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Game On by Lynn Stevens

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 22nd August 2017
Game On by Lynn StevensGame On by Lynn Stevens
Published by Entangled Publishing (Embrace) on September 18th 2017
Pages: 293
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one-star

Olivia Dawson doesn’t make mistakes. Unless those mistakes are a tall, broad-shouldered, cocky baseball player named Devon Miller. Devon and Olivia have been competing in their engineering classes since freshman year, and he seems to want nothing more than to get under her skin and shake her confidence. Unless you count that one time when he got under more than just her skin…

Now, they’re pitted against each other for a coveted internship that could open tons of doors for each of them. Only one of them can win. And they’re both ready to fight dirty if they need to.

Could Devon be playing for more than just his own gain—could he be after her heart?

Olivia is about to find out.

Game on.

‘Game On’ is a step back for me into New Adult, or rather, a college-age sports romance and after reading a few more ‘adult-ish’ books, took a wee bit of mental adjustment. Normally the transition is typically near-seamless, particularly if the plot and characters are stellar and there isn’t a huge step back in maturity levels. With the rivals to lovers trope in play here, ‘Game On’ sounded like something I could dig into.

But what I hadn’t counted on—which made me decidedly lukewarm—was Olivia Dawson’s past one-night stand with baseball player Devon Miller that happened when she was with another guy, who later broke up with her after she confessed that affair. It’s admittedly in the past and considered ‘just a mistake’ under the influence of alcohol, though that didn’t give me the best impression of her, not when she continued being judgemental, pugnacious and just an all-round pain in the arse after all this time.

That she nevertheless ends up with Devon—the guy she cheated with—while having a relationship somehow made light of that remorse. Cheating isn’t my thing (neither do I get off on it, though lately I find myself getting increasingly intolerant of it) and that tanked the book for me early on, as it tainted my whole impression of Olivia. With the entire story in her POV as well, ‘Game On’ was quite a let down from the start, especially when I found myself unable to take anymore of Olivia and gave up midway.

Obviously this series just isn’t for me—my preference rearing its head again quite strongly here—but as I’ve said before, it’s probably someone else’s cup of tea.

one-star

Hide and Seek by Desiree Holt

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 22nd August 2017
Hide and Seek by Desiree HoltHide and Seek by Desiree Holt
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on October 17th 2017
Pages: 223
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two-stars

Anything can happen when you let your guard down . . .

After receiving a violent threat on the heels of her father's disappearance from the town of Arrowhead Bay, Devon Cole fears for her life-until Vigilance, a local private security agency, steps in to shield her from danger. Although she isn't usually quick to surrender her freedom, she has no problem stripping her defenses for her new sexy bodyguard . . .

Tortured by the painful memory of lost love, Logan Malik is determined not to fall for a client again. So when he's tasked with watching over Devon day and night, he's focused on doing his job. Day is no problem, but as tensions rise at night, nothing can protect them from giving in to unbridled passion . . .

I wish I had a better time with ‘Hide and Seek’, since it sounds like a story that’s right up my alley: a woman running from a threat, her father’s mysterious disappearance and the bodyguard hero who helps the damsel in distress.

But frankly, it was a difficult book to get into, not least because of the style of writing that I had a problem getting used to as well. The writing and the characterisation did seem inconsistent and that did throw me off course, quite unexpectedly so, sometimes all within a chapter. I did as well, have an issue with believability at times, along with the plodding dialogue and the numerous characters which suddenly waltz in and out of the pages like old friends. There was also quite a bit of Devon’s near-hysterical, inner monologue veering into the over-dramatic, along with weird moments that just didn’t seem ‘characteristic’ of the way she’d first been portrayed.

Needless to say, I struggled with this book despite thinking that Devon Cole and Logan Malik did generally seem like decent protagonists. ‘Hide and Seek’ didn’t do it for me unfortunately though I might have probably liked it better with tighter editing and more ‘controlled’ writing, especially since it’s clearly a preference for authorial style that’s coming through here.

two-stars

Demolished by Cathryn Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 21st August 2017
Demolished by Cathryn FoxDemolished by Cathryn Fox
Series: Blue Bay Crew #1
Published by Swerve on August 29th 2017
Pages: 250
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one-star

Summer Wheeler is on the run. Hiding from the men who killed her father, Summer is on her way to her childhood cottage in Blue Bay when she runs into Sean Owens, the forbidden bad boy from her past. After giving him a fake name, she gives in to one steamy night with him, never expecting to see him again.

Sean isn’t sure why Summer is pretending to be someone she’s not, but he’ll play her game if that means he can indulge in one of his oldest fantasies – a night with Summer. He’s shocked to see her when he returns to Blue Bay, and even more surprised when Summer offers him a job renovating her old family cottage. Hot workdays turn into hotter nights, but when Summer’s secret catches up with her, she’ll have to decide if she can trust Sean with her heart—and her life.

This is a rather tough one to write. I requested for the book because I do like romantic suspense and it did appear as though Cathryn Fox was starting a series with just that….so I was sold.

But it was disappointing to find ‘Demolished’ more sex than plot, and that’s something that I think you’ve got to have your eyes open to before you get into any of Fox’s stories. Her characters live and breathe sex, with every seemingly innocent action capable of stirring arousal and making each other sex-crazed at any given time of the day, no matter how inappropriate it can get. There’s always heat and passion and many times the characters can’t help themselves (especially the men who are never the one-woman sort until the heroine comes along), and that typically takes priority over any suspense or mystery that Fox does try to write into the story.

Sean and Summer go straight into a one night stand after a quick meeting at a bar, and banking on the idea that she has been away a long time, tries to slip into someone else’s identity just as she tries to investigate what exactly went wrong with her father. This was the bit I couldn’t get over; it seemed astoundingly stupid though and unbelievable hat she was able to continue pretending she was someone else when it was clear this delusion was pretty much in her own head, especially after Sean recognised her early on yet went on with that ridiculous charade. This pretence continued for a long time, as did the sleeping together, and Summer pretty much ended up with egg on her face when the game was up.

In short, I did come into the story knowing this, yet I found myself getting tired of reading about Sean/Summer getting it on on every available surface. I did want to know what sort of mystery Summer would uncover, which was only revealed towards the very abrupt end. Unfortunately, I lost interest past the halfway mark and I skimmed the rest just to find out what happened to Summer’s father and the clues he left her. ‘Demolished’ was more of a miss for me and if the rest of the books are going to be written in a similar vein, I’ll probably not continue this series at all.

one-star

Rebel by Rebecca Yarros

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 21st August 2017
Rebel by Rebecca YarrosRebel by Rebecca Yarros
Series: The Renegades #3
Published by Entangled: Embrace on August 28th 2017
Pages: 265
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four-stars

She'll defy his every expectation.

She’s Penna Carstairs. The Renegade they call Rebel. FMX-treme Magazine’s sexiest female athlete of the year.There’s no rule in extreme sports she hasn’t broken,No gender barrier she hasn’t demolished.

She’s the woman I met in a bar in Vegas.The woman I illegally BASE jumped for.The woman I spent one insane, incredible night with.But now I’m screwed.Or rather…not screwed.

Because the woman I can’t get out of my head is the one woman I can never touch again.I’m Dr. Cruz Delgado—the youngest professor on this campus. And Penelope Carstairs just walked into my class.

‘Rebel’ is Rebecca Yarros’s last book in her ‘Renegades’ series and it is quite a send-off for this group of daredevils accountable to no one…until Cruz Delgado comes onto the scene and messes it up, taking Penna Carstairs down with a bang while he’s at it.

For which I’m glad, to be honest.

Extreme sports aren’t exactly my thing and I’ll be the first to admit the Renegades hadn’t quite won me over with their deeds, which they do without caring too much about the consequences. But with Penna’s story, there’s some kind of redemption when the characters finally start to realise that there can be consequences too difficult to face with every action. Aside from the forbidden teacher-student relationship that Cruz and Penna had going, ‘Rebel’ has been by far, the best read of all in the series because Yarros also moves slightly away from the Renegades’ documentary making to writing about a daring rescue in Havana which ups the thrills and spills.

Penna—the only female extreme athlete among the thorns—shines so brightly it can get painful just to look at her. On paper, there’s everything going for her as she matches the boys step for step, ride for ride. But I liked the human side of her that emerges when she starts doubting herself after an accident caused by her sister and the loss of confidence that made her reckless in wanting to get back her mojo.

It’s only Cruz—the hot, older professor and Army vet—who gets Penna, matches her and outshines even the Renegades; in fact, I felt Cruz helped shape ‘Rebel’ for me and made it unforgettable. His grounding presence changes the entire dynamics of the story, bringing the sense of accountability that I appreciated, as well as a balanced voice of reason amongst the frat-boy, belligerent and petulant behaviour driven mostly by egos which left me sorely frustrated in the first 2 books. I loved how he looked these boys in the eye and held their actions up to scrutiny, essentially, taking care of the immature moments that frustrated me. He is the first to behave like the mature adult, making Pax and Landon seem like boys who didn’t really grow up in comparison, seeing through to Penna straightaway as she uses adrenaline highs in stunt after stunt to dull her mental state of mind.

My adulation of Cruz aside, the storyline does get gripping towards the end—the politics that Cruz got himself involved in gripped me more than the actual Renegades stunts—and I did ride the whole wave rather anxiously without stopping until I hit the deliriously happy epilogue though it came bittersweet. The epic adventures aside, seeing Penna/Cruz fight for each other simply made me one happy camper.

four-stars

Untraveled by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 19th August 2017
Untraveled by Anna HackettUntraveled by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #5
Published by Anna Hackett on August 8th 2017
Pages: 127
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three-stars

After a mission gone terribly wrong, former Navy SEAL Hale Carter has made a good career for himself at Treasure Hunter Security. He gets to use his engineering skills designing new gadgets, his SEAL skills providing security for exciting expeditions and treasure hunts, and he enjoys a variety of ladies on his downtime. He might still be plagued by nightmares, but all in all, life is good. Then he volunteers for a dangerous undercover mission into the Kalahari Desert, alongside a cool, attractive FBI agent who challenges him at every turn.

Special Agent Elin Alexander is driven to bring down the deadly black-market antiquities ring Silk Road. She's experienced firsthand how they destroy lives and she's vowed to end their greed and killing. After months of undercover work, she's eager for the mission to find the Lost City of the Kalahari. What she wasn't expecting was six-feet-three inches of former Navy SEAL as her partner. Hale is too handsome, too sexy, and isn't inclined to follow orders.

As the pair infiltrate the Silk Road hunt, Hale and Elin find themselves fighting a scorching attraction as they work to discover just what the lost city is hiding. But stuck in the bowels of a legendary ancient mine, Hale and Elin must put their trust in each other, to not only save the day, but to get out alive.

I swear, Anna Hackett has been on a roll these past few months. Novella after novella, world after dizzying world that takes a while (a huge mental shift is needed!) just to get into because they’re so extensive and broad with so much more to discover as each story peels back the layer of that particular world.

By and large, I enjoy many of them—some more than others, as always—but Hackett’s Treasure Hunter Security series is probably one of the ones I really like because of its closeness to history, archaeology and well, Indiana Jones. Apart from being a reminder that there is still so much yet to discover on planet Earth, the exotic locations don’t hurt too, and this time, ‘Untraveled’ is another rollicking ride of a treasure hunting security outfit dealing with King Solomon’s treasures and the crooks who tend to follow the money trail.

Hackett pairs Hale and Elin—a former SEAL and a ladies’ man with a take-no-prisoners FBI agent—this time around, and they are a pairing that reminds me so much of Shaw and Claudia from Hell Squad, though they battle human baddies rather than dinosaur-like enemies in the heart of Africa. Both Hale and Elin do have chemistry; they work well together and mostly, I did like the action and the plot, though I wasn’t quite able to shake off the instalove feel that made me a little less enthusiastic about the book that it could have been.

That said, ‘Untraveled’ is a fun, quick read and as always, Hackett provides pure escapist adventures that I can’t say no to. There’s always a hint and and a setup for the next book, so like an addict wanting a fix, that’s me standing in line already.

three-stars

Turned Up by Erin Nicholas

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 16th August 2017
Turned Up by Erin NicholasTurned Up by Erin Nicholas
Series: Taking Chances #3
Published by Montlake Romance on August 29th 2017
Pages: 252
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three-stars

Dillon Alexander has been Kit Derby’s nemesis since third grade, when he beat her in the school spelling bee. They’ve been competing ever since, driving each other to be the best at everything from science fairs to bake sales. While working together one night during their senior year, they stopped bickering long enough to share an emotionally charged kiss. But a tragedy that same night left them both racked with guilt, driving Dillon out of town and leaving Kit determined to keep her distance.

Now an emergency room physician, Dillon has returned to their hometown of Chance, Nebraska. Soon he and Kit fall back into old habits, sparring in public while trying to stay out of each other’s arms. But when a blizzard traps them overnight at Kit’s grandmother’s farmhouse, the real competition begins: Who will be the first to give in to the feelings they’ve denied for a decade?

Erin Nicholas’s ‘Turned up’ is generally an easy, light read and while I hadn’t been invested in small town Chance for a long while, Kit’s and Dillon’s supposed enemies-to-lovers trope brought me back instantly to that simmering sexual tension that had to snap sometime.

Only that I didn’t quite know what to feel about their complicated history that started in high school which Nicholas outlined, seeing as I was expected (and perhaps hoping for) more of a straight-up competitive ‘hate’ to love sort of relationship because those seem…hotter somehow. Yet, what it takes for them to move past the will-they-won’t-they stage is apparently some kind of disaster or a snowstorm, where dating, rather than occasional pent-up sex over the months and years will become the new norm.

But as most stories go, past the initial honeymoon stage, there’re always obstacles to flatten, some of which become the biggest thorn in the flesh that eventually lead to the pairing’s HEA. The format here isn’t too different, only that I felt emotional mountains were made of molehills that could have easily been solved by talking and some strategic and intelligent positioning so that Kit/Dillon wouldn’t have to listen to what everyone in a small town and what they had to say about their relationship.

I didn’t like how Kit gave credence to how the mayor’s wife tried to dictate the way Dillon’s and her relationship should go and that she did irked me, because it really looked as though they were getting into a whole new rhythm of their own before she starting doubting everything they had. Seriously? Worse yet, she’d started to believe that she could only be the best when Dillon was there to compete with her and push her to be better and that this eventually became the conflict in the climax seemed, well, annoyingly petty. Kit’s way of running to deal with feelings got tiring (and in some way, TSTL) as well, when her inability to face up to how relationships DO change people felt like an identity crisis that only teenagers rather than professionals should be worrying about. Thankfully though, that was brief enough, though sufficiently lengthy enough to trigger the personal peeve of mine when couples get together deliriously happy before someone suddenly shifts and turns tail because of an external influence and acts completely out of their depth.

And I’m going to say right here, that this is probably splitting hairs because of my admittedly short fuse when it comes to stupid behaviour. Yet that was the only downer—with enough push-pull that just didn’t convince me at all—that would have otherwise made this a very, very good read.

three-stars

Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 15th August 2017
Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa BaileyToo Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey
Series: Romancing the Clarksons #4
Published by Forever on September 26th 2017
Pages: 320
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three-stars

A love of a lifetime . . .

Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there---not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.

Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy---saving her from her past could cost him everything.

‘Too Beautiful to Break’ closes out the Clarksons series where a road trip from the west to the east coast (that’s supposed to end in a dip in the cold, cold waters of the Atlantic) based on a mother’s journal heals rifts between siblings and gets them their own love of their lives as well. Each book chronicles each Clarkson sibling’s story and I have to say, it has been a ride as Tessa Bailey picks on the oddest of triggers for each of them to use as the very catalyst to lead them to their HEAs.

Bailey has left Belmont’s and Sage’s for last, and it’s their strange interdependency rather than any sexual tension throughout the trip that finally causes Sage to up and leave Belmont who needs her to calm the demons in his head.

That’s where the story begins—with so many conflicting and contradictory emotions that Sage broadcasted which frankly, confused me. Much of Sage’s bluster about needing to push Belmont away felt like the lady doth protested too much when she realised she had been using him as much as he has been using her instead. I didn’t like her wishy-washy sense of pushing-pulling away from Belmont and that he’d needed to chase her up the mountains and down the valleys just to get her to understand that he saw her as a woman (rather than someone he needed to lean on) didn’t sit too well with me when it was evident from the start that their relationship was really about support. In other words, they were using each other as crutches because they needed to lean on each other when it was bad. Yet I couldn’t quite see what exactly was so wrong with that, because that was what partly defined a relationship as well: people needing each other in so many ways, only that their need hadn’t yet turned sexual.

Only a writer of Bailey’s calibre can sharply highlight emotions and get deeply into her characters’ heads—this much I’ll always associate with Bailey’s books and exposition about her paragraphs of her characters’ state of mind. Yet here, Bailey tries to make a distinction between need and neediness that I basically couldn’t agree with—it was unconvincingly superfluous and one that split hairs—and in doing so, has her protagonists running emotional rings around each other because they find themselves unable to go to each other for comfort with the ‘wrong’ kind of motivation.

I could understand Sage’s and Belmont’s need to fight their own demons, only that I didn’t think at all that they should have insisting on doing it alone. For Sage, it was her impoverished roots with parents who only leaned on each other and forgot about her; for Belmont it was a traumatic childhood incident that he hadn’t managed to shake off at all. In any case, there’s a small town type feel in Louisiana that’s claustrophobic and stifling, with a villain that somehow manages to ensnare both Sage and Belmont when he finally comes to her rescue and tries to take on her burdens. I only wished that Sage fought harder for Belmont as he did for her.

In ‘Too Beautiful to Break’, it all ends blissfully happy for everyone, especially for readers who want to see how other characters get on after the end of their own books. The Polar Plunge cements the Clarksons’ siblings bond and with the retro-tint of movies past, the layers of all the stories in this series come together when everyone has their HEA by the time they shake the cold water off themselves.

three-stars
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