Tag: Why God Why?

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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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

Flirting with Disaster by Jane Graves

Flirting with Disaster by Jane GravesFlirting with Disaster by Jane Graves
Series: The DeMarco Family #3
Published by Tule Publishing on 16 April 2019
Pages: 438
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

He was the man she couldn’t have…she was the woman he couldn’t forget.

On a humanitarian mission to fly doctors to a remote village in Mexico, pilot Lisa Merrick discovers something sinister lurking behind the organization in charge. Her plane is sabotaged, leaving her trapped in the Mexican wilderness with a price on her head and no way out. Injured and desperate, she contacts the one man she knows will help her: Dave DeMarco, a tough but compassionate Texas cop with whom she was once wildly in love.

Dave DeMarco is stunned when a woman from his past calls him late one night with an incredible story of smuggling, sabotage and attempted murder. Soon, though, his mission to rescue Lisa becomes a struggle for survival against an enemy who wants them both dead. When the danger they face clashes with the passion that still burns between them, Dave vows to protect the woman he never stopped loving – and keep her in his life forever.

‘Flirting with Disaster’ is my first Jane Graves book—an author that somehow slipped under my radar—and from what it looks like, a second edition reprint of a previously-published book of the early 2000s.

This does feel like reading an older style of romantic suspense so to speak: where action and passion collide, both burning hot and fast, the protagonists (linked only by a tenuous thread in their high school years very long ago) suddenly diving into each other like the end of the world is coming when danger flares. Somehow I think of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in ‘Speed’, or some other movie in that sort of similar make, where the connection is fast but cursory and I can’t think of anything else past that moment of seizing the day.

Like a movies with scenes told through multiple POVs at breakneck pace, both Dave and Lisa felt like they were carved out of stereotypes at times. The white-knight with a messiah complex, going by way of the cop family tradition and the latter, a wildcard, impulsive and petulant pilot who runs off the deep end just because she can, self-absorbed in putting her own needs and ambitions first (with several TSTL moments), and as a result turns out to be pretty much the female equivalent of the manwhore.

I wasn’t comfortable with the bashing of the dead wife, when it felt like the justification of the romance both Dave/Lisa had going on. Essentially, with the total opposites in play here—the needy, dependent late-wife vs. the fierce, independent woman who’d never left Dave’s memories at all felt like unnecessary drama and ruined it for me. What was wrong with having Dave in a happy or fulfilling marriage with a perfectly good wife before taking up with Lisa as a widower? Why was it necessary to dishonour his previous relationship by saying that Dave admit Lisa a very long time at the very end, all throughout his marriage to another woman—with emotional adultery? (I guessed this was a trigger that was pulled for me)

The secondary romance between Sera/Adam was oddly, the one that drew me in more. I liked their dynamic better, perhaps more so because it also revolved around a dead spouse without the misplaced affections.

In any case, ‘Flirting with Disaster’ was a quick read, but a middling one at best. Graves does write well undoubtedly, but it was just the pairing that didn’t do much for me.

two-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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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

Huge Deal by Lauren Layne

Huge Deal by Lauren LayneHuge Deal by Lauren Layne
Series: 21 Wall Street, #3
Published by Montlake Romance on 23rd April 2019
Pages: 268
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

An alpha among the wolves of Wall Street, Kennedy Dawson rose to the top of the pack by striking the right contracts at the right times. But there’s one deal that’s been giving him a run for his money—a pact to never again let his assistant, Kate, get under his skin. She may be smart, gorgeous, and sharp as a whip, but she’s definitely off-limits.

Kate Henley isn’t a banker, but she knows a thing or two about risk management—specifically, about managing her attraction to her smolderingly sexy boss. She already fell once, and Kennedy showed no sign of paying a return on her investment. So when Kennedy’s brother starts pursuing her, Kate figures she has the best of both worlds. Jack is charming, rich, very attentive, and the spitting image of his older brother.

It’s also making Kennedy think twice. But to win Kate’s heart, he’ll have to broker the deal of a lifetime…and prove he’s worth the risk.

It’s been a while since I’ve bene on the Lauren Layne boat, and ‘Huge Deal’ was one that I stepped into warily. Layne’s recent works have revolved around certain tropes and themes (questionable ones for me at least, when they seem to have to do with sibling dating, manwhores, oblivious/unrequited love) that have made it hard to fully like her books.

And lordy, how do I even begin with this?

Yes, there are feels. And yes, my chest hurt, mostly for Kate, but ultimately, I was left with too many doubts left unassuaged, shadowed instead by feel-good platitudes, of talk but not enough grit and fight in a relationship. Especially one that begins with unrequited emotions.

First, let’s get this out of the way: there’s no question that Layne can write and quite perceptively too. There’s angst, the outpouring of emotions, some nuanced looks at human behaviour in ‘Huge Deal’…but there’s also the uncomfortable underlying implications that affections could be transferred fast and that easily with the slight hint here of double-dipping, that appearances mattered greatly when Kennedy only noticed Kate after her mini-makeover which I couldn’t shake off.

Kenendy’s utter obliviousness to Kate, his underestimation of her, his under-appreciation for her for years when it was clear she had a thing for him was painful to read about. His accidental and meaningless put-downs made it worse—or that he often made it sound like he thought nothing of her except as an assistant—didn’t make the case for coupledom any easier, until Jack the younger brother came on the scene.

Why did it have to take a little bit of competition from his brother, for God’s sake, for Kennedy to wake up and see that Kate was a woman worth being with? That without Jack to peel the blinkers off Kennedy’s eyes, Kate couldn’t stand on her own merit and be deserving of that same attention without the makeover? Would Kate and Kennedy otherwise have gone on their own individual trajectories had Jack not intervened? Would Kennedy have not bothered about Kate otherwise?

The bottomline is, many of these burning questions—appearing when some tropes themselves appear—weren’t sufficiently addressed for me to buy into Kate/Kennedy, not when I found myself reading about affections that were too shakeable, too transferable, too easily swayed, where it had to take a mountain-moving revelation or makeover for an unattainable man to finally notice the woman who’d always been in front of him while going through a score of others in the meantime.

The reversal of everything in the last quarter of the book was surprising to say the least, as Kennedy ironically played catch up and took every effort to convince Kate—whose own POV on love had changed. In fact, I needed Layne to address the imbalance of emotions more or at least why it’d taken Kennedy this much to see her for what she was, but it seemed as though she’d taken another way out with a whole emotional twist that simply felt out of character for Kate.

With the sudden rush to an abrupt ending—the ending conflict was up and done too quickly for my liking—I was still left with the feeling that Kennedy hadn’t put himself out there enough, hadn’t fought for the both of them enough, hadn’t been put through the emotional agony enough, hadn’t made himself more vulnerable enough.

That Kate had all along, been the more multi-faceted character with the most growth and change didn’t exactly put them as equals as ‘Huge Deal’ rolled up to a quick HEA that left me less than convinced at a pairing that should and could have been more tested in a crucible that never quite burned hot enough.

three-stars

Shattered Vows by Kaylea Cross

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

She belonged to his best friend.

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

But she’s always been the one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

two-stars

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

two-stars

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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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