Tag: Contemporary Romance

The Kissing Game by Marie Harte

The Kissing Game by Marie HarteThe Kissing Game by Marie Harte
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 4th February 2020
Pages: 320
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one-star

"I bet you a kiss you can't resist me."
Game on
.

Rena Jackson is ready. She's worked her tail off to open up her own hair salon, and she's almost ready to quit her job at the dive bar. Rena's also a diehard romantic, and she's had her eye on bar regular Axel Heller for a while. He's got that tall-dark-and-handsome thing going big time. Problem is, he's got that buttoned-up

Germanic ice man thing going as well. With Valentine's Day just around the corner, Rena's about ready to give up on Axel and find her own Mr. Right.

At six foot six, Axel knows he intimidates most people. He's been crushing on the gorgeous waitress for months. But the muscled mechanic is no romantic, and his heart is buried so deep, he has no idea how to show Rena what he feels. He knows he's way out of his depth and she's slipping away. So, he makes one crazy, desperate play...

‘The Kissing Game’ just didn’t work out for me at all, made all the more so disappointing because of a lively blurb and a promising plot of two pining individuals who just couldn’t quite get their game up.

But it was precisely this that got the ball rolling too slowly, with German phrases tucked neatly into every conversation Axel had with people and we’re talking a hell lot of supporting cast members, their names and their relations and their quirks to grace the pages from the very start.

It was a lot to take in, certainly, and got overwhelming quickly, more so because I couldn’t keep up with anything and used up all of my tinted glasses just trying to see the chemistry between Rena and Axel without really understanding the context or their (lack of) past history.

This was strangely hard to read for me; maybe ‘The Kissing Game’ is probably better left for others who would appreciate Marie Harte’s style in this one.

one-star

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

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

Winter Hawk by Rachel Grant

Winter Hawk by Rachel GrantWinter Hawk: A Raptor Holiday Novella by Rachel Grant
Series: Evidence, #9
Published by Janus Publishing on 6th December 2019
Pages: 200
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two-stars

Raptor operative Nate Sifuentes isn’t thrilled to find himself back on the job on the first day of his winter vacation, but he can’t say no when his brother asks a favor. At least he’ll earn an easy Christmas bonus—after all, driving a fired military contractor home after she’s been escorted off base by military police can’t be that hard.

In a matter of minutes, Leah Ellis has lost everything, and now she’s left stranded in the nation’s capital on the first night of Hanukkah without money, phone, or bed. All she has is a mysterious driver who might be after her technical knowledge of the US military’s drone operations.

The former Green Beret’s protective instincts—and skills—kick in when he discovers the alluring AI engineer is being hunted. On the run, they escape the winter cold by generating their own heat, but will they find answers in time to stop a terror attack on Christmas Day?

Nate Sifuentes is the marginalised Raptor operative sent to pick up fired employee and drone engineer Leah Ellis, in what looks like a simple assignment until it blows up in their faces. That in essence, is ‘Winter Hawk’ , a short holiday novella in Rachel Grant’s Evidence series that is classic romantic suspense—non-stop action, tension, a conspiracy to unravel, with hot boinks in the midst of escaping the bad guys while clearing one’s good name. Think Bond or Bourne, just more compressed, with breathier scenes.

What feels like secondary characters become the protagonists here—older, jaded, done anything and everything with a ton of sexual partners—though the suspense is in no way compromised just because both Nate Sifuentes/Leah Ellis hadn’t been at the forefront of Grant’s books.

But I thought the brevity of the novella however did the pairing little justice given the speed at which everything went down. There’s the meet and greet to the sex (with a near-stranger) that felt more like a one-nighter than a start to a meaningful relationship and then the resolution, all of which didn’t erase the instalove feel I got from this—more so because it felt adrenaline-fuelled rather than genuine chemistry, heartfelt connection and mutual dependence. At the end of it all, I didn’t get or like this pairing, nor could I properly get invested in them at all, seeing as much of this couple was literally ‘wham-bam-thank you ma’am/sir’ and then it was the happy ride into the sunset along with a few out-of-place TSTL moments at the start.

Oddly enough, I think I might have enjoyed this more without the romance as a result, since this felt like the only questionable element in the story that proved a little too distracting. So not quite a disappointment, but also not the stellar read that I’ve come to associated with Grant’s kind of calibre.

two-stars

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Tweet Cute by Emma LordTweet Cute by Emma Lord
Published by Wednesday Books on 21st January 2020
Pages: 368
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three-half-stars

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

What happens when teens take over a Twitter war, for the sake of protecting their own families’ legacies? ‘Tweet Cute’ is the hypothetical answer, it seems, in a very, very updated version of ‘You’ve Got Mail’ where ‘enemies’ in real life are actually forging a deeper and meaningful connection over an anonymous school app.

There’s a bit more complexity than that of course, even as Jack and Pepper duke it all out over their family food business, while balancing their own issues and insecurities that do in fact, capture these angsty years on the cusp of adulthood pretty well. The Twitter food war takes up a lot of the story as do the secret identity bits—it did admittedly get a little too much at times and made me cringe at the never-ending oneupmanship—and it’s so picture-perfect of the internet’s fickleness and its viral power that you can’t help but smile and get swept up with the ride, milking it for as long as it lasts. That this is also about food made me wonder if Emma Lord should have also included all the recipes in her appendix.

There’s enough of a YA romance if you squint—romantic feelings are talked about in an oblique way, as discomfort, as awareness, but never as the overt type of sexiness you’d find in a typical adult romance—but ‘Tweet Cute’ stays on safe-ish ground, very above the belt and very focused on friendship that might turn into more. Emma Lord juggles this with the impending train wreck that you can see coming a mile away with admirable ease, as Jack and Pepper move from adversaries to friends to something a little more. Though this doesn’t happen without a lot of reflection and realisation along the way about themselves, their relationships and their own families.

However, it’s also peppered with enough self-awareness in the character voices that sometimes surpass the maturity of a teen which gave me a bit of pause. Lord does write Pepper/Jack adopting a certain wry distance of stepping away from the action and then commenting on their own behaviour, giving a slight bit of meta that sometimes translate into longer than necessary inner monologues that sometimes keeps the momentum from going forward. I did take a few days with ‘Tweet Cute’ as a result, putting it down then taking it up again when I had the time; it wasn’t as ‘unputdownable’ as I’d hoped it would be, though each time I did continue however, its entertainment value never failed.

three-half-stars

Black Tie by Lynn Raye Harris

Black Tie by Lynn Raye HarrisBlack Tie by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Black's Bandits #2
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on 12th November 2019
Pages: 325
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three-stars

Abducted while on a business trip to Europe, Tallie Grant quickly realizes she’s a commodity to be sold—and there’s no way out. Determined not to surrender to the man who buys her, she’ll soon discover he’s not what he seems. 

Mercenary Brett Wheeler has one task: infiltrate a human trafficking operation and get as much information as possible. But when Tallie takes her turn on the auction block, Brett risks his cover to free her—by bidding to win. 

Someone watches from the shadows, determined to reclaim his thwarted prize. And when he does, Brett will need all his skills to find sweet Tallie again—before she’s gone forever.

As Lynn Raye Harris tackles human trafficking, I thought this would have been a more difficult read with harder-edged men and grittier circumstances, but ‘Black Tie’ was a surprisingly blander version of some of the H.O.T. books despite its exotic locales and the James Bons-esque premise.

After a rather gripping start, Tallie Grant and Brett Wheeler settled into an easy rhythm – not too much angst as well – that I somehow found rather harder to get into, layered over with a sweetness to the both of them that was certainly unlike Harris’s typical male protagonists. (More so since I’ve been noticing that her characters started to look interchangeable after a time with very similar traits)

Oddly enough, I found myself panting more for the little scenes with Ian Black and Calypso, or at least, for secondary characters and the hints of their story in the future which overshadowed Tallie/Brett’s story.

Point is,’Black Tie’ is not a bad read, but I did take days to finish this without much of a bumpy ride – it was just easy to look away, which I wished wasn’t the case.

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