Author: Dísir

Smoke and Mirrors by Julie Rowe

Smoke and Mirrors by Julie RoweSmoke and Mirrors by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force #2
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on February 26th 2018
Pages: 402
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Someone scratched a death threat in the paint of CDC nurse Kini Kerek’s rental car. She’s in Utah researching Hantavirus, but damaging rumors about the CDC have left residents suspicious and uncooperative. Thank goodness for hot, sexy, former soldier Smoke, a man of few words, who’s assigned to protect and help her navigate the isolated desert town as she races to identify a deadly virus before more people die.

Memories from the combat zone leave ex-Special Forces soldier Lyle Smoke in a constant state of battle readiness, and he finds no solace, even after returning home to Small Blind. When he meets Kini Kerek, he discovers his heart isn’t entirely dead. But, that might not last long, because this outbreak is no mistake, and he’ll need to use all his survival skills gleaned from the military and his Native American upbringing to keep him and the beautiful, but secretive, Kini alive.

Romantic fiction that brings biological warfare to the forefront is rare and Julie Rowe’s suspense series about soldiers, invisible but scary threats and doctors/nurses fighting to stop an outbreak always stood out because of their unique subject matter. Well, that and how the first few chapters of her recent books actually have the ability to tip the reader straight into a mystery waiting to be solved and a thrilling ride that pulls together conspiracy theory, medical science and law enforcement.

From the very start when Smoke first glided into the series as a mysterious, near-silent soldier, I knew I wanted his story. Yet Smoke barely lost his enigmatic cover and with a tragic past that was only briefly mentioned, ’Smoke and Mirrors’ started out as a straight up terse, tension-filled ride as Smoke and Kini rushed to uncover how widespread an infection had become in a claustrophobic and hostile small town. Still, a potent, deadly mix of hysteria and confusion that eventually turned into bloodlust made for engrossing reading, and like Kini and Smoke, the confusion and apparent connections between the seemingly unrelated incidents in town didn’t come together for me until the very end when the true monsters emerge. While I liked the action however, it seemed inconceivable that the crazy, superstitious town people leaped to any kind of conclusion (inexplicably ending up with fingers pointed at Smoke) like medieval folk to the point where it almost didn’t make logical sense.

There’s no doubt that Rowe handled the suspense superbly and the twists and turns in the narrative were sufficient hooks to keep the pages turning. The connection between Kini and Smoke however, was harder to get into (with some instalove going on as everything took place within a few days), despite the huge zing of attraction that Rowe wrote into the very bizarre first scene of them waking up together in bed. How believable is it for someone to climb into bed not noticing another person already in it? In any case, with a romance built on this weird foundation and growing too quickly in a short time—Kini and Smoke literally spent the whole time changing vehicles, zipping from place to place—the pairing looked like an incidental feature of the suspense, and the sex that happened down in the bare, hard dirt when Kini was badly injured and fatigued to the point of passing out felt more far-fetched than bedsheet-scorching (there weren’t even any).

That said, I did like both protagonists however; Kini was, quite literally, a ball-buster and Smoke was so cool and deadly—who catnaps in jail after being falsely convicted of murder?—that they could have been a solid pair if they’d been given more time for the burn between them to sizzle apart from the constant flurry of action that gave no one any time to literally breathe.

‘Smoke and Mirrors’, like the rest of Rowe’s books, is only loosely connected to the rest of the series, and functions perfectly as a standalone. I did miss seeing the other couples who’d found their HEA in previous books though, despite some familiar characters turning up, but there really little for me to stand on here, especially when Rowe always leaves me dazzled but chilled by the end of her story.

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda Leigh

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda LeighBones Don't Lie by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #3
Published by Montlake Romance on March 13th 2018
Pages: 348
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five-stars

Private investigator Lance Kruger was just a boy when his father vanished twenty-three years ago. Since then he’s lived under the weight of that disappearance—until his father’s car is finally dredged up from the bottom of Grey Lake. It should be a time for closure, except for the skeleton found in the trunk. A missing person case gone cold has become one of murder, and Lance and attorney Morgan Dane must face the deadly past that’s risen to the surface.

For Lance, the investigation yields troubling questions about a man he thought he knew. But memories can play dirty tricks. For Morgan, uncovering each new lie comes with a disquieting fear that someone is out there watching, because someone is killing every witness tied to this decades-old crime. Morgan and Lance follow in the shadows of a relentless killer and walk right into the cross fire.

Melinda Leigh’s ‘Morgan Dane’ books are always gripping and suspenseful, locking you down with a twisty case and protagonists who work together so well that you can’t help but love them. I’ve enjoyed every one of those as much as I loved Morgan and Lance, and Leigh certainly doesn’t disappoint with ‘Bones Don’t Lie’, with a case that strikes too close to home for Lance.

Every time I think Leigh can’t do any better, she manages to surprise me once again, starting with pushing Morgan/Lance (somewhat) quietly to the top of my best fictional couples list. Individually, Lance and Morgan are fascinating, complex characters; together, their connection to each other simply feels like a solid entity that is the only constant in this maelstrom. In fact, the tense, unfolding murder mystery is contrasted with the respect and love Morgan/Lance had for each other, even as their slowly maturing relationship is tested with a significant discovery linked to Lance’s unresolved past.

The romance is slight, given that Lance and Morgan are already involved, so the focus in ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ is solely on the murder mystery which is, in itself, remarkable and creepy in its own right as it makes you question all you know about law enforcement  and the contradictions so inherent in human personalities.

Still, I inhaled every line that detailed Morgan/Lance’s interactions—Leigh infuses so much depth and subtlety in crafting these characters—that it’s merely a foregone conclusion that this pairing would only come out stronger and better for it. I love Morgan’s unwavering sense of justice, her own protectiveness towards her children as much as I love Lance’s ability to listen and pull back while not compromising his own integrity and honour. Reading about the other characters in the Scarlet Falls series made me only giddier, though that merely reinforces just how much I need more of Morgan and Lance.

five-stars

Playing House by Amy Andrews

Playing House by Amy AndrewsPlaying House by Amy Andrews
Series: Sydney Smoke Rugby #5
Published by Entangled: Brazen on February 12th 2018
Pages: 250
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two-stars

Eleanor is content with her boring life—mostly. She’s even fine being the quirky sister in a bevy of beauties. So imagine her surprise when one of her brother’s Sydney Smoke mates hits on her at an engagement party. Her. The weird sister, who wears vintage dresses and prefers her books to parties.

Bodie is shocked the next morning to find the soft, sexy virgin who seduced him with corsets is his best friend’s little sister. If he could kick his own ass, he would. And two months later, she’s got an even bigger surprise for him. Now he needs to convince the corset-loving wallflower that he loves her uniqueness if they’ve got a chance at forever.

He always did love a challenge…

‘Playing House’ did kind of fall flat for me with the stereotypes that Amy Andrews played with here—the virgin and the supposed ‘accidental’ manwhore who used to be a committed boyfriend but was cheated on—but I’m writing this review with the understanding that this imprint is more to do with smexy times than anything else. Much of Bodie/Nell’s interactions were unsurprisingly, sex-based, so their time in between the sheets were prioritised over the harder and difficult issues that crop up in romance.

Andrews’s writing is superlative as always, so if you could adjust your expectations about this imprint, then Andrews definitely delivers, objectively speaking. Nell and Bodie did scorch the sheets via a deception Nell played because she just couldn’t wait any longer to lose her virginity.

Personally, I didn’t exactly buy into this pairing somehow—not when it seemed more about animal attraction and lust that apparently overrode every ounce of common sense and worse yet, when Nell simply delayed telling Bodie about the accidental pregnancy because they frustratingly did everything else and got on with sex except to deal with the actual issue at hand. In fact, I found myself skimming the sex scenes and that was when I knew I’d completely missed the point of the Brazen line.

I’m afraid that this book isn’t for me—too many bodily functions seemed to have gone into feeding frenzy along with a heroine whom I couldn’t sympathise with at all for her dodging and running away—at all, though I probably should have known better going into this particular imprint of Entangled’s.

two-stars

True to You by Jennifer Ryan

True to You by Jennifer RyanTrue to You by Jennifer Ryan
Series: Montana Heat #2
Published by Avon on February 27th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-half-stars

A Montana Man risks everything for the woman he loves . . .

Undercover DEA Special Agent Dawson King spent five months in a Montana prison establishing a fake identity to take down a ruthless drug dealer and put him behind bars. Except there’s a wild card . . . the killer’s beloved daughter. Cara Potter may appear to be on the right side of the law, but King has learned the hard way to trust no one—even someone as tantalizing as the coffee shop owner. She’s irresistible . . . but is she also dangerous?

From the moment he enters her life, King makes Cara . . . nervous. The handsome drifter says he wants to get his life together . . . but there is something about him that doesn’t quite ring true. Cara wants to believe in him, yet she holds back despite the way he awakens dormant dreams and leaves her breathless with his sexy smile, steamy kisses, his every touch.

When the explosive truth comes out and she’s betrayed by the ones she loves, Cara must decide—can she trust her heart, or should she listen to her head?

Sometimes book covers can be deceiving, which do a great disservice to the stories in them. What looks like a cowboy romance is in fact, a romantic suspense (yay for me) novel that I would have missed out if I hadn’t taken the time to pick the blurb apart.

Jennifer Ryan is a new author to me, but ‘True to You’ is a fantastic introduction to her writing style; the story is an articulate read, done for most part, in a way where I didn’t find myself bored or skimming through what I usually call ‘filler pages’.

Cara and King were relatable protagonists and good together, and Ryan certainly didn’t waste any time setting up the scene for their paths to intersect. The on-the-edge, delicious tension between them tightened with each fine line that King crossed, as he desperately juggled his attraction to Cara and his work, while trying to be the good guy in the whole thing. But the usual problem with undercover work as a plot device is as always, the extent and depth of the deception (no matter how King tried to mitigate the damage) that cuts to the core, particularly when Cara paid yet again for it, with her already eroded trust in people who had betrayed her in the past.

The story was a little roundabout however—I did have some questions swirling around that weren’t satisfactorily addressed from the start, as were the lack of differentiation of speech/characters at times—and it did take me a while to unravel the facts on my own and get the whole plot straight before I could fully get on board with it. There were also several repetitive lines profiling the characters that didn’t feel necessary, as was the choppy pacing towards the end.

The climax happened at the 3/4 mark, leaving quite a long resolution that was filled with angst, inner monologues and huge emotional turmoil in both Cara and King, the latter of whom seemed to have ‘softened’ so much from the hardline, driven guy we saw in the breathtaking first few chapters. I’d hoped to see more action—more DEA agents scurrying around and King working in his element—in my romantic suspense reads in any case, which simply stopped after the climax took place after a short build-up. Also, with King referred to as ‘Flash’ and ‘Dawson’ as well, then Bennett as ‘Jay’ (all in the same scene) so the name changes threw me off sometimes.

‘True to You’ was in all, a good read, though not a perfect one. Still, Ryan is someone I’d be looking out for the next time something of hers gets published.

three-half-stars

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai

Hurts to Love You by Alisha RaiHurts to Love You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts #3
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Pages: 384
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four-stars

Heiress Evangeline Chandler knows how to keep a secret . . . like her life-long crush on the tattooed hottie who just happens to be her big brother’s friend. She’s a Chandler, after all, and Chandlers don’t hook up with the help. Then again, they also don’t disobey their fathers and quit their respectable jobs, so good-girl rules may no longer apply.

Gabriel Hunter hides the pain of his past behind a smile, but he can’t hide his sudden attraction to his friend’s sheltered little sister. Eve is far too sweet to accept anything less than forever and there’s no chance of a future between the son of a housekeeper and the town’s resident princess.

When a wedding party forces Eve and Gabe into tight quarters, keeping their hands off each other will be as hard as keeping their clothes on. The need that draws them together is stronger than the forces that should shove them apart . . . but their sparks may not survive the explosion when long-buried secrets are finally unearthed.

For a man nearly a dozen years older than Evangeline Chandler, she’s the epitome of the forbidden fruit. The rich heiress shouldn’t fraternise with the housekeeper’s son, after all. Still, Eve had barely registered on Gabe Hunter’s radar when she was younger and their few meetings since then when the families feuded meant that he’d got even fewer glimpse of the Baby Chandler, until she burst back into his life suddenly. But because this is Alisha Rai—one of the reining queens of angst and emotions—‘Hurts to Love You’ is far from the Princess Bride, and instead, a meandering journey of hurt after hurt that every pairing needs to go through before getting their HEA.

Nonetheless, I was oddly charmed by Eve—the rich girl whose personality and struggles spoke the most to me. Then I thought she was one of the bravest characters I’d ever come across, from her moonlighting as a driver, to her her crazy infatuation with Gabe that made me laugh a little because it felt exactly like the innocuous things girls simply did to be close to their crushes. I loved how she tested every boundaries, courageously put herself out there in spite of Gabe’s harsh quickness in shutting down the potential between them. Rai’s nuanced writing won Eve over for me and as the title suggested, it did hurt, or at least I did, for Eve, mostly, as she went through rejection after rejection. Pain became the keyword in this book somehow, because Gabe was too caught up in his self-recrimination about his parentage and his age-issues, while Eve seemed to be the only one to fight for him when it really mattered.

Rai’s ‘Forbidden Hearts’ series is steeped deep in family drama and this installment isn’t too different. But I found it easier to get into and the whole read a more engrossing experience than the previous books, maybe because Eve/Gabe appeared initially unencumbered with the deep entanglement of family that the previous pairings seemed to be mired in from the very start. My rating of the book however, is mostly for Eve—the encapsulation of the strong heroine—and less for Gabe who seemed seemed cowardly in contrast when all he did was mostly run.

This doesn’t change the fact that ‘Hurts to Love You’ gave a good emotional workout…few books simply do those hard emotional punches that well and Rai aptly closes the series with mended but scarred hearts. The ending is as always, bittersweet, but perhaps that’s where it finds the most purchase.

four-stars

From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata

From Lukov with Love by Mariana ZapataFrom Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on February 1st 2018
Pages: 493
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three-stars

If someone were to ask Jasmine Santos to describe the last few years of her life with a single word, it would definitely be a four-letter one.

After seventeen years—and countless broken bones and broken promises—she knows her window to compete in figure skating is coming to a close.

But when the offer of a lifetime comes in from an arrogant idiot she’s spent the last decade dreaming about pushing in the way of a moving bus, Jasmine might have to reconsider everything.

Including Ivan Lukov.

I do have a love-hate relationship with the slow burn novel, over which Mariana Zapata seems to be the reining monarch. If the frequent complaint about novellas is the instant love/lust and the unrealistic view of a HEA that results because of it, the slow burn story tries to address this lack of believability by going in the opposite direction—to the chagrin of some readers, particularly when it doesn’t work out too well.

What the slow-burn does however, is allow the passing of (a lot of) time to do its magic…and for hidden sides of Zapata’s protagonists to emerge when it’s least expected. I did appreciate the multi-faceted character of Jasmine, though ultimately, I couldn’t find her entirely likeable. While I could empathise with her issues and cheer her burning ambitions, often she merely came off as self-absorbed and childishly juvenile, prone to outbursts of temper, vehemently disagreeing with everyone else for the bloody sake of saving her own pride. I did love Ivan, in contrast, for his ability to give it back as good as he got from Jasmine, for his loyalty and his unwavering support as she went through her mood swings and the quirky rescue animals he kept as a completely separate part of his life.

Still, ‘From Lukov with Love’ didn’t resonate with me that much, not because of the believability of it, but because of the pacing that crammed a romantic relationship in the last 30 pages of the book, while rest of it seemed to deal mostly with a developing friendship and a young woman’s own journey towards being better while getting some enlightenment about it in the process. I waded and skimmed through pages and pages of dialogue, cringing at weird descriptors such as ‘the redhead who had given birth to me’ just threw me off (what was wrong with simply using the word ‘mother’?!) and the copious repetitive blinking Ivan/Jasmine did, while wondering when the tension between them was finally going to break.

When it finally did, the switch was rushed and abrupt, without the sense of satisfaction I needed to feel because their friendship simply felt stretched past the point of elasticity. In fact, I thought the key moments of Ivan/Jasmine’s interactions could have made the story more streamlined and less cumbersome—not every scene or every recording of Jasmine’s inner monologues seemed necessary—especially when written with the deep, cutting emotional fervour that Zapata is capable of.

It isn’t the first time I’ve finished a Zapata book asking myself what the hell just happened, particularly when the HEA passes by in a blink. It’s akin to queuing hours for a ride at a carnival and only to have the thrill ride over in about 2 minutes and then I’m left to stumble out after being dazzled for a few moments, wishing the wait was more worth it.

three-stars

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith DuranThe Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran
Series: Rules for the Reckless #6
Published by Pocket Books on February 27th 2018
Pages: 368
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four-stars

BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE...

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

...BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna's courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can't win back Liam's love, then she means at least to save his soul...no matter the cost.

There are few authors who can tempt me back into historical romance and Meredith Duran is always one of them. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that the very peculiar situation of Lord Lockwood, or better known as Liam Devaliant—first revealed in ‘The Duke of Shadows’ as the man with an odd temper, an odder past and an obviously missing bride—is one that’s gripping and compelling enough to wait several years for.

‘The Sins of Lord Lockwood’ is an absolutely unexpected treat, dashing away all my expectations of a wimpy, hiding heroine and a man who constantly pushes her away for his shame at having been kidnapped and imprisoned. Instead, Duran presents a strong heroine capable of matching her husband’s changed mien—riddled with PTSD and a barely-concealed rage that leaks out as near-schizophrenia—and in doing so, has probably crafted one of the most memorable historical heroines I’ve ever had the pleasure of cheering for.

Lockwood’s and Anna’s present reality is interspersed with the lazy days of their meeting and their courtship 4 years prior, as Duran’s narrative weaves between the pragmatic (though flirty) circumstances of their initial union and the strained volatile interactions of their reconciliation. There are hints of what Liam suffered in Elland, but the details are fuzzy: Duran concentrates on sensation, conflict and pain rather than gives a blow-by-blow account of what really happened, as these help to explain why Lockwood seemingly vacillates between moments of forced indifference and letting the tormented beast loose at unexpected times.

What surprises me most perhaps, is how Anna comes across, though Duran—which I loudly applaud—writes very contemporary sensibilities into her heroines that make them three-dimensionally relatable. Anna’s capability, her management skills, her fearless leap into the affairs of men, her strength and determination to pull her husband back from the brink left me in awe…here is the ‘modern historical’ female protagonist whom I absolutely dig (though clearly this is not the norm of Victorian England), the woman whose alpha tendencies could probably have helped front the #MeToo movement if given the chance.

Duran’s superlative prose is as always, a big draw, pulling the nuances of emotions and desire together in a way that makes me stop and savour her written word. That alone is reason enough to put Duran on my reading list, though ‘The Sins of Lord Lockwood’—read it even if only to revisit Emma and Julian—is one that I’ll remember for some time to come for a protagonist who stands starkly apart from so many others.

four-stars