Tag: Skimmed through

Concerto by Hannah Fielding

Concerto by Hannah FieldingConcerto by Hannah Fielding
Published by London Wall Publishing on 1st August 2019
Pages: 528
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one-star

When Catriona Drouot, a young music therapist, honours an opera diva's dying request to help her son, Umberto Monteverdi, recover his musical gift, she knows it will be a difficult assignment. She had shared a night of passion with the once-celebrated composer ten years before, with unexpected consequences.

The extent of her challenge becomes apparent when she arrives at her client's estate on the glittering shores of Lake Como, Italy. Robbed of his sight by a nearfatal car accident, the man is arrogant, embittered and resistant to her every effort to help him. Still, Catriona sings a siren's call within him that he cannot ignore.

Caught up in the tempestuous intrigues at Umberto's Palladian mansion, Catriona discovers that her attraction to the blind musician is as powerful as ever. How can she share what she has hidden from him for the past decade? Soon she realises that hers is not the only secret that is rippling uneasily below the surface. Dark forces haunt the sightless composer, threatening his life - for the second time.

Concerto is a sensual and romantic story of lost love and forgiveness, destiny and difficult choices, and of a heroine determined to put things right at last.

Hannah Fielding’s ‘Concerto’ is a different kind of read from what I’m used to.

There’s something about the style of storytelling of ‘Concerto’ that feels very old school: long and languid descriptive sentences, with the determination to paint every picture of an exotic locale to exhaustion, and the inclusion of every emotion, no matter how minute. In fact, ‘Concerto’ is very reminiscent of an older style of historical romance that I used to read but have since moved past; as a result, I did find myself skipping through all the pages.

For those who love all things European, or rather, anything that remotely has a French or Italian connection, along with music, ‘Concerto’ is the read for you. There are beautiful parts written about Italy and the exploration of emotions of a wide-eyed girl—a romanticised version, so to speak, of the Old World wonders, the splendour of music and the first, heart-racing flushes of infatuation.

But there are tropes in here that probably pushed all my wrong buttons and as someone who’s more used to a faster pace and rather stereotypical characters (with dated attitudes) who behave like they’re in a soap opera, it wasn’t long before I realised ‘Concerto’ isn’t quite my kind of read—and this is clearly a matter of personal preference than the storytelling itself.

In fact, I found Umberto a detestable and unrepentant lothario, or rather, manwhore who went through countless women with romantic, poetic language and would would have probably carried on that way had it not been an accident that blinded him, while Catriona was too much of a wallflower who fell at his feet too easily for my liking. Throw some of my jaded cynicism in about them falling in love (?) after a one night stand 10 years ago and the suspension of disbelief had to work overtime.

I wished ‘Concerto’ could have been less of a disappointment, seeing how much I love the subject matter of the story, but there were simply too many stumbling blocks in here to even complete this.

one-star

Make Your Move by Laura Heffernan

Make Your Move by Laura HeffernanMake Your Move by Laura Heffernan
Series: Gamer Girls, #3
Published by Lyrical Press on 17th December 2019
Pages: 304
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one-star

LOVE’S ALL ABOUT TIMING . . .

At twenty-eight, Shannon has yet to fall in love. Which is fine, since she’d rather spend her evenings creating games than swiping right or going on awkward blind dates. Right now though, she has two little problems. First, she’s stuck for a new game idea. Second, the only candidate in her roommate search is Tyler, the gaming buddy who’s long had an unrequited crush on her.

It should be awkward. But when Tyler moves in, the situation doesn’t go at all the way Shannon expected. Between helping her deal with coworkers and fixing the bugs in her latest game, Tyler’s proving to be damn near perfect. Except for the fact that he’s falling for someone else. . .

Maybe Shannon has already forfeited her turn. Maybe she’s playing for nothing but heartache. But the best games have endings you can never predict . . .

This was unfortunately, a total disconnect for me.

Not only was I plunged into a world with a bewildering array of characters at the very start which made it difficult to navigate the whole setup, there was also the certain issue I took with Shannon who kept insisting that she didn’t want to encourage Tyler’s crush on her. Only after they become roommates does she suddenly, with the speed of a lightning strike, discover that she actually is crushing on him.

The long explanations of her demi-sexuality and the lack of focus and build-up added to the source of frustration, more so since for the most of the book, Tyler spends his time with a new girlfriend, who also happens to be a bitchy rival of the heroine.

Personally, it was hard to get invested in them at all, given the circumstances surrounding Shannon’s work and the focus on gaming, when I wanted to see an equal amount of time spent developing a pairing that barely did much together, thanks to poor timing. But when I started skimming throughout most of the story, it became clear this wasn’t for me at all.

one-star

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

The Lost Spear by N.J. Croft

The Lost Spear by N.J. CroftThe Lost Spear by N.J. Croft
Series: Lost #0.5
Published by Sideways Books on 26th August 2019
Pages: 114
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two-stars

Archaeologist Dr. Eve Blakeley has dedicated her life's work to finding Genghis Khan's final resting place. But first she'll have to find the Spirit Banner, Khan's lost spear, an eight-hundred-year-old weapon shrouded in as much mystery and lore as his lost tomb. The two are intertwined by centuries of secrets.

During her search through the mountains of Mongolia, she's joined by MI6 agent Zachary Martin, who is convinced that recent, seemingly random acts of terror around the globe are somehow connected to her.

But as they follow the clues to the spear, the line between her historical research and present-day terrorism blurs even more... Someone doesn't want her team to find the spear, and they'll do anything to keep the secrets of Genghis Khan buried forever.

It’s strange that ‘The Lost Spear’ came as part of the ARC offering under Entangled Publishing. But the blurb wasn’t one that I could resist, so I took a chance on an archaeological thriller, not knowing whether it was actually part of an imprint primarily associated with romantic fiction.

The long and short of it is, ‘The Lost Spear’ would be a disappointment especially if you think this is one that falls under that category. The romance plot is thin and weak, with the barest hint (that’s more told than showed) of what could happen between several characters. That the male protagonist (is MI6 agent Zachary Martin even one?) was kissing Eve Blakeley with nary a hint of chemistry while contemplating his own feelings towards his recently-dead partner mere pages ago didn’t really bode well for a strong romance.

That said, if archaeology and searching out lost items, racing against time if your thing, then ‘The Lost Spear’ does well to outline an intriguing mystery surrounding Genghis Khan and his Spirit Banner and the quest to find it.

But at 114 pages, it felt like this went nowhere, with a compendium of theories about the Spirit Banner, the revelation of bad guys who quite predictably masqueraded as good guys and an unsatisfactory cliffhanger that at the end, left me wondering if this was just a circular walk in the steppes of Central Asia. It’s a clear setup for what looks like a full-length sequel, but I’m not sure if I’m into this enough to continue.

two-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

Broken Knight by L.J. Shen

Broken Knight by L.J. ShenBroken Knight by L.J. Shen
Series: All Saints High, #2
Published by L.J. Shen on 17th August 2019
Pages: 205
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two-stars

Not all love stories are written the same way. Ours had torn chapters, missing paragraphs, and a bittersweet ending.

Luna Rexroth is everyone’s favorite wallflower.

Sweet. Caring. Charitable. Quiet. Fake.

Underneath the meek, tomboy exterior everyone loves (yet pities) is a girl who knows exactly what, and who, she wants—namely, the boy from the treehouse who taught her how to curse in sign language. Who taught her how to laugh. To live. To love.

Knight Cole is everyone’s favorite football hero.

Gorgeous. Athletic. Rugged. Popular. Liar.

This daredevil hell-raiser could knock you up with his gaze alone, but he only has eyes for the girl across the street: Luna.

But Luna is not who she used to be. She doesn’t need his protection anymore.

When life throws a curveball at All Saints’ golden boy, he’s forced to realize not all knights are heroes.

Sometimes, the greatest love stories flourish in tragedy.

I’m relatively new to L.J. Shen but yes, I do know what I’m getting into…mostly.

I like the complexities that Shen explores when it comes to the dynamics between screwed-up youths and young adults—it all veers towards the dangerous and the complicated but also sometimes involves the absurdities of the merry-go-round of relationships simply because people *can’t* seem to do simple. That they’d rather pine and do the ‘do-we-or-do-we-not’ dance are not just characteristics that are seen more in New Adult stories (admittedly, some adult characters do the same) but that Shen takes it to the maximum in ‘Broken Knight’.

Luna/Knight exemplify this particular dynamic in a dance that’s both angsty and sometimes, wholly unnecessary, before they finally, finally untangle the threads that keep them bound no matter what. Watching them wait for each other, wanting each other at the wrong time, then the vicious tit-for-tat game they play is undoubtedly quite the excruciating bit to take in, but Shen surprises me at every turn with her words, with her analogies, and her unexpected perceptions on love and relationships, albeit through secondary characters.

Abandonment issues take the forefront here. In fact, it feels like the primary issue that supposedly makes everyone act up and it’s as though the sins of the fathers bleed down into the next generation. That the previous generation, as twisted as they were, would raise wholesome families by extension, will seem like a joke at times.

Throw in the typical vices that lean towards the darker side of N/A plots and you’ll get drugs, promiscuous behaviour and a whole ton of doing things because characters can and will and want to hurt other people—with sullen teenagers continually acting like children while pretending to be adults and creating a storm of angst because they can’t see past their hormones. This much, I can believe, perhaps and if this is what Shen intends, then perhaps the book is a success.

I’ve not read Shen’s earlier works, but ‘Broken Knight’ will probably screw around with some people’s heads as well, particularly if you look at an iron-clad HEAs as a natural part of romantic fiction. It’s not a book that’s easy to like—I’m not sure I can say I do, honestly, since it’s Shen’s use of words that kept me going—but it’s certainly one that you can get through with the feeling like you’re watching a train-wreck happening again and again.

two-stars

Covert Vengeance by Kaylea Cross

Covert Vengeance by Kaylea CrossCovert Vengeance by Kaylea Cross
Series: Vengeance, #2
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 30th July 2019
Pages: 232
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one-half-stars

Revenge came at a heavy price.

Valkyrie hacker Amber Brown is deadly in her own right, but her preferred weapon is a keyboard. So after her teammates left her for dead, she took her revenge the way she was trained to—swiftly and brutally. Except one of her targets might be innocent. To right that wrong, Amber vows to rescue the at-risk Valkyrie no matter the cost, and this time she’s working alone. So when a sexy stranger shows up in the middle of a firefight and announces he’s been sent by her sister, it’s going to take a whole lot more than his word to make her trust him.

Chasing redemption may prove deadly.

Elite gun for hire Jesse Cordova lives on the edge of the law. When a new job offer sets off warning bells, he digs deeper and finds the startling truth. The woman he’s been tasked with capturing is a secret government assassin, and Amber Brown is unlike any target he’s gone after before. But bringing her in opens them up to a whole new level of danger, pitting them against one of the most ruthless assassins in the world. Now that the sexy Valkyrie has stolen his heart, Jesse will risk everything to see their mission through—knowing that the only way this ends is with one of them dying.

I’m taking extraordinarily long with a Kaylea Cross book, which is unusual to say the least, which really meant that ‘Covert Vengeance’ was a massive disappointment on a scale that horrifies me, seeing how Cross used to be a staple of mine.

The series of avenging women out for blood is an intriguing one, but thus far, I think I’m simply reading variations on a theme about closed-off, distrustful and distant women who operate alone (aren’t bred for relationships and commitment, naturally) who finally find someone to trust—after a series of suspenseful events that typically involve some life-or-death scenarios. Like ‘Stealing Vengeance’, ‘Covert Vengeance’ traverses the same blurred lines of conspiracy theories and secret dealings though it’s a lot more toned down here without the particular rough edge that I associate with suspense writers.

Cross’s Valkyrie characters didn’t seem to carry the cloaking weight of tragedy or angst that I’d expected them to have; instead, Amber and Megan felt like brashly petulant characters bulldozing their way around to kill everyone who’d wronged them, to the point where they trampled over their own partners in their blazing self-righteousness to be judge, jury and executioner.

Jesse/Amber as a pairing was as well, a lukewarm one that felt forced and emotionless (though Cross does write steamy scenes) and a connection that, like Tyler/Megan, was made with inexplicable near-instant love—somehow, they are right for each other because they have similar occupations—because this is after all, romantic suspense. In short, I just didn’t feel it and no amount of espousing a character’s beauty/strength/determination—traits that could as well, be negatively interpreted as headstrong, foolish and plainly TSTL at times—helped change my mind about them.

Maybe the Valkyrie sisterhood is one that Cross attempts to highlight, though the bonds weren’t so tangible that I felt moved by them; neither did I even like the women characters at all, much less Amber, which kind of defeated the whole point of the book and the romance which was clearly meant to take centre-stage.

one-half-stars