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Ash by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 10th October 2017
Ash by Anna HackettAsh by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #14
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

In the middle of an alien invasion, will the bad boy berserker catch the geeky tech genius?

Computer genius Marin Mitchell is doing her part to help humanity survive the raptor invasion, working tirelessly to decrypt alien data. She spends her days working and drooling over a certain tattooed, biker berserker from Squad Three. But Marin knows the rules: geeks do not snag sexy bad boys. She spends her nights playing her favorite computer game where she is a kick-butt badass, and a match for her mysterious online fight partner, SuperSoldier3.

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Ash Connors knows that whenever he reaches for something good, life slaps him back down. He gave up on his dreams a long time ago, and instead, focused on running his motorcycle club with his best friend. But after the alien invasion, he does what he does best, fight and take down the aliens. When cute, smart, and sweet Marin catches his eye, he tries to steer clear, but can’t seem to stay away…online or in real life.

When Marin discovers information about a central alien data hub, her skills are needed to hack into the system. That means a deadly mission deep underground, right into the heart of alien territory. That throws her right into Ash’s tattooed arms. As the sexy berserker fights to keep her safe, he also vows to show Marin that while she might follow the rules, he likes to break them.

Finding love in an alien-apocalypse-survivor world is far from impossible, at least according to Anna Hackett, because all it really takes is a kind of desperation to survive, to cherish whatever you have, to live in the present and to take what you want—to the point where protagonists who wouldn’t have given each other time of the day in the ‘normal’ world actually work in this context.

More like a miniseries of novella than a full-length books, ‘Ash’, like all of Hackett’s books, is a fast read with a bit of instalove, with enough sexy times to scorch the pages and action-packed scenes that don’t let up. But I’ve missed this world of hers and ‘Ash’ is a great return to it.

Hackett tells a riveting story, as each book slowly advances the plot with a new discovery that helps flesh out this post-alien-earth, while serving as a catalyst at the same time to cement the growing relationship between the pairing in question. The geek factor is played up a fair bit in Ash/Marin’s story and it’s computer gaming that brings an unlikely pair together—a tech geek and an ex-biker who has had his own dreams dashed before the alien invasion. And while I do like the dynamics of Marin and Ash, I cringed a little at Marin losing her brains at the sight of a muscular, handsome ex-biker and becoming all awkward when she saw him.

As a novella however, Ash/Marin, like all of Hackett’s other pairings, find their HEA fast enough, given that there are bigger and more worrisome entities to care about. No time is wasted with their getting together, though a late twist in the game gives too much of a Deus Ex Machina moment for me to fully buy into it. Still, it’s a solid addition to the series as far as things go and it’s making me very curious about how Hackett will end this entire narrative arc in this universe when it finally ends.

four-stars

Bad For Her by Christi Barth

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews 9th October 2017
Bad For Her by Christi BarthBad for Her by Christi Barth
Series: Bad Boys Gone Good #1
Published by Avon Impulse on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 432
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three-stars

Doctor Mollie Vickers loves the tight-knit community of her tiny Oregon town. But she’s not a fan of the limited dating options. Sleep with a guy who tried to copy off her in junior high? Pass. Mollie’s sex life is flatlining… until a deliciously handsome man she’s never seen before stops to help her fix a flat tire.

As an ex-mobster, Rafe Maguire’s no saint. But he’s trying to turn over a new leaf. Although he probably shouldn’t kiss the hot doctor on the side of the highway. Or suggest a no-strings fling with a woman he has no business pursuing. Rafe’s life is too complicated for love—his new WITSEC-provided identity doesn’t fit him at all and there’s a U.S. Marshal watching his every move. He can’t tell Mollie the truth… but their chemistry is scorching and being good doesn’t mean he can’t be a little bad.

Mollie can’t resist the guy who looks rough, talks tough, and is loyal to the bone. But it’s obvious Rafe is keeping secrets. When the truth comes out, Mollie must decide if she could ever love an ex-mobster… or if this bad boy has truly gone good.

Three bothers in witness protection, facing nothing but uncertainty after being uprooted from the life they know, finding their own HEA a book at a time? ‘Bad For Her’’s novel premise intrigued me from the start. The originality of the blurb reeled me in immediately and Christi Barth’s marvellous storytelling took it the rest of the way.

Admittedly, I strangely found myself more interested in the brothers’ interaction with each other than I was in the romance this time around—which almost felt like an afterthought. It’s strange not to be swept up in the romance though; Mollie Vickers wasn’t a protagonist interesting enough for me to buy into the pairing, especially when she paled in contrast to the larger-than-life Rafe Maguire. Embodying the best definition of ‘bad boy’ I’ve read about in recent memory, Rafe’s loyalty to his brothers, the sacrifices he made for them and the all-round good guy that he strove to be somehow carved out a sharper silhouette of him than Mollie—and after a while, it was pretty much because of him and his brothers that I read on.

That, and the surprising, consistent thread of snide humour that ran throughout this book, courtesy of Rafe and his brothers who should have found side-jobs at comedy gigs.

In fact, the laughs kept me going and the sarcastic commentary from the characters that was either accidental or deliberate went a long way in keeping this an upbeat journey of three men stumbling around and finding their own way to survive in a whole new world so far from their comfort zone. In ‘Bad For her’, I lived through Kellan, Flynn and Rafe’s shenanigans in a town so far from the city slickers that they were, laughed at their antics, felt their paranoia and sympathised with Rafe’s efforts to keep them safe. Bottom-line is, there’s so much I love about these guys and having each of them anchor the next few books is bound to be an entertaining ride. Here’s crossing my fingers.

three-stars

Bountiful by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th October 2017
Bountiful by Sarina BowenBountiful by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North, #4
Published by Rennie Road Books on October 20th 2017
Pages: 305
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three-stars

No last names. No life stories. Those were the rules.

Once upon a time a cocky, copper-haired tourist sauntered into Zara’s bar. And even though she knew better, Zara indulged in a cure for the small-town blues. It was supposed to be an uncomplicated fling—a few sizzling weeks before he went back to his life, and she moved on.

Until an accidental pregnancy changed her life.

Two years later, she’s made peace with the notion that Dave No-Last-Name will never be found. Until one summer day when he walks into her coffee shop, leveling her with the same hot smile that always renders her defenseless.

Dave Beringer has never forgotten the intense month he spent with prickly Zara. Their nights together were the first true intimacy he’d ever experienced. But the discovery of his child is the shock of a lifetime, and his ugly past puts relationships and family out of reach.

Or does it? Vermont’s countryside has a way of nurturing even tortured souls. The fields and the orchards—and hard won love—are Bountiful.

When ‘Grease’ the musical turned up in my life blaring Danny and Sandy’s summer fling from the very start, it was what I thought of immediately as Zara Rossi and Dave Beringer got down, carefree and dirty for a few weeks, until it wasn’t anymore.

But that was just part 1 of the story—a small but still sizeable part of the whole tale: a careful catalogue of their flirtation and their sex scenes…and probably not too much more than that. I had a hard time liking either Zara or Dave in this first part—the former was prickly and standoffish while the latter too lackadaisical about women for want of a better word—as it was simply about their summer fling where both were determined to make it about shallow sex and nothing more, so waiting to get into the meat of the story was in some ways, torture.

In many ways, it was akin to reading about 2 people who wouldn’t—or couldn’t—grow up until a baby changed how they had to look at the lives they’d been living up until then. But as part 2 went on, it became clear who had done the growing up and who hadn’t and by the time the story ended, ‘Bountiful’ felt like a patched jigsaw and wholly like a Sarina Bowen creation. Admittedly, I had unrealistic expectations of Zara and Dave and not having them met was a particular disappointment, but truth be told, I also felt like I’d overdosed on the topic of motherhood and children throughout part 2.

Clearly, these are my own prejudices shouting a little loud here.

But if I didn’t exactly get into the pairing, it was certainly no hardship to get lost in Bowen’s storytelling. There’s such a readability to Bowen’s books (throw in the Vermont setting and I’m sold) and her ability to tell a small-town, family-centric drama with loads of heart simply shines through. So while the rest of this series’s books never quite reached ‘Steadfast’s’ lofty heights for me, the intersection of the Brooklyn Bruisers world and the Shipleys here however, was probably the highlight of my whole read. Seeing Doulie and Trevi make their appearances in here (Castro’s fantastic cameo just made my day) perked it all up for me, which made me impatient for Bowen’s return to the Bruisers.

three-stars

A SEAL’s Strength by J.M. Stewart

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews 6th October 2017
A SEAL’s Strength by J.M. StewartA SEAL's Strength by J.M. Stewart
Series: Military Match #2
Published by Forever Yours on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 240
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two-stars

This second chance was worth the wait . . .

As a SEAL, Gabriel Donovan did the toughest jobs imaginable without blinking an eye. But three years after his wife's death, the idea of dating still makes him sick to his stomach. His daughter desperately needs a mother, though, and there's nothing Gabe won't do for his little girl.

Stephanie Mason doesn't run from anything. Not even coming face to face with the "one that got away" on a blind date. Steph's body vividly remembers every single thing about Gabe and while some things have changed, the way he makes her feel sure as hell hasn't.

Gabe and Steph know that love comes with risks, but if they're brave enough, this second chance might just bring them the love of a lifetime.

J.M. Stewart writes emotional journeys that dig deep and raw and ‘A SEAL’s strength’, like its predecessor, is more tangentially military than it really is a contemporary romance that explores second chances that come by way of tragedy and coincidences.

Stephanie Mason wasn’t so much as the one who got away as the one whom Gabriel Donovan had let go, only to hop onto someone else 2 months later which pretty much decided the rest of the decade for him. But a few years after his wife’s death, his unwilling hop back onto the dating train leads him straight back to Steph and a past that might be better left buried. Ironically, it was Gabe’s original ‘sin’ along with some other knocks along the way that had made Steph’s big heart the way it is today and their temporary affair—courtesy of a match-making site—brings back to light the deep hurts of yesterday.

Despite my wariness of the second-chance trope, I picked it up because I like Stewart’s writing and her characterisation though this book left me rather pessimistic by the end. Learning Steph’s and Gabe’s backstory made me restless as I’d assumed that Steph and Gabe hadn’t had that much of a prior association. But they’d been more than that: best friends and lovers—a relationship that he dropped too easily—to the point where it’d scarred and influenced Steph’s emotional state. Ultimately, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that Steph had indeed gotten the shorter end of the stick when she merely settled for the bits she could reach for with Gabe—without knowing what he could really offer—only because her friends convinced her about keeping up the affair with him. That Gabe rounded off the story’s conflict and HFN ending with no iron-clad promise but rather, with a softly-softly approach to the future left me feeling as though this relationship hadn’t moved past shaky ground at all.

Both protagonists’ maturity however, was admirable—Stewart prioritises honesty and communication in a way that thankfully eschews any game-playing between the both of them—and this was exactly what made it so difficult to rate this book. Above all, I struggled with the issue of forgiveness and the ideas of loyalty that Gabe espoused here, yet knowing a decade of life-changing experiences for the both of them had blurred the blacks and whites to muted shades of grey. I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied nonetheless, that for all the adulting both characters had done to get to where they were at the end, Steph hadn’t gotten the much more that she deserved.

two-stars

Burn For You by J.T. Geissinger

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Fairytale/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 5th October 2017
Burn For You by J.T. GeissingerBurn for You by J.T. Geissinger
Series: Slow Burn #1
Published by Montlake Romance on October 17th 2017
Pages: 348
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four-stars

The marriage is fake. But for a sassy chef and an arrogant billionaire, the sparks are real…

Jackson “The Beast” Boudreaux is rich, gorgeous, and unbelievably rude to the staff at Chef Bianca Hardwick’s New Orleans restaurant. Bianca would sooner douse herself in hot sauce than cook for Jackson again, but when he asks her to cater his fund-raiser, Bianca can’t refuse, knowing the cash will help pay her mother’s medical bills. Then Jackson makes another outrageous request: Marry me. The unconventional offer includes an enormous sum—money Bianca desperately needs, even if it does come with a contract—and a stunning ring.

The heir to a family bourbon dynasty, Jackson knows the rumors swirling around him. The truth is even darker. Still, he needs a wife to secure his inheritance, and free-spirited, sassy Bianca would play the part beautifully. Soon, though, their simple business deal evolves into an emotional intimacy he’s built walls to avoid.

As the passion heats up between them, Bianca and Jackson struggle to define which feelings are real and which are for show. Is falling for your fake fiancé the best happy ending…or a recipe for disaster?

J.T. Geissinger is an author whose name and books have crossed my feed a fair bit, though I’ve never gotten around to reading any of her works, so ‘Burn for You’ is a fresh start for me. And what an introduction it was.

There can never be enough fairy tale retellings for me—the raunchier the better, the funnier the more cherished and the dirtier, the more I fall to my knees in worship. Geissinger’s ‘Burn For You’ fits all of these categories quite comfortably, so needless to say, I had a good time going through this incredibly spirited Southern version of beauty and the beast.

The enemies-to-lovers trope is one of my favourites, so when ‘Burn For You’ started out with the unbridled antagonism, I simply sat back, waited for the claws to get unsheathed and the knives to start flying. The first chapter didn’t disappoint in its explosive introduction to the battling protagonists, as the very distinctive voice of Bianca Hardwick—filled with that kind of wry, sarcastic humour I love—made Jackson Boudreaux out to be the untamable, hairy devil-beast with the appearance and temper to match. Their locking horns was enjoyable as hell, though I wasn’t disappointed when we moved past that and into the harder bits that slayed me the moment Jackson’s tortured past was revealed.

Written with some ‘historical’ romance kind of flair, a mad amount of slang, and buoyed by a tinge of melodrama, ‘Burn For You’ did go a little weirdly hysterical towards the end, with some over-the-top clichés that had me cringing a bit. Still, I went happily along for the ride—that much invested I was in the story by then—and decided immediately by the end that Geissinger would be on the ‘authors-I sniff’ list.

four-stars

Untamable by Jamie Schlosser

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 4th October 2017
Untamable by Jamie SchlosserUntamable by Jamie Schlosser
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on September 29th 2017
Pages: 215
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three-stars

Emery Matheson knows p*ssies. Cats, that is. As the star of a reality show called The P*ssy Tamer, it’s his job to fix extreme feline behavioral issues.

When he hears about his next project—a lonely cat hoarder named Estelle—he expects a little old widow, not the blond bombshell who opens the door.

With a 100 percent success rate, Emery has never had trouble finishing a job. But just a few hours into the first day of filming and one thing is clear—Estelle and her band of misfit p*ssies will give him a run for his money… and his heart.

This is a fun book, no doubt about it.

A man cat-handler (though the cringe-worthy name of ‘The Pussy Tamer’ just shouldn’t be here at all), akin to Jackson Galaxy with his cat hoarder lady with the antics of felines all over? I really did think it should have been a win for me, but I found myself strangely neutral towards the book and somewhat unexcited about the pairing.

Both Emery and Estelle were quirky, standout characters with personalities of their own that are distinct; they did seem good together, though I supposed I couldn’t quite get their connection apart from their inexplicable first-look attraction and their shared love for cats.

I did like Jamie Schlosser’s take on Emery’s show nonetheless and seeing how each cat—with a name so human I actually mistook them for people at times—was getting treated with the kind of respect and care (despite this being fictional) was just heartwarming.

three-stars

Hold Tight by Alexa Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd October 2017
Hold Tight by Alexa RileyHold Tight by Alexa Riley
Series: For You #2
Published by Carina Press on October 16th 2017
Pages: 64
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three-stars

A hotshot consultant hired to streamline Osbourne Corp. meets his match in Pandora Justice—the more she plays hard to get, the more he wants her.

They say that like recognizes like, and the day I looked into her deep blues, I met my other half.

Pandora Justice took over as head of security at Osbourne Corp. after her father's retirement. Eighty-hour workweeks are normal; being brushed up against by hot consultants with ridiculous names is not. And she doesn't like it. Not even one bit.

It's amazing how easily she can lie to herself.

I had to have her. Plain and simple.

The first time Pandora sees Royce in the ring—all tattoos and sinew, covered in sweat—he looks at her like he's just won more than the fight. Like he won her.

I won't play games with her. I'll wait, and it will kill me, but I'll do it for her.

Royce's cocky grin with deep dimples makes Pandora melt. Once she wanted to smack that look off his face—now all she wants to do is kiss it. For the rest of her life.

The thought of spending the rest of my life with Pandora warms the place in my chest I didn't think was alive. I've put my claim on her—she's the one, and I'm done. It's that simple.

Alexa Riley’s formula should be well-known by now: instalove, a hero who goes alpha the moment he sees his significant half, decides he wants her and does everything to claim her as his territory. Be prepared for over-dramatic moments interspersed with sex that can be scorching, though you might question the validity of the connection between the protagonists because of this.

‘Hold Tight’ is Pandora’s book – something I’ve looked forward to for a while – but its sheer brevity (this tops out at a mere 64 pages) magnifies the faults I find with Riley’s books. Had it been a longer, more drawn-out version, I think I would have liked and rated the story a lot higher with greater character depth and development. Still, Riley delivered a safe(ish) read, with a guaranteed HEA, so it could be a balm for readers discouraged and cynical about their romance reads.

three-stars
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