Category: Reviews

Mount Mercy by Helena Newbury

Mount Mercy by Helena NewburyMount Mercy by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 30th November 2018
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Doctor Dominic Corrigan. He’s tattooed, cocky and gorgeous, with bullet scars from working in war zones. I’m a geeky surgeon who hides away in the quiet of her operating theater. We couldn’t be more different but from the second we meet, he pursues me...and when I look into those blue eyes, I’m lost. But I know his reputation and I’m determined not to be his next one-night stand. Then disaster strikes our small town...and the two of us become our patients’ only hope.

Suddenly, I’m thrown into the chaos of an ER stretched to breaking point. We need to work together but the closer we get, the harder it is to resist. We’re one look, one touch away from tearing each other’s clothes off. I start to see the pain he hides behind that cocky exterior. What happened to this man, and can I help him break free of his past? And our problems are only just beginning. A criminal gang means to take advantage of the chaos...and the hospital, and everyone I care about, are right in their sights.

‘Mount Mercy’ was something I picked up because the blurb—the promise of romantic suspense in some isolated mountain town—sounded like my sort of thing. Unfortunately, the suspense alone was the only factor that had me powering through when I was tempted to call time on the characters early on.

Corrigan and Amy didn’t stray far from stereotypical protagonists in romantic fiction. Bring in the typical tortured male protagonist who’s lost something/someone and is now actively losing himself in reckless behaviour and a shy, almost-wimpy heroine (whose relationships are few and far between) determined to fix him while he kept saying he needed to keep away from her?

That same old story gets grating.

In addition, their tendency to imagine each other in bed at inappropriate times easily characterised every encounter they had when their paths crossed. In fact, the instant lust—that never really let up—hit me full in the face at their first meeting, where I was treated to a rather cringe-worthy scene of body parts hardening and getting wet in the middle of an life-threatening emergency.

Really? All I could think of as a result, was about the near-flat-lining patient as they argued over him with their mouths while their nether bits made happy, squishy noises.

In fact, Corrigan’s supposed-silver-tinged Irish accent (an oft-repeated word that Newbury likes to use) and a few slight touches from him had Amy stuttering like a dumbstruck teenager so easily, which soon enough translated abruptly into a sexual boldness and freedom that she thought he’d brought out of her.

And all of this came from nothing but surface interactions and hooded looks?

That this instant lust soon after, jumped madly to ‘love’ when they barely knew each other apart from some hot and heavy looks, unresolved sexual tension and some medical emergencies had me gritting my teeth.

To be fair, aside from the over-the-top porny bits that made this book read more like erotica than high-octane suspense, there was a sort of decent plot in there…buried as it was under all the talk and thoughts of sex, which really seemed like the dominant theme of the story. I would have enjoyed this much more had the emotional aspects of Corrigan/Amy’s relationship been dwelled upon, instead of their mutual fixation on each other’s bits.

In all however, this was a disappointment, though it seems Newbury’s style is now entrenched in this pattern from the few books I’ve read of hers.

two-stars

Mission: Her Security by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Security by Anna HackettMission: Her Security by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #3
Published by Anna Hackett on November 13th 2018
Pages: 137
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three-stars

When sweet, smiling Kinsey is kidnapped by unknown forces, former SEAL and Team 52 operator Smith Creed will risk anything to get her back.

Kinsey Beck is used to life knocking her down. She escaped her past and came to Las Vegas for a new start. So what if she didn’t achieve her dream of being a showgirl, instead, she now has an awesome job as logistics manager for the covert, black ops Team 52. She loves all the team…especially big, gruff mountain man Smith, even if he isn’t interested in her the way she’d like.

But when Kinsey is kidnapped, she finds alone and herself trapped in a deadly fight for survival…

Smith Creed is a loner who prefers his own company, his dog, and his mountain cabin. Working for Team 52 lets him use his unique skills to help ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. It also brings him in close contact with a woman he knows isn’t for him—sweet, beautiful Kinsey. But when he learns she’s been snatched, her life hanging in the balance, he’ll tear the world apart to bring her home safely.

But rescuing Kinsey uncovers a deeper plot and a shadowy group out to destroy the world. Smith and Team 52 will be forced to make tough decisions—revolving around a dangerous, ancient artifact—and even when Kinsey is back in Smith’s arms, she still isn’t safe. With danger at every turn, Smith with sacrifice everything to ensure Kinsey’s security, but the greatest danger of all might be to Smith’s closed-off heart.

‘Mission: Her Security’ is the third book into Anna Hackett’s spin-off of the Treasure-Hunter Security stories, featuring primarily a rather hapless Kinsey Beck whose multiple kidnappings and threats of death finally push Smith Creed (determined to keep her at arm’s length) into taking the plunge past friendship. But as with any Hackett story, there’s also a bigger threat looming large that Team 52 rushes to nullify—a threat that continues to be a pain in the arse for everyone involved until the series ends.

Like any other Hackett book, it’s certainly full of adventure and non-stop action, but I did struggle with keeping the incredulity from surfacing. Many shades of the Treasure Hunter Security series come into play here, except that the search and retrieval for artefacts from advanced, ancient civilisations dial up paranormal activity and in this case, pulls the suspension of disbelief factor a little too far.

Smith Creed proved as well to be a coy and rather frustrating hero, who played the want-her-but-won’t-commit-because-I-was-burnt-before game, then offered to be friends in essentially what’s a weak-willed pushing away of Kinsey, only to suddenly turn around later to tell her that there’s no turning back with him after his own repeated rejections of her.

‘Mission: Her Security’ is nonetheless, a breeze to read as always. Buoyed by Hackett’s imagination, the focused writing pattern of getting a pairing together while facing a single threat definitely works for each compact novella that she produces. ‘Team 52’ might not be my favourite series of hers—there’s too much of rinse-and-repeat of her previous series—but it’s one that I hope might get better for me.

three-stars

Sidelined by Suzanne Baltsar

Sidelined by Suzanne BaltsarSidelined by Suzanne Baltsar
Published by Gallery Books on 27th August 2019
Pages: 320
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two-stars

When Connor McGuire loses out on his dream job of being the head coach of the local high school football team, he thinks life can’t get any worse. Then he discovers just who got the coveted position—it was a handout to the kid of a well-known, successful college coach. Connor’s sure this is just a publicity stunt, but the kid turns out to be not only a sharp strategist, but a driven and sexy young woman, too. Frustrated in more ways than one, Connor realizes that he might have to step up his game or risk losing altogether.

Coach Charlotte “Charlie” Gibb calls a flag on the play when she finds out that her very male, very attractive, but definitely-rooting-for-her-to-lose assistant coach resents her for taking what he considers to be his rightful position. But never one to back down from a little healthy competition, Charlie is determined to prove her worth—both on and off the field.

Hacking it in a man’s world of competitive sports is tough, but as the head coach of a high-school football team with disgruntled men with the boys’ club mentality, Charlie Gibb starts off with everything against her.

I commiserated immediately. ‘Sidelined’ was a book I wanted to read because I needed to see a woman succeed in a position that typically garners misogynistic comments, barely-veiled sexual barbs and plain old discrimination because of her gender. To this extent, Suzanne Baltsar tells a pretty decent New Adult story of what it probably takes to make it—and stay standing—in an all boys’ club.
It was primarily characterisation of the unlikeable protagonists that I had a problem with—and a pairing that I simply couldn’t get behind. I found neither Connor Mcguire nor Charlie Gibb blameless in all their self-made conflicts, stubborn and defensive as they were of their own behaviour without wanting to give each other an inch for most of the book. The shift from enemies-to-lovers came too abruptly (I didn’t feel much chemistry there) and I just couldn’t quite get the frenzied push-pull that was somehow called heated foreplay when all I saw was hostile sniping and unkind insults.
To begin with, Charlie wasn’t easy to like, abrasive and pushy (and sometimes lacking total control of her emotions) as she was after her years of fighting male opposition and public scrutiny. In fact, she was one of the most callously insensitive ‘heroines’ I’ve ever come across; making light of Connor’s history in comparison to the way she’d tried to overcome her own insecurities and her constantly eagerness to push the blame onto Connor for their relationship problems made her bloody intolerable.
Yet frankly, I’m also well aware that she might be a protagonist I can see some readers liking for standing her ground as stubbornly as possible while shooting her mouth out at everything that her sensibilities are offended by.
On the other hand, throw in Connor’s emotional shutdowns, the constant blowing hot and cold? I was tired of them by the time I finished the book.
I wish I liked ‘Sidelined’ a lot better—I did come in expecting a rom-com-type story, but was left feeling by the end of it as though I was stuck with a pairing that would easily fall apart when the next big obstacle was thrown their way.
two-stars

Desperate Play by Barbara Freethy

Desperate Play by Barbara FreethyDesperate Play by Barbara Freethy
Series: Off The Grid: FBI Trilogy, #3
Published by Fog City Publishing, LLC - Hyde Street Press on 13th June 2018
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Special Agent Wyatt Tanner has always worked undercover. He thrives in the dark of the night. He survives by turning himself into someone else. But living so long in the shadows can make a man forget who he really is. When people start dying, when he finds blood on his own hands, he questions the choices he has made, the people he is with.

Can he find his way back to the light? Can he trust the beautiful woman who needs his help? Or does she also have a secret life?

He'll have to make one desperate play to find out…

Barbara Freethy is not an author I usually turn to for my usual Romantic Suspense fix, but the blurb of this book sounded interesting enough. At least, well enough because it rubs all my kinks about undercover and double identities the right way.

Freethy has up a great opening that catches Wyatt Tanner smack dab in the middle of an undercover op, or at least in the middle of a nefarious start of one, where he infiltrates a possible case of industrial espionage at Nova Star for the FBI. That much sets the tone for ‘Desperate Play’, where he gets tangled more and more in the affairs of Astrophysicist and employee of Nova Star Avery Caldwell who’s found herself an unwitting player in a murder investigation.

Freethy’s red herrings—in the form of random suggestions, insinuations and some supposed clues—that throw suspicion on every character do keep the good ol’ whodunnit mystery rolling and kept me guessing because the big picture couldn’t be put together. The only downside is that it didn’t make the secondary characters likeable at all, while putting only the protagonists above questioning.

Still, ‘Desperate Play’ ended up an unexpectedly slow read for me somehow, with a writing style—sentences, dialogue, etc—that felt a little…amateurish(?) at times…this is however, a personal preference about style coming into play here.

From a steady trot in the first quarter, I also thought that the pacing faltered towards the middle as I went through pages of Avery being a naive pushover where her dead, flaky friend was concerned (the questions she asks as well seem to show that), with Wyatt’s rather adept juggling of his undercover identity becoming the only thing that kept me going.

The rather unsettled ending is certainly a set-up for Freethy next few books in this series, but I did finish the book feeling a bit more short-changed than usual.

three-stars

Digging a Hole by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Digging a Hole by Mimi Jean PamfiloffDigging a Hole by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: OHellNo, #3
Published by Mimi Boutique on 19th June 2018
Pages: 173
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three-stars

HE’S THE MEANEST BOSS EVER.SHE’S THE SWEET SHY INTERN.THEY’RE ABOUT TO WRECK EACH OTHER CRAZY.

My name is Sydney Lucas. I am smart, deathly shy, and one-hundred percent determined to make my own way in the world. Which is why I jumped at the chance to intern for Mr. Nick Brooks despite his reputation. After ten failed interviews at other companies, he was the only one offering. Plus, everyone says he knows his stuff and surely a man as stunningly handsome as him can’t be “the devil incarnate,” right? Wrong.

Oh…that man. That freakin’ man has got to go! I’ve been on the job one week, and he’s insulted my mother, wardrobe shamed me, and managed to make me cry. Twice. Underneath that stone-cold, beautiful face is the evilest human being ever. But I’m not going to quit. Oh no. For once in my life, I’ve got to make a stand. Only every time I open my mouth, I can’t quite seem to muster the courage. Perhaps my revenge needs to come in another form: destroying him quietly.

Because I’ve got a secret. I’m not really just an intern, and Sydney Lucas isn’t my real name.

There’s always a bizarre lick to Mimi Jean Pamfiloff’s stories that I can’t seem to shake off each time I begin a book of hers. ‘Digging a Hole’ isn’t too different, where in alternating chapters, the flashback story of a crazy-arse tycoon tries to kidnap his own family and subject them to naked yoga is recounted. Add this to the general storyline of Georgie Walton/Sydney Lucas applying incognito for an internship within her family’s company under a mean, lean boss a few months later, the crazy does go a few notches up.

But I’ll admit that my challenge with a Pamfiloff read is always sifting the good from the insane. And as a large part of the story had to do with what happened a few months prior to Sydney/Georgie working for Nick, well, that bit came off as the least believable.

So needless to say, ‘Digging a Hole’ started off zany.

Georgie banked on the fact that she was invisible to people, without a fake identity or social security card—because it was glossed over. On the other hand, Nick Brooks had no sweet side. He abused, she cowered. He insulted, she cried, even if it was deliberate bullying as a test to see if she stood up for herself. But when all was finally untangled, their convoluted, complicated relationship merely showed the gap (in every sense of the word) between Georgie and Nick, especially the former’s naïveté and at-times juvenile behaviour, with some cringe-worthy scenes that I actually wished didn’t happen.

I did think that the characterisation of Georgie/Nick was shaky though, and them blowing hot and cold didn’t make it easy to get a grasp on either Georgie or Nick who seemed like 2 entirely different people by the time I was three-quarter way through the story.

The long and short of it is, if Pamfiloff dialled down the zany in her writing, I really think I could have liked this a lot more. Fiction obviously calls for the suspension of disbelief, but every Pamfiloff book that I’ve read swings back and forth between being absorbing and plain mad while aiming to keep a rom-com lightness to everything—just sometimes makes it impossible to do so. That she’s got some gems of insights, unexpected twists and some good ol’ writing for a solid plot cushioned in between made the book worth it for me, though I really wished these took centre stage instead of the over-the-top weirdness that hit me full-frontal.

Essentially, ‘Digging a Hole’ got good halfway through, as the odd bits finally, finally got left behind and the real thing kicked in, when the title finally made so much sense. I’m glad I pushed through to finish this.

three-stars

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-MillsI Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills
Series: The Hook Up #2
Published by CreateSpace, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on 29th October 2018
Pages: 209
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two-stars

Sexy Athlete: I bet you…Penelope Graham: Burn in hell, quarterback.

The text is random but Penelope figures out exactly who “Sexy Athlete” is. And why she shouldn't take his wager.

Ryker Voss. Football star. Walks on water and God's gift to women.Just ask him.

His bet? He promises Penelope he’ll win her the heart of the guy she’s been crushing on. His plan—good old-fashioned jealousy. Once her crush sees her kissing Ryker, he'll realize what he's missing. Sounds legit, right? The only question is…why is Ryker being so nice to her?

Penelope Graham. Virgin. Lover of sparkly vampires and calculus. His mortal enemy.

Penelope knows she shouldn’t trust a jock, but what’s a girl to do when she needs a date to Homecoming? And Ryker’s keeping a secret, another bet, one that could destroy Penelope’s heart forever.

Will the quarterback score the good girl or will his secrets mean everyone loses this game of love?

‘I Bet You’ started off as a mixture of odd and affected, with the protagonists acting like they’ve been pretending at being something that they’re not at first. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the high-school-type narrative—admittedly one that I wasn’t expecting at all—complete with the sorority/frat house bitch-testosterone kind of vibe was off-putting at first.

Then again, this is can probably be attributed to my growing wariness and intolerance of the N/A genre, particularly when hormonal characters are still driven by their lustful instincts, which I didn’t expect ‘I Bet You’ to be.

Add the virgin-player trope to it and I was questioning my decision to read this halfway through, but I pushed on because some reviews had suggested that this wasn’t a story that entirely stuck straight to stereotypes and an all-too-predictable ending.

Unfortunately, this didn’t fare all too well for me. Penelope at first glance, came off as flighty and insecure while trying to be spunky. Her somewhat archaic ideas coming from her bodice-ripper mind—losing her mind every single time Ryker came near, blowing hot and cold—felt even more out of place for a N/A virgin heroine who somehow managed to ensnare the usual manwhore quarterback (apparently 4 months of no-sex is a great accomplishment to laud), whose interest in someone-not-his-type seemed inexplicable.

Essentially, much of the entire book had to do with confusing game-playing (and not just in the field), hedging, chasing and pushing. What also felt like bits of the historical-romance genre sensibilities had crept into the story and threw me off quite badly because of how incongruous these were considering the college setting. By the end of it, I still found it hard to buy into a pairing which I thought could have ended up colouring outside the lines of these well-worn tropes but ultimately didn’t.

two-stars

Riven by Roan Parrish

Riven by Roan ParrishRiven by Roan Parrish
Series: Riven #1
Published by Loveswept on 29th May 2018
Pages: 262
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three-stars

Theo Decker might be the lead singer of Riven, but he hates being a rock star. The paparazzi, the endless tours, being recognized everywhere he goes—it all makes him squirm. The only thing he doesn’t hate is the music. Feeling an audience’s energy as they lose themselves in Riven’s music is a rush unlike anything else . . . until he meets Caleb Blake Whitman. Caleb is rough and damaged, yet his fingers on his guitar are pure poetry. And his hands on Theo? They’re all he can think about. But Caleb’s no groupie—and one night with him won’t be enough.

Just when Caleb is accepting his new life as a loner, Theo Decker slinks into it and turns his world upside-down. Theo’s sexy and brilliant and addictively vulnerable, and all Caleb wants is another hit. And another. That’s how he knows Theo’s trouble. Caleb can’t even handle performing these days. How the hell is he going to survive an affair with a tabloid superstar? But after Caleb sees the man behind the rock star, he begins to wonder if Theo might be his chance at a future he thought he’d lost forever.

Put together a reluctant rockstar and a supposed washout in the ever-fickle music industry and the result is a volatile cocktail that results in several life-changing decisions. Theo Decker’s fame is wholly unwanted, and like a lost little boy, wanders through the fog of being with a band that breaks every music chart but leaves him on the outside of a firm circle of friendship, until Caleb Blake Whitman powers through his life as an accidental one-night stand.

‘Riven’ is my first Roan Parrish read and I’m starting to see how it’s a style of storytelling that moves some readers to tears and others to boredom. It’s just an odd mix of purple prose and perceptive insights, but also with some New Adult traits that felt a little too naive for this entire plot. Meaning, the rest of their journey is status-quo: most of the book read like a ton of push-pull, of Caleb running away and Theo constantly taking him back (accompanied by bruising reconciliation sex)—in the name of protecting him and them in some warped way—until some sort of balance is reached, past that point of acknowledging their kind of brokenness.

The strange (and sometimes wonderful) thing about Parrish’s writing is that there isn’t quite the focus on the characters’ pasts, but rather, the sensations that their memories dredge up which then serve to reconstruct them in bits and pieces.

Caleb’s drugged-up past and subsequent rehabs? A done deal, recounted repetitively merely as a tether to the present. Theo’s broken family and the litany of self-recrimination of not being enough for anyone? Also glossed through with some of the prerequisite angst that NA books tend to shed in all the pages, written not in flashback but in dialogue or as inner monologue, as being a private failure that he can’t overcome even with his current success.

Much of ‘Riven’ is the reconciliation of emotions, of feelings, of sorting oneself out when faced with yet another obstacle too big to see behind after all, so it isn’t a surprise that with each round of repetitive self-castigation for Caleb and Theo comes some kind of deeper understanding of themselves as well. Still, this ended up as a middling read for me; I wished I was more moved by Caleb/Theo’s rocky road to happiness, but well, I found myself simply neutral by the time they rode off into their countryside sunset.

three-stars