Monthly Archives: February 2015

Review: Checkmate by R.L. Mathewson

A FEUD FOR THE AGES

Childhood enemies are forced to work together on a lucrative construction project.

Checkmate (Neighbor from Hell, #3)

Checkmate

This book made my “keeper” list. It’s funny and sexy and full of angst. Rory James (a Bradford cousin) and Connor O’Neil are equally hardheaded and bad-tempered. Their epic feud began at age six and has impacted the entire town. Some businesses have banned them for life. Others won’t let them both be on the premises at the same time.

I love how Mathewson manages to give us the present day situation and yet smoothly drop in episodes from Rory and Connor’s past. They have played some dirty tricks on one another. Little by little, we also realize that Connor’s motivation all these years isn’t what everyone thinks. We see how time and again he’s protected Rory from bigger trouble than he ever caused. This makes his snit late in the plot (when he erroneously believes Rory has two-timed him) somewhat unconvincing. The single episode of drama for drama’s sake is the only weak spot in an otherwise great book. The romance itself builds nicely. Lots of spice.

Rory’s brothers and cousins…all male…provide plenty of comic relief. Poor Connor comes close to death-by-brother a few times.

With all the funny parts, CHECKMATE still manages to generate serious steam. Highly recommended.

Review: PERFECTION by R.L. Mathewson

HUMOR MATTERS

The Bradford men continue to wreak havoc in the lives of their unsuspecting female neighbors (and in buffets nationwide).

Perfection (Neighbor from Hell, #2)

Perfection

Cocky Trevor Bradford’s only interest in his frumpy tenant is that she follows all the house rules and doesn’t bother him about repairs. When Zoe loses her job and may have to give up her apartment, he gets her position with his family’s construction business and also hires her to clean his pigsty of an apartment. It isn’t long before he’s dependent on her to keep his fridge stocked and his life organized. But it’s the physical attraction that he can’t get past. Trevor has a definite vision of the perfect wife and it isn’t chubby, socially backward Zoe. When he can’t talk himself out of his attraction to her, he decides that a “friends with benefits” arrangement might be the cure. That’s when things get complicated.

Trevor is really unlikable for a good chunk of the book. But he’s funny. It’s the humor and side characters (the rest of the Bradford clan) that kept me reading.

Zoe starts out pretty wimpy. Little by little she comes into her own, but there’s a long stretch where I just wanted to smack her. It didn’t put me off the book because I could see how years in a bad work situation had beaten her down and eroded her self-confidence. It’s fun to watch her blossom and see Trevor’s surprise at learning just how much she like sex.

The focus on on Zoe’s size did irritate me at times. It’s not even like she’s all that large. She’s described as chubby, not massive, so I don’t think the cruel remarks thrown at her by some of the side characters reflects reality.

The book made me laugh out loud…a lot. That’s why I’m giving it such a high rating. The romance is wobbly, but the characters are great and the world Mathewson creates for readers is one I enjoy visiting.

Review: PLAYING FOR KEEPS by R.L. Mathewson

Easy Does It With The Meanies

A meek teacher decides to stand up to her annoying next door neighbor and the friendship that develops gets complicated.

Playing for Keeps (Neighbor from Hell, #1)

Playing for Keeps

There’s a lot of humor in this book. Haley and Jason are just plain funny. I love the way they play off one another. Jason’s such a big, goofy jerk. And Haley starts off kind of spineless, but she finds her steel over the course of the story.

Haley has a really crappy family. Problem is it’s hard to do crappy and not fall into cliche. In this case, our heroine hails from a family of rich, thin, snotty vipers. I wish the author had toned down the Dynasty parody and put more real vinegar into her over-indulged pains in the butt. Haley’s grandmother is also a little over the top in her eccentricity, but she does make sure Haley has at least one relation she can count on.

Jason’s snit near the end isn’t true to the character we’ve come to know. His full and silent retreat seems gratuitous and unconvincing. It’s as if the author said, “Hmmmm…I need X more pages of conflict before the final resolution, so how about this…”

Overall, though, PLAYING FOR KEEPS is fun and sexy, a good start to the Neighbor From Hell series.

This Risk Paid Off

An architect who lost his finance under horrific circumstances finds himself drawn to a horse-loving physical therapist who was the victim of a violent crime.

Worth the Risk (The McKinney Brothers, #2)

Worth the Risk

I was ambivalent as I started this book. WORTH THE FALL, the first installment in The McKinney Brothers series, didn’t do much for me. I’m glad I gave it another chance, because WORTH THE RISK is a keeper. Characters, plot, pacing, setting–the whole package works.

They say that tragedy brings out the best in some people and the worst in other. Stephen McKinney isn’t all that likable when the book opens. He lost his fiance five years before. We don’t get the details of the terrible attack she suffered until near the middle of the novel. Once we do, its easy to see why learning about Hannah Walker’s past would send him into a tailspin. When they first meet, pursing her is a game for him. He doesn’t believe he’s capable of connecting on a deep level, and so he’s a real jerk.

Hannah is physically and emotionally damaged. In many ways, her social development ended at fourteen. Her five older brothers are incredibly over protective and inhibit her from really trying out her wings in the real world. The author does a great job showing us how torn Hannah is between protecting herself and venturing out into the world. Stephen is way way out of her league in terms of life experience. He’s a game player. It’s how he survives. Poor Hannah couldn’t play head games if her life depended on it. There’s no guile, no artfulness about her, and THIS is what Stephen is not used to coping with. He has no defense against her other than feigned indifference, which he can’t keep up for very long.

Claudia Conner makes good use of Hannah’s little ranch. It’s both a place where Hannah and Stephen can reveal their real selves, and the factor that most threatens their burgeoning relationship. Someone is trying to buy the place out from under Hannah, who inherited it in a rather unconventional manner. Stephen believes he can help her save the property. He has no idea how difficult and dangerous things are going to get.

As in the first McKinney Brothers book, there’s plenty of family poking their noses into Stephen and Hannah’s business. Her brothers are a hoot. I know they’re not McKinneys, but I hope they get books of their own.

I didn’t expect the ending–especially what becomes of Stephen’s beloved company–but I found it absolutely perfect. Too many romances end with the hero getting the girl, catching the bad guys, and maintaining his massive fortune. Things are more complicated in WORTH THE RISK.

And I’m glad I took a risk and stuck with Claudia Connor’s series. It was definitely worth it.

Simmers but Never Quite Boils

A Navy SEAL who doesn’t believe any relationship could survive the demands his profession places on him falls for a widowed mother of four (and a half).

Worth the Fall (The McKinney Brothers, #1)

Worth the Fall

Matt McKinney is a sexy dude…and he hails from a large clan of sexy dudes. A bunch of them are already married, so this series is beginning kind of in the middle, as there’s only Matt and his two younger brothers who remain unattached. Matt’s devoted to his work as a SEAL even though it has interfered with his family ties and resulted in deep personal loss. He responds by throwing himself into his side business of flipping houses. Then his cousin ropes him into a double date at a beach resort where Matt has a condo. It’s a disaster until Matt, approached by a small child on the beach, meets Abby Davis.

The author does a good job showing readers Matt’s conflict over his attraction to Abby. He’s constantly second guessing himself. He makes plans to avoid further contact, only to find himself engineering is attendance at activities she’s planned for her large brood. The kids are cute, and the author takes the time to give them definite personalities and roles in the story.

To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about Abby. She’s got a lot of hang ups and abandonment issues that might have added to her character, but she gets so whiny at times. She’s supposed to be earthy and sexy, but that attractiveness didn’t come across. There’s passive-aggressive quality to about her that grates. Also, her late husband is made out to be a super creep, which I guess is meant build sympathy for Abby and to highlight Matt’s “hero” qualities, but it just seems too cliched. Matt has his own issues that center on the death of a comrade. In Matt’s mind, loyalty to his friend’s memory translates into renouncing a meaningful personal life. It dosn’t work for me. Matt’s supposed to be a smart guy, but his reaction to his grief is beyond illogical.

I enjoyed the scenes where the McKinney family get together. They’re funny and real. Even Abby is at her best during these episodes. But this doesn’t quite make up for the fact that the chemistry between Abby and Matt simmers without ever truly reaching a boil.

WORTH THE FALL offers some touching moments and plenty of humor. I realize that it can take an author a little time to get a new series flying high, so I do plan to try the next McKinney Brothers book.

Recklessness at its Best

Reckless Beat’s cynical front man Mason Lynch has lost his muse. If he wants to save his career, he must collaborate with a female songwriter who believes (along with the rest of the world) that he leaked the sex tapes that destroyed her life.

Undesired Lust (Reckless Beat, #3)

Undesired Lust

This is my absolute favorite Reckless Beat book to date. The raw emotion between Sidney and Mason drew me right in. Sidney’s life is in tatters and this comes across. I felt her anger and her pain. As the book opens, Mason has fully claimed the role of villain in Sidney’s tragic fall from grace. He’s been blamed for something he didn’t do and refuses to tell anyone…even as his feelings for Sidney reignite. I really wanted to slap him at times. Luckily, his family and his dogs are around to remind us that he’s not the SOB he pretends to be.

Mason and Sidney have barely found their footing with one another when a stalker emerges. This faceless menace goes after Sidney with an ever escalating degree of viciousness creating a huge creep factor. It soon becomes clear that this person has been entangled in her life for years pulling strings behind the scenes and orchestrating her downfall.

This is also the book where drummer Sean becomes a tangible force. Up until now, he’s been the least fully-realized of Summers’s characters. Here he’s in the midst of the action…in more ways than one.

UNDESIRED LUST is edge-of-your seat drama. The danger and the twists continue without let up until almost the last page. The end? I didn’t see it coming. This is not a maniac who goes down without a fight.

Some Connections Can’t Be Explained

A young woman who witnesses her mother’s murder has her carefully guarded boundaries challenged by a brash young man.

Like Gravity

Like Gravity

The story line of LIKE GRAVITY is complicated both in emotion and narrative. Brooklyn is a walking trauma and doesn’t really realize it. Sure, she knows she has issues. She’s allergic to intimacy but not to physical gratification, which leads her to be something of a loose goose. No discretion in sexual partners, this one. We know from the beginning that her childhood ended at six when she lost her mother during a brutal carjacking. Less clear are the span of months she spent in foster care until the father she never met was tracked down. This time in her life becomes clearer–and more pivotal to the plot–as the story unfolds.

Finn is a great character. He appealed to me from the moment he appeared. Just enough arrogance mixed with just enough chivalry to make me smile. Unfortunately, Brooklyn is not as impressed. At least she doesn’t want to be. I get so tired of using the word “chemistry” to describe when two lead characters really connect… Instead, let’s say that when these two are together, they create their own emotional weather event. Not a hurricane, so much as that charge that fills the air just before a hurricane makes landfall.

Matters take a turn for the creepy when it develops that Brooklyn has a stalker. Personally, I think it takes her too long to get an inkling of who it might be. Anyone having lived through her past would have been making phone calls to the relevant authorities (can’t elaborate or it will ruin the story for you) and I am NOT talking about the local police.

I also would have like to know more about Brooklyn’s financial situation. Her father is wealthy, but she’s almost completely estranged from him. She doesn’t have a job. So where is her money coming from? Did her mom have life insurance?

Brooklyn’s reaction to Finn’s secret is a teeny bit over the top. Again, I don’t want to ruin it for you. I will say that, considering the situation, she should have been GLAD to discover the truth, since it is what made life bearable for her at a terrible time.

Even with these little issues, LIKE GRAVITY is gripping. It’s hard to believe that it is Julie Johnson’s debut novel. There’s a beautiful balance of romance and suspense, and Johnson develops her characters and plot with the skill of a seasoned author.

A Rocky Ride in All the Right Ways

Secrets are revealed and relationships irrevocably changed when the guys of Reckless Beat rock band (and their loves) head to Vegas for Alana and Mitch’s pre-wedding festivities.

Reckless Weekend (Reckless Beat, #2.5)

Reckless Weekend

Lots of humor in this Reckless Beat series novella. Mitch and Alana set up a girls vs. guys scavenger hunt. Alana’s uptight mom playing “straight-man” to the Sin City antics of her daughter’s friends adds a great touch. And there’s plenty to react to: Mitch exploring his feminine side, Mason losing an eyebrow…and his cool…at a day spa. Leah’s erotic encounter at a tattoo parlor. Sean getting plenty of personal service from a bright-eyed spa employee. I hope we see more of young Maree in the future. She’s a great foil to the wild band and their fairly sophisticated girlfriends.

Along with the fun, there are some serious plot points. Ryan and band manager Leah hit rough waters. I’m trying to minimize spoilers, but I think he completely overreacts when decides to end their friendship over something so stupid. His reaction is way over the top for the situation. Gabi and Blake’s problem is more realistic and lends a sad note to the revelries. It’s also great to see Alana, who’s normally so calm and gracious, overcome by wedding stress.

RECKLESS WEEKEND is a rocky ride in all the right ways.

A Spirited Romp Through the Hereafter

A 29-year-old professional meets an untimely end. Only it’s not the end.

(Marvin's) World of Deadheads

(Marvin’s) World of Deadheads

In this dark comedy, the afterlife isn’t much different from regular life, as Marvin learns with the assistance of veteran deadheads. Mike is an old friend from college. And Tommy’s a chipper hippie. They take Marvin under their (non-angelic) wing, easing him into a regular routine of movie-going, deli breakfasts, and (live) people watching. But the fun and games take a sinister turn when Marvin decides that he can’t live without his girlfriend Jenna. He begins plotting her…shall we say….”transition”…unaware of the dark (and eternal) consequences.

Marvin has a strong voice. His sardonic wit adds a nice bite to the story. I wasn’t crazy about him or Jenna at first. They aren’t a warm-and-fuzzy couple. They’re hard-edged and tough on each other. Yet over the course of book, we see how truly attached they were to one another and how well matched they are. I didn’t want Jenna to die, but I was rooting for a happy ending.

Things morph from funny to creepy to outright scary as Marvin becomes more and more obsessed with having Jenna join him. He haunts her every move, interfering with her life and attempting to hasten her death. Even as his friends take a step back, he’s incapable of seeing how he’s endangering himself and everyone around him. I won’t spoil the ending, but the author found a clever way to resolve the seemingly unresolvable.

Other than a trip to Florida, which went on a few pages longer than it had to, (MARVIN’S) WORLD OF DEADHEADS kept me engaged from page one until its unexpected…and spirited…end.

Rock-and-Roll Aussie Style

A rock guitarist who has battled addiction has a whole lot of trouble on his hands when he decides to meet his online mentor in person after four years of virtual friendship.

Passionate Addiction (Reckless Beat, #2)

Passionate Addiction

This is the second book in Eden Summers’s Reckless Beat rock romance series. Blake Kennedy was one of my favorites in the first book. There’s a particular scene with him, Mitch Davies, and Alana Shelton that is seared into my memory…(clears throat)…Blake is intense and romantic. His paranoia about his bandmates discovering his past and booting him out adds a constant buzz of tension throughout the book. Towards the end, I did want to smack him upside the head and tell him to GET OVER IT. And he does. But not before he nearly loses the love of his life.

Gabrielle Smith is a confident woman, which makes the insecurities she suffers while dipping her toe into Blake’s very public world all the more poignant. She does her best to go with the crazy flow, and she copes well until an outside force (in the form of Blake’s self-serving ex lover Michelle) tips the balance.

This is all happening during the band’s Australian tour, and we’re treated to some wonderful scenic descriptions. Especially once the band gets to Sydney and takes an amazing helicopter ride up the coast to a mansion where Mitch’s romantic surprise for Alana is nearly upended by major Blake-Gabby drama and Ryan’s imploding marriage.

Things comes to a head weeks later at Alana and Mitch’s engagement party in NYC. Unexpected guests lead to mayhem, possible criminal activity, and Blake coming face to face with his worse fears.

PASSIONATE ADDICTION is an exciting book full of plot twists and romantic angst.