Category: (Sub)Genre

Mission: Her Protection by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Protection by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52 #1
Published by Anna Hackett on August 14th 2018
Pages: 154
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three-half-stars

When Rowan’s Arctic research team pulls a strange object out of the ice in Northern Canada, things start to go wrong…very, very wrong. Rescued by a covert, black ops team, she finds herself in the powerful arms of a man with scary gold eyes. A man who vows to do everything and anything to protect her…

Dr. Rowan Schafer has learned it’s best to do things herself and not depend on anyone else. Her cold, academic parents taught her that lesson. She loves the challenge of running a research base, until the day her scientists discover the object in a retreating glacier. Under attack, Rowan finds herself fighting to survive…until the mysterious Team 52 arrives.

Former special forces Marine Lachlan Hunter’s military career ended in blood and screams, until he was recruited to lead a special team. A team tasked with a top-secret mission—to secure and safeguard pieces of powerful ancient technology. Married to his job, he’s done too much and seen too much to risk inflicting his demons on a woman. But when his team arrives in the Arctic, he uncovers both an unexplained artifact, and a young girl from his past, now all grown up. A woman who ignites emotions inside him like never before.

But as Team 52 heads back to their base in Nevada, other hostile forces are after the artifact. Rowan finds herself under attack, and as the bullets fly, Lachlan vows to protect her at all costs. But in the face of danger like they’ve never seen before, will it be enough to keep her alive.

Team 52 is Anna Hackett’s spin-off from her Treasure Hunter Security series, so expect the storylines to be written in a similar vein: adventure-driven with some suspense included as this mysterious team goes off the books to retrieve dangerous (read: as equally mysterious as the team that does it) artefacts and keep them classified. It’s got its feet fully set on earth, while prodding the mystery of advanced civilisations, crossed with some archaeological leanings, so Indiana Jones fans should be quite overjoyed.

Like Hackett’s THS books, expect the team to battle unscrupulous treasure hunters, crime syndicates and other badasses which can only be fought with more badassery. As a foundational book, ‘Mission: Her Protection’ lays out the direction in which the series appears to be going: a slew on books focusing on the team at work, with each member finding their better half along the way.

Rowan Schafer is the rather hapless heroine sorely in need of Team 52’s help in this story, though little does she know that Lachlan Hunter used to be the boy next door whom she used to take comfort in, all grown up and a badass in his own right.

The instalove here is somewhat disconcerting – I find myself constantly saying this with Hackett’s books in any case – and that a near-20-year-old memory of an early-teenage friendship seemed to be sufficient for Lachlan to change his mind about love and relationships within the span of a few days with Rowan.

The scepticism I have about the solidness of the pairing aside, ‘Mission: Her Protection’ does get off an interesting start in any case, though I’m crossing my fingers that this crossover would be more of a showcase of Hackett’s impressive imagination rather than a rinse and repeat of the THS series.

three-half-stars

Up in Flames by Jennifer Blackwood

Up in Flames by Jennifer BlackwoodUp in Flames by Jennifer Blackwood
Series: Flirting with Fire, #2
Published by Montlake Romance on 9th October 2018
Pages: 300
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one-half-stars

Sloane Garcia has butted heads with Reece Jenkins ever since he was a colossal jerk of epic proportions on a night she’d rather forget. So what if he’s overconfident, ultramasculine, and hard muscled? When she finds out he’s on the auction block at the annual firefighter’s charity event, she decides to give this cocky firefighter a dose of his own medicine. Now that she’s won the hunk, he’s on call—to do whatever Sloane wants.

Sure, Reece and Sloane had a rocky start, but he had his reasons. None of that matters now that he’s the bachelor at her beck and call, tasked with granting her four wishes in four weeks. He runs into burning buildings for a living, but nothing will be as tough as dousing the flames Sloane ignites in him. What started out as just a game might end up with Reece losing the one thing he swore he’d never give up: his heart.

Somehow I feel as though I need this caveat, as always, before I begin this review. My expectations, when it comes to romantic fiction are tuned differently when when I read general fiction; better put, the very classification of the genre shapes what I naturally want to read of my protagonists, so their traits are looked at not just in terms of their social contributions (good soldier/cop/firefighter), or their generosities to their families, or how often they mow the lawn for their blind neighbours, for instance, which many authors love to highlight.

In contrast, I typically look at romantic heroism through the lens of other qualities, such as integrity, commitment, the care and concern because this genre is precisely one in which such things seem necessary for the guaranteed HEA that is its peculiar characteristic. I’ve been confronted with too many protagonists who fall out of this framework of late, and instead conform to stereotypes that have me rolling my eyes, which accounts for my inability to like a book more because of it.

Jennifer Blackwood’s ‘Up in Flames’ was unfortunately, yet another one of those for me. It’s certainly a story that will appeal to others: the rather light-hearted feel, the slight bit of angst to stir up some emotions about a backstory accounting for present-day terrible behaviour and the eventual but rocky road to redemption and a HEA.

What stood out for me was the very relatable Sloane, but then I’ve always liked seeing this sort of scrappy strength in a romantic heroine: somewhat bitter about a breakup but still digging in, hanging on in control, refusing to be vulnerable, with her brain turning to mush at the sight of Reece’s body being the only cringeworthy characteristic I found.

In contrast, Reece felt like too much of the clichéd, ego-filled, manwhore arsehole player for me—doing the rounds with eight of the nurses in Sloane’s workplace first made him beyond distasteful (armed with the usual excuse of having been hurt so long ago and thus is into emotionless hooking up from now onwards) in contrast to Sloane’s impressive sticking it through with her one and only long-term relationship despite it ending badly. Adding the fact that he’d always had a thing for her on and off throughout most of their lives, was waffling about the idea of ‘them’ up until quite literally the last few lines in the second-last chapter…well, I couldn’t quite find too much of a basis to even root for this pairing when there didn’t seem to be that much of an active push for both to be together.

The enemies-to-lovers trope is a deliciously cool one (which had me jumping on this) but with constant thoughts intruding about Sloane deserving way better than settling for what I honestly thought was a chemistry-less relationship, this is clearly not a book that worked for me.

one-half-stars

Beautiful Sinner by Sophie Jordan

Beautiful Sinner by Sophie JordanBeautiful Sinner by Sophie Jordan
Series: Devil's Rock #5
Published by Avon on 30th October 2018
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Locked in with the town bad boy . . .

Most women would be scared, but Gabriella’s only worried about resisting Cruz Walsh, who’s even hotter than he was back in high school. Cruz was wrongly accused of the high-profile crime for which he was imprisoned; Gabriella’s desperate for the scoop that will get her career off the ground and get her out of Sweet Hill, where everyone still remembers her as “Flabby Gabby.” Being stuck in a supply closet with Cruz is the perfect opportunity to land an interview. What Bri doesn’t count on is Cruz taking “up-close and personal” to a whole new level.

If there’s a silver lining to the hell Cruz went through, it’s that losing his freedom put everything in perspective. Maybe starting over someplace new would be easier, but after years locked up, Cruz values his family—and his true friends—more than ever. So he’s back home, facing the gossip, dodging reporters . . . and face-to-face with Gabriella Rossi. They’ve both changed: Bri wants a story and Cruz just wants her. Another thing he’s learned? Don’t let a good thing slip away.

Sophie Jordan’s ‘Devil’s Rock’ series is not an easy one to pin down. I’ve been mixed on these books, but keep on going back because I like the premise of how her protagonists pick themselves up again after life kicks them down. And what best demonstrates this spiral than time in prison, where things can only go up from then onwards?

‘Beautiful Sinner’ is just that: a wrongly-accused man who’s free but who can’t escape his past, paired with a woman who happens to want him…and something from him. There’s little else, apart from a huge preoccupation with the heroine’s body issues, and pages and pages trying to ramp up sexual tension before Cruz and Gabriella fall into bed which then later turns supposedly into love, so much so that the story could have been cut in half and still been told satisfactorily.

There’s also an intensely N/A feel to it, if that’s your thing: the flashbacks, the innumerable self-image issues that Gabriella faced, the inability to get past those teenage years with peripheral characters behaving like stereotypical mean-girls, the journey of self-discovery along the way…all of which had me turning the pages wondering if I’d fallen into high school or college drama without meaning to.

The baffling bit is a small bit of history over a decade ago that Cruz apparently can’t forget—a make-out session with a mystery girl who did a Cinderalla-move on him where she pretended to be someone else, before disappearing for a long time. Yet what tossed my suspension of disbelief out of the window however, was the painfully ridiculous notion that Cruz, at that time (even as a manwhore), couldn’t tell the difference between girls in total darkness (they’re not the same size!) as they made out. That this particular night was given so much weighty significance 12 years later left me incredulous (most people barely remember such things), because well, I’d thought that life experience and a myriad of memories in the intervening years would have long overshadowed that night that both apparently could never forget.

It’s also hard to deal with a heroine so insecure about her own body and so downtrodden in so many ways, seeking validation in every small compliment she can get. Even harder yet to deal with is the way Gabriella had made Cruz out to be the one and only man who could persuade her with sex so different and so out-of-the-world from her other boyfriends. (It certainly helps that Cruz only wants her type of body) Body-image issues are hard to deal with—this much I acknowledge. But to read how it becomes all-consuming where a heroine can’t believe anyone would want her, let alone a man with a smoking hot body pushes it too far even for me.

I think I was looking for more to this story but never quite got it, until way past the halfway mark when the conflict finally kicked in. It was only then when things got more interesting, though by which time, I was a little too ready to throw in the towel.

two-stars

What I’ve Done by Melinda Leigh

What I’ve Done by Melinda LeighWhat I've Done by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 18th September 2018
Pages: 336
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four-stars

Morgan Dane’s new client has blood on her hands—and no recollection of what happened—as the #1 Amazon Charts bestselling series continues.

Haley Powell wakes up covered in blood, with no memory of the night before. When she sees a man lying in the backyard, stabbed to death, she has only one terrified thought: What have I done?

Agreeing to take the case as a favor to her PI friend Lincoln Sharp, Morgan must scale a mountain of damning circumstantial and forensic evidence to prove her client innocent. Haley couldn’t appear more guilty: her bloodstained fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and she has no alibi. But Morgan can’t shake the feeling that this shocked young woman has been framed.

Someone out there is hell-bent on sabotaging her defense, targeting Morgan, her partner, and especially Haley. Someone who will stop at nothing—and whose next move will be deadly.

Melinda Leigh’s ‘Morgan Dane’ juggernaut of a series goes on strong with no sign of abating and I for one, am glad for it. With little of the unnecessary (and sometimes over-exggerated) drama as her stalwart, arse-kicking protagonists who go from strength to strength, ‘What I’ve Done’ is another solid offering in which I was happy to get lost.

There’re slight developments in Morgan’s and Lance’s relationship which are always nice to read about, but by and large, they are an established couple, which frees Leigh to concentrate on the suspense. We’re plunged straight in, like any police procedural show: an establishing mystery which eventually turns out to be the complicated case that Morgan and Lance get involved in. The stakes are high; the evidence mounts against them in a near-indefensible case, but Leigh quite masterfully twirls the mess until it makes coherent sense with a satisfying resolution.

It isn’t often that I like the suspense overshadowing the romance—a hearty mix of heat and action is typically what I look for—but this series is one that I can’t help but want more and more of. In short, I was nonetheless riveted and engaged—when the case unravels to show that no one is truly innocent and the degree of debauched behaviour is just skewed towards who’s the worse guy.

Admittedly, the romance is subdued, the heat much less pronounced with a new kind of conflict brewing but Morgan/Lance’s chemistry and affection for each other—borne of months working seamlessly together—are obvious despite the very few scenes that concentrate solely on them. ‘What I’ve Done’ is nonetheless solid and well-written, closing with the sense that this growing partnership in more ways than one, is far from over.

four-stars

Changed by T.S. Murphy

Changed by T.S. MurphyChanged by T.S. Murphy
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on August 1st 2018
Pages: 301
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three-half-stars

Kate McGuire has loved her brother’s best friend for years—an older guy who didn’t know she existed and whose smoking-hot girlfriend could punch her into next week. But now Kate’s eighteen and Quinn Haley is girlfriend-free and looking at her like she’s definitely outside the friend zone. Everything is working out perfectly—until a devastating medical diagnosis throws her life into a tailspin.

Quinn Haley has dealt with abuse and rejection his entire life, but when he finally breaks up with his cheating girlfriend while home from college for Christmas, he realizes his best friend’s little sister has always been there for him. Only now, Kate’s all grown up and frankly adorable. Definitely not someone he wants to keep in the friend zone.

Kate’s entire future will be a lifetime of no. No children. No sex. No Quinn. And when Quinn won’t take no for an answer, she fights him every step of the way.

All the way into love.

The premise of ‘Changed’ is beyond unusual, which certainly makes this more than an unrequited-love-for-the-brother’s-best-friend type of story and I dove into this, wondering how T.S. Murphy was going to tackle the major issue that seemed near insurmountable for many people. Not least, for a protagonist for whom, at the age of 18, everything is writ large with the hormonal teenage tendency to bring with it the ‘end of my world’ kind of vibes. I can only imagine, from the author’s afterword, how personal this must have been to write and that much gave me a greater appreciation for Murphy’s bringing to light an issue that I barely knew existed.

In many ways, ‘Changed’ is Kate’s rather rocky journey navigating love and life with a serious condition to boot, with people rallying around her. I did feel for her, even liked the rather realistic portrayal of her reaction and confusion, though not so much of the requisite push-pull, the moody lack of communication (expected but nonetheless frustrating) and the sudden inability to trust the closest ones around her, even Quinn, who’d been a good friend before. The shenanigans between Kate/Quinn are thankfully not a minefield to go through and Murphy does write as though they are both meant for each other, which makes the pairing easy to get on board with.

Context and premise aside, I did think however, that the storytelling could have been ‘tighter’, so to speak, with some meanderings here and there which laterally expanded (and dragged down) the plot instead of driving it forward. The detailed insertions of Kate and Quinn with their exes, along with scenes that told convoluted family histories felt superfluous at times; instead I wanted to see more vital bits between the couple in question elaborated on, which disappointingly weren’t. There were parts of the book when I was definitely less engaged than others as a result, diving back in only more enthusiastically when the storytelling got back to Kate and her condition—as well as her burgeoning relationship with Quinn.

Slow-moving as it was nonetheless, ‘Changed’ was eye-opening in some ways—all of which had nothing to do with the romance-front for one. In essence, Murphy’s honesty with Kate’s condition kept me glued to the pages—fictionlandia as this is however, the HEA by the end is still much, much appreciated.

three-half-stars

Entropy by Jess Anastasi

Entropy by Jess AnastasiEntropy by Jess Anastasi
Series: Atrophy, #4
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC on 23rd July 2018
Pages: 271
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Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin's mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.

After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father's wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she's just landed in the middle of it.

Qaelan Foster’s latest outings with his cousin have been more misadventures than adventures and mostly of the dodgy variety. But then he gets entangled with the likes of Camille Blackstone, which brings a whole new meaning of trouble.

But first, context is king: ‘Entropy’ isn’t exactly a standalone and there’s quite a backstory as to how this book begins. Basic knowledge of Jess Anastasi’s world-building surrounding the Imojenna and its ragtag crew would provide a fuller appreciation of Qae/Camille’s relationship and why we keep getting teased with Rian’s own ‘will-they-won’t-they’ relationship with Ella). And that’s as much as I should say, without needing to go into any longwinded recounting (which a book review isn’t supposed to be anyway) of the whole story.

Sadly, I wasn’t too sold on Qae and Camille to begin with: their (sort-of?) one-night stand, without the buildup or chemistry didn’t do much for me so very early on in the story, though it was a clever twist on how things ended up—Anastasi leaves a little bit to anticipate—before the story really kicks in.

Unlike the trajectory that the Atrophy series has been taking, ‘Entropy’, with the story of Qae/Camille, is like a diversion, steered towards a different path of space adventures because it isn’t directly focused once more on Rian, his demons and his endless chasing after an enemy that he may never overpower. Whatever few scenes with Rian/Ella/others I lapped up; the rest with Qae/Camille, I read with a bit more lukewarmness and frustration. Because despite their flirty push-pull, foreplay-esque tussles which I probably would have liked more if there weren’t the weight of the narrative arc already written into the series, all I could keep thinking about was Rian and when he’d finally get his own story straightened out. It’s that heavy of a presence he has in ‘Atrophy’, which I find impossible to shrug off.

Even if Qae/Camille’s tale and their frolic with the space pirates didn’t exactly keep me engaged, I still like the organic whole of the ‘Atrophy’ series and that isn’t often that I can say this. Reading any book of Anastasi is like having a mish-mash of scenes from syfy-series that I’ve enjoyed over the years flash fondly through my mind. There’re parts of everything I love/hate, along with the understated dashes of humour which make me laugh not only because they always serve as shadows of what I miss in those—like new wine continually put in old wine skin.

But until Rian’s story comes, I suspect I’ll be in a well of frustration.

Happy Hour by Piper Rayne

Happy Hour by Piper RayneHappy Hour by Piper Rayne
Series: Charity Case #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 12th July 2018
Pages: 306
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The perfect man for her is the one she hates most. #gofigure

Dating is hard. Dating in your thirties is even harder. Dating in Chicago is harder still.

I haven't given up on finding my happily-ever-after, but in the age of swiping right and Netflix and chill, I'm wondering if everything is as temporary as my marriage turned out to be.

Truth is, there is one guy I can't get my mind off of.

Roarke Baldwin has salt and pepper hair I've dreamed of running my hands through and I'm pretty sure that if I checked he really does have a six pack of abs underneath his suit. And I've always wondered what that stubble on his face would feel like between my thighs.

The problem? He's the one man I hate more than my ex-husband…

His divorce attorney.

The enemies-to-lovers trope is one that I really like and ‘Happy Hour’ is one of the few that I wanted to get into if only to read how a woman falls head over heels over her divorce attorney—one who helped her ex-husband screw her over (monetarily, at least).

Still, the sparks between Roarke Baldwin and Hannah Crowley have been hinted at for a while now and ‘Happy Hour’ is a story of a lost venue, a grudging turn to a nemesis and the subsequent build of a relationship that one has been hankering after more than the other.

The subsequent 5 favours that Roarke asks of the gun-shy Hannah is sweet-amusing in some ways; they’re all non-sexual and non-demeaning, as part of the contract and it was by and large fun to see how Roarke desperately tries to manoeuvre Hannah to where he wants her. The journey onward is predictable as a result: the favours draw Hannah and Roarke together, catalysing what we as readers know and expect that it would all end up as time between the sheets. The conflict itself is just as inevitable nonetheless and it’s something that’s been done dime a dozen times—addressing Hannah’s skewed view of men, their purpose and the place they play in her life.

The conclusion proved unsatisfying as a result. I did think it was unfair of Hannah to write marriage off completely after her very first one, even to a man who’d gone to bat for her in the end because it seemed to show there were some obstacles that Roarke couldn’t overcome in her life still, this being one of them, so much so that it felt as though they were still living in a compromised state as long as Hannah didn’t open herself to that possibility once more.

In contrast, Roarke came off as the sweeter, more open and vulnerable of the two, unlike the corporate shark I thought him to be. Solely written in Hannah’s POV, thereby exposing all her thought-processes that turned neurotic and paranoid at times, I know I would have preferred a glimpse into Roarke’s mind as well, particularly what he’d been thinking ever since he stuck her with the 5-favour-contract.

Most of the time, it felt as though Roarke had an insurmountable mountain to climb when it came to Hannah (her idiotic and sometimes bitchy self-denials and her refusal to trust) and what made me hesitant about my own rating about this book was how Hannah used her her mistrust of men after her disastrous marriage to judge everyone else who comes after. That she knew and admitted it, yet acted stupidly about it, made me feel sorrier for Roarke’s efforts that were doomed to fail because of her insecurities.

So if ‘Happy Hour’ started happy for me, it degenerated into more eye-rolling as I read on, mostly because I was rooting for Hannah to rise above her past—to be that sort of heroine is the kind I ship—but never quite got it by the end of it all.