Tag: Smutty

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

Riven by Roan Parrish

Riven by Roan ParrishRiven by Roan Parrish
Series: Riven #1
Published by Loveswept on 29th May 2018
Pages: 262
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three-stars

Theo Decker might be the lead singer of Riven, but he hates being a rock star. The paparazzi, the endless tours, being recognized everywhere he goes—it all makes him squirm. The only thing he doesn’t hate is the music. Feeling an audience’s energy as they lose themselves in Riven’s music is a rush unlike anything else . . . until he meets Caleb Blake Whitman. Caleb is rough and damaged, yet his fingers on his guitar are pure poetry. And his hands on Theo? They’re all he can think about. But Caleb’s no groupie—and one night with him won’t be enough.

Just when Caleb is accepting his new life as a loner, Theo Decker slinks into it and turns his world upside-down. Theo’s sexy and brilliant and addictively vulnerable, and all Caleb wants is another hit. And another. That’s how he knows Theo’s trouble. Caleb can’t even handle performing these days. How the hell is he going to survive an affair with a tabloid superstar? But after Caleb sees the man behind the rock star, he begins to wonder if Theo might be his chance at a future he thought he’d lost forever.

Put together a reluctant rockstar and a supposed washout in the ever-fickle music industry and the result is a volatile cocktail that results in several life-changing decisions. Theo Decker’s fame is wholly unwanted, and like a lost little boy, wanders through the fog of being with a band that breaks every music chart but leaves him on the outside of a firm circle of friendship, until Caleb Blake Whitman powers through his life as an accidental one-night stand.

‘Riven’ is my first Roan Parrish read and I’m starting to see how it’s a style of storytelling that moves some readers to tears and others to boredom. It’s just an odd mix of purple prose and perceptive insights, but also with some New Adult traits that felt a little too naive for this entire plot. Meaning, the rest of their journey is status-quo: most of the book read like a ton of push-pull, of Caleb running away and Theo constantly taking him back (accompanied by bruising reconciliation sex)—in the name of protecting him and them in some warped way—until some sort of balance is reached, past that point of acknowledging their kind of brokenness.

The strange (and sometimes wonderful) thing about Parrish’s writing is that there isn’t quite the focus on the characters’ pasts, but rather, the sensations that their memories dredge up which then serve to reconstruct them in bits and pieces.

Caleb’s drugged-up past and subsequent rehabs? A done deal, recounted repetitively merely as a tether to the present. Theo’s broken family and the litany of self-recrimination of not being enough for anyone? Also glossed through with some of the prerequisite angst that NA books tend to shed in all the pages, written not in flashback but in dialogue or as inner monologue, as being a private failure that he can’t overcome even with his current success.

Much of ‘Riven’ is the reconciliation of emotions, of feelings, of sorting oneself out when faced with yet another obstacle too big to see behind after all, so it isn’t a surprise that with each round of repetitive self-castigation for Caleb and Theo comes some kind of deeper understanding of themselves as well. Still, this ended up as a middling read for me; I wished I was more moved by Caleb/Theo’s rocky road to happiness, but well, I found myself simply neutral by the time they rode off into their countryside sunset.

three-stars

The One You Fight For by Roni Loren

The One You Fight For by Roni LorenThe One You Fight For by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away, #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 1st January 2019
Pages: 416
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four-half-stars

How hard would you fight for the one you love? Taryn Landry was there that awful night fourteen years ago when Long Acre changed from the name of a town to the title of a national tragedy. Everyone knows she lost her younger sister. No one knows it was her fault. Since then, psychology professor Taryn has dedicated her life's work to preventing something like that from ever happening again. Falling in love was never part of the plan...

Shaw Miller has spent more than a decade dealing with the fallout of his brother's horrific actions. After losing everything―his chance at Olympic gold, his family, almost his sanity―he's changed his name, his look, and he's finally starting a new life. As long as he keeps a low profile and his identity secret, everything will be okay, right?

When the world and everyone you know defines you by one catastrophic tragedy...How do you find your happy ending?

The tragedy of Long Acre mirrors so much of the contemporary violence in schools but I’ve never read a romance series that details the lives of those who actually live on in the aftermath of it—and how a single, catastrophic event drastically alters everything they’ve done or believed in.

In ‘The One You Fight For’, Taryn Landry and Shaw Miller—victims in their own right as siblings of the victim and the perpetrator of the shooting—still find themselves reeling from the events more than a decade ago, still paying in their own ways for what they perceive as their penance for playing a part for what went down and upturned their lives. For all of Loren’s focus on the victims and the fallout of the shooting in her previous books, I hadn’t considered at all, how close relatives would have dealt with this and Loren finally forces this into the limelight with Shaw/Taryn taking centre stage in this instalment.

Shaw and Taryn meet in a series of serendipitous events that took a number of twists and turns getting there: from an anonymous song at a bar, to a run where Taryn collapses and eventually signs up at a ninja-warrior-type gym where Shaw and his friend are setting up.

Loren’s brilliance at portraying brokenness and the ‘relatability’ of characters however, is as heartbreaking as it is compelling to read about: each of her protagonists, guilty for the small things they thought they’d done to contribute to the tragedy, each trying to make up for their perceived culpability in their own ways.

What moved me the most however, was the utterly downtrodden Shaw, who couldn’t see beyond the need to punish himself for something he didn’t commit for his entire life: for being related to the shooter is by proxy meant that he was guilty as charged, for how he’d never been able to shrug away the stigma, at the abuse he’d received from so many (the sharp, acid tongue from Taryn notwithstanding when she said some cruel things), for the yearning to only be ‘normal’.

I had a sort of inkling how this would go down from start to end. Taryn and Shaw aren’t hostile rivals to begin with, but what binds them is something more devastating and perhaps even notoriously taboo in the place where they live.

Conflict after conflict seem to await them up to a point where their loyalties are stretched and pulled in different directions, to the extent where the climax is a predictable one from the lead-ins and hints that have been given, as is their bittersweet resolution. Taryn/Shaw’s rather abrupt epilogue is hard-won nonetheless, though I did somehow wish for a more-iron-clad one that’s more inferred than given past the last page.

four-half-stars

Bending the Rules by Tracey Alvarez

Bending the Rules by Tracey AlvarezBending The Rules by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Due South #10
Published by Icon Publishing, Tracey Alvarez on 20th October 2018
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Cop Noah Daniels doesn't believe in unicorns or true love, not since his life went to hell six years ago. Emotions are easier to handle when they're out of sight, out of mind. But when script writer Tilly Montgomery crash-lands into his world on Stewart Island for a month, she might just be the one to convince him that unicorns and true love do exist. If they're prepared to bend the rules a little…

Tracey Alvarez’s Due South series has always been a special one for me; that it’s set in beautiful NZ with its unique Maori culture—Alvarez’s clear love for her country bleeds through so enthusiastically that I can’t help feel it—is just a bonus.

Noah Daniels finally, finally gets his story, though it isn’t quite one that I’d expected, but then, I hadn’t expected my own reaction to be lukewarm at best.

I think few things really happened, even though I was partway though: there were a few to-and-fro moments that felt dragged out, the usual flitting in and out of the Due South characters who had had their HEAs already written and the slow unfolding of Tilly’s great-aunt’s grand affair with a man through her journal.

As a result, it took me days to finish this (never happened before with an Alvarez book!) and while I love the writing that’s a mixture of action, humour and quirk—sometimes all in a paragraph—it was a struggle to see Tilly/Noah together when I couldn’t really even buy into their attraction to begin with. Tilly was mildly annoying—the constant, mindless chatter, the cop-cling thing just got to me—and with Noah’s emotional disengagement, this was a pairing that made it surprisingly hard to see getting off the ground given how much they took turns to push each other away. Having these lines of conflict drawn quite early between them however, meant that there was a steady climb to a climax that I could see coming and it definitely got better towards the end.

‘Bending the Rules’ ended up a middling read for me, and it’s hard to say if I was really disappointed or not. I found myself firmly in neutral territory after turning the last page but then I thought immediately of the other characters who have yet to have their HEA and I was excited again knowing that this series would be continuing.

three-stars

Eagle by Janie Crouch

Eagle by Janie CrouchEagle by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #2
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing, Jane Crouch on 10th October 2018
Pages: 278
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three-stars

He's fighting for what's right... She's fighting just to survive...

When former Special Forces soldier Finn Bollinger is asked to help with a deadly government mission, he's up for the task. His job teaching survival skills to civilians at Linear Tactical keeps him sharp, and he can still handle himself in the field.

But the Army damn well didn't teach Finn how to handle Charlotte Devereux. She's back and she's all sorts of bad news.

Charlotte can't change the past. Can't change the choices she made or the fact that they cost her everything. All she can do is endure the fallout. Even if that means putting her future in the hands of Finn, the man who has every right to want to destroy her.

And can in so many more ways than he thinks.

When the undercover mission goes impossibly wrong, they'll all have to depend on Charlotte's strength in order to survive. But everyone has a breaking point...

What I’ve found so unusual about Linear Tactical is how Janie Crouch has found a way of getting her characters peripherally involved in huge governmental-level-type espionage incidents even if they aren’t actually neck-deep in the deep-end of things and jet-setting all over the world to prevent a nuclear meltdown. It’s romantic suspense done somewhat differently (there’s still plenty of action, deception and loose ends in the small place that they’re all based) and it’s something I’m new to.

Crouch tackles Finn Bollinger’s and Charlie Devereux’s second-chance story in ‘Eagle’, where their history is hinted at in the first book of her Linear Tactical series as an unhappy one. But as it becomes evident that Charlie had left Finn to marry someone else and left him in bad shape 8 years ago, the twist of fate that brings them back together (the former as the special needs tutor of Finn’s son) is more than just one that rekindles their burnt-out relationship. Throw in a boy (who’s got more than meets the eye), a sleazy strip club, a quasi-military operation and a private security firm and a perfect storm starts to brew.

Much of Finn/Charlie’s story came from the anticipation of reading what really happened all those years ago and Crouch certainly took some time to build up to this. Yet the slow trickle of information that filtered through in the form of Charlie’s lack of willingness to be upfront with Finn about her secrets and problems, did make it hard for me to get behind their second-chance romance, let alone a female protagonist whom I wasn’t entirely sure I could support.

I probably would have liked Charlie a lot more had she been more remorseful and upfront about her own hard-headed decisions that she’d taken without seemingly fully considering the damage she’d wrought. In fact, for someone who’d tackled everything else head-on in the swath of destruction she’d left in her wake, I’d expected Charlie to be less cowardly in the way she still chose to assume the worst of Finn and of them when she’d never quite picked him over her own family to begin with.

But a caveat here: I’ll admit readily that the second-chance romance trope isn’t one that I typically like, so my review of ‘Eagle’ (and my rather stinging critique of Charlie) are definitely skewed because of this certain bent.

Despite my own reservations, I did find ‘Eagle’ quite compelling, the last quarter ramping up to be the most intense and heart-pounding part of the story. Crouch does pull all of it together in a way that’s quite neatly tied up—the suspension of disbelief comes into play, of course—while leaving a hook for Aiden’s story to come and that’s already what I’m looking forward to.

three-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

Hot Secrets by Lynn Raye Harris

Hot Secrets by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT Secrets by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Hostile Operations Team, #13
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on September 18th 2018
Pages: 314
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three-stars

She nearly ruined his life. Now she needs him to save hers.

It was supposed to be a simple job for hacker Bliss Bennett: access confidential files and turn them over to the CIA. But something went wrong—and now Bliss has a target on her back. With no idea who to trust, she heads straight toward the one man she hopes won’t turn her away.

Sky “Hacker” Kelley is a badass Special Operator with lethal moves and mad computer skills. He hasn’t seen his former lover—former wife—in four years, not since she nearly cost him his military career. Her arrival on his doorstep in the middle of the night reveals a gut-deep truth—he might want nothing to do with her, but he still wants her. And as much as he’d love to slam the door in her face, Sky isn’t wired to turn away anyone in distress.

Protecting Bliss won’t be easy. The files she stole are at the heart of a dangerous conspiracy, and someone is willing to do whatever it takes—including kill—to get them back. It’ll take all Sky’s considerable black-ops skills to keep Bliss safe—and all his willpower to resist falling into her bed, and her life, ever again…

‘Hot Secrets’ pulls a former couple back together again in a fast-paced and relatively easy, flowing read. In many ways, it’s a classic Lynn Raye Harris RS read that I’ve gotten accustomed to, though I’ll be the first to admit that it works sometimes more than others.

Or it could just be that I love the military covert operations-type stories that bring the unsuspecting world to the brink of destruction, except that a small but extraordinary group of people help prevent the impending disaster while we obliviously all live to see another day.

Still, ‘Hot Secrets’ left me mixed. I did like the intriguing conspiracy theory Harris put forth—a huge amount of suspension of disbelief is clearly needed though—as well as the deft way the conflict is resolved while the puzzle is put together, but oh lord, what do you do when you absolutely hate a protagonist? Especially if it’s a half of a pairing you’re supposed to be rooting for as well?

Some characters just rub me the wrong way, and Bliss Bennett was one of them.

Living with a cold, unfeeling heart meant that Bliss annoyed the hell out of me. I found her self-absorbed, stupidly naive and remorseless for most part, vacillating between saying she’d self-righteously do it all over again (including destroying Sky in the process) and being supposedly sorry for the consequences of her actions.

That she’d only tried to apologise all those years later when she had a desperate need to be protected just showed her up as mercenary and calculative to the core, only admitting that she had no qualms about lying only when her back was pushed to the wall, even playing the victim as she talked about being ‘hurt’ as well in the dissolution of their short-lived marriage. Seeing how Sky stuck with her despite the initial, scintillating conversation as he dealt with his own anger showed him to be a way bigger person than I ever could be for a character whom I thought should have gotten way worse than what he’d dished out on her.

Given the rant, it’s probably safe to say that my rating is a middle-of-the-road one because of a protagonist I detested from start to end. There were so many things I’d hoped to happen in order for Bliss to redeem herself, but somehow that didn’t quite come and as a result, left me sputtering over her HEA that felt less than deserved.

three-stars