Author: Lauren Layne

I Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren Layne

I Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren LayneI Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford #4
Published by Loveswept on June 13th 2017
Pages: 193
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three-stars

Taylor Carr has it all—a sleek job in advertising, a stunning Manhattan apartment, and the perfect man to share it with: Bradley Calloway. Even after Bradley dumps her for a co-worker on move-in day, Taylor isn’t worried. She’ll get her man eventually. In the meantime, she needs a new roommate. Enter Nick Ballantine, career bartender, freelance writer—and longtime pain in Taylor’s ass. Sexy in a permanent five-o’clock-shadow kind of way, Nick knows how to push Taylor’s buttons, as if he could see right through to the real her.
Nick’s always trying to fix people, and nobody could use a good fixing more than Taylor. Sure, she’s gorgeous, with mesmerizing silver eyes, but it’s her vulnerability that kills him. Now that they’re shacking up together, the chemistry is out of control. Soon they’re putting every part of their two-bedroom apartment to good use. Then Taylor’s ex comes crawling back to her, and Nick figures she’ll jump at the chance to go back to her old life—unless he fights for the best thing that ever happened to him.

Lauren Layne takes on the enemies-to-lovers trope in the latest installment of the Oxford series, and after Lincoln’s heartbreaking story in the last one, the tone and setting of “I knew you were trouble” does come as a bit of a shock. Layne pits Nick Ballantine against Taylor Carr whom we saw in the last book as characters who hate each other for unexplained reasons but finally makes it clear here it’s not as simple as hating each other’s guts from the start. It’s instead, something that has festered over a period of a year as Nick and Taylor grew into their dislike for each other. Bad timing, lost chances and poor choices with far-reaching consequences merely exacerbated what could have been a much less antagonistic relationship as I wondered if they could ever resolve things between them despite the mutual attraction both had for each other.

I found my sympathies between Nick and Taylor shifting so frequently that it was difficult to decide whether I could really go for them as a couple. For a fair bit of the story, they used each other’s weaknesses against each other and that made it difficult to separate the fine line between love and hate simply because they couldn’t plainly say what they wanted without being snippy about it. There were times I was horrified that Nick used his words to eviscerate Taylor when she was hurting, just as much as I couldn’t understand why Taylor allowed the brief rejection from Nick to turn into unmitigated loathing as she held fast to the mantra of never appearing weak to anyone. Their own personal histories have left deep scars on them and as Layne typically writes it, these are the very aspects of themselves that they’ve used to hit each other with the hardest in the final, catastrophic fight before the resolution arrives.

In the end, the games Nick and Taylor played—whether accidentally hostile or not—felt like it simply came down to their inability to communicate plainly and their unwillingness to give themselves the chance that things could turn out both different and better. Throw some respective ex-es (rebound or not) that came into the picture and all I could think was that there was a huge, hot mess that surely had to take more than a peace treaty to untangle.

As far the Oxford series goes, “I knew you were trouble” is the most volatile one that I’ve ever been through. Somehow I emerged from this whole reading experience feeling dazed and whiplashed, still sore from the barbs and the potshots Nick/Taylor had taken at each other, but grateful nonetheless that Lauren Layne always writes an uncompromising HEA.

three-stars

Walk of Shame by Lauren Layne

Walk of Shame by Lauren LayneWalk of Shame by Lauren Layne
Series: Love Unexpectedly #4
Published by Loveswept on April 18th 2017
Pages: 195
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two-stars

Pampered heiress Georgianna Watkins has a party-girl image to maintain, but all the shopping and clubbing is starting to feel a little bit hollow—and a whole lot lonely. Though Georgie would never admit it, the highlights of her week are the mornings when she comes home at the same time as her uptight, workaholic neighbor is leaving to hit the gym and put in a long day at the office. Teasing him is the most fun Georgie’s had in years—and the fuel for all her naughtiest daydreams.
Celebrity divorce attorney Andrew Mulroney doesn’t have much time for women, especially spoiled tabloid princesses who spend more time on Page Six than at an actual job. Although Georgie’s drop-dead gorgeous, she’s also everything Andrew resents: the type of girl who inherited her penthouse instead of earning it. But after Andrew caps one of their predawn sparring sessions with a surprise kiss—a kiss that’s caught on camera—all of Manhattan is gossiping about whether they’re a real couple. And nobody’s more surprised than Andrew to find that the answer just might be yes.

I haven’t been following Lauren Layne’s ‘Love Unexpectedly’ series, so jumping into ‘Walk of Shame’ because of the intriguing blurb and the hilarious expressions of the models on the cover is probably as good an idea as any to start this book which sounds like a romantic comedy with minimal angst and lots of bumps along the way. A spoiled, rich woman and a hardened, jaded lawyer? Bring it on.

But it’s a story, as I’ve come to realise early on, that people would either love or hate.

I’ll be the first to admit that Georgie Watkins is the kind of character I’d love to hate and it took a long, long while to warm up a little to her: the name-dropping, the airhead monologues (too many chapters were in her POV) and the constant mindless flitting from one meaningless activity to another all told in a mug voice weren’t characteristics I could even force myself to admire in a heroine.

Georgie is like the culmination of every spoiled socialite writ large in all the mean-girl movies and Layne has gotten her down to a science. There’s definitely the effort to show us Georgie’s softer side (she’s kind, caring, concerned for her family and friends) but I think I needed to see something more substantial beyond that. I’d expected to plumb her depths (no pun intended!) given so much of what we see of her is this apparently shallow woman. I’d hoped to see a bit more of an identity shake-up after seeing how Andrew’s own stodgy, awkward personality had changed by the end of the book, which didn’t really happen. In fact, Georgie seemed like someone content to have her head in the clouds, living the only reality she knew, and because Andrew trampled on that vision, he was quickly written off and expected to grovel because she couldn’t be rational about her parents’ divorce.

The long and short of it is that ‘Walk of Shame’ was a personal disappointment. It is definitely a light-hearted read though by the end, I wasn’t convinced about their compatibility (Andrew seemed more amused by her ridiculousness than anything else and in turn, Georgie appeared infatuated with this buttoned-up mystery) and liking the colour red felt like scraping the bottom of the barrel. Layne’s banter and sniping did make the story entertaining, but even after I finished the book, I simply couldn’t see Andrew/Georgie as a couple that would ultimately last.

two-stars

Someone like you by Lauren Layne

Someone like you by Lauren LayneSomeone like You by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford #3
Published by Loveswept on December 6th 2016
Pages: 228
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four-stars

Lincoln Mathis doesn’t hide his reputation as Manhattan’s ultimate playboy. In fact, he cultivates it. But behind every flirtatious smile, each provocative quip, there’s a secret that Lincoln’s hiding from even his closest friends—a tragedy from his past that holds his heart quietly captive. Lincoln knows what he wants: someone like Daisy Sinclair, the sassy, off-limits bridesmaid he can’t take his eyes off at his best friend’s wedding. He also knows that she’s everything he can never have.
After a devastating divorce, Daisy doesn’t need anyone to warn her off the charming best man at her sister’s wedding. One look at the breathtakingly hot Lincoln Mathis and she knows that he’s exactly the type of man she should avoid. But when Daisy stumbles upon Lincoln’s secret, she realizes there’s more to the charming playboy than meets the eye. And suddenly Daisy and Lincoln find their lives helplessly entwined in a journey that will either heal their damaged souls . . . or destroy them forever.

The premier player of New York hides a painful secret that no one knows. The only friend who seems to understand Lincoln Mathis however, is the unlikeliest of people: the twin of two good friends, who is dealing with her own hurt and fears because her walls and pain parallel his.

Told in an episodic series of parts, ‘Someone like you’ feels like an account of unfolding grief and the unsteady steps taken back into a world that’s suddenly too bright and stunning to take in. It is however, a lot more heart-wrenching and sombre than the rest of Lauren Layne’s Oxford and Stiletto series and I do think it’s all the better for it actually, because the light-hearted banter would have probably been out of place given the weightier subject matters brought up here.

I’m glad for this chance to know what Lincoln and Daisy had been facing all along, although I had a pretty good guess from the hints already dropped in the previous books. But having some kind of plot premonition doesn’t make the story any easier to read as Lincoln’s uncertainty over his past kept its tight rein on a present that he couldn’t actually quite yet accept. It’s only in the last quarter of the book that the romantic drama really begins and where the attraction and the connection that both Lincoln and Daisy have forged finally kick in. But from here, the journey onwards is rather predictable and somewhat rushed: the usual cut-and-run part which becomes the status quo until someone breaks…and the grovelling begins up until the HEA that’s a mixture of cheesy and sweet.

I liked that their attraction played out over time—through months of grief which slowly but surely turned into attraction and longing—as well as the revelation that Lincoln really isn’t what he seems. In fact, his deep loyalties do make him out to be one of the more prominent (and unusual) romantic leading heroes who acts opposite of the reputation he cultivates in a way that assists him in remaining unavailable. Daisy Sinclair might be his worthy heroine however, although I do in some way, mourn Layne’s original choice of heroine in the form of a mousy copywriter in the first draft of the story. Still, I was absorbed as their stories came together, stuttered to a halt and then came together again in a journey that moved slowly from hopelessness to redemption. With Layne’s very sly insertion of the next pairing as a prelude of things to come, I turned the last page of ‘Someone like You’ already looking out for the next installment in the Oxford series.

four-stars

To Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne

To Love and to Cherish by Lauren LayneTo Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles, #3
Published by Pocket Books on October 18th 2016
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Alexis Morgan has spent the past eight years devoted to turning her tiny start-up into Manhattan’s premiere wedding planning company, The Wedding Belles. Now that her business is thriving, it’s time to turn towards her much neglected personal life, and Alexis approaches her relationships like she does everything else: with a plan. Not a part of that plan is Logan Harris, the silent partner in the Belles, and the one person who’s been there for her since the very beginning. But Alexis needs someone fun, and Logan’s all business, all the time—except when a late night at the office ends with an unexpected kiss that leaves the usually cool and together Alexis reeling.
Logan has lusted after Alexis since the day he walked into the tiny Harlem apartment that used to double as her office. But the ambitious wedding planner has always been untouchable...until now. Alexis has made it clear that she’s on the dating market—and equally clear that he’s not in the running. But when Alexis finds herself in need of a date for her sister’s last minute wedding in Florida, Logan knows it’s the perfect time to show Alexis that there’s more to him than numbers and spreadsheets—and beneath the pinstripes and glasses lies a hot-blooded heartthrob. As Florida’s sultry days turn into even hotter nights, Logan’s out to convince Alexis that the fling of a lifetime could just maybe turn into forever...

‘To Love and to Cherish’ pretty much explores the longterm consequences of heartbreak—through circumstances no one could have really envisioned—and well…the cowardly behaviour it can incite. And it’s found in the form of Alexis Morgan, whose wedding planning company (ironically a business that puts down how happy-ever-after should begin) has taken the place of relationships and love in her life. The story is a fun, quick read and evidently responsible for taking a few needed hours of sleep away, despite it being an entirely predictable one from the beginning.

Logan Harris has indeed been lusting after Alexis for a long time, and lust is pretty much the term I’d use here rather than love, given that he’s really done nothing but pine from a distance while taking up with other women as he passively waits for her to notice him. Alexis on the other hand, refuses to see him as anything else than her accountant and her silent business partner, but that isn’t because there have been overt, numerous hints thrown her way. Yet for them to declare that they’ve loved each other from the start had me frowning in scepticism, because it seemed more like attraction than anything deeper and an impulsive decision of a ‘recovering student’ to throw in an inheritance behind a business that has yet to get off the ground.

Logan and Alexis, while frustrating at times, do however, seem more sympathetic than the rest of the couples in the Wedding Belles series; their connection as partners and as friends was evident at the start and to make the leap into a relationship didn’t seem an implausible one, even if those years did seem somewhat wasted on nothing happening. I felt for Alexis and her continued reticence, although I did wonder why it took Logan that long to man up and straighten it out when it was clear he needed something drastic for a first move.

There aren’t huge spikes in passion or angsty valleys of depressing lows however, which made for some lull in the storytelling itself but what kept it somewhat interesting is the reversal of roles, where Alexis is finally forced to reexamine her stance on keeping distant from everyone while Logan runs himself to the ground finally trying to make her see him the way he wants.

There’s perhaps some kind of finality to this book with all the belles happily paired off, and ‘To Love and to Cherish’ is a fitting farewell to a series that has frankly left me part lukewarm and somewhat neutral for their predictability. Wedding planners finding their own HEAs—and have those living up to hype of the weddings they plan—might be a little too sugary sweet for my liking but because a few of Lauren Layne’s Oxford and Stiletto books had made her an author to watch out for, I’m still as always, eager to see what else she has up her sleeve.

three-stars

For Better or Worse by Lauren Layne

For Better or Worse by Lauren LayneFor Better or Worse by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles #2
Published by Pocket Books on August 30th 2016
Pages: 368
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three-stars

When small-town girl Heather Fowler finally gets promoted from assistant to actual wedding planner, she’s determined to make it as one of Manhattan’s elite Wedding Belles. Unfortunately, her first client demands an opulent black-tie affair at the Plaza…in five months’ time. Heather’s days quickly become a flurry of cake tastings, dress-fittings, RSVP cards, and bridal tantrums. But what she’s really losing sleep over is the live music blaring from her playboy neighbor’s apartment all night.
Five years ago, Josh Tanner was an up-and-comer on Wall Street, complete with the penthouse and the migraines. But a grim cancer diagnosis made him realize there is more to life than the corner office. If only he could convince his pretty, workaholic neighbor to let loose, too. As Heather lets down her guard, Josh is surprised when he starts falling for the sweet, vulnerable woman hiding beneath those power suits. Soon, it’s Heather’s turn to convince Josh to take the biggest risk of all: love.

The wedding frills come again and I got the jitters, but it’s hard to pass up any opportunity to read Lauren Layne.

‘For Better or Worse’ is classic Lauren Layne: urbanite and contemporary, with typical character leads that I’ve come to expect – an apparently easy-going manwhore who grins and jokes while hiding his secrets and a steady lady who has her career prioritised above a relationship. The hookup begins casually as they all do, until someone develops feelings and it all goes to pot.

Yet the titular phrase takes on different meaning once we find out that Josh has been battling cancer and is still too afraid to live life to the fullest. In strongest self-denial mode, he thinks he does with the piss-poor excuse of not wanting to let any woman down while he takes up the mantle of an overgrown fratboy who hooks up indiscriminately while chumming it out with his band buddies. In short, he’s drifting and living without purpose, thinking he’s rocking it – literally – but really isn’t.

There’s some sweetness and depth to this because it delves into what life-threatening illness can do, but beneath it, I did find myself getting bored after a while, because it was, well, predictable. I did guess how it was going to go down – the last-minute bail-out, the grovelling and the big ending – and wasn’t at all surprised when Heather and Josh steamrolled down the aisle by the end of it all.

But if I could say Heather was everything I expected her to be, it was more difficult to like Josh, who pretty much acted like he had the excuse to own the world and stomp on others because he thought he had a reason to – after beating Leukaemia. I tried to rationalise his behaviour – maybe to the point of making excuses for him when he was plain disrespectful and childish – as someone’s extreme reaction to having suffered a life-changing disease and is still battling it, but failed miserably at times. For most of the book, he kept Heather at arm’s length and needless to say, this is the main source of their conflict when it all comes to a head and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the relationship was developed mostly on Heather’s side while Josh mostly enjoyed the physical aspects of it. I must admit that I’d hoped for more maturity all around: that perhaps, working a way forward might have been a better idea after some form of disclosure instead of keeping mum and making the arse-executive decision for everyone concerned that Josh was better off alone. He hadn’t even talked to Heather about the reason why Danica broke up with him and his subsequent illness; the latter was something learned from his mother. Consequently, Josh’s proposal after the pep talk by his twin felt sudden and abrupt and in some ways, a way of making amends because he’d let Heather down. There’s this sobering sense each time a lead character battles major illness, but my sympathy can only extend so far when that sort of character growth spurt happens only in the last 3 chapters.

I didn’t have a hard time getting into the book though; Layne has always been easy reading with a style that makes the pages fly by. I did like the set-up of Alexis and Logan and the camaraderie between the Belles – these seem like minor points however – and would definitely want to know how Alexis/Logan’s story pans out.

three-stars

To Have and To Hold by Lauren Layne

To Have and To Hold by Lauren LayneTo Have and to Hold by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles #1
Published by Pocket Books on July 26th 2016
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Discovering her fiancé is an international con man just moments before they exchange vows devastates celebrity wedding planner Brooke Baldwin’s business—and breaks her heart. Now a pariah in Los Angeles, she seeks a fresh start in New York City and thinks she’s found it with her first bridal client, a sweet—if slightly spoiled—hotel heiress. Then she meets the uptight businessman who’s holding the purse strings.
Seth Tyler wishes he could write a blank check and be done with his sister Maya's fancy-pants wedding. Unfortunately, micromanaging the event is his only chance at proving Maya’s fiancé is a liar. Standing directly in his way is the stunning blonde wedding planner whose practiced smiles and sassy comebacks both irritate and arouse him. He needs Brooke’s help. But can he persuade a wedding planner on a comeback mission to unplan a wedding? And more importantly, how will he convince her that the wedding she should be planning…is theirs?

Brooke Baldwin’s new start in New York is really an act of running away from the humiliation of a failed wedding and her new job at a premier wedding planning firm is her new and hopefully, triumphant start on a different coast. But what she doesn’t count on is the domineering brother of the bride on her first case as well the rich hotel tycoon financing everything who gives her another shot at love. He also happens to be the man determined to stop this wedding, convinced that the groom isn’t who he says he is.

The sniping attraction between them comes as much as a surprise to Seth Tyler, whose need to protect his family (and his own heart) rubs people the wrong way, but there is no denying that Brooke burrows her way quickly underneath that cold, icy exterior before long.

The world of wedding planning is as horrifyingly frou-frou and foreign to me as a language I’ve never been able to master. Ultra feminine, bridezillas and overflowing with tulle – aspects of womanhood even I don’t proclaim to understand.

‘To Have and to Hold’ is an introduction to this world – the business of love, so to speak – through the rose-tinted sheen of romantic comedies, which I found both fascinating and well, so exclusive that I could only get a peek of this fictional world through Lauren Layne’s writing.

But Ms. Layne’s setup was good enough that I was sold on Seth and Brooke whom I thought had their own issues to deal with, although I did feel the conflict was made bigger than it really was for the sake of creating drama and tension.

I couldn’t shake the feeling however, that Brooke was simply making a mountain of a molehill about Seth’s hiring of a P.I., which I found absolutely nothing wrong with. Her behaviour as a consequence, seemed always like an overreaction to Seth’s earnest attempts to keep the people around him happy in the only way he knew how, coloured strongly by her memories of ex-fiancé and transferred unfairly onto Seth.

In spite of Ms. Layne’s persuasion of the readers to feel loads of pity for Brooke’s big wedding write-off, I found myself instead empathising with Seth more than any other character. I thought him short-changed so many times by the people closest to him because all they could see was his controlling nature which was frankly, made a bigger thing than it was. And because Seth was a more than decent character, I didn’t quite like how he was made out to be the only one who’d wronged others, especially when Brooke had actually done more unforgivable things to him – such as comparing him in some way to her ex, which had me flabbergasted.

Even if the core drama surrounding Seth and Brooke turned me off somewhat, I found myself liking the secondary characters a lot and am gratified that the rest of the Wedding Belles would have their own stories. I did wish though, that there’d been more on the conflict between the bride and Seth’s best friend for instance, whose chemistry and hidden story had more to be written about. Given that this is a wedding planning series, we’re somewhat left with a HFN ending at least, which made me grateful that everything wedding-related wasn’t oversold.

three-stars

Cuff Me by Lauren Layne

Cuff Me by Lauren LayneCuff Me by Lauren Layne
Series: New York's Finest #3
Published by Forever on March 29th 2016
Pages: 384
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four-stars

Vincent Moretti is one of the NYPD's top homicide detectives-and one of the most eligible bachelors in town. His family, however, thinks he should date his longtime partner, Jill-a sassy, sexy, smart-mouthed blonde who drives him absolutely crazy.
Behind the quiet authority, tough-guy demeanor, and dark aviator glasses lies a man with a big soul-and a hard body that can soften any girl's heart. After years as his coworker, Jill Henley has given up hope that anything could happen between her and Vin. Besides, loving him would break all the rules. But seeing Jill with someone else triggers feelings in Vincent he never knew he had. Now he'll have to stop playing good cop/bad cop-and find a way to convince her to be his partner for life. . .

It all comes to a head for Jill Henley and Vin Moretti when Jill returns after a 3-month break, ready for work and newly engaged, in this classic case of a very slow burn friends/partners-to-lovers story.

I appreciated the manner in which Lauren Layne respectfully dealt with Jill’s other half while she was engaged. Tom wasn’t written as an arse as a foil to show up how good the main characters would be as a pairing; instead, I found him likeable and was almost regretful that he didn’t quite get what he needed from Jill.

It proved refreshing as well, to read about a female lead who isn’t for once, a jaded and cynical detective (even if Valentine’s Day being her favourite does push the envelope a wee bit much), keeping in line with the light-hearted feel of what I never thought possible: a so-called ‘light’ crime mystery with a very heavy focus on developing relationships as well as the romance. Vincent is as well, a character who’s intriguing enough, with depths that weren’t entirely plumbed throughout the book: his disconnection stemming not from disenchantment but simply, a lack of feeling because he didn’t think he was built that way – a type of behaviour that is only reinforced and perpetuated by him and others around him. Lauren. Layne does a credible job in matching these opposites in both Jill and Vincent; they are by far, one of her more convincing couples in this series.

Yet I couldn’t help but be disappointed in what’s probably a minor quibble to most readers: for every story that involves a long time before that particular transition to lovers happens, I expect a bloody good reason for that delay. Ms. Layne at least goes partway to try to address the issue, even if it does seem a rather flimsy explanation in my opinion. I wished we could have seen more of Vincent’s yearning, or at least some form of self-actualisation, which would have made his need for Jill less like a reflex action of wanting her only after another man has proven her attractive and ‘worthy’ of a long-term commitment.

‘Cuff Me’ is nonetheless, a very unusual mix of suspense (and I’d use that term very loosely here) and romance, which makes me now look forward to the rest of the Morettis to come.

four-stars