Category: Netgalley

Meant to Be by Nan Reinhardt

Meant to Be by Nan ReinhardtMeant to Be by Nan Reinhardt
Series: Four Irish Brothers Winery #2
Published by Tule Publishing on July 18th 2019
Pages: 193
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two-stars

Best friends since grade school, high-powered Chicago attorney, Sean Flaherty, and small-town mayor Megan Mackenzie have always shared a special bond. When Sean is shot by a client’s angry ex, Megan rushes to his side, terrified she’s about to lose her long-time confidant.

Upon his return to River’s Edge to recuperate, Sean discovers that his feelings for his pal have taken an undeniable turn for the romantic. While Megan struggles with an unfamiliar longing for Sean, she worries that he may be mistaking a safe place to land for love.

Can Sean help her realize that they are truly meant to be so much more than friends?

Scepticism is generally what I battle with the friends-to-lovers thing and ‘Meant to be’ was another cautious attempt at trying to see if this is a trope that will sit well this time around.

Not quite so, unfortunately.

Sean and Megan are lifelong best friends, separated by distance until an accident brings him home, though it suddenly seems as if Sean is now looking at the small town’s mayor with fresh eyes while the latter thinks that she’d aways unconsciously compared all her dates to him. It would have been well and good, had I read a version in which Sean and Megan were actively making their way back to each other as well, in the intervening years.

Perhaps it’s due to the lack of build-up as well that I couldn’t understand how their friendship turned into romance only now, like a switch had been suddenly flipped in Sean’s mind and he suddenly saw Megan as a woman that he loved only after his life faced an upheaval, which immediately went flush into a proposal. What gave? In fact, Megan’s argument about her being the safe choice after his chaotic run in Chicago made sense and whatever Sean did to counter that just wasn’t convincing enough to overcome that particular hurdle she threw his way. And if they’d always wanted each other unconsciously, would it really have taken them decades to realise it?

This far into the series, the parade from characters from previous books could be bewildering, not having read any of their stories. I was flummoxed at the number of group scenes and the characters whose history I knew nothing about. The focus that I felt should have been on the main pairing was spent on secondary characters and their activities instead—Megan actually dated someone different for a third of the book—, eclipsing a tentative, growing romance which disappointingly fizzled to embers by the end.

two-stars

Wolf Instinct by Paige Tyler

Wolf Instinct by Paige TylerWolf Instinct by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT #9
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 25th June 2019
Pages: 352
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three-half-stars

He's a wolf shifter.She hunts monsters.How can she be The One for him?
SWAT werewolf Zane Kendrick will do whatever it takes to take down the man who attacked his pack. His search takes him to Los Angeles, but when he meets Alyssa, the smart, sexy agent who comes to his aid, he's immediately interested in pursuing more than just the next lead. All his wolf instincts tell him that she's The One.

FBI agent Alyssa Carson has investigated some weird stuff lately, and finding missing people drained of their blood definitely falls into that category. When following a clue leads her to Zane, she agrees to work with him and his team. She's attracted to the gorgeous Brit, but she doesn't have time for anything but finding answers.

When Zane and Alyssa discover the sinister truth, it'll take everything they have to make it out of this mission with their lives―and hearts―intact.

This far down the series, you’d be hard-pressed to wonder what Paige Tyler has up her sleeve when it comes to expanding (slowly but surely) the SWAT universe. The holding pattern is admittedly still there: each books typically features a SWAT werewolf’s transformation, then his subsequent journey to finding his ‘One’ soulmate, as Tyler continues the pairing of Zane and an FBI agent who seems to have no problem swallowing that there is something supernatural around Zane and his team members.

Honestly, I’m a little indifferent to Zane/Alyssa’s lightning-fast relationship which felt a little lacklustre—having established the theory of ‘The One’ early on in the series by default sort of permits the author to justify some degree of instalove/lust—because the way the pairing is written doesn’t feel all too unique from the other pairs that came in Tyler’s previous books.
I was however, engrossed instead by the direction ‘Wolf Instinct’ took. What I didn’t expect was Tyler’s huge step into the paranormal with more creatures of the night joining the fray as the werewolf SWAT team gets more deeply embroiled in the whole hunter/werewolf fiasco, with some new and intriguing plot strands that do show some potential for future books. The ending left me nonplussed nonetheless, with a hurried and rather abrupt HFN that felt more inconclusive beyond the immediate acknowledgement that Alyssa was easily welcomed by the growing werewolf family in Dallas.
Still, as a standalone, ‘Wolf Instinct’ does work and the gift of Tyler’s writing is that she makes it easy reading for those who feel intimidated jumping straight into the ninth book of a series. There’s sufficient action and enough of a game-changer reveal, so to speak, towards the three-quarter mark that left me intrigued and curious enough about what Tyler might write about next.
three-half-stars

Stealing Vengeance by Kaylea Cross

Stealing Vengeance by Kaylea CrossStealing Vengeance by Kaylea Cross
Series: Vengeance, #1
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 28th May 2019
Pages: 269
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three-stars

She’s an expert at getting into places she doesn’t belong.

The government created Megan, transforming her into a Valkyrie—a deadly operative only whispered about in certain circles. They took everything from her and made her into a weapon. Now someone is leaking secret information about her sisters-in-arms, betraying them for money. Loyal Unto Death is the Valkyrie motto. So when Megan is recruited to find who leaked the files, she takes the high-risk assignment. Even if it means working with the man who betrayed her trust long ago. Even if it means giving her life. Because she’ll do whatever it takes to find justice.

But this is one situation she can’t escape from on her own.

Tyler Bergstrom never forgot the resourceful woman who escaped during the toughest phase of SERE school. So when he learns the stunning truth about her and his unwitting part in her past, he volunteers to work alongside Megan for a chance at redemption. Except she doesn’t want a partner. Doesn’t want to let anyone into her life, including him—hell, especially him. Yet whether she likes it or not, for this mission they’re partners. Now it’s a race against the clock to bring down the shadowy figure targeting Valkyries. But the threat goes deeper than they ever imagined. No one is safe. And if they can’t overcome the past and learn to trust each other, they’re both dead.

A super-secret government program taking orphaned young girls and turning them into black-ops assassins is the basis for Kaylea Cross’s new Valkyrie series.

Having graced graced the pages of her books from time to time, there’s a particular mould that these women seem to fit: doing all that it takes to get the job done, staying solitary, emotionless and distrustful while they’re at it. So similar are they, that it feels like a calculated risk that Cross takes as she finally puts all of them in the spotlight in order to give the Valkyries their own HEAs.

‘Stealing Vengeance’ nonetheless, is a good establishing book, with a slightly different tone and flavour to her previous books and it’s not bad so far. It’s a lot more cloak and dagger, more furtive and evasive though admittedly pushing past the point of suspending disbelief at times, all with the overarching theme of revenge and weeding those responsible for their inhumane actions.

Cross pairs Megan with Ty Bergstrom here in a mission to sniff out traitors—2 characters who only have a fleeting brush with each other over a decade ago, though that was apparently enough to help reignite a spark between them. And given the women’s kind of covert history, there’s also a bit of a role reversal here as the women act pretty much like many male protagonists in the romance genre: distrustful, putting the mission above all and inevitably throwing a wrench in a developing relationship.

Megan did frustrate me from time to time: I didn’t know where her ultimate loyalties lay; that it was inexplicably to a long-lost sister in custody who hadn’t yet proven herself simply made her judgement seem even more dodgy (and not copping any punishment for insubordination seemed somewhat naive…and a constant thing that Cross seems to gloss over in most of her books). And instead of voicing regrets and wishing things could have gone differently, I wished she’d been brave enough at least emotionally to sort herself instead of being a coward—while justifying it with arguments like he deserved better—where Ty was concerned.

There’s not too much we know about Ty’s history on the other hand, only that Cross writes him as far gone over Megan, with an attraction that’s simmering, and apparently so deep that he decides he can’t live without her…and would pay almost any price to keep their relationship. But any conflict between them is quickly resolved and the story ends (almost abruptly) before I could get a convincing feel of the both of them beyond fervent reiterations that Ty really, really wanted to be with Megan, the latter of whom tearfully reciprocates at the last minute.

In all, ‘Stealing Vengeance’ is more than a decent start, even if it didn’t come off as breath-stealing as I’d hope it be. Where Cross takes the story arc however, is something to look forward to.

three-stars

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

Teach Me by Olivia DadeTeach Me by Olivia Dade
Series: There's Something About Marysburg #1
Published by Hussies & Harpies Press on 28th March 2019
Pages: 276
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four-half-stars


Their lesson plans didn't include love. But that's about to change...

When Martin Krause arrives at Rose Owens's high school, she's determined to remain chilly with her new colleague. Unfriendly? Maybe. Understandable? Yes, since a loathsome administrator gave Rose's beloved world history classes to Martin, knowing it would hurt her.

But keeping her distance from a man as warm and kind as Martin will prove challenging, even for a stubborn, guarded ice queen. Especially when she begins to see him for what he truly is: a man who's never been taught his own value. Martin could use a good teacher--and luckily, Rose is the best.

Rose has her own lessons--about trust, about vulnerability, about her past--to learn. And over the course of a single school year, the two of them will find out just how hot it can get when an ice queen melts.

I didn’t know what to expect from Olivia Dade’s ‘Teach Me’ but a romance set in school (one that begins with a bit of hostility) between 2 older, scarred , divorced people wasn’t it. Yet it surprised me once I got going, past the initial friction between Rose Owens and Martin Krause after the school administrator did a bit of deliberate reshuffling intended to sting hard.

Rose/Martin are exceptional educators—I suspect Dad wouldn’t write them otherwise—but Dade excellently juggles the demands of teaching with the issues teachers themselves face…along with a burgeoning attraction at the workplace that neither of whom quite knows how to navigate.

Dade beautifully captures the inner workings of human behaviour with her characterisation, laying out the complicated bundle of emotions tangled up with even messier histories and self-esteem issues that can’t be miraculously shrugged off even by age. And by doing so, lays out a new standard of sexy that isn’t defined by blindingly-movie-star looks or bulging muscles that many male romantic protagonists exude, but rather, one that’s grounded in quiet integrity, steadiness and fierce intelligence.

The slow burn between Martin and Rose is something to be savoured really; Martin dismantles Rose’s hard shell of emotional armour with patience and so much gallantry that it’s impossible not to love him as a romantic hero, especially when it’s clearly so against the usual romantic-male-type that one gets by the dozen in the genre. He’s a dreamboat, in short, whose age has given him enough hindsight, perspective and maturity in dealing with Rose’s issues as well as his own scars to know what he wants and needs.

But ‘Teach Me’ is particularly enjoyable because of the uber-maturity that resounds everywhere—where restraint is prized over emotional outbursts, where things are talked about and calmly discussed, where behaviour isn’t ruled by petty, hormonal renderings. That it’s so well-written, so brilliantly articulated is a treat. Rare is the occasion—and one I rue here—where I want more smutty interactions and if this is the book’s only shortcoming, then it’s obviously on me.

four-half-stars

Beyond the Limit by Cindy Dees

Beyond the Limit by Cindy DeesBeyond the Limit by Cindy Dees
Series: Valkyrie Ops, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 25th June 2019
Pages: 384
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one-star

Skylar Tate, former Miss Congeniality, is a media officer for the Navy, but she itches to get on the field—and she can prove she has what it takes. But convincing others that she can become one of the first ever female Navy SEALs? That might be tougher than the agonizingly brutal training.

Griffin Caldwell and his teammates in his Navy SEAL platoon, the Reapers, are tasked to secretly train women candidates to become the first female SEALs. But when he meets Skylar Tate, it's friction—and lust—at first sight. Griffin can't believe the former pageant queen has what it takes, and Skylar can't believe his arrogance. But when one deadly mission goes wrong, it's up to Skylar and Griffin and their unprecedented bond to save the day.

Oddly reminiscent of ‘The Medusa Project’—a book of Cindy Dees I read a long time ago, ‘Beyond the Limit’ failed to enthral me because it felt like ground that has been trodden on before: women attempting to break through the elite ranks of spec ops, an area traditionally and still dominated by Alpha men and the likes, and eventually getting them to eat their words, while forming a sisterhood in the process.

Miss Congeniality turned Spec-ops potential soldier Sherri Tate is the first in line in this book, as a SEAL platoon is tasked to get them up to speed as suitable candidates (and probably getting them to fail in the process). But seeing Sherri Tate swooning over her instructor and his hot bod felt painfully awkward instead and trying to meet all the men’s , seemingly proving the point that women and men couldn’t work together in the military without someone dying of lust.

I realise I’m not quite the type of reader who crows about female vs. male prowess even if it’s with the former coming out top), even if it’s about the women trying to earn a place in the SEALs—and how the men do everything in their power to wash them out. There’re misogynist and chauvinistic tendencies, both overt and implied and so deeply buried in everyday vocabulary—that men would be made obsolete if the women joined their ranks?!—but if the intention is to rile the female reader, it didn’t exactly work on me because it felt like a story that has been already told…by Dees herself a long time ago.

It’s not that I don’t think a very special breed of women can cut it in spec ops (there are already women rangers out there, so it’s a moot point), but rather, it’s probably the sense of entitlement of the elite SEALs have, along with the whole cyclical round of women proving men wrong that I’m tired with. Even though the women do it and triumph through sheer grit and hard work.

It’s all on me, I’ll readily admit, that I wasn’t as engaged in the storytelling as I would have liked and the skimmed the whole way without being able to get a hook into the whole journey of Sherri going through her rounds and rounds of training. ‘Beyond The Limit’ just didn’t do it for me, for a combination of reasons that had me not finishing it.

*ARC by the publisher via Netgalley

one-star

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Well Met by Jen DeLucaWell Met by Jen DeLuca
Published by Berkley Books on 3rd September 2019
Pages: 336
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four-stars

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon's family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn't have time for Emily's lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she's in her revealing wench's costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they're portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can't seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

When Emily Parker moved to Willow Creek to help her sister and niece after an accident, getting roped into being a tavern wench during the summer Renaissance Faire under the disapproving eye of a buttoned-up, uptight Simon Graham—the local high school literature teacher and also the surly man in charge—wasn’t the turn she expected her life to take.

But the Faire—the make-believe and physical transformation and the layers of identities that the characters took on—and its supposed Elizabethan magic could work wonders. The friction between Emily and Simon turned into something other than constant arguing…with a slow-burn that proved to be quite rewarding by the time the sparks turn to fire, because the feisty tavern wench and the swaggering pirate can play at something in all their interactions, even if their real life personas are more riddled with confusion about the mutual attraction.

In fact, seeing Simon’s layers coming apart was perhaps, the best parts of the book.

In all, ‘Well Met’ is cute and light-hearted and honestly, thoroughly enjoyable, more so because it was an easy read that handled the sniping and the humour with quite a bit of panache with a cast of characters that were in their own ways, memorable. The heavier themes like grief, emotional healing and moving on were handled with the knowledge that these are more complicated than we always make them out to be without weighing the entire story down with angst. The only thing that I couldn’t entirely get on with was Emily’s insecurity about not being the priority in people’s lives—a point that she rued often and made it a bigger issue with Simon than it should have been—as it felt like amplified conflict when it didn’t have to be.

Still, I had loads of fun to the point where this ended up being one of the rare stories where I alternated between dreading finishing it and wanting to savour the swoon-worthy chemistry between Simon and Emily as much as I could (which mean turning the pages at a furious pace just to see how it would develop). For those who love everything about Shakespeare and his time? This book’s yours to hug close.

four-stars

Her Deadly Secrets by Laura Griffin

Her Deadly Secrets by Laura GriffinHer Deadly Secrets by Laura Griffin
Series: Wolfe Security, #2
Published by Gallery Books on 2nd July 2019
Pages: 368
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two-half-stars

Private Investigator Kira Vance spends her days navigating the intricate labyrinth of Houston’s legal world, and she knows all of its shadowy players and dark secrets.
On a seemingly normal day, she’s delivering a report to her top client when suddenly everything goes sideways and the meeting ends in a bloodbath. Twenty-four hours later, the police have no suspects but one thing is clear: a killer has Kira in his sights.

Fiercely independent, Kira doesn’t expect—or want—help from anyone, least of all an unscrupulous lawyer and his elite security team. Instead, she launches her own investigation, hoping to uncover the answers that have eluded the police. But as Kira’s hunt for clues becomes more and more perilous, she realizes that she alone may hold the key to finding a vicious murderer. And she knows she must take help wherever she can find it if she wants to stay alive.

‘Her Deadly Secrets’ is the murder mystery aficionado’s sort of read—and a little different in than the usual Laura Griffin Tracers style—, as PI Kira Vance finds herself somewhat over her head investigating an associate’s murder and the hot-shot lawyer that she suddenly reports to.

But the security team that he’s called on her brings on a tagalong bodyguard that she resists, until it seems that what she’s looking at is a vicious killer who’s got her in his sights.

It’s a template that has been told many times before—variations on a theme in a way, that Kira Vance treads where many others have trodden before. As a police-procedural-type series with an intense focus on the unsolved crime, this works perfectly fine.

But the book’s billing as romantic suspense however, doesn’t, especially not when the romance has been written in awkwardly, with 2 people thrown together by force and then suddenly developing a romance when there’s a distinct lack of romantic chemistry between them.

For someone who expected a bit more of the latter after going through Griffin’s Tracers books, I was actually taken aback with surprise when the first kiss happened, left incredulous with anything that hinted of romance between them past the initial, weak attraction. In short, Kira/Jeremy as a pairing were sidelined here so much that I hesitated to even call this a connection (as hurriedly as it was developed) in favour of tying all the loose ends of the plot up.

It isn’t to say that the book isn’t written with Griffin’s usual aplomb: meticulously planned and executed with the kind of writing that pulls you in.

But the storytelling felt somewhat unbalanced—exciting at the start, only to head, rather frustratingly, into a lacklustre and sagging middle—along with a romance that hardly took off. In short, ‘Her Deadly Secrets’ is probably a book suited to those who prefer the journey of uncovering the whodunnit mystery than following the emotional development of the protagonists.

two-half-stars