Category: (Sub)Genre

Save Your Breath by Melinda Leigh

Save Your Breath by Melinda LeighSave Your Breath by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #6
Published by Montlake Romance on 17th September 2019
Pages: 320
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four-stars

Morgan Dane and PI Lance Kruger investigate the mysterious disappearance of a true-crime writer.

When true-crime writer Olivia Cruz disappears with no signs of foul play, her new boyfriend, Lincoln Sharp, suspects the worst. He knows she didn’t leave willingly and turns to attorney Morgan Dane and PI Lance Kruger to find her before it’s too late.

As they dig through Olivia’s life, they are shocked to discover a connection between her current book research on two cold murder cases and the suicide of one of Morgan’s prospective clients.

As Morgan and Lance investigate, the number of suspects grows, but time is running out to find Olivia alive. When danger comes knocking at their door, Morgan and Lance realize that they may be the killer’s next targets.

Melinda Leigh returns with one of the tightest, most cohesive crime-busting, lawyer-PI team in the Morgan Dane series—I can’t seem to get enough of Morgan Dane and Lance Kruger—and ‘Save Your Breath’ is yet another great instalment in this fantastic lineup.

I think I’ve said this in every review of the series, but written from a romance review’s perspective, I’ll need to say it again: the romance is slight and brought off-screen, given the established pairings, with slight touches and kisses and reaffirming words forming the basis of affection here. Lance and Morgan are grounded in each other and it’s always a joy to read about their mature relationship and how they get on in each new book, so ‘Save Your Breath’ furthers their relationship just a little more and probably gives them the short but needed HEA all of their stalwart fans want.

As much as I was hoping for a sharper focus on Lincoln Sharp’s and Olivia Wade’s romance developing along side Morgan/Lance’s rock-solid one, ‘Save Your Breath’ wastes no time in moving past their attraction, straight onto the meat of the story of Olivia’s disappearance and several seemingly unlinked cases.

There’s no doubt that Leigh always crafts a good suspense; this far into the series, the pacing, tone and characters are nuanced and pitch-perfect, though a mite bit predictable plot-wise, or even a bit of a let down when all’s revealed and tied up.

Still, it’s a smooth read otherwise, engaging and compelling and if this is really Leigh’s last in this series, I’ll be saying a very, very wistful goodbye.

four-stars

Bishop’s Knight by Katie Reus

Bishop’s Knight by Katie ReusBishop's Knight by Katie Reus
Published by KR Press, LLC on 9th July 2019
Pages: 250
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one-star

She needs his protection...

Thanks to years of government training, Evie Bishop knows how to get into places she doesn't belong—and she's very good at it. But years of doing black ops work burned her out so she returns home—to unexpected chaos. One of her brothers is in a coma and the other is in hiding, wanted for murder. Then a fellow operative from her past shows up shot and bleeding with news that an assassin is gunning for everyone involved with a past op. She's forced to turn to the one man she knows she can trust—the man whose heart she broke.

But it will come with a price...

When Dylan Blackwood proposed a year ago, Evie turned him down flat and walked out of his life. He's stunned when he finds her on his doorstep covered in someone else's blood, needing his help. He always knew there was more to her than met the eye—that Evie was never simply the pampered society princess she wanted people to believe she was. But he never expected this. If she needs help, he'll give it. Even if he can't forget her betrayal. Even if he isn't sure he can trust her. But his protection will come with a price—her heart. Before they can have a chance at a future, they'll have to work together to take down a faceless enemy who has Evie firmly in his crosshairs.

Where do I even start?

Katie Reus has a style that is easily accessible – albeit too much alike Kaylea Cross that they seem interchangeable – and a great reputation for doing up short but breezy romantic suspense reads, which is basically a compelling reason enough to want to get into her books. Some of which have even been very memorable.

‘Bishop’s Knight’ however, pushed every, single wrong button in this second-chance story and reminded me how infuriated I could get with a trope that so far, I feel few authors have gotten on with excellently.

Too many things were juggled here in a manner that ended up feeling like a right mess: Evie’s broken family that the series would eventually be built on, her haphazard CIA job and her past relationship with Dylan Blackwood. This was done with scenes flipping between all three that got me whiplash, more so when the plot rather ambitiously tried to rebuild her broken relationship with Dylan along the way. In fact, much of the action seemed tangential and things to do with Evie’s past, with a host of secondary characters that I couldn’t quite care less about coming in and out when all I wanted was to see this second-chance trope getting vindicated.

The long and short of it was, I thought Evie/Dylan’s relationship needed more special handling which Reus didn’t quite deliver, particularly when it come to the thorny issue of letting Evie get off easy because Dylan wanted her so much and was willing to overlook all she did to him. Where I expected a kickarse heroine, all Evie was fleshed out to be was a protagonist who knew her away around firearms but proved a coward in every other thing concerning Dylan.

Now how the heck do I even get behind a pairing when Evie had no original intention of reconciling with Dylan or seeing him again except for the twist that brought her back? That she’d built the relationship on a lie, despite constantly insisting that her feelings were real, then did nothing about it even when she was supposedly consumed with regret and made Dylan work for her left me too disappointed in this start to even get invested in it all.

one-star

Good Guy by Kate Meader

Good Guy by Kate MeaderGood Guy by Kate Meader
Series: Rookie Rebels #1
Published by Kate Meader on 30th July 2019
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three-stars

He's a Special Forces veteran making his pro hockey debut. She's a dogged sports reporter determined to get a scoop. She's also his best friend's widow...

Fans can’t get enough of Levi Hunt, the Special Forces veteran who put his NHL career on hold to serve his country and fight the bad guys. So when his new Chicago Rebels bosses tell him to cooperate with the press on a profile, he’s ready to do his duty. Until he finds out who he has to work with: flame-haired, freckle-splashed, impossibly perky Jordan Cooke.

The woman he should not have kissed the night she buried her husband, Levi’s best friend in the service.

Hockey-stick-up-his-butt-serious Levi Hunt might despise Jordan for reasons she can’t fathom—okay, it’s to do with kissing—but her future in the cutthroat world of sports reporting hangs on delivering the goods on the league’s hottest, grumpiest rookie.

So what if he’s not interested in having his life plated up for public consumption. Too bad. Jordan will have to play dirty to get her scoop and even dirtier to get her man. Only in winning the story, she might just lose her heart...

‘Good Guy’ combines forbidden attraction, hockey and a reporter desperately using anything she can to get a scoop on the latest (and oldest) rookie’s life, with a little bit of a twist. But Kate Meader is a near-auto read for me most of the time and this spin-off from her popular Chicago Rebels series brings them all together again, albeit a few years down the road on an unusual premise to start.

Much of the story deals with Jordan following Levi Hunt and the team around in order to get a read on him to get her article up; it’s essentially, her desperate bid to build her career that drives her efforts to get close to a man with whom she’s already has sort of history and a process that reunites them in an unexpected way.

‘Good Guy’ sits in the middle of a few intersecting tropes here and with Meader’s assured writing, it’s not a hardship at all, to go through all of it. Like many authors these days in romantic fiction (a genre written mainly by women for women), Meader shines a light on the issue of gender equality, workplace ethics, harassment and assault, especially in male-dominated fields like sports reporting. It’s also a thorny theme that drives characterisation, which in some ways, proved to be my personal stumbling block.

Jordan felt a little preppy and chirpy for my liking—I was surprised not to get the gravitas or the lingering sadness that normally surrounds a widowed heroine—and whose personality felt incongruous to the role she was playing in this romance. I didn’t quite her exploitation of her connection with Levi to get ahead, or how she pushed and needled her way into prying him open for the sake of her story: it did feel too calculating at times and I had a hard time trying to reconcile this picture of a cheerful, warm protagonist who had a manipulative side to her that she tried to ‘reframe’ in so many different ways which Meader valiantly tries to justify. That Levi had found himself grovelling quite a few times made her seem unfairly blameless when she clearly wasn’t.

In contrast, it was easier to like Levi, whose only crime it seemed, was wanting his best friend’s widow from afar. Past the gruff, stoic exterior, he seemed more highly evolved than many others, given that he didn’t deny his attraction for Jordan and the keen sense of right and wrong that he carried which made him easy to gravitate towards.

Different strokes for different folks, is all I can say in conclusion. Meader rarely goes wrong with a writing style that I can always get on board with, nonetheless, and I’m eager to know what this new story arc is all about in the Rebels finding their second wind.

three-stars

Best Man with Benefits by Aubrey Wright

Best Man with Benefits by Aubrey WrightBest Man with Benefits by Aubrey Wright
on June 4th 2019
Pages: 219
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one-star

There I am, naked, trying on this dang bridesmaid's dress in the "women's only dressing room" and in walks Ol Big "bleep" Jacob.
The same Jacob that deflowered me.

Once my face stopped turning two shades of tomato, I sharply told him where to stick his big ego.

He doesn't deserve a second chance.
Or third, or fourth, or fifth...

But that cocky smile has a way of making panties spontaneously combust.
Well, these panties ain't going anywhere.
At least, I hope not...

‘Best Man with benefits’ was simply, a read that I’d hoped would have turned out better.

This hopped between New Adult (veering sometimes into very hormonal teen territory) and suspense and many times it felt like the story couldn’t quite decide what it was supposed to be. As a result, this turned out to be a very odd combination that didn’t exactly work when all I could really make out of the characters were that they just didn’t know what or whom the hell they wanted from the start.

Jacob and Chloe were essentially, a couple whom I couldn’t get a mental hold of at all with so many contradictory actions in their behaviour when it comes to each other—this is cocky and arrogant meeting cautious and jittery. Yet after not seeing each other for so long and then jumping into bed almost immediately based on that single experience so long ago didn’t create some kind of chemistry that I could feel; neither did the weird vibe surrounding Jacob (who just felt dodgy, flighty and unwilling to go all in) allay my own reservations about him.

The premise of holding a grudge towards a guy who’d taken your virginity 12 years ago and then fled seemed like a valid one. Her inability to get past the fact that he stayed up with other women but not her was something that got my sympathy. Really. More so since she’d simply gotten the excuse that he didn’t believe in the ‘love/relationship shit’ didn’t make him a shiny paragon of virtue that I could even like.

But Chloe’s readiness to do things with him, to lick up every crumb he threw out to her as well got me stumped and just made her an easy pushover: saying one thing, feeling something else and then doing just the opposite put her all over the place for me. Needless to say, her anger at Jacob’s lack of commitment stance yet her constant denial about not wanting him was a repetitive thing that also seemed to hold back the forward momentum of the plot.

Still, when the story took a but of a turn down the rabbit hole (throw in a rabid, foaming ex-girlfriend, a kidnapping, some TSTL moments), I couldn’t continue. Maybe there’ll be a day my curiosity would overcome that unsettled vibe that I’ve got about this story, but until then, chalk it up to ‘this is just me’, given the other outstanding reviews of the book.

one-star

On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina Bocci

On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina BocciOn the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina Bocci
Series: Hopeless Romantics, #1
Published by Gallery Books on 20th August 2019
Pages: 336
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one-star

What’s a campaign manager’s worst nightmare? A smooth-talking charmer who’s never met a scandal that he didn’t like.

When Emmanuelle Peroni’s father—and mayor of her town—asks her to help rehab Cooper Endicott’s image, she’s horrified. Cooper drives her crazy in every way possible. But he’s also her father’s protégé, and she can’t say no to him without him finding out the reason why: Cooper and her have a messy past. So Emmanuelle reluctantly launches her father’s grand plan to get this Casanova someone to settle down with and help him lose his lothario reputation.

Cooper Endicott wanted to run for Mayor, but he never wanted the drama that went with it. Now that he’s on the political hamster wheel, the other candidates are digging up everything from his past. Even though he’s doing all the right things, his colorful love life is the sticking point for many of the conservative voters. He wants to win, badly, and he knows that if he wants any chance of getting a vote from the female population, he needs to change his image. The only problem? He might just be falling in love with the one person he promised not to pursue: the Mayor’s off-limits daughter.

A poor little rich boy known for his womanising ways needs someone to keep him in hand. After all, his mayoral ambitions are in jeopardy. Who better to do so, than a longtime friend who always had the hots for him but was cruelly subject to his numerous hookups over the years, to become his campaign manager and keep him on the straight and narrow for better media reception of the reformed manwhore?

That should have been my warning sign.

Some books do get better as you go on. For others, you get a sinking, cringey feel from the very start.

Unfortunately, ‘On the Corner of Love and Hate’ fell into the latter category. Admittedly, I wish I’d given the blurb more than just a side-eye before I’d even begun, but it was Nina Bocci and I wanted to have an enthusiastic go at her attempt at romantic dramedy.

Shallowly flaky, lacking moral fibre and substance, Cooper was a manchild with manwhoring ways, made even unforgivable because his weakness for women was something he was unrepentant about—not that he seemed to make any effort to get together with Emma. Having this thrown in my face time and time again made the story hard to go on with, let alone the excruciating pining that Emma had going for decades (!) for someone who always supposedly wanted her but took it up with many many other women instead because he was either ‘young and stupid’ or trying to get her attention and having the best of both worlds. That there was the constant presence of a college fling and a now friends-with-benefits secondary character—a typical mean, beautiful but bitchy one—made the entire story feel like a pool of circling sharks hungry for blood and a piece of Cooper’s arrogant arse.

As a result, there was little of the romance I saw, more so because this was entirely written in Emma’s POV, of Emma’s own jealousy and well-hidden hurts as the pages wore on and her perception of Cooper’s lack of initiative for anything except for flirting and women.

Perhaps this was done, ironically, too well. Bocci’s writing keeps you outraged on Emma’s behalf, frustrated by her own attraction that she can’t seem to shake off. So much so that the attempt to position Cooper as a ‘good man’ with a half-hearted rationale of his behaviour over the years to show some redeemable qualities in him merely left me with the poorest impression of a character who shouldn’t have even been a worthy of the status of a romantic hero.

That Emma fell like a house of cards after spending a hot night with him made her no better than the other women who were ready to fling their panties at him at the sight of his gigawatt smile.

I couldn’t do it. I skimmed, skipped, and cringed too much to be able to go on, then finally threw it in.

one-star

Risk the Burn by Marnee Blake

Risk the Burn by Marnee BlakeRisk the Burn by Marnee Blake
Series: The Smokejumpers #3
Published by Lyrical Liason on 27th August 2019
Pages: 168
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two-half-stars

A parachute jump gone horribly wrong nearly put an end to Hunter Buchanan’s smokejumper career. But with his body on the mend, the rugged firefighter is ready to get back to Oregon’s Redmond Air Center and his training. Except, while he’s conquered his physical injuries, he hasn’t been able to do the same for his panic attacks.

Enter Charlotte Jones, aka Charlie, the trainer who tames his tension like nobody’s business. It doesn’t hurt that she’s easy on the eyes. Or that she stirs a hunger in him to deal with just about anything in order to be the man she needs . . .   After four years of hiding from a violent man in her past, Charlie is ready to face the world again. She knows this has more than a little to do with the potent mix of strength and vulnerability she’s found in Hunter’s arms.

But when a dangerous encounter convinces her the worst isn’t behind her, she’ll have to decide if she’s strong enough to accept Hunter’s help—and his love . . .

That Marnee Blake has used smokejumping as the basis for this series has always intrigued me—well at least, one that goes a step further past the first-responder romance story is still sort of rare.

But if I did venture rather enthusiastically into the first book, ‘Risk The Burn’ turned out to be a middling read for me as Hunter Buchanan and Charlie Jones battle their own demons while falling into each other gradually. Hunter’s interest is Charlie is evident from the start despite the latter being somewhat reserved and coy, though it builds up to a rather tedious climax of Charlie using an old and overused excuse in the book when things start to come to a head: running away under the delusion that it ‘keeps everyone else safe’, then taking offence when she gets called out for it.
My disappointment also stems from the lack of adrenaline-filled scenes that typically comes from the firefighting action itself; instead ‘Risk the Burn’ feels more like a mildish romantic suspense with a red herring dangled in front of us and a twist that didn’t quite leave me gobsmacked.
In short, I didn’t dislike the story but neither did I get an emotional punch out from the pairing that could have been more memorable but wasn’t. Hunter/Charlie simply came, made a few footprints in the dirt tracks and left, without the spikes of burning highs and the dipping lows in their developing relationship which pretty much left me rather indifferent to it all by the end of it.
two-half-stars

Dom by Anna Hackett

Dom by Anna HackettDom by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #18
Published by Anna Hackett on June 17th 2019
Pages: 135
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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 Dom Santora has an ugly past he can’t forget. Born and raised in the darkness, he spent his life before the alien invasion as a Mafia enforcer. He’s found some meaning fighting against the aliens with his fellow berserkers, but he knows his soul is too stained to ever find redemption. And there is no way he’ll ever deserve the quiet beauty of a woman like Arden Carlisle.

When the raptors invaded, Arden lost her husband and children in the first horrible, bloody wave of the attack. Since that terrible night, she’s survived, but she hasn’t been living. Hollowed out by her grief, she’s found a way to keep going as the comms officer for Squad Nine. But lately, color has started to seep back into her world, and the person she sees most clearly is the dark, handsome, and lethal Dom.

Dom and Arden are two damaged souls who find each other in the darkness. But the Gizzida are putting the final pieces of their endgame into place. The aliens want the Earth and to wipe out the human survivors once and for all. As Dom, Arden, and the berserkers work to find a deadly alien bomb, they uncover the true horror of the aliens’ plans. To have any chance at love, life, and survival, Dom and Arden will have to fight harder than ever before.

With Anna Hackett’s post-apocalyptic Hell Squad series drawing soon to a close, I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. Quite literally so, given the odder and odder paranormal elements coming into play (I think of Fright Night zombies, leeches and all other weird things that Hackett’s throwing in here) along with the dinosaur aliens who have overrun future earth.

But the secret weapon of a wisp of another alien whose actions are powerful enough to be the Deus ex Machina of the entire series—conveniently saving the characters and the day when all hope is thought to be lost—is Hackett’s chosen form of redemption it seems. Selena may yet save us all, though it’s starting to be a recurring pattern. But I digress, as much as I love that character and her long-awaited story with the head of the Berserker squad.

‘Dom’ is the penultimate novella here, even as Hackett’s willingness to stretch the series on can be somewhat frustrating. The latest to fall prey to love, so to speak, Dom is silent and tormented by the trajectory of his entire life, only to find it with a woman who’s also lost everything in the alien war.

Like many of the HS books, the pattern is similar: there’s a strong strain of instalove given the brevity of the work and the heavy focus on action that helps cement the pairing, a new discovery and a final mission where a near-catastrophic event happens…but we all live to see another day, bruised, battered and torn. Dom and Arden don’t exactly stray from this template, but it’s Hackett’s imagination and her ability to throw new developments that ultimately carry the story through.

‘Dom’ is certainly enjoyable throughout, but I’ll confess my heart probably lies with the finale that’s yet to come.

three-half-stars