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REVIEW:  The Do Over by M.K. Schiller

REVIEW: The Do Over by M.K. Schiller

The Do-Over  by MK Schiller

Dear Ms. Schiller:

Initially I resisted buying this book because it was fairly pricey and while The Other C Word was entertaining, it wasn’t that entertaining plus TOCW had a lot of problematic issues such as the non stop sexual harassment by the hero. However, Mistress M from SM Book Obsessions said it was sweet and funny and I needed some of that over the holiday and it was worth the money.

The positives for this book is that there was a sweet romance despite the alphahole tendencies of the hero and the heroine was pretty awesome. Attorney Lanie Carmichael is set up with womanizer Kyle Manchester and immediately sees through him but she doesn’t care.  She wants Kyle to teach her how to get his best friend Brad (her co worker who is currently dating Lanie’s sister) to fall in love with her.

Kyle thinks that this is an impossible task because Lanie doesn’t have a figure, is kind of abrasive, and has the sex appeal of a stick. Lanie thinks that Kyle is perfect for the job because he’s a shallow womanizer who is a great journalist but may be a terrible human being.  Lanie tempts Kyle with an exclusive story that could win him a Pulitzer. Four clients of hers were forced into a sex ring by a prominent politician. The clients are suing for emotional damages and are willing to share their story. Lanie’s handling that interview and thinks Kyle would be the right journalist based on his past work.

Because Kyle wants the story and is intrigued by Lanie’s plan, he agrees but tells her he can’t make Brad fall in love with her. Lanie knows this but believes that with the right information, she can accomplish anything. She’s an excellent trial lawyer (although never does the in court work) and excels at preparation and also negotiation.

“Yes. We’re both juniors at our firm. I’ll make partner this year. Brad probably will in two years.”

Jesus, is that an insult to Brad? How could he describe this girl as shy? She was very full of herself.

“That’s great. So do you like it?”

He didn’t know why, but her odd demeanor was interesting. She adjusted the mop of curly auburn hair that threatened to spring free of the tight bun on top of her head.

“I’m good at it. It’s what I’m meant to do.”

“Why? Do you like fighting for the little guy and getting justice?” Kyle asked somewhat mockingly.

Lanie took a long sip of her drink, followed by a deep breath. “No, it’s not my job to get justice for people. That’s what the courts do.”

“Then what’s your job?”

“Winning.”

I just loved this unapologetic confidence in Lanie.  This could have easily slid into wallbanger status if not for Lanie. She’s smart and knows her strengths and weaknesses.  She’s insightful, able to read Kyle easily and recognizes her sister is a horrible person but still feels some familial responsibility toward her.

There is no insta-lust. Lanie doesn’t respect Kyle or want him. She wants Brad who she views as a great lawyer, great co worker, and decent human being. She thinks that they would be perfect together and is going to use Kyle to gather all the research she needs to execute a plan of attack. Kyle doesn’t think Lanie is hot at all. After each meeting, however, Kyle begins to notice things about Lanie. First it is her hair. Then her smile. Then her eyes until he doesn’t even focus on her looks anymore, but rather Lanie herself. He notices she’s fun to spend time with and is an engaging conversationalist.

Kyle’s plan isn’t to attract and/or please Brad, but to make Lanie more desirable. They do this, not by giving Lanie a makeover, but by Kyle pretending that Lanie and he are a real couple. As pretend relationship goes forward, Lanie and Kyle spend a lot of time together but as their feelings deepen for each other they don’t even realize it at first.

What I loved was that Kyle fell for Lanie before her wardrobe makeover and before other people found her attractive so he wasn’t a victim of the plan that he had for Brad — that a guy only wants a woman who is unavailable to him. Although Lanie was emotionally unavailable to him. Lanie told him time and again that Brad was the man for her until she woke up and realized that every attribute she thought she liked in Brad actually were attributes of Kyle.

Their transformations were well paced as was the romance. It is a pleasure watching a couple actually fall in love. While the price for this book is rather high, it was worth it for me.  Most of the story is told from Kyle’s point of view. I’ve seen some comparison’s to Emma Chase’s Tangled and those are fair but while Drew in Tangled was a misogynistic asshole from beginning to end, Kyle had a real redemptive arc and his womanizing didn’t come from a hate of women but a self hate. Thanks for the recommendation, Mistress M! B

Best regards,

Jane

 

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GUEST REVIEW:  Badlands by Jill Sorenson

GUEST REVIEW: Badlands by Jill Sorenson

Badlands by Jill SorensonDear Ms. Sorenson,

If I’m not mistaken, Badlands is the first book of yours in which characters from an earlier, unresolved storyline get their own book and happy ending. It can probably be read on its own, as the back story is well-integrated into the narrative. Still, I’m glad that I was familiar with the main characters and their past relationship beforehand.

Penny Sandoval and Owen Jackson first appeared in Aftershock, in which they were part of a small group of survivors trapped in a collapsed freeway following a major earthquake. The then eighteen year old Penny was about to give birth and was estranged from her family, who did not approve of her becoming a teen mother; Owen, who is three years older, was a prison inmate on a work detail. During the course of that book, Owen ends up delivering Penny’s baby and is the one who manages to get out of the rubble and go for help. At the end, they went their separate ways, with Penny returning to her family and Owen transferred to a new prison.

Janine, who reviewed Aftershock, felt that Penny’s bond with Owen developed too rapidly considering their backgrounds: Penny is Mexican-American, while Owen is affiliated with a white supremacist prison gang and has visible symbols of this, including a Swastika tattoo. I agreed with Janine about the pacing of their relationship, but I was able to accept that Penny would come to consider Owen’s choices in prison as not being any meaningful reflection of his beliefs. I was interested to see what you would do with these characters and their relationship.

Badlands takes place about five years after the events of Aftershock. Penny, who has stayed with her family, is a recent college graduate and a single mother to son Cruz. Owen has been out of prison for several years, and has gotten some of his tattoos removed, finished college, and worked at a national park. Penny’s father Jorge, who was the mayor of Los Angeles in Aftershock, is now the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, and Owen is part of his personal security team. Penny and Owen are on friendly terms and although both have feelings for each other, neither is certain of how the other feels. In addition, Penny feels obligated to her parents and dates only men that they would approve of, while Owen doesn’t believe that he could ever have a relationship with Penny, for various reasons.

Penny is about to introduce her mother at one of the Republican National Convention events leading up to the nomination when things go wrong: an alarm goes off, and when Owen escorts Penny and Cruz to a waiting car in what is meant to be a secure area, they are attacked by a group of men who overpower Owen and the driver and abduct Owen, Penny and Cruz. Their leader is Owen’s older brother Shane, who was recently released from prison. They take off for the Salton Sea area, where Shane and Owen grew up. Penny is eventually able to overpower a guard and escapes into the desert with Cruz, and Owen manages to get away and find them. But Penny, Cruz and Owen are on their own in a harsh landscape, far from help, with almost no supplies, and with Shane and his gang after them. The kidnappers want money, and the men controlling them have their own goals.

What I’ve described so far is mostly setup, and it only takes up the first seventy pages or so. Which is probably for the best, as for me this was the weakest part of the book and required more than a little suspension of disbelief: that Penny’s father would jump directly from mayor of LA to presidential nominee, that Owen, an ex-con, would be working in personal security for him (or for anyone else), that the kidnappers – hardly criminal masterminds – would succeed so easily in grabbing Penny, Cruz and Owen at the convention, and that Owen, despite injuries from a serious beating, would be in any shape to take on the kidnappers. The quick recovery of the hero is probably a staple of romantic suspense, but one of the strengths of your books for me is that they are very believable and the heroes are not supercop/superagent/super military guys, so it seemed a bit jarring.

Once Owen, Penny and Cruz get away from Shane and his men and go deeper into the badlands, I felt that the story worked much better. Your books often have a strong sense of the southern Californian setting, and Badlands was no exception. Penny and Owen have their work cut out for them just trying to survive the challenging conditions with a five year old in tow, and Owen also makes some tough decisions as they try to evade the men after them.

Penny is wonderful – she’s compassionate and kind as well as strong, and it comes across throughout. She knows that she’s allowed her parents to control too much of her life because of her gratitude and sense of obligation, and decides to go after what she wants even if they won’t approve. Despite her parents’ disapproval, Penny doesn’t feel ashamed of the choices she’s made in her life and doesn’t feel as though she’s making a bad one in pursuing a relationship with Owen. Penny’s father did not seem to have changed much following the events of Aftershock, somewhat to my disappointment; he is still trying to impose his values and beliefs on Penny and to keep her and Owen apart. Penny loves her father and wants him to succeed, but is not blind to his manipulative side.

I think it’s fair to say, though, that Badlands is more Owen’s story than Penny’s, and he has more to overcome than she does. Owen has always been interested in Penny and his feelings have only grown stronger over the years, but he has a very low sense of self-worth and doesn’t feel like he has anything to offer Penny other than protecting her and Cruz. He had a very difficult childhood, with a father who tried to toughen him up by abusing him both verbally and physically. Owen planned to be better, but got involved in drugs when he was a teenager and eventually in his brother’s criminal schemes, leading him to prison at the age of eighteen. Being young and not physically powerful when he went to prison, Owen was a target for older inmates, whom he wasn’t able to fight off. He was raped more than once before deciding to turn to a gang in an attempt to protect himself from predators. Owen has not been able to have a sexual relationship since then, and certain things are triggering for him. He feels very ashamed of what was done to him and how he reacted to it, and this can be difficult to read at times. I felt that Owen’s experiences and their effect on him were handled with sensitivity, but one of the things he did while with the gang was disturbing to me, and he already had a lot of trauma and emotional issues to work through without it. Owen is a good man and his entire life seems to be an attempt to make amends for some of his earlier actions. He’s hesitant to get involved with Penny and their romantic and sexual relationship progress slowly, mostly closer to the end of the book, which I felt was believable.

In addition to Owen and Penny, some sections are from the POV of Owen’s brother Shane as well as Shane’s ex-girlfriend Janelle. Like Penny, Janelle was a teen mother, but with far less support and opportunities. Shane’s actions have put both Janelle and their son Jamie at risk, but while Janelle plays a role towards the end of the story, I didn’t feel that her perspective was really needed. Shane is the main villain but he’s far from a one-note bad guy. He does love Owen in his own way and tries to protect his brother even while he’s getting him involved in some very bad situations. Shane is a product of a difficult childhood similar to Owen’s, but lacks Owen’s empathy and basic goodness.

The beginning of Badlands and certain other things didn’t really work for me, but once the setup was out of the way, I became much more absorbed in the story and wanted Penny and Owen to be happy together. Although they are relatively young for the genre, I don’t doubt that they were right for each other and would be so in the future. Badlands get a B from me.

Best regards,
Rose

Rose lives in a country where romance readers are few and far between, so discovering romance websites was a welcome development. When not busy with reading and graduate school, she can often be found online discussing romance novels or sports –occasionally both at the same time. She has no TBR pile and is forever looking to change this unfortunate fact; recommendations for historicals, romantic suspense and contemporaries (preferably of the non-small town variety) are welcome.

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