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Contemporary Romance

HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye Harris

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 16th January 2018
HOT Seal Bride by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT SEAL Bride by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: HOT SEAL Team #4
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on January 16th 2018
Pages: 255
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two-stars

Sold to the highest bidder…

For the past fourteen years, Princess Antonella Rossi has been a virtual prisoner. She has no friends, no fun, and she’s not allowed to leave her aunt and uncle’s Virginia compound without an escort.

But today is her wedding day. A rich sheikh has bought her virginity, and with it her freedom. Any hope of independence Ella’s ever cherished will disappear the instant she faces him across the altar. With time running out and the wedding party gathering, Ella seizes the opportunity to run as far and fast as she can.

Navy SEAL Cash “Money” McQuaid isn’t looking for trouble, but trouble always seems to find him. This time trouble is five foot four and wearing a wedding dress. Rescuing a runaway princess has consequences though, and with his face plastered on the evening news and his career on the line, he realizes there’s only one way out of this mess—he has to marry her!

It’s a marriage in name only, just until he can clear his name and win Ella the freedom she seeks. But shacking up with a gorgeous virgin isn’t as easy as it seems, especially when the sparks snapping between them are hotter and more dangerous than anything Cash has ever experienced. By the time he realizes it’s too late to resist his virgin bride, an unseen enemy is intent on taking her away from him.

Cash is gonna need all his skills—and his friends on the Hostile Operations Team—in order to rescue his princess bride and give her the happily-ever-after she deserves.

What do you do when a man is allergic to love, not to mention marriage? You force and trap him into one, in a twist of circumstances that apparently leaves him no other way out, then hem him in with reasons to do with ‘doing the honourable thing’ because this simply has to extend to his rescuing-people-in-need white knight syndrome. In this case, an escapee virgin princess, kept in her gilded tower or prison.

I got into this with trepidation, because of the virginity and the royal-angle that can go so wrong in many ways. And for me, it did.

‘HOT Seal Bride’ reads like a traditional, old-school Harlequin story (with a title that could have well been ’Tempted by a Virgin’), with very set gender-defined roles (complete with several, infuriating sexist stances the male protagonist typically exhibits)—the manwhore-soldier and the innocent, helpless virgin princess—and that was the most excruciating thing I had to get over because by and large, I actually do like quite a few books in Lynn Raye Harris’s HOT series despite the stereotypes that could be perpetuated in them.

But Cash McQuaid, who understood that love was merely fiction and indignantly sprouted arguments (paraphrased in different ways through the story) why virgins were a no-go and how jaded non-virgin women knew the score just…left me enraged. The many repeated references about how he’d slept with ‘innumerable’ women as was his routine and wanted nothing to with any virgin certainly didn’t leave me too hot either.

I do know that there are many readers who love seeing such bed-hoppers ‘tamed’ and finally acknowledging that yes, the fairytale is also for them. However, I don’t count myself among them, the rather…unenlightened attitude of such male protagonists being the primary issue here. And along with it, the rather simplistic assumption that a woman who hasn’t has sex would in fact, confuse sex with love and want a relationship felt like an enormous step back from the other contemporary romances that I’ve read.

Along with the disrespectful instances of ‘locker room’ talk that I actually found offensive – go ahead, argue that that’s normal, unfiltered and honest talk anyway – Cash’s so-called falling in love with Ella felt superficial because he wanted her in his bed and couldn’t well imagine other men taking his place.

Whether this is merely a view that Harris puts across of her protagonist or whether the author subscribes to it didn’t matter here. That the notion itself existed in a book meant for women written by a woman rubbed me the wrong way.

Plainly put, it’s a peculiar notion of virginity and sex that I can’t subscribe to at all, because it should not have been a big deal at all, particularly after having read books which didn’t deal with virginity like a central commodity to be argued about or the primary source of conflict. But because ‘HOT Seal bride’ took this route, the events that happened in the book followed like clockwork, as was the ultimate ‘downfall’ of the eternal bachelor because holy matrimony was the sole solution—again, this left me very sceptical—out of Ella’s conundrum.

I’d hoped that Harris’s HOT SEAL series would have worked for me as well as some books in the actual HOT series did. So far, it hasn’t seemed that way unfortunately and I’m not so sure right now, if it would get better.

two-stars

Beautiful Killer by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews 11th January 2018
Beautiful Killer by Sherilee GrayBeautiful Killer by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings, #3
Published by Swerve on January 9th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

She’s wanted a big family ever since her distant father and cold stepfamily isolated her from affection. He’s an ex-SEAL sniper with PTSD.

Too bad she’s been told she can never have children, never have a family of her own.

Too bad he’s shut off his heart from love.

What do you do when one secret could bring you ultimate happiness…or destroy everything you hold close?

I was hesitant about ‘Beautiful killer’ because of my not-too-great experiences with Sherilee Gray’s last couple of books that actually left me reeling, but I’m glad that I picked up this one. ‘Beautiful Killer’ leans towards suspense-erotica (if there’s even such a term) rather than contemporary romance, like the rest of the other books in the series, though I did like Gray’s tortured, intense hero (I can’t begin to count how many times he actually growled and felt more animal than man) and a woman who’d always felt left behind.

It isn’t an unpredictable read, and there’s some slight suspense involved, which also proves to be the catalyst for Zeke and Sunny getting together, though their combined issues were certainly drawn out long enough in a push-pull vibe that stretched up to the end. Ultimately, both did seem somewhat self-absorbed in the beginning: Zeke in his own world of pain, regret and self-recrimination to see beyond how he isn’t good enough for anyone, and Sunny’s solitary state that’s self-pitying in her defeatist attitude of seeing everyone leaving her.

Still, I felt sorry for them somehow (developing a soft spot for the tortured arse hero too) and did think that they could be good together…if only they could stop the dance that circled around the word ‘love’ but never quite hitting the mark. With Zeke hardly speaking—his growly ways almost felt like a substitute for speech—and Sunny constantly retreating with Zeke’s inability to confront his past, I was left wondering how he and Sunny could actually communicate beyond scorching the sheets.

That said, ‘Beautiful Killer’ might be angsty, but it was for me, a nice change from the rest of the series that I didn’t really like. There might have been some frustration involved as it seemed as though something catastrophic needed to happen before they both got their acts together, but I can’t deny I felt more for the characters here than I have in a long time with Gray’s other books.

three-stars

Prince Charming by C.D. Reiss

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 9th January 2018
Prince Charming by C.D. ReissPrince Charming by C.D. Reiss
Published by Everafter Romance on January 4th 2018
Pages: 421
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two-stars

Keaton Bridge is exactly the kind of guy a straight-arrow like Cassie doesn’t need.

For one thing, he’s a criminal—and she fights crime for a living. And being criminally handsome isn’t helping her say no, either. Everything about him screams trouble, from his British accent to his mysterious past.

And Cassie doesn’t do trouble.

Keaton’s got his own trouble. He’s trying to go legit, and an FBI agent hanging around is the last thing that will help his credibility. All it took was one night of passion to sear her into his skin. Now he can’t imagine living happily ever after without her.

All they have to do is walk away.

But neither of them ever walks away from danger.

C.D. Reiss doesn’t often come around on my need-to-read list, but there’s no doubt her stories are stylishly written and her plots imaginative. The blurb of ‘Prince Charming’ spoke to the geek in me and the hacking, white-collar crime, the criminal and the fed were just ingredients that could and should have made a story as explosive as I’d expected.

The web Reiss wove from the beginning had a noir-ish, sometimes claustrophobic (though sexually-charged) feel to it. But if I was initially intrigued and loving the toxic, uncertain atmosphere of distrust mixed with attraction, my excitement flatlined a bit as I couldn’t see where the story was heading, except for the instant lust and the moral ambiguity that seems to be all-pervasive each time Keaton Bridge enters the picture. With every action described, every thought catalogued in a cat-and-mouse game of questions going nowhere that was perhaps meant to build suspense, but got distracting and draggy instead—oddly enough, because Cassie’s and Keaton’s attraction seemed inversely proportionate to the pacing. Cassie’s and Keaton’s to-and-fro dialogue always seemed to be heading for a stalemate (though his constant arousal and her wet panties are a separate issue entirely and rather bewildering), interrupted often by long, protracted mental musings. The point is, both of them were dodgers in so many ways and the pages and pages of dialogue and their dangerous, reckless relationship showed it.

I’m guessing that this might not be a book for everyone—the style and the introspective narrative might not be for those who prefer ‘straight-up’ writing—and I found myself on the fence about it, especially when I started getting impatient for things to roll on instead of stalling when Cassie and Keaton hit the sheets with so many questions still left unanswered. That said, the plot was well-drawn, and the details of cyber crime, the dark web and the hackers involved believably thrilling. There were some twists that I didn’t expect, carrots dangled, and like rewards for continuing to turn the pages, they were hooks that I bit into despite skimming some parts of the story.

two-stars

Her Rogue Alpha by Paige Tyler

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 8th January 2018
Her Rogue Alpha by Paige TylerHer Rogue Alpha by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #5
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 6th 2016
Pages: 320
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two-stars

HE'LL DO ANYTHING FOR HER
Former Special Forces Lieutenant Jayson Harmon can't believe that his war scars don't matter to beautiful feline shifter Layla Halliwell. Why would she saddle herself with a broken man?

But Layla knows that Jayson is a hero to the core, and that only she can heal his wounded soul. So when Jayson is deployed on another deadly mission, no way is Layla staying behind...

Layla and Jayson have been ‘teased’ as a pairing throughout this series, though their introduction is a soft one: Paige Tyler doesn’t do the whole pining-after-each-other rigmarole here and their first meeting and their (somewhat chaste) getting together take place off-screen, so to speak. But the time their book rolls around, they’re a couple with obstacles to overcome and ‘Her Rogue Alpha’ is partially that.

Unfortunately, the book proved to be quite a disappointment. Perhaps the most glaring point was the split between Layla/Jayson’s jaunt in Donetsk and a separate plot involving Ivy, Landon and a shifter thief. Set up more like a separate developing plots in an episode of a tv series, having this in print simply made it more distracting than engaging.

I was also left sceptically wondering whether a person with rather severe back injuries could do what Jayson did and continue to do some superhuman feats just because he’d believed he could. Whether the shifter hybrid serum worked or him or not wasn’t clear – even the extent to which it worked was deliberately left out – but it felt as though Tyler wanted us to believe that Jayson would and could live with the pain in his back (while doing whatever he could do without a magic cure), exacerbating it on missions and still watch Layla’s back like he used to be in the Special Forces.

I wished this could have been a more satisfying read – the potential was certainly there – but so much was set up in a way that had me alternating between frustration and incredulity that I found myself putting down the book and taking it up way too many times.

two-stars

Her Wild Hero by Paige Tyler

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 5th January 2018
Her Wild Hero by Paige TylerHer Wild Hero by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 5th 2015
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Name: Kendra CarlsenRank: Trainer, Dept. of Covert OpsObjective: Get out of the office and into the field

Name: Declan MacBrideRank: Munitions Expert, Dept. of Covert OpsStatus: Bear ShifterObjective: Protect Kendra at all costs

The steamy Costa Rican jungle brings out the bear in Declan MacBride when he and new operative Kendra Carlsen are ambushed. In the midst of relying on each other to survive, and fighting his explosive attraction to Kendra, this shifter is about to lose control...

When Kendra and Declan were introduced in Paige Tyler’s X-Ops series in the first book, I had high hopes. Until I realised Tyler had set up a situation where Declan hankered after Kendra while Kendra hankered after Clayne (who’s the hero in the second) book, slept with him, and never quite gave up the infatuation, and someone else now hankers after her.

Call my idea of romance a narrow-minded one, but this setup inevitably made Kendra/Declan a pairing that was hard to swallow, let alone get invested in.

This alone made ‘Her Wild Hero’ a hard read to go through, though I was starting to feel as though the series was lagging, with the introduction of hybrids and ‘micro-situations’ that felt like filler scenarios to get a particular paring together, as well as provide opportunities for Landon’s ex-Special Forces team to get involved in DCO tasks.

Still, the biggest problem I have with this series so far however,—and it’s a glaring one—is the number of ‘unrequited’ pairings and the trial-and-error basis that some non-couples go through before ending up with their mates. Thankfully, it isn’t the grating idea of finding the only one destined for themselves as in Tyler’s Werewolf series, but that there’s just much more room for occasions where ‘second chances’—where one party finally notices another, for instance—just never live up to my own expectations.

If I thought Declan was an adorable gentle giant, I actually loathed Kendra. Not for her stunning abilities to take care of herself in the field, but that her obsession with Clayne, her sleeping with him, only to find out that they had no chemistry, her deliberate keeping it from Declan when she knew he and Clayne didn’t like each other, her subsequent rising interest in Declan only when her crush on Clayne didn’t work out…just weren’t sufficiently dealt with, at least enough to be satisfactory.

Throw in her stubborn and stupid comparisons of Declan to Clayne and I actually thought Declan was her backup option, despite declaration that he was the only man she should be with when he’d been in front of her all this time. Her refusal to see Declan on his own terms (it had to take sleeping with Clayne to show her that?!) until getting stuck in a jungle with him just didn’t seem to give her all-in with Declan any credence. And then the sudden switch 7 years later from Clayne, Clayne and Clayne to Declan simply made her indiscretion more unforgivable.

I wished ‘Her Wild Hero’ was a book that I could get on with, but the ranting above probably shows that I really thought of the pairing—loved the H, hated the Hr. Everything was just details, which in the end, I found myself skimming. Clearly the glowing reviews show that I’m probably the only one who feels this way, but this is going to make me tread more cautiously with this series from here onward.

two-stars

Her Perfect Mate by Paige Tyler

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 4th January 2018
Her Perfect Mate by Paige TylerHer Perfect Mate (X-Ops, #1) by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 6th 2014
Pages: 316
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three-stars

He's a High-Octane Special Ops Pro
When Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is pulled from an op in Afghanistan, he is surprised to discover he's been hand-picked for a special assignment with the Department of Covert Operations (DCO), a secret division he's never heard of. Terrorists are kidnapping biologists and he and his partner have to stop them. But his new partner is a beautiful, sexy woman who looks like she couldn't hurt a fly-never mind take down a terrorist.

She's Not Your Average Covert Operative
Ivy Halliwell is no kitten. She's a feline shifter, and more dangerous than she looks. She's worked with a string of hotheaded military guys who've underestimated her special skills in the past. But when she's partnered with special agent Donovan, a man sexy enough to make any girl purr, things begin to heat up...

Shapeshifter mythology isn’t a new one to me, but the queasy thought of having a menagerie of animals (when I’d previously been selective of the type of shifter romances I’ve been reading) squawking around was probably the sole reason held me back from going into Paige Tyler’s X-ops series. But I’m glad I dived in nonetheless—even if this is to be considered my personal, baby step into expanding my idea of a shifter universe.

That said, the first book of a series can be a hard one to rate: there’s the introduction of a multitude of characters (all of whom you know will get a story of their own), a backstory, context and world-building, all of which, if not handled properly, can probably cause the book to go down quite spectacularly even before it has even begun. ‘Her Perfect Mate’ is a ‘soft’ introduction so to speak, with a feline shapeshifter paired with a military alpha hero who thankfully doesn’t mansplain or behave in a way that makes you want to swing a block of concrete in his face. By and large, I did buy into Landon’s and Ivy’s romance, though I think I’m probably looking forward to the other pairings that have already been hinted at here.

As with romantic suspense however, villainy and heroism tend to be juxtaposed as extremes—bad is bad, good is good—with no in-betweens. Here, it does get laughable at times, where the cliché is stretched so far that I started to wonder if the bad guys should start wearing faux moustaches and announce their arrivals with evil-sounding snickers. Tyler however, does inject some bits with her trademark, understated humour and that went a long way in making the story a lot more enjoyable.

That said, the good part of getting into a series so late is that there isn’t a wait between books and yes, I’m already diving into the next one.

three-stars

Man Card by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd January 2018
Man Card by Sarina Bowen and Tanya EbyMan Card by Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby
Series: Man Hands #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on January 15th 2018
Pages: 452
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four-stars

Nothing ventured, nothing banged...

AshI still don't know how it happened. One minute I was arguing with my arrogant competitor--our usual trash-talk over who deserves the larger commission. But somehow I went from throwing down to kneeling down... It can never happen again. I don't even like Braht. He's too slick. He's a manipulating mansplaining party boy in preppy clothes.So why can't I get him out of my head?

BrahtThere are two things I know without question. One: Ash and I are destined for each other. Two: never trust a man with a unibrow.Ash is my missing my piece. She's the sweet cream to my gourmet espresso. And nothing gets me going faster than her contempt for me. They don't call her the Ashkicker for nothing. Eventually I'll win her over...if my past doesn't ruin everything first.

A not-quite secret: ‘Man Card’ was something I hesitated a long time over, but gave in because, well, it’s Sarina Bowen, an author who seems to take on anything, anyone and everything without fear, no matter the consequences.

And I’m glad I took the time for this one. I found the slapstick comedy in ‘Man Hands’ near intolerable, but ‘Man Card’ was thankfully a return to the comfort zone for me, which was akin to not barrelling into walls and left feeling bewildered by a certain type of humour that never really worked for me. In fact, Braht’s and Ash’s story was a wittier, more relatable, less over-the-top, more believable version than its predecessor in a fremenies-to-lovers story. There were scenes and internal monologues so hysterical and unnecessarily exaggerated that even sitcoms would be taken offline—the constant talk of tightening nipples repeated ad nauseum for one—but by and large, ‘Man Hands’ was a way better read, and yes, I laughed in parts with some unexpectedly funny pop-up lines.

I actually liked Braht, despite the ridiculous name and the showy personality that we saw in the first book. Adored his all-in, completely besotted and devoted attention to Ash that worked strangely well with his cocky confidence, adored the amusing swagger that poured through the pages while he kept trying to win his lady over. It was Braht’s difference that made him a standout hero as well; unlike the usual alpha, testosterone-laden males that tend to come off the pages of romance novels, Braht is lanky, blond and James Spader-ish of the 80s, a metrosexual to the core and even more high maintenance than Ash herself.

Strangely enough, Braht and Ash did seem well-paired and their lusty, irrepressible banter was what kept me going throughout. The angst was kept to a minimum, the conflict thankfully not overinflated and the storytelling mostly lighthearted. Admittedly, some of the humour wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but this zany read marking the start of the new year was still oh, so welcome.

four-stars
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