Second Look: Hard as it Gets (Hard Ink) by Laura Kaye

HardAsItGets mm cTitle:  Hard As It Gets
Author:  Laura Kaye
Series:  Hard Ink, #1
Genre:  Adult, Romance and Mystery

Synopsis:  Becca Merritt’s brother is missing.  And the only lead she has to find him is one of her father’s former soldiers.  That’s exactly what leads Becca into Nick Rixey’s life.  And while he tries to push her away, the attraction they share is undeniable.

Nick Rixey, former Army Special Forces, has been wounded and disgraced.  For the last year, he’s tried to get his life back to some semblance of normal after the shit hit the proverbial fan in Afghanistan.  And his former Colonel, Becca’s father, is to blame.  So when she comes into his brother’s tattoo parlor looking for his help, he immediately turns her away.  But guilt is a funny thing.  And when he goes to check up on her, he finds that she’s in more danger than he ever imagined.  Protective instincts kick in and he offers to help keep Becca safe, and find her brother.  Because, finding her brother Charlie might be the only way he can clear his team’s name.

Filled with action, mystery, and a lot of sexual tension, HARD AS IT GETS is told in alternating points-of-view between Becca and Rixey for a fuller look at both sides of the story.

Thoughts:  Tattoos?  Check.  Ex-Army?  Check.  What’s not to love about the premise of the novel?  Which is what had me picking it up on release day in November.  However, it took me a while to finally get into the groove of reading.  And once I started, I couldn’t put it down.  Kaye has an excellent mix of romance and action here.  There’s not a chapter that goes by without a little suspense or heart-hammering.  Which, let’s be honest, is freaking awesome.

She’s a smooth writer with a talent for bringing the tension between characters.  But, like in all good stories, it doesn’t come easily for Becca and Rixey.  Rixey has to deal with her father’s betrayal – something she knows nothing about – and his feelings for her.  Becca wants to find her brother.  He’s the only family she has left.  But she can’t deny that Nick Rixey is “fucking sexy as hell” and has to have him.  Like all good romance, the tension is racheted up until both parties finally give in.  And boy, is it good.

Other things I loved about this:  Kaye brings in Nick’s former Army buddies.  Yeah, the ones that were with him that fateful day in Afghanistan.  They haven’t seen or talked to each other in a year and boy is there -a lot- of tension.  But once they’re given a mission, they turn on the soldier and go at it.

In all, it was a great read with a lot of depth.  I am eagerly awaiting HARD AS YOU CAN (February), the next book in the series with a focus on Shane McCallan and a girl that’s cameoed at the end of HARD AS IT GETS.  Let’s just hope we get Jeremy Rixey’s story, soon!

Rating 10/10

Second Look: GOING VINTAGE by Lindsay Leavitt

Going VintageThe Story: Mallory is fed up. After accidentally discovering her boyfriend, Jeremy, has been digitally whispering sweet nothings to a secret online girlfriend, Mallory has had it with boys. When she stumbles upon an old to-do list that belonged to her grandmother in high school, she decides to “go vintage” and complete all the items on her grandmother’s list. So she decides to make the following resolutions:

  1. Run for Pep Squad secretary (of course, she’ll have to figure out how to start a pep club at her school first)
  2. Host a fancy dinner party/soiree
  3. Sew a dress for homecoming
  4. Find a steady
  5. Do something dangerous

Finding a steady could be tricky, given her rage and avoidance of the male species. But, fortunately, her younger sister, Ginny, is on board and willing to help Mallory complete her list in time. Who else is willing to help? Jeremy’s cousin Oliver, who always smells REALLY GOOD.

The Low Down: With “vintage” being all the rage right now, this book is sure to have lots of appeal. The thing I liked about Mallory is that she was all consumed by her idea, never wavering from her ultimate goal of completing her list. Going so far as to swear off all technology (they didn’t have Facebook or cell phones in 1962, ya know!) is particularly bold, but since technology ruined her life, she’s determined to cut it out for good (or, at least until she completes her list).

While this isn’t a clean, fluffy, pre-teen romance (there is some sexual talk and language, if memory serves), it’s suitable for a wide variety of readers. Fans of vintage eras will enjoy the treasured finds Mallory comes across to reach her goal and will be able to appreciate the hunt for TRUE vintage (not faux vintage) materials. Romance fans will enjoy the banter between Mallory and Oliver, and enjoy the possible progression of their friendship. And, my personal favorite, man-haters will want to tar and feather Jeremy in the first 15 pages. W

While Going Vintage wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, it’s still a cute read. The characters are likeable, although some of the relationships were a little curious. The story is also a little outlandish, only because I can’t imagine any teenager wanting to give up every technological device just because he/she got burned by someone online. But even if I can’t relate to Mallory’s thought process, I can understand it, and I think most other readers will too. Even if Mallory’s plans are a little unconventional, there is a moral that comes through in the end.

The Bottom Line: Going Vintage is a fun, contemporary romance that most teen readers of all ages can enjoy. To it’s credit, it lacks the serious emotional complexities about a lot of deeper romance novels. Even though it’s fraught with drama, it’s fun, not frustrating, to follow as Mallory tries to complete her list.

OFFICIAL RATING: 7/10

Second Look: LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins

Lola and the Boy Next DoorThe Story: Lola is very content in her life. She’s got an amazing boyfriend (so what if he’s 5 years older than her?), she has a happy home life with her two dads and her dog, Heavens to Betsy (Betsy, for short). She has a decent job, and her best friend, Lindsay, sticks by her through and through. She also has a very creative style all her own and is very comfortable in her own skin. Everything is find and dandy until her old neighbors move back to the house next door. Calliope and Cricket Bell, twins who she has known since Kindergarten are back in her life. Calliope still threatens to make Lola’s life miserable, and Cricket (who broke her heart once upon a time) is bringing back some old warm and fuzzy feelings that she thought were gone forever.

The Low Down: In this companion to Anna and the French Kiss, I was looking for another similar love story where you can’t help but root for the guy and the girl to overcome their differences, fall in love, and live happily ever after. The romance was there, in true Stephanie Perkins fashion, however, I didn’t like Lola nearly as much as Anna, mostly because I was NOT a fan of Lola’s character.

Lola likes to become different people. Not in a multiple personality disorder kind of way. She likes to explore her style and is usually wearing a variety of outfits to complement whatever she’s feeling for the day. Every day she wants to be someone different. At first, I thought this was awesome. Props to a girl who is confident in herself and doesn’t mind showing who she really is! However. I became increasingly more frustrated with Lola’s character because she was so eccentric that it was off-putting.

In one scene, she describes herself as wearing “a long black wig with straight bangs, a white dress I made from a bedsheet, chunky golden jewelry, and – of course – ancient Egyptian eyes drawn in kohl.” She wears this to school and then gets disgusted when the “jocks” make fun and say crude things. Gee. I never thought that would happen when you dress like it’s Halloween every day.

As the book went on, I just found myself thinking that this book isn’t about a teenage girl with a crush… this is about a little girl playing dress up who has no grasp on real life. But that’s where the moral of the story lies. Cricket, the boy next door with a heart of gold, accepts her no matter what. He loves her crazy outfits and feels she’s not herself if she’s not dressed up in some bizarre get up. Which, anyone can admit, is awesome and sweet. But as a reader, I had no emotional feeling toward Lola and could not relate to or appreciate her character at all. (*SEMI-SPOILER*) I even cheered a little when her boyfriend told her off for being a liar and a fake. Her boyfriend is a jerk, but I still found myself agreeing when he said she was just a little girl with a lot of issues.

Despite my rants about Lola’s character, Lola is faced with some very real life drama and situations. Like Anna, this book about Lola throws in a lot of heavy issues without being preachy. Lola is being raised by two gay parents, Nathan and Andy, who she adores. They adopted her when she was a baby from Lola’s birth mother, Norah, who is Nathan’s sister. Norah is a semi-clean, semi-homeless addict who always pops back into Lola’s life when she gets in trouble, often running to her brother for help. In addition to all that, her boyfriend is quite a bit older (which gives us a 17-year-old dating a 22-year-old). Needless to say, this causes a lot of concern and tension between her and her parents. Cricket is dealing with his own set of issues. An all around good guy (almost too good to be true), he sacrificed his entire life to move around with his twin sister, who is a professional figure skater and Olympic hopeful. There are a lot of different dynamics among all the families and relationships, which is worth noting and appreciating.

For me, the highlight of Lola were the scenes with Anna and Etienne (I flailed when they first appeared), being even more adorable than they were in Anna, and even giving out relationship advice every now and then. It was nice to have them around in this story.

The Bottom Line: Even though I did not care for Lola’s character, Lola and the Boy Next Door is still an adorable, light romantic drama for teens. Like Anna and the French Kiss, it is a quick and easy read, and should appeal to many fans of young romance, provided they can get past Lola’s eccentricities.

OFFICIAL RATING: 7/10

Curious to hear more about Anna and the French Kiss? Check out AtLP’s review here!

Second Look: ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie PerkinsThe Story: Most teens would be stoked to spend their senior year in Paris, France. Not Anna. She’s been shipped off to a private school in Europe courtesy of her father who sent her there, well, simply because he could. Completely clueless about French culture and language, poor Anna anticipates a year of misery and homesickness. Fortunately, her next door dorm-neighbor, Meredith, is more than happy to show Anna the ropes and introduce Anna to her group of friends. Unfortunately, Anna seems to be combating feelings for one of those aforementioned friends, Etienne St. Clair. What’s worse, he seems to be rather friendly towards her as well, which definitely could complicate things with his longtime girlfriend. As friendships are strengthened and tested, they learn that just about anything can happen in the city of lights (and love).

The Low Down: Anna and the French Kiss isn’t just some fluffy romance for hormone-fueled teenagers. This is one of the most adorable teen romances I’ve read in ages, but it’s not all hearts and rainbows. This book is very issue-heavy, while still managing to maintain a lighter tone.

Anna is sent to Paris because her Nicholas Sparks-like father just secured yet another movie deal for one of his best selling tragic romance novels. He wants the glory of saying his daughter studies in France, so he feels it’s appropriate to uproot her life for that sole purpose. No one could blame the girl for having daddy issues. Enter Etienne, who also has some serious daddy issues himself. Anna’s father is selfish, but Etienne’s may as well be the devil. There’s definitely some parental conflict as these two try to cope together with their controlling fathers.

Another issue we run across that’s semi-related to the parent issue is how someone’s world can collapse when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. While the story is not primarily about a parent’s cancer battle, it’s a big enough part of the story to be a prime factor in developing some of the characters’ relationships.

There’s a lot of ups and downs among friendships, which is what makes this a terribly realistic teen novel. In the real world, teens don’t meet and see that starry-eyed twinkle and decide to be together forever. In the real world, let’s face it: it’s ugly. There are very real emotions and other relationships involved, and that’s exactly the types of dynamics that are explored in Anna. Anna and Etienne clearly have a friendly attraction, but Etienne has a serious girlfriend. Meredith, who has known Etienne for years, also has a crush on him, and Anna doesn’t want her to know she as feelings for him, too. Anna infuriates Etienne with all her hot/cold attitudes towards him, and he drives her crazy in return with all this “serious girlfriend” business. See? Complicated. But it’s probably as close to real life as you’re going to get. Despite the drama, the story is still funny. The romance is still adorable. The tone is still light and fun.

Lola and the Boy Next DoorIsla and the Happily Ever AfterIn short, I absolutely loved Anna and the French Kiss. I generally try to steer away from romance (because I’m clearly very bitter and cynical), but I liked all the relationships in this story and how they developed over the course of time. Check out the companion novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and the last book in the Anna series (Isla and the Happily Ever After), which will be released in September 2013 and returns to Paris to follow up with two characters previously seen in Anna. Stephanie Perkins’ writing is a delight to read and I can’t wait to see more from her.

The Bottom Line: Anna and the French Kiss is a fun, lighthearted, and realistic romance that artfully portrays the ups and downs of young love, as well as tactfully dealing with family conflicts and tested friendships. Great, easy writing by Perkins makes this a perfect choice for reluctant readers who enjoy romantic stories. Can’t wait to read the two companion novels.

OFFICIAL RATING: 9/10

I love when angels get tempted…

Isn’t Michelle Zink just so awesome?

Even angels make mistakes in this page-turning epic romance… 

When her parents are murdered before her eyes, sixteen-year-old Helen Cartwright finds herself launched into an underground London where a mysterious organization called the Dictata controls the balance of good and evil. Helen learns that she is one of three remaining angelic descendants charged with protecting the world’s past, present, and future. Unbeknownst to her, she has been trained her whole life to accept this responsibility. Now, as she finds herself torn between the angelic brothers protecting her and the devastatingly handsome childhood friend who wants to destroy her, she must prepare to be brave, to be hunted, and above all to be strong, because temptation will be hard to resist, even for an angel. 

I’m not one for paranormal fiction, but I love me a fight between good and evil (Note to self: read The Stand again…). This will be added to my TBR pile as soon as it comes out.

A Temptation of Angels will be released on March 20, 2012.