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Twisted Truths by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 12th October 2017
Twisted Truths by Rebecca ZanettiTwisted Truths by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Blood Brothers #3
Published by Forever on November 14th 2017
Pages: 432
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three-stars

You can't escape the past . . .

Noni is desperate. Her infant niece has been kidnapped, and the only person who can save her is a private detective with too many secrets to count--and more enemies than he can name. A man who walked away from Noni without any warning a year ago, a man who broke her heart. But with Talia's life on the line, Noni needs his help now more than ever--and this time, she won't take no for an answer . . .

The moment Denver Jones sees Noni, the memories come rushing back. The fire in her eyes. The determination in her voice. The danger of having her in his life. Denver had to push her away once, but now with vicious criminals threatening Noni and her niece, he'll do whatever it takes to protect them. But enemies from his past are circling, and they'll use anything--and anyone--to get to Denver.

It’s through the ‘inheritance’ of a friend’s baby that Noni Yuka gets tangled up in a gang’s trafficking activities while doing an online search for him—and trumpeting his presence when all Denver Jones wants is to lie low. It’s also the reason that he’d cut their affair short and found solace in a bottle, though Noni’s explosive return to his life thrusts him and his brothers into greater danger.

2 storylines converge in ’Twisted Truths’—which accounts for the length of the book—and without prior knowledge of the previous books in the series (as well as maybe the series before this) this might be a little hard to follow despite the brief recaps that Rebecca Zanetti does here and there. In short, the crazy brand of villainy that has been stalking the Dean brothers and now the Jones brothers come to a head here as the evil pair of Madison and Cobb pit themselves against Denver and by extension, the rest of the Jones boys.

As difficult as it might be to read as a standalone, ‘Twisted Truths’ is nonetheless full of action, some sexy times, some bizzare twists and turns (along with some TSTL moments from Noni), and sort of held together by a villain so overblown that an evil, giggling cartoon character might as well populate the pages. This closure however, is long time in coming and Zanetti does it by highlighting the bonds between brothers who may or may not be blood-related—who also jump in with seemingly unlimited resources to save the day.

three-stars

Risky Redemption by Marissa Garner

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th October 2017
Risky Redemption by Marissa GarnerRisky Redemption by Marissa Garner
Published by Forever Yours on November 7th 2017
Pages: 416
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one-star

Four years ago, Angela Reardon was brutally attacked, and she still bears the physical scars and traumatic memories. While she's worked hard to overcome her fears and build a successful business, she's still haunted by her inability to identify her assailant. Now Angela only wants to be left alone-until a shadowy stranger reignites her desire to be loved. But their time together may be brief...because someone wants her dead.

CIA assassin Jake Stone's targets deserved to die. Until now. Until he falls in love with the innocent woman he's been hired to kill. Jake can't fight his attraction to Angela, and he knows that someone else will be sent to finish the job. So can he save Angela and redeem himself by uncovering who wants her killed? When the trail leads him into the carnal underbelly of L.A., the truth is more shocking than even he could ever imagine.

From the blurb, ‘Risky Redemption’ sounds exactly like the type of read that’s up my alley: a woman with amnesia, mistaken for a mark for treasonous activity and is put as a target for a honey trap, until she really disappears when her innocence is proven. Angela Reardon’s secrets however, aren’t the type that should concern the CIA at all and in a case that’s not just about mistaken identity, the rot in the system appears too little too late, until she looks to be the kind of collateral damage swept under a rug unless a valiant, truth-seeking hero uncovers the dirt.

That was as much as I could put together for the first half of the book given the constant and numerous flashbacks interspersed with the present which made it difficult to get the timeline straight in my head. With a time gap that the storytelling struggled to bridge (the number of events that’d led us to this point only unfurl through flashbacks), the hints that were dished out merely left me with an increasing stockpile of questions that weren’t addressed as the pages turned.

With the narrative was constantly broken up between Jake/Angela’s first few meetings and the point where she apparently disappears, I had a hard time grasping the story’s coherence—it felt more like a jigsaw that frustratingly, couldn’t be put together at all—with the constant refrain of Jake’s self-recrimination, the lamenting of his lack of moral compass and generally, the weight of his regrets that seemed to pour off the pages instead of a hard, forward momentum that I’d expected of this genre. Unevenly paced, the middle-half of the book dealt solely with Jake’s investigations and Angela’s absence was starkly felt, except for her appearances in the flashbacks.

But throughout, I couldn’t get over the fact that Jake acted like a man-child who blew hot and cold with his emotions and was generally petty in a manner that I associated more with tantrum-throwing children than a grown adult. Too many lines about how easy he had it with women throwing themselves at him which he took every advantage of cemented my impression of him as a highly-reactive protagonist whose uncontrolled moods swings above all, just didn’t seem to fit the bill of the cold contract killer that Marissa Garner was trying to flesh out. Proudly proclaiming that he hadn’t had sex since he’d met her a mere 2-3 weeks ago, then trying to take on the mantle early on as her sex ‘helper’ to escape her past as a rape victim and get her to enjoy sex again—before getting frustrated because his own sexual needs weren’t satisfied when she hesitated—just upped the creep factor…and pretty much made me stop reading after this.

There were secrets to uncover and too many gaps to fill, without a doubt. But having found the protagonists generally unlikable and having struggled so much with the style of the storytelling, I can only say this just isn’t the book for me when I found I couldn’t pay attention long enough to discover what those secrets were.

one-star

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Historical Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 11th October 2017
Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonNext Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on February 6th 2018
Pages: 336
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five-stars

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

The Cuban revolution and this transitory time of change are wholly unfamiliar to me, but ‘Next Year in Havana’ brings it all to life through broad, sweeping strokes that tell parallel stories of a woman’s journey out of Cuba and her granddaughter’s journey back there nearly 60 years later.

Chanel Cleeton’s precise yet lyrical prose rolls through constant reiterations of the resilience of memory and all the versions of Cuba that emerge through every character’s eyes. Marisol Ferrera and Elisa Perez’s fervent (and doomed) love affairs might be wrapped up in the city’s fading glory and the wire-tight tension of impending upheaval, yet these star-crossed lovers seem merely a metaphor for the Cuban individual’s love unending love affair with his/her country—it’s just how effortlessly their romances have been woven into the backdrop of revolution, reform and change.

It’s that curious strain of hope that can’t ever die—and perhaps the eternal yearning for something that they can’t have—which seems to be the poignant and loudest message that Cleeton brings across in this enthralling read. Like in many stories of revolution, the academics and thinkers (and the women who stay hidden in the shadows) matter—it’s brain over brawn, passion over looks—and they bear the burden of carrying the mantles of heroes and or the swords of villains. Sometimes both. Marisol’s and Elisa’s voices are as much tethered to their love of their country as they are tied to their love for their revolutionary men, but it’s also the selfsame passion and emotion that Pablo and Luis carry in their intellectual rhetoric that had me mesmerised from start to finish.

‘Next Year in Havana’ isn’t a book that lets bygones be bygones, after all. Yet the story’s power lies not quite in the galvanising force of political dialogue or the hard, dirty work of nonviolent change but in loss, tragedy and the love that came incidentally—the untold stories that were left by the wayside because bigger things eclipsed these. So when Cleeton told them, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, swooning. And I might have also shed a tear or two.

five-stars

Ash by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 10th October 2017
Ash by Anna HackettAsh by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #14
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

In the middle of an alien invasion, will the bad boy berserker catch the geeky tech genius?

Computer genius Marin Mitchell is doing her part to help humanity survive the raptor invasion, working tirelessly to decrypt alien data. She spends her days working and drooling over a certain tattooed, biker berserker from Squad Three. But Marin knows the rules: geeks do not snag sexy bad boys. She spends her nights playing her favorite computer game where she is a kick-butt badass, and a match for her mysterious online fight partner, SuperSoldier3.

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Ash Connors knows that whenever he reaches for something good, life slaps him back down. He gave up on his dreams a long time ago, and instead, focused on running his motorcycle club with his best friend. But after the alien invasion, he does what he does best, fight and take down the aliens. When cute, smart, and sweet Marin catches his eye, he tries to steer clear, but can’t seem to stay away…online or in real life.

When Marin discovers information about a central alien data hub, her skills are needed to hack into the system. That means a deadly mission deep underground, right into the heart of alien territory. That throws her right into Ash’s tattooed arms. As the sexy berserker fights to keep her safe, he also vows to show Marin that while she might follow the rules, he likes to break them.

Finding love in an alien-apocalypse-survivor world is far from impossible, at least according to Anna Hackett, because all it really takes is a kind of desperation to survive, to cherish whatever you have, to live in the present and to take what you want—to the point where protagonists who wouldn’t have given each other time of the day in the ‘normal’ world actually work in this context.

More like a miniseries of novella than a full-length books, ‘Ash’, like all of Hackett’s books, is a fast read with a bit of instalove, with enough sexy times to scorch the pages and action-packed scenes that don’t let up. But I’ve missed this world of hers and ‘Ash’ is a great return to it.

Hackett tells a riveting story, as each book slowly advances the plot with a new discovery that helps flesh out this post-alien-earth, while serving as a catalyst at the same time to cement the growing relationship between the pairing in question. The geek factor is played up a fair bit in Ash/Marin’s story and it’s computer gaming that brings an unlikely pair together—a tech geek and an ex-biker who has had his own dreams dashed before the alien invasion. And while I do like the dynamics of Marin and Ash, I cringed a little at Marin losing her brains at the sight of a muscular, handsome ex-biker and becoming all awkward when she saw him.

As a novella however, Ash/Marin, like all of Hackett’s other pairings, find their HEA fast enough, given that there are bigger and more worrisome entities to care about. No time is wasted with their getting together, though a late twist in the game gives too much of a Deus Ex Machina moment for me to fully buy into it. Still, it’s a solid addition to the series as far as things go and it’s making me very curious about how Hackett will end this entire narrative arc in this universe when it finally ends.

four-stars

Bountiful by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th October 2017
Bountiful by Sarina BowenBountiful by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North, #4
Published by Rennie Road Books on October 20th 2017
Pages: 305
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three-stars

No last names. No life stories. Those were the rules.

Once upon a time a cocky, copper-haired tourist sauntered into Zara’s bar. And even though she knew better, Zara indulged in a cure for the small-town blues. It was supposed to be an uncomplicated fling—a few sizzling weeks before he went back to his life, and she moved on.

Until an accidental pregnancy changed her life.

Two years later, she’s made peace with the notion that Dave No-Last-Name will never be found. Until one summer day when he walks into her coffee shop, leveling her with the same hot smile that always renders her defenseless.

Dave Beringer has never forgotten the intense month he spent with prickly Zara. Their nights together were the first true intimacy he’d ever experienced. But the discovery of his child is the shock of a lifetime, and his ugly past puts relationships and family out of reach.

Or does it? Vermont’s countryside has a way of nurturing even tortured souls. The fields and the orchards—and hard won love—are Bountiful.

When ‘Grease’ the musical turned up in my life blaring Danny and Sandy’s summer fling from the very start, it was what I thought of immediately as Zara Rossi and Dave Beringer got down, carefree and dirty for a few weeks, until it wasn’t anymore.

But that was just part 1 of the story—a small but still sizeable part of the whole tale: a careful catalogue of their flirtation and their sex scenes…and probably not too much more than that. I had a hard time liking either Zara or Dave in this first part—the former was prickly and standoffish while the latter too lackadaisical about women for want of a better word—as it was simply about their summer fling where both were determined to make it about shallow sex and nothing more, so waiting to get into the meat of the story was in some ways, torture.

In many ways, it was akin to reading about 2 people who wouldn’t—or couldn’t—grow up until a baby changed how they had to look at the lives they’d been living up until then. But as part 2 went on, it became clear who had done the growing up and who hadn’t and by the time the story ended, ‘Bountiful’ felt like a patched jigsaw and wholly like a Sarina Bowen creation. Admittedly, I had unrealistic expectations of Zara and Dave and not having them met was a particular disappointment, but truth be told, I also felt like I’d overdosed on the topic of motherhood and children throughout part 2.

Clearly, these are my own prejudices shouting a little loud here.

But if I didn’t exactly get into the pairing, it was certainly no hardship to get lost in Bowen’s storytelling. There’s such a readability to Bowen’s books (throw in the Vermont setting and I’m sold) and her ability to tell a small-town, family-centric drama with loads of heart simply shines through. So while the rest of this series’s books never quite reached ‘Steadfast’s’ lofty heights for me, the intersection of the Brooklyn Bruisers world and the Shipleys here however, was probably the highlight of my whole read. Seeing Doulie and Trevi make their appearances in here (Castro’s fantastic cameo just made my day) perked it all up for me, which made me impatient for Bowen’s return to the Bruisers.

three-stars

Burn For You by J.T. Geissinger

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Fairytale/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 5th October 2017
Burn For You by J.T. GeissingerBurn for You by J.T. Geissinger
Series: Slow Burn #1
Published by Montlake Romance on October 17th 2017
Pages: 348
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four-stars

The marriage is fake. But for a sassy chef and an arrogant billionaire, the sparks are real…

Jackson “The Beast” Boudreaux is rich, gorgeous, and unbelievably rude to the staff at Chef Bianca Hardwick’s New Orleans restaurant. Bianca would sooner douse herself in hot sauce than cook for Jackson again, but when he asks her to cater his fund-raiser, Bianca can’t refuse, knowing the cash will help pay her mother’s medical bills. Then Jackson makes another outrageous request: Marry me. The unconventional offer includes an enormous sum—money Bianca desperately needs, even if it does come with a contract—and a stunning ring.

The heir to a family bourbon dynasty, Jackson knows the rumors swirling around him. The truth is even darker. Still, he needs a wife to secure his inheritance, and free-spirited, sassy Bianca would play the part beautifully. Soon, though, their simple business deal evolves into an emotional intimacy he’s built walls to avoid.

As the passion heats up between them, Bianca and Jackson struggle to define which feelings are real and which are for show. Is falling for your fake fiancé the best happy ending…or a recipe for disaster?

J.T. Geissinger is an author whose name and books have crossed my feed a fair bit, though I’ve never gotten around to reading any of her works, so ‘Burn for You’ is a fresh start for me. And what an introduction it was.

There can never be enough fairy tale retellings for me—the raunchier the better, the funnier the more cherished and the dirtier, the more I fall to my knees in worship. Geissinger’s ‘Burn For You’ fits all of these categories quite comfortably, so needless to say, I had a good time going through this incredibly spirited Southern version of beauty and the beast.

The enemies-to-lovers trope is one of my favourites, so when ‘Burn For You’ started out with the unbridled antagonism, I simply sat back, waited for the claws to get unsheathed and the knives to start flying. The first chapter didn’t disappoint in its explosive introduction to the battling protagonists, as the very distinctive voice of Bianca Hardwick—filled with that kind of wry, sarcastic humour I love—made Jackson Boudreaux out to be the untamable, hairy devil-beast with the appearance and temper to match. Their locking horns was enjoyable as hell, though I wasn’t disappointed when we moved past that and into the harder bits that slayed me the moment Jackson’s tortured past was revealed.

Written with some ‘historical’ romance kind of flair, a mad amount of slang, and buoyed by a tinge of melodrama, ‘Burn For You’ did go a little weirdly hysterical towards the end, with some over-the-top clichés that had me cringing a bit. Still, I went happily along for the ride—that much invested I was in the story by then—and decided immediately by the end that Geissinger would be on the ‘authors-I sniff’ list.

four-stars

Hold Tight by Alexa Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd October 2017
Hold Tight by Alexa RileyHold Tight by Alexa Riley
Series: For You #2
Published by Carina Press on October 16th 2017
Pages: 64
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three-stars

A hotshot consultant hired to streamline Osbourne Corp. meets his match in Pandora Justice—the more she plays hard to get, the more he wants her.

They say that like recognizes like, and the day I looked into her deep blues, I met my other half.

Pandora Justice took over as head of security at Osbourne Corp. after her father's retirement. Eighty-hour workweeks are normal; being brushed up against by hot consultants with ridiculous names is not. And she doesn't like it. Not even one bit.

It's amazing how easily she can lie to herself.

I had to have her. Plain and simple.

The first time Pandora sees Royce in the ring—all tattoos and sinew, covered in sweat—he looks at her like he's just won more than the fight. Like he won her.

I won't play games with her. I'll wait, and it will kill me, but I'll do it for her.

Royce's cocky grin with deep dimples makes Pandora melt. Once she wanted to smack that look off his face—now all she wants to do is kiss it. For the rest of her life.

The thought of spending the rest of my life with Pandora warms the place in my chest I didn't think was alive. I've put my claim on her—she's the one, and I'm done. It's that simple.

Alexa Riley’s formula should be well-known by now: instalove, a hero who goes alpha the moment he sees his significant half, decides he wants her and does everything to claim her as his territory. Be prepared for over-dramatic moments interspersed with sex that can be scorching, though you might question the validity of the connection between the protagonists because of this.

‘Hold Tight’ is Pandora’s book – something I’ve looked forward to for a while – but its sheer brevity (this tops out at a mere 64 pages) magnifies the faults I find with Riley’s books. Had it been a longer, more drawn-out version, I think I would have liked and rated the story a lot higher with greater character depth and development. Still, Riley delivered a safe(ish) read, with a guaranteed HEA, so it could be a balm for readers discouraged and cynical about their romance reads.

three-stars
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