Category: (Sub)Genre

Huge Deal by Lauren Layne

Huge Deal by Lauren LayneHuge Deal by Lauren Layne
Series: 21 Wall Street, #3
Published by Montlake Romance on 23rd April 2019
Pages: 268
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three-stars

An alpha among the wolves of Wall Street, Kennedy Dawson rose to the top of the pack by striking the right contracts at the right times. But there’s one deal that’s been giving him a run for his money—a pact to never again let his assistant, Kate, get under his skin. She may be smart, gorgeous, and sharp as a whip, but she’s definitely off-limits.

Kate Henley isn’t a banker, but she knows a thing or two about risk management—specifically, about managing her attraction to her smolderingly sexy boss. She already fell once, and Kennedy showed no sign of paying a return on her investment. So when Kennedy’s brother starts pursuing her, Kate figures she has the best of both worlds. Jack is charming, rich, very attentive, and the spitting image of his older brother.

It’s also making Kennedy think twice. But to win Kate’s heart, he’ll have to broker the deal of a lifetime…and prove he’s worth the risk.

It’s been a while since I’ve bene on the Lauren Layne boat, and ‘Huge Deal’ was one that I stepped into warily. Layne’s recent works have revolved around certain tropes and themes (questionable ones for me at least, when they seem to have to do with sibling dating, manwhores, oblivious/unrequited love) that have made it hard to fully like her books.

And lordy, how do I even begin with this?

Yes, there are feels. And yes, my chest hurt, mostly for Kate, but ultimately, I was left with too many doubts left unassuaged, shadowed instead by feel-good platitudes, of talk but not enough grit and fight in a relationship. Especially one that begins with unrequited emotions.

First, let’s get this out of the way: there’s no question that Layne can write and quite perceptively too. There’s angst, the outpouring of emotions, some nuanced looks at human behaviour in ‘Huge Deal’…but there’s also the uncomfortable underlying implications that affections could be transferred fast and that easily with the slight hint here of double-dipping, that appearances mattered greatly when Kennedy only noticed Kate after her mini-makeover which I couldn’t shake off.

Kenendy’s utter obliviousness to Kate, his underestimation of her, his under-appreciation for her for years when it was clear she had a thing for him was painful to read about. His accidental and meaningless put-downs made it worse—or that he often made it sound like he thought nothing of her except as an assistant—didn’t make the case for coupledom any easier, until Jack the younger brother came on the scene.

Why did it have to take a little bit of competition from his brother, for God’s sake, for Kennedy to wake up and see that Kate was a woman worth being with? That without Jack to peel the blinkers off Kennedy’s eyes, Kate couldn’t stand on her own merit and be deserving of that same attention without the makeover? Would Kate and Kennedy otherwise have gone on their own individual trajectories had Jack not intervened? Would Kennedy have not bothered about Kate otherwise?

The bottomline is, many of these burning questions—appearing when some tropes themselves appear—weren’t sufficiently addressed for me to buy into Kate/Kennedy, not when I found myself reading about affections that were too shakeable, too transferable, too easily swayed, where it had to take a mountain-moving revelation or makeover for an unattainable man to finally notice the woman who’d always been in front of him while going through a score of others in the meantime.

The reversal of everything in the last quarter of the book was surprising to say the least, as Kennedy ironically played catch up and took every effort to convince Kate—whose own POV on love had changed. In fact, I needed Layne to address the imbalance of emotions more or at least why it’d taken Kennedy this much to see her for what she was, but it seemed as though she’d taken another way out with a whole emotional twist that simply felt out of character for Kate.

With the sudden rush to an abrupt ending—the ending conflict was up and done too quickly for my liking—I was still left with the feeling that Kennedy hadn’t put himself out there enough, hadn’t fought for the both of them enough, hadn’t been put through the emotional agony enough, hadn’t made himself more vulnerable enough.

That Kate had all along, been the more multi-faceted character with the most growth and change didn’t exactly put them as equals as ‘Huge Deal’ rolled up to a quick HEA that left me less than convinced at a pairing that should and could have been more tested in a crucible that never quite burned hot enough.

three-stars

Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52, #4
Published by Anna Hackett on 10th February 2019
Pages: 149
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three-half-stars

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers.

As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

‘Mission: Her Defense’ starts off as Kill Bill on steroids as cursed Japanese swords find themselves in the wrong hands, thus necessitating the need for Team 52 to step in. Though since it encroaches on Las Vegas Metropolitan Police turf, it means that Blair Mason and Luke Kincade cross paths (and later, body fluids) once again.

It’s not quite a rivalry between them that’s been sufficiently explained, but Blair/Luke’s fractious relationship is one that has been building for some time and is rather similar to Darcy Ward’s and Alastair Burke’s rival-to-lovers tale in the neighbouring ‘Treasure Hunter series’. Blair straddles the line between being fearless and foolhardy—the definition of bad-assery doesn’t necessarily have to extend to impulsively jumping into every fight scene—and there were too many moments when I thought ‘Slow down, woman, stop pushing away and stop being stupid!’ needed to be her mantra.

The story does start off awesomely exciting, though. With more blood-lust than the usual action blood-spilling scenes, incorporating mythology from Japanese sword-making, I was absorbed in the setup immediately, though it went a little flat for me later when the plausible scientific explanation that Hackett gave for the strange phenomenon occurring became a little too thick to swallow.

As with the typical Hackett read these days, there’s more than a hint of a quick slide into love (or lust?) before before both protagonists really get to know each other…but perhaps, the brevity of every story she puts out has made every pairing inevitably so, unless it has been one that has been hinted at over the course of several books. Still, I can’t deny that there are bits about Hackett’s other series that I miss more than her latest books, even if her imaginative writing is as strong as ever.

three-half-stars

Overture by Skye Warren

Overture by Skye WarrenOverture by Skye Warren
Published by Skye Warren on 19th February 2019
Pages: 176
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Forbidden fruit never tasted this sweet…

The world knows Samantha Brooks as the violin prodigy. She guards her secret truth—the desire she harbors for her guardian.

Liam North got custody of her six years ago. She’s all grown up now, but he still treats her like a child. No matter how much he wants her.

No matter how bad he aches for one taste.

Her sweet overtures break down the ex-soldier’s defenses, but there’s more at stake than her body. Every touch, every kiss, every night. The closer she gets, the more exposed his darkest secret.

She’s one step away from finding out what happened the night she lost her family. One step away from leaving him forever.

Skye Warren’s daring forbidden themes have been my catnip for a while and I jumped on ‘Overture’ for this very reason. A warning caveat about the edginess of this story: Warren respects the consensual age limit, though the age-gap between guardian and ward along with the barely-legal, forbidden but very erotic vibe here however, would be a no-go for some.

Security-firm owner Liam North’s and music-prodigy Samantha Brooks’s slowly changing relationship is where ‘Overture’ begins—during a transition point that has established norms getting flipped on their ends, leaving both Liam and Samantha at a loss when it comes to behaving around each other.

Liam is understandably conflicted and resistant (perhaps rightly so, considering his position) about desiring and seeing Samantha other than a ward to protect, though his lack of staying power, his blowing hot and cold to the very end got incredibly frustrating. Yet their smouldering connection, built up slowly through a careful interplay of push and pull and several stunning, near-erotic encounters, was one that I found myself enthralled by and left wanting more than just the accidental, hurried sexual encounter at the end–Warren’s nuanced writing carries it all.

There’s an inkling early on however, that ‘Overture’ isn’t simply a forbidden romance where 2 people try to bridge the age-gap. What threw me off was the somewhat divergent plotline of Liam’s security business, the insertion of his brothers and their activities and the mysterious history surrounding Samantha’s early childhood years that intruded in separation that came at the end. So clearly, the under-developed plot and the unhappy, unfinished ending were the story’s biggest downer, even with the promise of more to come.

I do like Warren’s prose however, and the use of music and the multiple metaphors that you can draw from it as the bridging device drew me in from the start. Being left unsatisfied with the lack of a veritable HEA is how I finished this read nonetheless, though I’m counting on the sequel to rectify this.

Back to You by Kimberly Kincaid

Back to You by Kimberly KincaidBack to You by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Remington Medical #1
on 12th February 2019
Pages: 269
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four-stars

Parker Drake wants exactly one thing—to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor. Between his reputation as a rule-breaker and the six years that have passed since his first internship ended in disaster, he knows he’s only getting one shot at a second chance. He’ll do anything to put the past behind him and reach his goal…including work with the gorgeous ex-wife he’s never gotten over losing.

All work and no play make surgeon Charleston Becker a very happy woman. But when she’s tasked with mentoring her ex-husband through his second chance as an intern, her signature calm is put to the test. She’s not interested in re-hashing the heartbreaking circumstances that ended their marriage, and the six years that have passed haven’t made Parker less reckless. The last thing she’s willing to do is trust him—even if she does find him sexier than ever.

But familiarity breeds forgiveness, which then becomes a passion that threatens the careers Parker and Charlie have worked for. Can they turn their second chance into a happy ending? Or is history bound to repeat itself?

Within the murky trope of second-chance stories, there are a few—with a lot of conditions attached, I must admit—that do work out for me.

Kimberly Kincaid’s ‘Back To You’ quite bravely tackles this as the full story behind Charlie’s and Parker’s past slowly unfolded in the midst of all the medical drama (think Grey’s anatomy, ER, House and a boatload of other shows like these) that made Remington Med come alive.
So some of the medical procedures and conditions made me squirm. But aside from the pleasant surprise from the rest of the Station Seventeen crew who made themselves seen and heard, I thought Kincaid’s new secondary characters were generally well-inserted and fleshed out the Parker/Charlie’s story quite nicely in a micro-world-building of sorts—enough at least, to make this a solid establishing read.
There’s nary a dull moment from start to finish: from the frenzied rush of the daily cases at the hospital, to the human drama that inevitably comes with it. Parker and Charlie find themselves in the unfortunate posts of intern and attending while rediscovering the spark they both thought had long gone.
And having understood both their positions, it was hard I guess, to shift the blame on either of them for their divorce considering the circumstances that surrounded it and their clashing personalities even though it’d initially seemed as though circumstances favoured Charlie’s side of the story. Instead, I found Parker an intriguing mix of reckless, compassionate and emotionally open…an all-in protagonist that grew on me like a weed.
By and large, I did like how their journey went from hostility to reconciliation to wanting to be with each other seriously again, so there aren’t many complaints from me here. (No mention of either’s dating history in the intervening years apart made me an even happier reader, somehow)
So in short, ‘Back To You’ is a pretty good start to a new series…that the crew from Station Seventeen play peripheral roles here is an additional treat I didn’t expect.
four-stars

Cold & Deadly by Toni Anderson

Cold & Deadly by Toni AndersonCold & Deadly by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice: Crossfire #1
Published by Toni Anderson on 12th February 2019
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Hostage Negotiators can talk themselves out of anything—except falling in love.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dominic Sheridan is an accomplished expert in the Crisis Negotiation Unit. Practiced, professional, used to dealing with high-stake situations under tense conditions, Dominic is a master at manipulating people. Everyone, that is, but the headstrong rookie agent bent on destroying her fledgling career.

As a child, Ava Kanas put her life on the line when the mob executed her father. Now someone has killed her mentor, the man who inspired her to become an FBI agent—and she’s the only one who recognizes it was anything but a tragic accident.

When another agent is murdered and Dominic nearly dies, it becomes obvious a serial killer is targeting the FBI. Together Dominic and Ava search for clues in the investigation, all the while fighting a forbidden attraction that will complicate everything, especially when the predator sets their sights on Ava.

The marvellous Toni Anderson scores again. ‘Cold & Deadly’ is the latest incarnation or rather, the first of the spin-off books of her FBI agents series, and with it comes the same fantastic, faultless type of writing that reminds me why I love romantic suspense so much.

SSA Dominic Sheridan and rookie agent Ava Kanas find themselves embroiled what apparently looked like a simple case of a retired agent committing suicide, where soon it becomes clear that  someone is targeting the FBI agents themselves as Dominic soon finds himself in the crosshairs of an investigation that blows up beyond his imagination.

From the onset, it becomes clear that the case is a winding, gritty and absorbing one, so vividly painted—even with the sub-plot/diversion that was equally hair-raising—with the bleak but brutal shadow of violent deaths and the warped minds of serial killers. There’s no doubt at all that Anderson can write and does it superbly (I think I can’t say this enough about the quality of her prose), as her protagonists and secondary characters are so cohesively put together that any prerequisite knowledge of her previous books isn’t needed to get lost in this tale of grand revenge, edgy paranoia, spellbinding action sequences and unintended (or forbidden?) attraction.

Yet my only gripe, strangely, is about the romance, which I found sidelined amidst the rocking suspense. Dominic and Ava, pushed together incidentally, and their growing attraction is predictable though not without the amount of cold water each pours on the future of this so-called relationship. There’re so many reasons why this pairing wouldn’t work—Anderson herself provides these reasons in the protagonists’ individual musings—and I was left ironically convinced that ‘Cold & Deadly’ would still have been a brilliant (or perhaps, even superb?) read if the romance hadn’t been even included at all.

The shining light here however, was probably Ava Kanas herself. My perspective on her went from dour to admiring to uncertain, but what remained consistent was that Anderson had drawn up a pretty complex, passionate and multi-faceted protagonist who felt like a contradictory piece of work on so many levels, yet owned a big heart that made it impossible not to feel for her when push came to shove. Dominic Sheridan in contrast, felt like he was left a little paler in the shade: more remote, more like the poor rich boy who shunned commitment, who made a name for himself independently in law enforcement in spite of his rich family’s connections, suddenly questioning what he can commit to.

If length tends to become and issue of contention for several authors that I do like, ‘Cold & Deadly’, at around 400 pages, made me grateful that Anderson took her time to weave everything together with intricate detail. Surfacing from this a few days later, I’m just happy to say that I had a bloody good time.

four-stars

The Risk by Elle Kennedy

The Risk by Elle KennedyThe Risk by Elle Kennedy
Series: Briar U #2
Published by Elle Kennedy Inc. on 18th February 2019
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three-stars

Everyone says I’m a bad girl. They’re only partly right—I don’t let fear rule me, and I certainly don’t care what people think. But I draw the line at sleeping with the enemy. As the daughter of Briar’s head hockey coach, I’d be vilified if I hooked up with a player from a rival team.

And that’s who Jake Connelly is. Harvard’s star forward is arrogant, annoying, and too attractive for his own good. But fate is cruel—I require his help to secure a much-coveted internship, and the sexy jerk isn’t making it easy for me.
I need Connelly to be my fake boyfriend.

For every fake date…he wants a real one.

Which means this bad girl is in big trouble. Nothing good can come from sneaking around with Jake Connelly. My father would kill me, my friends will revolt, and my post-college career is on the line. But while it’s getting harder and harder to resist Jake’s oozing sex appeal and cocky grin, I refuse to fall for him.

That’s the one risk I’m not willing to take.

Enter the raunchy world of college hookups, the infamous laddish, cocky behaviours of manwhore athletes, competitive sports (typically hockey) and the bumpy transition from hormonal young adulthood to equally hormonal adulthood. At least, this is how I’ve seen Elle Kennedy’s college campus series shaping out to be thus far—I’ve not been wrong here—and ‘The Risk’ continues in this similar fashion as Kennedy milks the shallows of college life, only with a fraternising with the enemy vibe from the beginning.

Brenna Jensen and Jake Connelly play for opposing teams though the friction that comes when they cross paths is perhaps better summed up as ‘love and hate being 2 sides of the same coin’. There are too many reasons why the mutual attraction shouldn’t be given into, and god forbid that Jake should have any say at all in who Brenna chooses to hook up with. It’s a predictable journey thereafter; emotions develop after they get down and dirty, and along with their futures getting put on the line as well.

It always takes a bit of a mental adjustment for me to get into Elle Kennedy’s construction of her New-Adult world anyhow: there’re often bursts of selfish, juvenile behaviour and several moments of ’the world is bigger than me’ revelation, which also have my sympathies for the characters going up and down like a yo-yo. My reservations, perhaps have also got to do with the feeling that I’m reading about protagonists who simply don’t show enough depth despite the angsty teenage struggles they face…and that they’ve still not done enough of growing up by the end of the book.

And for that reason I can’t quite connect or root for them. Brenna/Jake weren’t exactly likeable protagonists at all—I did think they were selfish and immature in their own ways, even though their tussles were amusing at the very least. What was somewhat frustrating was the hint of unrequited love at the end—a pining best friend doesn’t get the man she’s always wanted, while said man goes for someone who couldn’t quite be compassionate about the hurt that this caused—and that the HEAs in the series are stubbornly about people who don’t always seem the best matched couple.

Given the glowing reviews about Kennedy’s Off-Campus series and the Briar U series, I’m well aware that I’m standing off to one side being sceptical of what pairing Kennedy will churn out next. There’s no doubt that she does tell an engaging story. I just wish I could have liked it more.

three-stars

Keep Her Safe by K.A. Tucker

Keep Her Safe by K.A. TuckerKeep Her Safe by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 23rd January 2018
Pages: 436
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three-half-stars

Noah Marshall has known a privileged and comfortable life thanks to his mother, the highly decorated chief of the Austin Police Department. But all that changes the night she reveals a skeleton that's been rattling in her closet for years, and succumbs to the guilt of destroying an innocent family's life. Reeling with grief, Noah is forced to carry the burden of this shocking secret.

Gracie Richards wasn't born in a trailer park, but after fourteen years of learning how to survive in The Hollow, it's all she knows anymore. At least here people don't care that her dad was a corrupt Austin cop, murdered in a drug deal gone wrong. Here, she and her mother are just another family struggling to survive...until a man who clearly doesn't belong shows up on her doorstep.

Despite their differences, Noah and Gracie are searching for answers to the same questions, and together, they set out to uncover the truth about the Austin Police Department's dark and messy past. But the scandal that emerges is bigger than they bargained for, and goes far higher up than they ever imagined.

With an apparent suicide that sparks off a civilian-run investigation, K.A Tucker plunges us straight into a fascinating case of deep rot in a police department, the layers of cover-ups and complicity at all levels. That much, ‘Keep Her Safe’ is a solid thriller/suspense as Noah Marshall and Grace Richards try to untangle threads that many have tried to sever in a 14-year-old mystery. Tucker pours out theories, doubts upon doubts, throws in several signposts and red-herrings while piling on the emotion—all of which did keep me engaged until the end. Well, mostly.

At 400 pages, ‘Keep Her Safe’ ran the risk of being bloated, along with the slow burn of a romance that thankfully, didn’t exactly detract from the plot. Told in several POVs, straddling different timelines, this was drawn out much more than I thought it would, as it soon became clear (halfway into it at least) who the major, dirty players were.

That much I liked, as cynical as the plot is, about a broken justice system where evasion and conspiracy (and deliberately not doing the right thing) seem the reigning themes of this procedural.

Character-wise however…oh lord, how I loathed Grace—a hormonal teenager masquerading as an adult.

Petulant and petty, with an uncontrollable temper, with a bull-headed tendency to rush into everything—and blaming everyone else for everything not going right—Grace’s large chip on her shoulder was so blindingly big that it was impossible to like her at all. It always felt that she was the self-righteous one, while Noah always fumbled in his missteps and had the uphill climb to appease her ‘world-owes-me-big’ attitude. I get it—she’s had a hard life. But behaving at every turn like the world owes her everything for that while trampling everyone and anyone because of her circumstances? Didn’t get too much sympathy from me here.

Noah’s restraint in contrast, was a cool balm of relief, though I got annoyed and tired with the number of times he had to keep her flaring temper and her inability to even sit and think rationally. That he had to keep placating her made him like a caretaker of an unruly child instead of a romantic interest.

That said, K.A Tucker isn’t quite an author on my regular feed, though I’m guessing she should be. While I couldn’t (or rather, didn’t) buy into the romance at all, ‘Keep Her Safe’ is more than a decent read even though I took days to finish it.

three-half-stars