Category: Advanced Reader Copy

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Rescue by Anna HackettMission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #2
Published by Anna Hackett on October 7, 2018
Pages: 159
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

When archeologist January’s plane is shot down over the Guatemalan jungle, she knows she’s being hunted for the invaluable Mayan artifacts she’s carrying. Only one man and his team can save her…the covert, black ops Team 52, and the distrusting former CIA operative who drives her crazy…

Dr. January James has a motto: live life to the fullest. A terrible incident in her past, where she lost both her mother and her innocence, taught her that. Now she spends her days on archeological digs doing the work she loves. When her team uncovers a pair of dangerous artifacts in an overgrown temple, she knows they need to be secured and safeguarded. But someone else knows about the artifacts…and will kill to get them.
Working for the CIA, Seth Lynch learned the hard way that people lie and will always stab you in the back. He has the scars to prove it. He lives for his work with Team 52—ensuring pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. When he learns that the feisty, independent archeologist who works his last nerve has died in a plane crash, he makes it his mission to discover who the hell is responsible.

Deep in the jungle, Seth rescues a very-much alive January and it is up to him to keep both her and the artifacts safe. Hunted from every side, their attraction is explosive and fiery, but with January’s life on the line, Seth must fight his own demons in order to rescue the woman he can no longer resist.

‘Mission: Her Rescue’ is the second instalment of Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, which, as a spin-off of Hackett’s Treasure Hunter series, gives more credence to theories of advanced ancient civilisations with hints of the paranormal appearing within the story. Seth Lynch is paired with January Jones here, which is apparently an enemies-to-lovers trope, though the enemies part is one that happens off-page (and retold by other characters), so the slide into lust is quick and more baffling.

Of all the Hackett’s books I’ve gone through however, I’m afraid ‘Mission: Her Rescue” resonated the least with me for a variety of reasons: a heroine who was petulantly stubborn for the sake of being argumentative and difficult (leading to some TSTL moments as well), for the same clichéd push-pull in the pairing, for a hate-to-love trope between 2 leads whose chemistry felt just non-existent, more so when it turned into instant love after a good tumble in bed, for the same type of enemies they face.

I’ll be the first to honestly admit that this isn’t a series I’ve been particularly enthusiastic about, given the rinse-and-repeat themes that appear here, along with the same-ish issues that plague the protagonists for not trusting each other as well as the same kind of baddies that populate each book (essentially, there are too many shades of the Treasure Hunter series here).

Thus far, this mysterious team hasn’t been a stand-out at all despite their purpose and their intriguing ability to slip between the cracks of politics and military agendas. I generally do like Hackett’s wild imagination and what she writes about, so it was a surprising struggle even to finish Seth/Jan’s story even (this slid down into a trite and clichéd-ridden HEA that made me cringe), despite the short length of it, though these are clearly my own nitpicking and personal preferences that have contributed to the book being a disappointment.

two-stars

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on 29th January 2019
Pages: 352
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Crush: a strong and often short-lived infatuation, particularly for someone beyond your reach…

… If Darcy Barrett hadn’t met her dream man when she was eight years old, the rest of the male population wouldn’t be such a let-down. No one measures up to Tom Valeska, aka the best man on Earth, not in looks, brain or heart. Even worse is the knowledge that her twin brother Jamie saw him first, and claimed him forever as his best friend.

Tom’s off limits and loyal to her brother, 99%. One percent of Tom has had to be enough for Darcy, and her adoration has been sustained by his shy kindness. And if she’s honest, his tight t-shirts.

Now Darcy’s got three months left to get her life together before her twin insists on selling the tumble-down cottage they inherited from their grandmother. By night, she’s working in a seedy bar, shooting down lame pickups from bikers. By day, she’s sewing underwear for her best friend and wasting her award-winning photography skills on website shots of pens and novelty mugs. She’s enjoying living the messy life, and a glass of wine or ten… until that one night, when she finds a six-foot-six perfect package on her porch.

Tom’s here, he’s bearing power tools—and he’s single for the first time in a decade.

As a house flipper extraordinaire, Tom has been dispatched by Jamie to give the cottage a drastic facelift that will result in a ton of cash. Darcy doesn’t appreciate Tom’s unsentimental approach to knocking down walls, and he really, really doesn’t approve of her current burnout boyfriend. They can’t be in the same room together without sparks flying- and it’s not the faulty wiring. One bedroom wall separates them at night, and even that’s looking flimsy.

Will Tom ever see Darcy as anything other than a little-sister obstacle to get around? And can she stand up to her most formidable opponent—her twin? This time around, she’s determined to make Tom Valeska 99 percent hers, and he’s never managed to say no to her yet…

I’m not sure how to deal with my own sky-high expectations after Sally Thorne’s ‘The Hating Game’, so ‘99 Percent Mine’ having to match these is a tough order to boot. And as much as it pains me to say, my struggles started as I was barely past the first few pages.

Now that didn’t bode all that well. Getting on board with Darcy Barrett’s voice, her inner musings—neurotic, bitchy, lonely and tetchy—written in a first-person POV, New Adult style storytelling was difficult to begin with. There were too many tangents that a single, small thought of hers took, to the point where I wondered what Darcy really was trying to ramble on about as the story wound round and round with her self-deprecating bitterness and her observations of her surroundings (this swung from random things to other random things like a stream of consciousness) before moving forward with some significant developments.

Darcy was also quite the runner in every sense of the word, which isn’t the kind of protagonist I can say I honestly like. (Somehow characters in romantic fiction who drift from country to country, never putting down roots are those who in some clichéd manner, never seem to find their home until the one thing that’s been always bothering them gets put to bed.) Her endless pining for Tom Valeska was described with bombastic, exaggerated care, though much of it just came off as hopeless and reckless, just like what Thorne seemed to portray of Darcy—an annoying and burned-out mess who has descended into a deranged spiral of morbid thoughts of Tom and his supposed fiancée, while going at her own love life and career like the tanked things they were.

In any case, I couldn’t even finish the book at all. Maybe someday in the far distant future, ‘99 Percent Mine’ might be just what I need. But not today.

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Nightchaser by Amanda BouchetNightchaser by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Endeavor, #1
Published by Piatkus Books on 1st January 2019
Pages: 416
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Captain Tess Bailey and her crew of Robin Hood-like thieves are desperate and on the run. Pursued by a vicious military general who wants them dead or alive, Tess has to decide if she can trust Shade Ganavan, a tall, dark and arrogant stranger with ambiguous motivations.

Shade Ganavan had oodles of arrogance, oodles of charm, and oodles of something that made me want to kick him in the nuts.

What Tess and Shade don’t know about each other might get them killed…unless they can set aside their differences and learn to trust each other—while ignoring their off-the-charts chemistry.

Being a well-conditioned Star Wars fan, having a ragtag bunch of misfits playing Robin Hood, with its leader as the ultimate rebel sounds exactly like the sort of rogue space adventure I will always want to read. ‘Nightchaser’ is so different from Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles (which I admittedly did struggle with) with the promise of the swashbuckling adventure of space pirates, rogue traders and a large, sort-of evil empire—all with the shades of the much-beloved Star Wars universe that I inhabit—that it was compelling enough to get into: not too epic at the start that I was left lost and wandering in an asteroid field of complex world-building but with just enough futuristic technological details so that I was eased into Bouchet’s own brand of galactic adventure before the heavy stuff comes in.

 

Tess Bailey isn’t who she seems and her story gradually unfurls after a rollicking start, though a little more slowly by the time she encounters Shade Ganavan who in turn, is both enthralled and caught in a moral dilemma where she’s concerned. Bouchet juggles both Tess’s and Shade’s backstories quite well, buoyed by a strong and loyal supporting cast of characters who make up a crew of escaped convicts—all of whose pasts aren’t exactly fleshed out. By the time this instalment ends however, there’re more questions than answers, with things left very much unfinished.

What I find particularly jarring is the use of the first-person POV for Tess, which then moves onto the third-person for Shade, so much so that it feels like the former’s voice is coming straight out of a New Adult Fantasy novel versus the more distant yet crafted/sophisticated narrative voice of the author via Shade. My preference is firmly for the latter and even as I read on, I never quite got used to these switches, as infrequent as they may be.

Still, this is a read that’s not too heavy-going—I found myself putting it down more than I though I would nonetheless—and it’s not hard to get through, even if Bouchet does insert some of the socio-political themes that history cycles though time and again. The sage words of wisdom that several characters dole out are ultimately, variations on the typical but popular moral questions that syfy always posits, or at least, they provide a meta commentary that jumps out from the pages when this happens.

In all, ‘Nightchaser’ is a decent read, even if my lingering sense of frustration from an incomplete narrative arc is going to stay for a while longer yet.

four-stars

Hard Night by Jackie Ashenden

Hard Night by Jackie AshendenHard Night by Jackie Ashenden
Series: 11th Hour #3
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on 27th November 2018
Pages: 304
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars


It's their pleasure to serve . . .

Made up of former soldiers, the men of the 11th Hour play by their own rules to protect the innocent, capture the guilty, and stay in fighting shape for whatever--and whoever--comes their way . . .

Jacob Night, ex-Black Ops, owner of a billion-dollar security company, and leader of the 11th Hour, spends his life completing dangerous missions for others. But there's one personal mission he has yet to complete: Finding his missing brother, who was betrayed by the woman he should have been able to trust. But when he finally tracks down his brother's ex, there's one surprise: she can't remember a thing.

Faith has no memory of who she is. She can't remember life before she came to work for Jacob Night, and she's not sure she wants to. But when she and Jacob are ambushed by men who have come to kill her for sins she can't recall committing, she has no choice but to face the past. Yet once she does, and Jacob's identity--and her own--come to light, they may not survive with their lives intact, let alone their hearts.

‘Hard Night’ starts off odd and somewhat implausible, with a writing style that takes a while to get used to.

So odd that it took me a while to grasp the even stranger relationship that Faith has with Jacob that Jackie Ashenden sets out to write: a woman suffering from memory loss whom he takes in because of several conflicting reasons that are given in the search for his brother.

Mostly, it’s the suspension of disbelief that I had a problem with, which lasted quite a bit of the book at least: that Faith hadn’t questioned very much about Jacob’s intentions and her own circumstances, or that Jacob really couldn’t quite decide if she was the enemy or a tool to use or the time lapse for things to start happening. There’s also the uncomfortable hint of double-dipping, until at least Faith regains her memory, with a sort of split personality coming in here as she finally finds herself at odds with Jacob and his search for his brother.

As far as romantic suspense goes, there’s action from the beginning that thrusts Jacob and Faith in a situation where they are forced to get close despite their living situation, though it quickly dives into erotica after that, with possessive domination and roughness that characterise how sex happens between them.

Most of all however, I think I was simply left flailing, unable to get a foothold in what Jacob/Faith are supposed to be, in the contradictory ways they react to each other, in the push-pull that says one thing at first then another. With a ‘connection’ so physically superficial that it rides more on ideas of ownership—and fighting each other into bed—than anything remotely resembling caring/love, I was likewise, trying (but not really succeeding) to get invested in this pairing, let alone the plot that stuttered because of the exhausting number of pages of rough-and-clothes-ripping-type-sex. Needless to say, this just isn’t a book that worked for me.

two-stars

Fractured Honor by Kaylea Cross

Fractured Honor by Kaylea CrossFractured Honor by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point, #1
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 25th September 2018
Pages: 251
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

An elite warrior struggling to find his place in the civilian world.

Weary from his years on the battlefield, SF Captain Beckett Hollister has returned home to Crimson Point to take over the family business for his dying father. But adjusting to life outside the military is harder than he imagined, and being back home forces him to confront things he’d rather not face. Including the one woman he shouldn’t want and can’t have—his best friend’s little sister.

A love that was always meant to be.

Town vet Sierra Buchanan has known Beckett her entire life. She’s crushed on him for years, but because of his relationship with her family, the stubborn man refuses to see her as more than the girl he grew up with. As tragedy brings them together, neither of them realizes that the sins of Beckett’s past have come home to haunt him. When Sierra becomes the target of his unforeseen enemy, Beckett must vanquish his demons to save her.

After all these years, Kaylea Cross’s paramilitary romantic suspense books are probably quite an institution in this small corner of the romance fiction market and it’s always exciting to step into a new series Cross begins.

‘Crimson Point’—as exotic sounding it might be—doesn’t really refer to some deliciously mysterious conspiracy theory or some covert military operation despite the very posh-sounding CIA-type name for a series, but rather, the small town where military vets come back to and find their own HEA, with a slight dose of suspense woven into their stories. It’s sort of a departure for Cross given the more contemporary romance focus but there’s enough drama to keep me occupied throughout as ‘Fractured Honor’ deals with an older hero and younger heroine, with the forbidden sister of the best friend trope coming into play here along with the introductions to the supporting characters and potential pairings that will be written into her future books.
Beckett/Sierra’s history stretches over years, though neither have been available throughout their lives (the age-gap probably contributes to this) for this to happen, along with the part where neither Beckett nor Sierra are sure of themselves and their feelings they hold back from each other. Still, Cross writes about two fairly relatable and likeable protagonists who ultimately, do decide to fight for each other without too much pushing and pulling, even if I’m not sure I particularly understand why the best friend’s sister is always a forbidden trope unless the male protagonist is an utter arse, which Beckett certainly isn’t.
All in all, it’s quite an emotional read, though the heartbreak is spread out amongst the individuals in the story that we’re introduced to, so much so that I thought Cross’s attention on the supporting characters—much more than usual—did take the pedal off Beckett/Sierra quite a bit which I hoped to have more of. The resulting slow burn did get frustrating at times, but as an establishing book, ‘Fractured Honor’ does well in weaving in the potential complications to come—there are sufficient hooks after all, to keep us coming back.
four-stars

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis GravesThe Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
Published by St. Martin's Press on 2nd April 2019
Pages: 304
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose, is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people's behavior confusing, she'd rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game--and his heart--to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.

Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She's living the life she wanted as a librarian. He's a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

‘The Girl He Used to Know’ is told in a series of flashbacks and switches in both protagonists’ POV, and is pretty much a slow-moving, meditative sort of piece on love, loss and love-regained in the decade when the face of terror changed the world. That doesn’t quite come into play until the end however, as Tracey Garvis Graves places a hyper-focus on the unlikely pairing of Annika and Jonathan from college and how they navigate the tricky waters of a developmental disability that has the former’s inability to deal with social situations, social cues and instinctively-learned behaviours.

For the longest time, I only had the inkling of Annika having done something a decade ago, but the crawl towards that moment is a slow one, as is her equally slow get-together with Jonathan, interspersed with her desperation to make amends and pick up where they left off the moment she bumps into him all these years later.

The serendipity play aside (meeting again and then just taking things up felt like the jigsaw puzzle coming back together too easily for me), the narrative coasted along quite slowly for me—I did find myself skimming some bits—without too many spikes and valleys, which left me not knowing what direction the plot was going to go in. Despite having taken days to finish this, it did get better though; things picked up towards the end but ended abruptly on a note that actually led to some furious screen-tapping because I literally thought my ARC was missing a chapter or two.

In the end, this turned out to be a middling read despite the earnest love story between two everyday characters. I was engaged at times, less at others, but was ultimately left scratching my head at a conclusion that felt as though Garvis-Graves simply threw down her pen and left the book incomplete.

three-stars

Sin and Ink by Naima Simone

Sin and Ink by Naima SimoneSin and Ink by Naima Simone
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Scorched) on 15th October 2018
Pages: 187
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

There’s sin. And then there’s condemned-to-hell sin.

Being in lust with my dead brother’s wife pretty much guarantees that one day I’ll be the devil’s bitch. I promised my family—no, I promised him—I'd keep away.

My days as an MMA champion are behind me. But whenever I see Eden Gordon, with her wicked curves and that mouth created for dirty acts, it's a knock-down, drag-out fight to maintain my distance. "Hard Knox" becomes more than just the name of my tattoo shop.

There’s no woman more off-limits than my brother's strong-but-scarred widow. But she works with me, so it's getting harder and harder to stay away. She’s terrified of risking her heart again; I can tell. But when she looks at me like she wants my rough hands on that sexy body, I can’t think. I can barely breathe.

Surrendering to the forbidden might be worth losing everything...

‘Sin and Ink’ is somewhat different from Naima Simone’s previous offerings, but considering this is categorised clearly as erotica with several sides of forbidden/pseudo-incest/the tortured hero who wants what he can’t have, I knew what I was in for the moment I requested for this ARC. But every forbidden-type thing in romance is my kind of catnip, so I did expect quite a bit of push-pull and pretty much the soul-hollowing kind of angst that typically accompanies such tropes.

It isn’t to say that it can’t get painfully exhausting. Simone’s writing is drawn up with descriptions of every minute detail that strangely heightens emotion, yet still feel like page filler at times—from interior décor to every small movement that the characters make, to the relentless unravelling of every emotion they have. Both ride the waves of guilt and regret, all through the simmering sexual tension that underlies all of it, though there are parts that feel stifling as well as both Knox/Eden do the one-step-forward-two-steps-back routine until something finally, finally gives.

Essentially, a lot of ‘Sin and Ink’ is a long, long journey of angst and emotional overload of wanting to cross a line; this is however, repeated ad nauseam when Knox keeps swimming in guilt as he rehashes all the reasons why Eden is forbidden goods while the latter tries to decide whom she really loves, with the constant fixation on body parts that leads to imagining how each other would be like in bed. There is the use of a trope that I absolutely detest nonetheless, (Eden watching Knox hook up with another woman in the past and then getting aroused by it ) though this is a clearly personal preference, which in a way, becomes a disturbing part in how Eden—spurred on by this memory—finally decides to do the same to Knox later.

But is this nitpicking on my part? Maybe. I’m well aware of the expectations that I have to manage considering this has been published under Entangled’s Scorched Imprint.

’Sin and Ink’ is after all, primarily erotica and a decently-written one at that if you take into account what this story is supposed to be heavy on sex and lighter on plot. In that, it delivers. The sexy times are abundant and scorching, despite the dead spouse whom Eden can’t seem to let go of and Knox’s constant self-flagellation and the subsequent uncertainty surrounding their forbidden relationship. So if this is exactly what rocks your boat, then ‘Sin and Ink’ does exactly what it promises.

three-stars