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Undone by You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 11th December 2017
Undone by You by Kate MeaderUndone By You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #3
Published by Pocket Star on March 5th 2018
Pages: 184
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four-stars

Dante Moretti has just landed his dream job: GM of the Chicago Rebels. And screw the haters who think there should be an asterisk next to his name because he’s the first out managing executive in pro hockey. He’s earned the right to be here and nothing will topple him off that perch—especially not an incredibly inconvenient attraction to his star defenseman, Cade “Alamo” Burnett. Cade has always been careful to keep his own desires on the down low, but his hot Italian boss proves to be a temptation he can’t resist. Sure, they both have so much to lose, but no one will ever know...

As Dante and Cade’s taboo affair heats up off the ice and their relationship gets more and more intense, they’ll have to decide: is love worth risking their careers? Or is this romance destined to be forever benched?

A 12-year-age gap between a closeted player and an openly-gay manager along with the implications of a relationship that’s probably forbidden and mostly likely to be massacred by the press and the public? The odds seem unsurmountable. That Cade and Dante play starring roles here made my mind up for me to grab ‘Undone by You’ by hook or by crook.

And Kate Meader makes it work with writing that’s so confident and assured, more so since M/M stories aren’t always on my priority list.

In fact, for its relatively short length, there certainly wasn’t any time wasted with narrative meandering, which made ‘Undone by You’ short, sharp and quite to the point. Cade surprised me by his straight-shooting talk and the mindgames in the dating game that he steered of when it came to Dante won me over. That he was the pursuer took me aback at first, though it wasn’t long that Meader had me rooting wholly for him, particularly when Dante was being a frustrating arse with his inability to decide what he really wanted.

I did think the flurry of activities however, rooted Dante/Cade’s burgeoning relationship very much in the present and I couldn’t even quite determine if their happy-for-now ending was going to last. The story seemed to end on their happy-but-shaky foundation (undoubtedly hard-earned) and the odd epilogue disappointed me when I expected an HFN/HEA-type of closure and I think I would have preferred a ‘boring but normal’ one with Dante and Cade some time down the road, settled in their relationship.

Nonetheless, the aspects of coming out to family and friends and what it meant to be homosexual in a workplace as testosterone-laden as competitive sports made this book a compelling read and Meader’s prose tied these together nicely through that mix of witty dialogue and the internal monologues of both the protagonists and the supporting characters—which I can’t wait to meet again as the series goes on.

four-stars

Jax by Cristin Harber

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 14th October 2017
Jax by Cristin HarberJax by Cristin Harber
Series: Titan #9
Published by Mill Creek Press on October 10th 2017
Pages: 258
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two-half-stars

Seven is an enigma. A motorcycle club princess. The daughter of a notorious gangster. The best friend of the deputy mayor. A coffee shop owner. The single mom of two young, adopted children. She’s colorful, in every way possible—from her attitude to her piercings and bright pink hair—and she’s a woman on a mission with the power to help broker a clean break between a powerful motorcycle club and a South American drug cartel. But not all players are ready for the game to change, including the ones she can’t see like the CIA. Jax Michaelson has a bad attitude and a good shot. The former Navy SEAL has been on Titan’s problem list for running his mouth since the day he showed up for work, but he does a hell of a job, and they’d never let him go. Call him cocky, that’s fine, because then you’d have to admit he’s the best at anything and everything—except diplomacy. When Titan is forced into the seedy drug world filled with cartel glitz and Harley-riding MCs, Seven and her family become an unexpected bargaining chip right after she and Jax find a way to stand each other—in bed. Will friends become lovers? Or are they too far gone to be opposites that attract? Is Jax nothing but a bad boy who leaves her hoping for a military hero when the burden of living as Mayhem royalty backfires and her children disappear.

One consistent thing about Cristin Harber’s characters is that they do tend to behave in ways I’ll never expect. Jax and Seven are no exception to this general rule that I’ve come to learn of the Titan gang; neither is the direction that Harber takes in this book that completely surprised me. Characters whom you thought you can’t warm to can suddenly turn around and show that the notion of ‘heroism’ doesn’t always conform to some pre-determined idea that you have…though as much as I hate to say it, the opposite applies too.

Titan’s ops thus far have been more paramilitary covert ops, so when Jax’s story came wrapped up in a MC’s dealings, I couldn’t say I was entirely enthusiastic about this turn, but it’s clearly my own sub-genre preferences speaking here. Jax, the known arse and the bastard-to-go-to in the past few Titan books, had a story and I was itching to uncover it, and this itch surpassed even my general dislike for MC stories.

The result is an MC-centric book that I couldn’t really get into but for Jax’s and Seven’s dance around each other and the fact that they aren’t quite the stereotypical characters I tend to read in such stories. There is action, of course and Jared Westin’s mobilisation of his Titan troops is always an awesome thing to read about, but that only comes much later…past the talking, posturing and the laborious sifting through truth and lies.

Above all, Jax made the story for me, as self-titled as this books is anyway, I didn’t expect anything different when Harber fleshed him out to be a protagonist who was so much more than his crusty, abrasive surface. I couldn’t quite say the same for the rest of the characters, who were simply varying shades of unlikable. In fact, I cheered Jax for giving it stubbornly to the Titan team who admittedly hadn’t been on his side to begin with and Jared/Sugar—a couple whom I’d adored when their book came out—behaved in fact, like idiots for most of this, tarnishing the sheen of the halo I’d initially put on them. Soon enough, it got just as hard to like Seven, whom I felt simply needed to grow a spine where Jax was concerned because she couldn’t decide where her loyalties were going to lie when it was all said and done.

‘Jax’ is a very different type of Titan book for which I needed a huge effort to suspend disbelief. That Jax’s so-called mortal enemy was dealt with all-too-easily—he was flitted in and out, appearing to play an important role but didn’t, and realising that he was ultimately, another plot device to help alter other characters’ perception of Jax tanked the read for me.

But I’ll reiterate that my own response to the plot and characters is just that—a catalogue of issues that just didn’t work for me, which simply outweighed Jax as the shining star of his own book and explains my half-hearted rating of it.

two-half-stars

Bad For Her by Christi Barth

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 9th October 2017
Bad For Her by Christi BarthBad for Her by Christi Barth
Series: Bad Boys Gone Good #1
Published by Avon Impulse on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 432
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three-stars

Doctor Mollie Vickers loves the tight-knit community of her tiny Oregon town. But she’s not a fan of the limited dating options. Sleep with a guy who tried to copy off her in junior high? Pass. Mollie’s sex life is flatlining… until a deliciously handsome man she’s never seen before stops to help her fix a flat tire.

As an ex-mobster, Rafe Maguire’s no saint. But he’s trying to turn over a new leaf. Although he probably shouldn’t kiss the hot doctor on the side of the highway. Or suggest a no-strings fling with a woman he has no business pursuing. Rafe’s life is too complicated for love—his new WITSEC-provided identity doesn’t fit him at all and there’s a U.S. Marshal watching his every move. He can’t tell Mollie the truth… but their chemistry is scorching and being good doesn’t mean he can’t be a little bad.

Mollie can’t resist the guy who looks rough, talks tough, and is loyal to the bone. But it’s obvious Rafe is keeping secrets. When the truth comes out, Mollie must decide if she could ever love an ex-mobster… or if this bad boy has truly gone good.

Three bothers in witness protection, facing nothing but uncertainty after being uprooted from the life they know, finding their own HEA a book at a time? ‘Bad For Her’’s novel premise intrigued me from the start. The originality of the blurb reeled me in immediately and Christi Barth’s marvellous storytelling took it the rest of the way.

Admittedly, I strangely found myself more interested in the brothers’ interaction with each other than I was in the romance this time around—which almost felt like an afterthought. It’s strange not to be swept up in the romance though; Mollie Vickers wasn’t a protagonist interesting enough for me to buy into the pairing, especially when she paled in contrast to the larger-than-life Rafe Maguire. Embodying the best definition of ‘bad boy’ I’ve read about in recent memory, Rafe’s loyalty to his brothers, the sacrifices he made for them and the all-round good guy that he strove to be somehow carved out a sharper silhouette of him than Mollie—and after a while, it was pretty much because of him and his brothers that I read on.

That, and the surprising, consistent thread of snide humour that ran throughout this book, courtesy of Rafe and his brothers who should have found side-jobs at comedy gigs.

In fact, the laughs kept me going and the sarcastic commentary from the characters that was either accidental or deliberate went a long way in keeping this an upbeat journey of three men stumbling around and finding their own way to survive in a whole new world so far from their comfort zone. In ‘Bad For her’, I lived through Kellan, Flynn and Rafe’s shenanigans in a town so far from the city slickers that they were, laughed at their antics, felt their paranoia and sympathised with Rafe’s efforts to keep them safe. Bottom-line is, there’s so much I love about these guys and having each of them anchor the next few books is bound to be an entertaining ride. Here’s crossing my fingers.

three-stars

In Too Deep by Kimberly Kincaid

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 30th September 2017
In Too Deep by Kimberly KincaidIn Too Deep by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Station Seventeen #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Kimberly Kincaid Romance on October 17th 2017
Pages: 345
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four-stars

As Station Seventeen’s rookie, Luke Slater knows his fire and EMS training will be both rigorous and risky, but he never imagined having to partner up with the one woman he wants to keep at arm’s length most of all. Quinn Copeland is as wide-open as Luke is reserved. He has no interest in letting the sweet and sexy paramedic rock his hard-earned control. But the need for composure becomes the need to survive when they find themselves in the crosshairs of a brutal gang leader on their first shift together.

Paramedic Quinn Copeland’s station mates aren’t just her friends. They’re her family. She’d do anything to keep them safe—including reluctantly trusting her impossible-to-read, impossibly gorgeous new partner with the one thing she holds close. As the passion between Luke and Quinn goes from a slow burn to a sizzle, their steps grow more and more dangerous, both in the fire house and out. Can they outwit a cold-blooded killer and face the fears that could cost them everything? Or are they in too deep?

Kimberly Kincaid’s Station Seventeen isn’t just a bunch of firefighting men who go out to battle the blazes, although the mention of bunker gear, sexy times involving dirty firemen and fire-heroics is probably enough for many readers. But Kincaid serves up a hefty dose of good ol’ romantic suspense where characters from law enforcement and emergency responders mingle and rally around each other to get the plot going. Not only is this right up my smelly, cat-littered alley, but I love it when a story surprises me…the good way.

‘In Too Deep’ just had one of those great combinations that did it for me: a solid, believable suspense plot, likeable protagonists who don’t cross TSTL lines and sufficient twists and turns that just ramp up the tension. It was thoroughly addictive as a result and I hadn’t expected to like Luke Slater and Quinn Copeland as much as I did along with the interaction of the secondary characters that helped pad out the narrative and shape both Luke’s and Quinn’s contrasting characters. Kincaid’s handling of these interactions was top-notch and it was balanced quite nicely with the unfolding drama that got more intense and riveting as the pages went on.

While I appreciated Kincaid not making light at all about the younger man (rookie) and the slightly older woman (an experienced paramedic), what impressed me most was the way Kincaid tried to level the characters by giving Luke the bigger, calmer voice of reason and Quinn, a character who in turn, didn’t use her age or professional experience to belittle him. I liked their similar backgrounds, their latent attraction and chemistry, which was why the short rift and the easy resolution between them at the end felt forced and written for the sake of creating conflict, when there was already plenty enough to go around.

Overall though, ‘In Too Deep’ exceeded my expectations once it was established that the plot wasn’t going to revolve around a decision that could have made Quinn look like a TSTL heroine. The book was absorbing enough that I didn’t want to put it down, which made me impatient by the end for what Kincaid already has up her sleeve for the next book in this series.

four-stars

Mend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 20th September 2017
Mend Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezMend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Bounty Bay #4
Published by Tracey Alvarez on September 15th 2017
Pages: 247
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five-stars

An idiot’s guide to falling for your best friend’s widow…

Former rugby star Isaac Ngata was New Zealand’s golden boy until five years ago when a tragic accident took the life of his friend and team mate. Now he’s a pariah with a screwed up knee and a burden of guilt toward his friend’s wife and daughter. Best thing for him to do is sink into the anonymous safety of his hometown. An even better thing to do would be to stop picturing Natalie in his arms.

For someone who doesn’t know a dummy pass from a drop kick, Natalie Fisher just wants to keep her late husband’s passion for sport in the past. But their teenage daughter’s rugby team is in desperate need of a coach and the man she can’t stand to be around has volunteered. A long buried attraction flares to life between Natalie and Isaac, one they can’t run far or fast enough to avoid. Soon rugby fever isn’t the only thing heating up Bounty Bay. Crossing the line never had such high stakes…

I’ve somehow always hesitated to jump into Tracey Alvarez’s Far North/Bounty Bay series, but this is probably because I’m so attached to her Down South crew that I’m probably as possessive of them as Alvarez is. But ‘Mend Your Heart’s blurb sounded heartbreaking from the start and I knew immediately that I wanted Isaac Ngata’s story desperately as much as I wanted my next Down South fix.

The family-like bonds in every series is probably Tracey Alvarez’s forte, as secondary characters float in and out of the whole book while propping the whole narrative as well as the protagonists up with a sly yet subtle kind of humour I’d be hard-pressed to find outside of Australia and New Zealand. Alvarez’s writing is definitely no slouch either, though it can take some getting used to her style, as well as the references to a sport that can be rather obscure for those who live on the other side of of the Pacific ocean. But rugby is everything in Kiwi-land and I love Alvarez’s deliberate spotlight on the All Blacks who aren’t, despite popular opinion, the only famous thing about this place.

But I digress.

Back to the plot as we know it: Isaac’s professional career and reputation went up in flames 5 years ago in an incident that destroyed any kind of relationship between his (now dead) best mate’s wife and daughter, and that’s just the beginning of what we know. It unravels slowly from here onwards, with bits and pieces that come along with the truth that you know is contrary to what Isaac (and popular opinion) has claimed. Natalie and Olivia are in essence, too close and yet too far for this guy to find his HEA, though it’s clear that it’s high time for him to.

Isaac himself jumped out from the pages and became an immediate hero-to-die-for when it became clear what he did to protect people he owed nothing to. The grumpy facade, that shell he’d retreated into and the emotions he didn’t quite try to hide and run away from like almost every alpha book hero I know, made him a shining beacon among the thorny arses in romantic fiction. I loved every moment of his interaction with Natalie, Olivia as well as the all-girls school rugby team, just as much as I cheered for their HEA with their nosy but well-meaning mates in the background. For a few hours, I’d been happily part of their whanau and needless to say, I’d gladly leap back in when Vee’s and Sam’s story comes out of the works.

five-stars

All About the D by Lex Martin and Leslie McAdam

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th September 2017
All About the D by Lex Martin and Leslie McAdamAll About the D by Leslie McAdam, Lex Martin
Published by Lex Martin on May 19th 2017
Pages: 382
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three-stars

I'm known for being formal. Meticulous. Professional.

So you’d never suspect I spend my nights photographing my impressive junk for a NSFW blog. Don’t roll your eyes. I’m not bragging. I have millions of followers who’ll tell you they live for my posts.

I’m like a superhero, saving humanity one dick pic at a time.

Except leading a double life means I need someone to help me protect my anonymity, so that no one, especially my family, ever discovers my online celebrity.

When I call one of the most respected law firms in town, I expect quality legal advice and confidentiality. Not a sinfully sexy attorney whose dangerous curves and soul-piercing gray eyes make me want to personally demonstrate my particular skill set.

I shouldn’t be tempted.

Especially when she knows all of my best-kept secrets. But everyone has a breaking point. And I’ve met mine.

What starts off as a bet turns into a porn blog with too much at stake, particularly when a longstanding family reputation must be upheld. Put a lawyer in the mix where unexpected sparks fly and I’m sold. ‘All about the D’ can’t get any more explicit about pornography, though it’s done in a rather hilarious, sweet way with a fantastic male protagonist at its helm that I knew at once that Josh Cartwright was going to be a character to remember and love.

And Josh was indeed, a breath of fresh air, despite being an internet sensation for his dick. He’s a loyal, determined, perceptive and just an all-round decent top bloke who’s juggling his attraction to his lawyer while respecting her career, his constantly-drunk deadbeat best friend and the pressures of his family. Not too sure what I really feel about his dick blog though and I can certainly understand the angst that Evie feels about having a partner who’s famous amongst thousands of women because of his dick (though he actually isn’t into hookups at all), which by the end, translated into the longstanding question of women’s inability to handle it in the long run when men watch porn.

But Evie/Josh is a pairing I can generally buy into as it is a solid one—they laugh and love easily together and I did like their chemistry. That said, I did think Evie had some immature spurts in the story, where her constant, glaring insecurities (showing up ad nauseum) about her body size overshadowed my enjoyment of their relationship, to the extent where I wondered if her narrative voice during such moments, belonged better to a teenager than a grown woman.

‘All about the D’ however, is one of those stories that’s akin to watching a train wreck about to happen. With Evie/Josh’s secret relationship riding on the secrecy on his blog, you just know this is not without consequences, which simply leaves the question of just how bad the fallout would be. Needless to say, the mess shreds everything that Josh and Evie know about themselves and their friends/family, with a revelation that’s sort of a set up for the next book of two very unlikely characters, with 1 more in dire need of redemption than ever.

I’m already waiting impatiently for it.

three-stars

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews 2nd September 2017
Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill ShalvisChasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay #4
Published by Avon on September 26th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Meet cute...

Run for the hills—temporarily. That's Colbie Albright's plan when she flees New York for San Francisco. Wrangling her crazy family by day and writing a bestselling YA fantasy series by night has taken its toll. In short, Colbie's so over it that she's under it. She's also under the waters of a historic San Francisco fountain within an hour of arrival. Fortunately, the guy who fishes Colbie out has her looking forward to Christmas among strangers. But she's pretty sure Spencer Baldwin won't be a stranger for long.

Make merry...

Spence's commitment to hiding from the Ghosts of Relationships Past means he doesn't have to worry about the powerful—okay, crazy hot chemistry—he's got with Colbie. Just because she can laugh at anything, especially herself... just because she's gorgeous and a great listener just because she gets Spence immediately doesn't mean he won't be able to let Colbie go. Does it?

and hope for a miracle.

Now the clock's ticking for Colbie and Spence: Two weeks to cut loose. Two weeks to fall hard. Two weeks to figure out how to make this Christmas last a lifetime.

I’ve always wanted Spence’s story—the hot, smart but lonely geek always there for his friends but also always caught up in his work—and I’m so glad that Jill Shalvis has delivered “Chasing Christmas Eve” just as I thought this poor guy was going to be left behind. And this is a typical Shalvis read as well: light-hearted, never too heavy on the angst, with several scenes and dialogues that have comedic timing down pat.

There hasn’t been a hint of who would be Spence’s other half and it is a surprise in a way, to see that Shalvis pairing him with a famous author who’s unwilling to reveal the kind of fame she has. But like quite a few of Shalvis’s heroines, Colbie tends to run first, shut down, then analyse later, so unsurprisingly, it’s Spence—the more solid yet sweeter and steadfast one—whom I thought would get heartbroken in the end. After all, their affair was meant to burnt bright and hot…and temporary. But the expiry date comes and goes, and with the Christmas magic in the air, miracles do happen and Spence does get his HEA after all. He’s my soft spot after Elle Wheaten and I do admit that I wasn’t as invested in Spence/Colbie as much as I was in Elle/Archer, but that’s obviously a personal preference for character coming through here because I didn’t find Colbie as much as a standout as I’d hoped.

A particular highlight of the book however, is the return of the usual gang and I definitely dig the group dynamics of the Heartbreaker Bay series, especially since it’s always written with charm and quirk that contribute to the quiet sense of comedy. For this alone, I’ll be waiting for the next book to get back into Cow Hollow just to get back the feel-goods.

three-stars
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