Tag: Oh for fuck’s sake

Shattered Vows by Kaylea Cross

Shattered Vows by Kaylea CrossShattered Vows by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point #3
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 239
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two-stars

She belonged to his best friend.

Molly Boyd’s entire world unraveled when tragedy turned the man she loved into her greatest threat, and now her confusing feelings for his best friend aren’t helping matters. For years Jase has been a solid, steady source of comfort and friendship. Now she can’t stop seeing him as something more. And just as she’s wrestling with her shifting feelings, a new danger from her ex’s past threatens everything.

But she’s always been the one.

Jase Weaver is an expert at unrequited love. Years ago he stood by and watched his best friend marry the woman of his dreams, and he’s endured his suffering in silence ever since. But when Carter’s self-destructive tailspin threatened Molly, Jase stepped in to make her safe. Now he can’t stay silent any longer. He’s wanted Molly forever and it’s time she knows it. So when a new threat against her emerges, Jase will put his own life on the line to protect her, no matter the cost.

‘Shattered Vows’ is pretty much what the title suggests: the gradual breakdown of a marriage, a tragedy, some suspense(lite) and the stepping in of an ex’s best friend on which the romance finally builds.

Kaylea Cross’s latest addition however, has left me scratchy and unhappy. It isn’t as simple as Molly fleeing her PSTD-ridden abusive ex-husband, but that said ex also used to be Jase’s bestie. Throw in the latter’s unrequited feelings and there’s a touch of the forbidden here. Jase/Molly’s story was always touted as an epic tale to come (judging from the tension and angst between them in the previous books) but I think it completely fell apart for me when Cross inserted Molly’s accidental pregnancy from her ex at the end of the last book.

I always like a new start for the couple in question and this seriously threw a spanner in the works. I was concerned that Jase seemed to be getting second-best and I wanted to know how Cross would address this, or at least, how satisfactorily it would be written in. Yet it was hard not to view Jase as Molly’s consolation prize, seeing as she had chosen his best friend and not given a single glance at him in the years she was married.

But the bottom line was, having Carter’s ghost so strongly intruding in their new lives together made ‘Shattered Vows’ a story I couldn’t tolerate, despite all the lip service paid to ‘moving on’. Seeing that all Jase wanted was Molly (for years) was simultaneously pitiful and painful to read about and I’d actually hoped he could move on, instead of emotionally tying himself to a woman I wasn’t ever sure wanted him for himself, or the safety and protection he represented.

It isn’t often that Cross’s books frustrate the hell out of me, but this one did in every way. Clearly this is just me and my triggers talking here; I’m pretty sure there’ll be those who like this kind of angst and a resolution that has the guy getting the girl in the end.

two-stars

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

Fix Her Up by Tessa BaileyFix Her Up by Tessa Bailey
Series: Hot & Hammered #1
Published by Avon on 11th June 2019
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Georgette Castle’s family runs the best home renovation business in town, but she picked balloons instead of blueprints and they haven’t taken her seriously since. Frankly, she’s over it. Georgie loves planning children’s birthday parties and making people laugh, just not at her own expense. She’s determined to fix herself up into a Woman of the World... whatever that means.

Phase one: new framework for her business (a website from this decade, perhaps?)
Phase two: a gut-reno on her wardrobe (fyi, leggings are pants.)
Phase three: updates to her exterior (do people still wax?)
Phase four: put herself on the market (and stop crushing on Travis Ford!)

Living her best life means facing the truth: Georgie hasn’t been on a date since, well, ever. Nobody’s asking the town clown out for a night of hot sex, that’s for sure. Maybe if people think she’s having a steamy love affair, they’ll acknowledge she’s not just the “little sister” who paints faces for a living. And who better to help demolish that image than the resident sports star and tabloid favorite?

Travis Ford was major league baseball’s hottest rookie when an injury ended his career. Now he’s flipping houses to keep busy and trying to forget his glory days. But he can’t even cross the street without someone recapping his greatest hits. Or making a joke about his… bat. And then there's Georgie, his best friend’s sister, who is not a kid anymore. When she proposes a wild scheme—that they pretend to date, to shock her family and help him land a new job—he agrees. What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s real. But the girl Travis used to tease is now a funny, full-of-life woman and there’s nothing fake about how much he wants her...

Some time has passed since I’ve put my nose in a Tessa Bailey read and it’s only a reminder how assured Bailey is with words. Though I’ll be the first to say that her stories can be a hit or miss for me.

I wavered on ‘Fix Her Up’ despite the cute blurb. Tackling the brother’s best-friend, fake dating trope (crossed with the manwhore/guileless virgin one which I didn’t expect and detested), it actually started off pretty damn well, then turned predictably cringeworthy because the blurb hadn’t quite revealed the intricacies of the characters that could make or break the story for me.

Georgie had always been overlooked, or rather, looked at as the annoying and forgotten little sister, the one who never mattered enough to be other than that label. Worse yet, she’d spent her entire life in love with the famous homegrown baseball player who’s now a failure and a washout while he hopped into bed with as many women as he could while leading that famous sportsman lifestyle, then helps him indirectly pick up the pieces when he comes home wallowing in self-pity. In fact, I felt sorry for her for getting short-changed in so many ways but liked her for being the somewhat quirky, pushing-back-sort of girl who made the best she could of her situation.

Some dick-waving in the face of male competition and fake dating and some machinations later…well, their story goes as you’d expect as Travis Ford somehow manages to see past what he’d always thought of as the best friend’s pesky sister because she made him laugh and talk again and want things beyond the physical. Having his well-earned reputation thrown in my face repeatedly however, even if it was to show superficial his conquests and hundreds of one-night stands were didn’t help this while she pined afar. That Georgie—comfortable in her own clothing—seemed to have needed a makeover before Travis could see her as someone to lust after was a bothersome reminder that her looks ultimately mattered as well.

Travis’s lack of commitment was mentioned to many times and the reason for that was also given as an insecure childhood, and predictably, both his and Georgie’s issues came to the fore, or rather, where it hurt the most at the climax, after which the typical grovelling started—when the manwhore suddenly became a family, committed man out of the blue after a bit of self-talk and self-actualisation.

‘Fix Her Up’ is a classic Bailey read, nonetheless. I could power through the pages because of a writing style that I am comfortable with; my own complaints about the tropes are my own prejudices showing up here.

two-stars

Ryan by Debra Webb

Ryan by Debra WebbRyan by Debra Webb
Series: Dark and Dangerous Romantic Suspense #2
Published by Pink House Press on 5th February 2008
Pages: 275
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SHE WILL NEVER BE A VICTIM AGAIN...
Special Agent Vivian Grace needs to find the truth before the next victim dies. Her own past as a kidnapping victim of a serial killer still haunts her. She will do whatever it takes to make sure she is never a victim again and she will do all within her power to save others... even if it means working with a burned out ex-agent who could get them both killed.

ALL HE WANTS IS TO FORGET THE PAST...
Ex-special agent Ryan McBride lost everything three years ago when a case went fatally wrong. He has spent every minute since then drinking himself into oblivion to forget. When Vivian Grace knocks on his door demanding his help, he is certain of only one thing--he cannot help her. But someone is using their dark pasts to lure them into a game and neither Ryan nor Vivian can stop the momentum.
The only certainty is that someone is going to die.

Disgraced former-FBI man Ryan McBride is in the worst state of his life since it spiralled down the drain in a case gone wrong 3 years ago, until rookie Vivian Grace stumbles into it with a case she needs to close.

It’s interesting sometimes, to read a writer’s early work to see how much of the writing has changed in the years. And I’ve found Debra Webb’s writing as always, to be faultless and very easy to get lost in. Objectively, it’s an interesting and absorbing story—if ‘Ryan’ is taken as a thriller and not as romantic suspense book—that’s well-written, with just enough development of the police procedural balanced with sufficient character-insights to keep me a happy reader.

But still, I found Ryan to be smarmy and slimy and actually cheered every time Vivian coolly responded to his filthy and inappropriate advances which felt more lecherous and disgusting than seductive. He pushed relentlessly to strip her down emotionally, yet stayed hypocritically enmeshed in his own mantrum of having his life upended while playing head games with anything or anyone associated with the FBI.

On the romantic front however, I didn’t get Ryan/Vivian’s chemistry at all. Sure, they’re flawed, they’re nowhere near the forced rainbow-HEA that we sometimes get from the unrealistic romantic fiction type endings. Yet everything between them felt antagonistic with the splash of attraction as both were ultimately, too caught up in their own self-absorbed lives to really get down to the hard part of the relationship.

I didn’t quite like this as much as I liked the first one in this series, but it’s probably more for those who don’t need things nicely tied up in a bow by the end of it all.

The Conspiracy by Kat Martin

The Conspiracy by Kat MartinThe Conspiracy by Kat Martin
Series: Maximum Security #1
Published by HQN on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.

As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.

I thought ‘The Conspiracy’ started off quite well, with the plot quickly and decisively set up: Harper Winston’s brother has gone missing and her desperation to get him back leads her to his former best friend (and the man she’d always wanted) though they haven’t been in contact for years. That this has ties to their powerful father who has shady dealings—who might have something to do with her brother’s disappearance—upped the ante from the start.

After an exciting start however, it was towards the middle that my interest started to flag. The insertions of multiple POVs, long descriptions of place, secondary characters, their personal histories and scattered pieces of the overall puzzle, simply detracted from the momentum of the main story. I skimmed, then read on when the story got back on track (rinse and repeat)—this pretty much described the entire experience throughout the book.

The initial attraction between Harper and Chase consisted mostly of individual internal monologues revolving around their lust for each other and their indecision about making a move. Still, there’s action, some twists involved and a case of major pushing away…which also happens only to a certain extent because neither Harper nor Chase can stop wanting sex with each other.

I’m not entirely sure how to put a finger on this, but reading ’The Conspiracy’ feels curiously akin to reading an older style of romance (outfitted with contemporary themes of RS and the technology of the day) with a more erotic hook, with Kat Martin’s characterisation steeping her protagonists in more ‘traditional’ roles that historical (?) romantic fiction tends to perpetuate.

In this case, Harper cried a lot, turned pale a fair bit, gasped each time as she stared at Chase’s body, was somehow naive as hell at the heart of it yet magically transformed into someone who knew how to be part of a military op. On the other hand, Chase’s eyes burned with hunger constantly as though he was on the verge of ravishing her, got hard with the slightest thought of her and pretty much played the macho man throughout. That he used their sexual attraction to get back into her good graces felt like manipulation: did Chase have to really do stupid things while knowing it would cause Harper some pain, then bend over backwards to make it up? That it had to take something so monumental for him to turnaround to decide that he wanted her permanently when he’d initially wanted a clean break with her?

Most probably it’s Kat Martin’s style that doesn’t gel with me personally. I simply thought ‘The Conspiracy’ could have been so much more (a leaner, meaner read that could have left me reeling the good way, essentially) but fell far short of my own expectations.

This isn’t a book for me clearly; from style to characters, there were quite a few things that I couldn’t really get on board with, though I can imagine that this would be a typical offering for the RS crowd from a staple RS author.

two-stars

Mount Mercy by Helena Newbury

Mount Mercy by Helena NewburyMount Mercy by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 30th November 2018
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Doctor Dominic Corrigan. He’s tattooed, cocky and gorgeous, with bullet scars from working in war zones. I’m a geeky surgeon who hides away in the quiet of her operating theater. We couldn’t be more different but from the second we meet, he pursues me...and when I look into those blue eyes, I’m lost. But I know his reputation and I’m determined not to be his next one-night stand. Then disaster strikes our small town...and the two of us become our patients’ only hope.

Suddenly, I’m thrown into the chaos of an ER stretched to breaking point. We need to work together but the closer we get, the harder it is to resist. We’re one look, one touch away from tearing each other’s clothes off. I start to see the pain he hides behind that cocky exterior. What happened to this man, and can I help him break free of his past? And our problems are only just beginning. A criminal gang means to take advantage of the chaos...and the hospital, and everyone I care about, are right in their sights.

‘Mount Mercy’ was something I picked up because the blurb—the promise of romantic suspense in some isolated mountain town—sounded like my sort of thing. Unfortunately, the suspense alone was the only factor that had me powering through when I was tempted to call time on the characters early on.

Corrigan and Amy didn’t stray far from stereotypical protagonists in romantic fiction. Bring in the typical tortured male protagonist who’s lost something/someone and is now actively losing himself in reckless behaviour and a shy, almost-wimpy heroine (whose relationships are few and far between) determined to fix him while he kept saying he needed to keep away from her?

That same old story gets grating.

In addition, their tendency to imagine each other in bed at inappropriate times easily characterised every encounter they had when their paths crossed. In fact, the instant lust—that never really let up—hit me full in the face at their first meeting, where I was treated to a rather cringe-worthy scene of body parts hardening and getting wet in the middle of an life-threatening emergency.

Really? All I could think of as a result, was about the near-flat-lining patient as they argued over him with their mouths while their nether bits made happy, squishy noises.

In fact, Corrigan’s supposed-silver-tinged Irish accent (an oft-repeated word that Newbury likes to use) and a few slight touches from him had Amy stuttering like a dumbstruck teenager so easily, which soon enough translated abruptly into a sexual boldness and freedom that she thought he’d brought out of her.

And all of this came from nothing but surface interactions and hooded looks?

That this instant lust soon after, jumped madly to ‘love’ when they barely knew each other apart from some hot and heavy looks, unresolved sexual tension and some medical emergencies had me gritting my teeth.

To be fair, aside from the over-the-top porny bits that made this book read more like erotica than high-octane suspense, there was a sort of decent plot in there…buried as it was under all the talk and thoughts of sex, which really seemed like the dominant theme of the story. I would have enjoyed this much more had the emotional aspects of Corrigan/Amy’s relationship been dwelled upon, instead of their mutual fixation on each other’s bits.

In all however, this was a disappointment, though it seems Newbury’s style is now entrenched in this pattern from the few books I’ve read of hers.

two-stars

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-MillsI Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills
Series: The Hook Up #2
Published by CreateSpace, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on 29th October 2018
Pages: 209
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two-stars

Sexy Athlete: I bet you…Penelope Graham: Burn in hell, quarterback.

The text is random but Penelope figures out exactly who “Sexy Athlete” is. And why she shouldn't take his wager.

Ryker Voss. Football star. Walks on water and God's gift to women.Just ask him.

His bet? He promises Penelope he’ll win her the heart of the guy she’s been crushing on. His plan—good old-fashioned jealousy. Once her crush sees her kissing Ryker, he'll realize what he's missing. Sounds legit, right? The only question is…why is Ryker being so nice to her?

Penelope Graham. Virgin. Lover of sparkly vampires and calculus. His mortal enemy.

Penelope knows she shouldn’t trust a jock, but what’s a girl to do when she needs a date to Homecoming? And Ryker’s keeping a secret, another bet, one that could destroy Penelope’s heart forever.

Will the quarterback score the good girl or will his secrets mean everyone loses this game of love?

‘I Bet You’ started off as a mixture of odd and affected, with the protagonists acting like they’ve been pretending at being something that they’re not at first. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the high-school-type narrative—admittedly one that I wasn’t expecting at all—complete with the sorority/frat house bitch-testosterone kind of vibe was off-putting at first.

Then again, this is can probably be attributed to my growing wariness and intolerance of the N/A genre, particularly when hormonal characters are still driven by their lustful instincts, which I didn’t expect ‘I Bet You’ to be.

Add the virgin-player trope to it and I was questioning my decision to read this halfway through, but I pushed on because some reviews had suggested that this wasn’t a story that entirely stuck straight to stereotypes and an all-too-predictable ending.

Unfortunately, this didn’t fare all too well for me. Penelope at first glance, came off as flighty and insecure while trying to be spunky. Her somewhat archaic ideas coming from her bodice-ripper mind—losing her mind every single time Ryker came near, blowing hot and cold—felt even more out of place for a N/A virgin heroine who somehow managed to ensnare the usual manwhore quarterback (apparently 4 months of no-sex is a great accomplishment to laud), whose interest in someone-not-his-type seemed inexplicable.

Essentially, much of the entire book had to do with confusing game-playing (and not just in the field), hedging, chasing and pushing. What also felt like bits of the historical-romance genre sensibilities had crept into the story and threw me off quite badly because of how incongruous these were considering the college setting. By the end of it, I still found it hard to buy into a pairing which I thought could have ended up colouring outside the lines of these well-worn tropes but ultimately didn’t.

two-stars

Fireworks by Sarina Bowen

Fireworks by Sarina BowenFireworks by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North #6
Published by Tuxbury Publishing LLC on 13th November 2018
Pages: 293
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two-stars

Skye Copeland is on paid leave from her broadcasting job after accidentally drawing a pecker on the traffic map.

Let that sink in. Like it’s her fault the traffic pattern that day created a perfect schlong?

Skye isn’t laughing. She needs this job. And that’s the only reason she’s agreed to chase down a story in her least favorite place—that hell on earth known as Vermont.

A quick trip. In and out. Much like - never mind. Skye can sneak into the town that once tried to break her, get the story and get back into the good graces of her producer. Easy peasy.

Except things go sideways even as she sets foot over the county line. Her step-sister is on the run from a violent drug dealer. And the cop on the case is none other than Benito Rossi, the man who broke her teenage heart.

His dark brown eyes still tear her apart. And even as she steels herself to finally tell him off after twelve years, the old fireworks are still there.

Things are about to go boom.

‘Fireworks’ is Sarina Bowen’s ever-growing ‘Truth North’ series as we’re taken back on the ride to Vermont where Skylar and Benito meet again after 12 years. Their history is slowly revealed in flashbacks over the course of the story, enveloped lovingly by the rustic Vermont small-town community and memories that don’t just seem to fade.

If this starts out rather light-hearted, Bowen inserts a little more suspense here along with the quirk and in this way, this particular instalment is a little different from the rest of the books, as a large part of the plot is being driven by an impending drug bust and a sexual predator who’d already left some stains in the characters’ lives.

‘Fireworks’ had some bits that bothered me, in fact—but this was what I’d expected of the ‘True North’ series which has so far, brought my own reactions to extremes. But I like Bowen’s style of writing (though not her characters always), so perhaps this still makes me a glutton for punishment.

I found Skye a sympathetic character mostly; Bowen’s portrayal of a hapless teenager facing down a sexual predator is terrifying and I can certainly understand how these experiences shaped her future though there seemed to be contradictory parts of Skye (practical, wry, yet a complete pushover where her rather dumb stepsister and Benito were concerned) that I couldn’t reconcile with the picture that I’d formed early on of her.

But the late insertion of the classic ‘other woman/hookup’ plot device coming into play later honestly bothered me as much as it did Skye—that it’d taken a lot for her to be naked and vulnerable for Benito, only for him to call that very act casual with another woman—because it simply felt disrespectful and somehow cheapening of their growing romance.

A 12-year separation is a long time and having Benito claim Skye is the only girl he’d ever loved while not actively doing a thing to find her again (as well as hooking up with others in the meantime, with the most recent one being Skye’s rival) felt hypocritical to me. That Benito had been hooking up with a ‘mean-girl’ then flightily going straight onto professing his love for Skye whom he’s always wanted just made this part of the story way too hard to swallow. It’d made him seem like a player and one who simply messed around other women’s feelings even if it was because of his obliviousness.

This device is one that I’ve come to actively detest in recent years; more often than not, it’s used too commonly to create conflict and have one protagonist doubt the other’s devotion or fidelity, only for some grovelling to ensue before the usual trite platitudes (‘it was only sex’, ‘it was only casual’, ’she/he means nothing to me’, ‘it’s only you for me’ or some other phrases with the same flavour) that’ll be thrown out and easily accepted. Yet as a reader, coming back from this type of comparison no matter what the character in question says, is damn near impossible. Like Skye, it’s something that can’t be un-read, or un-heard and thereafter serves as a niggling reminder of the past which pretty much killed the rest of the book for me.

‘Fireworks’ as a result, left me conflicted. I probably would have liked it way, way better minus the Jill Sullivan/mean-girl hookup nonsense which made me stumble irrecoverably, which in turn would have had me more wholeheartedly rooting for this particular second-chance romance—a trope that I already find myself sceptical about.

two-stars