The Friend Zone by Nicole Strycharz ~ Book Review

The Friend Zone is another great novel from Nicole Strycharz. I loved The Divorce and was excited to see what happened with Moses, the man who nearly stole Jenzy’s heart in the last book. This story runs parallel to it’s predecessor and, like The Divorce, this is not an easy story – by that I mean it’s a bit of a roller coaster, not that it’s difficult to read – but so worth it. Moses and, his best friend, Chloe share everything and have for years; their ups, their downs, their loves, their losses, they are always there for each other – strong, supportive and loyal. One thing they have never been is attracted to each other…at least this is what they keep telling themselves. After all, they’re in the Friend Zone – once there, the chance of any kind of intimate relationship with said friend is off the table.

This has been working perfectly well until unexpected emotions start to cloud their friendship and they enter a whole new and very complicated zone. Mired in pain and angst, it seems bound to tear them apart but this zone – if they dared to believe in themselves – might just be the best thing that ever happened to them. Of course it isn’t handed to them on a silver platter – love is a tricky path and, despite eventually recognising what is happening – to step out of the comfortable friend zone they have been in for so long take a whole lot of courage.

Nicole’s ability to capture the rawness of a situation is astonishing. Her characters leap off the page and demand your attention. Neither Chloe nor Moses is perfect – far from it and now they are fighting what is obvious for fear they will lose what they already share in order to embrace what has been staring them in the face for longer than they care to admit. They argue, they behave badly, they forget what is important – don’t we all? That’s the essence of this book – shit happens, life isn’t a sunny day but love in all its guises usually finds a way to bang our heads together, forcing us to see the truth, if we are prepared to take the risk.

This book is funny, poignant, harsh, honest, gritty and full of love, all kinds of love from platonic to sexual and everything in between – it weaves a tantalising thread throughout the novel, daring you to chase it through its many knots in search of that elusive HEA.

The Friend Zone, by Nicole Strycharz is available worldwide from Amazon.
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Claiming Xana by Xana Jordan ~ Book Review

Claiming Xana is the second book in Xana Jordan’s Wildcat Graduates Series. I loved the previous story – Loving Noel, and was really looking forward to the sequel. Wow – I was not disappointed; Claiming Xana is exceptional.

Her time at high school over and trying to put the heartbreak of losing Noel behind her, Xana along with her best friend Stacey, are now in college and facing a new set of challenges. Xana has even sort of fallen into a new relationship with Jeff, a friend of her brother’s. Despite the mounting pressure of course work, extra classes and hours of studying; things seem to be ticking over nicely. A year later, Noel and Cade follow the girls to the same college, but Xana won’t go anywhere near Noel, finding any excuse not to be in the same room as him. Noel always knew he’d screwed up and is resolved to win Xana back.

Things come to a head when Xana falls ill, Noel is there for her, whereas Jeff – more interested in himself, his fraternity and another girl, than Xana – is nowhere to be seen. The ramifications of Xana’s illness is another issue she must contend with, concerned it will be too much for Noel to handle, but as she recovers, Xana slowly comes to trust Noel again and the couple begins to repair their shattered relationship. Noel’s attentiveness and obvious care breaks through Xana’s barriers – after all, she never stopped loving him – if she had it wouldn’t have hurt as much. Problem is, Jeff was manipulative and controlling, damaging Xana’s self-confidence and Noel still has a lot of making up to do. Is there any chance that love will be enough to give Xana and Noel the HEA they deserve?

Jordan has crafted a story that flows effortlessly around the ups and downs of college life and it opened a floodgate of memories from my time in those lofty halls of academia; trying to find a balance between embracing the fun and the new friendships against classes, long nights poring over books and pesky assignment deadlines. Jordan’s characters are wonderfully interesting people; a strong, loyal, supportive and tight knit group of friends who will do anything for each other; as well as those whose lights you could cheerfully punch out!

Themes of loss, heartbreak, joy, courage, determination, trust, faith – in others and yourself – are interwoven throughout this book reminding us that even when things seem overwhelming, there’s usually a silver lining, you just have to look for it. The rekindled romance between Xana and Noel is one of the best second chances at love I’ve ever read, beautifully portrayed. This book is a roller coaster of a ride, but the laughter, friendships, tears and love make it a ride so worth taking.

As with Loving Noel, Claiming Xana is YA/NA and intended for a younger audience, however there is something for everyone within the pages what’s not to love about a delightfully entertaining romance!

Claiming Xana is available on Amazon
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Loving Noel by Xana Jordan ~ Book Review

Loving Noel by Xana Jordan is the first book in the Wildcat Graduates Series and, although I rarely even check out the YA and NA books (being rather older…), I’m so glad I read this novel. Jordan not only captures the fun, laughter and friendships we shared as we suffered high school, but also all the angst and insecurities that plagued us.

Xana has been attracted to Noel for a long time, but assumes he would never notice her. Noel feels the same about Xana, but she’s the year ahead of him, so he presumes she wouldn’t be interested. However, because of band practice they spend a lot of time together, both are part of the same group of friends and, after dancing around each other for way too long, almost without effort, they start to date.

Even though they seem perfect for each other, when you are young and in love all sorts of issues rear their ugly heads, for just as Xana and Noel become closer, their relationship is put to the test. Enter Mercedes and Blain. Mercedes wants Noel and will try every catty trick in the book to get him, and Blain, who although Xana considers more of a brother, suddenly sees Xana in a whole new light.

Jordan’s portrayal of her characters was so genuine, I seriously wanted to punch Mercedes’ lights out and slap Noel for not being more forceful when it came to telling her to back off. My stomach wrenched at some of the crap Xana put up with and throughout the tale I was back in my high school days when emotions were exaggerated and we hadn’t gained enough maturity to know how to handle certain situations, our responses raw and unsophisticated (despite believing ourselves very grown up and totally able to handle anything!). I was so thankful for Stacy and Cade who are exactly the sort of friends you need; strong, supportive, loyal and happy to tell you to stop behaving like an idiot.

Loving Noel is a story of first love, the heady romance and intoxicating anticipation – the leap from being friends to dating, tinged with the fear that if it doesn’t work out, your friendship might be ruined. It’s also about jealousy, loss, trust, faith and how we cope with the journey from adolescence to adulthood. Jordan’s style is lively and entertaining, drawing you further and further into the lives of her characters, until you feel you have known them for years and are now part of their coterie. I am looking forward to the sequel, as this story is not over.

Loving Noel is available on Amazon and although intended for a younger audience, I believe anyone who loves a fun romance will enjoy this story.

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The Foreigner by AC Jade ~ Book Review

The Foreigner by AC Jade turned out to be a very intriguing book. The story unfolds in a rather unusual manner and initially I wasn’t sure whether I was going to enjoy it. Jasmine, a young lady from the Philippines is now living in America and re-training to be a doctor. On the first day at her new job she gets lost and ends up at a place called The Bookstore ~ which isn’t a bookstore at all ~ where she is greeted by a masked stranger, a stranger who haunts her dreams. Despite visiting The Bookstore several times, Jasmine loses sight of this shadowy figure and decides to move on, since wishing for him was not making it happen.

Subsequently, she meets and falls for Stephen Gates, who just happens to live in the penthouse suite of her apartment block, and unfortunately is suffering from a brain tumour. Although he loves her too and they begin a passionate affair, there is much threatening their chance at a HEA ~ not least of which is Steven’s disease ~ and slowly everything unravels.

I struggled a bit with Jasmine’s character, as initially she seemed quite independent and feisty, but later was easily manipulated by Stephen and the rest of his family ~ of whom there are a LOT and who are extremely wealthy. Some of the brothers consider Jasmine a gold digger and make no bones about their opinion ~ their callous assumptions, unfounded and downright hurtful, leaving Jasmine confused and uncertain. To add to the mix, it turns out Stephen has a twin, who Jasmine meets under tragic circumstances, little realising that they have already spoken, but when and how will shock her. So there are quite a lot of twists and turns in the tale. No, I won’t give the plot away ~ you have to read it.

The supporting cast were well written and some deserve their own stories ~ I’d be interested to see whether this happens. The story ends but doesn’t conclude, I felt that there were a few threads still dangling, so I hope AC Jade ties them off in a future novel.

This is a story of love and loss and second chances, of the tenuous nature of life and how happiness so can so easily be snatched away. It encourages the reader to grab life with both hands and dance like nobody’s watching!

Overall this book was definitely worth the read, although I did find some of the language and phraseology a bit awkward. I discovered, however, that The Foreigner is the Jade’s debut novel and that English is her second language, which clarified it to some extent; I am in awe of authors who take that leap of faith to write in a language other than their own.

The Foreigner is available on Amazon
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Exposed by Maria Vickers ~ Book Review

Exposed by Maria Vickers is so many things – an awakening, a journey, an understanding, an inspiration and a love story. The story follows Emma – a bright, funny and very capable young lady who just happens to suffer from a neuro-muscular disease, and Bryan – a navy pilot, as they negotiate the very tricky business of falling in love.

Emma, after yet another frustrating date, pings a disgruntled instant message to her friend – Mel, only to find she has mistakenly sent it to Bryan – said friend’s, best friend and (to make matters worse) the man for whom Emma harbours a secret crush. Bryan, who has actually met Emma once before and therefore knows of her disease, decides she needs his help to discover someone who will love her for herself and they start chatting online.

It seems like a great idea, but Emma is painfully aware that most men – in fact most people – treat her with impatience and often outright disdain.  Emma does not let her illness hold her back, but has come to recognise that she has limitations. Thus, finding someone who will love her enough not only to see beyond her limitations and through the illness to the person she is, but also loving enough to be there for her through better and worse would be nothing short of miraculous. Nonetheless, Bryan is determined – and so begins his awakening.

Exposed isn’t an easy story (the title should be a bit of a giveaway) – it is despair, courage, grief, hope, trust, anguish, humour, faith, passion and most of all love – well it is a love story! That Maria drew on her own experiences, makes it all the more poignant. I was so vested in this couple – I desperately wanted Bryan to realise what he might lose if he didn’t listen to his heart and what Emma might lose if she didn’t trust hers.

This is a beautifully crafted story with a great cast of characters and written in a lively style. A novel based around such a debilitating illness risks becoming mired in self pity – not this story. It flows easily and although there are some harsh moments within the book, they are lifted by the banter and wit among the main characters and Emma’s great attitude to life! This book shredded my heart but then put it back together in such a positive way! A roller-coaster of a story, but so worth the ride!

Exposed is available worldwide through Amazon

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Chasing Us by MA Lee ~ Book Review

Chasing Us is the new contemporary romance from author MA Lee, and revolves around Leigh and Brandon, two friends who decided to take a road trip to follow their dreams.

Of course, there’s way more to it than that, but that’s the basic premise. We are introduced to the main characters on Leigh’s 21st birthday. She and her best friend – Kylie – are celebrating in their favourite club, listening to another good friend, Brandon playing with his band, while waiting for Leigh’s fiancé, Jamie, to arrive. To Leigh, the world seems pretty ok, not mind-blowingly awesome, but ok!

A little later Leigh comes across Jamie and Brandon arguing about her. Turns out, Jamie has been cheating, Brandon found out and was determined that Jamie was not going to continue his games. Some birthday!

Once the shock, numbed by an over-indulgence of alcohol and subsequent hangover, has worn off, Leigh takes stock. For most of her life Leigh has done what she believed to be the ‘right’ thing. Pushing her own dreams and desires aside to keep everyone else around her happy. One day while talking to Brandon, Leigh admits that all she’s ever really wanted to do was write, to become a published author. When Brandon says she should pursue her dream, Leigh reminds him that he’s telling her to do exactly what he hasn’t done. Realising Leigh’s right, Brandon suggests a road trip, a way for them both to chase their dreams. Although, to Leigh the whole idea seems utterly crazy, she knows she wants to do it more than anything she has ever wanted her whole life.

So they set off and along the way their friendship evolves into something far more; deeper, stronger and more passionate than either of them could have imagined. This isn’t an easy relationship though. Leigh can’t understand why anyone as drop dead gorgeous as Brandon would ever want to be with her and her own insecurities threaten to derail their burgeoning romance more than once. Outside forces also seem intent on undermining Leigh’s newfound confidence, not only in her relationship with Brandon, but also in herself.

The main characters are well developed, their personalities the perfect complement to each other. Brandon is amazing, I fell for him from the get go. He has loved Leigh for a long time; patiently waiting for the moment when he could swoop in and claim her. Leigh, although fighting her attraction to Brandon believing it to be some kind of aberration, slowly comes to accept that this is for real. I did find her ongoing issues frustrating on occasion, but I could see where they came from. I just desperately wanted her to trust that Brandon wasn’t playing with her heart, that he wanted it all.

I do enjoy a ‘friends to lovers’ romance and this one’s a doozy. The idea of this happening on a road trip while the couple chase their dreams is refreshing. Not only does it provide an interesting backdrop to their romance, but also, we get to visit, vicariously, all these amazing places – a chance to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Leigh and Brandon’s story is not a smooth ride and but it’s certainly fast paced, well written and, in case you’re interested, the sex scenes are smokin’ hot! Solid five stars!

Chasing Us is due out on 13th March 2017.