Category: Edelweiss

Stripped by Tara Wyatt

Stripped by Tara WyattStripped by Tara Wyatt
Series: Blue HEAT, #1
Published by Avon Impulse on 15th May 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Detective Sawyer Matthews isn’t just having a bad day—he’s having the worst day. His hunt for the criminal who killed his team member has stalled and now… he’s got to play nice with his new, totally unwanted partner. It’s not that she isn’t qualified, or that he doesn’t like her—it’s because he knows what she looks like naked. So very, very naked.

Brooke Simmons finally landed her dream job working for H.E.A.T, an elite undercover detective squad, and she’s not giving up simply because she had a one-night-stand with her sullen—but undeniably sexy—new partner. They’ll just have to keep it professional. Easier said than done, considering their first case requires Sawyer to infiltrate a drug cartel operating out of a male strip show. Watching him do his best Magic Mike impression every night isn’t just hot—it’s torture.

Sawyer doesn’t need any distractions, yet his attraction to Brooke is explosive and he can’t resist going for round two. Or three. Or four. But as their investigation progresses and danger mounts, they’ll have to put their jobs, hearts, and lives on the line to fight… for each other, for survival, and for justice.

Tara Wyatt’s newest law enforcement series sounded like the kind of romantic suspense I wanted to dig my heels into and ‘Stripped’—in more ways than one—is the introduction to a trio of detectives seeking to avenge the death of their friend, while finding their HEA along the way.

It’s not quite a workplace romance gone wrong, but Brooke and Sawyer went at it in reverse—from a one-night stand to the mortifying discovery that they actually work together—with Brooke as a replacement for Sawyer’s fallen best friend. As they got very hot and extremely heavy in the opening scenes for what was meant to be a one-nighter, I felt a tad bit cheated out of the usual play of tension that I normally like before they actually fall into bed, then felt equally off-centre as both Brooke and Sawyer did as I didn’t know where the direction of ‘Stripped’ was going.

My own expectations of a high-octane, non-stop police drama weren’t quite fulfilled; instead we had Sawyer and Brooke sniping post-hookup (and basically being jerks to each other) that got annoying at times instead of the heavy and heated glances that typically build. Then it got weirdly comical when Sawyer went undercover as a male stripper, kicking off a raunchiness that rivalled a porno given the amount of sexy times in it when I wanted to read more about hard-core police work.

There were overly-used clichéd phrases written in that made me cringe as well, and some unwelcome development of secondary characters whose future stories I know I might not be looking forward to read. In all, there was certainly action that kept me going (of the actual road-rash-giving kind) and I did, for most of it, liked Brooke’s no-nonsense character save for the last, somewhat out-of-character TSTL move on her part.

But there were lulls in the pacing that made the whole story move along in a jerky fashion and I did at times, feel somewhat untethered to the plot that just didn’t build or move when I thought it would, in a direction I thought it would. That said, ‘Stripped’ is far from a bad read, only that I wished I enjoyed it more.

three-stars

Savor You by Kristen Proby

Savor You by Kristen ProbySavor You by Kristen Proby
Series: Fusion #5
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on 24th April 2018
Pages: 288
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two-stars

Cooking isn't what Mia Palazzo does, it's who she is. Food is her passion . . . her pride . . . her true love. She's built a stellar menu full of delicious and sexy meals for her restaurant, Seduction. Now, after being open for only a few short years, Mia’s restaurant is being featured on Best Bites TV. To say Seduction is a wild success is an understatement. All the blood, sweat, tears, and endless hours of work Mia has put into the restaurant has finally paid off.

Then Camden Sawyer, the biggest mistake of her life, walks into her kitchen . . .

Camden's celebrity chef status is world-renowned. He's the best there is, and the kitchen is where he's most at home. He can't resist the invitation to Portland for a showdown against Mia for a new television show. Mia was in his life years ago, and just like before, he's met his match in the beautiful Italian spitfire. The way she commands the kitchen is mesmerizing, and her recipes are clever and delicious. He's never had qualms about competition, and this is no different. He can't wait to go head to head with Mia. But can he convince her the chemistry they share in the kitchen would be just as great in the bedroom as well?

As Mia and Camden face off, neither realizes how high the stakes are as their reputations are put on the line and their hearts are put to the ultimate test.

I’ve a love-hate relationship with the Masterchef series. Let’s just say when the conditions are right, I’m glued to my seat, salivating as I watch the magic that’s whipped up with the freshest ingredients, the  state-of-the-art kitchen and the creative ideas that the chefs spin out of thin air. Kristen’s Proby ‘Savor You’ has that sort of feel to it which I liked and would probably appeal to die-hard foodies—involving celebrity chefs and the fascinating world of gastronomy.

But as I soon found out, the pairing didn’t appeal to me at all. There is some heavy history between Mia and Camden, until you learn that she’d done something unforgivable a decade ago in here. Yet using trite words such as ‘I’m a horrible person’ couldn’t justify the weight of her actions enough to me, nor did they simply make it alright. That Cam merely accepted them like the history didn’t matter—without a hint of anger or a grudge—left me bewildered. But then, I’m the one imagining that time doesn’t quite heal such deep wounds without scars for you to remember them.

It didn’t help that I found Mia prickly as she waffled between self-pity and bitchiness, frequently prone to overreactions and pretty much in need of valium and a psychiatrist’s chair with her control issues and emotional fluctuations. My esteem of her dropped further after learning what she did to Cam years ago and this is the part that I feel, that Proby glossed through (or called it ‘moving in’) in favour of a fluffier, less-angsty and more sex-filled read, because it did seem what Mia did so long ago required more than just blithe and brief statements of regret and apologies. But her way of ‘righting’ wrongs was only done because of the work arrangement with Cam; otherwise, it seemed as though she had no intention of revisiting that part of her life and reflecting on the enormous mistake she made.

‘Savor You’ was ultimately a middling read for me that I quickly lost interest in without the emotional spikes and valleys I’d hoped to feel given Mia/Cam’s contentious history, so it’s probably clear that this wasn’t the book for me at all.

two-stars

Disturbing His Peace by Tessa Bailey

Disturbing His Peace by Tessa BaileyDisturbing His Peace by Tessa Bailey
Series: The Academy #3
Published by Avon on April 24th 2018
Pages: 384
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four-stars


She’s got probable cause to make her move . . .

Danika Silva can’t stand Lt. Greer Burns. Her roommate’s older brother may be sexy as hell, but he’s also a cold, unfeeling robot. She just wants to graduate and forget about her scowling superior. But when a dangerous mistake lands Danika on probation—under Greer’s watch—she’s forced to interact with the big, hulking jerk. Call him daily to check in? Done. Ride shotgun in his cruiser every night? Done. Try not to climb into his giant, muscular lap and kiss him? Umm…

Greer doesn’t let anythingor anyone—distract him from the job. Except lately, all he can think about is Danika. He’s wanted the beautiful, cocky recruit since the moment he saw her. But she’s reckless and unpredictable, and Greer is painfully aware of what can happen when an officer doesn’t follow the rules. Probation seemed like a good idea, but now Danika’s scent is in his car and he’s replayed her voicemails twenty times. Christ, he’s a goner.

Danika’s melting Greer’s stone-cold exterior one ride-along at a time. Being together could have serious consequences… but breaking a few rules never hurt anybody, right?

In the first 2 books, Tessa Bailey teased us with this simmering tension between Greer and Danika, so the final installment of The Academy series is one that I’d been impatiently waiting for. And as I’d expected of Bailey, Greer/Danika’s story is volatile but scorching, with the requisite bouts of self-doubt and angst, as Greer (the hardass) Burns finally meets his match when recruit Danika Silva gets under his skin.

Like all of Bailey’s males, Greer magically turned into alpha-aggressive, dirty-talking man in bed, though this much I’ve already come to expect of him. But while it was fun to read about the prim and buttoned-up Lieutenant lose his cool, I actually preferred and liked the tortured soul that Bailey showed here, as much as I liked the cold exterior that he displayed to the world because his layers went that much deeper.

In contrast, I’d been unable to get a grasp on Danika’s character from the past 2 books, but I’d been hesitant to see Greer/Danika as a pairing when the latter had come across as cocky, impetuous and rebellious without a cause simply because her buttons were pushed by a stone-cold Lieutenant. Yet the Danika here seemed so more likeable and understandable as Bailey un-peels the layers from her: she is the responsible caretaker, the reliable and dependable one who takes people’s burdens because she can, until it becomes both a crutch and a source of pride. In this way, Danika was who Greer needed, though it did, predictably, come to a point when Danika tried to take too much on her shoulders and ended up in danger because of it.

So to this extent, ‘Disturbing his Peace’ doesn’t disappoint.

But Bailey’s stories do follow a pattern: the meet/greet, the hot and steamy, the emotional sharing, the conflict (and temporary breakup) and the grovelling/HEA. To say that I dreaded the conflict is an understatement, because it was sniffable a mile away.

The issues I had, apart from the implausibility that a department would grant an instructor/recruit leeway for being together, was that the blame for their conflict late in the story seemed to be laid solely on Greer’s feet as though Danika had nothing to make amends for when she actually needed to own the mistake she made. There were clearly lessons to learn on both sides—and issues to be sorted out—and despite this, I felt that Danika hadn’t put enough of herself out there at the end, despite all the lip-service she’d paid to the sentiment earlier on in the book. I thought she was too quick to write Greer off, too impatient in expecting a lot out of a man who’d closed himself up for years, and too hard-headed to be understanding at the point where Greer had needed her most.

That said though, ‘Disturbing his Peace’ is an easy read, never straying into the heavy angst under Bailey’s excellent handling of her characters’ emotional states. For that reason alone, I keep coming back—though it’s harder in this particular case, to say goodbye to this series that had drawn me in from the start.

four-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

Virgin Territory by Lia Riley

Virgin Territory by Lia RileyVirgin Territory by Lia Riley
Series: Hellions Angels #3
Published by Avon Impulse on March 6th 2018
Pages: 131
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one-star

Practice Makes Perfect

Patrick “Patch” Donnelly has what it takes to be the best goalie in the NHL…if only he could learn to control his temper. When Coach orders him to get his head in the game with private yoga classes, Patch isn’t having it. There’s no way this tough Boston guy would be caught dead downward dog-ing his way to inner peace. But if he refuses, he risks his starting position and the dream he sacrificed everything for, including joining the priesthood.

Yoga instructor Margot Kowalski is over men. After yet another toxic relationship, she’s eager to forget love and focus on growing her business. Doing the Hellions head coach a favor by helping out a troubled player can't hurt, and it might give her career a high-profile boost. But free-spirited Margot is soon charming the pants off Patch. Literally. Her sassy combination of sweet and sexy proves irresistible to the goalie. Before Patch can give into temptation though, he’ll have to confess his biggest secret:

He’s a virgin.

But Patch is hiding more than sexual inexperience, and his dark past soon threatens to destroy his shot at true love.

I like Lia Riley’s writing—which strangely reminds me of the cocksure voices of authors like Kimberly Kincaid, Avery Flynn and a few others—and the self-assured tone that’s found throughout makes the reading process a breeze. And that was enough to request for an ARC of this book, though the premise of the story when I first read it, admittedly made me very wary of it, particularly when this thing called ‘virginity’ comes into question.

So this is all me, my own writerly and readerly hang-ups, that are being reflected in this review.

The imbalance of sexual experience, for want of a better way of putting it, isn’t exactly trope I like to read about; the role reversal here didn’t make much of a difference—the sexually-experienced woman and the virgin man, with the former going as far as to instruct the latter. And that makes me cringe, because reading romance novels has never been a tit-for-tat issue for me; I don’t purposefully go for books that deliberately try to turn the tables on supposed stereotypical gender roles simply because there have been too many manwhores and inexperienced women. While readers may crow about and love the role reversal here, my own reason deviates somewhat: I delve into romance to actually root for a couple that I think I can genuinely get behind and for a few hours of escapism from reality which good writing has the capability of doing, rather than for the purpose of gender shaming or the robust defence of one over the other.

Unfortunately, ‘Virgin Territory’ felt like that for me from the start—too much of it like a woman’s slamming rant against sexist men in order to reinforce what women should be allowed to do/believe in the 21st century. Like in ‘Head Coach’, there was a tad bit much of what sounded like meta-speak for women’s rights: why slut-shaming is wrong, why women should be free to have the sex they want, yada yada and it did come across as somewhat preachy at times…all through the mouth of Margot, whose repetitive, defensive insistence of it felt annoying after a while, particularly when it stemmed from a position of insecurity and loneliness.

There’s also the problem that seems inherent in ‘virgin’ romances, whether the virgin character is male or female—that a huge, huge deal is made out of it, or that it is either a huge stumbling block that makes people pause or that virginity is something pesky to be gotten rid of. Admittedly, that Patch’s religion had a part in this story, that he wanted sex to mean something and for once, I could actually appreciate how the church had been an anchor in his life, rather than the usual interpretation of toxic religion that much of romantic fiction uses as a crutch against love and sex. I felt for Patch, the difficult history he’s had, and the self-awareness he had of himself, which already put him far above many heroes I’ve read about.

Needless to say, for reasons that are clearly my own, ‘Virgin Territory’ was an excruciating read. I found that I couldn’t go on past the halfway mark, not because I don’t like Riley’s style, but because the subject matter put me off too much.

one-star

About that Kiss by Jill Shalvis

About that Kiss by Jill ShalvisAbout That Kiss by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay #5
Published by Avon on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

When love drives you crazy . . .

When sexy Joe Malone never calls after their explosive kiss, Kylie shoves him out of her mind. Until she needs a favor, and it’s a doozy. Something precious to her has been stolen and there’s only one person with unique finder-and-fixer skills that can help—Joe. It means swallowing her pride and somehow trying to avoid the temptation to throttle him—or seduce him.

the best thing to do . . .

No, Joe didn’t call after the kiss. He’s the fun time guy, not the forever guy. And Kylie, after all she’s been through, deserves a good man who will stay. But everything about Kylie makes it damned hard to focus, and though his brain knows what he has to do, his heart isn’t getting the memo.

… is enjoy the ride.

As Kylie and Joe go on the scavenger hunt of their lives, they discover surprising things about each other. Now, the best way for them to get over “that kiss” might just be to replace it with a hundred more.

I’m a bit at a loss here when it comes to writing this particular review. I often associate Jill Shalvis’s books with romantic comedy with touches of the whimsical thrown in, so ‘About That Kiss’ threw me off a little with the genres it straddled.

There were pockets of quirky humour that I associate with Jill Shalvis’s writing and those were ever-present here, as were the cast of nosey supporting characters who’d long gotten their HEA while dishing out the weirdest advice about love thereafter. The fun part was definitely there as well, especially with the rather cute (and near-benign) case of a wooden penguin turning up in the Amélie-like manner in precarious positions—how does Shalvis think of these things?!—and the amusing chase after the potential suspects who might have been doing threatening things to a precious but inanimate object.

But it wasn’t long before ‘About That Kiss’ felt oddly familiar, like a pared-down, lighthearted version of romantic suspense minus the tense and hard-edges, with the kind of protagonists that I usually expect to see in the romantic suspense genre: the commitment-free male protagonist—either military or ex-military—who is emotionally unavailable (then uses this as an excuse to play fast and loose with many women) and the strong, stubborn female protagonist who promises nothing more will come out of a friends-with-benefits type arrangement until she realises that she can’t.

Joe and Kylie for most part, fitted those categories, though the context of their coming together (along with some TSTL behaviour) somehow felt gentler in Shalvis’s Heartbreaker Bay world that’s buoyed with feel-good laughter and caring characters rather than heavy angst and hard-driven suspense. For this reason, this ‘softer landing’ so to speak, makes ‘About That Kiss’ a very accessible read and while the stereotypes of the protagonists made it a little hard for me to get invested in Joe/Kylie as a pairing, I’m nonetheless glad that this series isn’t quite over given the very intriguing tease about yet another couple which I do hope Shalvis follows up with.

three-stars