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So Over You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 17th October 2017
So Over You by Kate MeaderSo Over You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #2
Published by Pocket Books on December 19th 2017
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Isobel Chase knows hockey. She played NCAA, won silver at the Games, and made it thirty-seven minutes into the new National Women’s Hockey League before an injury sidelined her dreams. Those who can’t, coach, and a position as a skating consultant to her late father’s hockey franchise, the Chicago Rebels, seems like a perfect fit. Until she’s assigned her first job: the man who skated into her heart as a teen and relieved her of her pesky virginity. These days, left-winger Vadim Petrov is known as the Czar of Pleasure, a magnet for puck bunnies and the tabloids alike. But back then... let’s just say his inability to sink the puck left Isobel frustratingly scoreless.

Vadim has a first name that means “ruler,” and it doesn’t stop at his birth certificate. He dominates on the ice, the practice rink, and in the backseat of a limo. But a knee injury has produced a bad year, and bad years in the NHL don’t go unrewarded. His penance? To be traded to a troubled team where his personal coach is Isobel Chase, the woman who drove him wild years ago when they were hormonal teens. But apparently the feeling was not entirely mutual.

That Vadim might have failed to give Isobel the pleasure that was her right is intolerable, and he plans to make it up to her—one bone-melting orgasm at a time. After all, no player can perfect his game without a helluva lot of practice...

Hockey isn’t a game I follow at all, but the premise of Kate Meader’s series is easy enough to understand. Three estranged sisters—broken in their own way by a father who still wreaks destruction from beyond the grave—, a switch in management of a hockey team and the struggle to stay afloat with a change this momentous. For those who don’t understand the game, then the details or lack thereof are sparse enough that you can focus on the drama surrounding the couple and the management team in question.

‘So Over You’ is Isobel’s story and a Russian player who’s as ‘Russian’ as they come (that however, depends on your perspective), though it was for me sadly, more of a surprising miss than a hit as the first book. Quite a bit of the story made a mountain of a molehill of Isobel not getting an orgasm when Vadim took her virginity (or in a more cringeworthy way of putting it—‘making her a woman’) close to a decade ago and how Vadim obsessed increasingly over this salient point because he wanted to prove otherwise now.

In this book, that’s not just a backstory; it’s in fact, like a niggling ghost of Christmas past that wouldn’t go away because both parties remembered it in different ways, not to mention the aftermath that was significant enough that this had become a point of contention with the both of them.

To be fair, the dour sex they had as teenagers wasn’t all that the story revolved around, though the little sub-plots in between did little to distract me from watching out for the next pairing (Cade! Dante!) in the sequel, which was a clear indicator of how difficult I found it to be invested in Isobel and Vadim. On the one hand, I could understand Isobel’s need to define herself apart from hockey, or simply as a WAG of yet another famous player in the league when her own career fell to pieces.

Yet it was hard to sympathise with that self-same selfish ambition that ran over people in the process; neither could I accept her interfering with Vadim’s relationship with his mother as she projected her own daddy-issues onto his markedly different parental situation. Vadim, on the other hand, apart from his awful heavy-handed ways, sometimes leaned towards becoming a caricature—broody, with speech patterns of a non-English speaker that’s either archaic or with mixed metaphors meant to be amusing somehow—or at least a character that seemed to conform to the stereotypes of how some parts of the world view Russians these days.

I’m just going to put this particular book down as an aberration in a series that I do like quite much. There’s still so much going for it: Meader’s writing, for one, but the tease for Cade and Dante is enough to keep me watching out for the next book that can’t come soon enough.

two-stars

Dirty Scoundrel by Jessica Clare

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 13th October 2017
Dirty Scoundrel by Jessica ClareDirty Scoundrel by Jessica Clare
Series: Roughneck Billionaires #2
on November 21st 2017
Pages: 200
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three-stars

Clay Price has everything he’s ever wanted, except the one thing money can’t buy—Natalie Weston. Years ago, Clay and Natalie were in love…until she turned down his marriage proposal. Now Clay and his brothers are oil-rich billionaires, and they can have whatever they want. And what Clay wants is Natalie in his bed, no matter what it takes. If it means being ruthless, he’ll do it.  

Natalie gave up on true love years ago when the realities of the world destroyed her fairy-tale hopes. Giving up Clay is her biggest regret in life, and she’s excited to see him return…until she finds out why. Clay’s got one hell of a proposal for her: he’ll save her father’s business and bail Natalie out of debt if she’ll agree to become his very personal assistant. It’s clear that he wants more from her than just typing. 

It’s also clear that Natalie has no choice. This scoundrel’s bet could destroy any hope they had of reconciliation—or it could bring them together once and for all…

Millionaire/Billionaire books aren’t exactly the sort of reads I go after, simply because their implausibility severely impedes my ability to suspend disbelief for this sub-genre in romance. But Jessica Clare’s Roughneck Billionaires who start out dirt poor and had their fortunes skyrocketing because of oil are a bunch of men who defy my expectations of fictional corporate raiders. They’re crude, somewhat unkempt, sometimes brutally uncouth, filterless and madly alpha, which can be a refreshing contrast to the slick, suited men who manage more than swimmingly in both boardroom and bedroom.

‘Dirty Soundrel’ is Clay Price’s book and is pretty much a second-chance romance that picks up 7 years after an acrimonious breakup thanks to a meddling father who thinks the world of himself and less of his daughter and her boyfriend. An idiotic act of revenge however, doesn’t go according to plan and in rather predictable fashion, merely covers emotions that have never quite gone away, though it takes a while for both protagonists to face up to that fact.

Clay and Natalie did have a history together, which made them more believable as a couple. That they’d only had eyes for each other, even all these years later, did convince me that they did want and love each other, though that had gotten lost for a while. I did however, feel for Clay more than I did Nat (whom I thought needed to grow a bit more of a spine) who seemed to embody straight-shooting talk and practical sense in way that I couldn’t help but like him for it. Despite the blunt crudeness and his inability to deal with the opposite sex, Clay’s bumbling honesty and perception actually won me over—again, in contrast to Nat’s loyal blind spot to her father which seemed to suggest that advanced age and failing health are not only perfect reasons to excuse abominable behaviour but that it could be rewarded in the end.

‘Dirty Scoundrel’ is nonetheless, a low-angst read that focused more on the pairing than anything else, sometimes to the exclusion of what I felt were major events that could have been teased out more thoroughly when they happened later in the book. These twists were glossed over a little too easily, as was Nat’s interfering, manipulative (and sick) father’s own ‘happy ending’, so not having proper closure or comeuppance was exactly what my little black heart demanding but didn’t get. Wrapped up with a rushed HEA and an even more abrupt conclusion, ‘Dirty Scoundrel’ unfortunately fell a tad bit short of a great read.

three-stars

Bountiful by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th October 2017
Bountiful by Sarina BowenBountiful by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North, #4
Published by Rennie Road Books on October 20th 2017
Pages: 305
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three-stars

No last names. No life stories. Those were the rules.

Once upon a time a cocky, copper-haired tourist sauntered into Zara’s bar. And even though she knew better, Zara indulged in a cure for the small-town blues. It was supposed to be an uncomplicated fling—a few sizzling weeks before he went back to his life, and she moved on.

Until an accidental pregnancy changed her life.

Two years later, she’s made peace with the notion that Dave No-Last-Name will never be found. Until one summer day when he walks into her coffee shop, leveling her with the same hot smile that always renders her defenseless.

Dave Beringer has never forgotten the intense month he spent with prickly Zara. Their nights together were the first true intimacy he’d ever experienced. But the discovery of his child is the shock of a lifetime, and his ugly past puts relationships and family out of reach.

Or does it? Vermont’s countryside has a way of nurturing even tortured souls. The fields and the orchards—and hard won love—are Bountiful.

When ‘Grease’ the musical turned up in my life blaring Danny and Sandy’s summer fling from the very start, it was what I thought of immediately as Zara Rossi and Dave Beringer got down, carefree and dirty for a few weeks, until it wasn’t anymore.

But that was just part 1 of the story—a small but still sizeable part of the whole tale: a careful catalogue of their flirtation and their sex scenes…and probably not too much more than that. I had a hard time liking either Zara or Dave in this first part—the former was prickly and standoffish while the latter too lackadaisical about women for want of a better word—as it was simply about their summer fling where both were determined to make it about shallow sex and nothing more, so waiting to get into the meat of the story was in some ways, torture.

In many ways, it was akin to reading about 2 people who wouldn’t—or couldn’t—grow up until a baby changed how they had to look at the lives they’d been living up until then. But as part 2 went on, it became clear who had done the growing up and who hadn’t and by the time the story ended, ‘Bountiful’ felt like a patched jigsaw and wholly like a Sarina Bowen creation. Admittedly, I had unrealistic expectations of Zara and Dave and not having them met was a particular disappointment, but truth be told, I also felt like I’d overdosed on the topic of motherhood and children throughout part 2.

Clearly, these are my own prejudices shouting a little loud here.

But if I didn’t exactly get into the pairing, it was certainly no hardship to get lost in Bowen’s storytelling. There’s such a readability to Bowen’s books (throw in the Vermont setting and I’m sold) and her ability to tell a small-town, family-centric drama with loads of heart simply shines through. So while the rest of this series’s books never quite reached ‘Steadfast’s’ lofty heights for me, the intersection of the Brooklyn Bruisers world and the Shipleys here however, was probably the highlight of my whole read. Seeing Doulie and Trevi make their appearances in here (Castro’s fantastic cameo just made my day) perked it all up for me, which made me impatient for Bowen’s return to the Bruisers.

three-stars

Untamable by Jamie Schlosser

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 4th October 2017
Untamable by Jamie SchlosserUntamable by Jamie Schlosser
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on September 29th 2017
Pages: 215
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three-stars

Emery Matheson knows p*ssies. Cats, that is. As the star of a reality show called The P*ssy Tamer, it’s his job to fix extreme feline behavioral issues.

When he hears about his next project—a lonely cat hoarder named Estelle—he expects a little old widow, not the blond bombshell who opens the door.

With a 100 percent success rate, Emery has never had trouble finishing a job. But just a few hours into the first day of filming and one thing is clear—Estelle and her band of misfit p*ssies will give him a run for his money… and his heart.

This is a fun book, no doubt about it.

A man cat-handler (though the cringe-worthy name of ‘The Pussy Tamer’ just shouldn’t be here at all), akin to Jackson Galaxy with his cat hoarder lady with the antics of felines all over? I really did think it should have been a win for me, but I found myself strangely neutral towards the book and somewhat unexcited about the pairing.

Both Emery and Estelle were quirky, standout characters with personalities of their own that are distinct; they did seem good together, though I supposed I couldn’t quite get their connection apart from their inexplicable first-look attraction and their shared love for cats.

I did like Jamie Schlosser’s take on Emery’s show nonetheless and seeing how each cat—with a name so human I actually mistook them for people at times—was getting treated with the kind of respect and care (despite this being fictional) was just heartwarming.

three-stars

Storm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 22nd September 2017
Storm Gathering by Rebecca ZanettiStorm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome #4
Published by RAZ INK LLC on September 19th 2017
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Even before surviving the Scorpius bacterium, Greyson Storm was a lone wolf navigating minefields. As a kid, he learned to take a hit and find safety. As an adult, he joined the military and quickly learned how to protect and defend. When the world ended, he created a mercenary camp with military precision, no entanglements, and a promise to avenge a fallen friend. As part of that vow, he kidnapped Maureen Shadow, but now that he has let her go, her blue eyes and intriguing mind keep haunting him…

As possibly the only Biotechnology Engineer still living, Maureen Shadow might be humanity’s one hope to survive the aftermath of Scorpius, making her frighteningly valuable to both allies and enemies. Even after sexual tension explodes with Greyson, she’s not sure which camp he belongs to—friend or foe? Worse yet, survival may mean thwarting his prime mission, putting her in even more peril. When danger and seduction collide, there is no safety in this new world.

The rough, primal dystopian society that Rebecca Zanetti has created after the Scorpius bacterium struck is an exciting one. Point is, there’s a rich complexity in this bleak world split into factions populated by interesting characters who can and do add value to the plot.

But a pattern for the Scorpius Syndrome series emerges after going through 4 books: there’s a pairing that shows much promise (I definitely fall for the hooks left in previous books), but the plot’s momentum is never allowed to become an unstoppable juggernaut because it gets choked by certain twists, turns and irrational character behaviour that turn my enthusiasm dial down. Zanetti chooses instead, to deal with certain tropes that could and should have been left by the wayside in this brave new world, particularly so in ’Storm Gathering’.

I do like the shift in the storytelling to the Mercenaries and I’ve wanted Greyson’s and Moe’s story for a long while after seeing their interactions, but it was disappointing with the way they’ve been developed and presented here. Not that I’d expected a straight-up enemies-to-lovers type of story, but so much of the first half is filled with squabbles between the Vanguard guys and the Mercs, with Maureen as a bartering object to be passed to and fro between both camps. It isn’t helpful that Moe herself can’t decide what to do or where to stay; nor can Greyson decide where his loyalties should lie.

Their holding pattern got frustrating after a while, especially since I was hankering after a more developed story arc that should have built towards a final confrontation between the Elite Forces and Vanguard/the Mercs but only came partially to fruition towards the end. Greyson instead, pursues his own agenda of revenge, allows this goal to drive his alliances and generally vacillates so much in his decision-making that I began to wonder if the narrative arc was indeed getting anywhere. The weird spurts of humour don’t help either (which I can appreciate but thought those came with bad timing), and made the ’Storm Gathering’ feel like a parody at times when I’d actually expected rising tension and several standoffs.

The stuttering pacing does pick up when an uneasy alliance is forged almost incidentally between Jax and Grey but the story ends just as it gets good. Objectively, it’s understandable why Zanetti chooses to deal with a nemesis at a time—the Pure Church appears to be next in the series with Damon’s story coming up—but just as I’ve been waiting for this entire series to culminate into something bigger, my enthusiasm is flagging here.

three-stars

After Hours by Lynda Aicher

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 21st September 2017
After Hours by Lynda AicherAfter Hours by Lynda Aicher
Series: The Boardroom #1
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 218
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three-stars

The Boardroom. After hours, it’s where Bay Area moguls indulge their fantasies. Ties are loosened. Inhibitions, too.

Assistant Avery Fast watched from a distance, mouth gaping, blood roaring wildly in her ears as she stared at the naked woman on the table before her. At executive Carson Taggert ordering a man to pleasure her. It made her feel guilty, embarrassed…and hot.

Carson watched and waited. Waited for Avery to notice him in the Boardroom. Waited for her to like what she saw. Waited to see what she’d do the next day. And the next. He couldn't let her go—not when she'd seen what goes on in the Boardroom. He couldn't stop thinking about the desire in her eyes, the flush on her cheeks, her obvious arousal.

Getting her to join was easy. But now Carson wants Avery all to himself.

‘After Hours’ is a curious read. It’s clearly erotica, where sexual exploration of any kind—where voyeurism initially plays a large part—is done in a boardroom, spearheaded by none other than the chief technology officer, under very strict rules that we aren’t exactly privy to until further on in the book.

It’s seedy and fascinating at the same time to see how something else darker and seductive comes out to play (and the upper echelon of the prestigious office do get busy) when the lights go out after the work day. At the heart of it all, the characters seem to lead double lives that are only unveiled as Avery Fast finally gains access by accident into this hedonistic playground where the garden of delights so to speak, is finally revealed to her. Part glamorous retro porn movie (or at least it seems that way in technicolor) and part noir-ish sensuality, I struggled to find my footing with the characters who seem more enigmatic than relatable.

I didn’t get the entire picture of what the Boardroom was supposed to be at first, though a lot of it seemed to be about commands, control and boundaries, which is probably the paradox of such sexual play just like in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’: freeing yet binding, open but secretive as hell, exploratory yet reined in, highly sexualised but devoid of intimacy. Bottom-line is, it still demands trust, more on one side than the other, until emotions suddenly get into play and rips apart the detachment required in the Boardroom as Avery goes on that twisty journey of sexual awakening.

Does love then, have a part to play in this, considering romance is supposed to underscore the entire story? At the very least, it’s about the various contradictions that Avery has about her own conservative brand of sexuality: the shame of not being able to be the person other than she’s brought up to be even though she’s far from virginal, yet wanting more than just sex with no limits through experimentation in the Boardroom that nonetheless, tethers her with its strict parameters. I don’t feel as though I know Avery or Carson very well by the end of it but the story does lapse more comfortably into the ‘romance category’ when it’s made clear that the Avery still wants the family and the picket fence as the very non-committal Carson finally falls prey to it.

As a result, Avery’s and Carson’s liaison is so far beyond the typical office romance that I’m unclear how to classify it, or rather, I’m still not sure how I feel about the book simply because erotica always keeps me unbalanced no matter how many times I delve into it. ‘After Hours’ does crystallise at the end with a very strong (and perhaps prescriptive) message, almost like the moral of the story that proclaims to all female readers who’ve always complained about the double standards in romance, that women shouldn’t be embarrassed about what they liked about their sexual preferences as Avery comes out of that experience unapologetic and supposedly more enlightened about her sexual self—thanks to Carson.

Stylistically speaking, ‘After Hours’ is well-written, well-paced and done with a deftness that I can appreciate. Lynda Aicher’s a new author to me, but as uncertain as I am about the subject matter and that defiant, feminist message that got me straight in the face thanks to Avery and a secondary character, Aicher makes a huge impression with her prose. It got me past my comfort zone in dealing with open relationships and it’s handled in a way that kept me off-centre the whole time.

three-stars

Unmapped by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 15th September 2017
Unmapped by Anna HackettUnmapped by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #6
Published by Anna Hackett on September 5th 2017
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three-stars

With every novella that Anna Hackett publishes, it becomes increasingly obvious that her imagination never runs dry and that alone, puts me in awe of the content that’s been churned out from her desk month after month.

Hackett’s Treasure Hunter Security series really appeals to the, uh, dormant Indiana Jones in me: the crazy, far-flung locales and the treasures they’re hiding as the suspense and intrigue as the security guys battle the baddies. ‘Unmapped’ brings us to Antarctica this time around, in search of a client’s missing twin and that alone is a mouth-watering prospect. It’s a rollicking, upbeat ride from the start without any ‘real’ sense of tragedy (even if the ease with which it takes to arrange a trip far down south is somewhat unrealistic), peppered with slick James Bonde-esque villains unrelenting in their search for artefacts and structures of lost civilisations that are somehow uncovered with alarming ease.

I do think that it’s slightly weaker in the romance department, as Ronin and Peri come together without a backstory and gravitate toward each other simply because—with a hint of instalove around—unlike the couples whom Hackett builds up from previous books. I wasn’t entirely invested in this particular pairing or the believability of it, but then I already know that there are definitely some that work more for me than others, particularly when time is given for chemistry between a potential pairing to bubble over.

That said, ‘Unmapped’ is a very entertaining (albeit short!) read. There’s the whole lick of adventure through which I can vicariously live and it’s always an afternoon well spent when I can get lost in yet another one of Hackett’s worlds.

three-stars
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