Tag: Oh for fuck’s sake

Pretty Reckless by L.J. Shen

Pretty Reckless by L.J. ShenPretty Reckless by L.J. Shen
Series: All Saints High, #1
Published by L.J. Shen on 21st April 2019
Pages: 360
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three-stars

Penn
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. I’d had four years to stew on what Daria Followhill did to me, and now my heart was completely iced. I took her first kiss. She took the only thing I loved. I was poor. She was rich. The good thing about circumstances? They can change. Fast. Now, I’m her parents’ latest shiny project. Her housemate. Her tormentor. The captain of the rival football team she hates so much. Yeah, baby girl, say it—I’m your foster brother. There’s a price to pay for ruining the only good thing in my life, and she’s about to shell out some serious tears. Daria Followhill thinks she is THE queen. I’m about to prove to her that she’s nothing but a spoiled princess.

Daria
Everyone loves a good old unapologetic punk. But being a bitch? Oh, you get slammed for every snarky comment, cynical eye roll, and foot you put in your adversaries’ way. The thing about stiletto heels is that they make a hell of a dent when you walk all over the people who try to hurt you. In Penn Scully’s case, I pierced his heart until he bled out, then left it in a trash can on a bright summer day. Four years ago, he asked me to save all my firsts for him. Now he lives across the hall, and I want nothing more than to be his last everything. His parting words when he gave me his heart were that nothing in this world is free. Now? Now he is making me pay.

My first foray into L.J. Shen’s writing has well, left me speechless with writing that is exceptional and a plot that’s so much of a mindfuck that I still don’t quite know what to make of it.

 

Throw out everything you know of the bubbly, pimple-ridden teen angst that you think is associated with New Adult storylines—even the those with the darker psychological themes—then twist it all around until the characters have chewed each other bone dry in the most vicious way possible.

‘Pretty Reckless’ goes beyond the usual teenage rebellion and the malicious things teens can do to each other, or even the usual head cheerleader/queen bitch and the dumb jock trope doled out in spades. With Daria’s and Penn’s story, it all begins with a seemingly innocent, childish act that snowballs into deeper and horrifying things, trapping everyone involved in a cycle of hate, revenge and self-destruction.

There’s something awry and so divergent (or even deviant?) from the stereotypical mean-girl storyline that many books tout; instead, Shen takes the kind of implicit guilt and punishment that the characters heave upon themselves to pay for the misdeeds they’ve done, and puts them in the darkest corners and the smallest, most incongruent things which then come into the glaring light later as rotten to the core. There’s also an unapologetic level of crudeness (trigger warning here), a constant streak of calculative and manipulative behaviours—given the insidious self-awareness and perception that the characters have—and a level of teenage angst mixed with rejection, jealousy and taunting that strips you raw.

In essence, it’s a level of repulsive meanness (that I rarely read about in the type of books my nose is normally buried in) which makes it hard to look away, even if it’s impossible to root wholly for anyone in this unravelling tale of madness. The rating hence, is a perfunctory one—I can’t say I loved the story, yet I couldn’t look away from the train wreck that somehow satisfied my morbid curiosity.

three-stars

Then Came You by Kate Meader

Then Came You by Kate MeaderThen Came You by Kate Meader
Series: Laws of Attraction, #3
Published by Loveswept on 7th May 2019
Pages: 181
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two-half-stars

In the courtroom, they’re rivals. In the bedroom, they’re . . . divorced. But could the road trip from hell lead to a second chance at love?

Aubrey Gates is the hottest divorce lawyer in Chicago, a barb-tongued stiletto with legs that go on for miles. When her cool gray eyes meet mine across the battlefield, I want her like I’ve never wanted anyone or anything. Then I remember who she is: the woman who brought me to my knees. The woman who destroyed my faith in relationships.

The woman I used to call . . . wife.

And she needs a favor from me, Grant Lincoln.

It seems my ex forgot to mention the demise of our marriage to her dear old grammie, and now we’re both expected to attend her ninetieth birthday party. In Boston. And because it isn’t already awkward enough, Aubrey and I are driving there together from Chicago. That’s more than a thousand miles of tension, heartbreak, and barely concealed lust.

A little piece of paper might say we’re over, but this road trip is the true test. I intend to get my wife back . . . and I won’t stop until “I do.”

I do have a soft spot for a second-chance story between a divorced couple (some personal conditions attached for it to be a palatable read for me) and Grant/Aubrey is what Kate Meader brings to the end (?) of this series of cynical, commitment-free divorce lawyers who ironically find their HEA. But Grant/Aubrey buck this trend in ‘Then Came You’ where a miscarriage tore them apart and after some time, find their way back to each other.

Meader can write, undoubtedly, and that’s what draws me back again and again. I’ve always enjoyed her prose, the nifty handling of characters, the emotions and plot. The feels, generally, is what good writing gives. But the past is piled on and tucked into the present, as both Grant and Aubrey recount the past in their own interior monologues—the scenes aren’t quite flashbacks per se, but the slide into years before left me somewhat disconcerted when the present suddenly disconnects from the narrative you’ve been soaking in.

But ‘Then Came You’ left me flailing in deep water, not because of the traumatic loss that both Grant and Aubrey had suffered, but how for the longest time, Grant seemed to be the only one interested in patching the holes left in the aftermath—while Aubrey merely looked at him as an afterthought, entertaining ideas that she’d be moving onto other men and saying it straight to his face.

I definitely understood and felt their loss, but it was hard to root for a couple who weren’t even on the same page when it came to reconciliation. That it took just a few days worth of holidaying to erase the years of pent-up hurt and guilt made it unbelievable.

I thought Aubrey was too paralysed to move on, stuck as she was on her inability to overcome her distant, aloof self, while Grant’s white-knight complex made him seem like the poster-child for talking things through, moving on and healing. In fact, Aubrey came across as self-absorbed to see beyond her own grief to the burden Grant was carrying on his own…essentially she shaped up to be a frustrating ‘heroine’ who never rose up to the level I expected and wanted her to be. Her simultaneous defence and castigation of her own behaviour made her bottomline argument “I don’t deserve him” the ultimate, self-defeating coward’s way out without any showing intention of fighting for them at all.

In short, a whole lot of push and pull, with so much frustration and emotion (and not all of it good) thrown in. I wish this could have been a more satisfying read—angsty but with less of a roundabout way of rehashing the same issues that come again and again and earlier character growth perhaps—but ultimately, ’Then Came You’ turned out more of a disappointment than I thought.

two-half-stars

Counterpoint by Lauren E. Rico

Counterpoint by Lauren E. RicoCounterpoint by Lauren E. Rico
Published by Harmony House Productions, Lauren E. Rico on March 28 2019
Pages: 210
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four-stars

Brilliant young pianist Alexandria is poised for classical music superstardom…until the night she unravels in front of thousands at her Carnegie Hall debut.

Brilliant young pianist Nate is poised for classical music superstardom…until the night a horrific accident took away everything—and everyone he loved.

Now fate—and a wily cowboy pianist named Wyatt—have brought them both to Texas for a summer of intensive study and healing. And, though the two butt heads almost immediately, it’s soon clear that, together, Alex and Nate possess a dazzling chemistry that eclipses anything they might have done alone.

But the real test of their longevity as partners—on stage and off—comes when Alex’s overbearing father threatens to destroy everything they’ve both worked so hard for. Painful choices must be made and lives will be changed forever.

While Nate wrestles with the gut-wrenching guilt of his past, Alex is forced to confront the grim prospects for her future. And suddenly, each must decide if there is enough power in their music and enough courage in their hearts to breach the chasm between them.

Lauren E. Rico speaks directly to the soft spot I suspect I’ll always have for classical music and the very rare bit of romantic fiction written around it, because there’s just so much to explore in what’s typically considered a big-ego, elitist and inaccessible world. And well, that it was a world that I belonged to, very briefly so long ago, makes the classic music romance, so to speak, a wistful step back into that passionate, intriguing and cut-throat space.

The unique meeting of accomplished classical pianists, both child prodigies, both fallen in their own ways and unable to pick themselves up until the intervention of a mysterious do-gooder who wanted nothing more but to get them going again….no surprise then, that I jumped on ‘Counterpoint’ as soon as the ARC was available.

Nathaniel Calloway’s and Alexandria Mickelson-Fitch’s stalled careers start to collide in a way that neither could have ever imagined, thanks to a Texan cowboy professor who seem determined to get their back their tarnished stardom. Cue the resulting family drama, the heaving chests, the loud denials and affirmations came to the fore that catapulted the storytelling into soap-opera territory at times.

There were clear hurdles to jump over here: obsessive, helicopter parenting, volatile tempers with sometime immature outbursts (throw in the broody artistic-temperament) and so much ego-shuffling. I was sceptical of the quick switch from hostility to near-instalove, got frustrated when adults started behaving like teenagers who suddenly couldn’t see reason and devolved into self-absorbed, entitled, snivelling messes who couldn’t handle themselves let alone others.

Still, I lapped up every descriptive passage of the music that both Nate and Alex played, lapped up their duets and the heady sense of the music that spilled from the pages and left me wanting more as I rode every wave of high and low with them. The music’s made magic in Rico’s hands and I could only wish there were more of such stories from her.

four-stars

Tame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Tame Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezTame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Far North #6
Published by Tracey Alvarez on 15th March 2019
Pages: 288
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three-stars

Loving your enemy is harder than you’d think…

Tui Ngata loathes the Griffin family after a wildfire tore through her family farm seventeen years ago and her father was accused of starting it. While on vacation in a tropical paradise she’s able to forget the bone-deep feud with her neighbors and find one night of pleasure in the arms of a handsome stranger. Until she finds out this stranger isn’t who she thought he was…

After his uncle died in the tragic fire that destroyed hundreds of acres of his family farm, Architect Kyle Griffin has made a life for himself far away from Bounty Bay. But he’s drawn back, forced into sorting out the mess and drama his Grandfather’s death has left behind. The distraction is hopefully one way to forget the beautiful woman who’s haunted his every waking moment since the end of his vacation. Except he can’t forget her, especially when he discovers the lasting consequences which will forever unwillingly bind them together.

But someone doesn’t want Kyle and Tui falling in love. And that someone is willing to raze their lives to ashes to prevent them fraternizing with the enemy.

Well, let’s start with this.

Tracey Alvarez’s writing always holds a special place in my reader-heart. There’ve been many times when I’ve favourited some of her books from either the Far North or the Down South series, but unfortunately, ‘Tame Your Heart’ isn’t quite one of them, even if it’s a long-awaited return to a stubborn Ngata sibling and a guy who, from the enemy-side of the fence, shouldn’t be a fantastic man but is—just as the former just refuses to see it.

And the story’s got enough hooks to pull you in, with several elements put together well enough—bad blood and even worse history between families, an accidental pregnancy, a one-night stand with the ‘enemy’, a small mystery—to keep the pages turning. What I did appreciated, was Alvarez’s subtle, nuanced portrayal of the Maori and their very personal connections to the land that they have, the stigma that had grown around the injustices they faced (and by extension, the indirect reference to the cultural trauma that they’ve suffered).

The addition of a fat ginger cat, is a bonus.

But what then, do you do, when you like 1 half of the pairing Alvarez has written and absolutely loathe the other?

I’ve always found it a fine line between someone trying to assert his/her independence and being obnoxious or TSTL about it and Tui Ngata fell into the latter category. In fleeing the very stigma she’d feared she’d become when she was a teen, Tui became the opposite thing she was afraid of: still stuck in a different rut of her own, a flight risk with a penchant for running and bolting at everything when she felt threatened at the ripe old age of 31 seeking to have fun and never being tied down.

I had a problem with her ‘wild-child’ character personally; counting the number of times she tried to leave, or storm out or deflect when the going got tough made me lose my patience with her just as Kyle seemed to have his own work cut out for him: to do everything within his means to get a fully-grown adult to learn what commitment is, who regressed into a teenage version of her hormonal self at every turn someone tried to be reasonable with her. Free-spirited she was not; instead I found her cowardly immature and rebellious for the sake of being so because she could, prone to making things all about herself and determined to deny/belittle what she had with Kyle just so that she could bail out.

My rating reflects my own conflict about the book and probably about the series so far. It’s also one that’s more disappointed than disapproving, where I wished the romance and the characters could have been done differently. The bottomline is this: there was so much I wanted to like—my own unreasoning love for New Zealand playing a big part of it along with Alvarez’s writing—and so much more I wished I could have rooted for.

three-stars

Motion by Penny Reid

Motion by Penny ReidMotion by Penny Reid
Series: Laws of Physics #1
Published by Everafter Romance on 12th February 2019
Pages: 200
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one-star

One week.
Home alone.
Girl genius.
Unrepentant slacker.
Big lie.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Mona is a smart girl and figured everything out a long time ago. She had to. She didn’t have a choice. When your parents are uber-celebrities and you graduate from high school at fifteen, finish college at eighteen, and start your PhD program at nineteen, you don’t have time for distractions outside of your foci. Even fun is scheduled. Which is why Abram, her brother’s best friend, is such an irritant.

Abram is a talented guy, a supremely gifted musician, and has absolutely nothing figured out, nor does he seem to care. He does what he feels, when he feels, and—in Mona’s opinion—he makes her feel entirely too much.

Intellectual, estranged-from-family Mona gets a call from her not-close, flamboyant and irresponsible twin who’s in big trouble, to masquerade as her and head back to the family home where some random musician friend of their brother is waiting for her. Needless to say, if the story was based on a premise so ridiculous I couldn’t even take a proper step into believing a part of the establishing scene, getting through the rest was hard.

There’re pages of Mona attempting to behave as flighty as she can as she apes her sister, and as she navigates the murky circumstances that break her ordered, academic life into one of chaos, the real fear is that she’ll break character in front of Abram.

Huh.

Penny Reid’s quirky writing has always been a hit or a miss for me, but ‘Motion’ was long headed towards the ‘miss’ category when there were just too many questions that I couldn’t get properly addressed.

Why on earth was it important for Mona to stay in character? Was pretending to be her twin that much of a life and death matter? That she’d jumped into this venture so unquestioningly just felt rather out of character for the ordered, logical scientist I’d thought she was, and the quick, unwitting slide down into Alice’s Wonderland (or some weird version of a rom-com dealing with dual and/or mistaken identities) make the whole experience too bizarre to shake off.

And while the ton of questions that exist were probably deliberately planted by Reid—this book’s only the first third of the 3-book series after all—, I’m not too sure I can continue following Mona’s path that simply felt purposeless and too absurd to begin with…along with way too many wtf moments that I couldn’t ignore.

Maybe I’ll come back to this one day, when I’m a bit more indulgent and more willing to be taken a few rounds around the merry-go-round. But till then, consider this review and my take on Reid’s book an anomaly.

one-star

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

The Right Swipe by Alisha RaiThe Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
Series: Modern Love, #1
Published by Avon on 2nd July 2019
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:
- Nude pics are by invitation only
- If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice
- Protect your heart

Only there aren't any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night... and disappears.

Rhi thought she'd buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won't fumble their second chance, but she's wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

In a thoroughly contemporary take on 21st century dating, Alisha Rai takes on the lingo that have slowly but surely become entrenched in dating-speak— ghosting, hooking up, dick pics, one-night stands, casual relationships, swiping right—and waves a story around it, along with the cynicism, the bouncing around and the jadedness that come along with the reality of finding the ‘right’ match.

From a hookup to a ghosting to a meeting as business rivals, Samson Lima and Rhiannon Hunter meet again when the former has every intention of buying up a rival’s dating company…just as the latter is stepping into said company as a favour for his aunt.

Rhiannon is a strutting, ball-busting shark through and through, a hard entrepreneur with a vendetta who’d made her way to the top and in some ways, a man-eater who takes no prisoners, more ironically so since she’s the founder of a wildly popular dating app for women.

But hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and Rhiannon’s steam-out-the-ears, full-on thoughts showed it, as she rocked out with bluster and claws extended trying to show that Samson’s ghosting didn’t hurt when it did. Still, she came across as petulant, hell bent on being detached, unforgiving and unkind, sometimes emotionally juvenile in her inability to let things go—all of which so that she’ll never have to feel weak and vulnerable anymore. Understandable, though these were qualities that didn’t seem to be at all attractive or redeeming as the story wore on.

Samson came through as the sweeter, yearning, milder one—it felt like he *had* to be one, given the kind of ‘heroine’ Rai had chosen to portray from the beginning—and I actually started and ended it all not just feeling sorry for him, but frustrated that he was constantly facing an uphill battle trying to convince her he was worth another shot while she simply stood there, twiddled her thumbs and punished him for his entire gender’s sins.

The whole point is, I’m not so sure if I’m on the boat with this role reversal, especially if the point is yet again, to show in the written word how women can do things equal or better than men and have it shoved down my throat in the abrasive, disaffected, trust-no-one form of Rhiannon Hunter.

I wish I could say that it was a story that grew on me but it didn’t exactly. Not quite. It got bogged down in the middle as Rhiannon and Samson circled around each other, skimming the surface but never quite going deeper as the Rhi’s trust issues kept flaring up while Samson tried to ease his way around it. Rinse and repeat.

Yet objectively speaking, ‘The Right Swipe’ a brilliant take on the app dating scene vs. the traditional dating one and all the thorny issues that surround it. In fact, Rai tackles it quite smartly, with conversations that range from tart and witty to penetrating and questioning, to the interconnected themes of women in business, to the existing patriarchy, sexual harassment and simply, the lengths people go to to protect themselves. I do think many readers would like Rai’s feminist take on it—it does champion women doing whatever the hell they want when it comes to dating and sex after all—just as I know my disappointment with the book makes me the minority here.

two-stars

Still Burning by Leora Gonzales

Still Burning by Leora GonzalesStill Burning by Leora Gonzales
Series: Braving the Heat, #3
Published by Lyrical Press on 28th May 2019
Pages: 227
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two-stars

Sasha Kendall grew up in a family of firefighters. So when she falls hard for Jack Turner, her brother’s best friend and fellow firefighter, everyone's thrilled. But when her brother is killed in the line of duty, Sasha knows she can’t handle another loss. Jack will have to choose between her and his career . . .

Jack knew Sasha was meant for him right away—the same way he knew he was meant to fight fires and saves lives. Letting Sasha go was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. But even though she left town, he’s never given up hope that heat between them still burns . . .

Four years later, Jack and Sasha meet again at a friend’s wedding—older, wiser, and hotter than ever. Will they flame out, or do they finally have what it takes to keep their love alive for good . . .

Coming straight into this particular story without having read the previous books, the setup of the ‘Still Burning’ isn’t difficult to grasp: there’s the death of a firefighter, some grieving and a breakup—written and done in short order in the first chapter before the story picks up again 4 years later.

And this is on me, really, not having realised that this was a second-chance romance that had iffy conditions surrounding a pairing’s reunion when I requested this book. Mea culpa.

But I suppose having a protagonist rub you the wrong way didn’t bode well for the entire read at all.

There just weren’t enough emotional peaks and troughs in what I thought could have been a turbulent, heartfelt reunion between a couple who split so suddenly. I get it—the death of a loved one can make people do things. Stupid things or otherwise. But I didn’t feel it too much here, sadly, except for the gross injustice Sasha dealt Jack when she upped and left and cut off all frantic contact with him the the next 4 years, without much that she needed to make up for even when they finally met again.

That Jack suddenly muscled back in on her date out of the blue in 4 years, asking to try again, without the breathless feels, the awkwardness and the backlog of pain and angst took me by surprise for starters, at how…too easy it all went. And having come across as rash, selfish and impulsive after breaking up with Jack over the fact that Sasha couldn’t date another firefighter, to the extent where it was ‘easier’ to suffer a break up than risk him dying, playing the non-committal woman the second time around who just didn’t do enough to fight for a relationship made it all tank for me. I mean, should that poor man really do all the work here?

Throw in some odd and perplexing time jumps past their reunion, the unresolved arson case, and the unwelcome intrusion of a psychotic ex-girlfriend to stir up more drama and I was about done with the bumpy reading experience. That Jack hadn’t moved on properly, so to speak, with an insane woman stalking him and creating more drama—using the villainous ex as a plot device to steer the reader’s attention to how Sasha’s the only one for him-didn’t sit well at all.

Needless to say, ‘Still Burning’ didn’t work out as a good read for me. I’d hoped I was getting a brother’s-best-friend kind of trope, but hey, failing to read the blurb properly after the initial excitement of seeing another firefighter story? That’s my fault.

two-stars