Sledgehammer

 

Reviewed by Cupcake

2.5 stars

Talk about a bell shaped read. I had to sit on this one a few days to really think about it. There are things that I liked about it, but the beginning and the end were rough.

Hard to Love is an apropos series title in more ways than one if you catch my drift which made my relationship with Amber… complicated. She’s all bark and no bite, but she has a good heart and she keeps her head in *most* crises. I understand her defense mechanism is to be abrasive and she hides behind it but that does not change the fact that she annoyed me. Often. My annoyance went supernova at the end but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, we meet Amber in the clink after she’s been arrested for setting her ex’s parents house on fire accidentally, meaning Amber’s a wee bit impulsive. Ethan Vaughn comes to her rescue at the behest of Cam and Cal, who I’m assuming were the MCs of book one with Cam being Amber’s BFF. Almost immediately it was necessary for me to suspend disbelief because the judge makes a stipulation of her release that she live with Ethan.

Alright. Whatever. Pressing on.

Ethan is old money and there’s definitely a Cinderella undercurrent happening that appealed to me. What we get of Ethan I liked, but he is a little cookie cutter, perfect male specimen and whatnot.

Amber narrates this story and she is funny. There were moments when I lol’d at her antics, sayings, nicknames for Ethan and general attitude. The “hot pocket/corn dog” scene made my sides hurt. She’s gaga over Ethan and they begin to engage in the cat and mouse game of taunting each other. They banter. They’re witty. They kind of drive each other crazy. The tension builds. They become friends. He introduces her to his family and p.s. the grandma is a hoot! Their relationship is well developed. It’s good stuff. It had 4 stars in the bag at this point.

It was pretty clear to me that Ethan is head over heels over her even without his POV, so when he suggests they become friends with bennies I was taken aback. I struggled with why he didn’t lay his cards on the table, but the more I pondered his decision the more it made sense. He didn’t think he had another option. All’s fair in love and war and all that jazz.

Why, you ask, did he feel that way? BECAUSE OF HER! And this is where it started to fall apart.

My first issue, which is petty of me and I totally recognize that, is as the tension builds and builds until over 70%, all that time she’s talking about what she wants to do to him, that the things she would do to him are illegal in most states. I gotta tell you I was getting primed for some epic Bone Zone shenanigans. So when there was a little dirty talk from him, a few thrusts, an ass grab and then the big O I was flabbergasted. Where’d the dirty, naughty girl go? Where’d the girl that was going to rock his world go? It’s not like I was expecting her to dom out on him or anything, but I at least thought she’d give as good as she got. I also expected it to be hot. A couple of thrusts does not a hot scene make. For me.

Between the lame sex and the antics at the end this thing was dead in the water before I knew it. SPOILERISH He makes a mistake, there’s no doubt about that, but her reaction is so ridiculous I don’t even have words. One of my pet peeves is people who don’t take responsibility for their own actions and Amber created this shit storm with her game playing and deceit, leaving him with few options. At least he apologized and owned his shit though, whereas she plays victim and freezes him out.

For someone seemingly so intelligent to be so obtuse not to mention intractable was too much for me. The OTT cheesy AF ending was the cherry on top of my what the efff sundae.

Lastly, I hope there was a thorough once over before it was officially released because there were A LOT of mistakes. I also thought she was too young for some of the movie references, though she is an actor so… possibly?

Anyone interested in reading this I would encourage to look at other reviews because I’m definitely in the minority. There are things that the author really excelled at but the drawbacks are leaving me confused as to whether or not I’d be interested in trying her again.

A review copy was provided by NetGalley.

Bountiful

Reviewed by Cupcake

3 stars

I think the cat’s out of the bag when it comes to my obsession with SB. A friend recently referred to her as my writer goddess so… yeah, we’ve got a thing happening one-sided though it may be. When I pick up one of her books I sort of go into this weird trance-y vacuum where I get completely subsumed by it and lose touch with reality.

That didn’t happen here.

Bountiful is good, don’t let me lie to you. It’s in keeping with the overall tone of the True North series, meaning it’s weighted heavier on the NA side of romance. That felt apropos for this couple since they both have somewhat difficult pasts that haunt them to varying degrees. The crossover aspects with the Brooklyn Bruisers was fun and I loved catching up with Griff, Audrey and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Shipley’s! They make this series for me with their Vermontyness and welcoming vibes. If I ever get to Vermont I’ll be sorely disappointed if there’s not some Shipleyness smacking me in the face.

Bountiful is Zara’s book. Zara is sort of this bad girl bartender that once had a fling with Griff but then had a child by some mysterious guy and ended up becoming besties with Audrey and opening a coffee shop with her. Along the way, she became less wild but she never divulged who the father was. We find out it was one of the Bruisers, Dave Berington, when he comes back to Vermont two years later.

What I love so much about SB’s writes is her ability to craft relatable characters. She creates female characters that I can usually identity with and male characters that are typically salt of the earth and have me adding them to my book boyfriend list with a quickness.

Dave and Zara are no different, though her pessimism was long and drawn out for my tastes. Their backgrounds help contextualize why they behave the way they do, plus we get the benefit of both of their perspectives. However, what rang as contrived was the push/pull that Zara keeps engaging in. Why incessantly question the veracity of Dave’s statements when his actions are in keeping with his statements? Wouldn’t you want to at least try for the brass ring if for no other reason than your daughter? Regardless, I liked both of these characters and all the baby stuff was cute which ordinarily isn’t my cuppa so kudos to SB for that.

Their relationship is realistically developed but I never felt it, that X-factor. There’s no spark, no razzle dazzle that I’ve come to associate with SB’s writes. They have sexual chemistry and I honestly don’t even have trouble believing in their longevity, but their romance didn’t move me.

I found myself more invested in the secondary characters which should come as a surprise to exactly no one. Because Griff.

Imagine my delight when it started to look like the original grump might have a Mini Me in Kieran. Why is Kieran so grumpy, though? And why did he get even grumpier when he found out Zara and Audrey hired Roderick at the coffee shop? I don’t want to put the wagon before the horse here but I’ve been thinking for awhile now that one of those cousins was going to take this series to MMRomancelandia…

I’m also now consumed by Zara’s brothers! What the hell did she do to destroy Benito’s one chance at love when they were 18? And what about that case???? And what’s the deal with Alec? BAH!

So, like I said initially, there was good stuff here and it goes without saying that I’ll read the next one, but this one didn’t turn my innards to melty goo.

Recommend to realistic romance fans who like their romance without frills and with babies.

Temporary

 

Review by Cupcake

5 Stars

I deliberated for all of about 2 seconds between 4 and 5 Stars. Who am I kidding though? I mean, really.

The stars were cinched when Callan (new name crush) started giving me Gideon feels. To be clear, he’s not Gideon but he is filthy rich, has a certain reputation as well as a tendency to run roughshod over people without them realizing it, because charming and has that unexpected vulnerability that sucker punches me every time. Plus he’s got an accent to add insult to all the hotness injuries his hotness is already inflicting.

Aside from all the Callan inspired swooning, I always have a soft spot for the Cinderella trope especially when the Cinderella in question isn’t a pushover.

Grace is no pushover. She and her sister Olivia have been dealt a shit hand in life in the form of a mother who’d rather get high than be a parent which is how Grace finds herself the guardian of her 15 yr old sister at 25, living in a shitty and minuscule apartment in NYC barely making ends meet and hoping against hope that her dinky temp job will turn into a permanent position.

Things start to look up when Queen Vic tasks her with cataloguing her brother’s estate after his death. The estate is not small which means she’ll have the chance to prove herself.

Except… Callan.

Temporary started to really take off for me once the details of Uncle Jack started to emerge. Jack was gay and the black sheep of the Walker family. He left Australia in the dust as soon as he could knowing he’d never be accepted and made his way to Manhattan where he made a life for himself. He loved. He lived. He was everything to so many and Queen Vic wants to erase him. She wants to liquidate everything and fold it back into the family business which is precisely what he would never want. I cannot recall the last time I hated a character as much as I hated Queen Vic. Kudos to the authors for making even a secondary character that memorable.

Jack was also the only father Callan ever really had and he’ll be damned if he lets his mother get away with this. The moments of real heartfelt pain Callan experiences endeared him to me. There may have even been some choked-upedness happening at Casa de Cupcake particularly at the rooftop scene. *clears throat* Damn feels.

Grace is sharp, recognizes there’s more to Callan than meets the eye and the not so innocent flirting begins to shift into need. I really liked the flirting not that Callan has to do much, because accent. I totally respect the knee weakening capabilities of an accent and I thoroughly enjoyed the little asides where something he said, something completely ordinary like shiver a.k.a. Shiv-ah would sideswipe her and make her all puddle-y. They didn’t try to fight their attraction for long. Grace knows that this is likely just a fling, just temporary and she’s going to enjoy it with gusto. The chemistry between them is palpable with a couple of scorching sex scenes. When he told her to hold onto the headboard… *blinks out* wh-what was I saying?

It’s well known that SB is an auto-read for me, but I’d never heard of Mayberry. They work well together with the signature well-developed and relatable characters I’ve come to expect from SB stirred together with Australian touches that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m looking at you “Australians nickname everything” while side-eyeing the Vegemite and Vo-Vos.

The HEA was wildly romantic and poignant as was the resolution to the Jack storyline. While Grace and Callan’s story does complete the authors left it open for a possible continuation and I do hope that comes to fruition, because I’d like to know all the things, check in on these two and maybe (hopefully) see karma come for Queen Vic. Or maybe I have a case of separation anxiety. *shrugs*

Recommend to romance fans.

A review copy was provided.

Going Dark

 

Review by the Cupcake.

3.5 Stars

There isn’t anything I don’t like about the setup for this series. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

SEALS
Espionage
Rogue MCs
Action/Adventure

Check, check, checkity check! And giddyupp!

Monica McCarty is a new to be author and I’m glad I took a chance on Going Dark because it is a strong set up for a series. Her writing style flows pretty well. The word ‘but’ is used. A lot. The translations of English idioms was unnecessary for me and the whole thing *hopefully* got a proof before it was published, but the story is engaging and held my attention.

SEAL Team 9 is sabotaged on a mission in Russia and wind up losing over half their platoon. The rest scatter, “going dark” presumably all over the world with minimal contact with each other. The overarching story arc linking the books is figuring out who the leak(s) is and what their motivation was.

Senior Chief Dean Baylor is our first SEAL. Known as Dan the scruffy charter boat Captain in the Scottish Isles. An alpha with a capital A, plainspoken, gruff, Texan and a Big Un. *growls* Part of his being a SEAL is traveling light, so he’s perfected the art of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.

Annie is an idealistic environmental scientist fresh off obtaining her Ph.D. and she’s come to the Scottish Isles to protest offshore drilling with Julien, her French boyfriend WHO LOOKS LIKE OLIVIER MARTINEZ!!!. *dies* Initially I thought we were going down ‘comparison highway’ wherein Annie would compare her boyfriend to death and come realize he didn’t stack up against Hotty McHotterseal which isn’t something I’m real fond of. Thankfully we avoided that car crash.

Stuff happens and they end up in a dinghy together, something I still contend was a bad call but I understand if it had gone the other way-the smart way-the whole narrative would’ve been dead in the water. I get it. But still. Dumb.

They’re on the run together which ratchets up the chemistry and tension to eleventy kagrillion degrees despite Annie’s protestations regarding alphas. Surprisingly there wasn’t a lot of hibbity-gibbity which was kind of disappointing given the page count. However they did manage to never use a condom. The stupidity of this is… *siiiiiiiiggghhhh* Why people? Whhhhhhyyyyyy?

Anyways, my disappointment in grown adults not having the conversion beforehand notwithstanding I liked these characters. Both are well constructed and strongly fleshed out. I particularly liked the big tough SEAL having substantial knowledge of Disney movies and the opposites attract trope was executed well. Even though they are opposites they respect the other’s opinion, play off each other well, manage to have moments of levity and McCarty did a great job of showing their emotional investment in the other by using dual POVs.

Now, hang tight I’m going somewhere with this. So I had a conversation about romance as a genre and she said what puts her off about it is how everyone is so breathtakingly beautiful to which I said, ‘not always but I see what you’re saying’. Then I went on to say that I think oftentimes it’s realistic in that everyone has their “type” be it gingers, beefcakes, Asians, Tom Hardy, whatever. So one person’s ‘meh’ is another person’s ‘my underwear just combusted’. I’m not sure I won the argument but there was a meaningful pause and some nodding so perhaps. At any rate, I say all this because the beauty thing skirted the line betwixt our opposing sides. I get that they are attracted to each other, but I think the physical aspects of how attractive they are was heavy handed.

Another thing I wasn’t crazy about was the push/pull between them. Dean’s reasons for pushing her away are sound, but Annie’s were weaksauce. Both played games and I’m not a fan of that, though Annie does get points for being straight with him at the end.

There was a good balance struck between the romance and the adventure, though the last “big gesture” was unforgivably stupid. Don’t get me wrong, it was romantic and dramatic but… oh my sweet lord. *face palm* HOW? How does one forget that? Someone trained and seasoned????

A word of caution, the SEAL/military-speak is heavy. It’s evident a substantial amount of research was done on the military, environmental statistics and science all of which I appreciated and served to make these characters more credible, in my opinion.

I’m not sure I’m up for the entire series but I’m definitely interested in the next one and would recommend this to romantic suspense fans.