Category: Netgalley

Deadly Obsession by April Hunt

Deadly Obsession by April HuntDeadly Obsession by April Hunt
Series: Steele Ops, #1
Published by Forever on 30th April 2019
Pages: 416
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three-half-stars

Someone is watching their every move.

After a lifetime spent in and out of hospitals, Zoey Wright is tired of playing it safe. She's ready to take charge of her own life and get out of her comfort zone, starting with a new job as a CSI agent. But when her childhood crush Knox Steele gets pulled onto her case, Zoey needs to put her feelings for him aside or more women will die at the hands of the serial killer preying on her hometown.

Former Army Ranger Knox Steele is back in Washington to help his brothers open an elite private security firm. He never expected to stumble onto a crime scene, or see his best friend's little sister working it. Zoey is all grown up now, and the attraction between them is electric, despite his best efforts to resist it. But all that changes for Knox when he realizes the victims have one thing in common . . . and Zoey might be next.

There’s always a special excitement I have when there’s the new start of a series particularly in the sub-genres of romance that I look for. April Hunt’s new Steele Ops series was one I plunged into because, well, new year, new series, new start.

Sort of.

Combining the brother’s-best-friend trope with a typical serial-killer storyline, ‘Deadly Obsession’ is very much an establishing book that sets the context for the series. And thus far, I did like the cocooned bonds and the closeness between the characters and Hunt’s decision to write a somewhat different heroine—whose illness gave her cause to rise above her circumstances again and again—is quite remarkable.

There were no surprises here, where characters or plot were concerned at least: Zoey being in the line of fire, Knox’s non-committal stance towards the will-they-won’t-they relationship, his denseness that needed a huge awakening in the form of mortal danger to Zoey to dissipate, the ‘sex-only’ agreement that you just know will fail. They’re well-worn tropes really, but April Hunt’s engaging writing carried the story and I did, by and large, have a good and easy time making my way through the suspense—even guessed who the perp was well in advance.

There’s much talk about seizing life by the horns especially when faced with one’s mortality nonetheless: Zoey did come across as desperate and overcompensating for having missed out on so much at times, just as Knox’s indecisive mixed signals grated along with the reminders about how he didn’t stick with women at all.

By and large though, I did have an easy time reading this and did find the story quite engaging despite the well-trodden issues in romance that authors do like to take up. Hunt’s writing has a certain kind of clarity here that I can appreciate and there’s enough development of the secondary characters whose coming stories (no doubt) I would like to follow up on.

three-half-stars

On Thin Ice by Julie Cross

On Thin Ice by Julie CrossOn Thin Ice by Julie Cross
Series: Juniper Falls #3
Published by Entangled: Teen on 26th February 2019
Pages: 340
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three-stars

Brooke Parker never expected to find herself in the tiny town of Juniper Falls, Minnesota. Of course, she also never expected to lose her dad. Or for her mom to lose herself. Brooke feels like she’s losing it…until she finds Juniper Falls hockey. Juniper Falls girls’ hockey, that is.

Jake Hammond, current prince of Juniper Falls, captain of the hockey team, and player with the best chance of scoring it big, is on top of the world. Until one hazing ritual gone wrong lands him injured, sitting on the sidelines, and―shocking even to him―finding himself enjoying his “punishment” as assistant coach for the girls’ team.

As Jake and Brooke grow closer, he finds the quiet new girl is hiding a persona full of life, ideas, and experiences bigger and broader than anything he’s ever known. But to Jake, hockey’s never just been a game. It’s his whole life. And leveraging the game for a shot at their future might be more than he can give.

I’ve not come back to Julie Cross’s Juniper Falls series in a while and to dive back into high school/college sports is still a change from what I’m used to.

Still, ‘On Thin Ice’ is more than what it reads from the blurb and the more I read, the more I realised that the romance is merely part of a larger storyline dealing with the culture of hazing and the coverup for fear of being called a tattle-tale.

I didn’t like Jake’s unwillingness to do the right thing, even after people got hurt (the point is, does an entire batch of freshmen have to die before something happens?) because of upholding stupid, supposed traditions that deem you either a ‘hero’ or a ‘loser’. But Cross does tackle this issue which does get resolved in the end, along with the slow-blossoming romance that gets tucked neatly into the bigger problems facing sports, making ‘On Thin Ice’ essentially, a story that quite warmly champions young adults as examples who finally choose the straight and narrow path.

I’m guessing this will probably appeal to the younger demographic more—in both characters and plot—and I’ll have to say that my rating really, is one given from my adult perspective that tends to get some eye-rolling in, along with the growing inability to connect with this genre of fiction that I so used to love. As a YA story though (more objectively speaking this time), it’s a pretty decent read.

three-stars

The Crush Collision by Danielle Ellison

The Crush Collision by Danielle EllisonThe Crush Collision by Danielle Ellison
Series: Southern Charmed #2
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Crush) on 18th February 2019
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three-stars

Haley Howell has had a hopeless crush on her brother’s best friend, Jake Lexington, for as long as she can remember. Too bad to him, she’ll forever be off-limits. But with senior year and acceptance to a college outside their tiny southern town of Culler, South Carolina, comes new confidence. Haley’s ready to get Jake to notice her—whatever it takes.

No one in Culler notices the real Jake anymore—to them, he’s nothing more than the star football player or the kid with the family tragedy. When one mistake lands him in mandatory community service, he’s shocked to find his best friend’s little sister there, too. Jake’s looking for an escape; Haley’s looking for a chance. Together, they’ll find exactly what they need...if only they’re willing to cross that line and risk it all.

To say that I’m reading ‘The Crush Collision’ to get my rare YA fix is partially correct, but the truth is probably closer to the fact that I do like the best friend’s sister/brother kind of trope, which throws in a hint of the forbidden or the unrequited.

‘The Crush Collision’ follows this particular trajectory. Embroiled in his own turmoil, Jake’s grades and social life are suffering and with alcohol as a constant companion, all he can see in front of him is football, his spiralling life…and a girl who’d always been in his orbit but never more than a distant friend. On the other hand, Hayley is determined to let people know that he’s just having a hard time and is misunderstood, then later makes a mountain of a molehill of how Jake should not incidentally be better for her, when she argues that he should do it for himself…and not put it on her for it.

The lady doth protesteth too much, me thinks.

I wasn’t too sure I could empathise with the minute details and the exhaustive analysis of a teen’s every action to see if this was a demonstration of whether ‘he likes me or he likes me not’, along with peer-pressure and overthinking and the prerequisite teenage angst. Then again, it’s a YA read, and Danielle Ellison does capture the voices right—it’s definitely a switch of gear downwards from the more adult romances that I dive into (I had to do some mental readjustments after all), when all that the protagonists are worried about are how their friends perceive them and their relationship.

three-stars

Flare up by Shannon Stacey

Flare up by Shannon StaceyFlare Up by Shannon Stacey
Series: Boston Fire #6
Published by Carina Press on 29th January 2019
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Nursing a broken heart while everybody around him seems to be drowning in happiness has Grant Cutter wondering whether staying with Engine 59—or even Boston Fire—is in his future. It’s tempting as hell to pack up what fits in his Jeep and hit the road. But then a 911 call brings the woman who shattered his heart back into his life, and he knows he won’t ever be able to fully leave her in his rearview mirror.

For a few months, Wren Everett had thought the nightmare of her past was behind her and she might live happily ever after with Grant. Until she got the phone call letting her know the time her ex had spent in jail for assault hadn’t cooled his temper or determination that she belonged with him. Cutting ties with Grant was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, but it was also the only way to keep him safe.

Now that Grant is back, he’s not letting Wren push him away again. And even with the trust issues between them, Wren dares to hope she and Grant might have a future together after all…if they’re willing to fight for it.

Shannon Stacey’s second-change romance trope begins with a character’s rather illogical stupidity—Wren leaving Grant because she’s afraid of hurting him as an ex hunts her down—is how ‘Flare Up’ begins. The backstory quickly unravels (Stacey doesn’t take too long in expounding this history after Wren walks away) and from there on, the story rolls on without too much angsty rehashing. Past Grant’s heartbreak and the bit where he gets justifiably angry, there’s still the hero-complex that insists on keeping Wren safe despite his better judgement.

For someone who moans that characters seldom talk it through like the adults they are, it’s easy to appreciate that Stacey doesn’t leave the unfinished business between Grant/Wren before the slight suspense and action kick in. I liked that they talked it out and laid all the cards on the table, and if the story’s a bit of a slow start with a lesson learned, who am I to argue?

Still, Grant/Wren’s actual getting back together—along with the time taken to get back their footing—was where it flagged and got staid for me, but maybe that’s because I’m the sort of reader who likes the first-time thrill more than the tentative steps back into vulnerability in a second-chance romance. In fact, I was looking forward to more firefighting action but instead stumbled into pages of Wren’s slow reintroduction to Grant’s circle of friends and their eventual coupledom.

The actual stalker-business sort of does pick up towards the end of the story, but the build is slow nonetheless, which never quite led up to anything more than a whimper of a climax when I’d been expecting a little more bang. In short, it’ll be a slow, pleasant read if you like more romance rather than suspense/firefighting, but sadly, this one turned out to be more of a miss than a hit for me.

two-stars

Sleight of Hand by Julie Rowe

Sleight of Hand by Julie RoweSleight of Hand by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force #3
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 28th January 2019
Pages: 247
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four-stars

CDC nurse Joy Oshiro is stressed to the breaking point. College students are dying and no one knows why. And her new partner Dr. Gunner Anderson is frustratingly annoying--and sexy, but mainly just plain annoying--and proving difficult to avoid. He spent three years with Doctors Without Borders, and disillusioned is just the tip of his issues.

They’ll need to learn to trust one another if they have a chance at figuring out who is behind the attacks. She makes him laugh, makes him forget--for a little while. But each new clue keeps them one step behind the terrorists, with buildings and evidence being destroyed just as they near.

Now they’re in a race against time to not only find a cure but also to avoid becoming the next targets themselves.

I’ve been an avid follower of Julie Rowe’s Outbreak Task Force series from the beginning, but then again, I do get the thrills from biological warfare-type romances even if some parts always stretch my ability to keep the suspension of disbelief going.

‘Sleight of Hand’ juggles interagency politics, disease and a head-on plunge into outbreak and Rowe quite capably writes a suspenseful and tense story that had me enthralled from the start: an e-coli from beer that has all the frat houses on their knees is something I devoured with glee along with a mystery to solve.

I did mostly like Gunner Anderson and Joy Oshiro as they proved to be a no-nonsense working pair that fitted oddly but well, though their attraction seemed almost like instant love, sidelined as it was because of the outbreak.

I was however, rather bewildered by the rushed climax that didn’t quite feel like one after a fantastic build-up and an even quicker resolution that made the story feel unfinished when the last few events went from showing to telling. The case didn’t feel like it was resolved at all, in fact, apart from the protagonists recovering and getting their act together by the time I turned the last page.

The bad guys remained nebulous while the fall guy conveniently cracked and killed himself as the secondary characters who flitted in and out of the picture themselves became loose ends who disappeared into the background. For a romance, I understood that the focus stayed mainly on Gunner/Joy who battled their own demons, their pull towards each other and the rapidly developing outbreak that couldn’t seem to be contained, yet I was left tapping my e-reader impatiently to check if I’d actually missed a chapter or two in the end.

four-stars

The Fearless king by Katee Robert

The Fearless king by Katee RobertThe Fearless King by Katee Robert
Series: The Kings, #2
Published by Forever on 5th February 2019
Pages: 368
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three-half-stars

Ultra-wealthy and super powerful, the King family is like royalty in Texas. But their secrets can be deadly.

Fake boyfriend. Real danger.Journey King is an expert at managing the family business. But when her father returns to Houston hell-bent on making a play for the company, Journey will do anything to stop him, even if that means going to Frank Evans for help. Frank deals in information, the dirtier the better. Rugged and rock solid, he's by far her best ally - and also the most dangerous.

Frank knows better than to get tangled up with the Kings. But something about Journey's rare vulnerability drags him deep into enemy territory... and into her darkest past. Pretending to be her boyfriend may be necessary for their plan to work, but Frank soon finds helping Journey is much more than just another job - and he'll do whatever it takes to keep her safe.

Reading ‘The Fearless King’ was sort of bizarre, because it felt like a very well-written drama that I wanted more of, but couldn’t understand because I was tossed straight into the middle of a series at say, episode 143 with a backlog of events that I’d already forgotten about having read the first book a long time ago. As a result, this hardly felt like a standalone with a sorely-lacking backstory that I had to spend quite a bit of time figuring out, right up until the halfway point of the book.

Pare down the layers however, and Frank and Journey’s story is relatively simple at the heart of it, minus the family drama taking place over corporate talk, hostile takeovers and real estate/business territory being muscled in on. He’s her white knight (sort of), she’s his protection project when her abusive father returns to overthrow all her family had worked for. Throw in a fake dating scenario until the emotions turn real, then pad it with even more complicated business and family networks and that’s what ’The Fearless King’ really is about. Basically, if you’re into romantic fiction that deals with corporate manoeuvring, manipulation and backstabbing, then this pretty much takes these themes and runs with them.

I’ve always liked Katee Robert’s compelling writing and this book is just another reminder why.

But there were some things that nagged at me: the insertion of a secondary character’s POV added along with Frank’s and Journey’s that felt out of place, with the background of a family pitted against each other to the extent that some characters seemed as though they were cut out of a Disney villain storyboard. Essentially Robert writes about the scarred, ugly side of powerful families so screwed up and so hungry for power and so…redemption-less and that my reading flagged a little when I got to the middle of it.

Still, Robert’s protagonists surprised me at several turns; Frank/Journey don’t entirely conform to stereotypes even if they sort of stumble into accidental heroism, where it doesn’t take a mountain to recognise that unnamed emotion called love. I can’t quite guess where Robert’s going with this whole tangled mess but it’s looking to be quite a journey—pun unintended.

three-half-stars

Between The Lines by Sally Malcolm

Between The Lines by Sally MalcolmBetween the Lines by Sally Malcolm
Published by Carina Press on 10th December 2018
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three-half-stars

Theo Wishart has given up on finding love.

Luca Moretti doesn’t want to find it.

A handful of summer days may change their lives forever—if they’re brave enough to look between the lines.

Eyes might be windows to the soul, but for Theo Wishart they’re all shuttered. His dyspraxia makes it hard to read people. He doesn’t do relationships and he certainly doesn’t do the great outdoors. Two weeks spent “embracing beach life” while he tries to close the deal on a once great, now fading seaside hotel is a special kind of hell.

Until Luca. Gorgeous, unreachable Luca.

Luca Moretti travels light, avoiding all romantic entanglements. Estranged from his parents, he vows this will be his last trip home to New Milton. His family’s hotel is on the verge of ruin and there’s nothing Luca can do to save it. He’s given up on the Majestic, he’s given up on his family and he’s given up on his future.

Until Theo. Prickly, captivating Theo.

No mushy feelings, no expectations, and no drama—that’s the deal. A simple summer fling. And it suits them both just fine. But as the summer wanes and their feelings deepen, it’s clear to everyone around them that Theo and Luca are falling in love. What will it take for them to admit it to themselves—and to each other?

three-half-stars