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Made my chest ache

Redemption by Kelly Moran

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews 20th June 2017
Redemption by Kelly MoranRedemption by Kelly Moran
Series: Cattenach Ranch #1
Published by KDP on June 13th 2017
Pages: 230
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four-stars

Nearly the last remaining member of Olivia Cattenach's family has just died overseas and left her overcome by grief. But when a soldier shows up at her ranch with a final message from her brother, she finds new purpose. Nathan Roldan is as formidable as they come. Bulging muscles and inked to boot, he looks like every bit the bad boy he claims to be. Except, under his shuttered gaze and behind his walls lies a gentle giant. Determined to carry out her brother's wishes, she chips away at Nate's layers and discovers more pain than any person should ever have to endure. And a passion she never dreamed was possible.

He's not the hero she thinks he is...

Nate's mistake got a fellow comrade killed, and a deathbed promise to take care of the guy's sister lands him in Wyoming with the hope of redemption. But he wasn't expecting...her. Beautiful, witty, and sweet, Olivia is everything he doesn't deserve. Born a nothing, he'll die a nothing. Though guilt is a living thing, temptation is too hard to resist. Somehow, she's unleashing his restraint and unearthing feelings he buried long ago. He wants her. More, he's worried he needs her. She's trying to save him, but when she learns the truth, he'll lose the only happiness he's ever known.

The search for Olivia Cattenach is as much a journey for redemption as it is to fulfil the last wish of a dead soldier. Only that this woman isn’t what Nate Roldan expected, nor is it a mission from the grave that ends up being one that changes his entire life the moment he roars up a long driveway on a Harley with nothing more than a promise he intends to fulfil.

Slow-paced but beautifully teased out and emotionally satisfying, I loved every step of Olivia’s and Nate’s journey that went from uncertainty, resistance to acceptance. Much of it is Nate’s story than Olivia’s really, as his heart-wrenching backstory takes shape under Olivia’s skilled questioning just as he learns to blossom under affection, affirmation and love. There’s much to savour here-the prose, the atmosphere, the delicious tension and the moments that come to life beneath such stylish writing-that I found myself sorry when it ended.

four-stars

Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 14th June 2017
Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyStay by Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Series: WAGs, #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 259
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five-stars

Can you fall in love with someone you've never even met?
Hailey Taylor Emery has a hunch that her favorite client at Fetch--an anonymous virtual assistant service--is actually hockey star Matt Eriksson.
Although it's against the rules for her to check his file, she's 95% sure she spends at least part of each day texting with her lifelong crush and catering to his every need. Still nursing a wounded heart thanks to her recent breakup, Hailey is perfectly content with some harmless online flirting...until she has to meet her client. Face to face. Cue: utter panic.
Matt Eriksson is no stranger to heartbreak. He's still not over the destruction of his marriage, and it sucks to be the only guy on the team who knows the truth--that hockey and long-term relationships are a toxic mix. He barely sees his kids, and dealing with his ex makes him feel insane. The only person in his life who seems to understand is someone who won't show her pretty face.
But it's nothing that a pair of fourth row hockey seats can't fix. Hailey can't resist the offer. Matt can't resist Hailey. Good thing he doesn't have to. Fire up the kiss cam!
Warning: Contains rabid hockey fans, misunderstood dick pics, hockey players at the opera and exploding ovaries.

I hadn’t realised that revisiting the team and seeing how far all of them have come since Wes and Jamie got off their rocky beginnings actually made me somewhat wistfully nostalgic enough to want to re-read the entire series.

If I haven’t yet mentioned how much I loved the ‘Him’ and ‘WAGs’ series, then well, mea culpa. ‘Stay’ couldn’t make me love this particular group of people more.

Matt Eriksson is the older guy in the Toronto hockey team and with a divorce just behind him and retirement a few years down the road, still struggles with handling his twin daughters, a nasty ex-wife and a virtual personal assistant who somehow, knows what he needs. Little does he know that a call to walk the dog would lead to premier tickets for a hockey match and that the online relationship he’s always had with the person handling tiny details in his life would turn out into something much more than he can ever expect.

Yet he is still the all-round good guy who’s easy to love, juggling life post-divorce with a gruelling schedule and kids who are not often around enough. For Matt at least, the divorce is a big failure that has him second guessing himself and his ability to be a good husband and parent while being a professional athlete. It has also made him cynical and jaded and a little gun-shy about sharing that same kind of lifestyle with another woman whom he thinks would come to resent him for it.

There’s a ring of maturity and a kind of stuttering rhythm that mirrors real life going through Matt’s and Hailey’s story, which is probably the story’s strongest selling point. Too often, the protagonists go off wild benders (hookups, as it typically goes) in the wake of a bad breakup and turn a hundred-eighty into commitment-phobes because they can’t apparently, trust another member of the opposite sex as they’re now painted with the same broad brushstrokes that their ex-es are coloured with. In ‘Stay’, we get instead quiet doubts about failure, self-confidence and the fear of putting oneself out there once again that gives the story depth and heart. I loved above all, that Matt and Hailey aren’t characters who simply react to the heartache of divorce by sleeping around then pushing each other away but instead, struggle with their inadequacies in different ways that I can believe and respect.

Yet it’s also swoony, steamy and in parts, funny and deeply romantic. What more do I need?

five-stars

My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th June 2017
My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan QuinnMy Best Friend's Ex by Meghan Quinn
Published by Amazon Publishing on June 1st 2017
Pages: 248
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five-stars

When I found an eviction notice taped on my apartment door, I had two options: find a comfortable cardboard box to call home, or move in with Tucker Jameson.
Seeing that cardboard makes me feel itchy, I chose the latter. Which shouldn't be that big of a deal since Tucker is one of my good friends. And because he's still pining after his ex-girlfriend and I'm trying to finish my nursing degree, there is nothing to worry about in the romance department, making my last semester an easy one to conquer.
Boy, was I wrong.
Rules are set, dinners are made, conversations are had, and a shirtless, swoony roommate walks around in nothing but a pair of black briefs, ruining me for every other man.
Before I know it, I turn into a panting, lust-filled woman begging for Tucker to kiss me, touch me, and show me exactly what is hiding under those briefs.
But with great orgasms, comes great consequences.
Tucker might be my friend and roommate but he’s also my best friend's ex-boyfriend, making him completely off-limits. At least that's what my brain is telling me, my heart is speaking an entirely different language.

At this very point in time—the very moment I finished turning the last page of this book—I’m inclined to think that I’ve barely yet recovered from the amazing Tucker Jameson (who made my heart break many times throughout for him yet I loved him more for it) before I needed to pound out a review for a story that pretty much took my breath away.

‘My Best Friend’s Ex’ is so much more than what the flirty little blurb suggests; it’s instead a perfect mix of funnies and heartbreaking moments that leave you breathless with laughter then wrung out completely the next.

And that’s mostly due to Tucker and Emma—2 characters with so much chemistry and so much love between them that you can’t help but think there’s no better out there for either of them. I loved every bit of the build-up and how they re-established their relationship and despite some cock-blocking moments, was gratified when they finally hit the sheets. I’ve no desire really, to read the first book that introduced Tucker as a broken, peripheral character (especially if he’s the one left behind in it), who’d been alone in dealing with his bitterness, guilt and hurt when the group of friends he had pulled away from him as well.

But even with a huge load of tragedy behind him, Tucker is admirable in the way he pulls himself up and away from it, finally putting himself out there again for Emma, who is as compassionate and understanding as they come, living up to her reputation as the one who has always taken care of others. But because they’d been friends long before that, the journey is slightly easier, softened by years of memories and camaraderie, so this friends-to-lovers trope is in some way, easier to bear, given their history.

There isn’t much more that I can say, except that this has been a perfect afternoon indulgence that made me run the entire gamut of emotions and then once again. And if this genre can’t do it, then what can?

five-stars

Silver Silence by Nalini Singh

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 26th May 2017
Silver Silence by Nalini SinghSilver Silence by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity #1
Published by Berkley Books on June 13th 2017
Pages: 423
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five-stars

Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him. Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan. Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...

It’s impossible to go into any of the Psy-Changeling books and not get blown away by the intricately detailed, futuristic world that Nalini Singh has shaped over the past 15 books. ‘Silver Silence’ is Silver Mercant’s story, the stoic, emotionless psy who finally meets her match in the Valentin Nikolaev the bear alpha and their epic romance—from wary suspicion to brief happiness to heartbreak—feels like a great love story unfolding amidst a shifting world that’s hurtling towards an unknown future.

The book isn’t a standalone, but admittedly, it can function as one especially if you don’t exactly wish to go through the first 15 books of the series to get to this point and half the title itself is the name of a mysterious psy who has appeared as Kaleb Krychek’s tough, capable but emotionless aide in the past few books. After ‘Allegiance of Honor’ closed the previous arc, Silver’s story heralds in a new age, so to speak, ushering in Psy-Changeling’s “season 2” and focusing on a period where all three races look towards unity as they seek to heal their deeply-fractured world.

In fact, ‘Silver Silence’ takes up the complicated threads from the end of the last book and adds even more layers to this shifting world that inexorably hurtles towards an unknown future even as new and recurring characters find their mates. It also feel like a reboot of the series that is making me feel the excitement I haven’t felt in forever when a good book comes along.

There are light-hearted moments as there are heart-wrenching ones and while I felt overwhelmed by the details at times as ‘Silver Silence’ kicks the action all back up into high gear, it’s hard not to look back at every turn and wonder just how far we’ve come since the first book. I laughed so hard at Singh’s introduction of the Bear changelings—their irrational behaviour that still somehow endears people to them above all—and loved every moment detailing how different they seemed to the rest of the changelings and pretty much fell for this bear clan as I did the wolves. There’s also renewed focus on the Human Alliance (though there’s already some gutting tragedy here!) which I hope will play a bigger role in the upcoming books and I simply can’t wait to see how far Singh goes to integrate these races in this new age.

Singh pits opposing characters here as she normally does in her stories—an emotional, primal changeling with a psy conditioned for absolute control—but adds an intriguing history behind the distinguished Mercant family line and the Stonewater clan that makes Silver’s and Valentin’s story so much more than just an opposite-attracts kind of story. The type of pairing isn’t new (a psy with an alpha changeling) but Singh’s storytelling never gets dull here, because Silver/Valentin’s relationship is tied so deeply to the instability during the Age of Trinity yet isn’t compromised by the unfolding of events. It’s also deftly handled such that it’s hard not to root for both Silver and Valentin, who are well-matched and unwavering when it comes to loyalty and desire, as they show the same kind of determination to be with each other no matter the circumstance. Their conflict and their different stances on sex (the virgin vs the experienced male) aren’t simply written for the sake of adhering to a particular romance-novel format, but rather the history of these races explains why Silver/Valentin behave the way they do and does actually lend a measure of credibility for readers who like challenging these well-established romance tropes.

After having gotten the rather fierce affirmation of Silver/Valentin’s HEA, to finish the first ‘episode’ of the new season is akin to waking up rudely to reality and the garish morning light, making you want to crawl back into the reading cave for the sequel…which isn’t yet on the horizon.

five-stars

Too Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 30th April 2017
Too Hard to Forget by Tessa BaileyToo Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #3
Published by Forever on April 25th 2017
Pages: 336
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three-stars

This time, she's calling the shots. Peggy Clarkson is returning to her alma mater with one goal in mind: confront Elliott Brooks, the man who ruined her for all others, and remind him of what he's been missing. Even after three years, seeing him again is like a punch in the gut, but Peggy's determined to stick to her plan. Maybe then, once she has the upper hand, she'll finally be able to move on. In the years since Peggy left Cincinnati, Elliott has kept his focus on football. No distractions and no complications. But when Peggy walks back onto his practice field and into his life, he knows she could unravel everything in his carefully controlled world. Because the girl who was hard to forget is now a woman impossible to resist.

I dove into ‘Too Hard to Forget’ with trepidation, because the Clarksons series hasn’t been quite one for me so far. But a second-chance romance makes me curious and suspicious simultaneously and I did want to read what the hype was about when there were so many layers of the forbidden in this Bailey book.

Peggy Clarkson’s chance to get left behind at this stage of the road trip is also the reason for her 4 failed engagements in the past 3 years, and that is mostly because of the very stoic and unfeeling football coach with whom she’d had a secret relationship before graduation. Back then, she was his greatest shame and mistake and the impetus for revenge now is strong…until she realises that Elliott Brooks can easily beat her at her own game.

I’m plainly uncomfortable with the oppressive religious type of bondage that Elliot holds himself to and I’ll say straight out that this is just my prejudice against the exaltation or the denigration of organised religion that’s mixed in with the romance genre showing up here. There’s too much of the sacred and the profane that Tessa Bailey plays up especially in the first quarter of the book, where ‘sin’ and trespasses and easy labels are accorded to Peggy’s supposed behaviour and Elliott’s stoic sense of right and wrong.

Not only because I had been given the image of a ‘monk’ sinning willingly because of a seductress, but also because of the way religious faith has been positioned here as the ultimate stumbling block concerning ‘moral standards’, around which characters either fall so spectacularly short of or end up poking fun at. Frankly, I would have been infinitely happier had it been left out entirely. That said, adding Elliott’s devout Catholicism into the mix certainly makes for complex characterisation and it does make both the H/hr more multifaceted gems as a result—which I’m sure is Bailey’s intention all along—but I’m more than happy that the religious bit lightened up in the second half of the story.

It’s not to say though, that ‘Too Hard to Forget’ is written badly. Far from it. Peggy/Elliott’s story is emotional and heart-wrenching and that’s all because of Bailey’s sharp, well-honed writing style (the alpha, dirty-talking male makes yet another appearance here), especially when the switch is suddenly flipped at the halfway mark and the grovelling actually starts—just as Peggy finally decides to walk away. I liked the mess that Elliott had to sort out in his own head before he could pursue Peggy, just as I appreciated Peggy’s ability to see that she needed to heal apart from Elliott’s damaging impact on her personality. The added complication of a pre-teen daughter merely heaped on the growing sense of conflict because their emotional ties couldn’t be so easily severed. That much made for entertaining reading and the book was for most part, difficult to put down after I got past the heavy religious part.

There’s only Belmont and Sage now though and it’s mostly bewilderment that I’m left with about their strange, unhealthy co-dependency relationship. It has been mysteriously hinted at in this book and while I do find myself sort of eager to see just what they’re about, there’s part of me hoping that it wouldn’t be too bizarre.

three-stars

Make Me Beg by Rebecca Brooks

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Reviews 20th March 2017
Make Me Beg by Rebecca BrooksMake Me Beg by Rebecca Brooks
Series: Men of Gold Mountain #2
Published by Entangled Publishing: Brazen on March 20th 2017
Pages: 249
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three-stars

Bartender Mackenzie Ellinsworth has always gone it alone. So when she has a chance to open her own bar and restaurant, she's got a plan for how it should go. Not in that plan: a ripped and rugged playboy stepping in to take over. Mack doesn't do players, and she doesn't do one-night stands. If Connor wants to work with Mack, he's going to have to keep his strong, sexy hands to himself.
Connor Branding is determined to prove he's not the directionless playboy Mack thinks. But opening a place together causes more problems than it solves. The two of them can't agree on anything—except how scorching hot their chemistry is. Connor may be ready to indulge every desire Mack's been denying herself...but turning business into pleasure is likely to get him burned.

I’d start off by saying that I really do like Rebecca Brooks’s writing: there’s her ability to tease out nuanced emotions and so finely articulating the pain of being left behind and the walls people build to protect themselves.

The problem was, I didn’t think there was very much to like about Connor: a privileged bummer, not wanting to commit to anyone or business or job with a lack of motivation and drive just bothered me. It’s probably my own preference for male protagonists to be at least more driven or propelled by purpose with some kind of ethic as well and I didn’t see that in Connor at all. That he lauded the easy way out most of the time by bouncing around didn’t make him that much of a worthy ‘hero’ for this story, more so when it had to take several huge kicks in the arse just so he would get going and focused.


Then it was all about him suddenly needing to prove himself not the bum, but that he could be someone else entirely. Yet, the sneaky insert that claimed he always wanted Mack, that it’d always been her—yet didn’t push hard about it and hopped from different women to distract himself for 3 years—was a rather revolting revelation, adding to my flakey impression of him that had by then, solidified.

He grovels well, though, which is possibly the only redeeming point…in my small and petty mind.

By contrast, Mack’s ability to work through hardship—and her determination to make things succeed because she’d been handed so little in life—was impressive as hell. I liked that she didn’t take any crap from him, gave as good as she got, and pretty much bulldozed her way through the veil of insouciance that he got going. It was easy to understand why she behaved the way she did, afraid to give an inch to Connor (rightly so, in my opinion) because she’d simply be left in the dust when he always gave indications of being chaff in the wind. That she’d staked her entire reputation, beliefs and cash on the refurbishment of the bar doesn’t come as a surprise, given her commitment to wanting to see things through and make a name for herself through sheer hard work.


That said, Brooks’s writing is persuasive enough for me to want to see what else is in store for us—that much can I be swayed by good writing. I’m just going to cross my fingers for protagonists (both the H/hr) whom I can get fully behind.

three-stars

Tracking You by Kelly Moran

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 18th March 2017
Tracking You by Kelly MoranTracking You by Kelly Moran
Series: Redwood Ridge #2
Published by Kensington Publishing on May 23rd 2017
Pages: 234
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four-stars

Love isn't always loud. Sometimes it's silent.

Gabby Cosette has always been dubbed the good girl of quaint Redwood Ridge, Oregon, and being permanently put in the friend zone has left her dating life stagnant. With no prospects in sight, she clings to her friends and resolves to not let loneliness drag her under. So when the town Battleaxes set their matchmaking sights on her, she figures it can't hurt. Yet the guy they think is perfect for her just happens to be not only her boss at the veterinarian clinic, but her best friend. Sure, Flynn O'Grady is attractive and the nicest guy around, but going there with him would topple both of their carefully constructed worlds and there would be no going back. Even if he is starting to make her girly parts zing.

Having been born deaf, Flynn has already felt like an outsider most of his life. Aside from his brothers, Gabby is about the only person who's gone out of her way to treat him as more than a handicap. Which is exactly why he's banked his secret attraction for his sweet, beautiful vet tech. Except his meddling family is trying to play Cupid and ruin the best thing to ever happen to him. Without Gabby, his work as a veterinarian, never mind his personal life, wouldn't flow. Determined to ignore the antics, he's secure in the knowledge she's not interested in him romantically. But then a kiss changes everything . . . and he's wondering if taking the ultimate shot at love might be worth the risk.

Both Gabby Cosette and Flynn O’Grady had been passed over for other people—Gabby because she’s the girl-next-door, the pretty but not gorgeous kind that men put in the friend zone, and Flynn because of his disability and his quiet nature. Yet they’re best friends, co-workers and simply people who rely so much on each other that entangling their lives beyond this risks the complete collapse of their friendship. But not rocking the boat isn’t an option anymore, when the small crush (Kelly Moran makes it clear it was never serious pining or secretly-in-love kind) Flynn has nursed but shoved deep into a box suddenly sparks a bigger flame.

I’m always wary about best friends-to-lovers romance, but I’m glad Moran has her characters addressing why the sudden change occurred—and of all times, why now? I wasn’t entirely too sure what sort of answer would have satisfied me though, to be honest, but I could frankly say that I liked how Gabby and Flynn themselves struggled with this and how the resulting tension that came out of it made for a delicious, smouldering build up of heat. The pacing lags a little as Gabby/Flynn transition from friends to more but I think Moran does show how perfect they are for each other through every up and down in their lives. I completely understood Gabby’s perceived insecurities about Flynn not wanting her ‘properly’, yet how tuned in she is to him—how considerate she when it comes to his deafness despite her inability to see how Flynn had crushed on her—won me over. It’s equally difficult not to feel for the deaf guy, who, while a quietly confident man on his own, does have several issues of his own to overcome with regard to his inability to hear.

‘Tracking You’ is quite an emotional, romantic read nonetheless; there’s the homely feel of the small-town romance and the sense that neighbourly interference is good-natured rather than malicious so when the couple in question finally get together, it’s with cheers and all the feels you can summon up.

four-stars
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