Tag: Skimmed through

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

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

Would Like To Meet by Rachel Winters

Would Like To Meet by Rachel WintersWould Like to Meet by Rachel Winters
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on 3rd December 2019
Pages: 368
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one-star

After seven years as an assistant, 29-year-old Evie Summers is ready to finally get the promotion she deserves. But now the TV and film agency she's been running behind the scenes is in trouble, and Evie will lose her job unless she can convince the agency's biggest and most arrogant client, Ezra Chester, to finish writing the script for a Hollywood romantic comedy.

The catch? Ezra is suffering from writer's block--and he'll only put pen to paper if singleton Evie can prove to him that you can fall in love like they do in the movies. With the future of the agency in jeopardy, Evie embarks on a mission to meet a man the way Sally met Harry or Hugh Grant met Julia Roberts.

But in the course of testing out the meet-cute scenes from classic romantic comedies IRL, not only will Evie encounter one humiliating situation after another, but she'll have to confront the romantic past that soured her on love.

I can’t exactly put my finger on what, but ‘Would Like To Meet’ just didn’t work out at all from the very start.

What threw me off were the stage directions that set the scene, followed by a myriad of text messages, a plethora of characters and a fumbling heroine who messes up at the very start. For this reason, it was hard to get past just the first few chapters with the way the story was laid out and I had to keep going back to the blurb of the book just to keep the synopsis in my head and who the protagonists really were because there wasn’t an establishing scene with both Evie Summers and her romantic leading man in it.

In fact, the focus on Evie, her whirlwind life and the number of people in it—it was the impression I got in the first few chapters—was exhausting as I hit an early, early patch where the story just flattened to the point where I skimmed and then, fully stopped. I’d be hard-pressed to classify ‘Would Like To Meet’ as romance, but rather it’s more chick-lit with the focus on Evie’s personal growth and self-discovery in the journey she takes in the story.

In any case, I’d never been quite so fidgety about the story (wanting to put it down while straining at the leash to do something else is quite a bad sign) and obviously this has to be a case of ‘it’s just me’.

one-star

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Love Lettering by Kate ClaybornLove Lettering by Kate Clayborn
Published by Kensington Publishing Corp. on 31st December 2019
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper.

But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .

If I’d initially thought there was something paranormal in the blurb, I could probably be forgiven for thinking that—Kate Clayborn’s ‘Love Lettering’ is intriguing just from the summary of its story and in contrast to what I thought, is founded on the abstract brought to life by the external forms of typography, colours, shapes and sizes.

The subject matter itself that ‘Love Lettering’ touches on has complexity behind it—signs, signals and their representations, codes, connotations, meanings and so on that can be broken down as academically deep as you want to make it—which is also what made me rather excited about romantic fiction being quite overt about how we’re essentially semiotically-led people.

It’s how Meg Mackworth interprets the world in any case, up until the point where she ‘foretells’ a mistake that would have been made when a particular client of hers comes in with a stoic and aloof fiancé. A year later, the decision comes back to haunt her in the best of ways: Reid Sutherland aka now-an-ex-fiancé reluctantly partners up with her as she tries to find inspiration in NYC for a particular design job, in the hope that she could help him find some kind of renewed pleasure in the place he can’t wait to move out of.

Seeing their odd relationship develop through the game of signs is quirky different all on its own but it was ultimately something I couldn’t get invested in past the first chapter or so. Having it go on made the storytelling sag even before the halfway point, and I found myself skimming just to catch the turning points between Reid and Meg…one of the oddest couples I’ve ever read about.

There’s creativity in the plot and in the way its written, but what stumbled me quite a few times was how Clayborn took a small, single thought which came through as the at-times frenzied inner monologue of Meg’s, then ran amok with it, drew it into the past or into the future, or flung it out far into the abstract before grounding it back in the present—racking up the paragraphs while adding to my confusion.

Like primary theme of the book, Meg’s infatuation with (and hyper-analysis of) the minutest signs lent the narrative a certain quirk and whimsicality, but also a lack of directness, coupled with convoluted descriptions that gave me pause, especially when I had to go back to re-read something just to get some clarity and focus back just to confirm what had transpired. And sometimes, it really felt like much ado about nothing when all I wanted to was for the plot to move decisively onward.

But move on it finally did, up to a point towards the end where it took a hooked sort of turn I didn’t expect and then I simply went through the rest easily. ‘Love Lettering’ is an unusual and clever one, sort of unevenly paced but if code and signs are your thing, this is the one to go for.

three-stars

The Intended Victim by Alexandra Ivy

The Intended Victim by Alexandra IvyThe Intended Victim by Alexandra Ivy
Series: The Agency #4
Published by Zebra on 31st December 2019
Pages: 352
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two-stars

ONCE, SHE GOT AWAY

The body lying on a cold steel slab bears all the hallmarks of the Chicago Butcher. There's a cruel slash across her throat, deep enough to sever the carotid artery, and a small crescent carved into her right breast. Her delicate features are painfully familiar to Ash Marcel, once a rising star in the Chicago PD. But though the victim resembles his former fiancée, Remi Walsh, he knows it's not her.

BUT THIS TIME

Though Remi escaped a serial killer five years ago, her father died trying to save her. Grief and guilt caused her to pull away from the man she loved. Now Ash is back in her life, insisting that Remi is still in danger.

IT'S A DEAD END . . .

Someone is targeting women who look just like Remi. With or without a badge, Ash intends to unmask the Butcher. But the killer isn't playing games any longer. He's moving in, ready to finish what he started, and prove there's nothing more terrifying than a killer's obsession . . .

I’ve not read the rest of the books that preceded ‘The Intended Victim’ by Alexandra Ivy, but this is easy enough to get into as a standalone. The premise is undoubtedly quite an intriguing one: a serial murderer—a.k.a. The Butcher—who’s apparently back after five years and is now strangely obsessed with altering his victims’ faces to resemble Remi Walsh before killing them.

The suspense plot itself is sort of unique, with a twist that I sort of saw coming but was left skeptical in the end. It did lack a bit of forward momentum even as the process of getting to know more about the strange spate of murders was ongoing, getting even disconcerting at times with different POVs belonging to secondary characters popping up from time to time.

There’s a second chance romance in here as well, but this was probably the weakest part of the story for me. Ash/Remi’s history was sort of glossed over; we weren’t told much, only that Remi had pushed Ash away after tragedy touched their lives and that he was only back because she seemed to be in the sights of the same killer again.

I was obviously hoping for harder soul-searching on Remi’s part, but most of it dealt with her determination to try to just look at the future and not the past—and that she only looked at Ash with regret. In this way, Ash/Remi’s second chance romance didn’t quite feel like a justified or a convincing one at all: a pairing brought back together incidentally and not because both wanted it enough to look for each other. Five years on, all we really had of Remi was her weak excuse of wanting to ‘protect’ others by pushing them away and internalising her own mental mess that she’d never bothered to sort out. Through it all, I never quite got the idea that she wanted them as much as Ash pursued her, merely caving to Ash’s insistent pressure and going along with it.

The uptick in the narrative happened at the last quarter, after which, it got engrossing, though everything was wrapped up quite neatly—too neatly perhaps—in the last chapter. Would I recommend this? Maybe. It’s a decent read if you like the usual red-herrings and the clues that come with solving a murder mystery, though romance-wise, it’s not quite a satisfying one.

two-stars

Yours in Scandal by Lauren Layne

Yours In Scandal by Lauren Layne
Series: Man of the Year #1
Published by Montlake Romance on 10th March 2020
Pages: 278
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two-stars

Fresh off being named Citizen magazine’s Man of the Year, New York City’s youngest mayor, Robert Davenport, decides it’s time to strategize. Next move: a bid for the governor’s seat. In his way: an incumbent with a flawless reputation. He also has an Achilles’ heel: an estranged wild-child daughter with a past so scandalous it could be Robert’s ticket to victory. And a charm so irresistible it could be Robert’s downfall.

Rebellion is a thing of the past for Adeline Blake. As New York’s premier event planner, she’s all about reform and respectability. Then she’s approached by Robert to organize the party of the season. Curious, considering he’s her father’s most formidable opponent. And alarming, too. Because Addie can’t help but fall for the righteously popular candidate with the movie-star smile.

Now it’s Robert’s choice. Does he pursue a future that holds his legacy? Or the woman who holds his heart?

In an age of political cynicism, ‘Yours in Scandal’ is a more lighthearted take on politics and an incidental romance that develops out of it, never steering too close to the deep divisiveness that dominates the headlines these days.

That said, I am familiar with Layne’s style which does have a certain smartness and intelligence to the modern-day rom-com. But in recent times, they’ve sort of faded for me and I’d hoped that ‘Yours in Sandal’ would be a perk-me-up. As a result, I’m mixed with this one, even though this has a delicious premise of fraternising with the enemy, a slow burn and a hard juggle between professional facades and personal feelings.

Subterfuge underlaid Robert’s and Adeline’s relationship both ways and I struggled with this majorly when it became obvious this was going to be the part where the lack of communication would blow up in their faces. Clearly not all was as it seemed—and both Robert and Adeline carried on that way for yonks—and if there was some hint of attraction in their interactions, nothing was too hot and heavy such that I was squinting by the halfway mark to feel a chemistry that wasn’t quite there. I didn’t get the anticipatory sense of sexual tension or build-up; instead I got a pursue-and-dodge pattern which got tiresome after a while.

I generally liked Robert’s principled nature as mayor of New York, his determination to be a clean politician—though he was dragged by some forces to not quite do some right things. At the start, there was also such an appeal of wanting to know how Layne would reconcile the wild girl rattling against the cages demanding to be let out and the prim and proper event planner that was intriguing both Addie and Adeline.

Sadly, she merely ended up as a frustratingly opaque character, constantly pushing Robert away with excuses about his chosen career not being for her. In fact, she was a player of games because she wanted to hide behind her past, coupled her inability to put herself out there and be emotionally brave was off-putting. I found her, in essence, a huge flight risk (and was proven correct) with a foot ready to step out of the relationship when she could.

‘Yours in Scandal’ was a personal disappointment, but I’ll be first to say that it’s classic Lauren Layne in many ways as well…and will probably guarantee stalwart fans a better time than I had with this.

two-stars