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young-adult-new-adult

Follow by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th December 2017
Follow by Tessa Bailey
Published by Tessa Bailey on October 30th 2017
Pages: 214
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two-stars

He wants her soul. Too bad she already sold it.

Family is everything to gambling den darling, Teresa Valentini. Blood comes first, especially before men. So when her brother lands himself in hot water, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save him. And showing up topless in her unwitting savior’s motel room is turning out to be the furthest thing from a hardship…

Will Caruso is the bad boy of New York’s financial scene…and he just found out the very thing that drives his success is a damn lie. Now, he’s exchanged his high-stress life for the open road, no one but his Great Dane…and half a million Instagram followers to keep him company. When a mysterious beauty arrives, her secrecy prods his suspicions, even while she tempts his lust to the breaking point.

Teresa met Will under false pretenses, but the bond consuming them is real. They’re strong enough to overcome a little betrayal…aren’t they?

The honey-trap. A hidden motive. The deception and the play for the ultimate goal. At least that’s what Teresa Valentini sets out to do to get her baby brother out of the clutches of a mafia boss. And that admittedly, is a strange proposition that she gets—to seduce his son back to his place in the financial world.

‘Follow’ banks on a very strong, animalistic instant lust attraction that moves the plot along, as Teresa’s seduction plan doesn’t quite go as expected. But the buildup is thick and fast—though not entirely easy to buy into—when the first meeting between Will and Teresa stray into hot and heavy very quickly. I felt as though their attraction was more skin-deep than anything else, particularly since Teresa was actively using her body to point Will in a direction she wanted him to go, just as it was equally hard to believe that Will was taken in by Teresa’s man-eating act enough to have her on that road trip with him simply because she intrigued him with her mysterious air and seductive posturing.

There are blustery emotions and very sensation-focused paragraphs tucked in between the slow revelations of the bits and pieces of each character and it was only after a while that I realised that the road trip is a major part of the story, when I’d actually been impatient and buckling down to get to the part where everything unravelled. And there’s no doubt that Tessa Bailey is good at this part: the drawing out of emotions, the dirty (and sometimes exaggerated) sex and the even dirtier-talking men.

But it’s here that I’ll also readily admit that Bailey’s prioritising of Will/Teresa’s sex games in all its forms over her deception was frustrating, when this type of longstanding pretence where the ultimate ‘reveal’ happens only towards the end just isn’t my kind of thing. A quarter of the book unfortunately, lingered on their dirty-talk and the a sexual push-pull vibes when I was impatient to read more about the unravelling of Teresa’s plan and Will’s discovery of her double play.

So for me, the pacing lagged in the first half—Bailey’s drawn-out descriptions of their attraction and sexual foreplay didn’t give the plot enough momentum—when the battle of wits seemed limited to the bedroom that made the first half of the story read like erotica.

I’d hoped for a clearer thread of honesty that would run through their narrative and was disappointed when it didn’t, because it felt that Will had always been the one who was more honest. It isn’t to say that Teresa’s love for her brother and her obvious like for Will weren’t broadcasting her personal conflict, but I did take issue with the depth of her betrayal and the delay with which the truth was revealed after she’d known that she’d fallen in love with him.

I’m going to say that ‘Follow’ was unfortunately, not a book that I could get into. Nothing to do with Bailey’s writing style—it’s obvious that she can and does write fantastically—but my own issues with plot and characters just got in the way for me to enjoy this at all.

two-stars

Game On by Lynn Stevens

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 22nd August 2017
Game On by Lynn StevensGame On by Lynn Stevens
Published by Entangled Publishing (Embrace) on September 18th 2017
Pages: 293
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one-star

Olivia Dawson doesn’t make mistakes. Unless those mistakes are a tall, broad-shouldered, cocky baseball player named Devon Miller. Devon and Olivia have been competing in their engineering classes since freshman year, and he seems to want nothing more than to get under her skin and shake her confidence. Unless you count that one time when he got under more than just her skin…

Now, they’re pitted against each other for a coveted internship that could open tons of doors for each of them. Only one of them can win. And they’re both ready to fight dirty if they need to.

Could Devon be playing for more than just his own gain—could he be after her heart?

Olivia is about to find out.

Game on.

‘Game On’ is a step back for me into New Adult, or rather, a college-age sports romance and after reading a few more ‘adult-ish’ books, took a wee bit of mental adjustment. Normally the transition is typically near-seamless, particularly if the plot and characters are stellar and there isn’t a huge step back in maturity levels. With the rivals to lovers trope in play here, ‘Game On’ sounded like something I could dig into.

But what I hadn’t counted on—which made me decidedly lukewarm—was Olivia Dawson’s past one-night stand with baseball player Devon Miller that happened when she was with another guy, who later broke up with her after she confessed that affair. It’s admittedly in the past and considered ‘just a mistake’ under the influence of alcohol, though that didn’t give me the best impression of her, not when she continued being judgemental, pugnacious and just an all-round pain in the arse after all this time.

That she nevertheless ends up with Devon—the guy she cheated with—while having a relationship somehow made light of that remorse. Cheating isn’t my thing (neither do I get off on it, though lately I find myself getting increasingly intolerant of it) and that tanked the book for me early on, as it tainted my whole impression of Olivia. With the entire story in her POV as well, ‘Game On’ was quite a let down from the start, especially when I found myself unable to take anymore of Olivia and gave up midway.

Obviously this series just isn’t for me—my preference rearing its head again quite strongly here—but as I’ve said before, it’s probably someone else’s cup of tea.

one-star

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 20th August 2017
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana ZapataThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on February 28th 2016
Pages: 403
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four-stars

Vanessa Mazur knows she's doing the right thing. She shouldn't feel bad for quitting. Being an assistant/housekeeper/fairy godmother to the top defensive end in the National Football Organization was always supposed to be temporary. She has plans and none of them include washing extra-large underwear longer than necessary.

But when Aiden Graves shows up at her door wanting her to come back, she's beyond shocked.

For two years, the man known as The Wall of Winnipeg couldn't find it in him to tell her good morning or congratulate her on her birthday. Now? He's asking for the unthinkable.

What do you say to the man who is used to getting everything he wants?

I survived another Mariana Zapata book and am damned proud of it. The length of her stories are daunting, make no mistake, and to go through all near-500 pages of a wry, sometimes-neurotic, sometimes-hilarious female voice telling only her side of the story can and does take patience, though the experience isn’t necessarily a dull and colourless one. I do always think twice before embarking on a Zapata story however and length does play a significant role in this decision.

But honestly, I’m not too sure if this book could be shorter though and functioned just as well. The aloof, impersonal start of Van and Aiden and the gradual transformation of their relationship—years!—from trying-to-please PA to a begging Aiden (with a marriage of convenience thrown in after Van quits) rightly needed a slow burn and Zapata’s style of writing certainly suits this kind of plot line.

Instalove? Not in Zapata’s vocabulary. That bit is gratifying, particularly since there are too many gooseflesh-raising stories trying to sell the unbelievable with alpha, dirty-talking men falling hard inexplicably for a woman and want nothing but to ‘claim’ and ‘breed’ her.

In this case, (real) time is as always, Zapata’s solution to the answer for a relationship to turn, with gaps so painstakingly filled in, sometimes mundane, everyday scenes appear as though they’re randomly inserted that there’s no need for the byline ‘x number of years later’. That much I can appreciate, because the result is a multifaceted and real character (at least for Vanessa) that comes through the pages, though the single POV makes Aiden still somewhat of a closed-off ‘hero’ when all I can extrapolate of his brick-ish, stony personality is what Vanessa and other secondary characters say of him. Aiden/Van’s HEA is as well, unequivocally ironclad and that’s also a kudos to Zapata’s careful development of their relationship.

I’m not exactly an apologist for the excruciatingly long, slow burn, despite my defence of the justifiable length of ’The Wall of Winnipeg and Me’. I found myself absorbed for most part without my interest really slipping and for most part, it was so easy to like the characters in this book that it certainly wasn’t a pain to go on and on before the bed finally called to me.

It isn’t to say I wouldn’t take a deep breath before plunging into another Zapata book, because I will. I still look at the books by her that I’ve not yet read (there’s just one more that I want to tackle) and I still think that I don’t have the courage yet to take it on. But having just been brought on a satisfying journey with Van and Aiden, that day might be sooner rather than later.

four-stars

Changing the Play by Julia Blake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 13th August 2017
Changing the Play by Julia BlakeChanging the Play by Julia Blake
Series: The Game Changer #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 21st 2017
Pages: 339
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three-stars

Rachel Pollard has never been a push-over. That’s why she’s a superstar in the world of sports management, making a name for herself with a shrewd eye for overlooked talent. She certainly isn’t taking any chances with her latest NFL draft prospect, Kevin Loder, who’s poised to shake up the league. But when Nick Ruben, a tenacious sports reporter who also happens to be the crush who ignored her all through high school, picks up the scent of a long-buried story, Rachel suddenly finds herself playing defense for the first time in years.

Nick usually doesn’t strike out with women, but his always-dependable charm isn’t getting him anywhere with Rachel or the interview he needs to save his job from his network’s impending layoffs. He knows he’s pressing hard, but she’s pushing back just as much—it’d almost be fun if his career wasn’t on the line. But after weeks of begging and finally striking a deal for an exclusive, Nick is surprised to realize he wants their relationship to be anything but professional. Now he has to figure out a way to save his job without hurting hers, and to make the girl he overlooked in high school believe he’s worth a shot at love.

Julia Blake is a new author for me, but ‘Changing the Play’ ensures I’ll be coming back for more. The book captures the mad, competitive world of sports management and journalism perfectly, with such sharp, insightful writing that I knew that it was going to be a read I wouldn’t be able to forget. I loved the frenetic rush, the constant flurry of activity of the whole sports scene that was detailed and wholly engrossing—even though it isn’t quite my thing—as well as the conflict that was so very real when Rachel and Nick clashed.

Most of all though, Blake has written such a memorable heroine for whom I found myself cheering the whole way. There was everything to love about Rachel—her tenacity, her compassion for the players she managed and how she was able to call Nick out on the bullshit he piled on her as well as the strength that it took to say no to his charm offensive that was in many ways, professionally and personally insulting. I liked her protective instincts towards her players even when they’re idiots and her actions with Kevin made her a character who really deserved better than Nick who had everything to prove but didn’t.

In contrast, I was way less impressed by Nick as the selfish, entitled playboy journalist, who had really only sought Rachel out for his own purposes rather than wanting to do so because he wanted only her with no strings. Not only that made him hard to like, but I didn’t feel as though he wanted to date Rachel for herself—that seemed to come incidentally as his job had always been his first priority—even though he brought up the sob story of being an idiot in high school who never asked her out anyway. Somehow his actions and rationale(s) never stopped being questionable the whole time and those were pretty much the major blimps that prevented ‘Changing the Play’ from becoming an exceptional story for me.

three-stars

Solo by Lauren E. Rico

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th April 2017
Solo by Lauren E. RicoSolo by Lauren E. Rico
Published by Entangled Publishing on May 8th 2017
Pages: 364
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four-stars

When graduate student Katherine Brenner walked into my class, I couldn’t stand her -- all perfect skin and big, blue eyes -- just like the woman who broke my heart.
If it wasn’t for that blizzard, if her car hadn’t broken down outside my house, if she hadn’t looked amazing by the firelight, I never would have kissed her. No matter how hard I try, every excuse I make not to see her comes up flat.
I can’t stop thinking of her lips. Or the way her curves fit perfectly in my hands. There’s a million reasons why this won’t work. I’m her professor. It’s against university policy.
And if this gets out, I could lose everything.

There was so much I loved about this book, not least because the subject matter had me so captivated. Not only was it the forbidden relationship that had developed out of an initially antagonistic one that drew me in, but the fact that it was built around and based on a love for classical music that had me turning the pages and losing sleep, bringing me back to a time when it’d played a large role in my life. It felt like a reminder of (or maybe even a stunning tribute to) the power of music and it was easy to be swayed when Lauren E. Rico’s clear investment in her characters and love for the subject shone through so clearly.

Yet ‘Solo’ is also a story of two people trying to rise from the ashes after years of conflict and hostility—I wished the book cover and the suggestive and short blurb reflected this! After getting past my incredulity, the story took over and I gobbled it down hook, line and sinker, loving the complexity already written into this problematic set-up from the very start.

Drew Markham has it out for his graduate student (taking out his anger unconsciously on a woman who resembles his ex) while all Kate is trying to do is to lie low and distance herself from her ‘celebrity’ status as a Senator’s daughter. Serendipity brings a huge snowstorm to their small mountain town however, just as an assignment deadline looms large, and forces this switch that morphs into friendship, tentative attraction and eventually, full-blown affection.

I think the bottom line for me was that both Kate/Drew were sympathetic enough characters that it was easy to cheer for them as a couple. As an aspiring female conductor with enough gumption to get through grad school on her own, Kate gained my admiration early on, although it was harder to warm up to Drew’s volatile nature, especially when he wronged her too many times for my liking. Nonetheless, I liked how natural it felt as Drew and Kate took days to work out their differences—the injection of maturity and the communication really helped—but also how their HEA doesn’t come without consequences as well. The dose of realism that you could see coming miles away was painful to take in, though not unexpected and Rico doesn’t shy away from laying it out. But once Drew/Kate got going however, their rocky road together was far from easy and even as I’d hoped for a more conclusive epilogue, their happiness seemed hard-fought and consequently, deserved as they weathered the whole fall-out.

four-stars

Down and Dirty by Tracy Wolff

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Sports 5th March 2017
Down and Dirty by Tracy WolffDown & Dirty by Tracy Wolff
Published by Loveswept on May 23rd 2017
Pages: 210
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two-stars

Emerson: Talk about bad first impressions. I have too much riding on this job to show up late on my first day looking like the winner of a wet T-shirt contest, all thanks to an arrogant quarterback who drives like he owns the road. Hunter Browning thinks that because he’s famous, he can fix everything with a smile and a wave of his hand. He’s too bronzed, buff, and beautiful for his own good. Or mine. I can’t let on that I’m a fan . . . no matter how much fun we’d have in the sack.

Hunter: Hitting that puddle was my best play since winning the Super Bowl with a touchdown pass. Sure, it’s not my preferred way to get a girl wet, but I’ll make an exception for Emerson Day. She’s got a sharp tongue and a red-hot temper, even with her soaking clothes plastered to her every curve. Now I know exactly what my next play will be: hire Emerson as my personal real-estate agent, save her job—and see if I can take her off the market.

Tracy Wolff certainly has a way of writing steamy scene after steamy scene, though quite a bit of the book reads like a porn movie set, where characters meet perfunctorily and get hit hard by lust. Resistance (there’s a little of it), of course, is futile when constant penile erections and hardened nipples and wet slits suddenly take over.

The physical aspect of ‘Down and Dirty’ was never in doubt when Hunter zeroed straight in—from the very first meeting—like a panting dog in heat on Emerson, as I wondered if this book could better be classified as erotica than contemporary chick-lit. But I lost count of the number of ways he imagined her in all the sex positions, her lips doing dirty things to him and so on, up until the point where I finally decided that Hunter was a bad bet all around, led around mostly by his dick (and posturing a lot with it too), with copious amounts of dirty descriptions dedicated to how much he liked Emerson’s sexy body. And because Emerson is more special than his numerous one-night hookups, he has to relearn how to ‘woo’ a woman, which in his book, means loading her with lavish gifts that his wealth affords him.

Apart from Hunter’s concern for his ailing sister, I was inclined to think he was generally a classless act with mood swings and obscene excess (as is typically written of the lifestyle of the superrich), crude but bland, yet cockily arrogant with very little character depth. His rationale for only having hookups was that his mind was already full with his family problems, yet there was no issue diving into this routine with Emerson when it suited him. When things took a turn for the worse, he pushed her away in the nastiest way possible, unable to deal with the overwhelming emotions—all typical alpha male behaviour that still surprises me with its stupidity at times.

And while Wolff certainly portrays the grieving process well, I couldn’t get over his callous treatment of Emerson, almost as though grief gave him license to be an idiot around others. I didn’t think very much of Hunter at all at the end as a result, especially since it felt as though he merely used Emerson as a bandage slapped over wounds, or that he was with her in a bid to keep a part of his life from spinning out of control.

Emerson fared somewhat better in my opinion, standing her ground against him, though you do know her issues will crumble under Hunter’s oh-so-experienced, superior touch. From there (and it’s just a week!), the falling in love bit came easily…perhaps too easily for me. She’s nevertheless, somewhat more multifaceted, with deeper perspectives and an more unshakeable sense of compassion than Hunter’s tunnel vision on women, football and his sister, which made me wonder just how much he really deserved her.

I tried to enjoy this, I really did. I did like how the introduction of an dying sibling gave the story more gravitas than a contemporary romance would have, though I’m not quite convinced yet that it’d helped shaped the pairing out to be a more solid and believable one that successfully weathered a storm together, because they didn’t quite do so. So unfortunately it didn’t quite work for me as I prefer my stories with a bit more narrative and character depth. But if getting hot and bothered is your primary goal, then ‘Down and Dirty’ would be it.

two-stars

His Alone by Alexa Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 21st February 2017
His Alone by Alexa RileyHis Alone by Alexa Riley
Series: For Her #2
on March 28th 2017
Pages: 244
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four-stars

She thinks I'm perfect. A good boss, a good man. She thinks that I play by the rules.
She has no idea who I truly am. Why I'm really here.
Paige Turner is trying to outrun her past, but there it is, tossed back in her face anytime she manages to get two steps ahead.
She has no idea what a man like me will do to get what he wants.
Her need for Ryan got in the way of revenge, took her off course. Redirected her focus. Before she knew it, he'd made his way into her life. Into her heart.
I'm dirtier than she knows. She thinks I'm good to the core, but she doesn't know the things I've done. The things I would do for her.
True love doesn't let secrets as big as these stay buried. And when the truth about Paige's father is finally exposed, Ryan will do anything to fix everything. Paige has always been his and his alone.

There’s no denying that Alexa Riley’s books appeal to a certain portion of readers (as is declared by the authors themselves). Her heroes and heroines are over the top, have over the top sex, are prone to dramatic bursts of temper, and are well, so completely devoted to each other that their happy-ever-afters actually require chapters worth of epilogues to ensure that these happy endings are iron-clad. It’s as though the readers themselves need some convincing that a pairing’s overwhelming love can and will last decades, even when the kids have flown the coop. Along with instant love however, Riley’s characters stay ‘safe’ in many ways: there isn’t talk of other men or other women and the steamy scenes—consisting of acrobatic sex, a multitude of orgasms and no recovery period—are reserved wholly for the protagonists alone.

Captain’s and Paige’s story had been in the wings for a while now, ever since Miles and Mallory burst onto the scene like a recap of ‘Fifty shades of Grey’. And both Captain and Paige kind of follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, though the obsession and stalkerish behaviour is thankfully toned down a bit more here. Lies and deception do form some part of the conflict here, but they don’t last. The bulk of the story is much focused on the developing relationship between Captain and Paige, the side of suspense comes as a surprise, as is the revelation of Captain’s undercover status throughout all these years. The lack of elaboration and details regarding that shady part of his life unfortunately, made the bit about his role in Paige’s and Miles’s father somewhat less unbelievable, but perhaps that really isn’t the point at all in this book.

The long and short of it is, if you’re looking for erotica that’s wrapped around a decent kind of plot (though you’ll definitely need to suspend some disbelief there) and characters who burn up the sheets, then this is a read for you.

four-stars
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