Category: Netgalley

Shipped by Karrie Roman

Shipped by Karrie RomanShipped by Karrie Roman
Published by NineStar Press on 18th June 2018
Pages: 258
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three-stars

Ryan Lowe has been a lonely nobody all his life. The only time he ever feels the rush of living is when he’s acting. Wanting to get as far away from his small town life and alcoholic father as possible, he leaves Australia to pursue a career as an actor in the bright lights of Hollywood, never stopping to consider the fame that might come with it.

Lucas Evers understands fame. He’s been a successful actor on the small-screen for years and loves his career. Nothing comes for free though, and the price he’s paid for his success is keeping who he is hidden from the world. He married his best friend to keep both of their secrets, and until now, he has been content with the cost of his fame.

When Lucas and Ryan are cast in a new television series based on a wildly popular book series everything changes for them. The show is a worldwide hit and together they have just become the most popular ship on the planet. As they begin to realize it’s not just their characters falling in love, the cost of their fame rises. Together they must face stalkers, anxiety, panic attacks, and attempted murder.

My mind went straight to some odd, romantic version of ‘Supernatural’ the moment I started ‘Shipped’ and thankfully, Lucas and Ryan aren’t brothers. Just co-stars who have an electrifying connection that neither can separate from screen time when life starts to imitate art. Or rather, fiction imitating art, when UST on-screen bleeds off-screen and turns everything else awkward between a supposedly happily-married rising star in Hollywood and a new guy from Down Under.

Whatever is done onscreen thus, is repeated off-screen so as readers, there’s double the dose of UST to pining to RST—a bonus if you want the repeat for both Lucas/Ryan and Sam/Dom because it all gets washed and rinsed through twice. It actually became confusing to me at times when their stories got so intertwined in the beginning of the story, thereafter sagged in the middle the moment ‘real life’ for Lucas and Ryan took over.

What sat oddly with me was the New Adult feel in ’Shipped’, dialogue and all (some were cringeworthy because I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to snort), when I think I just expected something more ‘adult-ish’ in the storytelling. Between Ryan being generally overwhelmed with everything and the constant self-recriminating ‘I’m always unloved’ vibe and Lucas doing the hormonal self-introspection about his own ‘marital’ status, I thought their relationship pretty much wobbled from bursting-at-the-seams-teenage-angst to trying-valiantly-to-adult and back again. Throw in the dark side of fame and fortune and the cycle of dysfunction is quite complete.

On the bright side, if you like 2 very, very earnest men finding their feet around each other while hanging on desperately with everything the world throws at them, ‘Shipped’ is the just book to read.

three-stars

A Daughter’s Choice by Lee Christine

A Daughter’s Choice by Lee ChristineA Daughter's Choice by Lee Christine
Series: A Mindalby Outback Romance Series #4
Published by Escape Publishing on 31st July 2018
Pages: 190
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two-half-stars

Mindalby, a small town, a community, a home. But when the mill that supports the local cotton farmers and employs many of the town's residents closes unexpectedly, old tensions are exposed and new rifts develop. Everyone is affected and some react better than others, but one thing is certain: living on the edge of the outback means they have to survive together, or let their town die.

Lynsey Carter's relationship with her father is fraught, so when she hears that the cotton mill that is her birthright has closed down (and her father is lying low), she returns to Mindalby to support her mother and seek out answers. She hasn't been back since high school, since she left her heart behind with Julian Stone. But Julian didn't want it, or her; he wanted a life in Mindalby.

Torn between family loyalty and duty to the community, between the life she's built for herself and the passion for Julian she just can't seem to shake, Lynsey needs to decide if her home–coming is for a visit – or for real.

I’ve always like Lee Christine’s writing and ‘A Daughter’s Choice’ is no different. The context and the circumstances in which this story are unusual to say the least, though distilled, it’s one of a girl returning home to the Australian Outback to take care of affairs that have gone awry (thanks to a corrupt, deadbeat father), then meeting an old flame who’d broke her heart. With a narrative built around the failure of a mill on which the livelihood of a small community depends, Lynsey and Julian reunite out of necessity—returning home does that in a small town—and it takes only just a few days together to remind them how good they could be and have been.

But more on that later.

Pacing-wise, I thought the story did drag on a bit when it became slower going than I expected (Christine is an author I read for romantic suspense after all) and the slower pace did throw me off a bit. That translated to me put this down and taking it up numerous times, and when I took it up, there were parts I trudged through just trying to stay interested in the subject matter.

Apart from following the developments and the slight suspense written into this (which perked me up), I was baffled how Lynsey and Julian fell into bed when nothing between them was resolved, all within a few days after a separation of 9 years. Julian’s supposed friends-with-benefits situation with another woman seemed to become a non-issue when I’d actually hoped for that particular casual relationship to be dissolved even before Lynsey/Julian got together again. Admittedly, second-chance romances don’t necessarily sit all too well with me when the slightest thing give me cause to question the validity of the reunion. Essentially, I thought there were relationship issues which needed ironing out but felt glossed over in favour of the suspense despite both protagonists trying to be mature about themselves.

In all, the dive into the Australian Outback is always a cultural shift that I love to read about after all because such writers—and I’ve gone through quite a few of them—offer such different perspectives especially in the romance genre, I think I surprised myself most of all by not really feeling this story at all.

two-half-stars

Down Deep by Kimberly Kincaid

Down Deep by Kimberly KincaidDown Deep by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Station Seventeen #4
Published by Kimberly Kincaid Romance on June 18th 2018
Pages: 343
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four-stars

Ian Gamble has a past he’d rather forget—which is exactly what he’s doing at The Crooked Angel Bar and Grill when the place catches fire. Between his active duty in the Marines and his experience as a firefighter, his instincts get him and hot, headstrong bar manager, Kennedy Matthews, to safety. But those same instincts kick into high gear when the fire is ruled an arson, and he discovers Kennedy’s got secrets of her own.

The only thing that matters more to Kennedy than her bar is her brother. When she finds out he’s in over his head with a dangerous arsonist, she’ll do anything to keep him safe—even if it means teaming up with Gamble, who’s too sharp-eyed and hard-bodied for his own good. With every step, their attraction flares hotter and the risks grow more dangerous. Can Gamble and Kennedy face their fears—and their secrets—to catch a terrifying enemy? Or will they go down in flames?

To say that ‘Down Deep’ has got ‘lasting power’ makes it rather cringeworthy without the other kinds of innuendos that will probably come up here given the genre that I’m reviewing. Yet I’ve put book down and taken it up numerous times not because of boredom (but because of other things calling) and never once did I feel that it was difficult to get back into the flow of the story.

It’s easy and exciting enough to follow, the rather slow burn and build-up aside. But then, Kimberly Kincaid’s ‘Station Seventeen’ series has not really disappointed me from its inception, through the pairings of first responders with the law-enforcement people that have become par for the course.

Kincaid effortlessly weaves the community of the firefighters into the suspense and action in Station Seventeen—each book builds subtly and slowly on an arc about arson but they work just as well as a standalone—and while it isn’t an unusual take on firefighting romances, it’s Kincaid’s vivid and engaging writing that always makes her stories stand out. Both Ian and Kennedy were good protagonists to follow as well; I loved the latter’s fierce protectiveness of her wayward brother above all, her tenacious hold on never giving up on him, along with the take-no-shit attitude with Gamble when he tries to ghost her away.

I did however, struggle with Kennedy/Ian’s connection going beyond lust and need in the heat of the moment, finely-tuned as it was because of the circumstances that pushed them together. I got that they cared about each other, liked each other even, but the transition to love felt tenuous nonetheless, more so when their brand of love seemed to be defined as a heart-to-heart talk combined with stratospheric sex. The rushed conclusion (that was strangely more telling than showing) and the rather odd fade-to-black climax scene threw me off as well, along with some strings that seemed to be left hanging by the end of the story.

So while not everything worked out for me like clockwork, ‘Down Deep’ was still a pretty good take on the kind of suspense that revolves around arson and firefighting—there’re just too few of these around—and I’m infinitely grateful that Kincaid fills this gap with this series.

four-stars

I Think I Love You by Lauren Layne

I Think I Love You by Lauren LayneI Think I Love You by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford #5
Published by Loveswept on 17th July 2018
Pages: 184
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three-stars

Brit Robbins knows that dating in New York City is hard—she just hoped to have it mastered by age thirty. But after yet another promising suitor says they have no sparks, Brit decides it’s time to torch her dating game and try a new plan. And who better to coach Brit through the art of seduction than the guy who first gave her the “let’s be friends” card?

Hunter Cross has always figured there’s nothing his best friend Brit can do to surprise him. But Brit’s request is a surprise he doesn’t see coming—and one he’s definitely not prepared for. Hunter and Brit have always been careful to keep things perfectly platonic, but the fake dates and faux flirting are starting to feel like the real deal. And soon Hunter realizes he has taught Brit too well. Not only has she become an expert at seduction, the man becoming thoroughly seduced is him.

‘I Think I Love You’ feels like the true end to Lauren Layne’s Oxford series, a not quite full-length tale of the last standing couple, who don’t even know they’re meant to be paired with…yet. Layne tackles the friends-to-lovers trope here and straightaway, I knew it would be a tricky one with questions that needed to be answered—questions that this trope always seems to invite for the pairing to be a believable and satisfying one.

Brit and Hunter slide in somewhere later in the Oxford series as best friends, and as boss and subordinate, whose status-quo hasn’t changed in years, until Brit stirs the waters by adding a particularly farcical element in the setup which, according to Layne, has the power to change everything they know about each other. As a plot device that sets the action and the romance on a predictable path, Brit’s apparent seduction tutoring works all too well. So the story goes.

It inevitably goes sideways and it isn’t a surprise to see Hunter screwing up colossally, but what is frustrating is his not doing enough to make up for it and Brit being too soft-hearted about it. With the abrupt conclusion however, there isn’t a chance to see Hunter fighting for a relationship with Brit, which I knew I needed to read after the way he’s waffled too much in his manly cowardice. In other words, the grovelling hardly matches the crime.

I was actually more interested in the implications of this trope and how Layne would tackle the explanation of the sudden flip in the switch in their relationship when years of never looking at each other ‘that way’ were thrown to the wind—because this would probably justify the validity (which I can’t quite blindly accept as timing, serendipity or the sudden realisation of scales falling from eyes) so to speak, of best friends becoming lovers. How does a seduction plan inexplicably turn Hunter into looking at Brit from a platonic friend into someone else? There’s a suggestion here that a platonic friendship perpetually hangs on a knife’s edge, needing merely the slightest thing for it to tip over into a different space, so would that have meant that Hunter and Brit would never have crossed any line had Brit not taken the first step?

The long and short is, I’m not entirely sure if I’m quite convinced about this trope still. It’s probably cynicism speaking here nonetheless and that Layne chooses to tackle this once again isn’t surprising seeing how often it appears in her books. I do think Hunter and Brit do ultimately belong together—best friends can and do make good lovers—only that I had hoped for a more solid grounding for them becoming a couple other than sudden, forced proximity with all the talk of dating and seduction giving them the orgasmic shivers.

As far as it goes, my wistfulness with finishing this series probably has to do with my introduction to Layne via Penelope/Cole, whose story started my going down the Oxford rabbit hole. I loved seeing the rest of the Oxford crew even if some stories worked better than others for me, and with all the series I’ve gone through, I had hoped this one ended more on a bang for me.

three-stars

Free Fall by Emmy Curtis

Free Fall by Emmy CurtisFree Fall by Emmy Curtis
Series: Elite Ops #3
Published by Forever Yours on 10th July 2018
Pages: 240
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two-stars

A legend among black ops teams, Col. Duke Cameron can't wait to get back in action again-no matter how high the risk. Two of the world's best military pilots are missing after a midair collision, and he's made it his job to find out why.

U.S. Air Force veteran Casey Jacobs loves working for a cutting-edge, high-tech company - until she suspects their newest design might have caused a horrible plane crash. But after a few "accidents," it's clear no one wants her asking too many questions. The only person she trusts to help her is Duke, the sexy secret crush from her flying days who still turns her on like no one ever has.

But someone is watching their every move, making sure they don't uncover the truth. And when the danger turns physical, it's not just their love that's on the line. It's their lives.

‘Free Fall’ has a very tempting burb and I couldn’t wait to dive into it.

But my excitement turned to confusion as I flailed about in the opening few chapters, feeling as though I’d plunged straight into a conspiracy mystery without knowing the head or tail of its context (I’d actually flipped the pages wondering if I’d missed a chunk of the beginning of it).

I felt too scattered, too lost, in short, with the first and foremost question running through my mind being: is ‘Free Fall’ meant to be a standalone? Do I actually need to backtrack to read the rest of the books in the series before embarking on this? There were bits of a backstory that came through dialogue or inner monologues but it was difficult to piece even that together when my attention was already flagging, when I was trying hard to simply stay in the story with a level of confusion that showed no signs of abating.

So what really stood out for me were random actions scenes (written like movie action scenes which were quite thrilling), followed then by the lulls of the talk of the conspiracy involving Casey’s employer (which had me struggling to piece together) and then steamy times (which required no introduction)—in all, not quite sufficient to say that I could enjoy the overall flow of the story. I gave up, in the end, despite trying to power through.

two-stars

Down With Love by Kate Meader

Down With Love by Kate MeaderDown with Love by Kate Meader
Series: Love Wars, #1
Published by Loveswept on 7th August 2018
Pages: 237
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two-stars

Sparks fly when the hot-shot divorce lawyer meets the high-powered wedding planner. The only question is, what kind?

If you ever get married, remember my name: Max Henderson. In my line of work, you acquire a certain perspective on supposedly everlasting unions. . . .

1. Pre-nups are your friend. 2. The person you married is not the person you’re divorcing. 3. And I hope you didn’t spend much on the wedding because that was one helluva waste of hard-earned cash, wasn’t it?

But some guys are willing to take a chance. Like my brother, who thinks he’s going to ride off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams in a haze of glitter on unicorns. And the wedding planner—the green-eyed beauty who makes a living convincing suckers to shell out thousands of dollars on centerpieces—is raking it in on this matrimonial monstrosity.

The thing is, Charlie Love is not unlike me. We’re both cogs in the wedding-industrial complex. As the best man, I know her game—and I can play it better than her. But after one scorching, unexpected kiss, I’m thinking I might just want to get played.

Wedding-planner, come meet the divorce lawyer: 2 occupations at odds with each other, down to the fundamental beliefs that the people working in these lines should hold. Right? ‘Down with Love’ is where Kate Meader bravely tackles these opposites and tries to prove the contrary with Max Henderson (the first victim, so to speak) and Charlie Love—whose last name is ironically appropriate for her occupation.

Excited as I was by Meader’s blurb of this new series, I was also a little wary, because beneath it lies the stereotypical trope of a commitment phobic player paired with a woman who tries to be sassy and stumbles when the charm comes out. And with Meader’s style of writing, I can say—objectively—that it’s perfectly tailored for the rom-com style that many readers would expect. Meader’s writing is pitched exactly like the voices you hear in romantic comedy, that is, pitch-perfect, if that’s your sort of thing, in other words. That much, it delivers.

Max Henderson kicks of the start of Kate Meader’s new series of cynical men who think they’ve seen the worst of humanity in the battlefield of court when divorce inevitably hits couples. But I think the male POV is tricky to write, period. Getting the fine balance right between voice, hints of vulnerability and the cocky front that many authors try to portray of their alpha males who apparently know so much about women is one that either has me grimacing or smirking. The usual smug, self-satisfied, arrogant tone of Max crosses the line into bar-smarmy faux smoothness and sleazy bad taste and it isn’t frankly something I want to read of a male romantic protagonist who’s head seems to be constantly filled with women’s body parts and what he’d like to do to them. (Here, I’m reminded of another author who’s done the same previously and it isn’t that good a memory, sad to say.)

But because many rom-coms are retellings and rehashes of tropes with varying contexts, character histories and storytelling styles, ‘Down With love’ still feels at its core, one that doesn’t deviate too much from the well-worn but well-loved formula: a woman who finally gives the cynical Max what he’s always fed other women (nothing beyond a night or two) and then it’s the typical reversal of him finally getting a taste of his own medicine just as he realises she’s unlike the others. Cue the game to wear her resistance down, thanks to the perpetual player, no-one-gets-hurt reputation Max strives to cultivate in the first place.

There are a few bits of talking ‘out’ to the reader as well—better known as breaking the fourth wall here, when a character steps out of the fictional word briefly and breaks through the invisible wall separating reader and the cast—and I’m not too sure how I feel about that here. Perhaps Meader seeks to bridge that connection between Max and me when the use of the second person pronoun ‘you’ seems to…mediate this distance that I subconsciously hold, first to convince me that he’s anti-marriage and then later, to convince me that he’s a reformed man. Or perhaps I’m just over-reading this.

In short, I think I wasn’t really feeling this at all sadly—not the pairing, not the context and not the plot. ‘Down With Love’ didn’t exactly move me much even as Meader tries to work out the opposing beliefs of Max and Charlie, and given the many times I managed to walk away and came back to the book (rinse and repeat) it’s clear this isn’t the story for me, as much as I really like Meader’s writing.

two-stars

You Send Me by Jeannie Moon

You Send Me by Jeannie MoonYou Send Me by Jeannie Moon
Series: Compass Cove, #2
Published by Tule Publishing on 29th May 2018
Pages: 224
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two-stars

Jordan Velsor didn’t want to need anyone. After dumping her cheating fiancé, caring for her sick dad, and nearly being crushed along with her car during a violent storm, she’s pretty much at her breaking point. If anyone needs some luck, it’s Jordan, but the last thing she wants is gorgeous Nick Rinaldi, her landlord’s grandson, hovering over her while she nurses a bad cold. The wounded Navy doctor seems too good to be true… which means he probably is.

Nick Rinaldi left the Navy broken and adrift, wondering if he would ever practice medicine again. When his grandparents’ tenant is almost killed by a falling tree during a storm, he discovers Jordan is not only in shock, but suffering from pneumonia. Not one to miss an opportunity to play white knight, Nick arrives at her cottage to take care of her during the storm… But the lovely teacher has a a fierce independent streak, and as he learns more about her, he wants to do more than merely help.

Can Jordan and Nick let go or their separate pasts and seize their future together?

‘You Send Me’ started out well enough with the kind of drama that sounded promising: a sick woman (who’s also warily heartbroken from a failed engagement), a doctor who goes above and beyond the call of duty and a snow storm that comes at the most convenient timing. Cue the tension and the hot and heavy sparks, right?

The problem was that I got bored when things began to crawl as I read on, made worse by the rather harebrained scheme of Nick—it felt so far-fetched and out of the realm of adult-behaviour, but then, it’s romancelandia here—that obviously snowballed into a situation that neither protagonist wanted nor expected. Add that to the number of nosy characters slipping in and out of the story (because it just seems to be a feature of small-town behaviour), it was just harder and harder to keep my interest up when Nick and Jordan went round and round the merry-go-round of ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ and going through the repetitive reasons of why they could or couldn’t.

While the level of angst was low with a clear number of small-ish obstacles to leap over, it wasn’t too hard to see Nick and Jordan get to where they were supposed to be, despite the overly-tortuous process which did fill like page-filler more than necessary. Admittedly though, I did end up skimming quite a bit before the halfway mark when Nick/Jordan went in circles instead of forward as my initial investment in them waned.

In all, ‘You Send Me’ feels like a simple, while-away-the-afternoon easy read without the startling dramatic, emotional highs and lows, but for something more than overall small-town sweetness and a faster-moving plot, it’s best to look elsewhere.

two-stars