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Zero Hour by Megan Erickson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Zero Hour by Megan EricksonZero Hour by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous #1
Published by Forever on January 30th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Hacker extraordinaire Roarke Brennan lives each hour - each breath - to avenge his brother's murder. His first move: put together a team of the best coders he knows. They're all brilliant, specialized, and every one an epic pain in his ass. Only now Wren Lee wants in too, threatening to upset their delicate balance. The girl Roarke never allowed himself to want is all grown up with sexy confidence and a dark past ... and she's the wild card he can't control.

Roarke might still think she's a kid, but Wren's been to hell and back. Nothing and nobody can stop her - especially the tatted-up, cocky-as-all-hell hacker. But when years of longing and chemistry collide, Wren and Roarke discover that revenge may be a dish best served blazing hot.

‘Zero Hour’ spoke directly to the geek in me. I blank out at many things technical, so hackers (whether they be black/white hats) written as heroes/heroines of romances are relatively new in this genre but so welcome.

I love the lingo, the geek side of things, the stuff that the deep, dark web is made of, most probably because I’ve never been able to get my mind around it. That Megan Erickson has jumped wholly on this subject has made me more than moist with excitement, with the underlying classic tropes of the forbidden best friend’s younger sister while a high-stakes hacker-style investigation into a murder brings it all together. There’s a lot of beguiling intrigue to be explored in this arena after all, and I’ve always wondered why not many authors have chosen to use this very contemporary setting along with the realistic and contemporary threats we face today to weave a pretty little tale.

Unsure as I was about how hackers would appear in this series, I was nonetheless surprised by the tattooed protagonists who sometimes acted more like members of an MC at times instead of thickly-spectacled people who were glued to their computers and surfaced bleary-eyed only for meals and sleep. Yet Erickson gets the anti-social, loner-types pat-down though, by introducing a varied, unpredictable put-together team of characters whose questionable histories are still veiled to us.

Roarke and Wren do have a hell of a backstory and a decade of separate lives that Erickson didn’t make too much of, except for the fact that pining (on both sides) went on while they moved on with others instead. Their sudden reunion—spurred on by the death of his brother and Wren’s own personal motive for revenge—however, felt almost like a coincidence, along with the hidden skills that they’d each picked up which didn’t seem to fit the hacker-skill set. Where had they had weapons training, for instance, at least enough that they would carry guns around? What sort of jobs had they done in the past 10 years that made them what they were today? Why did Wren only return now, at a time when Roarke sought revenge when the tragedy that she and her friend suffered happened years ago?

I think the questions that kept popping up dipped my enjoyment of the story somewhat and the brother’s-best-friend-to-lover trope was less convincing especially after knowing that Roarke and Wren had always wanted each other but never actively did anything about it. The ending, for all the gritty, edgy build-up, seemed a little anti-climatic with the rather convenient end of the mastermind, and the several loose threads hanging, while understandably left deliberately to set up the sequel, didn’t give the story a proper sense of closure.

In many ways, ‘Zero Hour’ reads like the establishing novel it is and while I did like how this narrative arc—the mesh of thriller and digital espionage really gets me going—seemed to be shaping up, I’m already eager to see how Erickson would explore the unstable dynamics of the ad-hoc group brought together by chance and the pairings that will come out of that.

three-stars

Roomies by Christina Lauren

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 9th December 2017
Roomies by Christina LaurenRoomies by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on December 5th 2017
Pages: 368
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four-stars

Marriages of convenience are so…inconvenient.

Rescued by Calvin McLoughlin from a would-be subway attacker, Holland Bakker pays the brilliant musician back by pulling some of her errand-girl strings and getting him an audition with a big-time musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until he admits his student visa has expired and he’s in the country illegally.

Holland impulsively offers to wed the Irishman to keep him in New York, her growing infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves from awkward roommates to besotted lovers, Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway. In the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting, what will it take for Holland and Calvin to realise that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?

Have you ever wanted something so much that you’d do anything for it, particularly when life is in limbo?

‘Roomies’ seems to revolve around this central question with the fake marriage trope, when a series of events actually leads to the courthouse to get around immigration issues, until feelings get thrown into the mix.

I’m going to say from the start that I’m quite simply blown away by Christina Lauren’s prose. That much alone kept me up late at night, though I did have to give into the pillow by the time I was a third through. Still, the meta-speak about authorship, the nuanced understanding of dreams that grow smaller and flit away as the years go by, the fear of never being the person you’ve aspired to—they’re all very adult-themes that are written into this story, woven with metaphors of performance, music and the being players on life’s very stage which I loved and wanted to linger over. How long has it been since I’ve had a book like this, after all?

This, by extension, made Holland a very relatable protagonist, well, at least up to three-quarters of the way when I empathised with her and walked in her shoes. Written wholly in her POV, the authors stripped Holland raw—the embarrassing bits don’t get put away and shoved into a closet; they were instead, brought out to light via her rambly thoughts, in a manner that had me grimacing and cringing with her because stuff to do with infatuation can’t always be remembered through rose-tinted lenses particularly when you’re confronted directly with it. By and large, I loved the slow burn, the gradual development and the deepening of Holland’s and Calvin’s connection past the crush and down to the nitty-gritties of a relationship.

But ‘Roomies’ did take a bit of an unwelcome turn that felt like unnecessary angst with small obstructions here and there, as was the whole cliché of needing to reinvent oneself or trying to find oneself in that journey to sort out the emotional mess that I found myself rolling my eyes at. That bit, that enforced separation, simply felt like a way of forcing ‘character growth’ while keeping them miserable and to some extent and wallowing in self-pity while a supposed transformative work of art was in the making during this turning point.

In movie-speak, it’s the dawning of the new day after blustery, electricity-popping thunderstorm before the HEA happens—essentially, the waxing-lyrical about the need to rediscover those years of lost self-worth.

And I hated it with a passion.

Not just the clichéd conflict but also the whole new level of Holland’s self-absorption, paranoia and low self-esteem that seemed to take the story apart after the glorious build, just as I wanted to scream that every relationship took work despite the screw-ups and that this separation felt more like running away than anything else, because no one seemed the better for it.

Kicking Calvin out to take time for herself, then getting angry when she had a glimpse of him apparently moving on and making assumptions without really finding out what happened? Just what became of the Holland of the earlier pages that I near-idolised, who in fact, seemed to have become more brittle and more cowardly than the one who meandered her way around searching for purpose a few months past her walking away? Had this break really served its purpose, then, if all I got at the end was a weepy, egg-on-her-face woman who’d lost more than I thought she’d gained?

Some may say Holland/Calvin’s HEA was hard-won. I can only shake my head and say that it could have come sooner, with a lot less drama and well, stupidity—without taking the fun out of it to boot.

four-stars

On Her Guard by Skyla Madi

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th December 2017
On Her Guard by Skyla MadiOn Her Guard by Skyla Madi
Series: Protecting Her #1
Published by Crave Publishing on December 5th 2017
Pages: 109
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two-stars

I don't know how my life got so twisted. One day, I'm working as a cash guard, shooting the tires off a stolen vehicle, and the next I'm a guard for the only daughter of high profile mob boss, Marco Ventilli.

The twist?

I've already met the five-foot-four, one hundred and ten pound bombshell that is Sera Ventilli. In fact, I've had her every way a man can have a woman and if her father ever finds out, he'll skin me alive and bury me six feet under the hot sands of Las Vegas.

I knew Sera looked like the worst kind of trouble, my gut told me she was, but she swore otherwise and I lapped up every single lie she fed me, like a Goddamn idiot.

All I had to do was make good on the promise I made to my mother on her deathbed; Leave the army, find a normal job, a good woman, and get on with my life.

Yeah. So much for that​.

I had to wonder if I was reading a different book from the others after I finished this. The premise sounded promising and the forbidden romance trope always draws me to the story like catnip. But in the end, it was this age-gap and (life experience gap, if there’s ever such a phrase) that played a huge part for me in just showing how painfully mismatched this pairing really was, with reckless rebellion being the name of the game. I only felt sorry that poor Ben was caught up in it, thanks to a one-night stand and an effortlessly-told lie about age.

There was never a moment when I thought Sera behaved like a rational, responsible adult. On the contrary, her spoilt-child, reckless and TSTL behaviour at every turn—a form of rebellious upbringing clearly—made it all the more obvious to me as the pages went on that she and Ben were ill-suited everywhere other than in bed when it was clear she was still acting the way a young adult barely out of her teens would. Flouncing from club to club, thinking of ways to escape her security detail, then causing Ben to run into trouble were simply behavioural traits I associate with pampered but sheltered and irksome princesses (be it the mafia-type or royalty) that Ben had rightly called her out on.

Apart from physical attraction and maybe a bit of daddy issues on Sera’s side, I just could not see this pairing at all, let alone her father’s approval in the very abrupt conclusion when it’d been him who’d viciously near taken Ben apart. I turned the last page feeling wholly dissatisfied, but judging from other glowing reviews, it’s clearly a problem that lies solely with me.

two-stars

Follow by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th December 2017
Follow by Tessa Bailey
Published by Tessa Bailey on October 30th 2017
Pages: 214
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two-stars

He wants her soul. Too bad she already sold it.

Family is everything to gambling den darling, Teresa Valentini. Blood comes first, especially before men. So when her brother lands himself in hot water, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save him. And showing up topless in her unwitting savior’s motel room is turning out to be the furthest thing from a hardship…

Will Caruso is the bad boy of New York’s financial scene…and he just found out the very thing that drives his success is a damn lie. Now, he’s exchanged his high-stress life for the open road, no one but his Great Dane…and half a million Instagram followers to keep him company. When a mysterious beauty arrives, her secrecy prods his suspicions, even while she tempts his lust to the breaking point.

Teresa met Will under false pretenses, but the bond consuming them is real. They’re strong enough to overcome a little betrayal…aren’t they?

The honey-trap. A hidden motive. The deception and the play for the ultimate goal. At least that’s what Teresa Valentini sets out to do to get her baby brother out of the clutches of a mafia boss. And that admittedly, is a strange proposition that she gets—to seduce his son back to his place in the financial world.

‘Follow’ banks on a very strong, animalistic instant lust attraction that moves the plot along, as Teresa’s seduction plan doesn’t quite go as expected. But the buildup is thick and fast—though not entirely easy to buy into—when the first meeting between Will and Teresa stray into hot and heavy very quickly. I felt as though their attraction was more skin-deep than anything else, particularly since Teresa was actively using her body to point Will in a direction she wanted him to go, just as it was equally hard to believe that Will was taken in by Teresa’s man-eating act enough to have her on that road trip with him simply because she intrigued him with her mysterious air and seductive posturing.

There are blustery emotions and very sensation-focused paragraphs tucked in between the slow revelations of the bits and pieces of each character and it was only after a while that I realised that the road trip is a major part of the story, when I’d actually been impatient and buckling down to get to the part where everything unravelled. And there’s no doubt that Tessa Bailey is good at this part: the drawing out of emotions, the dirty (and sometimes exaggerated) sex and the even dirtier-talking men.

But it’s here that I’ll also readily admit that Bailey’s prioritising of Will/Teresa’s sex games in all its forms over her deception was frustrating, when this type of longstanding pretence where the ultimate ‘reveal’ happens only towards the end just isn’t my kind of thing. A quarter of the book unfortunately, lingered on their dirty-talk and the a sexual push-pull vibes when I was impatient to read more about the unravelling of Teresa’s plan and Will’s discovery of her double play.

So for me, the pacing lagged in the first half—Bailey’s drawn-out descriptions of their attraction and sexual foreplay didn’t give the plot enough momentum—when the battle of wits seemed limited to the bedroom that made the first half of the story read like erotica.

I’d hoped for a clearer thread of honesty that would run through their narrative and was disappointed when it didn’t, because it felt that Will had always been the one who was more honest. It isn’t to say that Teresa’s love for her brother and her obvious like for Will weren’t broadcasting her personal conflict, but I did take issue with the depth of her betrayal and the delay with which the truth was revealed after she’d known that she’d fallen in love with him.

I’m going to say that ‘Follow’ was unfortunately, not a book that I could get into. Nothing to do with Bailey’s writing style—it’s obvious that she can and does write fantastically—but my own issues with plot and characters just got in the way for me to enjoy this at all.

two-stars

Rogue by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 6th December 2017
Rogue by Anna HackettRogue by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #8
Published by Anna Hackett on November 28th 2017
Pages: 144
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four-stars

Anna Hackett’s ‘Rogue’ is in fact, a collection of 2 stories (and 2 pairings) fitted into the typical length of her book, which is kind of a surprise considering how her Galactic Gladiators series has hit its stride. Still, ‘Rogue’ is as always, an adventure-filled book that follows a certain pattern that Hackett subscribes to: a pairing that is cemented through the undertaking of a massive quest—typically a search for something or someone—in which sparks fly, and love eventually comes along.

I’m a little uncertain about the short length of this novella duo—most of my other reviews of Hackett’s books often gripe about length and/or development of plot or relationships—though it’s easy to say as always, that there’s a lot packed into the 70-odd pages allotted to each couple here. For something already so short, Hackett’s couples do run the risk of instalove and I did get the feeling that things got hot and heavy way too quickly (along with the revelation that they’re falling in love with each other, which leaves me feeling sceptical) despite the slight buildup in the previous books.

‘Rogue’, for its 2 novellas, magnifies this problem of believability (I’m just speaking pairing-wise), but it isn’t to say that the ride isn’t a fun one. It’s wild, crazy and showcases the author’s sheer imaginative power that always brings to mind the great adventure movies with the backdrop of an epic syfy series. And obviously, I’m left still wanting more.

four-stars

Home for Christmas by Tracey Alvarez

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 5th December 2017
Home for Christmas by Tracey AlvarezHome For Christmas by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Due South #9
Published by Icon Publishing on December 1st 2017
Pages: 136
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three-stars

They’re dreaming of a White Christmas…

Carly Gatlin can’t wait to take her fiancé to Colorado for a snuggly snow-filled Christmas, only a freakish summer storm sweeps in disabling everyone’s plans. Still, with holiday surprises in store and even a secret admirer for Stewart Island’s elderly notorious matchmaker, the happy couples of Oban might not mind being home for Christmas after all.

Tracey Alvarez’s ‘Home For Christmas’ delivers such a nostalgic punch for the folks of Stewart Island, with her trademark snark and witty humour. Maybe the best part of it here is that it’s a virtually no-angst and engaging dive into a series I like very much, with a hint of more to come.

‘Home for Christmas’ is quite cleverly plotted and structured: every chapter focuses on a different pairing that had come together in her previous books (pick your favourite here) and provides the badly-needed catch-up that I need of them from time to time, even if it’s just to see how they’re getting on past their happy-ever-after, thanks to bad weather changing the best-laid plans on Stewart Island. There’s also the unique Christmas cheer and the days leading up to it small-town style and culmination of it all in the gathering of the whole township for the event, as well as a sneak-peek into the sexy cop’s story which I can’t wait for.

If anything, the sweet holiday-vibe comes on strong here, and even from another side of the world where the season are reversed, who says Christmas can’t be festive without snow?

three-stars

EXP1RE by Erin Noelle

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 3rd December 2017
EXP1RE by Erin NoelleEXP1RE by Erin Noelle
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on October 26th 2017
Pages: 168
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one-star

Numbers. They haunt me. I can't look into a person's eyes without seeing the six-digit date of their death. I’m helpless to change it, no matter how hard I try. I’ve trained myself to look down. Away. Anywhere but at their eyes.My camera is my escape. My salvation. Through its lens, I see only beauty and life—not death and despair. Disconnected from all those around me, I’m content being alone, simply existing. Until I meet him. Tavian. The man beyond the numbers. How can I stay away, when everything about him draws me in?But how can I fall in love, knowing exactly when it will expire?

I swear I felt the chills in the beginning chapter. Loved the premise, the strange oddness and the sense of foreboding that I couldn’t shake, enough to fly through the pages, and go on the armchair holiday that both Lyra and Tavian went for when a bombing at an airport derails their plans.

And if I liked their chemistry and attraction, I couldn’t shake off the blatant cheating in here when all the arguments initially put out by both Lyra and Tavian about being morally above it just fell apart because their desire trumped it. What happened to the initial self-righteous boasts about not wanting ever to be the other woman? Or not being a cheat or a lying bastard in a relationship?

That was when it all fell apart for me and everything that happened after – the sheer lack of remorse justified by the feelings they invoked in each other, the cowardice shown by Tavian, the repulsive way he treated his longterm girlfriend because he’s found his soulmate – was consequently harder and harder to swallow. I didn’t like how the story seemed to condone the cheating; neither could I like the characters for not doing anything about what they already knew was wrong, destined soulmates or not. In short, this was something I couldn’t look past and frankly, didn’t want to.

The only thing that kept me reading (though my interest had by then, waned significantly) was the twist in the story and how the author was going to resolve the problem of rewriting destiny, so to speak. A peek into the first few chapters of the second book simply showed that both protagonists had become characters I don’t recognise at all. That the author had to make the wronged party – Tavian’s Fiancée – the villain in the story when she was clearly the one who was short-changed left me flabbergasted and well, repulsed. So despite the cliffhanger ending in book 1, I’m probably more than happy to bid this goodbye, right about now.

one-star
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