Category: New Adult

Audition by Skye Warren and Amelia Wilde

Audition by Skye Warren and Amelia WildeAudition by Amelia Wilde, Skye Warren
Series: True North #1
Published by Book Beautiful LLC on 9th December 2019
Pages: 215
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three-stars

Blood and sweat. Bethany Lewis danced her way out of poverty. She's a world class athlete... with a debt to pay.

Joshua North always gets what he wants. And the mercenary wants Bethany in his bed. He wants her beautiful little body bent to his will.

She doesn't surrender to his kiss.He doesn't back down from a challenge.It's going to be a sensual fight... to the death.

What draws me as always to Skye Warren’s books is the lyrical writing, so I know that ‘Audition’ will be a well-spun tale, at least when it comes to style. I’d been awaiting for this one with a little bit of trepidation, not because I generally liked Warren’s North Security series (I did) but because I hadn’t quite a good enough impression of Liam’s equally cynical younger brother to think he needed his own HEA.

Like the previous books in the establishing series, ‘Audition’ stayed on the edge of the morally questionable and never quite bloomed to become a fully fledged love story that I’d hoped would be grander and more convincing.

But what I found difficult wasn’t the forbidden tinge itself, but rather, the plot that always seemed shrouded in an attractive veil of mystery that I can’t seem to pierce—there was a back story that unfolded in bits and pieces—but put together so loosely spanning past and present that it felt like a fragmented shard of a complete narrative that I couldn’t seem to get. And that was Bethany’s and Joshua North’s relationship in a nutshell: a little danger, shady company, a mutual obsession since they met five years ago under equally shady circumstances, a repeating litany of doubting themselves and each other and Joshua’s personal self-recrimination of wanting Bethany while feeling filthy about it.

We’ve been given the bare bones and the points of conflict that surrounded them, but I couldn’t get past that their connection was road-blocked past dark desire. Joshua’s weirdly unhinged (and somewhat stalkerish) behaviour around Bethany while the thoughts he had about her stayed just that: lengthy inner monologues that didn’t change anything as he stayed an arse for most of it, mired too deep in his own inability and unwillingness to be invulnerable up until the end. Ironically, the most Joshua continued the repetitive notes of there being nothing good in him, the more and more I started to agree…because there weren’t any signs despite the struggles he had, that this was going to shift.

‘Audition’ had in essence, a (deliberate?) disjointedness storytelling here that threw me off, as much as I enjoyed the atmosphere, metaphor-laden writing. Still, I struggled to see past this nebulous relationship between Joshua/Bethany and it was this very lack of clarity that eventually hindered my whole enjoyment of this.

three-stars

Hate Crush by A. Zavarelli

Hate Crush by A. ZavarelliHate Crush by A. Zavarelli
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 21st November 2019
Pages: 324
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three-stars

They call him the devil.

When I crash-landed into him on my first day at Loyola Academy, I was sure that couldn’t be true.

He was the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen in real life.

Little did I know he was also the cruelest.

I went from starstruck to stunned the moment his cynical eyes cut through me.

I can’t tell you what it was that made him want to punish me. But from that day forward the brooding recluse of a man made it his goal to torment me.

I want to loathe him, and some days, I do.

But good or bad, nobody’s attention has ever tasted so sweet.

What do you do when you have a hate crush on your bully?

Worse yet, what do you do when he’s also your teacher?

The bully-love-hate-teacher-forbidden mega trope romance is a not-so-secret catnip of mine, so ‘Hate Crush’ seemed like a good idea at the time. And to be fair, I did have an idea of what this was going to be and there were no illusions (at least, not too many) about it turning out to be a sweet, salty thing with an easy, kissy ending.

Like the blurb suggests, Sebastian Carter has found a target in Stella LeClaire, the new girl who is only part of the elite and rich crowd because of the strings that her father has pulled in Loyola Academy. The affair that they eventually fall into however, is one borne out of obsession, unhealthy dependency, abandonment issues and a way to work out a loss of direction and bitterness…the furthest thing from love, in my opinion.

This much I expected, even welcomed because I wanted to see how things would move from confused hate to lust to love as the story went on. A. Zavarelli did lay this out clearly enough, that this twisted relationship of theirs was anything but wholesome and that much, I was clear about.

What was hard to stomach though, were Sebastian Carter’s extended periods of bullying, of breaking down, of constant humiliation and cruelty for the sake of teaching a bitter and hard lesson in life simply because life had been hard for him. Doling pain out in equal measure isn’t surprising in terms of human behaviour I guess—people who have been hurt and cut deeply can and will do the same to others with a vindictiveness that is hard to witness, even in fiction—yet this happened to an extent where there was just too much of stomping down and very little building up and grovelling, which I needed to see in equal measure. One minute he’s distant and aloof, ghosting her for months; the next scene he’s back with a personality transplant and overly concerned and suddenly in love with her…really?!

In essence, the incredible masochistic streak I kept seeing couldn’t and shouldn’t simply have been mitigated only by a short period of remorse and lip service that was entirely disproportionate in righting all the wrongs that Sebastian committed, rendered even more ineffective by Stella’s easy capitulation and an epilogue that briefly told about a difficult journey to get to where they were five years later.

And if the end point was to see a stronger, grittier Stella who could resist even Sebastian’s cruelty, it actually felt as though it looked like she would have gotten there on her own, which suggested that his awful, nasty treatment of her was in fact, unwarranted. It’d served no transformative purpose as a result, and merely looked like an exercise in detailing reprehensible behaviour because neither could really get past their own issues to de-couple from their toxic relationship.

I’m leaving my rating as an arbitrary 3-starred one because of my own indecision regarding the subject matter and the narrative purpose it was supposed to serve, which I felt wasn’t entirely fulfilled. ‘Hate Crush’ didn’t tread on my triggers because it was a bully sort of romance (it’s something I can handle) but rather, infringed on my own personal sense of justice that demanded an equal amount of development and transition to a believable relationship I could buy into.
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

Shadows by Kristen Proby

Shadows by Kristen ProbyShadows by Kristen Proby
Series: Bayou Magic, #1
Published by Ampersand Publishing, Inc. on 29th October 2019
Pages: 324
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four-stars

I am never alone. Not even when I am alone. I see the unquiet dead, the souls that wander through the French Quarter.

They can’t move on, and I can’t stop seeing them. I wear malachite for protection, and I control what I let in. It’s the only way to stay sane.

Everything changes the day Cassian Winslow joins my ghost walking tour and knocks my world off its axis with green eyes the color of the stone around my neck.

An unspeakable evil is loose in New Orleans, taking young women and leaving a bloodbath in his wake.

More shadows lurking for me. More unhappy dead. There might be a way to stop it. Open myself up to Cassian. If I do, it could spell his death. But if I don’t, it’s mine.

In the bayou of New Orleans (a place that certainly lends credibility to the paranormal plot), three sisters gifted with paranormal abilities are suddenly thrust into a fight for their survival when things happening in the physical start mirroring what happens in the paranormal plane. If the story begins with a seemingly harmless ghost walking tour and an near-instant connection between Brielle and Cash, it ends with a creepy suggestion that there is more than just the present life that stalks these characters and that much had already gotten me wanting the rest of the series.

Brielle and Cash’s relationship is angst-free and easy; the road bumps they face aren’t in the developing relationship itself, but in the obstacles they face in keeping Brielle alive. There are spooky bits to keep you wide-eyed, insane twists that keep the story going just when you think it’s over and lots of heart-racing thrills to haunt you out of a peaceful night’s sleep way past the last page.

‘Shadows’ is quite a departure from what I’ve expected of Kristen Proby’s books and it’s a change that surprised me—and not a bad one either, given how quickly I inhaled the paranormal elements and the things that quite literally went bump in the night. The combination of suspense and the paranormal isn’t new, but Proby might have stumbled into a winning one here.

four-stars

Weight Expectations by M.E. Carter

Weight Expectations by M.E. CarterWeight Expectations by M.E. Carter
Series: Cipher Office, #1
Published by Smarty Pants Romance on October 15th 2019
Pages: 281
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two-half-stars

Rian Thompson thought she joined the gym to get healthy. Little did she know she was about to add hundred and ninety pounds of swoonworthy abdominal muscles and arrogance to her life.

Every day in Rians’s life follows a predictable pattern, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s got a nice job, a nice place to live, and a nice family – even if they are a little wedding-zilla-ish at the moment.

She doesn’t need anything spectacular to be happy. She just needs to get healthy – mentally, physically. . . and maybe spiritually if that happens. But she’ll settle for two out of three until her sister finally gets hitched.

Carlos Davies thought his life was perfect. Little did he know it was about to be turned upside down by a woman who is not his type.

In Carlos’s mind, his life is damn near perfect. He’s got a great job, a great place to live, and a great stash of pick up lines that always work. It has occurred to him that maybe no one actually takes him all that seriously. But with these bulging biceps and thick, dark hair, does that even matter since he’s never sleeping alone?
Welcome to Weight Expectations, where great—and unexpected—things happen.

It isn’t often that I get a story with a protagonist whom I love and the other whom I absolutely detest—which incidentally, makes the book rating a very problematic one.

It really was the weightiness of the heroine—pun not quite intended—that carried the story and it was for Rian that I kept reading. I loved her witty, self-deprecating, hilarious perspectives on all things gym-related, her mock-antagonistic relationship with a trainer she’s determined to see as sadistic and her very down-to-earth nature that made her oh-so-relatable.

But there is also where my issues begin. I’d think that morbid obesity as Rian is described as having, is also a condition that comes with its own emotional and mental baggage (in that way, it’s not unlike other health conditions that affect the emotional state) but it wasn’t something that came across too strongly. In fact, Rian’s self-assurance was quite astonishing to read about, her own awareness of her capabilities and the general likability she has each time she comes around.

And if Rian singlehandedly propped the book up, unfortunately, it was Carlos who singlehandedly tanked the entire read for me with his shallow, repetitive mantra about his only purpose being to give women pleasure to explain away his non-committal and player ways. The constant emphasis on Rian really not being his type throughout the book somehow made it even more intolerable—since the implication was that he liked her for her personality than anything else that he could get from his other hookups. His sheer arrogance and smarminess never quite went away throughout and the lack of proper ‘couple’ development time—Rian and Carlos don’t really interact too much for the first half of the book as they do their own things—don’t seem to help flesh him out as a character whose evolution I could buy into.

‘Weight Expectations’ is not a hard read narrative-wise but I finished the book more for Rian than anything else, whom I honestly thought deserved better.

two-half-stars

Meant For You by Sherilee Gray – Release Day

Meant For You by Sherilee Gray – Release DayMeant For You by Sherilee Gray
Series: Rocktown Ink #3
Published by Sherilee Gray on 30th October 2019
Pages: 172
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two-half-stars

At twelve years old, I was torn from my family.

At fourteen I met her: my reason to draw breath.

One look into Everly Williams's big brown eyes and I knew I’d do anything to protect her. And for eight years I did. She was my world. My best friend.

But afraid I'd lose her, I held on too tight. Became a dark cloud blocking her sun. So I did what I needed to, and walked away. I hurt us both.

Now I’m home, and need Everly back in my life. Only everything is different. We’re different. My body burns for her when she’s near. And after one explosive kiss, I know she feels it too. I’ll do whatever it takes to earn her trust again.

Because I don’t want what we had before. I want it all...for a lifetime.

🔥🔥 HOT NEW RELEASE 🔥🔥

Meant for You by Sherilee Gray is LIVE! #OneClick today!!

Add to your Goodreads TBR: http://bit.ly/2LR7JiX

PURCHASE LINKS

Amazon: https://amzn.to/33d3tjT

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GIVEAWAY

To celebrate the release of Meant for You, Sherilee Gray is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card. Head to her Facebook page to enter: https://www.facebook.com/SherileeGrayAuthor/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sherilee Gray is a kiwi girl and lives in beautiful New Zealand with her husband and their two children. When she isn’t writing sexy, edgy contemporary and paranormal romance, searching for her next alpha hero on Pinterest, or fueling her voracious book addiction, she can be found dreaming of far off places with a mug of tea in one hand and a bar of Cadburys Rocky Road chocolate in the other.

AUTHOR LINKS

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SherileeGrayAuthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sherileegrayauthor/

Pinterest: https://pin.it/mkgldpbpsnlvkc

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sherilee_Gray

Website: https://www.sherileegray.com


Sherilee Gray’s ‘Meant for You’ was a read that I’d assumed would take up the star-crossed lovers sort of trope, given what went down between them in the previous book. But the direction this took—that made this more a friends-to-lovers romance was something that surprised and well, sort of disappointed me, only because it didn’t seem to have the impact of a reunion that could have been more heartrending.

As a result, I’m a little mixed about this book (despite its steamy sexy times).

Still, ‘Meant For You’ is an exercise in grovelling and it’s here that Gray highlights what happened previously (so no prior knowledge is needed) when Dane finally returned to town after forcibly cutting himself off from everyone, including his best friend Everly. With his return however, came the complications of breaking the friendship protocol and an unexpected attraction that sprang up seemingly out of nowhere.

Gray is adamant that both Dane and Everly weren’t supposed to be anything more to each other than best friends up until a certain point in the book—which gave leeway to both characters to be with others during their separation. But this switch from best friends and protector to a romantic interest however, was less than convincing for me, like a switch that flipped suddenly only because Dane’s remorse and his sudden inability to see past Everly’s revealing clothes as he tried to repair their broken friendship.

The protagonists of this series tended to merge together at times and Dane wasn’t too different in this respect: the protectiveness, the obsession and the general transformation to caveman when he finally decided that Everly meant the world to him. Yet his impulsiveness, his tendency to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation and his self-absorption didn’t exactly make him that much of a likeable protagonist, while I also thought Everly caved a little too easily to what Dane wanted.

I wish I could have liked this more, but the caveat is that I had certain expectations and hopes after reading the last book in the series in seeing how Dane/Everly’s story would go down…all of which were not quite met. The long and short of it is, Gray simply took a different route to their HEA and it wasn’t quite done in the way I’d hoped.

two-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