Tag Archives: contemporary romance

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Book Review: Scars, by Dana Isaly

I picked up a copy of Scars (by Dana Isaly) as an Amazon freebie. Well, I picked up a copy of The Triad series.
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My family hired someone to kill me. One day I was the sole inheritor of my family’s fortune. The next I was diving out my bedroom window, leaving everything behind. I’ve been hiding for years, successfully outrunning my demons. I was getting by, making a life of my own. Until the Triad came for me. Dangerous. Wealthy. Corrupt. The Triad run this city. And they think I’m the key to getting my family out of their way. The plan is to exchange me for a truce. But if I go back, I’m as good as dead. Convincing them to keep me is my only chance of survival. They have no clue just how valuable I can be. I am so much more than they bargained for.

my review

This book was not a winner for me. I think the fact that I own all three books in the series and am stopping after this first one should tell you a lot. I am not a person who likes to leave things unfinished, especially when confronted with a cliffhanger. But I’m just not invested enough to continue. There are a couple of reasons for this. Before I get to them, let me give a positive and say the mechanical writing seems fine. It’s perfectly readable.

Now, the reasons this didn’t work for me: to start with—and not entirely the fault of the book—have you ever accidentally picked up two books that were just too similar too closely together? I read Den of Vipers last week. So, when I started Scars, I very quickly realized that it is very, very, very similar. That timing isn’t Scars’ fault, but one does have to ask why it so so very, very, very similar.

What’s worse, when I went to investigate on Goodreads, I found allegations that this is a rip-off of not Den of Vipers but Sarah Bailey‘s Four Horsemen series (which I have not read). I don’t know which derivation came first (and I suspect this is all old news in the book world), but I do know it’s at least one too many.

Second, I don’t have a problem with PWP. But there being 3 books in this series suggests that it isn’t actually supposed to be porn without plot. Otherwise, what is carrying over into multiple books? But this moves so quickly, develops so little, and give the characters so little depth that it felt like a waste of my time. (It felt like Isaly decided she didn’t need to give us any more than an outline because we’ve all read the story so many times already that the reader is expected to be able to just flesh it out on their own.)

Third, the sex. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable for me. I don’t want to kink shame anyone who is into such things, but I found the spitting and lack of respect very offputting. The spitting I will just let stand with ‘yuck.’ But the lack of respect I want a word about. I am well aware that humiliation kink is a thing, and it’s super common in this genre. But when characters have known each other less than a day, have had no conversation, and the reader is given no reason to believe the man involved knows the woman’s preferences, all it feels like is internalized misogyny served up with pick-me garnish. It’s not sexy.

Similarly, and maybe more importantly, the love is so instant that I couldn’t figure out how (as a reader) I was supposed to believe that Scarlet was anything more than any of the other dismissable women the men had shared in the past. How, after 48 or so hours, I’m supposed to believe she’s the one, based on…………….

Lastly, a list of more minor points; there just isn’t any finesse or nuance here. Isaly just tosses it all out on the table and expects us to be grateful for it. The Triad of the series title does not scars photorefer to the Chinese mafia but rather to the fact that there are three men. (The choice of name makes me wonder if Isaly simply didn’t do enough research to realize it already has real-world associations.) The book is supposed to be set in England (I think); one of the men has a Yorkshire accent, for example. But I got no sense of place from the book’s setting, speech patterns, etc.

All in all, I think the safest thing for me right now is simply to set this series aside and back away slowly.

Other Reviews:

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Book Review: Designed by Destiny, by Maya Tyler

I accepted a copy of Designed By Destiny from the author, Maya Tyler. But I want to take a moment to discuss how I ended up doing that. Because this book is one I wouldn’t normally have chosen to read. The author pulled a bit of a bait and switch on me. I don’t think she did it on purpose, I think she was just sending me her most recent publication. But the end result is the same.

Her Magicals series has been featured over on Sadie’s Spotlight. So, I was aware of her books. When she messaged me to ask what I tend to read I responded that I’m a, “fantasy/urban fantasy/PNR reader” and “your books would def fit with my preferences.” To which she said, “ I’ll send you an ARC for my soon-to-be released para-contemporary romance, Designed by DestinyAfter writing an intense five-book series, I needed something light.”

I groaned right then. Here’s the problem. When I said her books would match my preferences, I was looking at the “intense” PNR with fairies and wizards and strong fantasy vibes. I don’t really do light. I actively avoid contemporary romances. And experience has taught me that para-contemporary romance means contemporary romance with a minor sprinkling of ‘para’. Which is what this book is. It’s a contemporary romance with a side of fairy godmother. Not something I’d have volunteered to read. I’ll take fairies and wizards and intense plots any day of the week, but light and sweet…nah, you can keep that.

I considered writing the author back to say, ‘That’s not what I meant to volunteer for.’ But opted not to, since it was my own lack of clarity that led to the situation. But I wanted to vent a little here and also admit, going in, that I was probably never going to be a 5-star reader for this book.

Regardless, on to the book.

Confirmed bachelor Nicholas Grey is more than the playboy perpetrated by the tabloids. Now his position as CEO of the architecture firm Grey & Company is on the line, and his mother’s interference is making things more difficult. Nick’s committed to his work, but, in order to be taken seriously, he needs to land a huge project. A stable personal life will help guarantee the contract.

Fairy Godmother Faye Delmore hears Nick’s plea and steps in to help. Posing as a publicist, she suggests a strategy to polish his public image, which includes convincing Beth to play his wife. Faye knows Nick needs the huge project to save his job, but she also knows he needs Beth in his life.

What happens when you add a fairy godmother who loves playing matchmaker into the equation? A future designed by destiny.

my review

As I said above, this is not a genre I gravitate toward. However, the writing is clean and easy to read, the editing is tight, and the plot holds together. So, for those who do like contemporary fake relationship plots, this is a perfectly competent one. Unfortunately I do not.

This is farther complicated by the fact that I never came to like Nick, other women were almost universally shown to be jealous and villainous (how cliched), and I thought the fairy godmother aspect just cluttered the plot up. It would have been better as a straight contemporary romance, IMO. And I say that as an avid fantasy reader!

All in all, I think the right reader will love this. There really isn’t anything wrong with it other than being wrong for me. Unfortunately this simply got into the hands of the wrong reader. (Despite the author’s best efforts.)

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Other Review:

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Book Review: Nikolai & Nikolai 2, by Roxie Rivera

Several years ago, I won a signed copy of Nikolai 2. However, I put off reading it because it is book six in the Her Russian Protector series. At the time I’d only read book one (Ivan), and I hadn’t absolutely loved it. I did intend to get around to finishing the series though. But eventually it just got lost in the shelves instead.

Recently, I set out to clear some shelf space by reading some of the books that have been around a long time and some of the fattest ones, taking up the most space. And Nikolai 2 fit both bills. A little investigation convinced me that I didn’t necessarily need to read all five previous books to understand it. So, I purchased a copy of Nikolai (Her Russian Protector 4), where Nikolai and Vivian’s story-line seemed to start, then read Nikolai 2. And while there were obviously events referenced that I didn’t know about, I was 100% able to follow both books.

nikolai Roxie RiveraAbout the book:

After a brush with death as a juvenile delinquent, Vivian swore she’d never stray across that line again—but there’s just one problem with her plan to stay on the right side of the law. She’s completely, irrevocably and unabashedly in love with Nikolai, the Russian mob boss who saved her life.

From the moment Vivian appeared in his life on that tragic April night, Nikolai felt himself inextricably bonded to her. She’s the bright light in his dark world and the only thing that keeps him from sliding deeper into a life of crime and violence—a mobbed-up life he can’t escape no matter how hard he tries.

After Vivian is ripped from his arms in a brazen blitz attack, Nikolai will stop at nothing to get her back—but rescuing her and keeping her safe in his arms isn’t enough. Suddenly, Nikolai’s only chance to keep her safe is to do the one thing he vowed never to do—he’ll drag her deeper into his shadowy world and bind her to him forever.

Because their tangled pasts are about to collide and the shockwave threatens to bring Houston’s criminal underbelly to its knees…

my review

I can absolutely say that I liked this fourth book better than the first in the series, which is all I had to compare it to at the time I wrote this review, having not read the whole series. I liked Nikolai and Vivian, both, as characters and they were sweet together. I appreciated that the author didn’t bother with a bunch of miscommunications and false drama. The couple was unusually honest with one another (except for the one Big Lie at the center of the plot) and it was refreshing.

nikolai photoThe book does follow the old Contemporary Romance dictate that all men must be Big and Rough and Dangerous and all women should be Small and Virginal and Innocent. Blerg. My eye-roll was particularity acute since Rivera was especially prone to point this size difference out during sex scenes. It was always “her small hand” reaching for his cock or his “big hand” tweaking her nipple.

Also on the cliched scale is the fact that the primary challenge of the book comes when Vivian is kidnapped by sex traffickers. The use of abused and exploited women (especially sexually) has got to be THE MOST overused trope in all of human literature. And I am 100% sick of reading it. So much so that, like here, I’ve just started pointing it out whenever I encounter it and asking authors (female authors most of all) to think of something new and MORE INTERESTING. But I do appreciate that Rivera allowed for the abuse of men too, without any drama about it undermining their masculinity.

But overall, I enjoyed Nikolai and Vivian’s story. They were a good match, even with the age gap. I look forward to seeing how their story progresses.

nikolai 2About the book:

Claimed and cherished by Houston’s most ruthless mob boss, artist Vivian Kalasnikov embraces her new position as Nikolai’s wife and the lonely, dangerous role as queen of Houston’s underworld. But Nikolai is keeping secrets from her, and the whispers of a coming street war leave her terrified for the man she so passionately loves—and the tiny life growing inside her.

Nikolai finally has everything he’s ever wanted—power, wealth and a family with Vivian, the beautiful sun who lights up his dark life. But as his young wife prepares for her debut on the international art stage, he finds himself drawn into a bloody conflict that threatens the quiet life he’s painstakingly built. He can feel the promise of his future happiness slipping through his fingers like grains of sand.

One wrong move, and he’ll lose Vivian and his child forever. One wrong move, and he won’t see another sunrise.

The sins of their fathers have come back to haunt Vivian and Nikolai. To protect his beloved wife and his heir, he’ll do absolutely anything. The brutal gangster who violently conquered the streets of Moscow and Houston is about to be unleashed—and Houston’s underworld will never be the same again.

my review
I enjoyed this second half (part, maybe) of Nikolai and Vivian’s story. Seeing broken men find their balm in the form of a woman does check some pretty satisfying buttons, I admit. But the book just leans so, so heavily on the the gendered stereotypes of ‘she’s innocent, kind, and forgiving’ (and that last one is important because he needs her forgiveness often) and ‘he’s nikolai2 photobroken, violent, and dangerous’ (except, he really doesn’t live up to this). I know some people really like this dynamic, that’s why we see it so often. But I’ve read it so many times that I’m bored with it and want to see some variety. (But that’s more a genre complaint than an individual book complaint, I suppose.)

I liked the twists and complications that have cropped up in Nikolai and Vivian’s life. It makes for an interesting book. I did think the end felt really rushed. It’s as if most of the book kind of meanders along and then, all of a sudden, a lot of stuff started happening off page and reported very briefly before the book wraps up in a snap. It literally felt like Rivera ran out of pages and had to squeeze the last bits in.

But, all in all, I enjoyed more than I didn’t.

Other Reviews:

The Reading Cafe – Nikolai, Her Russian Protect #4

The Book Pusher – Nikolai, Her Russian Protector #6