Tag: irksome-prick-bastard

Playing For Keeps by Jill Shalvis

Playing For Keeps by Jill ShalvisPlaying for Keeps by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay, #7
Published by Avon on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 384
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two-stars


If you’re planning on falling in love…

When it comes to the confident, charismatic Caleb Parker, Sadie Lane feels the spark—the kind that comes from rubbing each other the wrong way. She’s a tattoo artist, he’s a straight-laced mogul. But after they accidentally co-rescue an abandoned dog from a storm, Sadie sees a vulnerable side to the seemingly invincible hottie.

you’d better be sure…

Caleb doesn’t do emotions. Growing up the underdog, he’s learned the hard way to build up an impenetrable wall. Perfect for business. Disastrous for relationships. He’s never worried about it before—not until he finally gets behind Sadie’s armor and begins to fall.

… someone is there to catch you.

Both guarded and vulnerable, Sadie and Caleb are complete opposites. Or are they? Shocked at their undeniable connection, can they ever admit to wanting more? That all depends on what they’re each willing to risk.

Co-parenting an abandoned dog is what brings Sadie Lane and Caleb Parker together in Jill Shalvis’s ongoing ‘Heartbreaker Bay’ series—one that I had no idea would be going on and on and on.

And much of ‘Playing For Keeps’ is about bringing down the walls that Sadie has built after an emo-filled teenage-hood and adult-life, complete with barbs, pushing away and a whole lot of questioning when the man for her finally rolls around the corner with his own special brand of baggage that he’s already overcome.

In essence, ‘Playing For Keeps’ is built upon a push-pull between Sadie and Caleb: the former is an expert at lashing out, self-sabotaging good things and running away, while the latter’s supposed proclaiming that he’d been falling for her with her for over a year yet hooking up with other women in the meantime over the past few months (maybe I’m the only one with this hang-up?) didn’t quite make them a couple I could really stand behind.

But in Shalvis’s gentle exploration of emotional self-harm and the scars that don’t really fade is also the implicit message of getting a guy who pursues you no matter how deep your issues run and puts himself out there for you until you finally soften and give in…well, that’s the core of romantic fiction that’s always been the age-old draw for readers. That much I appreciate, as much as the light-hearted storytelling that Shalvis excels at: emotions are drawn out, though not overly so and conflict is resolved as quickly as they come, leaving just gentle waves that lap at the shore that do no lasting harm, so to speak.

Yet I think the Heartbreaker Bay series is losing its sheen for me. I couldn’t find it in myself to get excited over Sadie/Caleb, even though Shalvis’s writing is as buoyant and rom-com pitch perfect as I remember. Other than the small, irksome bits I can’t seem to let go of when it comes to the characters in question, the anthropomorphising of animals (something that Shalvis does a fair bit) where a pet’s behaviour is tailored to tug at every ‘cute’ heartstring is only something I can take in small amounts.

I’m guessing that ‘Playing For Keeps’ is something a devoted Shalvis fan will enjoy and I did wish that it’d worked better for me.

two-stars

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

Fix Her Up by Tessa BaileyFix Her Up by Tessa Bailey
Series: Hot & Hammered #1
Published by Avon on 11th June 2019
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Georgette Castle’s family runs the best home renovation business in town, but she picked balloons instead of blueprints and they haven’t taken her seriously since. Frankly, she’s over it. Georgie loves planning children’s birthday parties and making people laugh, just not at her own expense. She’s determined to fix herself up into a Woman of the World... whatever that means.

Phase one: new framework for her business (a website from this decade, perhaps?)
Phase two: a gut-reno on her wardrobe (fyi, leggings are pants.)
Phase three: updates to her exterior (do people still wax?)
Phase four: put herself on the market (and stop crushing on Travis Ford!)

Living her best life means facing the truth: Georgie hasn’t been on a date since, well, ever. Nobody’s asking the town clown out for a night of hot sex, that’s for sure. Maybe if people think she’s having a steamy love affair, they’ll acknowledge she’s not just the “little sister” who paints faces for a living. And who better to help demolish that image than the resident sports star and tabloid favorite?

Travis Ford was major league baseball’s hottest rookie when an injury ended his career. Now he’s flipping houses to keep busy and trying to forget his glory days. But he can’t even cross the street without someone recapping his greatest hits. Or making a joke about his… bat. And then there's Georgie, his best friend’s sister, who is not a kid anymore. When she proposes a wild scheme—that they pretend to date, to shock her family and help him land a new job—he agrees. What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s real. But the girl Travis used to tease is now a funny, full-of-life woman and there’s nothing fake about how much he wants her...

Some time has passed since I’ve put my nose in a Tessa Bailey read and it’s only a reminder how assured Bailey is with words. Though I’ll be the first to say that her stories can be a hit or miss for me.

I wavered on ‘Fix Her Up’ despite the cute blurb. Tackling the brother’s best-friend, fake dating trope (crossed with the manwhore/guileless virgin one which I didn’t expect and detested), it actually started off pretty damn well, then turned predictably cringeworthy because the blurb hadn’t quite revealed the intricacies of the characters that could make or break the story for me.

Georgie had always been overlooked, or rather, looked at as the annoying and forgotten little sister, the one who never mattered enough to be other than that label. Worse yet, she’d spent her entire life in love with the famous homegrown baseball player who’s now a failure and a washout while he hopped into bed with as many women as he could while leading that famous sportsman lifestyle, then helps him indirectly pick up the pieces when he comes home wallowing in self-pity. In fact, I felt sorry for her for getting short-changed in so many ways but liked her for being the somewhat quirky, pushing-back-sort of girl who made the best she could of her situation.

Some dick-waving in the face of male competition and fake dating and some machinations later…well, their story goes as you’d expect as Travis Ford somehow manages to see past what he’d always thought of as the best friend’s pesky sister because she made him laugh and talk again and want things beyond the physical. Having his well-earned reputation thrown in my face repeatedly however, even if it was to show superficial his conquests and hundreds of one-night stands were didn’t help this while she pined afar. That Georgie—comfortable in her own clothing—seemed to have needed a makeover before Travis could see her as someone to lust after was a bothersome reminder that her looks ultimately mattered as well.

Travis’s lack of commitment was mentioned to many times and the reason for that was also given as an insecure childhood, and predictably, both his and Georgie’s issues came to the fore, or rather, where it hurt the most at the climax, after which the typical grovelling started—when the manwhore suddenly became a family, committed man out of the blue after a bit of self-talk and self-actualisation.

‘Fix Her Up’ is a classic Bailey read, nonetheless. I could power through the pages because of a writing style that I am comfortable with; my own complaints about the tropes are my own prejudices showing up here.

two-stars

Ryan by Debra Webb

Ryan by Debra WebbRyan by Debra Webb
Series: Dark and Dangerous Romantic Suspense #2
Published by Pink House Press on 5th February 2008
Pages: 275
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SHE WILL NEVER BE A VICTIM AGAIN...
Special Agent Vivian Grace needs to find the truth before the next victim dies. Her own past as a kidnapping victim of a serial killer still haunts her. She will do whatever it takes to make sure she is never a victim again and she will do all within her power to save others... even if it means working with a burned out ex-agent who could get them both killed.

ALL HE WANTS IS TO FORGET THE PAST...
Ex-special agent Ryan McBride lost everything three years ago when a case went fatally wrong. He has spent every minute since then drinking himself into oblivion to forget. When Vivian Grace knocks on his door demanding his help, he is certain of only one thing--he cannot help her. But someone is using their dark pasts to lure them into a game and neither Ryan nor Vivian can stop the momentum.
The only certainty is that someone is going to die.

Disgraced former-FBI man Ryan McBride is in the worst state of his life since it spiralled down the drain in a case gone wrong 3 years ago, until rookie Vivian Grace stumbles into it with a case she needs to close.

It’s interesting sometimes, to read a writer’s early work to see how much of the writing has changed in the years. And I’ve found Debra Webb’s writing as always, to be faultless and very easy to get lost in. Objectively, it’s an interesting and absorbing story—if ‘Ryan’ is taken as a thriller and not as romantic suspense book—that’s well-written, with just enough development of the police procedural balanced with sufficient character-insights to keep me a happy reader.

But still, I found Ryan to be smarmy and slimy and actually cheered every time Vivian coolly responded to his filthy and inappropriate advances which felt more lecherous and disgusting than seductive. He pushed relentlessly to strip her down emotionally, yet stayed hypocritically enmeshed in his own mantrum of having his life upended while playing head games with anything or anyone associated with the FBI.

On the romantic front however, I didn’t get Ryan/Vivian’s chemistry at all. Sure, they’re flawed, they’re nowhere near the forced rainbow-HEA that we sometimes get from the unrealistic romantic fiction type endings. Yet everything between them felt antagonistic with the splash of attraction as both were ultimately, too caught up in their own self-absorbed lives to really get down to the hard part of the relationship.

I didn’t quite like this as much as I liked the first one in this series, but it’s probably more for those who don’t need things nicely tied up in a bow by the end of it all.

Between The Lines by Sally Malcolm

Between The Lines by Sally MalcolmBetween the Lines by Sally Malcolm
Published by Carina Press on 10th December 2018
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three-half-stars

Theo Wishart has given up on finding love.

Luca Moretti doesn’t want to find it.

A handful of summer days may change their lives forever—if they’re brave enough to look between the lines.

Eyes might be windows to the soul, but for Theo Wishart they’re all shuttered. His dyspraxia makes it hard to read people. He doesn’t do relationships and he certainly doesn’t do the great outdoors. Two weeks spent “embracing beach life” while he tries to close the deal on a once great, now fading seaside hotel is a special kind of hell.

Until Luca. Gorgeous, unreachable Luca.

Luca Moretti travels light, avoiding all romantic entanglements. Estranged from his parents, he vows this will be his last trip home to New Milton. His family’s hotel is on the verge of ruin and there’s nothing Luca can do to save it. He’s given up on the Majestic, he’s given up on his family and he’s given up on his future.

Until Theo. Prickly, captivating Theo.

No mushy feelings, no expectations, and no drama—that’s the deal. A simple summer fling. And it suits them both just fine. But as the summer wanes and their feelings deepen, it’s clear to everyone around them that Theo and Luca are falling in love. What will it take for them to admit it to themselves—and to each other?

three-half-stars

The Conspiracy by Kat Martin

The Conspiracy by Kat MartinThe Conspiracy by Kat Martin
Series: Maximum Security #1
Published by HQN on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.

As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.

I thought ‘The Conspiracy’ started off quite well, with the plot quickly and decisively set up: Harper Winston’s brother has gone missing and her desperation to get him back leads her to his former best friend (and the man she’d always wanted) though they haven’t been in contact for years. That this has ties to their powerful father who has shady dealings—who might have something to do with her brother’s disappearance—upped the ante from the start.

After an exciting start however, it was towards the middle that my interest started to flag. The insertions of multiple POVs, long descriptions of place, secondary characters, their personal histories and scattered pieces of the overall puzzle, simply detracted from the momentum of the main story. I skimmed, then read on when the story got back on track (rinse and repeat)—this pretty much described the entire experience throughout the book.

The initial attraction between Harper and Chase consisted mostly of individual internal monologues revolving around their lust for each other and their indecision about making a move. Still, there’s action, some twists involved and a case of major pushing away…which also happens only to a certain extent because neither Harper nor Chase can stop wanting sex with each other.

I’m not entirely sure how to put a finger on this, but reading ’The Conspiracy’ feels curiously akin to reading an older style of romance (outfitted with contemporary themes of RS and the technology of the day) with a more erotic hook, with Kat Martin’s characterisation steeping her protagonists in more ‘traditional’ roles that historical (?) romantic fiction tends to perpetuate.

In this case, Harper cried a lot, turned pale a fair bit, gasped each time as she stared at Chase’s body, was somehow naive as hell at the heart of it yet magically transformed into someone who knew how to be part of a military op. On the other hand, Chase’s eyes burned with hunger constantly as though he was on the verge of ravishing her, got hard with the slightest thought of her and pretty much played the macho man throughout. That he used their sexual attraction to get back into her good graces felt like manipulation: did Chase have to really do stupid things while knowing it would cause Harper some pain, then bend over backwards to make it up? That it had to take something so monumental for him to turnaround to decide that he wanted her permanently when he’d initially wanted a clean break with her?

Most probably it’s Kat Martin’s style that doesn’t gel with me personally. I simply thought ‘The Conspiracy’ could have been so much more (a leaner, meaner read that could have left me reeling the good way, essentially) but fell far short of my own expectations.

This isn’t a book for me clearly; from style to characters, there were quite a few things that I couldn’t really get on board with, though I can imagine that this would be a typical offering for the RS crowd from a staple RS author.

two-stars

Fireworks by Sarina Bowen

Fireworks by Sarina BowenFireworks by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North #6
Published by Tuxbury Publishing LLC on 13th November 2018
Pages: 293
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two-stars

Skye Copeland is on paid leave from her broadcasting job after accidentally drawing a pecker on the traffic map.

Let that sink in. Like it’s her fault the traffic pattern that day created a perfect schlong?

Skye isn’t laughing. She needs this job. And that’s the only reason she’s agreed to chase down a story in her least favorite place—that hell on earth known as Vermont.

A quick trip. In and out. Much like - never mind. Skye can sneak into the town that once tried to break her, get the story and get back into the good graces of her producer. Easy peasy.

Except things go sideways even as she sets foot over the county line. Her step-sister is on the run from a violent drug dealer. And the cop on the case is none other than Benito Rossi, the man who broke her teenage heart.

His dark brown eyes still tear her apart. And even as she steels herself to finally tell him off after twelve years, the old fireworks are still there.

Things are about to go boom.

‘Fireworks’ is Sarina Bowen’s ever-growing ‘Truth North’ series as we’re taken back on the ride to Vermont where Skylar and Benito meet again after 12 years. Their history is slowly revealed in flashbacks over the course of the story, enveloped lovingly by the rustic Vermont small-town community and memories that don’t just seem to fade.

If this starts out rather light-hearted, Bowen inserts a little more suspense here along with the quirk and in this way, this particular instalment is a little different from the rest of the books, as a large part of the plot is being driven by an impending drug bust and a sexual predator who’d already left some stains in the characters’ lives.

‘Fireworks’ had some bits that bothered me, in fact—but this was what I’d expected of the ‘True North’ series which has so far, brought my own reactions to extremes. But I like Bowen’s style of writing (though not her characters always), so perhaps this still makes me a glutton for punishment.

I found Skye a sympathetic character mostly; Bowen’s portrayal of a hapless teenager facing down a sexual predator is terrifying and I can certainly understand how these experiences shaped her future though there seemed to be contradictory parts of Skye (practical, wry, yet a complete pushover where her rather dumb stepsister and Benito were concerned) that I couldn’t reconcile with the picture that I’d formed early on of her.

But the late insertion of the classic ‘other woman/hookup’ plot device coming into play later honestly bothered me as much as it did Skye—that it’d taken a lot for her to be naked and vulnerable for Benito, only for him to call that very act casual with another woman—because it simply felt disrespectful and somehow cheapening of their growing romance.

A 12-year separation is a long time and having Benito claim Skye is the only girl he’d ever loved while not actively doing a thing to find her again (as well as hooking up with others in the meantime, with the most recent one being Skye’s rival) felt hypocritical to me. That Benito had been hooking up with a ‘mean-girl’ then flightily going straight onto professing his love for Skye whom he’s always wanted just made this part of the story way too hard to swallow. It’d made him seem like a player and one who simply messed around other women’s feelings even if it was because of his obliviousness.

This device is one that I’ve come to actively detest in recent years; more often than not, it’s used too commonly to create conflict and have one protagonist doubt the other’s devotion or fidelity, only for some grovelling to ensue before the usual trite platitudes (‘it was only sex’, ‘it was only casual’, ’she/he means nothing to me’, ‘it’s only you for me’ or some other phrases with the same flavour) that’ll be thrown out and easily accepted. Yet as a reader, coming back from this type of comparison no matter what the character in question says, is damn near impossible. Like Skye, it’s something that can’t be un-read, or un-heard and thereafter serves as a niggling reminder of the past which pretty much killed the rest of the book for me.

‘Fireworks’ as a result, left me conflicted. I probably would have liked it way, way better minus the Jill Sullivan/mean-girl hookup nonsense which made me stumble irrecoverably, which in turn would have had me more wholeheartedly rooting for this particular second-chance romance—a trope that I already find myself sceptical about.

two-stars

Consumed by J.R. Ward

Consumed by J.R. WardConsumed by J.R. Ward
Series: ,
Published by Piatkus on 2nd October 2018
Pages: 416
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one-star

Anne Ashburn is a woman consumed...

By her bitter family legacy, by her scorched career as a firefighter, by her obsession with department bad-boy Danny McGuire, and by a new case that pits her against a fiery killer.

Strong-willed Anne was fearless and loved the thrill of fighting fires, pushing herself to be the best. But when one risky decision at a warehouse fire changes her life forever, Anne must reinvent not only her job, but her whole self.

Shattered and demoralized, Anne finds her new career as an arson investigator a pale substitute for the adrenaline-fueled life she left behind. She doesn't believe she will ever feel that same all-consuming passion for her job again--until she encounters a string of suspicious fires setting her beloved city ablaze.

Danny McGuire is a premiere fireman, best in the county, but in the midst of a personal meltdown. Danny is taking risks like never before and seems to have a death wish until he teams up with Anne to find the fire starter. But Danny may be more than a distraction, and as Anne narrows in on her target, the arsonist begins to target her.

‘Consumed’ is my first ever-read by J.R. Ward but I can’t say it made much of an impression. I picked this up because I generally like firefighting stories, but this being a long-awaited non-vampire book that had some romantic suspense in it…it would seem like a book right up my alley.

But…where do I even begin?

Ward’s writing style took a lot to get used to for some reason and I did struggle through the book for most of it, then ended up skimming it because of the numerous switches in the POVs that kept coming up.

The drama surrounding Anne and Danny—first shown in the first 2 novellas where they had a one-night stand despite Danny’s manwhore reputation—seemed endless at times with the same litany of issues repeating themselves. Generally, one’s plagued with guilt, the other’s just down and out because she’s lost her career. There’s also the constant reminder of how Danny Maguire’s pining after Anne, though it seems as if he’s had no problem taking it up with other ladies in the meantime, one of them being his best friend’s now-fiancée.

‘Consumed’ had little going for me, sadly. I’m quite convinced that the book could be halved and still be equally (or even more) effective, where pages of filler dialogues and long descriptions of place, people and emotions didn’t go on and on and on. There were too many scenes that had Danny and Anne trying to get by on their own, instead of together and it never quite felt they were in each other’s orbit enough to help their non-relationship, as there were just too many insertions of secondary characters that broke the momentum of the plot.

Danny’s and Anne’s toxicity around each other made it hard to read especially after they both hit rock-bottom (the former going back to his old ways) and the drama that surrounded them became more like a soap-opera that went on simply because the series couldn’t end. Both were generally unlikeable, too caught up in a cycle of negativity to see anything past their own arses, and I was actually relieved when I decided I couldn’t go on with it.

one-star