Tag: Oh for fuck’s sake

Check by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Check by Mimi Jean PamfiloffCheck by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: Mr. Rook's Island #3
Published by Paper & Silver, Inc. on 21st August 2018
Pages: 137
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two-stars

Mr. Rook, eccentric billionaire and owner of the most exclusive island resort in the world, has a secret. Hint: Legends say it can make you young again. But when he’s no longer willing to pay the dark price to keep eternal youth on the island’s menu, the very thing that once kept him young is now turning on him.

With only hours left to live, the woman he loves is taken by the worst kind of man this world has to offer. Turns out she’s been keeping dark secrets of her own, and getting her back won’t be as simple as writing a check.

The cost will leave her broken hearted, hating him forever.

(Morbid?) Curiosity brought me here.

In ‘Check’, things do come to a head and with several twists and turns—this can range between absolute nuts and sort of believable if you squint—, somehow Stephanie and Rook break free of their curse, the bad guys miraculously get what they deserve and all’s well that ends well.

There’s no secret really, that I’ve found this series of Mimi Jean Pamfiloff’s a little too zany for me, but the odd licks of the paranormal and the mysterious here and there keep me coming back. There are tantalising ideas here—with part-gothic, part-supernatural vibes, with the sacred and the profane crossing so many times that this should be a sultry and deliciously forbidden read—but they aren’t fully realised or deeply explored enough given the novella-length stories in this entire series.

But ultimately, too much of this story I think, depends on having a huge suspension of disbelief here in the existence of the paranormal, which is all well and good. Still, Pamfiloff’s implicit insistence that some things should stay unexplained (skirting paranormal explanations by simply having the characters choosing to not want to know more for the sake of their own sanity) just might not be good enough when it comes readers like me needing a semblance of explanation for events that don’t entirely really make sense in a story because well, it still needs to be satisfactorily coherent and not cross the line into the ridiculous.

Still, what kept me on the back foot really, was also a ‘heroine’ whom I absolutely loathed by the end of the series. While Rook himself isn’t all that innocent, the self-sacrifices he made in contrast, simply showed Stephanie up as petty, vindictive, petulant and fickle by the end of it all…too small-minded not to grasp the bigger picture and made things all about herself and her own tragedy.

In any case, it’s been quite a ride. I’m not too sure still what to make out of this, but this series simply felt like it could have done much more and reached so much higher than it did.

two-stars

Water Under the Bridge by Lily Malone

Water Under the Bridge by Lily MaloneWater Under The Bridge by Lily Malone
Series: Chalk Hill #1
Published by Harlequin MIRA on 19th February 2018
Pages: 268
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three-stars

Ella Davenport hasn’t been in a swimming pool since a bad decision ruined her chance of Olympic gold. So when Ella decides on a new career selling property, she chooses Chalk Hill. The country town is a long way from the water, with no pool in sight. Perfect!

Jake Honeychurch doesn’t want to sell his Nanna’s house, but circumstances force his hand. Listing the property with the rookie real estate agent in town, and asking a hefty price means it shouldn’t find a buyer. Perfect!

But determination and persistence are traits Jake admires, and Ella has them in spades. After all, no one ever made an Olympic team by being a quitter.

When news breaks of a proposed waterski park, a local developer starts sniffing around Honeychurch House. Ella’s first sale is so close she can taste it, until a sharp-eyed local recognises her.

Between sale negotiations with Jake that keep getting sidetracked, and a swimming pool committee hellbent on making a splash, Ella has more to contend with than kisses and chlorine.

Can she throw off the failures of the past and take the chance of a new start? Or will her dreams of a new life be washed away again?

I’ll say something from the outset and that has to do with how much I normally love Lily Malone’s writing. It’s just ‘Water Under the Bridge’ that didn’t quite work out right for me, despite the wonderful setting of a part of Western Australia so little explored in rural fiction and the unique rhythms of life that Malone captures very nicely here.

There’s something so wistful and close to my heart here about Ella’s new career direction and her past trauma after all—a hundred and eighty degrees somewhere else, where all hopes are pinned onto having something noteworthy marked into a new career; in Ella’s case, the sale of an overpriced home which is listed by an owner out of grumpy pretence.

That much got me through a third of it, where I soon found myself flagging. Admittedly, Ella and her constant hedging about her son’s real parentage when I thought she owed it to Jake *and* her son to be open with them tested my patience sorely; that much reduced my enjoyment of the story which inched forward only because it became a test of Ella’s inability to be honest and open with many moments that seemed deliberately engineered to stop her from doing so as well.

Ultimately, it became an exercise in frustration because it was road block after road black of stubbornness rearing its head in so many places: Ella’s reticence and overreactions and self-pity, Sam’s obstinate acting out, Abe’s refusal to talk, and the list goes on. I’m usually out to root for the protagonists in romantic fiction—if I can’t ship a pairing, then it’s pretty much useless—but the difficulty I had getting behind a female protagonist who kept blowing hot and cold (and made it so effective such that inroads were just simply impossible) definitely deterred this.

So frankly, I’m not too sure how to place my own feelings about the book. There were parts which I was enthralled with, parts that I really didn’t like, yet I’m still eager for the next book in the series because, well, Malone’s writing isn’t something I can resist.

three-stars

Hidden by Rebecca Zanetti

Hidden by Rebecca ZanettiHidden by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: , #1
Published by Zebra on 25th September 2018
Pages: 400
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three-stars

Hide. That’s all Pippa can do to escape the terror chasing her. But now that she’s off the grid in a safe house, she finds plenty of interesting things to watch through the window. Like her new neighbor, with his startling green eyes, killer smile, and sexy bad-boy tattoo . . .

Run. Malcolm West is fleeing the hell he unleashed in his last assignment as an undercover cop. A backwoods bungalow sounds like the perfect place to start over. Until he discovers he’s been set up . . .

Fight. Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble to bring them together. No matter how much he resents that, and his own driving needs, Malcolm will have to dig deep and let loose the banished killer inside himself, or Pippa’s fears could come true faster than the flip of a bolt in a lock . . .

When burnt-out, former undercover cop Mal West gets sucked into a strange unit, his first task with them is to investigate his seemingly sweet, innocent but squirrelly neighbour who’s hiding a deadly secret. But Pippa Smith is covering up something as well, and their paths collide in a way that’s unexpected and dangerous.

Told in a few flashbacks, we learn of Mal’s and Pippa’s personal histories that led them to where they are now; both are tortured in their own ways by memories too scarring for them to forget. First as neighbours, then later as lovers, both clearly battle the same crazies, though from different and opposing angles,.

As a grounding book that introduces the rest of the Requisition Force, ‘Hidden’ is a good hook in itself in pulling out the cracked-up, damaged unit that I can’t wait to see more of. Severely defective in their own ways (even the dog’s included in this) though it’s ripe for Zanetti to insert some humour here, there’re sufficient seeds planted here that makes me want each of their stories.

The frustration I have nonetheless, with such undercover stories simply lies with the deception that forms (in this case, on both sides) the foundation of a romantic relationship and becomes the major part of the conflict that you know is just coming because of this very thing that gets stretched longer than it should have.

The pitfall that typically follows is the use of sex that delays communication and disclosure, or some other event/circumstance that deliberately blocks this—which then forms a large part of the romantic pairing’s misunderstanding, with lots of running involved—along with some TSTL behaviour—because there just isn’t enough trust between the both of them to go around. It’s precisely because of this that I find the love/romantic connection between Mal and Pippa difficult to swallow, especially if trust and respect (apart from the scorching sex) are supposed to be foundational for their relationship.

The pace and action do pick up after this though, which eventually made the story a lot more engaging. And even if Mal/Pippa do sort of work out their issues in a rush before the climax happens, I probably would have liked this a lot more if less time had been spent on deceit and the copious amount of sexual tension (and later on, raunchy sex instead of talking) simply taking up the first three-quarters of the plot.

three-stars

Up in Flames by Jennifer Blackwood

Up in Flames by Jennifer BlackwoodUp in Flames by Jennifer Blackwood
Series: Flirting with Fire, #2
Published by Montlake Romance on 9th October 2018
Pages: 300
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one-half-stars

Sloane Garcia has butted heads with Reece Jenkins ever since he was a colossal jerk of epic proportions on a night she’d rather forget. So what if he’s overconfident, ultramasculine, and hard muscled? When she finds out he’s on the auction block at the annual firefighter’s charity event, she decides to give this cocky firefighter a dose of his own medicine. Now that she’s won the hunk, he’s on call—to do whatever Sloane wants.

Sure, Reece and Sloane had a rocky start, but he had his reasons. None of that matters now that he’s the bachelor at her beck and call, tasked with granting her four wishes in four weeks. He runs into burning buildings for a living, but nothing will be as tough as dousing the flames Sloane ignites in him. What started out as just a game might end up with Reece losing the one thing he swore he’d never give up: his heart.

Somehow I feel as though I need this caveat, as always, before I begin this review. My expectations, when it comes to romantic fiction are tuned differently when when I read general fiction; better put, the very classification of the genre shapes what I naturally want to read of my protagonists, so their traits are looked at not just in terms of their social contributions (good soldier/cop/firefighter), or their generosities to their families, or how often they mow the lawn for their blind neighbours, for instance, which many authors love to highlight.

In contrast, I typically look at romantic heroism through the lens of other qualities, such as integrity, commitment, the care and concern because this genre is precisely one in which such things seem necessary for the guaranteed HEA that is its peculiar characteristic. I’ve been confronted with too many protagonists who fall out of this framework of late, and instead conform to stereotypes that have me rolling my eyes, which accounts for my inability to like a book more because of it.

Jennifer Blackwood’s ‘Up in Flames’ was unfortunately, yet another one of those for me. It’s certainly a story that will appeal to others: the rather light-hearted feel, the slight bit of angst to stir up some emotions about a backstory accounting for present-day terrible behaviour and the eventual but rocky road to redemption and a HEA.

What stood out for me was the very relatable Sloane, but then I’ve always liked seeing this sort of scrappy strength in a romantic heroine: somewhat bitter about a breakup but still digging in, hanging on in control, refusing to be vulnerable, with her brain turning to mush at the sight of Reece’s body being the only cringeworthy characteristic I found.

In contrast, Reece felt like too much of the clichéd, ego-filled, manwhore arsehole player for me—doing the rounds with eight of the nurses in Sloane’s workplace first made him beyond distasteful (armed with the usual excuse of having been hurt so long ago and thus is into emotionless hooking up from now onwards) in contrast to Sloane’s impressive sticking it through with her one and only long-term relationship despite it ending badly. Adding the fact that he’d always had a thing for her on and off throughout most of their lives, was waffling about the idea of ‘them’ up until quite literally the last few lines in the second-last chapter…well, I couldn’t quite find too much of a basis to even root for this pairing when there didn’t seem to be that much of an active push for both to be together.

The enemies-to-lovers trope is a deliciously cool one (which had me jumping on this) but with constant thoughts intruding about Sloane deserving way better than settling for what I honestly thought was a chemistry-less relationship, this is clearly not a book that worked for me.

one-half-stars

Happy Hour by Piper Rayne

Happy Hour by Piper RayneHappy Hour by Piper Rayne
Series: Charity Case #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 12th July 2018
Pages: 306
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The perfect man for her is the one she hates most. #gofigure

Dating is hard. Dating in your thirties is even harder. Dating in Chicago is harder still.

I haven't given up on finding my happily-ever-after, but in the age of swiping right and Netflix and chill, I'm wondering if everything is as temporary as my marriage turned out to be.

Truth is, there is one guy I can't get my mind off of.

Roarke Baldwin has salt and pepper hair I've dreamed of running my hands through and I'm pretty sure that if I checked he really does have a six pack of abs underneath his suit. And I've always wondered what that stubble on his face would feel like between my thighs.

The problem? He's the one man I hate more than my ex-husband…

His divorce attorney.

The enemies-to-lovers trope is one that I really like and ‘Happy Hour’ is one of the few that I wanted to get into if only to read how a woman falls head over heels over her divorce attorney—one who helped her ex-husband screw her over (monetarily, at least).

Still, the sparks between Roarke Baldwin and Hannah Crowley have been hinted at for a while now and ‘Happy Hour’ is a story of a lost venue, a grudging turn to a nemesis and the subsequent build of a relationship that one has been hankering after more than the other.

The subsequent 5 favours that Roarke asks of the gun-shy Hannah is sweet-amusing in some ways; they’re all non-sexual and non-demeaning, as part of the contract and it was by and large fun to see how Roarke desperately tries to manoeuvre Hannah to where he wants her. The journey onward is predictable as a result: the favours draw Hannah and Roarke together, catalysing what we as readers know and expect that it would all end up as time between the sheets. The conflict itself is just as inevitable nonetheless and it’s something that’s been done dime a dozen times—addressing Hannah’s skewed view of men, their purpose and the place they play in her life.

The conclusion proved unsatisfying as a result. I did think it was unfair of Hannah to write marriage off completely after her very first one, even to a man who’d gone to bat for her in the end because it seemed to show there were some obstacles that Roarke couldn’t overcome in her life still, this being one of them, so much so that it felt as though they were still living in a compromised state as long as Hannah didn’t open herself to that possibility once more.

In contrast, Roarke came off as the sweeter, more open and vulnerable of the two, unlike the corporate shark I thought him to be. Solely written in Hannah’s POV, thereby exposing all her thought-processes that turned neurotic and paranoid at times, I know I would have preferred a glimpse into Roarke’s mind as well, particularly what he’d been thinking ever since he stuck her with the 5-favour-contract.

Most of the time, it felt as though Roarke had an insurmountable mountain to climb when it came to Hannah (her idiotic and sometimes bitchy self-denials and her refusal to trust) and what made me hesitant about my own rating about this book was how Hannah used her her mistrust of men after her disastrous marriage to judge everyone else who comes after. That she knew and admitted it, yet acted stupidly about it, made me feel sorrier for Roarke’s efforts that were doomed to fail because of her insecurities.

So if ‘Happy Hour’ started happy for me, it degenerated into more eye-rolling as I read on, mostly because I was rooting for Hannah to rise above her past—to be that sort of heroine is the kind I ship—but never quite got it by the end of it all.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina LaurenJosh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on 4th September 2018
Pages: 320
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two-stars

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?

Josh and Hazel are apparently undateable together—that much power-writing duo Christina Lauren wants to bring across. But the irony is that they are never better matched despite their opposite ways, as the story trundles on. Both go on blind double dates (mostly disasters), get on as good friends (loads of banter and nonsense talk), then finally realise that they do actually belong together.

After having quite a good time with a few of this duo’s books, jumping into Lauren’s ‘Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating’ was something I eagerly did…that is, until the very first chapter caught me out with the antics of a female protagonist I had a bad feeling about.

There’s no other way for me to say this, but I simply found Hazel cringe-worthy. At least, there’s the part where the adorable, bumbling fool kind of woman would probably find purchase with many readers because it’s so obvious how flawed she is. Unfortunately, she simply read like a protagonist who couldn’t grow up and stayed that way so as to become as a plot device mirroring the loud, clueless millennial—as reported about with derision in the newspapers these days—who stumbles over everything and says whatever her mouth decides to say without engaging her brain.

But unlike Bridget Jones, she appears fully formed, owns her quirks, and pretty much heads the movement for how women should be themselves (and proud of it for going through men, not wanting commitment) without changing for anyone…which is a good thing right?

Um.

For me, it was too much, too hard, too affected because it felt like the authors were trying too hard to make her the kind of woman who’s just like a commitment-phobic male protagonist unable to hold a relationship. Written as larger than life because it’s fiction and drawn up so deliberately like a character in a sitcom or as a mirror of this kind of male hero, Hazel simply made me sigh in resignation and not in a good way.

Unlike the usual style of Lauren’s that compelled me to read what this writing duo has done so far—the first person narrative, the huge touch of the insane in this romcom—this book started as a rough ride for me, oddly so because of its very lighthearted feel that just didn’t leave me clutching my sides in laughter. It did get somewhat better as Josh and Hazel find their groove together first as good friends, but I couldn’t really hold an interest in a book where the protagonists obliquely get closer together while dating others.

In short, it’s a story that will appeal to many, but it isn’t one for me.

two-stars

Break Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Break Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezBreak Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Bounty Bay, #5
Published by Icon Publishing on 15th June 2018
Pages: 227
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two-stars

Fake girlfriend. Real sizzle. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam Ngata has the talent of creating something out of almost nothing in his successful wood carving business, Kauri Whare. That talent doesn’t extend to producing a serious girlfriend out of nowhere when he implies to a huge overseas investor that he’s a one-woman kind of man. Big on domestic bliss and honesty, the investor is due to arrive in less than ten days time with a deal that’d provide Sam’s family-operated business with invaluable future security. Now Sam just has to find a woman willing to fake it until they make it — the deal, that is — with no strings attached.

Single mum Vee Sullivan needs a man in her life like a flightless kiwi bird needs wings to soar. She has a precocious little girl to provide for and she’s in the middle of expanding her clothing business — with an eye on Kauri Whare’s newest retail space. Unfortunately, it’d take a small miracle for her to afford the lease. So when childhood crush, Sam, offers her a one week only role of pretending to be his ‘serious’ girlfriend in exchange for three months waived lease, Vee is sorely tempted. But saying yes to fake girlfriend means she might not be able to say no to real passion. Someone’s going to get their heart broken…

Surfer-dude-player-slash-artisan badly needs to convince an overseas investor to get his business made. Cue the fake girlfriend (who so happens as well to be a childhood acquaintance that didn’t exactly run in his circles) to help project a wholesome reputation that’s so far from what he’s been. Add the dog and the child as well, since the fake girlfriend just so happens to be a single mum who is so far from his regular hookups. And of course, it all goes sideways towards the end, forcing this farce out into the light.
I was a little hesitant when I saw the direction in which Tracey Alvarez was going to take Sam Ngata’s story, but Alvarez’s writing is one that I always come back to, so it was with some apprehension that I dove into this book.
But after the high of Isaac’s book which I loved to bits, ‘Break Your Heart’ sadly, brought me to a new low. While I loved all the descriptions of the Kiwi landscape, I didn’t quite enjoy this as much as Sam’s brother’s (Isaac) story, since it felt a little more clichéd-driven (though there’s plenty of heat and lust which somehow get mistaken for falling in love) and more of a playing-to-stereotypes kind of read with the player, non-committal bachelor suddenly looking for a fake girlfriend for his business to perk up.
I thought Sam was too cocky, too full of himself—a veneer that he didn’t quite seem to shrug off anyway—while Vee simply sought to protect her daughter and her own heart. The admission that he’d hooked up with every girl but her because he wanted her so much over the years was simply an explanation I couldn’t and wouldn’t buy into in any case; most of all, it simply painted Sam in an awful and hypocritical light, period. How could he have always wanted her when they’d moved in different circles anyway? And then, saying that he’s always been hers, always wanted her when he’s gone around with other women in sight for decades?
What made this a particularly hard review to write was this pervading sense of disappointment (and some disgust) that I was left with after finishing an Alvarez book, more so because I typically do like what she writes: the style and her obvious love for her country make Alvarez that kind of stand-out author. But ‘Break Your Heart’ trod repeatedly on my triggers and left me foaming at the mouth despite the jaunty writing that Alvarez is known for and it became a book that I couldn’t wait to forget. Admittedly, this is all me, though, and my review is most likely one that will be the anomaly.
two-stars