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Semper Fi Cowboy by Heather Long

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews 22nd May 2017
Semper Fi Cowboy by Heather LongSemper Fi Cowboy by Heather Long
Series: Lone Star Leathernecks #1
Published by Pocket Star on June 26th 2017
Pages: 145
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two-stars

A Leatherneck by any other name can still kick ass, which is just what retired United States Marine Corps Captain Tanner Wilks plans to do when he returns to his Texas family ranch to care for his ailing father. And nothing will stop him from achieving his mission—not even a lithe, brown-eyed town veterinarian who seems hell-bent on driving him wild.

Captain Tanner Wilks, honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps, returns home to find his father struggling after his latest heart attack. Worse yet, Julia Heller—the sexy new girl in town that he once spent a hot night with—is the resident veterinarian who’s made a home for herself at Round Top ranch, and doesn’t seem to be in a rush to repeat their time together.

It falls on Tanner’s shoulders to take on the ranch and keep an eye on his father before he falls victim to another heart attack. But Julia doesn’t appreciate Tanner coming in or pursuing her. Even if he’s hot as hell and can make her quiver with just a look. Ousting her may give Tanner the leverage he needs to corral his father, but first he has to wrestle with his own heart.

‘Semper Fi Cowboy’ is a quick read, but it’s also oddly slow-going, with paragraphs dedicated to Tanner Wilks’s family, their legacy (military service runs in the family, followed by ranching) and the land that they’ve had for generations. I did get bored at times, as the pacing lagged a little, but having no expectations of this new series by Heather Long, it was easier to go with the flow and see where the story took me.

The quickness with which both Tanner and Jules jumped into bed meant that there wasn’t much build-up or tension that I normally like—or at least there wasn’t anything that led me to the edge of hot and bothered before I fall along with the couple. It’s not a development that I can usually buy into, but the story went on, it became clear that the intention was always to show Tanner’s reintegration into his new life—as well as Jules’s place in it—as he deals with his stick-in-the-mud military father.

The story’s not downright angsty, and the conflict is mostly about smalltime family drama, along with a lot of ranching work details that are typical of such reads. In short, it’s not quite the perfect novella for me (and this has to do with the reasons above rather than Long’s writing style) and the brevity of it means that the love declarations and the resolutions do come faster than I’m used to. But for those who love rural, country-type romances with a quick wrap-up, ‘Semper Fi Cowboy’ would probably be something to dive straight into.

two-stars

Edge of Truth by Brynn Kelly

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th May 2017
Edge of Truth by Brynn KellyEdge of Truth by Brynn Kelly
Published by Harlequin Books on May 30th 2017
Pages: 400
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three-stars

Rotting in an African dungeon is the last place journalist Tess Newell expected to find herself. As she's held hostage by the terrorist group she's investigating, Tess's salvation--and temptation--arrives in the form of another prisoner. A French Foreign Legionnaire with a sinful smile and too many secrets to be anything but dangerous. Yet she knows he's her only hope of surviving.
The Legion is the only family Flynn has. His sanctuary and his purgatory, after years spent in hell. When a mission goes south and Flynn is captured, it's not the enemy that worries him, but the brazen, alluring reporter whose prying questions threaten to bring down his world--and the walls he's built around his heart.
Yet after a daring escape, Flynn must risk it all and go on the run with Tess to retrieve the evidence she needs. The chemistry between them threatens to detonate but, with the enemy fast closing in, time is running out to unravel the truth from the lies in this deadly conspiracy...

A celebrity reporter is thrown into jail in some unknown location in Africa, presumably held by terrorists making a demand. But it appears that Tess has uncovered some secrets of her own, which will probably upend what most people categorise in their black-and-white-worlds of good vs. evil. Her only hope of escape, however, is an edgy, secretive soldier thrown into the same jail cell with her and until the truth emerges, it’s best that they stick together since escape is their end game.

While I’d read Brynn Kelly’s first book ‘Deception Island’ with a dose of skepticism, getting an early copy of ‘Edge of Truth’ made me excited once again for the shady, spooks and spies kind of story that promises heart-pounding action. To some extent, that is what the story offers.

But if it started out great for me, it fizzled out too soon, only picking up towards the end. Nonetheless, it’s well-written, with many detailed, descriptive scenes that amp up the experience of Flynn and Tess making their escape and guaranteed to make your pulse speed up.

For the rest of the time though, I wondered where the narrative was going. There was loads of time spent in the deep POV, which made for exciting action, yet focused so much on sensory experience that I couldn’t, after a while, make sense of what was really happening (and lost any sense of time like the characters did), or whether progress was really made in getting to the crux of the story. Dialogue—banter almost—is interspersed with periods of waiting and action, and it took so long getting to the part where Tess finally stopped looking at Flynn with suspicion despite his many attempts at saving her. I’d hope to see more of the fallout after the conspiracy exposed, but the story never quite got there in the end, focusing instead, on the steps that Flynn/Tess took to escape and give the bad guys the runaround.

However, Tess’s self-righteous behaviour (mostly consisting of pushing away) annoyed me, as did her insistence that things had to be done only her way while accusing Flynn of having a hero-complex. I hated how she never listened but did things on her own because she was only convinced that only her way would keep everyone safe. Grateful much? This saviour-complex and the secrets she stubbornly strove to keep, supposedly for the good of everyone, crossed the line into TSTL for me long before I could even think of it as bravery. That her wilfulness ended up in her also breaking the one thing Flynn asked of her—to leave his past the hell alone because it left him in a world of hurt—made it hard for me to like her at all. It screws up clearly, her efforts gone to waste as Flynn rushes to her rescue…yet again. A hell of a lot happens in 2 days—as though time has been compressed—and there’s clearly instant-love at work here, with Flynn seeming to have more of a revelatory experience than Tess and I never quite got the feeling that she returned that sentiment with as much force as he did—that much she prioritised the ‘story’ above all else.

For me, the long and short of it is, I wished I were more convinced by this story, as well as by a pairing that should have made more sense but didn’t. Flynn/Tess weren’t entirely believable (or compatible) as a couple but if you’re in it more for the suspense and action, then ‘Edge of Truth’ would work perfectly.

three-stars

Ricochet by Skye Jordan

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews 13th May 2017
Ricochet by Skye JordanRicochet by Skye Jordan, Joan Swan
Series: Renegades #3
on July 12th 2014
Pages: 294
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one-star

After a tragic incident in Afghanistan leaves Master Sergeant Nathan Ryker the only man standing in his tight-knit team, he spirals into an alcohol-and-sex induced escape. A call from his lifelong buddy pulls Ryker from the shadows with a request for help with his stunt company’s latest blockbuster. If Ryker can survive the next three weeks of leave and get back to his remaining men, he might just be all right. But a sexy woman who can take his mind off his trauma is too hard to resist, and when he hooks up with Renegades’ sultry, snarky office manager, his sanity takes a backseat to his first glimpse of a future he isn’t sure he deserves.
Still reeling from a bitter romantic betrayal, Rachel Hart wants nothing more than an uncomplicated hookup. So when the mysterious Nathan seduces her with a little dirty talk and one delicious kiss, Rachel drowns all her good sense in a Mandarin and soda and gives herself over to a night of sexual bliss. But her memories tarnish in the morning light when Rachel discovers his real identity and his link to Renegades. Her job and her friends are the only thing holding her life together, and she won’t be ruined by one sultry night with this damaged and dangerously sexy man.

I regretted this the moment I was a quarter way through the book and yes, I know this probably places me at the rank bottom about my feelings about erotica comprising a bastard of a male protagonist, hell-bent on self-destruction by alcohol and screwing as many women as he can and a jaded woman done with relationships. Yet, I tried to struggle through, skimming when I could, searching for some redemptive part of the story that would help me go on.

I failed, miserably.

But with every review that helps to refine my own tastes in what I want to read, I’ve always known that hot (but shallow) sex has never been enough without character depth or at least, with characters that I like and can root for together. Physical compatibility ranks low for me at this point in time, since most male protagonists meld together as one nameless, faceless character with six-pack abs, chiselled features and a height that rarely goes under 6 ft. To be even cruder, physical compatibility, when watered down, is still a basic matter of ramming pointed object A into empty hole B, which all characters get done.

I’d come into ‘Ricochet’ expecting some kind of raw, emotionally-packed drama of a damaged man whose time with a woman helps change things. But I got an utterly selfish arse instead, who sets out to deliberately deceive the female protagonist so he can get yet another one-night stand in, even though he was ‘fresh’ from screwing so many other women in the last city he was in.

The push-pull continued, with some bumps here and there with Ryker generally being unapologetic for his horrifyingly reprehensible behaviour without seeking help for it…while knowing well enough that the cracks in his head can’t be solved by drinking and fucking. But what bothered me most is that with this adamant belief that he is too far gone for therapy, Ryker has a manipulative streak that allows him to continue with a heroine who is somewhat sympathetic enough to forgive him for his indiscretions and gives him too much leeway up until the point where you know it’s merely a matter of time before she gets burnt.

With this trajectory in mind, the ending is predictable to a fault and what really remains is the extent to which grovelling happens. When it finally comes, I cringed at the pathetic, embarrassing attempt and felt that Ryker and Rachel were seriously better off separately. There isn’t an immediate cure for PTSD obviously, as ‘Ricochet’ shows, but this happens too little, too late for me when all that’s left in my mind is a male characters who shouldn’t really be let off the hook so easily because he is, for me at least, beyond redemption.

one-star

Gone to Dust by Liliana Hart

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 25th April 2017
Gone to Dust by Liliana HartGone to Dust by Liliana Hart
Series: Gravediggers #2
Published by Pocket Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 384
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four-stars

Sometimes the dead do rise…
Miller Darling is one of the most popular romance novelists of her time. Not bad for a woman who doesn’t believe in romance. She’s as logical as they come, and she doesn’t believe in happily-ever-afters. What she does believe in is family, so when her brother disappears, she doesn’t think twice about packing her bag and her laptop and heading out to find him.
Elias Cole has an axe to grind. Of all the Gravediggers, he’s the most reluctant in his new role as dead man walking. He’s angry, and being stuck in the tiny town of Last Stop, Texas might as well be purgatory. He misses his country and the life he had before he was betrayed. The only thing keeping him sane are the men who are like him—the Gravediggers—and the woman who makes his head spin. He’s never met anyone like Miller Darling. She’s not intimidated by his scowls, and damned if he doesn’t find that appealing.
When Miller sneaks out of town in the dead of night, her suitcase in tow, he has no choice but to follow. He’s made an oath to the Gravediggers. Only death can separate them. But he’s willing to risk it all to follow the one woman who drives him crazy halfway around the world. But when the ones who own his soul find out that he’s deserted them, there will be nowhere to hide.

Elias Cole and Miller Darling have a recent and unhappy history, and it’s mostly a funny one of unfulfilled sexual tension where Elias left Miller, well, wanting. They’re brought closer together by circumstances that are odd but befitting the life of a romance author who lives inside her head when she receives a finger with a ring that says her equally oddball and irresponsible brother has gone missing.

Elias is literally forced to go with Miller as she goes after her brother and the journey is a hilarious one, peppered mostly by Miller’s fanciful imaginings that started to feel a lot like a parody of romance authors whose heads stay mostly in the clouds. I loved every minute of the banter, especially how often Miller makes Elias speechless with her overactive imagination.

At the same time, Elias’s own reasons for wanting revenge lends gravity to his purpose for being a Gravedigger and I was eagerly waiting for his backstory, as I do for the rest of the motley crew. Sadly, not too much of it is given and his purpose in seeking revenge is somewhat dimmed by the end of the book, proving a disappointment as I half-expected that goal to be fulfilled.

But as far as pairings go, I loved how Elias/Miller both surprised me at every turn, both with their conversations and actions that were as non-stereotypical as they could be in this genre. That they made me laugh most of the way was a fantastic bonus that helped make this book a standout.

Like the first book, this one made me sit up and take note, not just because of the intrigue that’s presented here—I’ve not forgotten that the funeral parlour in an ugly town in Texas houses the world’s deadliest operatives—but also because of the direction that the story took. I’d been expecting more counterterrorist-type scenarios as it did in Deacon’s case, but that was hardly the case this time around.

‘Gone to Dust’ has a heavy focus instead on the journey that Elias and Miller took and the development of their relationship, but eschewed the details about the treasure, the myth and Justin’s ultimate fate in favour of banter and steamy sex. In fact, the story ended very soon after they yanked Justin out of his hiding place and got the bad guy, making me feel as though I was left hanging when Elias and Miller finally decided that they loved each other enough to stay together after a very brief meltdown on Elias’s side.

I think I would have enjoyed it more if the ending had been less abrupt and if I’d seen more of the Gravediggers in action—there were admittedly fewer scenes with them here than in the first book—mostly because their strange relationships and quirky interactions were the highlight of this series so far. The rushed epilogue felt like a HFN without a definite plan for the future (that itself is briefly explained) but still, it would have been nicer to have ‘Gone to Dust’ more conclusively wrapped up without me feeling stunned and wondering if some pages had been missing after all.

Still, it’s a memorable read and as a series that’s only just beginning to gather steam, I’m eager to see what Hart has in store next for this group of unlikely brothers.

four-stars

When Danger Bites by Heather Long

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 16th April 2017
When Danger Bites by Heather LongWhen Danger Bites by Heather Long
Series: Bravo Team WOLF #1
Published by Entangled Publishing on May 8th 2017
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Buttoned-up Corporal Kaitlyn Amador is dangerous on every level. As a human, she poses a threat to Marine Captain Jax Raymond’s special Force Recon unit. Though the team has a reputation among the other recon units, only their commanding officer knows their secret. As a woman, the danger posed is entirely different. Jax can survive the temptation for only so long before his wolf takes over and pursues what it wants.
Military intelligence specialist Corporal Kaitlyn Amador is the first woman in the Marines to be assigned to a recon team. And everyone’s watching her. Her mission? Not only prove herself worthy of her place in the group, but uncover the mystery of why Bravo Team is so successful. A mission that gets more difficult every time she’s near Jax...

I went into this not quite knowing what to expect despite having some experience reading different authors’ takes on the way they take on shapeshifters. Heather Long’s story however, is a nuanced one, pitting a strong, kickass intelligence officer holding her own in a secret pack of marine wolf-shapeshifters. But because Bravo wolf team is classified—their existence is a result of secret government pacts with several wolf alphas—, Kat Amador’s secret mission will compromise them all and put everything into peril.

Long’s own brand of wolf-shapeshifter mythology is part-Nalini Singh and part-Paige Tyler, a good mixture that subscribes to the wolf pack canon at least, with a lot of attention paid to dominance and submission which is admittedly part of this sub-genre of the paranormal universe which I don’t exactly like but something that seems necessary. It’s very well-written though, with dialogue that very clearly puts across the conflicts on varying levels: military command vs. pack order, a sole human woman needing to find her own footing amongst testosterone laden shapeshifters who are also soldiers and how Jax tries to reconcile his personal desires with how he was meant to make Kat wash out.

Overall though, ‘When Danger bites’ is a good read but it’s also one that feels like an ‘establishing’ book, as Long sets up the context, the history and the Marine wolf team out for us, while juggling a pairing that spent most of their time training and trying to ignore the attraction that’s between them. While I liked Jax/Kat’s chemistry as well as the camaraderie between the other soldiers, I couldn’t exactly get into the pairing seeing as so much of the focus lay with Kat trying to keep up with the team while trying to rein in her own growing suspicions about their success.

When it all finally comes out, the conflict and resolution are somewhat blurred lines, with mentions of mating, an unknown, faceless alpha and ‘turning’ a human—all of which felt like teases that were never really elaborated upon, let alone seen materialised. Instead, the ending bit, which was really Kat’s triumph in yet another survival course, felt like a let-down and I couldn’t really tell what would happen with Jax and Kat past their agreement to go ‘steady’. These loose threads curtailed my enjoyment somewhat of what could have been a very solid read, seeing as I would have liked to have seen a greater development of Jax/Kat’s relationship. But it’s something to hope for in the next few books in the series as the other wolves finally settle into their skin.

three-stars

Hot Addiction by Lynn Raye Harris

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 15th April 2017
Hot Addiction by Lynn Raye HarrisHOT Addiction by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Hostile Operations Team, #10
Published by H.O.T. Publishing on April 11th 2017
Pages: 227
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two-stars

When Dex “Double Dee” Davidson was abandoned at the altar by the woman he loved, he threw himself into his military career, training hard enough to get accepted into the elite Black Ops unit known as HOT. The love he felt for Annabelle Quinn burned to ash in the face of her betrayal—so when she crashes back into his life and begs him to save her, he has no problem laughing in her face.
Blackmailed into jilting Dex and forced into an abusive marriage, Annabelle never thought she’d escape the hell of the last five years. But her husband died a month ago and she’s finally free. Except she isn’t. Someone claims that Eric stole a fortune—and they want it back. If she doesn’t return it within twenty-four hours, she’ll be dead—and so will her young daughter. With time running out, Annabelle has no one to turn to. No one except Dex.
When Dex learns that Annabelle’s husband committed treason against the US by selling a top secret military project to the Russians, he has no choice but to get involved. He’ll protect Annabelle and her child, and he’ll find out who’s threatening her. But he won’t fall for her intoxicating sensuality ever again. And if he discovers the secret she’s been hiding from him? It’ll be game over for good…

I try, I really try. Which is why I still go on with the HOT books despite being rather disappointed in Lynn Raye Harris’s past installments.

I like Harris’s storylines—the mixture of devil-may-care action and the active form of counterterrorism that these HOT guys fight—and how these books are actually a build up of an overarching narrative of a complex network of spies, baddies and shady characters who drive the ongoing plot. ‘Hot Addiction’ reminds me very much of ‘Hot Shot’ with its similar plot though, and while it isn’t quite a rehash of it, this takes place so much further in the HOT universe that things have clearly changed in the military situation that the guys deal with, as there are more happily married ones around.

But there’re too many times in the series that I can’t get over the stupidity of many of the heroines whose spineless behaviour can’t hold a candle to the guys they want. Sadly, Annabelle is yet another one in the long line of those—which is why I’ll fondly remember Victoria and Lucky as the ultimate HOT women—who jilted Dex because she chose her parents over him. Then not being able to face the truth of whether her daughter is Dex or the man she left Dex for tanked Annabelle completely in my opinion.

I understand that characters have their flaws. Tt makes them human and relatable, though there are some faults that go beyond my own personal limits—the lack of trust destroying relationships irreparably being one of those, clearly. Annabelle’s turning to Dex appeared more out of desperation than remorse and want, needing his company when she was scared witless yet it was still not enough to give up the whole truth to him. She gets my sympathy to an extent of course—a victim of rape never deserves it, despite what some people try to argue—but I couldn’t like her sufficiently because ultimately she didn’t have enough gumption to fight for what she wanted. I think she simply did way too many things wrong from the start which eventually snowballed into something she couldn’t control, then pretty much laying it on Dex when he tried to do the best by her just didn’t resonate with me, to put it nicely. That Dex was the one left grovelling in the end was probably the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

Clearly this review falls in the minority and it’s just me with my personal triggers and innate sense of ‘justice’ of wronged parties acting up here. It didn’t change the fact that I felt sorry for Dex though, even though his HEA seemed to be harder fought on his side than Annabelle who should had grown more than a pair…yesterday. My rating reflects this, but that’s not to say that I’m not going to follow up on Mendez’s story, hoping for another hit the next time around.

two-stars

The Darkest Corner by Liliana Hart

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 14th April 2017
The Darkest Corner by Liliana HartThe Darkest Corner (Gravediggers #1) by Liliana Hart
Series: Gravediggers #1
Published by Pocket Books on May 23rd 2017
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Deacon Tucker is a dead man walking. A former black ops agent, he was disavowed and stripped of all honor before being recruited as a Gravedigger. But his honor and good name no longer matter, because no one knows he’s alive, and he’ll never get the recognition he deserves. His mission is simple: save the world or die trying. And for God’s sake, don’t ever fall in love. That’s a rule punishable by death. The kind of death a man can’t be brought back from.

Tess Sherman is the only mortician in Last Stop, Texas. She has no idea how Deacon Tucker ended up in her funeral home, but she’ll eat her hat if he’s only a funeral home assistant. Deacon is dangerous, deadly, and gorgeous. And she knows her attraction to him can only end in heartache.

Deacon is on a mission to stop the most fatal terror attack the world has ever known—what’s known as The Day of Destiny—a terrorist’s dream. But when he discovers Tess has skills he can use to stop them, he has to decide if he can trust her with secrets worth dying for. And, most important, he has to decide if he can trust her with his heart.

It takes an appreciation of macabre, black humour to like this book; thankfully the dry kind that I love can sort of easily be translated into a love for this kind of dark comedy.

In contrast to the sombre, almost-sinister cover which made me wonder if ‘The Darkest Corner’ was a murder mystery or a thriller, there’s quite a bit of wry, self-deprecating humour in this, as characters run the gamut from dark and shady to weird and mentally unstable. It’s eccentricity exemplified and probably not a story for people who love straight-out romantic suspense and hear-pounding thrillers but one that meanders and winds around the daily lives of Tess Sherman, her relatives and their ilk, while keeping a mysterious group of men called the Gravediggers who’ve died and come back to life, all in Tess’s back garden, so to speak.

We’re given the odd life that Tess leads, right down to her babbling personality and the actual happenings in a funeral home, except that it’s suddenly populated by men whom she can’t understand, not least a mysterious leader named Deacon Tucker who never gives straight answers when she needs it. Her funeral home business is, unbeknownst to her, the perfect cover for what they do and Tess is slowly but surely waking up to things that go bump in the night—and not of the supernatural kind.

I’m reminded of 6-feet under in its morbid glory, with all the tangential, long descriptions of peripheral characters who add to the quirky mood of the story but not to the plot, which is surprisingly slow-going after the actual introduction to the Gravediggers. For the first half, I was entertained somewhat and undoubtedly en route to boredom, though the cloak-and-dagger conspiracy theories and the spy stuff did get interesting, interspersed with the small-town life that Liliana Hart tries to bring to life. Unsurprisingly, it was Deacon and his unhappy band of operators that captured my imagination, and I think we simply didn’t see enough of them in this book. I was straining the end of my leash for the action and suspense to begin, given that there is a real threat out there and it only materialised in the last quarter of it.

Hart however, has already written a potential series of books into this opener, with sufficient characters have enough depths to plumb until the daylight fades. So while I’m a little on the fence with this slow start, I’m nevertheless eager to dig deeper into this strange band of brothers. Just more of the action and the spooky spy-stuff please.

three-stars
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