ felt like that for me from the start—too much of it like a woman’s slamming rant against sexist men in order to reinforce what women should be allowed to do/believe in the 21st century. Like in ‘Head Coach’, there was a tad bit much of what sounded like meta-speak for women’s rights: why slut-shaming is wrong, why women should be free to have the sex they want, yada yada and it did come across as somewhat preachy at times…all through the mouth of Margot, whose repetitive, defensive insistence of it felt annoying after a while, particularly when it stemmed from a position of insecurity and loneliness.

There’s also the problem that seems inherent in ‘virgin’ romances, whether the virgin character is male or female—that a huge, huge deal is made out of it, or that it is either a huge stumbling block that makes people pause or that virginity is something pesky to be gotten rid of. Admittedly, that Patch’s religion had a part in this story, that he wanted sex to mean something and for once, I could actually appreciate how the church had been an anchor in his life, rather than the usual interpretation of toxic religion that much of romantic fiction uses as a crutch against love and sex. I felt for Patch, the difficult history he’s had, and the self-awareness he had of himself, which already put him far above many heroes I’ve read about.

Needless to say, for reasons that are clearly my own, ‘Virgin Territory’ was an excruciating read. I found that I couldn’t go on past the halfway mark, not because I don’t like Riley’s style, but because the subject matter put me off too much.

one-star

Levi by Anna Hackett

Levi by Anna HackettLevi by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #15
Published by Anna Hackett on January 30th 2018
Pages: 130
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And…Hell Squad returns with a bang, and quite literally so. I have a soft spot for this apocalyptic world set in the smoking ruins surrounding Sydney, as unbreakable bonds are forged—mostly with hot sex—in the aftermath of an alien invasion, by people who would never have crossed paths otherwise.

Anna Hackett’s series advances the whole narrative arc slowly and ‘Levi’—the 15th book in the series—takes a tiny step further in unveiling new developments in this ruined world: the Gizzida strengthen their hold on earth with their strange technology as the humans fight back slowly but surely. There isn’t much of a huge leap forward here, or a turning point that throws the entire series into a spin, except for the creation of a situation that is tailored to push Levi King and Chrissy Hagen together. The ride is as always, nonetheless, an action-packed and fun one, as are the hints of the couples to come in the next few HS books.

Like most series I read however, there’ll always be characters I like more than others and unfortunately, Levi King wasn’t one of them. Simply put, I’m way too sceptical about over-the-top bad-boys and Levi, with his manwhoring, presumptuous ways didn’t really win me over. That he suddenly sought something committed with Chrissy only because she challenged him still left me wondering about his staying power (blame the daddy-issues here), apart from the possessive vibe he often emitted.

But Chrissy…be still my heart. Hackett, wrote a champion with the marvellous, tough, sassy Chrissy, who was more than a match for Levi, in her stubbornness and refusal to give an inch to his crude pursuit. I loved her grit and her strength, cheered her in every way and was almost sorry when she finally gave into Levi.

That said, Hackett’s HS books are always an easy read; too many of her books in this series feel as though they end too quickly—but ‘Levi’ seemed the perfect length this time around, which definitely made it more satisfying than usual.

Scoring with the Wrong Twin by Naima Simone

Scoring with the Wrong Twin by Naima SimoneScoring With the Wrong Twin by Naima Simone
Series: WAGS #1
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Brazen) on January 15th 2018
Pages: 236
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one-star

Shy, awkward Sophia Cruz has a hard time telling her vivacious identical twin “no.” But when her sister begs her to swap places for a modeling shoot, she caves … again. Then Zephirin Black walks onto the set. The brooding, aloof, and gorgeous tight end for the Washington Warriors. But she can keep it professional… She has to. Because the adorkable Cruz twin has no luck with guys once they compare her to her sister.

After a bad break-up, Zeph hasn’t been big on second chances—and even less with trust. But he finds himself giving please-call-me-by-my-middle-name-Sophia both. The woman he’d dismissed as a spoiled cover model is different from the first time he met her. Quirkier. Funnier. Definitely sexier. What started as one night turns into another…and another…and another…

Still, Sophia can’t go on keeping her secret from him. But telling Zeph the truth will mean losing him for good.

Giving a 1-star review to a Naima Simone book is shocking even for me, particularly because I do like Simone’s writing and her play of emotions that tends to jump out at every turn of the page.

Where do I even start?

I went into ‘Scoring with the Wrong Twin’ knowing that deception was going to play a part in this story, though I’d hoped it wouldn’t be the primary source of the conflict that carried the plot. Or that the story would have taken a different turn after their one-night stand, where Sophia admitted early on that she simply wasn’t who she was.

Unfortunately, this turned out exactly the way I wish it didn’t, as Sophia allowed her identity deception to continue for a multitude of reasons, all of which that had to do with her supposed inability to be comfortable in her own skin and her low esteem that badly needed bolstering by a celebrity football player who would apparently, otherwise, have never turn her way. If I’d initially felt sorry for her, as the girl who’d been left in the shadow of her more glamorous model sister, my sympathy turned into irritation when she deliberately led Zephirin on, without having the courage to face up to her lie. Having the self-awareness of her own guilt, then ignoring it just made matters worse for me.

Too many times have such ‘heroines’ given such excuses and as time goes on, I’ve found myself getting more and more intolerant of behaviour that was simply too irksome to ignore. In fact, Sophia irked me so much that I couldn’t continue reading, leaving me sputtering at not just her delaying telling him the truth, but also her justification of her behaviour after her apologies, even after finding out that what she’d done was to strike precisely at Zeph’s achilles heel.

I stopped reading there and then; how Zeph and Sophia finally patched things up simply didn’t interest me anymore, especially not with a ‘heroine’ I merely thought of as cowardly and defensive.

one-star

Finding Sunshine by Rene Webb

Finding Sunshine by Rene WebbFinding Sunshine by Rene Webb
Series: A Pinetree Novel #1
Published by Rene Webb on July 14th 2015
Pages: 234
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two-stars

Young aspiring photographer, Nina King, is searching for a place to belong.

As her professional internship has recently ended, she’s now out of work and trying to find herself while struggling to build a viable career.

Ex-con, Aaron Masters, is searching for redemption.

When they met Nina’s smile—for a precious moment—warmed the darkness inside. Now Aaron will stop at nothing to make her his woman, keep her, and protect her from the truth of his rough past.

Will Aaron’s dark past derail the couple’s bright future?

I requested this book from Netgalley because the thought of an ex-con wanting/needing redemption just seemed too good to pass up. And the ideas of life stalling, that people need to move on as they find cracks in their lives that are difficult to smooth over—are seductive ones and so close to reality that I thought this story would actually be right up my alley.

But ‘Finding Sunshine’ just wasn’t what I expected, as it all read like a New Adult book populated with characters that just didn’t feel like they’ve grown up yet.

I couldn’t get into the them at all in fact: the instant love (or lust) which just seemed to be baseless and inexplicable to me which then led to a long period of feel-good lull of sunshine, sex and roses, the startling (and childish?) outbursts of temper that made me wonder at times about the characters’ maturity and the fight about who hooked up with whom in their friends’ group simply put me off.

I also had some difficulty separating the voices of Aaron and Nina, except for odd terms like ‘Golly’ and ‘Oh My Goddess’ which just didn’t seem to fit the entire storytelling; offhand, I do know they’re meant to be character quirks that make them distinct and maybe even adorable. Yet it threw me off and I struggled through the whole book with my reservations never quite dissipating at all towards the end.

Clearly, this is not the book for me at all.

two-stars

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye Harris

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT SEAL Bride by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: HOT SEAL Team #4
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on January 16th 2018
Pages: 255
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two-stars

Sold to the highest bidder…

For the past fourteen years, Princess Antonella Rossi has been a virtual prisoner. She has no friends, no fun, and she’s not allowed to leave her aunt and uncle’s Virginia compound without an escort.

But today is her wedding day. A rich sheikh has bought her virginity, and with it her freedom. Any hope of independence Ella’s ever cherished will disappear the instant she faces him across the altar. With time running out and the wedding party gathering, Ella seizes the opportunity to run as far and fast as she can.

Navy SEAL Cash “Money” McQuaid isn’t looking for trouble, but trouble always seems to find him. This time trouble is five foot four and wearing a wedding dress. Rescuing a runaway princess has consequences though, and with his face plastered on the evening news and his career on the line, he realizes there’s only one way out of this mess—he has to marry her!

It’s a marriage in name only, just until he can clear his name and win Ella the freedom she seeks. But shacking up with a gorgeous virgin isn’t as easy as it seems, especially when the sparks snapping between them are hotter and more dangerous than anything Cash has ever experienced. By the time he realizes it’s too late to resist his virgin bride, an unseen enemy is intent on taking her away from him.

Cash is gonna need all his skills—and his friends on the Hostile Operations Team—in order to rescue his princess bride and give her the happily-ever-after she deserves.

What do you do when a man is allergic to love, not to mention marriage? You force and trap him into one, in a twist of circumstances that apparently leaves him no other way out, then hem him in with reasons to do with ‘doing the honourable thing’ because this simply has to extend to his rescuing-people-in-need white knight syndrome. In this case, an escapee virgin princess, kept in her gilded tower or prison.

I got into this with trepidation, because of the virginity and the royal-angle that can go so wrong in many ways. And for me, it did.

‘HOT Seal Bride’ reads like a traditional, old-school Harlequin story (with a title that could have well been ’Tempted by a Virgin’), with very set gender-defined roles (complete with several, infuriating sexist stances the male protagonist typically exhibits)—the manwhore-soldier and the innocent, helpless virgin princess—and that was the most excruciating thing I had to get over because by and large, I actually do like quite a few books in Lynn Raye Harris’s HOT series despite the stereotypes that could be perpetuated in them.

But Cash McQuaid, who understood that love was merely fiction and indignantly sprouted arguments (paraphrased in different ways through the story) why virgins were a no-go and how jaded non-virgin women knew the score just…left me enraged. The many repeated references about how he’d slept with ‘innumerable’ women as was his routine and wanted nothing to with any virgin certainly didn’t leave me too hot either.

I do know that there are many readers who love seeing such bed-hoppers ‘tamed’ and finally acknowledging that yes, the fairytale is also for them. However, I don’t count myself among them, the rather…unenlightened attitude of such male protagonists being the primary issue here. And along with it, the rather simplistic assumption that a woman who hasn’t has sex would in fact, confuse sex with love and want a relationship felt like an enormous step back from the other contemporary romances that I’ve read.

Along with the disrespectful instances of ‘locker room’ talk that I actually found offensive – go ahead, argue that that’s normal, unfiltered and honest talk anyway – Cash’s so-called falling in love with Ella felt superficial because he wanted her in his bed and couldn’t well imagine other men taking his place.

Whether this is merely a view that Harris puts across of her protagonist or whether the author subscribes to it didn’t matter here. That the notion itself existed in a book meant for women written by a woman rubbed me the wrong way.

Plainly put, it’s a peculiar notion of virginity and sex that I can’t subscribe to at all, because it should not have been a big deal at all, particularly after having read books which didn’t deal with virginity like a central commodity to be argued about or the primary source of conflict. But because ‘HOT Seal bride’ took this route, the events that happened in the book followed like clockwork, as was the ultimate ‘downfall’ of the eternal bachelor because holy matrimony was the sole solution—again, this left me very sceptical—out of Ella’s conundrum.

I’d hoped that Harris’s HOT SEAL series would have worked for me as well as some books in the actual HOT series did. So far, it hasn’t seemed that way unfortunately and I’m not so sure right now, if it would get better.

two-stars

Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye Warren

Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye WarrenPrisoner by Annika Martin, Skye Warren
Series: Criminals & Captives #1
Published by Skye Warren & Annika Martin on October 22nd 2014
Pages: 310
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three-stars

He seethes with raw power the first time I see him—pure menace and rippling muscles in shackles. He’s dangerous. He’s wild. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So I hide behind my prim glasses and my book like I always do, because I have secrets too. Then he shows up in the prison writing class I have to teach, and he blows me away with his honesty. He tells me secrets in his stories, and it’s getting harder to hide mine. I shiver when he gets too close, with only the cuffs and the bars and the guards holding him back. At night I can’t stop thinking about him in his cell.

But that’s the thing about an animal in a cage—you never know when he’ll bite. He might use you to escape. He might even pull you into a forest and hold a hand over your mouth so you can’t call for the cops. He might make you come so hard, you can’t think.

And you might crave him more than your next breath.

There are some books—rare as they are—that make me question the definition of romance and by extension, why I read them. ‘Prisoner’ is one of those rare few books, which makes this a near-impossible review to write. If I read romance for escapism and a HEA that is only fulfilled in fiction and unrealistic, it’s probably because I’ve been so conditioned towards carrying ‘real-life’ cynicism like a straw that breaks the camel’s back that it can be difficult to buy a certain’s pairing’s happiness. Then there are some books that tip the fairytale on its head, where the villain never even becomes an anti-hero that you think you can root for, though there are those who glory in the grey areas of morality and insist that this is as good a love story that you can get.

I’m torn, really. My suspension of belief has never been called into question more than when I was going through the more excruciating parts of this story. As clearly as I do recognise that ‘Prisoner’ doesn’t fit in any of the contemporary romance category that I’m used to, that the effectiveness of the story is so dependant on us readers trying to separate reality from fiction is what makes me uncomfortable. Because for many of us, reality isn’t—and shouldn’t—be that way and to buy wholly into Abigail’s and Grayson’s tale of lust and dark need, is akin to going against that I accept in my own ‘normalised’ world that isn’t about the microbalance of power in relationships or about living on the wrong side of the law and making do or even revelling in it.

Roughness, dubious consent and violence are par for the course, as are the lack of apologies for male behaviour that is overtly unkind and possessive, then mansplained away in a twisted kind of reverse psychology that I sometimes have trouble buying. We’re reminded often by both Grayson and Abigail that the former is a man beyond redemption—that steeped he is in his life of crime after the abuse he suffered in his early years.

One of my issues is that Abigail’s fighting spirit is what turns Grayson on, yet it also seems to show her as the weaker, cowering vessel with more than a hint of being steeped deeply in Stockholm Syndrome, because attraction and lust surely can’t trump fear and hate? In ‘Prisoner’, that happens. These toxic emotions intermingle, with more than a tinge of the delusional thrown in. But both author try to show up the similarities between Grayson and Abigail despite their outward differences and that’s where they find common ground: in the muddied waters of screwed-up life experiences and the apparent beauty that can be found in cruelty and compassion. Love isn’t all sunshine and roses, but rather, the man who overcomes a cop to rescue you in a jail cell because you belong to him.

Once again, I need to remind myself that this isn’t reality and because it’s a fictional book that I willingly chose to read, my tolerance level of this deviance must naturally be higher of what I’d be raising the alarm for in real life. After a while, enjoyment gives way to the conscious act of overriding my own instincts about romance; or maybe it’s just showing me up as a prude.

three-stars