Category: (Sub)Genre

Between The Lines by Sally Malcolm

Between The Lines by Sally MalcolmBetween the Lines by Sally Malcolm
Published by Carina Press on 10th December 2018
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three-half-stars

Theo Wishart has given up on finding love.

Luca Moretti doesn’t want to find it.

A handful of summer days may change their lives forever—if they’re brave enough to look between the lines.

Eyes might be windows to the soul, but for Theo Wishart they’re all shuttered. His dyspraxia makes it hard to read people. He doesn’t do relationships and he certainly doesn’t do the great outdoors. Two weeks spent “embracing beach life” while he tries to close the deal on a once great, now fading seaside hotel is a special kind of hell.

Until Luca. Gorgeous, unreachable Luca.

Luca Moretti travels light, avoiding all romantic entanglements. Estranged from his parents, he vows this will be his last trip home to New Milton. His family’s hotel is on the verge of ruin and there’s nothing Luca can do to save it. He’s given up on the Majestic, he’s given up on his family and he’s given up on his future.

Until Theo. Prickly, captivating Theo.

No mushy feelings, no expectations, and no drama—that’s the deal. A simple summer fling. And it suits them both just fine. But as the summer wanes and their feelings deepen, it’s clear to everyone around them that Theo and Luca are falling in love. What will it take for them to admit it to themselves—and to each other?

three-half-stars

Secrets Never Die by Melinda Leigh

Secrets Never Die by Melinda LeighSecrets Never Die by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #5
Published by Montlake Romance on 19th March 2019
Pages: 361
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four-stars

When a retired sheriff’s deputy is shot to death in his home, his troubled teenage stepson, Evan, becomes the prime suspect. Even more incriminating, the boy disappeared from the scene of the crime.

Desperate to find her son, Evan’s mother begs PI Lance Kruger for help. She knows her son is innocent. Kruger and defense attorney Morgan Dane want to believe that too, but the evidence against the boy is damning. Just as the trail goes cold, another deputy vanishes. His shocking connection to Evan’s stepfather throws the investigation into chaos as Lance and Morgan fear the worst…that Evan is the killer’s new target.

With so many secrets to unravel, will Lance and Morgan find him before it’s too late?

Throw in a police procedural-type story and I know Melinda Leigh can make it shine. Leigh’s Morgan Dane juggernaut—into its fifth book here—keeps rolling on and shows no sign of abating and for good reasons.

Morgan and Lance tackle a case that has gotten law enforcement into a tizzy: the murder of a retired deputy sheriff, his missing stepson and the current inclination of the authorities to blame it on the latter. The setup is admittedly formulaic (and a little anti-climatic as well) but nonetheless absorbing, easy to follow, with protagonists you know you can put your last penny behind.

I loved catching up with Morgan and Lance, whose relationship grows from strength to strength. Past the sexual tension, the getting-together, Morgan/Lance’s solid partnership is never in question. The return of the odd, power couple as a crime-solving duo is always welcome of course, yet I find that I miss the heat between them—something that Leigh now glances over—even though I liked the progression of their relationship. Essentially, much of ‘Secrets Never Die’ deals with the investigation process and the superhuman strength that both Morgan/Lance seem to possess in the few days within which the story takes place, with only a very, very faint whiff of romance even with the introduction of a potential secondary pairing of Sharp and Olivia.

In any case, Leigh’s solid writing gave me a good ol’ crime mystery to solve and if you aren’t bothered by the seeming lack of romance) ‘Secrets Never Die’ is a pretty good all rounder.

four-stars

Buried Lies by Kaylea Cross

Buried Lies by Kaylea CrossBuried Lies by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point, #2
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 27th November 2018
Pages: 228
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three-stars

She left her painful past behind.

Poppy Larsen is finally free. She moved to Crimson Point to make a new life for herself, full of bright possibilities. A whole new world awaits her, if she can find the courage to trust again—even her gorgeous neighbor, the town sheriff. But darkness lurks in the picturesque Oregon Coast town, concealing a deadly threat that’s closer than she ever imagined.

Now a killer is watching her from the shadows.

Sheriff Noah Buchanan can’t help but be intrigued by his new neighbor. She’s hard working, sexy as hell, and unlike most of the women in town, she hasn’t thrown herself at him. After it becomes clear that she plans to put down roots here, he finds himself falling more and more for Poppy and her big heart. When someone from her past tries to hurt her, it triggers all his protective instincts. But the real danger is hiding in plain sight. When the unthinkable happens, Noah is thrust into a race against time to save her before it’s too late.

‘Buried lies’ continues Kaylea Cross’s small-town romantic suspense series and it’s quite a departure from her usual offerings of military romance thrillers in war-torn places and high-level conspiracy that I’m still not too sure what to make of it. Noah Buchanan and Poppy Larsen are next in line after Sierra and Beckett to get their HEA, as Cross sets up a series that’s gentler than the fare she typically offers up and is a bit more focused on family and friendship where reaffirmation and new starts bound.

These close friendships and ties also mean that there are continual hints and setups of pairings apart from Noah/Poppy here, as Cross juggles some (tragic) drama that continues its run as part of the narrative arc of this series. There’s still some suspense that keeps you guessing nonetheless—newcomer and new shop owner Poppy is gun-shy and hiding something in her past when she moved to Crimson Point to start anew—but overall, ‘Buried Lies’ is slower paced, with a leisurely build-up that doesn’t rush into instant lust or love.

Poppy/Noah’s story is easy to read, though more predictable than I thought. Frankly, Poppy/Noah weren’t exactly standout protagonists that imprint themselves indelibly in my memory and neither was the suspense that I was hoping would leave me gasping in the wake of its high-octane fumes. I couldn’t quite tell what Noah found special about Poppy—after being a serial dater after having been dumped by his fiancée years ago—but that he suddenly wanted everything with her made it bewildering, more so because Cross uses the experienced man (or player?) versus the inexperienced woman trope here and made me cringe, even with the understandable circumstances that Poppy had found herself in.

Neither could I quite get the bizarre motivation behind Poppy being a target of a mysterious serial killer, which ultimately made the climax fall a little flat.

‘Buried Lies’ ended up as a middle-of-the-road type of read. It’s not enough for me to give up on this series, though I’ll have to say it’s probably more suited to readers who prefer romances that aren’t always going full-steam ahead with the world’s fate hanging in balance.

three-stars

Captain Rourke by Helena Newbury

Captain Rourke by Helena NewburyCaptain Rourke by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 1st September 2017
Pages: 440
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three-stars

Captain Rourke. A brooding Scottish treasure hunter who carries a sword, lives on his boat and bears the scars of a shark attack on his muscled torso. He’s the only man who can help me. A mystery disease is attacking my family and the only cure lies on a pirate ship that sank three hundred years ago. Rourke’s a loner, determined to push everyone away...but when he looks at me, he melts my clothes right off my body.

I’m a small-town girl from Nebraska. But to save my family I’ll have to take to the sea with Rourke and enter a whole new world of smugglers, sunken gold and deadly storms. In the close confines of his boat, there’s no way I can ignore that smoldering gaze, or the way my legs go weak whenever he takes hold of me. He claims he’s no hero yet he protects me like no other. ..can I save him from the pain that’s tearing him apart? I’m from the prairies; he’s from the sea. But I need to learn his world, fast, because others want what’s on that sunken ship...and they’ll kill both of us to get it.

‘Captain Rourke’ captured my imagination in a way that few contemporary romances these days do: it felt mortifyingly like an old bodice-ripper pirate romance (the sword’s included as well) only with updated technology, a mysterious and science-defying genetic illness, treasure hunts, grizzled (and clichéd) bad guys rushing after gold and multiple instances of heaving bosoms, tight nipples, bare chests and fluttering groins.

Yet Helene Newbury pulls this off with that panache typically associated with such pirate acts anyway and it’s sort of…fascinating to go through the book with a rather naive heroine who romanticises 17th century pirate affairs, a seemingly impossible (and hard to believe) quest and a jaded, crippled captain who keeps reminding himself to push away from the woman he wants.

Apart from Newbury’s trademark use of the protagonists’ exaggerated lust and extreme sexual reactions to each other, ‘Captain Rourke’ is quite the audacious (sometimes cheesy and incredible) take on the treasure-hunting tale. Repetitive phrases however, do make the story longer than I thought necessary: Rourke’s insistence that he’s just waiting to die at sea and that Hannah deserves someone better than him; both seem to have overly long meditative monologues about how their bodies stir when they are near each other, just to begin with.

The sheer amount of action makes this an easy story to go through. I did cringe many times, reminded as I was from time to time of the historical romances that I used to read quite a long, long time ago where clichés knew no bounds. But this works solely on actively suspending any sense of disbelief, so leave every last shred of reality at the door before you start.

three-stars

The Conspiracy by Kat Martin

The Conspiracy by Kat MartinThe Conspiracy by Kat Martin
Series: Maximum Security #1
Published by HQN on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.

As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.

I thought ‘The Conspiracy’ started off quite well, with the plot quickly and decisively set up: Harper Winston’s brother has gone missing and her desperation to get him back leads her to his former best friend (and the man she’d always wanted) though they haven’t been in contact for years. That this has ties to their powerful father who has shady dealings—who might have something to do with her brother’s disappearance—upped the ante from the start.

After an exciting start however, it was towards the middle that my interest started to flag. The insertions of multiple POVs, long descriptions of place, secondary characters, their personal histories and scattered pieces of the overall puzzle, simply detracted from the momentum of the main story. I skimmed, then read on when the story got back on track (rinse and repeat)—this pretty much described the entire experience throughout the book.

The initial attraction between Harper and Chase consisted mostly of individual internal monologues revolving around their lust for each other and their indecision about making a move. Still, there’s action, some twists involved and a case of major pushing away…which also happens only to a certain extent because neither Harper nor Chase can stop wanting sex with each other.

I’m not entirely sure how to put a finger on this, but reading ’The Conspiracy’ feels curiously akin to reading an older style of romance (outfitted with contemporary themes of RS and the technology of the day) with a more erotic hook, with Kat Martin’s characterisation steeping her protagonists in more ‘traditional’ roles that historical (?) romantic fiction tends to perpetuate.

In this case, Harper cried a lot, turned pale a fair bit, gasped each time as she stared at Chase’s body, was somehow naive as hell at the heart of it yet magically transformed into someone who knew how to be part of a military op. On the other hand, Chase’s eyes burned with hunger constantly as though he was on the verge of ravishing her, got hard with the slightest thought of her and pretty much played the macho man throughout. That he used their sexual attraction to get back into her good graces felt like manipulation: did Chase have to really do stupid things while knowing it would cause Harper some pain, then bend over backwards to make it up? That it had to take something so monumental for him to turnaround to decide that he wanted her permanently when he’d initially wanted a clean break with her?

Most probably it’s Kat Martin’s style that doesn’t gel with me personally. I simply thought ‘The Conspiracy’ could have been so much more (a leaner, meaner read that could have left me reeling the good way, essentially) but fell far short of my own expectations.

This isn’t a book for me clearly; from style to characters, there were quite a few things that I couldn’t really get on board with, though I can imagine that this would be a typical offering for the RS crowd from a staple RS author.

two-stars

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left Cuba by Chanel CleetonWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on 9th April 2019
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Beautiful. Daring. Deadly.

The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.

As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart...

‘When we left Cuba’ isn’t quite a sequel to Chanel Cleeton’s much-loved ’Next Year in Havana’, the latter of which I do consider one of my best reads of the year. Still, it’s a book that stands on its own feet even if it’s less sweeping than its predecessor. Still, ‘When we left Cuba’ is a compellingly written story of the oldest Perez sister who struts her way through the pages, armed with the thirst for revenge as she somehow moseys her way into the clutches of the CIA while tangling with a senator whose a player in politics and in every sense of the word.

Within the fodder material of the fabled and many attempts of the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro is where Cleeton posits Beatriz Perez after her escape from Cuba, navigating the thorny issues of policy and politics of the time. Bold, hot-headed and reckless, Beatriz carves a path for herself that’s as treacherous as you’d expect, resulting in having her loyalties sorely tested as her decisions change the course of her life.
Cleeton writes in favour of long, descriptive passages of place and emotion; the pace is slower as a result, the plot a little more convoluted. The romance isn’t quite the focus here; rather, Beatriz herself is the star of the show, front and centre. Her long, longstanding affair with a powerful senator is carried out amidst society’s expectations and the uncertain political climate, a subplot that runs alongside her involvement with the CIA.

I’ll admit though, that it is harder to be singularly or emotionally invested in Beatriz completely as I was in Cleeton’s first book about Elisa and her granddaughter. Undoubtedly, Beatriz is a colourful character who stands out sharply—sometimes too painfully sharply like a woman cut from a different cloth—not just by means of her birth but also her life experiences, but ultimately, she’s still a protagonist whose story I read about from a distance as she made her own small stamp on history, for better or worse.

Cleeton’s impactful writing carries it all here, despite the odd hollowness I felt about Beatriz by the end. It’s what took me through the politics, the lies, the dirty games and the passing of time within the pages after all and it’s what keeps me coming back.
three-stars

Saving the Princess by Helena Newbury

Saving the Princess by Helena NewburySaving the Princess by Helena Newbury
Published by Foster & Black on 23rd January 2018
Pages: 430
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She's a princess. I'm a 6'6" former Marine who grew up on a farm. I know I've got no business being around someone like her. But she's so gorgeous, so gentle and sweet, I can't look away. Then someone tries to kill her. And for the first time in years, I find something worth fighting for.

She's no spoiled brat. She's brave and smart...she's the leader her country needs. But powerful people want her dead. To keep her safe, I have to go on the run with her. But every time I say "your highness," all I can think about is kissing those sweet lips and tearing that dress right off her. Neither of us can resist...but if I let her get close, she's going to see how broken I am inside. As her country spins towards war, I'm the only one who can protect her. I'm no prince. But I *will* save my princess.

I’m typically hesitant to read about fictional countries and royalty because my own mental map of Europe is set in reality as it is. Implausibility is what I struggle with the most in such romances that involve contemporary aristocrats who hail from yet another European country that doesn’t exist and the hard-to-believe factor shoots way up. So ‘Saving the Princess’ was a book that I waded in softly, softly, even when the world of difference between Kristina and Garrett became blindingly painful to read about, even as we’re plunged straight into the aftermath of an ill-fated flight that brings a jaded American ex-Marine into the path of an innocent princess.

I did think this imbalance between them needed some addressing however, at least for them to be considered equals before I could buy into them as a pairing. Helena Newbury’s enthusiasm in highlighting the rough-hewn vs. the royal, the naive innocent vs. the cynical, the protector and the victim—essentially polar opposites—also had the unwitting effect of creating a huge and nearly insurmountable gap in terms of experience between Garrett and Kristina.

Instead, there were paragraphs dedicated to their initial and relentless attraction and how much Garrett and Kristina wanted to get hot and heavy with each other (too many long descriptions of bulging biceps, smooth skin, how they wanted to rip each other’s clothes off), which detracted from the growing emotional connection that could have been more clearly brought out. So there was instant lust, but also unbending loyalty from the start and not a small amount of wanting body parts wanting to merge and wobble, but there was also a fairytale element in here as Garrett and Kristina were repeatedly put in situations where she simply needed constant rescuing.

The surprising thing however, was that it didn’t just end there. Where most books end after a building conflict, Newbury pushes it a step further with a whodunnit-mystery, adding impossibility for both Garrett and Kristina to be together after they left US soil to face yet more insurgents in her home country. As absorbing as some scenes were, ultimately, I still had a problem with the believability factor: some events and circumstances were too coincidental and too easy at times to pave the way forward for both Kristina and Garrett. By the end, I finished the book with an eyebrow still cocked in reluctant scepticism instead of waving a ‘kerchief saying ‘long live the princess (and Garrett)’.