Category: Reviews

Tame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Tame Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezTame Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Far North #6
Published by Tracey Alvarez on 15th March 2019
Pages: 288
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Loving your enemy is harder than you’d think…

Tui Ngata loathes the Griffin family after a wildfire tore through her family farm seventeen years ago and her father was accused of starting it. While on vacation in a tropical paradise she’s able to forget the bone-deep feud with her neighbors and find one night of pleasure in the arms of a handsome stranger. Until she finds out this stranger isn’t who she thought he was…

After his uncle died in the tragic fire that destroyed hundreds of acres of his family farm, Architect Kyle Griffin has made a life for himself far away from Bounty Bay. But he’s drawn back, forced into sorting out the mess and drama his Grandfather’s death has left behind. The distraction is hopefully one way to forget the beautiful woman who’s haunted his every waking moment since the end of his vacation. Except he can’t forget her, especially when he discovers the lasting consequences which will forever unwillingly bind them together.

But someone doesn’t want Kyle and Tui falling in love. And that someone is willing to raze their lives to ashes to prevent them fraternizing with the enemy.

Well, let’s start with this.

Tracey Alvarez’s writing always holds a special place in my reader-heart. There’ve been many times when I’ve favourited some of her books from either the Far North or the Down South series, but unfortunately, ‘Tame Your Heart’ isn’t quite one of them, even if it’s a long-awaited return to a stubborn Ngata sibling and a guy who, from the enemy-side of the fence, shouldn’t be a fantastic man but is—just as the former just refuses to see it.

And the story’s got enough hooks to pull you in, with several elements put together well enough—bad blood and even worse history between families, an accidental pregnancy, a one-night stand with the ‘enemy’, a small mystery—to keep the pages turning. What I did appreciated, was Alvarez’s subtle, nuanced portrayal of the Maori and their very personal connections to the land that they have, the stigma that had grown around the injustices they faced (and by extension, the indirect reference to the cultural trauma that they’ve suffered).

The addition of a fat ginger cat, is a bonus.

But what then, do you do, when you like 1 half of the pairing Alvarez has written and absolutely loathe the other?

I’ve always found it a fine line between someone trying to assert his/her independence and being obnoxious or TSTL about it and Tui Ngata fell into the latter category. In fleeing the very stigma she’d feared she’d become when she was a teen, Tui became the opposite thing she was afraid of: still stuck in a different rut of her own, a flight risk with a penchant for running and bolting at everything when she felt threatened at the ripe old age of 31 seeking to have fun and never being tied down.

I had a problem with her ‘wild-child’ character personally; counting the number of times she tried to leave, or storm out or deflect when the going got tough made me lose my patience with her just as Kyle seemed to have his own work cut out for him: to do everything within his means to get a fully-grown adult to learn what commitment is, who regressed into a teenage version of her hormonal self at every turn someone tried to be reasonable with her. Free-spirited she was not; instead I found her cowardly immature and rebellious for the sake of being so because she could, prone to making things all about herself and determined to deny/belittle what she had with Kyle just so that she could bail out.

My rating reflects my own conflict about the book and probably about the series so far. It’s also one that’s more disappointed than disapproving, where I wished the romance and the characters could have been done differently. The bottomline is this: there was so much I wanted to like—my own unreasoning love for New Zealand playing a big part of it along with Alvarez’s writing—and so much more I wished I could have rooted for.

three-stars

Griff by Anna Hackett

Griff by Anna HackettGriff by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #17
on March 17th 2019
Pages: 186
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-half-stars

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

Squad Three berserker Griff lived through hell long before the alien invasion. Once, he’d been a dedicated cop, but then in a gut-wrenching betrayal, he ended up behind bars in a supermax prison. After the aliens invaded, he managed to escape and join the soldiers fighting back…and came face to face with his best friend’s little sister—the bold, vibrant, off-limits woman he’s always wanted. Now the beautiful, tattooed Indy is his squad’s comms officer…and she hates his guts.

Indy Bennett lost her parents and brother in the alien attack, and every day, she vows to suck the marrow out of life. She’s also doing her bit in the fight, as Squad Three’s comms officer, even if it means seeing the man who broke her young heart. Griff was once her brother’s best friend, a boy she adored, but now she knows she needs to steer clear of the hard-edged man who still draws her like a moth to a flame.

Griff vows to claim Indy as his. The only problem is, Indy is having none of it. As their fiery attraction explodes, they find themselves embroiled in the hunt for the aliens’ unexplained octagon weapon, and a mysterious survivor town where all is not what it seems. Both Griff and Indy will have to learn to let go of the hurts of the past if they have any chance of not just surviving, but having a future.

I’ve so missed the Hell Squad series and ‘Griff’ is a return to something that has been a lengthy absence in Anna Hackett’s post-apocalyptic world for quite a long time. It’s back to alien-squashing, living to fight yet another day as the squads do battle against bug-ugly, dinosaur-like invaders.

What I liked was the slow expansion of the universe yet again, the insertion of a slightly different sub-plot here and I do sort of scent the end of the series coming, or at least, one that closes out this huge arc that started 17 books ago, though the potential for spin-offs or side-stories is near limitless.

With Griff and Indy however…

The brother’s best-friend trope has always made me raise my brows a little in any case. Why would there be a so-called bro-code of never going after the sister unless your best friend’s an arse of massive proportions, which then would lead me to question why you’d even have such an arse for a best friend. But if you’re a standup, good bloke, then the bro-code wouldn’t be an issue at all, would it?

Indy and Griff sort of fitted into this pattern from the start and while Hackett did write a love-hate sort of relationship with Indy pushing Griff away after his initial rejection, the question of why Griff decided that he wanted Indy only now, when he didn’t do a thing about it (and even was engaged to someone else) for the past decade at all went unaddressed. Still, their romance, the secrets Griff hid and their heavy pasts did feel somewhat glossed over in favour of the instant lust/sex, and because an alien invasion and getting injured in the line of duty apparently seemed to trump every rejection and feelings of resentment built up over the years. There was more of a story there or at least, should have been more of a story there that I felt could have been told.

Still, I can’t say I regret the action and the suspense, particularly now so that the endgame seems to loom ever nearer. Griff and Indy weren’t as quite unique a pairing as some of the others that Hackett has written, but as far as the build-up of what felt like a coming final battle, that’s got me already clenching in anticipation.

three-half-stars

Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh

Rebel Hard by Nalini SinghRebel Hard by Nalini Singh
Series: Hard Play #2
Published by TKA Distribution on 18th September 2018
Pages: 409
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-half-stars

Nayna Sharma agreed to an arranged marriage in the hope it would heal the fractures in her beloved family… only to realize too late that a traditional marriage is her personal nightmare. Panicked, she throws caution to the winds, puts on the tiniest dress she can find, and ends up in the arms of a tall, rough-edged hunk of a man who has abs of steel—and who she manages to mortally insult between one kiss and the next.

Abandoned as a child, then adopted into a loving family, Raj Sen believes in tradition, in continuity. Some might call him stiff and old-fashioned, but he knows what he wants—and it’s a life defined by rules… yet he can’t stop thinking about the infuriating and sexy woman who kissed him in the moonlight then disappeared. When his parents spring an introduction on him, the last woman he expects is her.

Beautiful. Maddening. A rulebreaker in the making.

He’s all wrong for her. She’s all wrong for him. And love is about to make rebels of them both.

Nalini Singh gives us a slice of the unique Fijian/Kiwi Indian culture in ‘Rebel Hard’ where strongly-held Indian traditions grudgingly meet the modern (and supposedly declining) standards of modern dating.

And for many who love diversity and the cultural spotlight Singh shines here, ‘Rebel Hard’ is the book to go to.

The weight of family expectations is pushed hard on Nayna Sharma’s shoulders, more so after her rebellious sister broke her parents’ hearts but Raj Sen—the chosen one and the very one she rebels against even though her body says otherwise—is determined to woo her until she caves. The rest really, are just the details…and there are tons of those to soak in, like a visual feast that after a while, did get a bit too much.

Yet getting down to ‘Rebel Hard’ turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some parts read like a documentary almost and others, like a perfectly choreographed Bollywood show, of a culture that stands so differently on its own: the blindingly colourful saris and the vibrant multicolours that I associate with the big weddings, to the arranged marriages and the rom-com that Singh writes into the gaps of these dearly-held institutions.

There’s a strange mix I guess, of the fine lines drawn, the boundaries that can be overstepped and those that can’t (or shouldn’t) in the world of arranged marriages—something so foreign to me—but a whole lot of repetitiveness as well, of saris and cooking and talking about all and naught, of beading nipples and soaked panties.

In short, I suspect this would have worked better as a novella for me: it started out sparkling and fun, then flattened out somewhat near the middle onwards, where the forward momentum just got lost in the tangle of yet more colourful clothing, indecision and the two-steps-forward-one-step-back type of dance.

two-half-stars

Tormented by Alison Aimes

Tormented by Alison AimesTormented by Alison Aimes
Series: The Condemned #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 29th 2019
Pages: 266
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-half-stars

She was never meant to be his…

Two ruthless enemies.
One cage.
Zero chance of escape.
An explosive lust that can’t be contained.

Council assassin Jade Lakotesh survives by trusting no one. Attachments a weakness. Sex a weapon. Her mission success rate flawless. Until she ends up naked, captured, and collared, her latest assignment in jeopardy. The blame for her predicament: the hothead, scarred man who prowls the cage beside her—his confusing appeal a danger she has no idea how to neutralize.

Ex-Resistance fighter Walsh Ryker hit rock bottom with the deaths of those he loved most. Now, he’s plummeted to a new low, trapped with a cellmate as ice cold as she is stunningly hot. She’s out for blood, lacks any ability to cooperate…and leaves him more alive than he’s been in years. For a man no longer interested in feeling anything at all, she may be the greatest hazard he’s faced to date.

As danger mounts and they must work together to defeat a shared threat, will the unwelcome passion between these two enemies entomb them in the dark forever—or be the key that sets them free?

It has been quite a while since I’ve returned to Alison Aimes’s ‘The Condemned’ series, but it’s entertaining as hell with a bit of a spin to the tale of enemies-to-lovers and a flashy, bloody and violent B-movie erotica vibe.

I was hoping in some ways, for a continuation for Bella and Caine’s story after the first book. But Aimes is taking the series in a different direction and I’m slowly coming round to it, as her focus shifts onto the inhabitants of the brutal penal planet Dragath25 and the slow unravelling of the politics between a dystopian earth and corruption that shows good/evil is not as it seems.

Aimes pits the cold, robotic Jade Lakotesh against former resistance fighter-turned-slave Walsh Ryker and it’s not at all smooth-sailing from start to end, but I was surprised—pleasantly—by the twists and turns in story, and the gradual expansion of the world-building that seemed to be gaining steam without any signs of flagging. Essentially, it was much more than what the blurb suggested and much more than what I was expecting and that always turns out well.

The instant lust that made me cringe aside, Aimes does handle character and pacing quite well (there were parts that had me rather frustrated with them both nonetheless). Still, the biggest draw of ‘Tormented’ isn’t just about Jade and Ryker, but rather, the sudden opening up of the penal planet ‘verse and the insertions of so many secondary characters that have so much untapped potential.

Sure, it’s flashy and sometimes, probably a little gratuitous when it comes to sex and violence – the amount of dirt and dust had me cringing during the smutty scenes that went on as though these were niggly details not worth bothering about – but at its most basic, this was a fun, roller-coaster ride.

three-half-stars

Motion by Penny Reid

Motion by Penny ReidMotion by Penny Reid
Series: Laws of Physics #1
Published by Everafter Romance on 12th February 2019
Pages: 200
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
one-star

One week.
Home alone.
Girl genius.
Unrepentant slacker.
Big lie.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Mona is a smart girl and figured everything out a long time ago. She had to. She didn’t have a choice. When your parents are uber-celebrities and you graduate from high school at fifteen, finish college at eighteen, and start your PhD program at nineteen, you don’t have time for distractions outside of your foci. Even fun is scheduled. Which is why Abram, her brother’s best friend, is such an irritant.

Abram is a talented guy, a supremely gifted musician, and has absolutely nothing figured out, nor does he seem to care. He does what he feels, when he feels, and—in Mona’s opinion—he makes her feel entirely too much.

Intellectual, estranged-from-family Mona gets a call from her not-close, flamboyant and irresponsible twin who’s in big trouble, to masquerade as her and head back to the family home where some random musician friend of their brother is waiting for her. Needless to say, if the story was based on a premise so ridiculous I couldn’t even take a proper step into believing a part of the establishing scene, getting through the rest was hard.

There’re pages of Mona attempting to behave as flighty as she can as she apes her sister, and as she navigates the murky circumstances that break her ordered, academic life into one of chaos, the real fear is that she’ll break character in front of Abram.

Huh.

Penny Reid’s quirky writing has always been a hit or a miss for me, but ‘Motion’ was long headed towards the ‘miss’ category when there were just too many questions that I couldn’t get properly addressed.

Why on earth was it important for Mona to stay in character? Was pretending to be her twin that much of a life and death matter? That she’d jumped into this venture so unquestioningly just felt rather out of character for the ordered, logical scientist I’d thought she was, and the quick, unwitting slide down into Alice’s Wonderland (or some weird version of a rom-com dealing with dual and/or mistaken identities) make the whole experience too bizarre to shake off.

And while the ton of questions that exist were probably deliberately planted by Reid—this book’s only the first third of the 3-book series after all—, I’m not too sure I can continue following Mona’s path that simply felt purposeless and too absurd to begin with…along with way too many wtf moments that I couldn’t ignore.

Maybe I’ll come back to this one day, when I’m a bit more indulgent and more willing to be taken a few rounds around the merry-go-round. But till then, consider this review and my take on Reid’s book an anomaly.

one-star

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistonRed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on 14th May 2019
Pages: 432
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-half-stars

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

‘Red, White and Royal Blue’ is an indulgent afternoon fix, really, but so unique in its application of the British royals and American ‘royalty’ in romantic fiction. Enemies-to-lovers, diversity in politics (or diversity full-stop), bisexuality, blended-families and the problems that come with divorced parents (top political figures aren’t’ exempt)…well, there’s representation everywhere here in the form of all the characters, protagonists and secondary ones alike. In fact, it tries very hard to be as inclusive as possible as and Casey McQuiston gives it all in spades, though at times it does feel it’s more like a defiant stance of portraying diversity for the sake of it, or at least, to relentlessly pound home the point that the world isn’t as binary as many make it out to be.

In some alternate world where the timeline splits after Obama exits stage left, Alex Claremont-Diaz—the flamboyant First Son—and Prince Henry of Wales dance towards each other in a myriad of ways that are filled with uber-sass, pseudo-hostility, snarky quirk and everything in between that you could think of. It’s the theatrical kind of drama across the Atlantic and back again, where characters larger than life strut through the pages always making themselves seen and felt, where you sometimes feel your own mouth quirking upwards in amusement. And it’s hard not to be riveted as Alex and Henry navigate the complicated journey that’s made of thorns, double-crossings, back-stabbings and traditions that really, should be considered outdated at best.

Still, some parts made me snort and giggle; other parts made me skim. I did enjoy this overall, but it took me longer than I thought it would and perhaps this does factor into the final rating I’m giving this read nonetheless.

Good writing however, is indisputable and McQuiston’s extremely confident and assured writing carries the whole book through: there’s a certain breathless quality to it as a crazy whirlwind of thoughts and activities come in a huge, long stream of commas, and prove to be as hysterical as much as it’s irreverent and weird in a way that can only happen in fiction.

three-half-stars

In Dark Water by Leslie Tentler

In Dark Water by Leslie TentlerIn Dark Water by Leslie Tentler
Series: Rarity Cove #3
Published by Left Field Press on February 5th 2019
Pages: 236
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-half-stars

One year after the tragic loss of her husband, Mercer Leighton returns home to Rarity Cove to be near family and resume her former job at the St. Clair resort. Feeling adrift in life, what she doesn’t count on is being witness to a double murder in nearby Charleston’s French Quarter.

Charleston Homicide Detective Noah Ford is no stranger to the dark, violent side of humanity. Nor is he happy about the lone eyewitness in his investigation being part of one of the South Carolina Lowcountry’s most prominent families. However, when an attempt is made on the beautiful widow’s life, Noah vows to protect her.

As it becomes increasingly clear that the killer will stop at nothing to eliminate the witness, Noah also begins to suspect the presence of a traitor in his own department. After a stunning betrayal, he is forced to take Mercer into hiding to keep her alive. As the two fight for survival, they also fight the simmering attraction between them.

But the killer is out there, and he refuses to give up.

A return to Leslie Tentler’s Rarity Cove after so long took a bit of re-orienting, a bit of catching up, but the slow build-up of ‘In Dark Water’ makes it very easy to jump into Mercer Leighton’s and Noah Ford’s story after Mercer unwittingly witnesses a murder and eventually finds herself at the hands of law enforcement as they scramble to take her into protection when it becomes evident that she’s next on the hit list.

There isn’t much unpredictable about the plot however: the homicide detective and widowed witness fall for each other, the leak in the law enforcement ranks, a criminal out for revenge, but I thought the execution of it was quite well done and that alone made the story worth savouring. Mercer and Noah were not just believable together, but Tentler’s measured pacing, the explosive action in the last quarter and the sensitive way she writes of their progressing relationship—adulting is done pretty well here, so no complaints from me—probably made ‘In Dark Water’ my favourite in this series.

My preference for more explicit, lusty smut between them and higher-octane action—essentially higher highs and more breathtaking swoops of passion I guess—that most likely stems from B-grade movie leftovers is probably a petty one, considering how much I liked this.

By and large, this latest offering from Tentler reminded me why I do wish her new books could some somewhat faster. I do like her law enforcement heroes and Noah’s one whom I immediately grouped into this odd, cop-sized shape compartment that I have for them. And while it might be a story that’s probably done in some variation or other, ‘In Dark Water’ is one I’ll remember for some time.

four-half-stars