Tag: Made my chest ache

Breaking Gravity by Autumn Grey

Breaking Gravity by Autumn GreyBreaking Gravity by Autumn Grey
Series: Fall Back, #2
Published by AG, Autumn Grey on 26th March 2017
Pages: 326
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
five-stars

I've always followed my dreams with ruthless determination. My life was going well. Success was at my fingertips. Until it wasn't. All it took was three seconds to send my world crashing down around me, ripping my dreams to shreds. Then I meet her, with her large hazel eyes that slay me at first glance. And everything starts to make sense again. I try to keep my distance. To remind myself I am her mentor. That we can't be more, but every time I push away, I'm pulled deeper into her. The line between student and teacher is blurring. One kiss. One taste. They’re all it would take to cross the line.

Just like that, I ‘ship them.

The deliciously forbidden teacher-student romance is a favourite of mine but I have to say there’s none so well executed and so well crafted as ‘Breaking Gravity’, which was brilliantly enthralling from the very start. That it involved musicians and music was something else I adored.

Pitting the steely-eyed, tortured (but swoonworthy) hero against a sassy but sensible heroine isn’t something unique, but Autumn Grey’s take on Nathaniel Rowe and Elon Blake won me over hook, line and sinker. In fact, Grey writes a convincing pairing in Nate and Elon, first drawing out the tragedy in their lives, taking so much time to shape each protagonist’s shattered dreams and hopes before building them up again, both individually and together…just as I loved them that way, individually and together.

In fact, there was so much that I loved about this book and this couple: the build of the electric, sexual tension, the hot and heavy attraction, the fierce loyalty between them, the lessons both taught each other, and the scorching, steamy scenes followed by the tender aftermath that helps gives this relationship a deeply romantic sheen.

There’s the prerequisite drama and angst that seem to accompany most N/A books, several small bits of moral philosophising about life and such (my only, tiny complaint is that it comes across trite at times), but the small element of serendipity that adds a touch of dreaminess to the pairing—Elon’s childhood music crush turned out to be her tutor and finally, the man in her life is a fantasy come to life—is the clincher for me.

five-stars

Melt For You by J.T. Geissinger

Melt For You by J.T. GeissingerMelt for You by J.T. Geissinger
Series: Slow Burn #2
Published by Montlake Romance on 15th May 2018
Pages: 346
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

A wallflower gets seduction tips from a playboy athlete—until love changes the rules.

Socially awkward Joellen Bixby has a date every Saturday—with her cat, a pint of ice cream, and fantasies of the way-too-handsome Michael Maddox. She’d give anything to win over the unattainable CEO of her firm, but how can she when she blends in so well with her cubicle? The answer may be closer than she thinks.

Cameron McGregor is a cocky, tattooed Scottish rugby captain who just moved in next door. He’s not Jo’s type—at all—but the notorious playboy is offering to teach the wallflower everything he knows about inspiring desire. Though a lot of women have rumpled Cam’s kilt, Jo is special. Far from the ugly duckling she thinks she is, in Cam’s eyes she’s sharp, funny, and effortlessly sexy. Now, thanks to him, Jo is blooming with confidence and has the man of her dreams within reach.

Unfortunately for Cam, he’s just helped to push the woman of his dreams into the arms of another man—and now he’s in the fight of his life to keep this beauty from getting away.

Starting ‘Melt for You’ was quite an apprehensive step to take, I’ll readily admit.

Considering that I loved the spunk and the unexpected but fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast in J.T. Geissinger’s first book in this series (which made me request this ARC), the blurb to this one—so different from the first—gave me pause. The inexperienced woman vs. the experienced commitment-phobic womaniser CEO/athlete/military man etc. ranging from fun-loving to sleazy is one of the tropes all too common in the romance genre and one that I most dislike with a vehemence that rivals my hate for, say, bad public transport management.

I realise this puts me in the minority and I can’t count myself as one of those readers who claps and whoops for the uber-manwhore and feels triumphant that some lone woman finally manages to ’tame’ him even as it takes a process as elaborate and sensitive as sprucing up her self-esteem or image issues. That, pitted against how much I do enjoy Geissinger’s writing and the promise of the loose retelling of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ however, the latter won out…marginally.

‘Melt for you’ starts off with the kind of self-deprecating, smart-alecky talk of Joellen Bixby that rambles on about Christmas shopping to fatness and hair-colour, done in the uncanny style of Bridget Jones: a stream-of-consciousness type, neurotic mash of ageing fears and randomness manifesting as humour. Because of this, Cam obviously stands in sharp contrast to an awkward, thirty-six heroine who has far, far lower self-esteem than a bacne-ridden teen—cocky, obnoxious, and insufferable about his well-earned reputation with the ladies. The build here isn’t quite between 2 protagonists who have their eyes on each other; instead, Joellen’s fixation with her boss while Cameron McGregor with the panty-dropper reputation isn’t the most romantic setup that I can buy into, not when the weird love triangle goes on up until the last quarter of the book.

More disturbingly though, there were many things I found myself wishing. I wished Joellen thought better of herself, from the very start, because those issues of hers struck hard (and too close to home as a family member struggles with this) and made me somewhat heartsick. I wished she saw her own self-worth without the need of some help from a well-known player who’d actually spent the entire book playing reaffirming aunt.

Above all, I wished I laughed more and took this less seriously like the rom-com it’s meant to be, but I couldn’t. Not with the deep-seated issues that I know go deeper than perfect physical appearance being the apparent answer to everything, a commonly-held hypothesis that Joellen was determined to get on board with. Not when I’m passionately against women feeling as though they need to do to extreme lengths so they get noticed by a man. Dour as this review is—which is influenced clearly by what I’ve seen happen to others—, ‘Melt for You’ if anything, throws this starkly into the spotlight and strangely, what mattered more than the HEA is Geissinger’s reinforcement of this past the epilogue.

three-stars

The One You Can’t Forget by Roni Loren

The One You Can’t Forget by Roni LorenThe One You Can't Forget by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away, #2
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on June 5th 2018
Pages: 416
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Most days Rebecca Lindt feels like an imposter...The world admires her as a survivor. But that impression would crumble if people knew her secret. She didn't deserve to be the one who got away. But nothing can change the past, so she's thrown herself into her work. She can't dwell if she never slows down.

Wes Garrett is trying to get back on his feet after losing his dream restaurant, his money, and half his damn mind in a vicious divorce. But when he intervenes in a mugging and saves Rebecca―the attorney who helped his ex ruin him―his simple life gets complicated.

Their attraction is inconvenient and neither wants more than a fling. But when Rebecca's secret is put at risk, both discover they could lose everything, including what they never realized they needed: each other

She laughed and kissed him. This morning she'd melted down. But somehow this man had her laughing and turned on only a few hours later. Everything inside her felt buoyed.


She felt...light.


She'd forgotten what that felt like.

‘The One You Can’t Forget’ isn’t a title that lends itself to easy guessing—one could be forgiven for thinking this is a typical second-chance romance when it really isn’t quite—but the unique context in which school-massacre survivors rebuild their lives brick by brick has put Roni Loren on the book map for me.

For Rebecca Lindt, the woman who’d physically escaped the school shooting, but remains mentally fettered by it years later, ‘The One you Can’t Forget’ is pretty much her story. Despite the book being a romance between a disgraced chef and a staid lawyer who’d a painful teenage school dream and had it shattered underfoot, only to find love again much later, it’s also a story that I can get more or less behind, because it’s probably the most realistic type of narrative out there that states love (with a different person) can be found again, in a different time, in a different context entirely.

The kind of mediated response Rebecca had to the world as she got lost in her career, the so-called philosophical musings she had concerning love and life, the complexity of survivor guilt, the lingering effects of PTSD, and the slow steps back into getting into a relationship with a person who’d once come and gone in her life are what Loren expresses very well. I just wished she had more courage where Wes was concerned, though that was (incidentally) resolved through an untimely interruption that proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back for them.

It was impossible not to like Wes just as much though, considering he was a protagonist who was as well-crafted as Rebecca with his own motivations and his own demons, yet had gone through the tunnel with a clear vision of the mistakes he made and the precious insight he’s gained from them. That he talked about them, laid out his feelings for Rebecca and stepped bravely out of his own comfort zones? Absolutely brilliant. In fact, I loved seeing every step of his growth and the uptick of his fortunes the moment he and Rebecca crossed paths…which Loren almost writes as kismet.

If I wasn’t entirely sold on Loren’s first book, ‘The One You Can’t Forget’ definitely worked out better for me, with an epilogue that’s tooth-achingly happy and a wrap-up that made me think that Wes/Rebecca’s hard-earned HEA was nothing but well-deserved.

four-stars

Fast Justice by Kaylea Cross

Fast Justice by Kaylea CrossFast Justice by Kaylea Cross
Series: DEA FAST #6
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, Kaylea Cross Inc. on March 17th 2018
Pages: 352
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Sacrifice is a requirement of the job. Rowan Stewart walked away from the love of a lifetime to focus on the demands of her job as Assistant US Attorney. Now she's working on the biggest case of her career, prosecuting one of the Veneno cartel's most notorious members. Except the case presents unexpected challenges-including the man she can't forget...and a threat she could not foresee. But this time, it could cost her life. Special Agent Malcolm Freeman is FAST Bravo's point man. On an op he's the first one through the door, leading the way for his team. Professionally, he's at the top of his game. His personal life is a different story. After Rowan ripped his heart out a year ago he closed himself off to any relationships. When fate throws them together he steps up to ensure she's protected, even though it might mean getting his heart broken again. But protection isn't enough. The enemy is determined to use Rowan to get what they want. With her life hanging in the balance, Malcolm and his team race to find her before it's too late. He lost her once. He can't lose her now. This time, failure is not an option.

Finally, finally, finally.

‘Fast Justice’ reminds me of all the reasons why I read Kaylea Cross’s books and having ploughed through the somewhat lacklustre stories from the previous stories in this series, having Rowan/Mal’s tale kick my enthusiasm back to life (measured in terms of the loss of sleeping hours) has been beyond a pleasant surprise. The hints of their broken romance in the previous book had gotten me intrigued and Mal, who is predictably gun-shy about starting up with Rowan again, finally gets his due…in a story that provoked a range of emotions from me.

Apart from the thoroughly engaging suspense, Cross writes about a woman who is willing to own up to her mistakes, who swallows her pride and grovels because she knows she’d left a heartbroken man in her wake…and finally goes after what she wants. I loved the excruciating moments of tension between Ro/Mal, the reluctant truce that breaks down because Rowan decides to shake it all up and her lead role in trying to build them back together again as she tries to mend the damage that she had done to them. For this reason, I couldn’t help but love a woman who’s brave enough to show this sort of maturity when too many cowardly characters that have recently come across my feed have nearly made me thrown several books against the wall in frustration. (Proverbially speaking, because I use an e-reader.)

By and large, this was a compelling read. The entanglements with the Veneno Cartel are woven deep into ‘Fast Justice’ and the developmental arc is more tightly spread over the last few books. In fact, I was surprised at how much of the events that happened in the previous books spilled over into this, wondering if it might be somewhat difficult for ‘Fast Justice’ to be read as a standalone. Cross does provide some explanation—though some parts might still be confusing to readers who step in at this point in time—and without shying away from the brutality of cartel activity, throws in a few twists and turns that helped balance the angst of Rowan/Mal’s situation.

The hasty conclusion after the climax and the loose threads that aren’t tied up by the end are probably my only complaints. It’s evident that Cross intends to continue this arc until the baddies drop dead one by one, but it’s going to be a wait that will span several books before this happens. But until that happens, I’m happily going to go back to the good bits that had me gnawing down my own teeth.

four-half-stars

Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein

Never Sweeter by Charlotte SteinNever Sweeter by Charlotte Stein
Series: Dark Obsession, #2
Published by Loveswept on April 19th 2016
Pages: 262
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Letty Carmichael can’t believe her eyes when she catches a glimpse of her high school tormenter, wrestling champ Tate Sullivan, on campus. College was supposed to be her escape from Tate’s constant ridicule. Now he’s in her classes again, just waiting for his chance to make her life hell. But when Letty and Tate are partnered up for an assignment—on sex in cinema, of all things—she starts to see a kinder, gentler side of him. And when she realizes Tate knows more about sex than she could ever guess at, he soon starts making her blush in a whole new way.

Tate Sullivan is haunted by regret over his cruelty toward Letty. So when she agrees to work with him, he seizes his chance to make amends. He can’t blame her for not believing he’s for real, but soon Tate starts to break down her wall. She wants to know about passion, desire, lust—topics he is well versed in. And in return she offers the one thing he always wanted: the chance to be more than just a jock.

Letty is shocked by how sensitive Tate can be. Still, desiring him feels ludicrous. Loving him is impossible. Craving him is beyond all reason. So why can’t she stop?

‘Never Sweeter’ is my first plunge into Charlotte Stein’s writing and I knew from the first page that this was a very different New Adult read than what normally comes across my feed. The issues of NA books can and sometimes do resonate with me though not necessarily always, which are probably enough (sucker that I am) make me continue with this genre that I can get very conflicted about.

The typical idea that boys bully girls they like takes a more sinister turn here, and out of the very real damage of such an act, Stein builds a second-chance romance between a tormented, defensive girl who has since learned to use her wit and her former bully. Much of Tate’s and Letty’s interactions are made up of banter, words that grow deeper and more meaningful after being paired on a steamy project. And I found it…cute in fact, after a while, as Tate somehow managed to worm himself into both mine and Letty’s good graces eventually, even though the good boy bit he shows is just so incongruous with what Letty actually remembers.

Then the story went the way of erotica (almost) and I blinked, many times. Not that these scenes weren’t scorching though, because they were. But because they felt like a huge departure from the emotional build of the first half and straight to the down and dirty, which admittedly does work after the relationship groundwork has been done.

’Never Sweeter’ wasn’t a perfect read: the supposed, sudden change that Tate underwent between high school and college left me wondering what really happened, the cheesy, porny phrases when things started getting hot and heavy between them, the odd and nearly anticlimactic ending that made little sense and felt like conflict created for the sake of it. These dimmed my enthusiasm for the story a bit, even as Stein wrote parts I couldn’t straight out believe even, like Tate’s apparently range of sexual experience without having had sex, or that he’d do something (somewhat silly) in the last bit that felt like betrayal, or even the involvement of mobsters in the pot that sort of came and then flitted away. It was also difficult to differentiate Tate’s and Letty’s voices after a while because they talked and bantered with such similar styles and yes, the lack of dialogue tags annoyed me at times.

That said, I can well imagine how polarising ‘Never Sweeter’ can be. I’m a little torn between what I found unnecessary and how much I actually liked Tate/Letty’s story, but this is probably enough to put Stein on my author-watchlist.

three-half-stars

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

Love and Other Words by Christina LaurenLove and Other Words by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on April 10th 2018
Pages: 432
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

The story of the heart can never be unwritten.

Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away.

But when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos—the first and only love of her life—the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world—growing from her gangly bookish friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother...only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.

Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends to much more—spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco devouring books, sharing favorite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

One thing I know after reading ‘Love and Other Words’ is that that’s Christina Lauren’s searing, literary-tinged writing is the book’s standout, more so because of a romance built on intellect, the love of words and books. Lauren takes on the second-chance romance with aplomb here and I’m grudgingly admitting that the unusual mix of circumstances and events do make this scenario more plausible than many others that I’ve come across, thereby making Elliot/Macy a pairing that aren’t back together just because they decided to give it a go once again.

Told with interspersed flashbacks but only in Macy’s POV, Elliot’s and Macy’s story is one of teenage love, love lost and then found again many years later, all because a mistake turns into a history of grief and tragedy that neither could have expected. In the present, serendipity—written as fate that would inevitably draw these one-time lovers back together again—forces an awkward reunion in a coffee shop and the moment Elliot and Macy are back in each other’s orbits, their coming back together despite the circumstances is written and seen as inevitability. If the timeline in the past is one of anticipatory dread to the moment where they are torn apart, the present crawls a little, almost moving backwards as it constantly points towards the upcoming revelation of what really happened before closing with a short (and rather abrupt) resolution thereafter.

Structurally, ‘Love and Other Words’ is well-balanced between past and present, as the measured but slow pacing of Elliot’s and Macy’s relationship builds to a point where you cannot—or would not—look away from the train wreck that’s coming. The rocky road back together isn’t necessarily an enjoyable a journey for every reader nonetheless; Macy’s engagement and Elliot’s quick breakup with his girlfriend mean that secondary characters do play a role here, and it could be argued that cheating (sort-of) had been a significant part of the whole mess.

There’s breadth and depth in the storytelling and insights given into the emotional damage they’ve both carried throughout the years, though it is harder to believe however, that they could gravitate towards each other again that easily and quickly after 11 years. I actually wanted to know if there was really any comeuppance for the guilty parties involved which felt glossed over, but Lauren does not get into the tic-for-tac business nonetheless. This is my own cynical and vindictive self speaking clearly, as the focus steadfastly remains on the idea of star-crossed lovers and soul mates who, after having established their belonging to each other in their teens, seem destined to always love and find each other again no matter the distance. Elliot/Macy are, by this time, above the mistakes of their past, though I would have been happier seeing a more concrete resolution that didn’t just span the last 2 or so chapters wrapping up their HEA that prioritised their moving on and moving in together.

‘Love and Other Words’ does however, suggest that there’s only ‘the one’ without whom the other can’t function properly—it’s an idea I’m vaguely uncomfortable with, despite the commonly-held romantic notion perpetuated in fiction that 2 people are simply biding time (with others) before they can get back to each other. Furthermore, Elliot’s assumption that they could have waved the past away with an explanation of his drunken mistake without considering the ramifications of the betrayal felt overly optimistic as well; that it should be forgiven because he hadn’t known he was making the mistake at the time just doesn’t feel justified enough.

But maybe I’m grasping at straws for a pretty entertaining read; the all-is-right-with-the-world ending is what Elliot/Macy’s dreams are supposed to be made of after all, isn’t it?

four-stars

Disturbing His Peace by Tessa Bailey

Disturbing His Peace by Tessa BaileyDisturbing His Peace by Tessa Bailey
Series: The Academy #3
Published by Avon on April 24th 2018
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars


She’s got probable cause to make her move . . .

Danika Silva can’t stand Lt. Greer Burns. Her roommate’s older brother may be sexy as hell, but he’s also a cold, unfeeling robot. She just wants to graduate and forget about her scowling superior. But when a dangerous mistake lands Danika on probation—under Greer’s watch—she’s forced to interact with the big, hulking jerk. Call him daily to check in? Done. Ride shotgun in his cruiser every night? Done. Try not to climb into his giant, muscular lap and kiss him? Umm…

Greer doesn’t let anythingor anyone—distract him from the job. Except lately, all he can think about is Danika. He’s wanted the beautiful, cocky recruit since the moment he saw her. But she’s reckless and unpredictable, and Greer is painfully aware of what can happen when an officer doesn’t follow the rules. Probation seemed like a good idea, but now Danika’s scent is in his car and he’s replayed her voicemails twenty times. Christ, he’s a goner.

Danika’s melting Greer’s stone-cold exterior one ride-along at a time. Being together could have serious consequences… but breaking a few rules never hurt anybody, right?

In the first 2 books, Tessa Bailey teased us with this simmering tension between Greer and Danika, so the final installment of The Academy series is one that I’d been impatiently waiting for. And as I’d expected of Bailey, Greer/Danika’s story is volatile but scorching, with the requisite bouts of self-doubt and angst, as Greer (the hardass) Burns finally meets his match when recruit Danika Silva gets under his skin.

Like all of Bailey’s males, Greer magically turned into alpha-aggressive, dirty-talking man in bed, though this much I’ve already come to expect of him. But while it was fun to read about the prim and buttoned-up Lieutenant lose his cool, I actually preferred and liked the tortured soul that Bailey showed here, as much as I liked the cold exterior that he displayed to the world because his layers went that much deeper.

In contrast, I’d been unable to get a grasp on Danika’s character from the past 2 books, but I’d been hesitant to see Greer/Danika as a pairing when the latter had come across as cocky, impetuous and rebellious without a cause simply because her buttons were pushed by a stone-cold Lieutenant. Yet the Danika here seemed so more likeable and understandable as Bailey un-peels the layers from her: she is the responsible caretaker, the reliable and dependable one who takes people’s burdens because she can, until it becomes both a crutch and a source of pride. In this way, Danika was who Greer needed, though it did, predictably, come to a point when Danika tried to take too much on her shoulders and ended up in danger because of it.

So to this extent, ‘Disturbing his Peace’ doesn’t disappoint.

But Bailey’s stories do follow a pattern: the meet/greet, the hot and steamy, the emotional sharing, the conflict (and temporary breakup) and the grovelling/HEA. To say that I dreaded the conflict is an understatement, because it was sniffable a mile away.

The issues I had, apart from the implausibility that a department would grant an instructor/recruit leeway for being together, was that the blame for their conflict late in the story seemed to be laid solely on Greer’s feet as though Danika had nothing to make amends for when she actually needed to own the mistake she made. There were clearly lessons to learn on both sides—and issues to be sorted out—and despite this, I felt that Danika hadn’t put enough of herself out there at the end, despite all the lip-service she’d paid to the sentiment earlier on in the book. I thought she was too quick to write Greer off, too impatient in expecting a lot out of a man who’d closed himself up for years, and too hard-headed to be understanding at the point where Greer had needed her most.

That said though, ‘Disturbing his Peace’ is an easy read, never straying into the heavy angst under Bailey’s excellent handling of her characters’ emotional states. For that reason alone, I keep coming back—though it’s harder in this particular case, to say goodbye to this series that had drawn me in from the start.

four-stars