Category: Contemporary Romance

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

The Simple Wild by K.A. TuckerThe Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 7th August 2018
Pages: 388
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Calla Fletcher wasn't even two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when Calla learns that Wren’s days may be numbered, she knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.

She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this rugged environment, Jonah—the unkempt, obnoxious, and proud Alaskan pilot who helps keep her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.

Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. Soon, she finds herself forming an unexpected bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago. It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.

I’ve always wondered if ‘The Simple Wild’ was meant to be an angsty ‘growing-up’ New Adult type book or a smart-alecky rom-com story. But the truth is that it probably falls somewhere in between and had me sniffing a mite bit by the end of it.

From the urban bustle of Toronto to the wilds of Alaska, Calla Fletcher’s reluctant visit to pay her sick father a visit is in essence, a tale of a city girl—horrified by the shit-all to do in a small, small town—forced to relook her own ideas on love and life. In a case of schadenfreude (#iregretnothing), I gleefully relished and cackled my way through every fish-out-of-water moment that Calla had as she learned to operate in a place so out of sync with her own rhythm, liking Jonah even more when he simply came out and accused her of being the shallow, self-absorbed and empty woman that I felt she was. I didn’t quite feel any affinity with her from the beginning and her awkward moments kept me cackling for a while longer, until some kind of character growth happened as Calla finally (and slowly) started to shed that flighty exterior.

That Jonah helped in his caustic, cutting way just gave me extra laughs in the process. Or it could be that I liked his straight, no-nonsense talk, his directness with everything, including his feelings, without the typical games that many characters tend to play.

The loss of the father-figure is a theme that started to dominate more and more as I got into the book, and along with the weight of regrets, resentment and missed chances, ‘The Simple Wild’ suddenly became an incredibly emotional and absorbing read by the time I was halfway through. I gobbled every bit of Tucker’s descriptions of life in the tundra and the day-to-day operation of a flight charter company, revelled in the small-town characters she’d drawn up so sharply, then wanted to cry ugly tears when it all came to a difficult end.

My only quibble is the lack of a concluding, firm-in-the-ground HEA by the time Calla and Jonah met again. Given Tucker’s emphasis on history repeating itself, Calla/Jonah felt like a couple headed for a HFN ending instead as ‘The Simple Wild’ left me loudly protesting that I needed more.

Eagle by Janie Crouch

Eagle by Janie CrouchEagle by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #2
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing, Jane Crouch on 10th October 2018
Pages: 278
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

He's fighting for what's right... She's fighting just to survive...

When former Special Forces soldier Finn Bollinger is asked to help with a deadly government mission, he's up for the task. His job teaching survival skills to civilians at Linear Tactical keeps him sharp, and he can still handle himself in the field.

But the Army damn well didn't teach Finn how to handle Charlotte Devereux. She's back and she's all sorts of bad news.

Charlotte can't change the past. Can't change the choices she made or the fact that they cost her everything. All she can do is endure the fallout. Even if that means putting her future in the hands of Finn, the man who has every right to want to destroy her.

And can in so many more ways than he thinks.

When the undercover mission goes impossibly wrong, they'll all have to depend on Charlotte's strength in order to survive. But everyone has a breaking point...

What I’ve found so unusual about Linear Tactical is how Janie Crouch has found a way of getting her characters peripherally involved in huge governmental-level-type espionage incidents even if they aren’t actually neck-deep in the deep-end of things and jet-setting all over the world to prevent a nuclear meltdown. It’s romantic suspense done somewhat differently (there’s still plenty of action, deception and loose ends in the small place that they’re all based) and it’s something I’m new to.

Crouch tackles Finn Bollinger’s and Charlie Devereux’s second-chance story in ‘Eagle’, where their history is hinted at in the first book of her Linear Tactical series as an unhappy one. But as it becomes evident that Charlie had left Finn to marry someone else and left him in bad shape 8 years ago, the twist of fate that brings them back together (the former as the special needs tutor of Finn’s son) is more than just one that rekindles their burnt-out relationship. Throw in a boy (who’s got more than meets the eye), a sleazy strip club, a quasi-military operation and a private security firm and a perfect storm starts to brew.

Much of Finn/Charlie’s story came from the anticipation of reading what really happened all those years ago and Crouch certainly took some time to build up to this. Yet the slow trickle of information that filtered through in the form of Charlie’s lack of willingness to be upfront with Finn about her secrets and problems, did make it hard for me to get behind their second-chance romance, let alone a female protagonist whom I wasn’t entirely sure I could support.

I probably would have liked Charlie a lot more had she been more remorseful and upfront about her own hard-headed decisions that she’d taken without seemingly fully considering the damage she’d wrought. In fact, for someone who’d tackled everything else head-on in the swath of destruction she’d left in her wake, I’d expected Charlie to be less cowardly in the way she still chose to assume the worst of Finn and of them when she’d never quite picked him over her own family to begin with.

But a caveat here: I’ll admit readily that the second-chance romance trope isn’t one that I typically like, so my review of ‘Eagle’ (and my rather stinging critique of Charlie) are definitely skewed because of this certain bent.

Despite my own reservations, I did find ‘Eagle’ quite compelling, the last quarter ramping up to be the most intense and heart-pounding part of the story. Crouch does pull all of it together in a way that’s quite neatly tied up—the suspension of disbelief comes into play, of course—while leaving a hook for Aiden’s story to come and that’s already what I’m looking forward to.

three-stars

Fireworks by Sarina Bowen

Fireworks by Sarina BowenFireworks by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North #6
Published by Tuxbury Publishing LLC on 13th November 2018
Pages: 293
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

Skye Copeland is on paid leave from her broadcasting job after accidentally drawing a pecker on the traffic map.

Let that sink in. Like it’s her fault the traffic pattern that day created a perfect schlong?

Skye isn’t laughing. She needs this job. And that’s the only reason she’s agreed to chase down a story in her least favorite place—that hell on earth known as Vermont.

A quick trip. In and out. Much like - never mind. Skye can sneak into the town that once tried to break her, get the story and get back into the good graces of her producer. Easy peasy.

Except things go sideways even as she sets foot over the county line. Her step-sister is on the run from a violent drug dealer. And the cop on the case is none other than Benito Rossi, the man who broke her teenage heart.

His dark brown eyes still tear her apart. And even as she steels herself to finally tell him off after twelve years, the old fireworks are still there.

Things are about to go boom.

‘Fireworks’ is Sarina Bowen’s ever-growing ‘Truth North’ series as we’re taken back on the ride to Vermont where Skylar and Benito meet again after 12 years. Their history is slowly revealed in flashbacks over the course of the story, enveloped lovingly by the rustic Vermont small-town community and memories that don’t just seem to fade.

If this starts out rather light-hearted, Bowen inserts a little more suspense here along with the quirk and in this way, this particular instalment is a little different from the rest of the books, as a large part of the plot is being driven by an impending drug bust and a sexual predator who’d already left some stains in the characters’ lives.

‘Fireworks’ had some bits that bothered me, in fact—but this was what I’d expected of the ‘True North’ series which has so far, brought my own reactions to extremes. But I like Bowen’s style of writing (though not her characters always), so perhaps this still makes me a glutton for punishment.

I found Skye a sympathetic character mostly; Bowen’s portrayal of a hapless teenager facing down a sexual predator is terrifying and I can certainly understand how these experiences shaped her future though there seemed to be contradictory parts of Skye (practical, wry, yet a complete pushover where her rather dumb stepsister and Benito were concerned) that I couldn’t reconcile with the picture that I’d formed early on of her.

But the late insertion of the classic ‘other woman/hookup’ plot device coming into play later honestly bothered me as much as it did Skye—that it’d taken a lot for her to be naked and vulnerable for Benito, only for him to call that very act casual with another woman—because it simply felt disrespectful and somehow cheapening of their growing romance.

A 12-year separation is a long time and having Benito claim Skye is the only girl he’d ever loved while not actively doing a thing to find her again (as well as hooking up with others in the meantime, with the most recent one being Skye’s rival) felt hypocritical to me. That Benito had been hooking up with a ‘mean-girl’ then flightily going straight onto professing his love for Skye whom he’s always wanted just made this part of the story way too hard to swallow. It’d made him seem like a player and one who simply messed around other women’s feelings even if it was because of his obliviousness.

This device is one that I’ve come to actively detest in recent years; more often than not, it’s used too commonly to create conflict and have one protagonist doubt the other’s devotion or fidelity, only for some grovelling to ensue before the usual trite platitudes (‘it was only sex’, ‘it was only casual’, ’she/he means nothing to me’, ‘it’s only you for me’ or some other phrases with the same flavour) that’ll be thrown out and easily accepted. Yet as a reader, coming back from this type of comparison no matter what the character in question says, is damn near impossible. Like Skye, it’s something that can’t be un-read, or un-heard and thereafter serves as a niggling reminder of the past which pretty much killed the rest of the book for me.

‘Fireworks’ as a result, left me conflicted. I probably would have liked it way, way better minus the Jill Sullivan/mean-girl hookup nonsense which made me stumble irrecoverably, which in turn would have had me more wholeheartedly rooting for this particular second-chance romance—a trope that I already find myself sceptical about.

two-stars

Whitsunday Dawn by Annie Seaton

Whitsunday Dawn by Annie SeatonWhitsunday Dawn by Annie Seaton
Published by Harlequin (Australia) TEEN/MIRA on 23rd July 2018
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

When Olivia Sheridan arrives in the Whitsundays as spokesperson for big mining company Sheridan Corp, it should be a straightforward presentation to the town about their proposed project. But when a handsome local fisherman shows her what ecological impact the proposal will have, Olivia is forced to question her father's motives for the project.

Struggling with newly divided loyalties, Olivia is thrown further into turmoil when she is mistaken for a woman who disappeared more than sixty years before. When it becomes clear that Captain Jay is also keeping secrets, Olivia realises that there is more to these sunshine–soaked islands than she ever expected.

Seeking to uncover the truth, Olivia is drawn into a dangerous game where powerful businessmen will stop at nothing to ensure their plan goes ahead, even if that means eliminating her…

Against the epic Far North Queensland landscape, this is the story of two women, separated by history, drawn to Whitsunday Island where their futures will be changed forever.

‘Whitsunday Dawn’, set in the beautiful, otherworldly part of Northern Queensland, is so much more than the enemies-to-lovers trope undertaken by Annie Seaton when Olivia Sheridan tangles with Fynn James from the very start because of their conflicting agendas. Yet Olivia paths and Fynn’s paths cross in more ways than one, with the addition of a supposedly-delusional elderly woman who keeps seeing someone else from the past in Olivia’s face.

Seaton deftly handles two timelines and their contexts as she brings these seemingly unrelated things together—these can be chaotic and jarring nonetheless as the chapters slip between 2018 and 1942—and parallel developing relationships within as the story goes on. But even if the first shift to 1942 threw me off, it’s through this particular story (within a story) that Seaton revives an overlooked part of WWII that reached this remote region of Australia and those affected, while amping up the suspense as events in 2018 once again take the stage.

I liked Olivia/Fynn’s story as much as I was unwittingly drawn into Lil/Jack’s doomed one. But it’s all too-often that a particular timeline doesn’t end too well however, and Seaton’s moving portrayal of the tragedy of the pairing in history left me a blubbering mess.

‘Whitsunday Dawn’ closes on a bittersweet note—with the tacit acknowledgement that life, death and war can only leave scars and nostalgic wistfulness by the end of it all—but had me wishing nonetheless, that things still ended more happily.

four-stars

Destruction by J.M. Madden

Destruction by J.M. MaddenDestruction by J.M. Madden
Series: Dogs of War #2
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on September 25th 2018
Pages: 286
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Going back into the torture camp where he’d been so brutally abused is the last thing Navy SEAL Drake Fontana wants to do, but if there are other men being experimented upon he has to be the one to get them out. And he has to give them an option other than to be a test subject to the Silverstone Collaborative, the pharmaceutical company funding the diabolical experiments. If he had his way, Drake would go in alone, but he’s assigned a team of retired, disabled military from the Lost and Found group. They all have strengths, but he hates being responsible for their safety. The most vital of the team is Jordan Madeira. The woman has fire in her blood and her heart, and she has contacts in the Amazon he could never find on his own. More than that, though, Jordan holds an immediate, dangerous attraction for Fontana. As the team crosses the jungle destroying research camps and searching for survivors, he realizes that she is what his heart has always been longing for. Home. But Fontana has always had to fight for everything he’s gotten in life, and Jordan’s heart will be no different.

The ‘Dogs of War’ series is one that I do find compelling—the super-soldier experimentation kind of storyline always gets my juices going—and by and large, J.M. Madden keeps expanding this particular universe with a military conspiracy, a potential take-down of the perpetrators and even more characters that might in fact, find themselves as part of future books. As of now however, the series follows the hard journey of 3 former military men with paranormal abilities, the survivors of their batch, who now seek to tighten the noose on the necks of those who’d first captured them.

‘Destruction’ is Drake Fontana’s story as he takes point in the vengeful hunt for their captors and the rescue of the soldiers experimented on with a team from LNF (Madden’s other series). Unlike some other RS super-soldier books that I’ve gone through however, Madden’s guys stand out because their paranormal abilities aren’t grossly exaggerated and that they’ve not been turned loose on the reader like grunting alpha-males with unrelenting sex-drives, über-dirty-talk and barbaric tendencies. They’re all scarred and battle-worn one way or the other in any case, and the women themselves it seems, aren’t spared the torture as well. But out of the crucible comes Jordan Madeira as one of the most kick-arse heroines who has gone through her own brand of hell and tragedy.

However, the writing style did take odd turns at times with the use of even weirder metaphors, but this is merely a personal writing peeve of mine where the words don’t exactly fall into place or make perfect sense. The language did throw me off for a bit (maybe a bit more editing was needed), but as jarring as it was, the plot was engaging enough that I could dust myself off and go on.

Suspense takes priority in ‘Destruction’—Madden’s focus on the team and action means that there’s not as much time on the pairing of Fontana/Jordan as much as I liked with the sex scene at the end happening almost like an afterthought before the story ends on an unfinished note. To this extent was the romance unsatisfying, but the thought of the next book keeps me hoping for more anyway.

four-stars

Hot Secrets by Lynn Raye Harris

Hot Secrets by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT Secrets by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Hostile Operations Team, #13
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on September 18th 2018
Pages: 314
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

She nearly ruined his life. Now she needs him to save hers.

It was supposed to be a simple job for hacker Bliss Bennett: access confidential files and turn them over to the CIA. But something went wrong—and now Bliss has a target on her back. With no idea who to trust, she heads straight toward the one man she hopes won’t turn her away.

Sky “Hacker” Kelley is a badass Special Operator with lethal moves and mad computer skills. He hasn’t seen his former lover—former wife—in four years, not since she nearly cost him his military career. Her arrival on his doorstep in the middle of the night reveals a gut-deep truth—he might want nothing to do with her, but he still wants her. And as much as he’d love to slam the door in her face, Sky isn’t wired to turn away anyone in distress.

Protecting Bliss won’t be easy. The files she stole are at the heart of a dangerous conspiracy, and someone is willing to do whatever it takes—including kill—to get them back. It’ll take all Sky’s considerable black-ops skills to keep Bliss safe—and all his willpower to resist falling into her bed, and her life, ever again…

‘Hot Secrets’ pulls a former couple back together again in a fast-paced and relatively easy, flowing read. In many ways, it’s a classic Lynn Raye Harris RS read that I’ve gotten accustomed to, though I’ll be the first to admit that it works sometimes more than others.

Or it could just be that I love the military covert operations-type stories that bring the unsuspecting world to the brink of destruction, except that a small but extraordinary group of people help prevent the impending disaster while we obliviously all live to see another day.

Still, ‘Hot Secrets’ left me mixed. I did like the intriguing conspiracy theory Harris put forth—a huge amount of suspension of disbelief is clearly needed though—as well as the deft way the conflict is resolved while the puzzle is put together, but oh lord, what do you do when you absolutely hate a protagonist? Especially if it’s a half of a pairing you’re supposed to be rooting for as well?

Some characters just rub me the wrong way, and Bliss Bennett was one of them.

Living with a cold, unfeeling heart meant that Bliss annoyed the hell out of me. I found her self-absorbed, stupidly naive and remorseless for most part, vacillating between saying she’d self-righteously do it all over again (including destroying Sky in the process) and being supposedly sorry for the consequences of her actions.

That she’d only tried to apologise all those years later when she had a desperate need to be protected just showed her up as mercenary and calculative to the core, only admitting that she had no qualms about lying only when her back was pushed to the wall, even playing the victim as she talked about being ‘hurt’ as well in the dissolution of their short-lived marriage. Seeing how Sky stuck with her despite the initial, scintillating conversation as he dealt with his own anger showed him to be a way bigger person than I ever could be for a character whom I thought should have gotten way worse than what he’d dished out on her.

Given the rant, it’s probably safe to say that my rating is a middle-of-the-road one because of a protagonist I detested from start to end. There were so many things I’d hoped to happen in order for Bliss to redeem herself, but somehow that didn’t quite come and as a result, left me sputtering over her HEA that felt less than deserved.

three-stars

Consumed by J.R. Ward

Consumed by J.R. WardConsumed by J.R. Ward
Series: ,
Published by Piatkus on 2nd October 2018
Pages: 416
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
one-star

Anne Ashburn is a woman consumed...

By her bitter family legacy, by her scorched career as a firefighter, by her obsession with department bad-boy Danny McGuire, and by a new case that pits her against a fiery killer.

Strong-willed Anne was fearless and loved the thrill of fighting fires, pushing herself to be the best. But when one risky decision at a warehouse fire changes her life forever, Anne must reinvent not only her job, but her whole self.

Shattered and demoralized, Anne finds her new career as an arson investigator a pale substitute for the adrenaline-fueled life she left behind. She doesn't believe she will ever feel that same all-consuming passion for her job again--until she encounters a string of suspicious fires setting her beloved city ablaze.

Danny McGuire is a premiere fireman, best in the county, but in the midst of a personal meltdown. Danny is taking risks like never before and seems to have a death wish until he teams up with Anne to find the fire starter. But Danny may be more than a distraction, and as Anne narrows in on her target, the arsonist begins to target her.

‘Consumed’ is my first ever-read by J.R. Ward but I can’t say it made much of an impression. I picked this up because I generally like firefighting stories, but this being a long-awaited non-vampire book that had some romantic suspense in it…it would seem like a book right up my alley.

But…where do I even begin?

Ward’s writing style took a lot to get used to for some reason and I did struggle through the book for most of it, then ended up skimming it because of the numerous switches in the POVs that kept coming up.

The drama surrounding Anne and Danny—first shown in the first 2 novellas where they had a one-night stand despite Danny’s manwhore reputation—seemed endless at times with the same litany of issues repeating themselves. Generally, one’s plagued with guilt, the other’s just down and out because she’s lost her career. There’s also the constant reminder of how Danny Maguire’s pining after Anne, though it seems as if he’s had no problem taking it up with other ladies in the meantime, one of them being his best friend’s now-fiancée.

‘Consumed’ had little going for me, sadly. I’m quite convinced that the book could be halved and still be equally (or even more) effective, where pages of filler dialogues and long descriptions of place, people and emotions didn’t go on and on and on. There were too many scenes that had Danny and Anne trying to get by on their own, instead of together and it never quite felt they were in each other’s orbit enough to help their non-relationship, as there were just too many insertions of secondary characters that broke the momentum of the plot.

Danny’s and Anne’s toxicity around each other made it hard to read especially after they both hit rock-bottom (the former going back to his old ways) and the drama that surrounded them became more like a soap-opera that went on simply because the series couldn’t end. Both were generally unlikeable, too caught up in a cycle of negativity to see anything past their own arses, and I was actually relieved when I decided I couldn’t go on with it.

one-star