Category: Advanced Reader Copy

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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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.


Life of Bliss by Erin McLellan

Life of Bliss by Erin McLellanLife of Bliss by Erin McLellan
Published by Riptide Publishing on April 16th 2018
Pages: 211
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Nobody plans to accidentally marry their frenemy with benefits.

Todd McGower and Victor Consuelos do not like each other. They can’t have a conversation without insults flying, and Victor seems to get off on pushing Todd’s buttons. The fact that their antagonism always leads to explosive sex . . . well, that’s their little secret.

Victor has a secret of his own. His full-blown crush on Todd is ruining his sex life. He hasn’t looked at anyone else in months, and he’s too hung up on Todd to find a date to his cousin’s wedding.

In a moment of weakness after a heart-stopping night together, Todd agrees to be Victor’s fake boyfriend for the wedding. Victor will have his plus-one—which will get his family off his back—and Todd will get a free mini-vacation. It’s a win-win.

But pretending to be fake boyfriends leads to real intimacy, which leads to too much wine, and suddenly, Todd and Victor wake up with wedding bands and a marriage license between them. That was not their plan, but a summer of wedded bliss might just change their minds.

I had the uncanny feeling the moment I got into the first few pages of ‘Life of Bliss’ that I was reading about a protagonist who’d been a secondary character in another previous story that I’d missed out. It wasn’t a feeling I could shake off so easily, though that might have also accounted for why I couldn’t exactly quite get a grasp on both the main characters until I was solidly halfway through it.

Todd and Victor’s backstory come to light in bits and pieces, where they find themselves as frenemies (a pretend-hate kind of situation) where snark and snippy comebacks not only form the basis for their prelude to sex but also serve as a defence mechanism to keep each other from coming too close. But somehow weddings and the aftermath drive people crazy, or at least, as far as Todd and Victor are concerned, throw them off the cliff and into the deep end where they move, in the space of a few drunken hours into uncharted territory.

Inner monologues both prove that Todd and Victor have mistaken ideas about how they see each other, but it was frustrating to read about how these mistaken perceptions weren’t corrected because both seemed contented instead to mull over them than talk it out like adults. The result is a rather prolonged period of the status quo that both try to keep (it obviously works as well as as one can expect) in a cycle that strains their relationship as their their own doubts and insecurities are left to fester. Still, I liked Victor for his own way of showing the kind of courage that it takes to keep a relationship that he slid into somewhat accidentally, though thought much less of Todd for being the way who simply couldn’t stay a course to commit to.

‘Life of Bliss’ didn’t present any big surprises for me; I expected and got what I thought would really come out of Todd/Victor’s relationship, from the conflict, the blow-up to the resolution. There were parts though, where I was bored and skimmed and couldn’t quite get myself very interested in the numerous sex scenes. In all, this was a middling read which I’d wished could have been a better one.


Medley by Layla Reyne

Medley by Layla ReyneMedley by Layla Reyne
Series: Changing Lanes, #2
Published by Riptide Publishing on April 23rd 2018
Pages: 207
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Sebastian Stewart was never Mr. Dependable; he was more the good-time guy who only wanted to swim, party, and ink tattoos. Until he cost his team the Olympic gold four years ago. Bas is determined to do right this time around—by his medley relay team and his rookie mentee.

Jacob Burrows is in over his head. The Olympic experience—from the hazing, to the endless practices, to the unrelenting media—makes the shy nineteen-year-old’s head spin. He’s trying to be everything to everyone while trying not to fall for his gorgeous tattooed teammate who just gets him—gets his need to fix things, his dorky pirate quips, and his bisexuality.

When Jacob falters under the stress, threatening his individual races and the medley relay gold, he needs Bas’s help to escape from drowning. Bas, however, fearing a repeat of his mistakes four years ago, pushes Jacob away, sure he’ll only let Jacob down. But the only path to salvaging gold is for Jacob to finally ask for what he needs—the heart of the man he loves—and for Bas to become the dependable one.

I was impatient for ’Medley’—Sebastian’s and Jacob’s story—after the excitement I had for Layla Reyne’s ‘Relay’. The play for the ultimate olympics glory, the seething emotions and the drama that lay behind it, the tears and sweat and the extremes of emotions? I loved it all.

But for better or worse, ‘Medley’ ravaged me and not in a good way. The presence of bisexual protagonists in the books I read don’t bother me and even though the acceptance or the rejection of it is a major theme in the book, I typically hold my romantic protagonists to a more basic standard: a bloody arse of a character (regardless of sexuality) isn’t likeable; worse yet, if the bastard in question is a protagonist in romance whom I’m supposed to cheer on.

That said, I struggled hard with liking Sebastian Stewart and by the end, still steadfastly believed that Jacob Burrows deserved anyone else but him.

In the blurb, Reyne hinted at a catastrophic meet 4 years ago involving Bas going off the rails and a backstory that no one would like. What I seemed to have witnessed first hand however, was one man’s strong denial, insecurity and debilitating fear of being left behind that cut a large swath of destruction through people. I felt as much for Bas’s ex as I did for Jacob, 2 individuals who’d only wanted to be happy with Bas, yet were only taken for the run around and annihilated and humiliated emotionally by him instead. As victims or collateral damage, so to speak, of Bas’s commitment-phobic stance, I hated that they’d both paid the emotional price for his stupidity and his stubbornness for using his own past to lash out against those who cared about him. That it had to take Jacob to hit rock bottom for Bas to finally conduct some form of self-examination brought him even lower in my esteem when I thought it couldn’t get any lower.

In fact, I didn’t feel as though Bas had redeemed himself in anyway—an apology, sudden promises, staying the night after sex counted very little in my opinion—when this supposed atonement simply didn’t match the trail of destruction and the heartache he’d left in his wake. For that reason, I also didn’t like Julio painted as the scorned, jilted lover (even though he was) and his resentment did seem justified when he’d been the one whom Bas kicked out of his life in the worse way possible because the latter simply couldn’t handle commitment.

Apart from the rambling rant about characters, I actually did find Layla Reyne’s writing thrilling. Her swimming scenes were brilliantly fashioned and I loved her portrayal of Jacob and how easy it was to find him a sympathetic character whom I identified with immediately. Catching up with Alex and Dane proved also to be a brief respite from the ongoing drama and waves that Bas caused and in the end, I couldn’t help but latch onto the team’s grounding presence when the hooky drama surrounding Bas became too much.


The Backup Plan by Jen McLaughlin

The Backup Plan by Jen McLaughlinThe Backup Plan by Jen McLaughlin
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on March 19th 2018
Pages: 254
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I’m beyond help...

I threw a football before I could walk. Everything in my life revolved around football–and I loved every second. I was a star. Until, suddenly...I wasn’t. Now everyone thinks I’m the monster who killed his best friend. I’m an outcast on campus, silent and alone. Then Taylor Selmer walks back into my life. When will she learn–I’m beyond saving.

I need to save him...

Chase and I used to be friends. But after the accident, nothing was the same. We used to have something special–until we didn’t. But he doesn’t smile anymore. Doesn’t talk. Doesn’t play. It hurts me to see him this way, and I will do everything I can to get him back in the game. Whether he likes it or not.

Jen McLaughlin’s ‘The Backup Plan’ isn’t quite what I’m used to each time I dive into a book of hers. This one’s a New Adult read with specific collegiate issues of future plans, identity-crises, leftover teenage angst and overflowing hormones that I admittedly struggle to get into as the years roll on. It means as well, that my own expectations require a bit of adjustment.

Still, I thought it started off quite well, as Mclaughlin pits Taylor’s sass and never-say-die attitude against the piss-poor one of Chase in a rather odd arrangement by Chases father. The rough start is expected, but delicious in a way doubles the tension and the release of it later.

I thought the pacing seemed a little awkward in parts nonetheless; the sudden change in personality that Chase seemed to display at the quarter-mark of the story—it felt almost like a personality-transplant—when he turned from jerk to sweet boyfriend for one, along with the quickness with which Taylor fell for Chase’s own funny and sometimes unpleasant brand of unpredictability.

Mix in a conniving ex-girlfriend (ugh) and a manipulative father and things really go awry to the point where you wonder if the irony is such that only Taylor and Chase can’t see that they’re the ones being played. In the end, the small fires do add up to create a conflict I could see happening from a mile away, and the resolution is one that you always hoped they would have taken before it all blew up in their faces anyway.

However, ‘The Backup Plan’ does sit squarely in the category of college drama, complete with a dose of typical high-school ‘politics’ with a hazy but hopeful HFN. Still, there’s nothing really unexpected here that threw me off and sometimes, there’s actual relief in predictability.


Hot Target by April Hunt

Hot Target by April HuntHot Target by April Hunt
Series: Alpha Security #4
Published by Forever Yours on April 10th 2018
Pages: 94
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How did a nice girl like Rachel Kline end up in a jail cell in Vegas? Don't even ask. She came to Sin City to find her missing friend and accidentally got swept up in a police raid. Even worse, she's being bailed out by the last man she wants to see right now: the irresistibly sexy, infuriatingly cocky Alpha op who rescued her a year ago. What are the odds?

Logan Callahan is six-and-a-half feet of solid muscle and Texas charm, a hard-fighting ex-Marine with a soft spot for Rachel. He's more than obliged to hang up his cowboy hat and help her out. But when someone takes a shot at her, he knows there's a good chance what happens in Vegas won't stay there. With targets on their backs and killers on their tails, it's one high-risk game they're playing. And it's not just their hearts that are on the line . . .

Sometimes, not being able to remember the plots of previous books in a series can be a bloody bane. As a result, ‘Hot Target’—a novella to boot—felt like a zany read that had me tumbling into the craziness of Vegas with Rachel and Logan with a backstory that I struggled to remember despite the bits of retelling in this short story.

There was ample material to get on board with however, despite the brevity of the book (this came in at about 90-ish pages) and the plot, once in locked in place with the details hammered out, moved at a fast clip as Logan and Rachel finally stopped their year-and-a-half-long dance around each other. Logan/Rachel were an entertaining couple, though I particularly loved seeing Logan with the many faces he wore around people and the way that fell off when it came to Rachel.

Several unfamiliar characters that flitted in towards the end made me a little confused but I’ll probably remember this for the very, very charming Logan whom I wished had his own full novel-length novel just to get him in action.


Game On by Nicola Marsh

Game On by Nicola MarshGame On by Nicola Marsh
Series: Women of W.A.R #1
Published by Escape Publishing on February 20th 2018
Pages: 63
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Are they playing to win…or playing for keeps?

Angelica Bryant has a dream. The only child of a soccer legend, she pays her bills by working at her father’s bar while pursuing her goals: a role in sports management and a place in the newly established Women’s Aussie Rules league. Football is her passion, and she won’t let anything get in her way: including an ill-advised one-night-stand with one of Australia’s most successful agents.

Jaxon Flint thrives on success. His workaholic lifestyle keeps his agency and the athletes he represents at the top of their game – and all of his emotions at bay. Until he meets Angie, W.A.R.’s newest star, who undermines his carefully laid plans and gets under his skin. Is he willing to relinquish his careful control both in and out of the bedroom?

When Angie and Jaxon end up working together, it’s game on!

I started out the Women of W.A.R. series in reverse order, leaving Nicola Marsh’s novella for the last, and to my relief, discovered that reading the books in any order had no bearing on my understanding of the timeline at all.

There was so much I liked about the initial setup, the pacing of the opening scenes and the conflict that Marsh had set up between Jaxon and Angie. And then it felt like everything was over before it began. It was clear that both Angie and Jaxon struggled with issues that I was looking forward to see Marsh unentangling, which unfortunately, didn’t quite happen at all. As a result, Jaxon seemed more like a bundle of contradictions (and an arse to boot in the way he blew hot and cold with Angie despite his own self-awareness), whose flat denial about not wanting commitment in order to keep his life uncomplicated wasn’t entirely given much depth, as was Angie’s somewhat abruptly resolved situation with her father as she tried to find her own way forward.

While Marsh did capture key moments for Angie and Jax, the brevity of this novella meant that the passing of time felt very pronounced with each chapter and with it, came a bit more telling rather than showing. I thought ‘Game On’ had so much potential, but was ultimately, disappointed by the lack of development that could have otherwise, made this a brilliant read.


Long Game by Catherine Evans

Long Game by Catherine EvansLong Game by Catherine Evans
Series: , #2
Published by Escape Publishing, Escape Publishing - Harlequin Enterprises, Australia Pty Ltd on February 1st 2018
Pages: 108
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oes she dare pursue all her dreams?

Everyone in Grong Grong knows Cress Kennedy’s childhood dream is to play Aussie Rules Football, so when the Sydney Sirens sign her in the new Women’s Aussie Rules competition, she heads to the big city to pursue her dream. But no one in Grong Grong knows of Cress’s other dreams: the ones that revolve entirely around Quin Fitzpatrick.

Quin Fitzpatrick left Grong Grong as an eighteen-year-old to play Aussie Rules in Sydney, but after eight years the shine has gone from the lifestyle. When his best friend’s little sister follows in his country-to-city footsteps, he promises to look after her. She can stay with him and he’ll protect her as best he can. Besides, Watercress is the little sister he never had.

But Cress is all grown up now and playing Women’s Aussie Rules, and it’s about time that Quin sees her as a woman too..

I’ve always loved the idea of competitive women sports and Women in Aussie Rules – women playing Australian Footy – is the perfect platform to build budding romances in each regional team in the series. Catherine Evan takes on the Sydney Sirens with Cress Kennedy and her longtime childhood crush Quin Fitzpatrick, who was the first to leave their hometown of Grong Grong nearly a decade ago to follow that very dream they both shared.

The friends-to-lovers trope has always made me wary, because for me, there always had to be a set of criteria that should ideally be met; otherwise, I’d start questioning the validity of the pairing. Nonetheless, Quin/Cress do sort of work under the very specific circumstances that Evans has laid out: Quin left Grong Grong way before Cress really grew up, so their meeting again simply set the stage for a childhood friendship that deepened in the weeks they spent together in Sydney.

The setting couldn’t be more perfect – the Sydney harbour bridge climb was something I wanted to do some time ago, then balked at the horrific prices – and Evans’s way of writing Quin’s and Cress’s relationship did pull me in, despite the slow, slow burn. On the flip side of the coin, their hesitation to get involved any more deeply with each other was a source of frustration when the rushed conclusion and their less-than-ideal circumstances made for a HFN ending that made me wonder if this pairing would work out.

‘Long Game’ ended on a note of hope instead of a guaranteed Quin/Cress future when everything was still up in the air. And while I loved their commitment to each other because of it, the last bit proved somewhat dissatisfying especially after the long wait for Quin and Cress to finally end their dance around each other. In all, it was a mixed read for me – I certainly enjoyed myself, but definitely wished things could have turned out differently.