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Made my chest ache

Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 15th August 2017
Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa BaileyToo Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #4
Published by Forever on September 26th 2017
Pages: 320
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three-stars

A love of a lifetime . . .

Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there---not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.

Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy---saving her from her past could cost him everything.

‘Too Beautiful to Break’ closes out the Clarksons series where a road trip from the west to the east coast (that’s supposed to end in a dip in the cold, cold waters of the Atlantic) based on a mother’s journal heals rifts between siblings and gets them their own love of their lives as well. Each book chronicles each Clarkson sibling’s story and I have to say, it has been a ride as Tessa Bailey picks on the oddest of triggers for each of them to use as the very catalyst to lead them to their HEAs.

Bailey has left Belmont’s and Sage’s for last, and it’s their strange interdependency rather than any sexual tension throughout the trip that finally causes Sage to up and leave Belmont who needs her to calm the demons in his head.

That’s where the story begins—with so many conflicting and contradictory emotions that Sage broadcasted which frankly, confused me. Much of Sage’s bluster about needing to push Belmont away felt like the lady doth protested too much when she realised she had been using him as much as he has been using her instead. I didn’t like her wishy-washy sense of pushing-pulling away from Belmont and that he’d needed to chase her up the mountains and down the valleys just to get her to understand that he saw her as a woman (rather than someone he needed to lean on) didn’t sit too well with me when it was evident from the start that their relationship was really about support. In other words, they were using each other as crutches because they needed to lean on each other when it was bad. Yet I couldn’t quite see what exactly was so wrong with that, because that was what partly defined a relationship as well: people needing each other in so many ways, only that their need hadn’t yet turned sexual.

Only a writer of Bailey’s calibre can sharply highlight emotions and get deeply into her characters’ heads—this much I’ll always associate with Bailey’s books and exposition about her paragraphs of her characters’ state of mind. Yet here, Bailey tries to make a distinction between need and neediness that I basically couldn’t agree with—it was unconvincingly superfluous and one that split hairs—and in doing so, has her protagonists running emotional rings around each other because they find themselves unable to go to each other for comfort with the ‘wrong’ kind of motivation.

I could understand Sage’s and Belmont’s need to fight their own demons, only that I didn’t think at all that they should have insisting on doing it alone. For Sage, it was her impoverished roots with parents who only leaned on each other and forgot about her; for Belmont it was a traumatic childhood incident that he hadn’t managed to shake off at all. In any case, there’s a small town type feel in Louisiana that’s claustrophobic and stifling, with a villain that somehow manages to ensnare both Sage and Belmont when he finally comes to her rescue and tries to take on her burdens. I only wished that Sage fought harder for Belmont as he did for her.

In ‘Too Beautiful to Break’, it all ends blissfully happy for everyone, especially for readers who want to see how other characters get on after the end of their own books. The Polar Plunge cements the Clarksons’ siblings bond and with the retro-tint of movies past, the layers of all the stories in this series come together when everyone has their HEA by the time they shake the cold water off themselves.

three-stars

Twisted Twosome by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th August 2017
Twisted Twosome by Meghan QuinnTwisted Twosome by Meghan Quinn
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on July 16th 2017
Pages: 251
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three-stars

Racer McKay is a broody bastard. From the moment I met him, he's been rude, irritable, and unbearable. And worse? He's broke. A contractor working to remodel my parents pool house for extra cash, he stomps around in those clunky construction boots with his tool belt wrapped around his narrow waist, and a chip on his shoulder. Racer McKay is also infuriatingly . . . sexy as hell. I want to take that pencil tucked behind his ear, and draw lazy lines slowly up and down his body all the while wanting to strangle him at the same time. We try to stay out of each other's way . . . that is until I have no other option but to ask for his help. But what I don't realize is he needs me just as much as I need him. I have money he's desperate for, and he holds the key to making my dreams come true. Our pranks turn from sarcastic banter, to sexual tension and lust-filled glances. Bickering matches quickly morph into slow burn moments. We're hot, we're cold. We push and pull. I need him, I don't want him. We're on the verge of combusting with an agreement dangling dangerously between us. Neither one of us can afford to lose one another and yet, we're finding it quite hard to decipher the line that rests between love and hate.

Sometimes a character surprises you in the best way, particularly when it’s a secondary character from another book that couldn’t be taken seriously at all. Racer was such a character in Meghan Quinn’s first book and I didn’t quite know what to make of him. In fact, I barely gave him a thought at all until ‘Twisted Twosome’ came out and then my reading world got squeezed through the rabbit hole of this rather complicated man.

But Racer is, no doubt about it, the shining star of the story, because he’s so much more than the front he shows, and damn if that front is hilariously obnoxious, unapologetically arrogant and deliberately crude. I had the laugh of my life especially when he pitted himself against Georgiana until their love-hate, antagonistic relationship turned into something else entirely as the jibes grew less mean and increasing like foreplay.

Admittedly, it did get a bit much sometimes, but overall, I liked what Racer represented and how real he was as a character was underneath the insults, pranks and the fuck-all, mega man-child front. Quinn does writes his grief—and all the desperate financial struggles especially after losing the closest person he’d ever been to—in such a tangible way that I couldn’t help but wish for something better for him as he lurches from a project to another just to get by.

Racer and Georgiana do sort of make a believable pair, but it’s one that is solidified by constant arguing and banter—if that’s what could be considered the cornerstone of a relationship, because along with the taunts, so does the sexual tension mount along with them. Yet I was still caught by surprise when they fell into bed, because I didn’t think they liked each other enough for it. That part happened somewhat suddenly, though the conflict between their ‘social class’ was something I could sniff out a mile away. And as a little too neatly wrapped up as the end was, Quinn did have me rooting for them after all, because I was mostly invested in the both of them from the start.

three-stars

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd August 2017
Hate to Want You by Alisha RaiHate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts, #1
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

One night. No one will know.

That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts-and the last names that made them enemies.

Until the night she didn’t show up.

Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want…so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?

Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence–and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.

Being together might be against all the rules…but being apart is impossible.

‘Hate to Want You’ starts off fabulously—Alisha Rai’s writing drew me in immediately—with a hostile relationship that’s got its odd quirks: 2 people who started off as a couple who became ex-es who then became annual hookups. I liked forbidden elements to relationships, which was why I wanted to dive straight into it.

I hesitate to call this a modern day Romeo and Juliet retelling, but that’s my stubbornness talking about what I feel is Shakespeare’s worst (and most farcical) play ever. But Nicholas’s and Livvy’s strange arrangement made me want to know more and it did take a while before I could really try to make sense of why they are that way.

But I generally didn’t see Nicholas and Livvy as exactly star-crossed lovers; they are just a couple pulled apart by family pressures and their own inability to handle themselves beyond that. That they went on that way for nearly a decade simply seemed inconceivable to me when one of them could have simply pulled back and stopped or pushed and gone all the way, especially when there was a pain-pleasure cycle which they seemed to perversely enjoy. Much of the ‘action’ is tuned inwards, concerned with revelations, realisations and changing perceptions and there’s a constant angsty thread that seem to belong in the NA genre with erotica thrown into the mix.

Getting to the bottom of their story however, is really about getting through a huge load of family drama and a family feud that’s irreparable. It’s overwhelming to see just how bitchy everyone can be—yes, even the protagonists—but the backstabbing and the underhanded plots for vengeance and avoidance did get tiresome after a while. At some parts it became a soap opera that shows up how dysfunctional everything is in every sense of the word and it’s accompanied by self-flegallation and so much deep emoting that it merely becomes a hot mess of bitter familial relations.

Overall, I wasn’t entirely convinced about this pairing not because the emotional depth is lacking but because Nicholas and Livvy’s HEA still seemed marred by too much history that made me wonder if they were really better apart with clean breaks after all. ‘Hate to Want You’ however, is catnip for those who love drowning in angsty reads and while I’m still sort of wondering how the rest of the pairings will play out, having more ‘forbidden’ pairings to come within the dysfunctional feuding families is frankly, an intimidating prospect.

three-stars

Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports/ Young Adult 29th July 2017
Hello Forever by Sarina BowenHello Forever by Sarina Bowen
Series: Pay It Forward #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on July 14th 2017
Pages: 213
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four-stars

When they were only teenagers, Axel and Caxton were caught making out in the woods at church camp. And afterward, Cax had disappeared from all the youth group activities.

Six years later, Axel is astonished to spot his first love’s face in the crowd of a college basketball game he’s watching on TV—at a school which has just offered him a job. It’s a thousand miles away, in a tiny rural town. But suddenly, he can’t wait to get there.

Cax can’t believe his eyes when Axel appears in the same Massachusetts town where he now lives. And he’s still just as drawn to Axel as ever. But he can’t let himself go there again, because loving Axel will mean giving up everything else he holds dear.

Both men have so much to lose. But as far as their love is concerned, it's Hello Forever.

Sarina Bowen’s ‘Hello Forever’ is a memorable read and I’m starting to think that she’s got a particular talent for M/M stories even if a few of her other M/F romances have ranked as a few of my favourites.

In ‘Hello Forever’ Axel and Cax have their own journey to undertake here in what feels like a spinoff from the first book in the series, though it’s perfect as standalone. Bowen’s storytelling shines especially when it comes to her ability to forge intimate and sweet connections between her characters regardless of sexual orientation, and I found myself enjoying Axel/Cax’s second chance story a lot more than I usually do for this trope because it didn’t have the usual hysterics TSTL bits in which some characters ‘break character’ for the sake of creating conflict.

Yet ‘Hello Forever’ is also very much a book about young people taking responsibility and stepping up when their own parents fail them—almost as if it’s a defiant flip of the bird at the media wailing about rootless, millennial ingrates. Bowen sets up Axel and Cax as very relatable characters that struggle with their careers, adulthood and the heavy burden of caring for family, not least to mention their sexuality. The slight bit of angst does help drive the story forward, though mostly, it’s an easy read without the extreme highs and lows that allow you root wholeheartedly for yet another couple to get their HEA.

four-stars

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
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