Category: Edelweiss

Iditarod Nights by Cindy Hiday

Iditarod Nights by Cindy HidayIditarod Nights Published by Ooligan Press on April 14 2020
Pages: 200
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two-stars

Sparks fly when Claire Stanfield, a jaded criminal defense attorney, and Dillon Cord, a former police officer trying to forget his traumatic past, meet in the wilderness of Alaska before they face what might be their most difficult challenge yet: surviving the dangerous twists and turns of the Iditarod Trail.

Claire Stanfield became a lawyer to make her father proud, but after a troubling case leaves her shaken, she escapes to Alaska and immerses herself in the world of dog sledding. Dillon Cord became a police officer to serve his community, but he moves to Nome in the wake of a life-altering incident.

For both, the Iditarod—the toughest sled dog race in the world—offers a chance for forgiveness, redemption, and healing. After meeting unexpectedly just ten days before the race, Claire and Dillon are drawn together by the shared challenge of surviving the merciless Alaskan wilderness out on the trail. With the help of their strong-willed sled dogs, the two mushers navigate treacherous mountain paths, as well as their own budding relationship.

If they can come to terms with their pasts and stay focused on the dangerous trail ahead, Claire and Dillon might have a chance to create something special—but only if they reach Nome in one piece.

When I first read the blurb of ‘Iditarod Nights’, it instantly appealed because so few of these adventure-romance type stories in the wilds of the boreal regions actually cross my feed. Doing a check on Goodreads however, suggested that this ARC is either a reprint, or a re-written and expanded version of an earlier one with a spanking cool cover.

If you’re interested in the actual Iditarod journey, Cindy Hiday does an impressive job of detailing the many stops of the race and how the mushers perform, including the fatigue they feel and the hallucinations they get.

But what started out promising—the dogs, the sledding, the descriptions of the race, the setup of the protagonists meeting—soon became a lull as the Dillion Cord and Claire Stanfield did their own preparations, waffling in their interactions—from the time they meet to the time the race takes place—to the extent where I doubted their chemistry and attraction. More so that their making out sessions came out of nowhere when there didn’t seem to be sufficient build of tension between them as they went on solo with their dogs on the race, met up at key checkpoints/rest stops then kissed a bit…and rinse and repeat.

Basically put, it was a tenuous connection I struggled to see of near-strangers having awkward talk in a step-forward-two-steps-back kind of dance, are uncomfortable in so many ways around each other, but yet give out pecks and kisses easily. Woven into this epic but exhausting experience is Dillon’s own past that keeps creeping back on him just as he keeps trying to maintain a distance from Claire, adding to the disconnect I felt between the pair.

I wished I’d liked this better, given the crazy epic adventure that really lends itself to what could have been an equally blistering romance. Instead, I was lukewarm by the time it all ended and still bewildered by two characters jumping into a romance but were really just only beginning to a tentative friendship.

two-stars

Would Like To Meet by Rachel Winters

Would Like To Meet by Rachel WintersWould Like to Meet by Rachel Winters
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on 3rd December 2019
Pages: 368
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one-star

After seven years as an assistant, 29-year-old Evie Summers is ready to finally get the promotion she deserves. But now the TV and film agency she's been running behind the scenes is in trouble, and Evie will lose her job unless she can convince the agency's biggest and most arrogant client, Ezra Chester, to finish writing the script for a Hollywood romantic comedy.

The catch? Ezra is suffering from writer's block--and he'll only put pen to paper if singleton Evie can prove to him that you can fall in love like they do in the movies. With the future of the agency in jeopardy, Evie embarks on a mission to meet a man the way Sally met Harry or Hugh Grant met Julia Roberts.

But in the course of testing out the meet-cute scenes from classic romantic comedies IRL, not only will Evie encounter one humiliating situation after another, but she'll have to confront the romantic past that soured her on love.

I can’t exactly put my finger on what, but ‘Would Like To Meet’ just didn’t work out at all from the very start.

What threw me off were the stage directions that set the scene, followed by a myriad of text messages, a plethora of characters and a fumbling heroine who messes up at the very start. For this reason, it was hard to get past just the first few chapters with the way the story was laid out and I had to keep going back to the blurb of the book just to keep the synopsis in my head and who the protagonists really were because there wasn’t an establishing scene with both Evie Summers and her romantic leading man in it.

In fact, the focus on Evie, her whirlwind life and the number of people in it—it was the impression I got in the first few chapters—was exhausting as I hit an early, early patch where the story just flattened to the point where I skimmed and then, fully stopped. I’d be hard-pressed to classify ‘Would Like To Meet’ as romance, but rather it’s more chick-lit with the focus on Evie’s personal growth and self-discovery in the journey she takes in the story.

In any case, I’d never been quite so fidgety about the story (wanting to put it down while straining at the leash to do something else is quite a bad sign) and obviously this has to be a case of ‘it’s just me’.

one-star

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha RaiGirl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai
Series: Modern Love, #2
Published by Avon on 21st April 2020
Pages: 400
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three-stars

OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???
I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]
Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!

One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for...

He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for.

With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections?

It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…

When Katrina King’s visit to a cafe results in a narrative spinning out of control thanks to a fame-hungry stranger, her sudden viral fame threatens her ordered, routined life and pushes her friend/bodyguard of many years to hide her away at his family peach farm. It takes, predictably, the intervention of animals and friends and family for the status quo to change between them, but it’s still a slow, slow burn of a romance, with a lot of thoughts about ‘why this shouldn’t happen’ up until the last third of the book.

Both Jasvinder Singh and Katrina are cautious in their own ways thanks to their own personal histories, but the jigsaw puzzle of both Jas’s and Katrina’s lives are revealed in fragments, which proved frustrating at times as I tried to piece together it all without the whole picture coming into play. Yet these seemed fairly inconsequential even as the story wore on, as Rai chooses to take the smoother and calmer path to a HEA that simply creeps up on you.

Alisha Rai’s ‘Girl Gone Viral’ is a different animal from its predecessor and it’s a change that I don’t exactly know how to deal with—not a bad one, since it sort of hovers between contemporary romance and a slight threat to privacy that requires nothing more than staying low and some familial, domestic upheaval. The angst level is low—not the sort that pulls the emotions out of your chest and has it aching—with an equally-strange low level of steam that’s unusual for Rai’s writing. Still, the last few bits of the book were the parts that I truly found enjoyable, much more than the first, slower-paced sections where things just trundled along, despite the softer and sweeter protagonists who actually do deserve each other and their HEA.

three-stars

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Love Lettering by Kate ClaybornLove Lettering by Kate Clayborn
Published by Kensington Publishing Corp. on 31st December 2019
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper.

But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .

If I’d initially thought there was something paranormal in the blurb, I could probably be forgiven for thinking that—Kate Clayborn’s ‘Love Lettering’ is intriguing just from the summary of its story and in contrast to what I thought, is founded on the abstract brought to life by the external forms of typography, colours, shapes and sizes.

The subject matter itself that ‘Love Lettering’ touches on has complexity behind it—signs, signals and their representations, codes, connotations, meanings and so on that can be broken down as academically deep as you want to make it—which is also what made me rather excited about romantic fiction being quite overt about how we’re essentially semiotically-led people.

It’s how Meg Mackworth interprets the world in any case, up until the point where she ‘foretells’ a mistake that would have been made when a particular client of hers comes in with a stoic and aloof fiancé. A year later, the decision comes back to haunt her in the best of ways: Reid Sutherland aka now-an-ex-fiancé reluctantly partners up with her as she tries to find inspiration in NYC for a particular design job, in the hope that she could help him find some kind of renewed pleasure in the place he can’t wait to move out of.

Seeing their odd relationship develop through the game of signs is quirky different all on its own but it was ultimately something I couldn’t get invested in past the first chapter or so. Having it go on made the storytelling sag even before the halfway point, and I found myself skimming just to catch the turning points between Reid and Meg…one of the oddest couples I’ve ever read about.

There’s creativity in the plot and in the way its written, but what stumbled me quite a few times was how Clayborn took a small, single thought which came through as the at-times frenzied inner monologue of Meg’s, then ran amok with it, drew it into the past or into the future, or flung it out far into the abstract before grounding it back in the present—racking up the paragraphs while adding to my confusion.

Like primary theme of the book, Meg’s infatuation with (and hyper-analysis of) the minutest signs lent the narrative a certain quirk and whimsicality, but also a lack of directness, coupled with convoluted descriptions that gave me pause, especially when I had to go back to re-read something just to get some clarity and focus back just to confirm what had transpired. And sometimes, it really felt like much ado about nothing when all I wanted to was for the plot to move decisively onward.

But move on it finally did, up to a point towards the end where it took a hooked sort of turn I didn’t expect and then I simply went through the rest easily. ‘Love Lettering’ is an unusual and clever one, sort of unevenly paced but if code and signs are your thing, this is the one to go for.

three-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 Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

The Right Swipe by Alisha RaiThe Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
Series: Modern Love, #1
Published by Avon on 2nd July 2019
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:
- Nude pics are by invitation only
- If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice
- Protect your heart

Only there aren't any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night... and disappears.

Rhi thought she'd buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won't fumble their second chance, but she's wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

In a thoroughly contemporary take on 21st century dating, Alisha Rai takes on the lingo that have slowly but surely become entrenched in dating-speak— ghosting, hooking up, dick pics, one-night stands, casual relationships, swiping right—and waves a story around it, along with the cynicism, the bouncing around and the jadedness that come along with the reality of finding the ‘right’ match.

From a hookup to a ghosting to a meeting as business rivals, Samson Lima and Rhiannon Hunter meet again when the former has every intention of buying up a rival’s dating company…just as the latter is stepping into said company as a favour for his aunt.

Rhiannon is a strutting, ball-busting shark through and through, a hard entrepreneur with a vendetta who’d made her way to the top and in some ways, a man-eater who takes no prisoners, more ironically so since she’s the founder of a wildly popular dating app for women.

But hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and Rhiannon’s steam-out-the-ears, full-on thoughts showed it, as she rocked out with bluster and claws extended trying to show that Samson’s ghosting didn’t hurt when it did. Still, she came across as petulant, hell bent on being detached, unforgiving and unkind, sometimes emotionally juvenile in her inability to let things go—all of which so that she’ll never have to feel weak and vulnerable anymore. Understandable, though these were qualities that didn’t seem to be at all attractive or redeeming as the story wore on.

Samson came through as the sweeter, yearning, milder one—it felt like he *had* to be one, given the kind of ‘heroine’ Rai had chosen to portray from the beginning—and I actually started and ended it all not just feeling sorry for him, but frustrated that he was constantly facing an uphill battle trying to convince her he was worth another shot while she simply stood there, twiddled her thumbs and punished him for his entire gender’s sins.

The whole point is, I’m not so sure if I’m on the boat with this role reversal, especially if the point is yet again, to show in the written word how women can do things equal or better than men and have it shoved down my throat in the abrasive, disaffected, trust-no-one form of Rhiannon Hunter.

I wish I could say that it was a story that grew on me but it didn’t exactly. Not quite. It got bogged down in the middle as Rhiannon and Samson circled around each other, skimming the surface but never quite going deeper as the Rhi’s trust issues kept flaring up while Samson tried to ease his way around it. Rinse and repeat.

Yet objectively speaking, ‘The Right Swipe’ a brilliant take on the app dating scene vs. the traditional dating one and all the thorny issues that surround it. In fact, Rai tackles it quite smartly, with conversations that range from tart and witty to penetrating and questioning, to the interconnected themes of women in business, to the existing patriarchy, sexual harassment and simply, the lengths people go to to protect themselves. I do think many readers would like Rai’s feminist take on it—it does champion women doing whatever the hell they want when it comes to dating and sex after all—just as I know my disappointment with the book makes me the minority here.

two-stars