Category: Advanced Reader Copy

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah HogleYou Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on 7th April 2020
Pages: 368
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three-half-stars

Naomi Westfield has an Instagram-perfect life, including the perfect fiancé: Nicholas Rose holds doors open for her, remembers her restaurant orders, and comes from the kind of upstanding society family every bride dreams of being a part of. They never fight, complain, or disagree. They're preparing for their lavish wedding that's three months away. And they are miserably and utterly sick of each other.

Tired of contorting herself to fit the ridiculous standards demanded by Nicholas's family, Naomi wants out of the relationship. But there's a catch: Whoever calls off the engagement will have to foot the enormous bill for the wedding. When Naomi finds out that Nicholas, too, has been feigning contentment, the two of them go head-to-head in a battle of wills to see who can annoy the other into surrendering through pranks, sabotage, and all-out emotional warfare.

But now that they have nothing to lose, they're finally being themselves. They're having so much fun getting on each other's nerves that it starts to feel like something else entirely. As Naomi discovers hidden feelings for Nicholas buried under three years of simmering resentment, she wonders if he feels the same way.

Suddenly, the countdown to the wedding that may or may not come to pass feels more like a race to mutual destruction--and Naomi doesn't want to be left alone at the finish line.

What happens when the first flush of lust and attraction peters out in the months following the heady romantic dating period…and worse yet, when the wedding is approaching and someone’s getting more than just cold feet?

Where most books go in the direction of explaining that couples break up because of this, this is really, where the story starts in ‘You Deserve Each Other’—that alone made me pick up the book, for its realism that we typically don’t want to read about in the bid to escape the dreary duties of real life. For that alone, I’d commend Sarah Hogle for making the dating bit forming the prologue and starting the story only when Nicholas’s and Naomi’s claws come out to play.

Hogle deals with the the stifling feeling of being trapped with some poignancy, panache and sad realism all too well—the lull, this daily grind, the toughness of maintaining relationships coming to a head—with Naomi’s first person neurotic ramblings taking the forefront of the narrative. It’s an odd lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers trope here, and we’re stuck in the middle of a war, seen at least only from Naomi’s perspective—with her building resentment, her unhappiness and the increasing number of walls she puts up in the hopes she’ll antagonise her fiancé past the point of no return.

‘You Deserve Each Other’ starts off with increasingly juvenile pranks and it gets worse with the weird one-upping, second-guessing and the snide things both Nicholas and Naomi say to each other. But thankfully, before it starts getting really pointless however, the change of heart comes, in the form of small and nice gestures, in learning the small bits that drew them to each other at the beginning.

It’s probably a book that’s possibly relatable to some more than others. Well-written, in the first-person, with precious flashes of insight and some poetic writing, it’s not a hard one to get through but Naomi’s antics can get exhausting and to what end, you ask? Why bother with the merry-go-round of vindictive games, the wilful misunderstanding and distrust when all is seemingly lost?

I’ll admit that I enjoyed the last quarter the best and that was when the book really took off for me, not just because you could literally read about their gradual climb back into their HEA but because it was also a great relief to get past the antagonism. In short, not a bad read, but some parts were frustrating—possibly even felt redundant—and those were hurdles to get through before the good bits come.

three-half-stars

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

The Worst Best Man by Mia SosaThe Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
Published by Avon on 4th February 2020
Pages: 368
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two-half-stars

A wedding planner left at the altar. Yeah, the irony isn’t lost on Carolina Santos, either. But despite that embarrassing blip from her past, Lina’s managed to make other people’s dreams come true as a top-tier wedding coordinator in DC. After impressing an influential guest, she’s offered an opportunity that could change her life. There’s just one hitch… she has to collaborate with the best (make that worst) man from her own failed nuptials.

Tired of living in his older brother’s shadow, marketing expert Max Hartley is determined to make his mark with a coveted hotel client looking to expand its brand. Then he learns he’ll be working with his brother’s whip-smart, stunning—absolutely off-limits—ex-fiancée. And she loathes him.

If they can survive the next few weeks and nail their presentation without killing each other, they’ll both come out ahead. Except Max has been public enemy number one ever since he encouraged his brother to jilt the bride, and Lina’s ready to dish out a little payback of her own.

But even the best laid plans can go awry, and soon Lina and Max discover animosity may not be the only emotion creating sparks between them. Still, this star-crossed couple can never be more than temporary playmates because Lina isn’t interested in falling in love and Max refuses to play runner-up to his brother ever again...

Imagine the male protagonist of a romance being the one who opens the story by telling his brother not to marry his fiancée for various reasons not quite made clear to us, then later snags the fiancée for himself. Not by manipulation really, but by coincidence several years later, when the trio meet again as part of a business rivalry-recruitment set-up.

‘The Worst Best Man’ had an amusing start, albeit one that made me cringe. The writing is witty, assured and quirky enough that it can elicit a few amused smirks out of you, yet for what is a promising storyline, I thought the forward momentum of the plot stalled somewhere in the middle with a lot of to-and-fro between Lina and Max. The sheer details of wedding after wedding, then the family crowd jutting in and there…(and the constant emphasis on Portuguese and Brazilian culture and food, etc) just got to me that it was hard to even get a glimpse of the very slow burn between Lina and Max—so much so that I was squinting for it each time they interacted.

Still, Max’s and Lina’s dynamic was interesting so to speak: not quite friends, not quite enemies, but there was the undercurrent of discomfort, awareness and past hurt that couldn’t be brushed away too easily because of a history that was after all, a major bump in Lina’s life. Both were, individually, relatively well fleshed-out, but setting them up as a pair and the subsequent development of them as a couple were the parts where I thought the story fell short.

Max and Lina had internalised their attraction to each other (even that felt quite muted) that it dragged out a chemistry which could have been hotter and brighter. When they fell into bed together was the time I felt like I’d been blindsided somehow; there just didn’t seem enough between them for that spark to ignite. More so perhaps, when the emotional twist came at the end because it left me gobsmacked and confused…because, wasn’t it about Lina to start with?

Long and short it, I wished I liked this more, given how the blurb so easily hooked me in. In the end, it was more of a stuttering journey to end of the line and even then, I couldn’t buy into a couple who didn’t quite seem to move on completely from their past convincingly enough to be one that I could root for.

two-half-stars

Love Her Or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

Love Her Or Lose Her by Tessa BaileyLove Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey
Series: Hot & Hammered #2
Published by Avon on 14th January 2020
Pages: 352
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three-half-stars

Rosie and Dominic Vega are the perfect couple: high school sweethearts, best friends, madly in love. Well, they used to be anyway. Now Rosie’s lucky to get a caveman grunt from the ex-soldier every time she walks in the door.

Dom is faithful and a great provider, but the man she fell in love with ten years ago is nowhere to be found. When her girlfriends encourage Rosie to demand more out of life and pursue her dream of opening a restaurant, she decides to demand more out of love, too. Three words: marriage boot camp.

Never in a million years did Rosie believe her stoic, too-manly-to-emote husband would actually agree to relationship rehab with a weed-smoking hippy. Dom talking about feelings? Sitting on pillows? Communing with nature? Learning love languages? Nope.

But to her surprise, he’s all in, and it forces her to admit her own role in their cracked foundation. As they complete one ridiculous—yet surprisingly helpful—assignment after another, their remodeled relationship gets stronger than ever.

Except just as they’re getting back on track, Rosie discovers Dom has a secret... and it could demolish everything.

It isn’t often that you get a romance about a decade-long married couple whose relationship has gone stale and dry, where the HEA is one where the fairytale is reiterated rather than newly formed. There’s a bit more of a ring of maturity to such kind of stories I think, because it involves how love can evolve and change and grow in different ways over the years—and how critical the act of communication becomes just to keep the romance going beyond scorching up the bed sheets at night. What I liked so much was that such stories take up the hard part after the HEA, where maintaining that sort of happiness is a different kettle of fish, but also that the married couple’s story doesn’t end past the wedding vows.

‘Love Her or Lose Her’ is a Tessa Bailey attempt at such a story with Dominic and Rosie who have been each other’s one and only since middle school, having  seen nothing and no one else but each other even while they tread on rocky and shaky ground and still come out stronger at the end of it. There’s so much of the journey of rediscovering each other that it’s a heavier, weightier kind of second-chance romance that Bailey writes this time around, with regrets and love as both Dom and Rosie both look back to the past and and then forward to a future that was disintegrating before their eyes.

It did get a bit too porny for me as it usually is with Bailey’s filthy-mouthed male protagonists though; the sex scenes did seem out of place at times and exaggerated to the point where multiple orgasms are par for the course and never-ending sex drives keep everyone wet and sticky the whole night. I wasn’t too sure as well with the conflict that Bailey drew up at the very end—it did seem unnecessarily drawn-out for the sake of providing conflict, like a deliberately dip before ending on a high, a narrative template that I thought could have been ditched from the very start.

I’m guessing ‘Love Her or Lose Her’ might be a mixed bag for some readers. I do know people who lose immediately interest past a couple getting together—that the HEA should stay immortalised—while others argue that the purpose of escaping into romantic fiction is so you don’t have to think about realism and the heartache that accompany it. But I can count the number of stories on one hand that I’ve come across involving married couples and how they come out stronger on the other end, and in just this respect, Bailey is a shining star.

three-half-stars

The One For You by Roni Loren

The One For You by Roni LorenThe One for You by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away, #4
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 31st December 2019
Pages: 448
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three-stars

Sassy Kincaid Breslin finally gets her happy ending...

She got a second chance at life.
Will she take a second chance at love?

Kincaid Breslin wasn't supposed to survive that fateful night at Long Acre when so many died, including her boyfriend—but survive she did. She doesn't know why she got that chance, but now she takes life by the horns and doesn't let anybody stand in her way

Ashton Isaacs was her best friend when disaster struck all those years ago, but he chose to run as far away as he could. Now fate has brought him back to town, and Ash doesn't know how to cope with his feelings for Kincaid and his grief over their lost friendship. For Ash has been carrying secrets, and he knows that once Kincaid learns the truth, he'll lose any chance he might have had with the only woman he's ever loved.

Following the characters of a fictional town that still bears the scars of a school shooting over a decade ago has put Roni Loren on my radar. 4 books into the series, Loren still tells powerful stories of what it means to grieve, to nurture memories that are both good and bad, and even to tell oneself certain reconstructed tales laced with rum so that life gets easier to deal with as the years go by.

‘The One For You’ seems like Roni Loren’s final book of a difficult and poignant series, closing with Kincaid Breslin’s book and honestly, this was a harder, angstier one to take in than the rest. A series of events brings old school best-friends back together again, forcing them to face some unfinished business between them as they wade through the unpleasant memories that time and space can’t erase. The rest is predictable—Ash and Kincaid rediscover their own friendship, only with a dose of attraction and lust, with a big reveal towards the end of what really went down all those years ago that would again, make or break this fragile thread linking them once more.

Impulsive, flighty and so self-absorbed, I found Kincaid a different kettle of fish to even warm up to, let alone with her thoughtless hookups and actions that made others pay for the consequences. Constantly moving, surrounding herself with people, it felt as though she couldn’t even, for one moment centre herself and figure out what she really needed, having already sold herself the delusion of losing her one and only soulmate to the school shooting, then later back-pedalling when she realised it was supposedly her best friend for her after all. Not fighting for Ash, pettily looking at faults she could find with him even after all he’d done for her, so hell-bent on independence that she shaped up as someone who put herself first only.

Instead, I felt for Ash’s pining and his prolonged pain, especially as he kept on being second-best but never the first choice. That was rough, the way he’d held out for Kincaid and watched out for her time and again with her flaunting her dates in his face, and then later being so thick (and possibly in constant denial) in the way she kept seeing through him. In essence, he deserved better.

It did feel like a cop-out after all, at the end of the book when the love declarations came flowing in fast and furious, where Loren tried to sell the idea of Kincaid and Ash as the OTP. And that ironically, was hard to buy into since the whole book was already spent detailing how Kincaid didn’t quite seem to have a heart for Ash at all the way he did for her.

It isn’t to say that this isn’t a decent book considering the overarching narrative – my own issue with characterisation aside. Loren handles the aftermath of violence, the process of rebuilding and the coming to terms with stuff with a lot of grace and class, with a watertight HEA for all. The fairy-tale ending is given to her bunch of characters who vowed to live their lives to the fullest after the tragedy, and it’s with that upbeat note that the series anyway—with the message that there is hope and a happiness that even tragedy can’t take away.

three-stars

Shifter Planet: The Return by D.B Reynolds

Shifter Planet: The Return by D.B ReynoldsShifter Planet: The Return by D.B. Reynolds
Series: Shifter Planet #2
Published by Entangled tangled Publishing, LLC (Amara) on 14th October 2019
Pages: 276
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three-stars

Rachel Fortier is a much sought-after expert when it comes to exotic planets—especially the deadly kind. So when she’s hired by Earth Fleet’s most respected scientist to join a mission to the tightly closed planet Harp, it’s a dream come true. Until she discovers their mission is to capture shifters and sell them to the Military.

Shifter Aidan Devlin is on patrol far from his clan when he sees a shuttlecraft landing where it definitely shouldn’t be. As the invaders emerge, he’s surprised to see a lone lovely woman, who doesn’t seem to belong. But when he’s captured and put in a cage, he has no one but her to help him escape.

Drawn together by a hunger they can’t resist, and desperate to discover who betrayed Harp, Aidan and Rachel first have to survive a deadly journey to the city. But once there, they find themselves confronted by a conspiracy that goes even deeper. Because Harp is harboring a traitor. And he’s willing to destroy their world—and everything in it—to get what he wants.

‘Shifter Planet: The Return’ plunges us back to a future where a long-isolated earth-colony comes under scrutiny by Earthers once again, and with it, its closely-guarded secrets that threaten to come to light. I’ve a soft spot for this series ever since D.B. Reynolds brought Harp and its shifter-inhabitants to my e-reader, so it’s more than welcome to see that she isn’t done with this world yet.

But while Reynolds’s world-building is fascinating, detailed and complex, much of it feels—quite literally—as the title suggests, a return to the first book, plot-wise as well, only with 2 different protagonists who are much like the first book’s pairing. Aiden and Rachel Fortier face Harp’s wildlife as their main threat as well as a traitor in the midst, with Earth’s growing interest in what Harp can offer.

Reynold’s biggest attraction perhaps, was an incredibly capable heroine battling prejudices (sometimes even with a hint of misogyny Rachel faces), showing time and again how she shouldn’t have been underestimated in the wild as she took more than adequate care of herself. I couldn’t exactly understand her dogged determination to walk straight to the enemy other than the insistence he needed to be confronted and that her reputation was on the line, but it was the driving momentum behind Rachel’s actions, along with a carefully-orchestrated series of events that led to the big reveal.

Deception played a big part here nonetheless; lying by omission and distrust carried on for a while and I was relieved actually, to be past that at around the halfway mark.

What proved to be the book’s annoying downer was probably Aiden’s manwhoring ways that were repeatedly thrown in my face, then justified immediately after by the fact that casual sex was encouraged among shifters and how much the ladies loved him and how many women he’d screwed. There was the mild implication Rachel was a woman Aiden could lose his heart to and make him want more because she could handle herself around him and in the wild when the rest of the soft city-women couldn’t, and that felt vaguely insulting somehow—as though he’d needed someone to meet those standards to ‘change’ his ways, so to speak when the rest wouldn’t get a sniff since they weren’t good enough.

As much as I liked the epic adventure through the planet, the romance fell short at the end: a hurried few lines about whether Rachel should leave for earth, an even quicker declaration of love and…that’s it. In fact, much of it felt incomplete, with an epilogue that had nothing to do with the main pairing and a vague suggestion that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Harp and its inhabitants.

In short, I wasn’t too sure what to make of this. It’s a compelling read—this made me stay past my bedtime—but it’s the realisation afterward that the similarities this bore to the first book and a rather unlikeable ‘hero’ for much of it that gave me pause about what could have been a higher rating.

three-stars

Wolf Rebel by Paige Tyler

Wolf Rebel by Paige TylerWolf Rebel by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team #10
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 26th November 2019
Pages: 320
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four-stars

She let him get away

SWAT werewolf Rachel Bennett is hounded by nightmares after a vicious attack left her with PTSD. Not knowing who or what she can trust anymore, she's relieved to be assigned to a high-profile protective detail. Diving into work might be the distraction she needs, until she notices the mysterious hunk who seems to follow her wherever she goes―and recognizes him.

Now he needs her help...

After he's badly injured, former Navy SEAL Knox Lawson seeks out Rachel when he realizes he's turning into a werewolf. He'd once been part of the group hunting her kind, but he knew he had to quit when he found Rachel in his crosshairs. Now he desperately needs her help.

Rachel isn't sure she trusts Knox, but having him around keeps the nightmares―and the monster creating them―away. Knox might not know much about being a werewolf, but there's no doubt he'll do everything in his power to win her trust and keep her safe.

With a rapidly growing menagerie of paranormal creatures injecting new life into the SWAT series, ‘Wolf Rebel’ is a fun and campy, enemies-to-lovers with a twist story as Paige Tyler ups the ante here with more than just repetitive storylines of werewolves obsessed with finding their mates. Whether Tyler has consciously done this deliberate kink in the growing narrative arc or not, it’s one I can definitely appreciate—it does keep things fresh if you’re concerned with the onset of reader-boredom that far down this series.

A malicious entity taking the form of an evil clown, a traumatised cop and an ex-SEAL turned ex-hunter turned werewolf (how’s karma for that?) find themselves tangled in a thriller-romantic suspense mix that thankfully doesn’t cut too deep in order to retain its entertainment value. Essentially, ‘Wolf Rebel’ took a direction that I wasn’t expecting but it was easy to hop on for the squinty-eyed ride as shapeshifters, vampires and other paranormal things came together with faint echoes of Stephen King’s IT tied to even fainter echoes of gothic (?) horror.

Rachel Bennett and Knox Lawson might seem an unlikely pair, but Tyler writes them in a way that does work with the multiple obstacles that they both face. Their getting together isn’t as drama-laden as I thought it would be; external circumstances bring them together so that means there isn’t overt conflict for the sake of deliberately tearing a couple apart before some third party intervenes to drive them back together.

Suspension of disbelief is par for the course, but ‘Wolf Rebel’ seems to have regained that panache I thought the series started lacking in the middling few books, with a newly expanded arc that bodes pretty well for future books.

four-stars

Fallen by Rebecca Zanetti

Fallen by Rebecca ZanettiFallen by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Deep Ops, #2
Published by Zebra on 24th September 2019
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Too quiet.
A talented hacker who got caught, Brigid Banaghan is now forced to work with a secret Deep Ops unit. But she won't reveal any more to these renegade Feds than she has to. Especially not to Raider Tanaka, her control freak of a bodyguard and handler. It's enough that his body is tensed for action and his heated gaze is always on her . . .

Too sharp.
Raider knows there's more to his new assignment than he's been told. Why send a deadly agent of his experience to guard a computer genius—even a gorgeous, unpredictable, undisciplined one? But when Brigid's estranged father is named in an investigation into Boston's organized crime, Raider's mind switches onto high alert, just like his senses . . .

Too close.
To clear her father's name, Brigid needs Raider's help. The Unit's idea that she bring a strait-laced Fed in as her "fiancé" won't fly, though—not unless Raider can release his inner bad boy and become the rebel Brigid can't resist . . .

‘Fallen’ is Rebecca Zanetti’s second instalment of her ‘Deep Ops’ series and one that, if you’ve not read the first book, could be difficult to wade into from the beginning as you struggle to make sense of events, characters and context. But it isn’t an impossible task to figure out that this ragtag team of covert government agents operating off the fly, will do off-the-record missions barely held together by duct tape despite the individual competencies and shady backgrounds of its agents.

I know that Raider Tanaka’s story has been long-awaited, and I was hoping ‘Fallen’ would do justice to it with a pairing of handler and former ex-con. But there’s pretence on several levels as Brigid and Raider go undercover, but perhaps the strongest betrayal is yet to come as Brigid keeps her own secrets from him. That all seems to be suddenly forgiven when things come to a climactic finish however, does feel like a cop-out without Brigid paying her dues, so to speak.

Zanetti’s writing style, in itself, is sometimes, hard to pin down and this had me stumbling particularly in the middle. There are driving, satisfying moments where you could literally see the jigsaw puzzles sliding seamlessly into place, just as there are moments of high-riding tension, only to be broken by odd pockets of humour that surface within the storytelling—unwarranted, unexpected but sometimes enough to jerk you into a bark of laughter—with characters who have at least a quirk or 2 that become their calling card. And that, never fails to leave me either breathless, or scratching my head in bewilderment at the absurdity of the very different aspects of storytelling that Zanetti seems to incorporate in all her works. Suspension of disbelief aside, there were scenes (particularly the ones with anthropomorphism) that were probably meant to be funny but had me painfully grimacing instead.

‘Fallen’ is a not bad read, though not a fantastic one. There are hints of future pairings (though it seems the rest of the books are a long time in coming) and I wish it’d left more of an impression nonetheless, given how much I was looking forward to Raider’s story and how much I like Zanetti’s storylines.

three-stars