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Turned Up by Erin Nicholas

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 16th August 2017
Turned Up by Erin NicholasTurned Up by Erin Nicholas
Series: Taking Chances #3
Published by Montlake Romance on August 29th 2017
Pages: 252
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three-stars

Dillon Alexander has been Kit Derby’s nemesis since third grade, when he beat her in the school spelling bee. They’ve been competing ever since, driving each other to be the best at everything from science fairs to bake sales. While working together one night during their senior year, they stopped bickering long enough to share an emotionally charged kiss. But a tragedy that same night left them both racked with guilt, driving Dillon out of town and leaving Kit determined to keep her distance.

Now an emergency room physician, Dillon has returned to their hometown of Chance, Nebraska. Soon he and Kit fall back into old habits, sparring in public while trying to stay out of each other’s arms. But when a blizzard traps them overnight at Kit’s grandmother’s farmhouse, the real competition begins: Who will be the first to give in to the feelings they’ve denied for a decade?

Erin Nicholas’s ‘Turned up’ is generally an easy, light read and while I hadn’t been invested in small town Chance for a long while, Kit’s and Dillon’s supposed enemies-to-lovers trope brought me back instantly to that simmering sexual tension that had to snap sometime.

Only that I didn’t quite know what to feel about their complicated history that started in high school which Nicholas outlined, seeing as I was expected (and perhaps hoping for) more of a straight-up competitive ‘hate’ to love sort of relationship because those seem…hotter somehow. Yet, what it takes for them to move past the will-they-won’t-they stage is apparently some kind of disaster or a snowstorm, where dating, rather than occasional pent-up sex over the months and years will become the new norm.

But as most stories go, past the initial honeymoon stage, there’re always obstacles to flatten, some of which become the biggest thorn in the flesh that eventually lead to the pairing’s HEA. The format here isn’t too different, only that I felt emotional mountains were made of molehills that could have easily been solved by talking and some strategic and intelligent positioning so that Kit/Dillon wouldn’t have to listen to what everyone in a small town and what they had to say about their relationship.

I didn’t like how Kit gave credence to how the mayor’s wife tried to dictate the way Dillon’s and her relationship should go and that she did irked me, because it really looked as though they were getting into a whole new rhythm of their own before she starting doubting everything they had. Seriously? Worse yet, she’d started to believe that she could only be the best when Dillon was there to compete with her and push her to be better and that this eventually became the conflict in the climax seemed, well, annoyingly petty. Kit’s way of running to deal with feelings got tiring (and in some way, TSTL) as well, when her inability to face up to how relationships DO change people felt like an identity crisis that only teenagers rather than professionals should be worrying about. Thankfully though, that was brief enough, though sufficiently lengthy enough to trigger the personal peeve of mine when couples get together deliriously happy before someone suddenly shifts and turns tail because of an external influence and acts completely out of their depth.

And I’m going to say right here, that this is probably splitting hairs because of my admittedly short fuse when it comes to stupid behaviour. Yet that was the only downer—with enough push-pull that just didn’t convince me at all—that would have otherwise made this a very, very good read.

three-stars

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

Changing the Play by Julia Blake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 13th August 2017
Changing the Play by Julia BlakeChanging the Play by Julia Blake
Series: The Game Changer #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 21st 2017
Pages: 339
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three-stars

Rachel Pollard has never been a push-over. That’s why she’s a superstar in the world of sports management, making a name for herself with a shrewd eye for overlooked talent. She certainly isn’t taking any chances with her latest NFL draft prospect, Kevin Loder, who’s poised to shake up the league. But when Nick Ruben, a tenacious sports reporter who also happens to be the crush who ignored her all through high school, picks up the scent of a long-buried story, Rachel suddenly finds herself playing defense for the first time in years.

Nick usually doesn’t strike out with women, but his always-dependable charm isn’t getting him anywhere with Rachel or the interview he needs to save his job from his network’s impending layoffs. He knows he’s pressing hard, but she’s pushing back just as much—it’d almost be fun if his career wasn’t on the line. But after weeks of begging and finally striking a deal for an exclusive, Nick is surprised to realize he wants their relationship to be anything but professional. Now he has to figure out a way to save his job without hurting hers, and to make the girl he overlooked in high school believe he’s worth a shot at love.

Julia Blake is a new author for me, but ‘Changing the Play’ ensures I’ll be coming back for more. The book captures the mad, competitive world of sports management and journalism perfectly, with such sharp, insightful writing that I knew that it was going to be a read I wouldn’t be able to forget. I loved the frenetic rush, the constant flurry of activity of the whole sports scene that was detailed and wholly engrossing—even though it isn’t quite my thing—as well as the conflict that was so very real when Rachel and Nick clashed.

Most of all though, Blake has written such a memorable heroine for whom I found myself cheering the whole way. There was everything to love about Rachel—her tenacity, her compassion for the players she managed and how she was able to call Nick out on the bullshit he piled on her as well as the strength that it took to say no to his charm offensive that was in many ways, professionally and personally insulting. I liked her protective instincts towards her players even when they’re idiots and her actions with Kevin made her a character who really deserved better than Nick who had everything to prove but didn’t.

In contrast, I was way less impressed by Nick as the selfish, entitled playboy journalist, who had really only sought Rachel out for his own purposes rather than wanting to do so because he wanted only her with no strings. Not only that made him hard to like, but I didn’t feel as though he wanted to date Rachel for herself—that seemed to come incidentally as his job had always been his first priority—even though he brought up the sob story of being an idiot in high school who never asked her out anyway. Somehow his actions and rationale(s) never stopped being questionable the whole time and those were pretty much the major blimps that prevented ‘Changing the Play’ from becoming an exceptional story for me.

three-stars

Going Dark by Monica McCarty

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 12th August 2017
Going Dark by Monica McCartyGoing Dark by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon #1
Published by Berkley Books on September 5th 2017
Pages: 352
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three-stars

Like Rome's Lost Legion, a SEAL platoon goes on a mission and vanishes without a trace.
After walking into a trap on a covert op in Russia, the men from top secret SEAL Team Nine are presumed dead. Not knowing whom they can trust, and with war hanging in the balance, the survivors must go dark and scatter around the globe.
Marine ecologist Annie Henderson joins her new boyfriend on a trip to the Western Isles of Scotland to protest a hazardous offshore drilling venture. When she realizes that she may be swept up in something far more dangerous than she'd intended, there is only one man she can turn to. . . .
She and the mysterious but sexy dive boat captain haven't exactly gotten off to the best start, but something about his quiet confidence makes her think that he's the kind of man she can depend on. Because he's gruff and guarded, she can tell Dan Warren has secrets. But she could never imagine how high the stakes are for him to keep his cover, even as he risks everything to protect her. . . .

A SEAL team paralleling the lost Roman Legion is a mouthwatering prospect. A covert op that had gone so wrong has led to the remaining few scattered around the globe and off the grid, waiting for justice to be served? It’s catnip on a platter. As someone who isn’t really into historicals, Monica McCarty’s a new author for me and any addition to the RS sub-genre is something I’m typically happy to pounce on.

Yet the opening was at best, shaky with an overwhelming info-dump that got my head swirling, all in the midst of an op that was going to go bust. Filled with with too many names, ranks and explanations of how the team worked, the first chapter was also oddly anchored by a character who also wasn’t the protagonist, which was bewildering to say the least as you only learn of one of the secondary SEALs peripherally mentioned was going to be the hero instead in the next few chapters.

But ‘Going Dark’ hits its stride halfway in, as Dean Baylor (the once Senior Chief)—hiding away in the Hebrides two months after the botched Russian job—gets inadvertently involved in an ecoterrorist plot with a woman who could very well be collateral damage. Nevertheless, I was drawn in by the intrigue and the suspense more than the characters with whom I felt less of an affinity.

Dean/Annie weren’t quite a couple that I could see together—their fiercely opposing ideals aside—as their skin-deep connection simply felt like an adrenaline-fuelled product that would burn bright and hot, but eventually burn out. Dean’s constant rumination about his casual hookups, his usual type of women and Annie not fitting the bill were off-putting to say the least, even when these comparisons were supposed to serve as his internal monologues about Annie’s break from the mould. The latter’s environmental-saving, emotional liberalism is the still furthest from his military beliefs however, though attraction comes at the worst possible timing especially since “casual” has always defined Dean’s so-called social life to a tee. Yet Annie’s insecure naïveté—some TSTL lines were crossed—and her need to keep clinging when all they agreed to was a fling that would end when they separated got annoying when she went from a seeming no-nonsense PhD graduate to a weepy, needy woman when she near begs him to stay.

That said though, this is a thoroughly promising series; the other characters definitely intrigue me and Monica McCarty provides enough of a backstory of them as a teaser that makes me enthusiastic for the sequels to come. Action specific to each couple is the focus of every book it seems, though as of now, investigations of the overall mystery crawl on, which make the ending unsatisfactory as none of the pieces have yet fallen into place. But the bright side? There’s still more to look forward to.

three-stars

Cover of Night by Laura Griffin

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th August 2017
Cover of Night by Laura GriffinCover of Night by Laura Griffin
Series: Alpha Crew #3
Published by Pocket Star on September 4th 2017
Pages: 128
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two-stars

Journalist Karly Bonham is on her first overseas mission, covering the new United States ambassador to Thailand, when she is taken hostage by terrorists, with only her wits and courage to keep her alive—until help arrives in the form of Navy SEAL Ethan Dunn.

As part of an elite SEAL team called Alpha Crew, Ethan has been on countless harrowing missions, but he knows this one is different the instant he meets Karly—the sexy young reporter who somehow managed to escape the terrorists’ clutches. Ethan is impressed by her, especially when he learns she has intel that could be the key to a successful rescue op. Ethan knows working with a civilian raises the stakes on an already dangerous mission. But with the clock ticking down, he enlists Karly’s help to thwart a vicious plot and bring a terrorist mastermind to justice.

Laura Griffin’s ‘Alpha Crew’ series has been a very different read so far from her ‘Tracers’ series. The books in there are short, action-packed, with significant time lapses between several chapters and in many ways, a very, very distilled and disappointing version of a military/paramilitary romantic suspense novel.

The short length of the book does the whole story a disservice. I’ve no doubts about Griffin’s writing to begin with, nor with her ability to handle intricate plot lines and elaborate setups that have made some of her books so memorable for me.

But with ‘Cover of Night’ topping out at a mere 100-ish pages, I felt that Karly’s and Ethan’s connection did exist, though it was harder to be convinced by their relationship and the love declarations when all they had was a one-night stand fuelled by the thrill of a rescue and the let down of adrenaline. What for instance, made Ethan, who didn’t do relationships, want something more with Karly when there didn’t seem to be any other indication that she was different from the other women he picked up except for the fact that she rebuffed him? Moreover, Karly’s sudden change in attitude towards the end towards Ethan when he was pushing her for something more the night before he was about to be shipped out was beyond abrupt especially when the story ended just there.

In other words, everything felt too rushed and unfinished, from their relationship to the terrorist plot that was supposedly foiled with a significant arrest. ‘Cover of Night’ simply had so much potential which wasn’t quite fulfilled by the end, leaving me rather mixed about this series because it really could have been so much better.

two-stars

Last First Kiss by Sidney Halston

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 8th August 2017
Last First Kiss by Sidney HalstonLast First Kiss by Sidney Halston
Series: Iron Clad Security #2
Published by Swerve on August 29th 2017
Pages: 202
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two-stars

He's an A-list Hollywood heartthrob. She's trying to prove herself in a man's world.

For this female bodyguard, protecting her client is simply business, but what happens when sparks fly and the danger heats up?

A woman bodyguard and a male celebrity in a reversal of roles sounded exciting and ‘Last First Kiss’ did seem at first, like The Bodyguard, except that a kickass woman is taking the reins and showing the world’s who’s boss. But I found myself struggling very early on, and that was mostly with characterisation.

I had a problem with the characters not acting their ages from the start; the squabbling between the siblings of Iron Clad Security felt like a college-project quarrel, as did Rocco’s constant sexualisation of every movement that Annie made that made him like a creep than a swoonworthy hero. But Annie lashed out as well, like a teenager instead of a professional bodyguard as well in so many instances that it was hard to take her seriously, let alone a pairing that couldn’t seem to act like the adults they were. Rocco later insisted on trying to be the protector instead, and that lack of respect for Annie’s job—when all he wanted was to see her as his girlfriend and he the alpha male sort—was frustrating beyond measure when most of the squabbling was about Annie’s supposed inability to do her job.

Unfortunately, that was what did it for me. I couldn’t quite continue when both Annie and Rocco didn’t get past this issue without any more of the arguments along the lines of ‘I can’t lose you’ said by males who seem to love nothing but smothering the women.

two-stars

Disavowed by Tee O’Fallon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 1st August 2017
Disavowed by Tee O’FallonDisavowed by Tee O'Fallon
Series: NYPD Blue & Gold #3
Published by Entangled Publishing (Select Suspense) on August 28th 2017
Pages: 363
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one-star

NYPD Detective Dom Carew can’t forget the violent way his lover was killed in Afghanistan fifteen years ago. The pain and trauma of her death still haunt him, and since then he hasn’t let a woman under his skin. Until one incredible, hot and steamy night with stunning and sassy Daisy Fowler.

Sexy, gorgeous, and hunky doesn’t begin to describe Dom Carew, but Daisy’s been burned by Dom before. A year ago, he bolted from her bed in the middle of the night without so much as a gee you were great in the sack, babe. Never laying eyes on his handsome face again is the plan. If only their paths didn’t keep crossing. If only she didn’t still find him irresistible as sin.

Seeing Daisy again sets Dom’s blood on fire, but he’s about to embark on the most dangerous undercover op of his life—infiltrate the Pyramid, an international organization of assassins. Love has no place in his heart or his world, but when the dangers of his job threaten Daisy, he’ll destroy anyone in his path to protect her.

This is my first Tee O’Fallon read but finding myself cringing and grimacing for most of the book doesn’t bode too well. There are times when I can sort of ‘ignore’ the protagonists and concentrate fully on the suspense and there are others when characters do trump everything else. And when a book—or rather, a main character—annoys you in the first chapter, that just feels like an ominous start.

For ‘Disavowed’, the latter held true and I found it difficult to get past the idiocy of the male protagonist enough to even enjoy the suspense. My hopes for it getting better waned when it appeared that Dom Carew spoilt it all from the beginning and the journey then on was a torture, at least when it came to the development of the relationship he and Daisy never really had.

I couldn’t get past the pure drivel that Dom kept spouting, let alone feel any sympathy for a ‘womanising asshole’ who, from the very beginning who uses women and leaves them in the middle of the night because of his own self-piteous reasoning that he was no good for anyone after his first and only love died in Afghanistan 15 long years ago.

Oh, boo hoo.

And of course Daisy stayed celibate in this one year and Dom continued going through women, though in his own words, he’d apparently never stopped thinking about her and behaving like he owned her. Adding to the hypocritical attitude is some jealous territorial behaviour that goes into overdrive when Daisy inadvertently gets involved in a case that he’s working undercover. That he’d put Daisy in an untenable position by using the excuse of work and his own personal heartbreak to keep her away yet taking every advantage of their sexual chemistry felt beyond unforgivable because she truly deserved better than his cavemannish ways.

Daisy on the other hand, pined a little too much. Though I understood her need to want some belonging, I found myself wishing she’d moved on from Dom as thoroughly as she could have, then flaunting it in his face as much as he used up every excuse in the book to remain an emotional coward. And why, oh why, did Daisy have to justify Dom’s behaviour when fifteen years surely must have been long enough even for her to stop making those same excuses for him?

Unfortunately, ‘Disavowed’ frustrated me to the point where I couldn’t read on. It’s clearly not the book for me in this case, particularly when I found myself way too annoyed to enjoy anything properly.

one-star
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