Category: Chick Lit

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

Residual Burn by Kelly Moran

Residual Burn by Kelly MoranResidual Burn by Kelly Moran
Series: Redwood Ridge, #4
Published by Kelly Moran on 24th September 2019
Pages: 218
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one-half-stars

Jason Burkwell is all about the next adventure. Whether it's an emergency call as lieutenant on Redwood Ridge's fire department or a pretty woman between the sheets, he gets in and gets out. He has no interest in being trapped by anything or anyone. But when he's manipulated into a charity auction for his station, something tells him he's about to get hosed. Especially when the town matchmakers shove quiet, shy Ella Sinclair in his path. Constantly. Every encounter with the brown-eyed beauty makes him realize the simmering attraction and strange tug of emotion is beyond basic heat.

Together, they're combustible. If only he can figure out what she's hiding...

Ella Sinclair's been burned before, and she's got the scars to prove it. Ever since her return to Redwood Ridge, she's had more than a little crush on a certain gorgeous firefighter. Except Jason doesn't know she exists. To trigger his memory would mean reliving the worst day of her life, and she's worked hard to move past the pain. Venturing out of her safety zone is tough enough, never mind that hero worship leaves her with a horrible case of babbling-itis. Her heart's becoming more engaged the longer they spend together, but his sudden interest can't possibly last when he discovers she's not the ideal image of perfection.

I hesitated with this book, then picked it up only because I like Kelly Moran’s writing—full of heart and emotion—even if the blurb gave me many pauses.

And true enough, there were many times that I wanted to stop there and then despite the evocative use of words. Because this was a pairing involving a Peter Pan womaniser with daddy issues who never looked past his own behaviour just had to be paired with a very, very inexperienced woman whose self-esteem was in the dumps.

It’s safe to say that the protagonists (along with the back drop of some very annoying secondary characters mixed with other sage ones) were what I had a huge problem with. Ella Sinclair’s constant reiteration of her own inexperience, her babbling, her put-downs of herself got exhausting to read about after a while, but I could feel for her more after her back story was revealed.

But no matter how Moran tried to frame Jason as a charming playboy, out only for a fun-lovin’ time with never breaking women’s hearts because he was out of the door by the time that happened, I could only see him as a mega-prick through and through, more so when there were repetitive paragraphs dedicated to how he ‘normally’ behaved around women and how he was breaking the mould with Ella.

Even if this was to show how Ella was different, her obvious discomfort and babbling around him were cringeworthy, more so since it felt like she intrigued Jason only because she made him to the work instead. That he never needed to chase women but instead he sought out the first stirrings of attraction, then left before it burnt him out didn’t endear me to him at all…more so because it cemented his repulsive reputation too well that it made the HEA unbelievable.

These issues are frankly, personal, which makes this review the clichéd but true ‘it’s just me’. I struggled through ‘Residual Burn’ for these reasons, even though the underlying narrative of firefighting and loss was the only thing that kept me hanging on. Not my favourite Moran book honestly, but then, I went into this really hoping for better.

one-half-stars

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlaneDon't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on 10th September 2019
Pages: 432
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two-stars

You always remember your first love... don’t you?

If there’s anything worse than being fired from the lousiest restaurant in town, it’s coming home early to find your boyfriend in bed with someone else. Reeling from the humiliation of a double dumping in one day, Georgina takes the next job that comes her way—bartender in a newly opened pub. There’s only one problem: it’s run by the guy she fell in love with years ago. And—make that two problems—he doesn’t remember her. At all. But she has fabulous friends and her signature hot pink fur coat... what more could a girl really need?

Lucas McCarthy has not only grown into a broodingly handsome man, but he’s also turned into an actual grown-up, with a thriving business and a dog along the way. Crossing paths with him again throws Georgina’s rocky present into sharp relief—and brings a secret from her past bubbling to the surface. Only she knows what happened twelve years ago, and why she’s allowed the memories to chase her ever since. But maybe it’s not too late for the truth... or a second chance with the one that got away?

Do you ever forget your first love? Or your first crush, at least?

Very British (and exaggerated humour), a lot of quirk and a very rambly, stream-of-consciousness-type narrative combine to shape a bumbling protagonist who, for some reason, has found herself in dead-end jobs for the past decade or so, while her first crush as she mortifyingly finds out, is on the up and up. But beyond the comparison of who has climbed the social ladder better, McFarlane winds around the

But I’m very mixed about this, despite the lovely blurb and the heavy-hitting issues that McFarlane raises here.

The charm and bane of story both lie in the style and the execution of it. Dialogue-heavy, some parts are wildly hilarious and starkly emotional about the pains of letting go of dreams, while other parts are incredibly frustrating because it takes pages just to describe a single event which then leads to too many off-shoots, too many side-characters and an all-over-the-place, unfocused story with trips down memory lane that could have been trimmed leaner and meaner. It takes a third of the book before Georgina meets Lucas again properly, and nearly two-thirds more before we really get to the heart of what really happened to Georgina and Lucas post-A’Levels, with a lot of what feels like filler in between.

Put a gentler way, ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ is more women’s fiction than romance, I think, with the threads of Bridget-Jones-like-friendships and family issues coming more strongly through than just the focus on a romantic relationship itself. It’s more Georgina Horspool’s chick-lit story than hers and Lucas’s, and a chick-lit that traces the ups and downs in her life with wry humour. It ends with a heart-rending HEA, of course, but that’s more like the cherry on top for Georgina herself, rather than a couple I really wanted to see more of together.

two-stars

Sin For You by Sherilee Gray

Sin For You by Sherilee GraySin For You by Sherilee Gray
Series: Rocktown Ink #2
Published by Sherilee Gray on 5th September 2019
Pages: 189
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three-half-stars

My best friend's sister is back in town, and while she’s here, she's under my protection. Quinn Parker had her heart broken, and I'll make sure no one hurts her again.

But when she starts looking around for a hot, no-strings distraction, I can’t stand back and do nothing. No one is touching this vibrant beauty...but me.

She’s the woman of my dreams, but Quinn wants a good time, not a long time. We play by her rules: no one finds out, no one gets hurt.

I have to keep it casual because an ex-con like me can't offer her forever…even if I want so much more.

Sherilee Gray tackles the brother’s best friend trope with a grand helping of angst in ‘Sin For You’ and it’s a steamy one that pulls you in from the start.

I definitely liked this one much better than the first in the series, even if I hadn’t been on board the whole time with the protagonists essentially, taking turns to be wishy-washy about coming up with reasons and/or excuses why they shouldn’t be with each other and why they have nothing but sex to give.

It’s a strange one I’ll admit; the angst and the monologues that both Bull and Quinn emit in stages can both tug at the heartstrings and annoy simultaneously. Gray writes well enough and eloquently enough to show the pain each character has gone through, but the manner in which they repeatedly switch roles in trying to justify their actions and beliefs (while assuming too much and hashing things out too little) did get grating after a while. And just as you think they’ve got it sorted, off they go again, on a tangent that could have been easily solved by a bit more talk and a little less internal self-agonising.

‘Sin For You’ is quite an emotional see-saw to say the least, and all the quirks that come along with it. Both Bull and Quinn are relatable (sort of) and Gray does tension and steam well enough that I can squirm with glee each time the both of them mess up the sheets. It’s not a bad read nonetheless, even with the hand-wringing, needless tears and the multiple turns the characters take on the merry-go-round.

three-half-stars

Between Me & You by Kimberly Kincaid

Between Me & You by Kimberly KincaidBetween Me & You by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Remington Medical #3
Published by Kimberly Kincaid Romance on 13th August 2019
Pages: 280
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four-stars

He hates the corporate world. She's all business. Now they have to work together on the one job that could make or break them both...

Connor became a flight medic for one reason, and one reason only. To help people.If he can keep his head down and his past in the past while he's at it? Even better.

Until Harlow appears to upend his world with an offer he can't refuse.

She's calculating. Composed. Scalpel-sharp.

And she'll stop at nothing to make her father's business successful.
Even if that means teaming up with Connor to turn around a failing clinic.

He shouldn't like her.

He definitely shouldn't want her.
But the more they work together the less he's able to resist.

But Connor's secrets run deep. Will Harlow's ambition ruin him, or will she be his salvation?

Where writing is concerned, Kimberly Kincaid barely puts a foot wrong. Admittedly, there are some plots and characters that are obviously more palatable than others but a confident, driving style is what Kincaid has in spades. That alone, has so much going for it: it moves the plot along swiftly and keeps you peeled to every twist and turn…thanks to the beauty of words.

I do like Kincaid’s Remington Medical series thus far (minus the second book, which felt like an aberration to me) and ‘Between Me & You’ is like a fantastic fix for dreary afternoons with a pairing that is solid, well-matched and built on mutual respect and teamwork.

Harlow Davenport and Connor Bradshaw clash at first but both are strong characters in their own right and alphas in their own fields: their friction is believable, their tussle realistic. It’s isn’t quite an enemies-to-lovers kind of romance and neither is it a rivalry, but their ways of looking at life and business differ especially when Connor and Harlow are tasked as co-directors of a clinic that has been racking up a debt that goes straight into the stratosphere.

In short, I think Kincaid does brilliantly in pulling together the heart of medicine and the business side of it. Situated at opposing ends of this spectrum, I liked Harlow’s and Connor’s compromises and the general maturity they show that finally had them meeting in the middle. Much of their romance is built on conflict management, though the climax is one that is a tad predictable as is their subsequent (and somewhat quick) resolution at the end.

More than Connor/Harlow’s chemistry or admiration for each other however, Kincaid’s emphasis on respect and trust, the bonds of friendship and what families should mean shines through here and for that alone, ‘Between Me & You’ is a worth-it read.

four-stars