Category: Contemporary Romance

Sin and Ink by Naima Simone

Sin and Ink by Naima SimoneSin and Ink by Naima Simone
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Scorched) on 15th October 2018
Pages: 187
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three-stars

There’s sin. And then there’s condemned-to-hell sin.

Being in lust with my dead brother’s wife pretty much guarantees that one day I’ll be the devil’s bitch. I promised my family—no, I promised him—I'd keep away.

My days as an MMA champion are behind me. But whenever I see Eden Gordon, with her wicked curves and that mouth created for dirty acts, it's a knock-down, drag-out fight to maintain my distance. "Hard Knox" becomes more than just the name of my tattoo shop.

There’s no woman more off-limits than my brother's strong-but-scarred widow. But she works with me, so it's getting harder and harder to stay away. She’s terrified of risking her heart again; I can tell. But when she looks at me like she wants my rough hands on that sexy body, I can’t think. I can barely breathe.

Surrendering to the forbidden might be worth losing everything...

‘Sin and Ink’ is somewhat different from Naima Simone’s previous offerings, but considering this is categorised clearly as erotica with several sides of forbidden/pseudo-incest/the tortured hero who wants what he can’t have, I knew what I was in for the moment I requested for this ARC. But every forbidden-type thing in romance is my kind of catnip, so I did expect quite a bit of push-pull and pretty much the soul-hollowing kind of angst that typically accompanies such tropes.

It isn’t to say that it can’t get painfully exhausting. Simone’s writing is drawn up with descriptions of every minute detail that strangely heightens emotion, yet still feel like page filler at times—from interior décor to every small movement that the characters make, to the relentless unravelling of every emotion they have. Both ride the waves of guilt and regret, all through the simmering sexual tension that underlies all of it, though there are parts that feel stifling as well as both Knox/Eden do the one-step-forward-two-steps-back routine until something finally, finally gives.

Essentially, a lot of ‘Sin and Ink’ is a long, long journey of angst and emotional overload of wanting to cross a line; this is however, repeated ad nauseam when Knox keeps swimming in guilt as he rehashes all the reasons why Eden is forbidden goods while the latter tries to decide whom she really loves, with the constant fixation on body parts that leads to imagining how each other would be like in bed. There is the use of a trope that I absolutely detest nonetheless, (Eden watching Knox hook up with another woman in the past and then getting aroused by it ) though this is a clearly personal preference, which in a way, becomes a disturbing part in how Eden—spurred on by this memory—finally decides to do the same to Knox later.

But is this nitpicking on my part? Maybe. I’m well aware of the expectations that I have to manage considering this has been published under Entangled’s Scorched Imprint.

’Sin and Ink’ is after all, primarily erotica and a decently-written one at that if you take into account what this story is supposed to be heavy on sex and lighter on plot. In that, it delivers. The sexy times are abundant and scorching, despite the dead spouse whom Eden can’t seem to let go of and Knox’s constant self-flagellation and the subsequent uncertainty surrounding their forbidden relationship. So if this is exactly what rocks your boat, then ‘Sin and Ink’ does exactly what it promises.

three-stars

Hunting Danger by Katie Reus

Hunting Danger by Katie ReusHunting Danger by Katie Reus
Series: Redemption Harbor, #5
Published by KR Press, LLC on 25th September 2018
Pages: 160
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three-half-stars

When a childhood friend needs help, Nova doesn’t hesitate. They endured the foster system together, forging a bond Nova can’t ignore. Relying on her friends from Redemption Harbor Consulting—including Gage, the computer genius she’s falling for—is out of the question. She used to work for the CIA and she’s trained—she can handle this. Besides, the whole team is working on their own important jobs. She’s not going to drag anyone away when she’s not sure it’s necessary.

Is the one he can’t have…

When Nova asks for time off out of the blue—and use of the company jet—former Marine Gage takes note. Of course, he notices everything about Nova. But as one of her bosses, his growing attraction to her is a line he won’t cross. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll let her run straight into danger—and a quick hack of her computer proves she’s gotten in over her head. Gage is coming along for the ride, whether the sassy assistant likes it or not. He’ll do whatever’s necessary to save her friend…and keep Nova out of the clutches of a lethal enemy who won’t hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way.

Katie Reus’s ‘Redemption Harbor’ series definitely goes from strength to strength with each instalment and ‘Hunting Danger’ takes on the boss/employee relationship that’s got a delicious hint of the forbidden.

Gage and Nova have had the hots for each other stretching back some time though it’s only an event that Nova gets inevitably involved in that proves to be the catalyst for things between them to change. Yet it’s a solid pairing nonetheless, as Reus tends to do with her brand of romantic suspense, which I’ve long come to appreciate. The admission of attraction, the lack of game-playing, the maturity with which the main characters face their issues—these are dominant traits of Reus’s writing I really like and for the romance alone, Reus did a stellar job in portraying pretty likeable protagonists whom I could and wanted to root for.

The only thing I wasn’t entirely convinced about was the structure: the multiple POVs that popped in and out of the entire narrative, the sudden flashback in the middle of the book, the sections allotted to the villain, to the next protagonist in the upcoming book, to the victim’s, to the founders of the company and so on. It was jarring to say the least, to have such insertions that derailed the growing action when all I wanted at times, was to read about Gage’s and Nova’s growing relationship that had been put aside in favour of the suspense and these additional POVs that felt superfluous.

 

Still, I’m glad to see that there’s already another book in the works in this series; Reus’s use of tropes somehow never gets old in the way she writes her main characters and I already can’t wait for the next one in line.

three-half-stars

Fighting for Everything by Laura Kaye

Fighting for Everything by Laura KayeFighting for Everything by Laura Kaye
Series: Warrior Fight Club #1
Published by Laura Kaye on 17th May 2018
Pages: 264
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three-stars

Loving her is the biggest fight of his life…

Home from the Marines, Noah Cortez has a secret he doesn’t want his oldest friend, Kristina Moore, to know. It kills him to push her away, especially when he’s noticing just how sexy and confident she’s become in his absence. But, angry and full of fight, he’s not the same man anymore either. Which is why Warrior Fight Club sounds so good.

Kristina loves teaching, but she wants more out of life. She wants Noah—the boy she’s crushed on and waited for. Except Noah is all man now—in ways both oh so good and troubling, too. Still, she wants who he’s become—every war-hardened inch. And when they finally stop fighting their attraction, it’s everything Kristina never dared hope for.

But Noah is secretly spiraling, and when he lashes out, it threatens what he and Kristina have found. The brotherhood of the fight club helps him confront his demons, but only Noah can convince the woman he loves that he’s finally ready to fight for everything.

‘Fighting for Everything’ is something I decided to give a go because it does sound different from Laura Kaye’s offerings of late: MCs aren’t what I typically read and Kaye’s recent focus on that left me hanging in the wind. That it’s an earnest take on vets and the demons they bring home from war is a bonus because it shoves the spotlight on protagonists who are the furthest from the cocky, swaggeringly confident male romantic fiction loves to portray.

But the Warrior fight club bit doesn’t come in until much later, to my surprise. In fact, most of the book revolves around the constant push-pull between Noah and Kristina who’d practically known each other all their lives, who suddenly move from friendship to something more, seemingly out of the blue. Angst-ridden and drama-filled, Noah/Kristina’s constant push-pull (along with unhinged jealousy and dirty sex) takes centre-stage as Kaye pulls everything down to rock-bottom, then uses the fight club as the anchor to restart everything.

I did feel so very sorry for Noah in any case. The damage he’d suffered to his body, the pain he found himself in made it easier to understand his rationale for really not being in the right place for anything (even if it’s somewhat inexcusable) with his best friend. And as much as I dug Kristina for putting herself out there after getting the epiphany about having always loved him, her ultimatum to Noah however—either lovers or nothing without leaving friendship as the option had she not gotten what she wanted—felt somewhat unreasonable when Noah had loads to sort through on his own.

As a result, ‘Fighting for Everything’ was a middling read, at most. The caveat here is that the friend-to-lovers trope is one I’m the most sceptical about, and the closer the friendship to begin with, in essence, the more doubtful I am. And this is clearly my inability to believe how a switch suddenly flips and a protagonist suddenly realises he/she has been ‘in love’ all along with the other person after years have gone by with many other partners coming and going. It’s the obliviousness/pretence/delusion of the characters that typically keeps me from buying into this trope entirely; only rarely does it work for me and only under very specific conditions at least.

Apart from the romance, the camaraderie in the fight club shines through—the military brotherhood extended past military service is what Kaye excels at—and it’s something I do want to read more about. It does come in a little too late in this book, but seeing as this is only the start of the series, I’m curious to see how far Kaye will take this.

three-stars

The Chase by Elle Kennedy

The Chase by Elle KennedyThe Chase by Elle Kennedy
Series: Briar U, #1
Published by Elle Kennedy Inc. on 6th August 2018
Pages: 377
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three-stars

Everyone says opposites attract. And they must be right, because there’s no logical reason why I’m so drawn to Colin Fitzgerald. I don’t usually go for tattoo-covered, video-gaming, hockey-playing nerd-jocks who think I’m flighty and superficial. His narrow view of me is the first strike against him. It doesn’t help that he’s buddy-buddy with my brother.

And that his best friend has a crush on me.

And that I just moved in with them.

Oh, did I not mention we’re roommates?

I suppose it doesn’t matter. Fitzy has made it clear he’s not interested in me, even though the sparks between us are liable to burn our house down. I’m not the kind of girl who chases after a man, though, and I’m not about to start. I’ve got my hands full dealing with a new school, a sleazy professor, and an uncertain future. So if my sexy brooding roomie wises up and realizes what he’s missing?

He knows where to find me.

Elle Kennedy’s is always a curious choice of an author for me. Very often, her books can go either very well or sideways—yet this is pitted against the readablity of her writing—so it’s this unpredictability that always makes me nervous to start any book of hers.

The blurb of ’The Chase’ sold me really, since it began on the assumption that most surface-level things tended to hide something deeper. But the type of college-life Kennedy portrays—the world of college athletes, sororities, the drug/party-scene and the casual hook-up culture—is one that I’m quite tired of (given the large number of books perpetuating this same worldview, where everyone seems obsessed with only cock-and-boob size and not much else), so picking up this book was done with more than a tad bit of apprehension.

I can’t really remember Summer’s and Fitzy’s flirtation at all but the setup is quite an intriguing one, with opposites-attracting being the main trope…with the moral of the story typically ending with looking past the very shiny veneer.

And I tried very hard to find the deeper bit, though honestly, I can’t say I was entirely successful in plumbing the depths of the protagonists or the superficial world that seemed to be perpetuated here. Even with her learning disability, Summer still did come off as an exhausting, spoilt, over-the-top airhead, full of the drama she tended to create around herself, and trying with words to convince others she has substance rang a little hollow with actions that felt contradictory.

While I liked reading a lot more about were both Summer’s and Fitzy’s interests and plans past their college years rather than the constant focus on hooking-up—even though that seems to be the main theme of N/A books these days? Yet there wasn’t too much of it at all; in fact, the bits about sexual harassment, disabilities and all the other shady little things that tend to get shoved under the carpet were the things that I found too little of as though these were just side issues mentioned, and rushed through because Kennedy focused on who was trying to jump into bed with whom.

Not tackling the hard topics left me disappointed as a result, and the creation of a sort-of love-triangle stuttered what could have been a more convincing effort to build on Summer’s and Fitzy’s connection instead of the mixed messages that kept pinging across (while bulldozing over other people). That the actual romance began much, much later in the book just made the first half feel like filler, or rather, time spent to set-up the rest of the characters and potential pairings in the rest of the series.

So I’m mixed really. Reading ‘The Chase’ wasn’t a hardship at all. The pages flew, the drama (never-ending at times) went on. But I finished it all still wishing, nonetheless, that I had something more solid to take away.

three-stars

Worth the Risk by K. Bromberg

Worth the Risk by K. BrombergWorth the Risk by K. Bromberg
Published by JKB Publishing, LLC on 15th May 2018
Pages: 362
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two-stars

This whole contest was supposed to be easy. I know, I know. Famous last words.

It’s a long story, but I messed up at work. Big time. To earn back the trust of my boss, I promised to save one of our magazines. Yep. That Hot Dad contest you’ve seen advertised all over the place was my idea. And if I’m successful, if I’m able to increase our online readership, then I get a shot at my dream job.

But the one thing I never expected to happen, happened: Contestant number ten, Grayson Malone. Hello, Mr. Difficult. And did I mention sexy as hell?

Unfortunately he knows me. The old me, anyway. And while we might be older now, I remind him of before. Of the woman who broke his heart, who hardened him, and who left him alone to raise the cutest little boy I’ve ever seen.

But I don’t want a relationship. And I definitely don’t fall for single dads with baggage. Even ones with chiseled abs and killer smiles.

But he got to me. They got to me. Him and his son and their messy, crazy life. But I got to him too. I see the stolen glances. I feel the walls he built start to crumble. I recognize that there’s an unexpected beauty to the chaos in his life.

And now that the contest is about to end, we’re left to decide whether the last six months were just fun or if what we have is worth risking it all?

‘Worth the Risk’ begins with the eating of humble pie for a socialite-magazine princess who’s never quite had to work for anything in her life. Sidney Thornton has gotten by because of her famous name—in a somewhat fickle manner—until her magnate father puts his foot down and insists she dislodges the silver spoon in her mouth and work for her salary and the position in the company she’s always wanted.

Grayson Malone is her very reluctant target for the magazine she’s been relegated to working for—a magazine that runs outside her kind of social life—and already, she’s his target for everything wrong in his life. Apparently.

Their history however, with him as the scorned, middle-class kid and her upper-class snooty ways, isn’t one Grayson has forgotten and in many ways, he makes her pay for it. With a chip so large on his shoulder about the woman who left him and his own social-class hang-ups, he can be a bit of an arse as he holds Sidney to the unpleasant memories he has of her as gospel truth.

Basically, he hates her, but wants her.

On the contrary, Sidney’s painted constantly into a corner while crying not fair at everyone (though not without her fair attempt at manipulation, several instances of shallow behaviour and wimpily keeping things from him) and acting like a whipped puppy coming back for more.

Bromberg lays Grayson’s and Sidney’s issues bare from the very start and her writing is compelling enough that it makes you stay the course. Somewhat.

But just as there’s a little progress between them, we’re back at square one, with this push-pull getting rinsed and repeated so much that I thought it stretched the book longer than it should have been. The long and short is, I read this through somehow, but couldn’t find it in myself to sympathise with either Grayson or Sidney at all, too lost as they were in their own heads with their own personal hang-ups and the kind of lifestyles they were determined to lead. Neither quite really fought for each other it seems, so this simply ended up as a story with a pairing I couldn’t get behind at all.

two-stars

Wolf Rising by Paige Tyler

Wolf Rising by Paige TylerWolf Rising by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team, #8
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 30th October 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Werewolf SWAT Officer Jayden Brooks has yet to meet The One—but when he rescues teacher Selena Rosa from a hostage situation at her high school, he knows he’s in trouble. Her scent is irresistible.

There’s a reason for that powerful scent—and it isn’t an expensive perfume. Thanks to the traumatizing events at the school, the werewolf gene flipped on and Selena’s going through the change. Even scarier, she’s on track to become an omega—an out-of-control and violent breed. It’s going to take everything Brooks has if he wants any chance to pull her back from the edge…and ultimately win her heart.

Eight books on into Paige Tyler’s shapeshifter SWAT series, ‘Wolf Rising’ finally goes deeper to explore the idea of the omega wolf: the long, violent ranger as opposed to the Alpha wolf pack like the SWAT team this series revolves around.

In the same pattern that Tyler takes with all the SWAT books, there’s the prologue that begins with a violent incident that marks the start of a man-turned-werewolf, then a period of time later as we find them settled as a motley crew of growling, all-too-alpha pack within a SWAT compound in Dallas and searching for their one true mate. The journey to each HEA is as always, fraught with some kind of danger, and it’s no different for Jayden Brooks who finds his one and only here after a traumatic event that starts her shifting process into an omega werewolf.

Tyler juggles several points of conflicts along with the romance: the war on drugs and gangbangers, the looming hunters, the unpredictable and uncontrollable omega wolf. But clearly all isn’t quite resolved yet as issues with the wolf hunters look to stretch further on into the future with barely any progress made on that front seeing as the romance and the omega wolf are what take priority in the plot.

With Tyler going with the myth of each shapeshifter finding the one and only mate for himself is one that I always find rather hard to swallow hook, line and sinker nonetheless—there are several gaps in logic and unanswerable questions that keep coming up—but it’s a trope of shapeshifting fantasy that certainly and conveniently helps cement a pairing together the moment they find each other. It seems that having part-wolf genes provides enough grounding rationale for instant love (or rather, lust), and the quick way in which Selena/Brooks fall for each other—attributed mostly to a scent both can’t shake off that’s probably akin to the first flush of love—left me sceptical.

Still, the mythology of werewolves at least, tailored-to fit in Tyler’s SWAT series, is what kept the pages turning for me as each book reveals a little more about them, despite several predictable plot points. Apart from Selena’s somewhat uncharacteristic TSTL behaviour after finding out what she’d become (this gets back on track rather quickly), ‘Wolf Rising’ is quite a straightforward and decent read that isn’t weighed down too much with convoluted past history despite being the eighth book in the series.

three-stars

Undetected by Anna Hackett

Undetected by Anna HackettUndetected by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #8
Published by Anna Hackett on September 4th 2018
Pages: 127
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four-stars

Darcy Ward has sold her soul to the devil. Okay, not quite the devil, but she did agree to work with Agent Arrogant and Annoying—aka Special Agent Alastair Burke of the FBI’s Art Crime Team to lay a trap for infamous black-market antiquities ring, Silk Road. Darcy loves shoes, computers, caffeine, and working at her family business, Treasure Hunter Security.

The only thing missing is her dream of a once-in-a-lifetime love, like her parents share, and a man who’ll put her first. She’s not so crazy about Silk Road trying to kill her family and friends, nor is she fond of an order-giving FBI agent and his distracting cologne. Using a trio of cursed diamonds as bait, she’s working hard to set a trap for Silk Road in the Dashwood Museum, but as the black-market thieves escalate their attempts to stop Darcy, she finds herself swept into Alastair’s strong, protective arms.

Alastair Burke is driven by vengeance. He’s dedicated his life to taking down Silk Road and its mysterious leader, the Collector, and now he finally has his chance. He can’t allow anything to distract him—especially not a sassy, smart woman who tests every bit of his control. But as the opening gala of the cursed diamonds exhibit approaches, the thieves target him and Darcy with a series of deadly attacks…and Alastair realizes he’ll do anything to keep her safe.

With the FBI and the former SEALs of Treasure Hunter Security at their backs, Darcy and Alastair are caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and their fierce attraction. But with lives on the line, Alastair will find himself caught between his desire for revenge and keeping the woman he’s falling for alive.

The simmering tension between Special Agent Arrogant and Annoying (Alastair Burke) and Darcy Ward stretching over the the whole Treasure Hunter Security series, left as the last novella, finally, finally comes to fruition in ‘Undetected’, where it all gets wrapped up in a mere hundred-ish pages. The bad guys go down, in a spectacular, Bruce-Willis-action-movie kind of way (this isn’t to say suspension of disbelief isn’t clearly needed in some scenes), and Darcy and Burke still manage get the hots on after getting bloodied and bruised in the process.

Although definitely not a standalone, ‘Undetected’ works well because of the build-up over the last few books, with the overarching narrative and characters already in place to launch this last instalment off from the get-go. In essence, the story’s loads of fun and full of non-stop action and as anxious as I was to see how Darcy/Burke’s story would play out, I was pretty chuffed with how things went down with them—the push-pull from the both of them coming across as foreplay, the explosive sexy times—though I was pretty outraged at the somewhat rushed ending, but only because I wanted more of them.

four-stars