Tag: Made my chest ache

Fighting for Everything by Laura Kaye

Fighting for Everything by Laura KayeFighting for Everything by Laura Kaye
Series: Warrior Fight Club #1
Published by Laura Kaye on 17th May 2018
Pages: 264
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three-stars

Loving her is the biggest fight of his life…

Home from the Marines, Noah Cortez has a secret he doesn’t want his oldest friend, Kristina Moore, to know. It kills him to push her away, especially when he’s noticing just how sexy and confident she’s become in his absence. But, angry and full of fight, he’s not the same man anymore either. Which is why Warrior Fight Club sounds so good.

Kristina loves teaching, but she wants more out of life. She wants Noah—the boy she’s crushed on and waited for. Except Noah is all man now—in ways both oh so good and troubling, too. Still, she wants who he’s become—every war-hardened inch. And when they finally stop fighting their attraction, it’s everything Kristina never dared hope for.

But Noah is secretly spiraling, and when he lashes out, it threatens what he and Kristina have found. The brotherhood of the fight club helps him confront his demons, but only Noah can convince the woman he loves that he’s finally ready to fight for everything.

‘Fighting for Everything’ is something I decided to give a go because it does sound different from Laura Kaye’s offerings of late: MCs aren’t what I typically read and Kaye’s recent focus on that left me hanging in the wind. That it’s an earnest take on vets and the demons they bring home from war is a bonus because it shoves the spotlight on protagonists who are the furthest from the cocky, swaggeringly confident male romantic fiction loves to portray.

But the Warrior fight club bit doesn’t come in until much later, to my surprise. In fact, most of the book revolves around the constant push-pull between Noah and Kristina who’d practically known each other all their lives, who suddenly move from friendship to something more, seemingly out of the blue. Angst-ridden and drama-filled, Noah/Kristina’s constant push-pull (along with unhinged jealousy and dirty sex) takes centre-stage as Kaye pulls everything down to rock-bottom, then uses the fight club as the anchor to restart everything.

I did feel so very sorry for Noah in any case. The damage he’d suffered to his body, the pain he found himself in made it easier to understand his rationale for really not being in the right place for anything (even if it’s somewhat inexcusable) with his best friend. And as much as I dug Kristina for putting herself out there after getting the epiphany about having always loved him, her ultimatum to Noah however—either lovers or nothing without leaving friendship as the option had she not gotten what she wanted—felt somewhat unreasonable when Noah had loads to sort through on his own.

As a result, ‘Fighting for Everything’ was a middling read, at most. The caveat here is that the friend-to-lovers trope is one I’m the most sceptical about, and the closer the friendship to begin with, in essence, the more doubtful I am. And this is clearly my inability to believe how a switch suddenly flips and a protagonist suddenly realises he/she has been ‘in love’ all along with the other person after years have gone by with many other partners coming and going. It’s the obliviousness/pretence/delusion of the characters that typically keeps me from buying into this trope entirely; only rarely does it work for me and only under very specific conditions at least.

Apart from the romance, the camaraderie in the fight club shines through—the military brotherhood extended past military service is what Kaye excels at—and it’s something I do want to read more about. It does come in a little too late in this book, but seeing as this is only the start of the series, I’m curious to see how far Kaye will take this.

three-stars

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the time by Kylie Scott

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the time by Kylie ScottIt Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time by Kylie Scott
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on 7th August 2018
Pages: 185
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two-half-stars

Returning home for her father’s wedding was never going to be easy for Adele. If being sent away at eighteen hadn’t been bad enough, the mess she left behind when she made a pass at her dad’s business partner sure was.

Fifteen years older than her, Pete had been her crush for as long as she could remember. But she’d misread the situation—confusing friendliness for undying love. Awkward. Add her father to the misunderstanding, and Pete had been left with a broken nose and a business on the edge of ruin. The man had to be just as glad as everyone else when she left town.

Seven years on, things are different. Adele is no longer a kid, but a fully grown adult more than capable of getting through the wedding and being polite. But all it takes is seeing him again to bring back all those old feelings.

Sometimes first loves are the truest.

‘It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time’ is quite a mouthful, but it’s hard to put down with the wrenching pain of unrequited love being the driving factor here, given the somewhat forbidden trope of much older man and younger woman, who reunite after the latter pretty much blew up their friendship by making a pass at him 7 years ago. The stupid things teenage girls do when faced with their crushes are what I remember (cringingly fondly?) as well, nonetheless and this was the basis that kept the pages turning. That and that an age-gap like 15 years doesn’t bother me—so I was on it like white on rice.

But Adele’s and Pete’s history is inked in such a way that makes me question the age-gap issue: would a teenager really find a best friend in a 30-year-old man? (As a teen with a limited perspective, I simply remembered that anyone past 25-ish or so, to be naively considered middle-aged and didn’t have much to talk about with them apart from school and, well, nothing much else) How did Pete transition from seeing Adele as the ‘kid’ to a romantic partner and how on earth did Pete and Adele suddenly regress to being teenagers in their interactions when the former couldn’t seem to deal with something that happened years ago?

Adele comes across, as a result, as the more mature, thinking adult, and for some reason, so forgiving of Pete’s indiscretions and indecisiveness. Or at least, with the whole novella written in Adele’s POV, it is so much easier to see her own insecurities and flaws exposed while I felt too kept in the dark about what Pete is thinking. It’s also quite inconceivable that, as Adele mentioned herself, a man at 40 hadn’t seen the light enough to deal with his own abandonment and emotional issues to remain a closed-off player that he goes about it by blowing hot and cold numerous times…all of which suddenly gets shrugged off at the end.

I would have been probably more mollified however, without the ending twist that seemed to forced a happy ending for all involved—2 people hashing it out and dealing with what’s between them would have worked better, instead of the dependence on external circumstances to speed things along quite unbelievably. Honestly, it’s hard to rate this story like this, where I got through it effortlessly – Kylie Scott’s writing is pretty good that I could empathise mostly with Adele – yet detested the slide into the New Adult feel of it when I’d clearly expected the protagonists to behave their own ages.

two-half-stars

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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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