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Under Locke by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 14th August 2017
Under Locke by Mariana ZapataUnder Locke by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on June 24th 2014
Pages: 496
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one-star

He was my boss, my brother's friend, a Widow, an ex-felon, and a man I'd seen casually with a handful of women. But he was everything that gripped me, both the good and the bad. Worst case scenario if things turned awkward between us, I could go somewhere else. I'd gotten over epic heartbreak before, one more wouldn't kill me. -- After moving to Austin following six months of unemployment back home, Iris Taylor knows she should be glad to have landed a job so quickly... even if the business is owned by a member of the same motorcycle club her estranged father used to belong to. Except Dex Locke might just be the biggest jerk she's ever met. He's rude, impatient and doesn't know how to tell time. And the last thing they ever expected was each other. But it was either the strip club or the tattoo shop. ... she should have chosen the strip club. -- "Babe, I've handpicked everythin' and everyone in here. I know what I want and I get what I want," he breathed. "And I keep what's mine."

Lordy, I had a tough time with this one.

I think it takes a special sort of day and strength to read Mariana Zapata’s intimidatingly long books. They go on so long on a slow burn that you feel torn between tossing it and wanting to just finish it for the perverse pleasure of saying you’ve triumphed over the convoluted plot which could definitely have benefitted from about a hundred fewer pages of inner monologues. I’d managed ‘Kulti’ and ‘Dear Aaron’ without too much trouble, but ‘Under Locke’ proved a huge challenge to say the least.

My biggest problem nonetheless, was my inability to like both protagonists consistently throughout the book. Frankly, I was so put off by Zapata’s characters that I still ask myself why I tried to finish the story as it became apparent that my struggle began about halfway through when the problems with the MCs turf war, Iris’s deadbeat father and her supposedly one-sided love for her dominating, unreasonable bastard of a boss started to dovetail.

Zapata typically only writes in the female POV, so that pretty much shunts what every male lead of hers is thinking. You’ll need to infer from what everyone else in the book says about the hero in question and what you think you might be able to glean from the unreliable narrating of the female lead. Which isn’t to say Zapata’s female protagonists aren’t likeable though; they are mostly very relatable, sometimes wryly funny and I definitely can see shades of the everyday (wo)man in these leads.

Yet I mostly vacillated between sympathising for Iris’s honest, stuttering, down-to-earth blabber and hating her spineless, rollover behaviour, while pretty much despising Dex for being everything I hate in a male protagonist…who, despite being a mega-prick, actually amazed me when he got the woman he insulted crudely and for generally existing as an all-round possessive chauvinist pig. Throw in the manwhore and virgin extremes here and that just derailed the reading experience for me.

I had to call it in, which is a pity because I do like Zapata’s writing style. But ‘Under Locke’ just wasn’t the book for me—particularly so when I felt relief to put the story behind me.

one-star

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

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd August 2017
Hate to Want You by Alisha RaiHate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts, #1
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

One night. No one will know.

That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts-and the last names that made them enemies.

Until the night she didn’t show up.

Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want…so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?

Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence–and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.

Being together might be against all the rules…but being apart is impossible.

‘Hate to Want You’ starts off fabulously—Alisha Rai’s writing drew me in immediately—with a hostile relationship that’s got its odd quirks: 2 people who started off as a couple who became ex-es who then became annual hookups. I liked forbidden elements to relationships, which was why I wanted to dive straight into it.

I hesitate to call this a modern day Romeo and Juliet retelling, but that’s my stubbornness talking about what I feel is Shakespeare’s worst (and most farcical) play ever. But Nicholas’s and Livvy’s strange arrangement made me want to know more and it did take a while before I could really try to make sense of why they are that way.

But I generally didn’t see Nicholas and Livvy as exactly star-crossed lovers; they are just a couple pulled apart by family pressures and their own inability to handle themselves beyond that. That they went on that way for nearly a decade simply seemed inconceivable to me when one of them could have simply pulled back and stopped or pushed and gone all the way, especially when there was a pain-pleasure cycle which they seemed to perversely enjoy. Much of the ‘action’ is tuned inwards, concerned with revelations, realisations and changing perceptions and there’s a constant angsty thread that seem to belong in the NA genre with erotica thrown into the mix.

Getting to the bottom of their story however, is really about getting through a huge load of family drama and a family feud that’s irreparable. It’s overwhelming to see just how bitchy everyone can be—yes, even the protagonists—but the backstabbing and the underhanded plots for vengeance and avoidance did get tiresome after a while. At some parts it became a soap opera that shows up how dysfunctional everything is in every sense of the word and it’s accompanied by self-flegallation and so much deep emoting that it merely becomes a hot mess of bitter familial relations.

Overall, I wasn’t entirely convinced about this pairing not because the emotional depth is lacking but because Nicholas and Livvy’s HEA still seemed marred by too much history that made me wonder if they were really better apart with clean breaks after all. ‘Hate to Want You’ however, is catnip for those who love drowning in angsty reads and while I’m still sort of wondering how the rest of the pairings will play out, having more ‘forbidden’ pairings to come within the dysfunctional feuding families is frankly, an intimidating prospect.

three-stars

Delta: Redemption by Cristin Harber

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 28th July 2017
Delta: Redemption by Cristin HarberDelta: Redemption by Cristin Harber
Series: Delta #4
Published by Mill Creek Press on July 25th 2017
Pages: 306
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two-stars

“My name’s Victoria—No last name. Don’t ask.”

That was all that the woman would share when Delta team’s expert trigger man, an Australian named Ryder, pulled her from the pits of a human trafficking nightmare and took the gun from her hand.

He didn’t mean to steal her revenge but survival was the priority. Now that Victoria was home? She had a past he was trying to understand while keeping a secret from her that might tear her apart.

But he’s not the only one. When she goes missing, Delta team discovers that Victoria No Name was a one-woman vigilante force, taking on whoever crossed her path, from gun runners to a drug pushing motorcycle club.

She was exactly who Ryder thought she might be, and now he was coming in to help—whether she wanted backup or not.

Cristin Harber’s books used to be like crack for me, though I’ve got to admit that I’ve been disappointed in them as the Titan series grows. Harber does write good suspense; everything that involves Titan is typically drawn out, fairly complex and what they do actually rolls out hypothetical scenarios that aren’t too hard to envision coming true of late. ‘Delta: Redemption’ is Victoria/Ryder’s book, 2 secondary characters that I’d long forgotten about in Harber’s previous book, but it wasn’t hard to get caught up in the hostile Russian conspiracy in middle-America and the shady link to the brutal world of human trafficking.

I liked the start of the story, as Cristin Harber portrayed a victim of circumstances and rape who’d lost her self-confidence and her perceived standing in her small-town community. Both Ryder and Victoria’s connection was…for the want of a better word…a sympathetic one which I thought I could relate to. Both had lost something/someone and Harber certainly writes that soul-deep connection between the both of them especially well as Victoria was recovering from her ordeal.

But it went downhill for me from that point onwards and yes, was Victoria herself who rubbed me the wrong way. Upfront, I felt the problem was her TSTL behaviour that proved to be the costly catalyst that helped account for the action that happened in the rest of the book. Insisting on going at things alone when she knew full well that she needed help on this was stupidity of epic proportions; going ahead full steam while actually condemning herself–which shows some amount of perception that she wasn’t doing it right–for keeping things secret made it worse.

The need for revenge is always explained away as a lone-wolf, bloodthirsty, cannot-be-ignored trait and it’s simply reiterated here with her PTSD seemed swept under the rug with a softly-softly approach that Titan gave her, as did her friend Seven, ironically proving exactly what she never wanted others to think of her from the start: helpless when it came to crunch time yet having no issues eluding and deceiving when it suited her, only to lead Titan/Delta to her rescue a second time.

I’m all for assertion of independence, though all too often it’s done without thought, which then crosses the line straight into idiocy for me. ‘Delta: Redemption’ was to say the least, a read that didn’t go down too well, though clearly, what I ranted above has been one of my personal beefs for a long time. I couldn’t stop my eye-rolling for a long time, but as I’ve always said, just because it didn’t go too well for me, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t for others as well. In fact, I’m quite happy to say the opposite, in fact, happens.

two-stars

Drift by Amy Murray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 24th July 2017
Drift by Amy MurrayDrift by Amy Murray
Published by Entangled Publishing (Embrace) on August 28th 2017
Pages: 331
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one-star

I’m not crazy. My mother may have died with everyone believing she was insane, but I refuse to accept that as my fate. Even if I am recalling memories about a life I never lived. A life that includes the mysterious James—a guy I’ve only just met, but feel as if I’ve known all my life. The memories are coming hard and fast, and I’m falling down a rabbit hole with consequences that far exceed anything I could have ever imagined. And now, someone is trying to kill me.

Someone from my past who knows about my visions and is looking for something he believes I took from him. All I have to do is figure out how these memories relate to the present and maybe I’ll survive to live another day.

Maybe…

The blurb intrigued me from the start and I thought I was going to be pulled into a New Adult book that crosses several genres into suspense the paranormal. And ‘Drift’ does in fact, defy categorisation in a sense and its uniqueness stood out from the start when there is the eerie sense that there’s nothing right with the world as Abigail knows it when her supernatural abilities to ‘drift’ into her past lives start to show up.

But the more I read on, the harder a time I had getting into this, not least because the frequent jumps between the present and an unknown time when Abigail and James were fleeing something or someone weren’t exactly demarcated properly, either by paragraphs or by italics. Admittedly this might be a formatting issue, but it left me confused nonetheless.

For the longest time, I couldn’t really figure out what was going on and my own state of disorientation only grew when things happened without sufficient explanation of the paranormal happenings for both James and Abigail. The characters themselves were confused and flailing to understand what was going on with themselves, save for the ominous confirmation that it will end in tragedy and regret. What isn’t clear is the time periods in which Abigail’s and James’s ‘past lives’ take place and while some partial revelations come through another character, it’s clear that the pieces wouldn’t fall into place right up until the end.

I couldn’t finish ‘Drift’ in the end, just as it was shaping out to be a complicated love triangle with past lives affecting the present. I’d struggled through it for several days, unable to get fully into it, despite the initial excitement that I had about this…and finally decided that this just wasn’t a book for me.

one-star

Love in the Friend Zone by Molly E. Lee

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Young Adult 22nd July 2017
Love in the Friend Zone by Molly E. LeeLove in the Friend Zone by Molly E. Lee
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Crush) on August 14th 2017
Pages: 219
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two-stars

The only thing worse than not being able to tell your best friend you’re head over heels in love with him? Having to smile and nod when he enlists your help to ensnare the girl of his dreams.

Braylen didn’t even want to go to Lennon Pryor’s epic graduation-night party, but when Fynn begs her to be his “wingwoman,” she can’t deny him. Talking up her BFF—how he’s magic behind a camera, with a killer sense of humor and eyelashes that frame the most gorgeous blue eyes in the history of forever—is easy. Supporting his efforts to woo someone so completely wrong for him? Not so much.

Fynn knows that grad night is his last shot before leaving for college to find true love. And thanks to Bray, he gets his chance with the beautiful Katy Evans. But over the course of the coolest party of their high school careers, he starts to see that perhaps what he really wants has been in front of him all along. Bray’s been his best friend since kindergarten, though, and he’d rather have her in his life as a friend than not at all.

Reading about storms in teacups is how I approach YA stories, because I sort of remember that nothing seemed more important than a crush returning your feelings and the obsession over college choices.

‘Love in the Friend Zone’ all but practically takes place over the course of an evening during a graduation party, as you’re thrust straight into the climax of a story after being given a rushed run down of Braylen’s unrequited feelings and Fynn’s inability to see that she has always been in front of him.

Within this time period, Bray vacillates between wanting the best for Fynn and struggling with her own desires and jealousy, while Fynn remains oblivious which is the status quo for teenage boys as it seems. All this is well and fairly typical—it’s the hormonal teenage years after all—but I probably would have liked this better if the story focused less on Bray’s overwhelming angst and her inability to be convinced that Fynn would ever want her.

Fynn’s sudden realisation that he’d been in love with her all along was somewhat cringeworthy, since it had to take a confession from Bray to get his head out of his own arse.  Granted, I’m not someone who can easily accept sudden switch of the flip type epiphanies particularly when it comes to a party realising he/she had been in love with someone all along because it can, in some cases, get extremely hypocritical.

The events at this particular party did however, got more and more ridiculous, taking a rom-com’s blithe journey to a climax of mistaken identities, stunts and high drama. Expect juvenile jokes, and even more juvenile pranks and a huge load of emotional spikes and valleys…all before Fynn and Bray actually get it together.

If this review is sounding as though there’s some impatience on my part, it’s probably me having a hard time admitting I’m quite much older with different tastes now.

two-stars

Deceiver by Robin Lovett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 23rd June 2017
Deceiver by Robin LovettDeceiver: A Dark Revenge Romance by Robin Lovett
Series: Dark Stalker #2
Published by Swerve on July 11th 2017
Pages: 215
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two-stars

The plan was to ruin a man’s life. Not seduce the man’s daughter. But sometimes, the unlikeliest of people becomes the target. And sometimes revenge can make a man vulnerable in ways he didn’t know existed…

I’m bored. Tired of my meaningless life. The garden parties, the white sundresses, and politely saying “no” to the sliver of cake—it’s the life my mother and father wanted for me, worked tirelessly for me to have. And the monotony makes me reckless.

But when I go to Blake Vandershall’s party, his dark, menacing eyes and his hard, unyielding stare make me want things that have never been offered to me before. He’s the type who would ravish you in your father’s law office. The kind who would lie without blinking an eye in order to get what he wants.

And the repressed bad girl in me wants to give him what he needs.

**

Daisy Nowell is nothing to me.

I don’t care that underneath that blue-blood lifestyle, she’s burning to be unleashed. My victim is her father—the one man who had the chance to save my mother from a brutal fate. The coward did nothing, and it’s my turn to make his life a living hell.

He’s about to lose his precious daughter to me, a man whose sole mission is to destroy him. I’ll do anything, say anything, in order to tear this woman from her safe life as I hurtle down my path towards destruction. But I didn’t count on her seeing through me. I didn’t count on her tapping into my weaknesses, pushing my dark heart in ways I don’t want. Ways I hate.

I need to find a way to exact my vengeance and leave this all behind. Before this woman ruins me for good.

A revenge plot—of enemies to lovers—turns one of my reading screws, always.

But after the somewhat abrupt ending of the previous book—with a pairing that was difficult to buy into—I was rather hesitant about this one when the opening of ‘Deceiver’ was just as awkward and abrupt and seemingly without context: Blake Vandershall hosts a party to lure Daisy Novell in through seduction as part of his scheme to bring her father down. Like the first book, there’s a close stalker element to this as well, as Blake mows down the Lovells’ carefully-constructed lives and exults in it.

What I couldn’t really understand was how Daisy couldn’t quite see through his scheme or remain stubbornly oblivious to it, as Blake wasn’t at all subtle about it—that much she needed to cut herself free of the stifling lifestyle she lived that any ol’ distraction would do? In fact, I wondered why she wasn’t too suspicious, and was astounded even, when she dallied, played the game and flirted without quite having any 6th sense that something was off with Blake when he’d pretty much revealed he knew all about her and her family. Yet all it takes is an orgasm very early on to have Blake remorseful about his own behaviour while the simmering anger that he seems to carry around is enough to turn Daisy on.

Daisy in essence, is attracted to an arse of a man (which might be a trigger for some) but as the blurb unapologetically goes, don’t expect any ‘normal’ romance character traits here. As with a story like this, the turn from enemies to lovers can’t simply be an uneasy truce with sex thrown in for me; it’s made all the more difficult because I need more than the usual convincing that such a pairing—while not all sunshine and roses—is a viable one and it’s what I’ll be looking out for. To some extent they are the perfect pair in a twisted manner of speaking, as one uses the other for their own selfish motives consciously: Daisy as a means to break out of her caged life and Blake who uses her as an outlet.

Seen in this light, ‘Deceiver’ probably succeeds and for that reason, I’m not sure how to rate this read. But take a chance on this if you like hate (and taunting-type) sex, ambiguous and deviant relationships that defy every trope you like in romance.

two-stars
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