Undone by You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 11th December 2017
Undone by You by Kate MeaderUndone By You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #3
Published by Pocket Star on March 5th 2018
Pages: 184
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four-stars

Dante Moretti has just landed his dream job: GM of the Chicago Rebels. And screw the haters who think there should be an asterisk next to his name because he’s the first out managing executive in pro hockey. He’s earned the right to be here and nothing will topple him off that perch—especially not an incredibly inconvenient attraction to his star defenseman, Cade “Alamo” Burnett. Cade has always been careful to keep his own desires on the down low, but his hot Italian boss proves to be a temptation he can’t resist. Sure, they both have so much to lose, but no one will ever know...

As Dante and Cade’s taboo affair heats up off the ice and their relationship gets more and more intense, they’ll have to decide: is love worth risking their careers? Or is this romance destined to be forever benched?

A 12-year-age gap between a closeted player and an openly-gay manager along with the implications of a relationship that’s probably forbidden and mostly likely to be massacred by the press and the public? The odds seem unsurmountable. That Cade and Dante play starring roles here made my mind up for me to grab ‘Undone by You’ by hook or by crook.

And Kate Meader makes it work with writing that’s so confident and assured, more so since M/M stories aren’t always on my priority list.

In fact, for its relatively short length, there certainly wasn’t any time wasted with narrative meandering, which made ‘Undone by You’ short, sharp and quite to the point. Cade surprised me by his straight-shooting talk and the mindgames in the dating game that he steered of when it came to Dante won me over. That he was the pursuer took me aback at first, though it wasn’t long that Meader had me rooting wholly for him, particularly when Dante was being a frustrating arse with his inability to decide what he really wanted.

I did think the flurry of activities however, rooted Dante/Cade’s burgeoning relationship very much in the present and I couldn’t even quite determine if their happy-for-now ending was going to last. The story seemed to end on their happy-but-shaky foundation (undoubtedly hard-earned) and the odd epilogue disappointed me when I expected an HFN/HEA-type of closure and I think I would have preferred a ‘boring but normal’ one with Dante and Cade some time down the road, settled in their relationship.

Nonetheless, the aspects of coming out to family and friends and what it meant to be homosexual in a workplace as testosterone-laden as competitive sports made this book a compelling read and Meader’s prose tied these together nicely through that mix of witty dialogue and the internal monologues of both the protagonists and the supporting characters—which I can’t wait to meet again as the series goes on.

four-stars

Final Siege by Scarlett Cole

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Final Siege by Scarlett ColeFinal Siege by Scarlett Cole
Series: Love Over Duty #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 30th 2018
Pages: 300
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two-stars

IN THE LINE OF FIRE…

Former SEAL Malachai “Mac” MacCarrick is all about the future he’s created with his Navy brothers in Eagle Securities, taking assignments in the most dangerous places, and doing things no one but ex-military would attempt. But when an urgent phone call brings his troubled past—and the woman he once loved—into the present, it’s a chance to redeem himself that he can’t refuse.

STRAIGHT TO THE HEART…

An investigative journalist researching an explosive story, Delaney Shapiro tells herself she got over Mac—and his role in her brother’s death—a long time ago. But the first moment she sees him at her bedside in an overseas hospital, she knows it’s not true. Every moment together rekindles the desire that once burned between them, and now that she’s a target for an emerging Russian arms dealer, Mac won’t let her out of his sight. To protect her, he’ll risk it all—including his life…

A separation caused by tragedy, and a coincidental ‘rescue’ so to speak, 14 years later, leading to a second-chance romance did sound like the kind of story I wanted to dig into. Delaney and Mac do have weighted history and I was eager to see what Scarlett Cole would write about such a story and second chances, particularly after I got a sniff of what happened in their past.

But as an RS reader, I’m admittedly used to a style of writing that has gotten ingrained over the years, so these are my own preferences that I’m highlighting here—preferences that perhaps show how unused to Cole’s style I am.

For this reason, ‘Final Siege’ was hard to get into despite the enticing blurb, and these were mostly structural (narrative-wise) quibbles for me. Cole’s writing did throw me off in the instances of head-hopping—when the perspectives sometimes switched without warning—and the lack of demarcating in spots where scenes and dialogues just didn’t break or signal any time passing. With the lack of paragraphing and breaks, the whole narrative felt a little rambly, along with some awkward insertions of sentences that didn’t quite seem to flow with the development of a scene or aid in characterisation. Some parts, however, were well-written, though it was hard to get past the uneven way the whole story was laid out, particularly at the beginning of chapters where I found myself scrambling to make sense of context.

By and large, Delaney and Mac danced around the biggest ghost in their past that haunt them. Delaney did turn out frustrating at times: her inability to get over Mac’s supposed part in her brother’s death felt like something she hung onto simply so that she had a reason to keep on hating Mac. There was also a large focus on the push-pull happening between Delaney and Mac that got cloyingly repetitive when I’d expected the suspense to take priority after they meet again. That however, only kicked in somewhere near the halfway point, which made ‘Final Siege’ seem rather slow-paced for an RS book and in some way, like a game that went a step forward and 2 steps back.

That said, I’m not too sure how much of final revisions ARCs actually undergo. ‘Final Siege’ does unfortunately, look like a book that still needs a bit of editing; otherwise, it’ll be left as a story that’s got a potential which it never quite reached.

two-stars

Zero Hour by Megan Erickson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Zero Hour by Megan EricksonZero Hour by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous #1
Published by Forever on January 30th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Hacker extraordinaire Roarke Brennan lives each hour - each breath - to avenge his brother's murder. His first move: put together a team of the best coders he knows. They're all brilliant, specialized, and every one an epic pain in his ass. Only now Wren Lee wants in too, threatening to upset their delicate balance. The girl Roarke never allowed himself to want is all grown up with sexy confidence and a dark past ... and she's the wild card he can't control.

Roarke might still think she's a kid, but Wren's been to hell and back. Nothing and nobody can stop her - especially the tatted-up, cocky-as-all-hell hacker. But when years of longing and chemistry collide, Wren and Roarke discover that revenge may be a dish best served blazing hot.

‘Zero Hour’ spoke directly to the geek in me. I blank out at many things technical, so hackers (whether they be black/white hats) written as heroes/heroines of romances are relatively new in this genre but so welcome.

I love the lingo, the geek side of things, the stuff that the deep, dark web is made of, most probably because I’ve never been able to get my mind around it. That Megan Erickson has jumped wholly on this subject has made me more than moist with excitement, with the underlying classic tropes of the forbidden best friend’s younger sister while a high-stakes hacker-style investigation into a murder brings it all together. There’s a lot of beguiling intrigue to be explored in this arena after all, and I’ve always wondered why not many authors have chosen to use this very contemporary setting along with the realistic and contemporary threats we face today to weave a pretty little tale.

Unsure as I was about how hackers would appear in this series, I was nonetheless surprised by the tattooed protagonists who sometimes acted more like members of an MC at times instead of thickly-spectacled people who were glued to their computers and surfaced bleary-eyed only for meals and sleep. Yet Erickson gets the anti-social, loner-types pat-down though, by introducing a varied, unpredictable put-together team of characters whose questionable histories are still veiled to us.

Roarke and Wren do have a hell of a backstory and a decade of separate lives that Erickson didn’t make too much of, except for the fact that pining (on both sides) went on while they moved on with others instead. Their sudden reunion—spurred on by the death of his brother and Wren’s own personal motive for revenge—however, felt almost like a coincidence, along with the hidden skills that they’d each picked up which didn’t seem to fit the hacker-skill set. Where had they had weapons training, for instance, at least enough that they would carry guns around? What sort of jobs had they done in the past 10 years that made them what they were today? Why did Wren only return now, at a time when Roarke sought revenge when the tragedy that she and her friend suffered happened years ago?

I think the questions that kept popping up dipped my enjoyment of the story somewhat and the brother’s-best-friend-to-lover trope was less convincing especially after knowing that Roarke and Wren had always wanted each other but never actively did anything about it. The ending, for all the gritty, edgy build-up, seemed a little anti-climatic with the rather convenient end of the mastermind, and the several loose threads hanging, while understandably left deliberately to set up the sequel, didn’t give the story a proper sense of closure.

In many ways, ‘Zero Hour’ reads like the establishing novel it is and while I did like how this narrative arc—the mesh of thriller and digital espionage really gets me going—seemed to be shaping up, I’m already eager to see how Erickson would explore the unstable dynamics of the ad-hoc group brought together by chance and the pairings that will come out of that.

three-stars

Roomies by Christina Lauren

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 9th December 2017
Roomies by Christina LaurenRoomies by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on December 5th 2017
Pages: 368
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four-stars

Marriages of convenience are so…inconvenient.

Rescued by Calvin McLoughlin from a would-be subway attacker, Holland Bakker pays the brilliant musician back by pulling some of her errand-girl strings and getting him an audition with a big-time musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until he admits his student visa has expired and he’s in the country illegally.

Holland impulsively offers to wed the Irishman to keep him in New York, her growing infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves from awkward roommates to besotted lovers, Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway. In the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting, what will it take for Holland and Calvin to realise that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?

Have you ever wanted something so much that you’d do anything for it, particularly when life is in limbo?

‘Roomies’ seems to revolve around this central question with the fake marriage trope, when a series of events actually leads to the courthouse to get around immigration issues, until feelings get thrown into the mix.

I’m going to say from the start that I’m quite simply blown away by Christina Lauren’s prose. That much alone kept me up late at night, though I did have to give into the pillow by the time I was a third through. Still, the meta-speak about authorship, the nuanced understanding of dreams that grow smaller and flit away as the years go by, the fear of never being the person you’ve aspired to—they’re all very adult-themes that are written into this story, woven with metaphors of performance, music and the being players on life’s very stage which I loved and wanted to linger over. How long has it been since I’ve had a book like this, after all?

This, by extension, made Holland a very relatable protagonist, well, at least up to three-quarters of the way when I empathised with her and walked in her shoes. Written wholly in her POV, the authors stripped Holland raw—the embarrassing bits don’t get put away and shoved into a closet; they were instead, brought out to light via her rambly thoughts, in a manner that had me grimacing and cringing with her because stuff to do with infatuation can’t always be remembered through rose-tinted lenses particularly when you’re confronted directly with it. By and large, I loved the slow burn, the gradual development and the deepening of Holland’s and Calvin’s connection past the crush and down to the nitty-gritties of a relationship.

But ‘Roomies’ did take a bit of an unwelcome turn that felt like unnecessary angst with small obstructions here and there, as was the whole cliché of needing to reinvent oneself or trying to find oneself in that journey to sort out the emotional mess that I found myself rolling my eyes at. That bit, that enforced separation, simply felt like a way of forcing ‘character growth’ while keeping them miserable and to some extent and wallowing in self-pity while a supposed transformative work of art was in the making during this turning point.

In movie-speak, it’s the dawning of the new day after blustery, electricity-popping thunderstorm before the HEA happens—essentially, the waxing-lyrical about the need to rediscover those years of lost self-worth.

And I hated it with a passion.

Not just the clichéd conflict but also the whole new level of Holland’s self-absorption, paranoia and low self-esteem that seemed to take the story apart after the glorious build, just as I wanted to scream that every relationship took work despite the screw-ups and that this separation felt more like running away than anything else, because no one seemed the better for it.

Kicking Calvin out to take time for herself, then getting angry when she had a glimpse of him apparently moving on and making assumptions without really finding out what happened? Just what became of the Holland of the earlier pages that I near-idolised, who in fact, seemed to have become more brittle and more cowardly than the one who meandered her way around searching for purpose a few months past her walking away? Had this break really served its purpose, then, if all I got at the end was a weepy, egg-on-her-face woman who’d lost more than I thought she’d gained?

Some may say Holland/Calvin’s HEA was hard-won. I can only shake my head and say that it could have come sooner, with a lot less drama and well, stupidity—without taking the fun out of it to boot.

four-stars

On Her Guard by Skyla Madi

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th December 2017
On Her Guard by Skyla MadiOn Her Guard by Skyla Madi
Series: Protecting Her #1
Published by Crave Publishing on December 5th 2017
Pages: 109
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two-stars

I don't know how my life got so twisted. One day, I'm working as a cash guard, shooting the tires off a stolen vehicle, and the next I'm a guard for the only daughter of high profile mob boss, Marco Ventilli.

The twist?

I've already met the five-foot-four, one hundred and ten pound bombshell that is Sera Ventilli. In fact, I've had her every way a man can have a woman and if her father ever finds out, he'll skin me alive and bury me six feet under the hot sands of Las Vegas.

I knew Sera looked like the worst kind of trouble, my gut told me she was, but she swore otherwise and I lapped up every single lie she fed me, like a Goddamn idiot.

All I had to do was make good on the promise I made to my mother on her deathbed; Leave the army, find a normal job, a good woman, and get on with my life.

Yeah. So much for that​.

I had to wonder if I was reading a different book from the others after I finished this. The premise sounded promising and the forbidden romance trope always draws me to the story like catnip. But in the end, it was this age-gap and (life experience gap, if there’s ever such a phrase) that played a huge part for me in just showing how painfully mismatched this pairing really was, with reckless rebellion being the name of the game. I only felt sorry that poor Ben was caught up in it, thanks to a one-night stand and an effortlessly-told lie about age.

There was never a moment when I thought Sera behaved like a rational, responsible adult. On the contrary, her spoilt-child, reckless and TSTL behaviour at every turn—a form of rebellious upbringing clearly—made it all the more obvious to me as the pages went on that she and Ben were ill-suited everywhere other than in bed when it was clear she was still acting the way a young adult barely out of her teens would. Flouncing from club to club, thinking of ways to escape her security detail, then causing Ben to run into trouble were simply behavioural traits I associate with pampered but sheltered and irksome princesses (be it the mafia-type or royalty) that Ben had rightly called her out on.

Apart from physical attraction and maybe a bit of daddy issues on Sera’s side, I just could not see this pairing at all, let alone her father’s approval in the very abrupt conclusion when it’d been him who’d viciously near taken Ben apart. I turned the last page feeling wholly dissatisfied, but judging from other glowing reviews, it’s clearly a problem that lies solely with me.

two-stars

Follow by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th December 2017
Follow by Tessa Bailey
Published by Tessa Bailey on October 30th 2017
Pages: 214
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two-stars

He wants her soul. Too bad she already sold it.

Family is everything to gambling den darling, Teresa Valentini. Blood comes first, especially before men. So when her brother lands himself in hot water, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save him. And showing up topless in her unwitting savior’s motel room is turning out to be the furthest thing from a hardship…

Will Caruso is the bad boy of New York’s financial scene…and he just found out the very thing that drives his success is a damn lie. Now, he’s exchanged his high-stress life for the open road, no one but his Great Dane…and half a million Instagram followers to keep him company. When a mysterious beauty arrives, her secrecy prods his suspicions, even while she tempts his lust to the breaking point.

Teresa met Will under false pretenses, but the bond consuming them is real. They’re strong enough to overcome a little betrayal…aren’t they?

The honey-trap. A hidden motive. The deception and the play for the ultimate goal. At least that’s what Teresa Valentini sets out to do to get her baby brother out of the clutches of a mafia boss. And that admittedly, is a strange proposition that she gets—to seduce his son back to his place in the financial world.

‘Follow’ banks on a very strong, animalistic instant lust attraction that moves the plot along, as Teresa’s seduction plan doesn’t quite go as expected. But the buildup is thick and fast—though not entirely easy to buy into—when the first meeting between Will and Teresa stray into hot and heavy very quickly. I felt as though their attraction was more skin-deep than anything else, particularly since Teresa was actively using her body to point Will in a direction she wanted him to go, just as it was equally hard to believe that Will was taken in by Teresa’s man-eating act enough to have her on that road trip with him simply because she intrigued him with her mysterious air and seductive posturing.

There are blustery emotions and very sensation-focused paragraphs tucked in between the slow revelations of the bits and pieces of each character and it was only after a while that I realised that the road trip is a major part of the story, when I’d actually been impatient and buckling down to get to the part where everything unravelled. And there’s no doubt that Tessa Bailey is good at this part: the drawing out of emotions, the dirty (and sometimes exaggerated) sex and the even dirtier-talking men.

But it’s here that I’ll also readily admit that Bailey’s prioritising of Will/Teresa’s sex games in all its forms over her deception was frustrating, when this type of longstanding pretence where the ultimate ‘reveal’ happens only towards the end just isn’t my kind of thing. A quarter of the book unfortunately, lingered on their dirty-talk and the a sexual push-pull vibes when I was impatient to read more about the unravelling of Teresa’s plan and Will’s discovery of her double play.

So for me, the pacing lagged in the first half—Bailey’s drawn-out descriptions of their attraction and sexual foreplay didn’t give the plot enough momentum—when the battle of wits seemed limited to the bedroom that made the first half of the story read like erotica.

I’d hoped for a clearer thread of honesty that would run through their narrative and was disappointed when it didn’t, because it felt that Will had always been the one who was more honest. It isn’t to say that Teresa’s love for her brother and her obvious like for Will weren’t broadcasting her personal conflict, but I did take issue with the depth of her betrayal and the delay with which the truth was revealed after she’d known that she’d fallen in love with him.

I’m going to say that ‘Follow’ was unfortunately, not a book that I could get into. Nothing to do with Bailey’s writing style—it’s obvious that she can and does write fantastically—but my own issues with plot and characters just got in the way for me to enjoy this at all.

two-stars

Rogue by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 6th December 2017
Rogue by Anna HackettRogue by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #8
Published by Anna Hackett on November 28th 2017
Pages: 144
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four-stars

Anna Hackett’s ‘Rogue’ is in fact, a collection of 2 stories (and 2 pairings) fitted into the typical length of her book, which is kind of a surprise considering how her Galactic Gladiators series has hit its stride. Still, ‘Rogue’ is as always, an adventure-filled book that follows a certain pattern that Hackett subscribes to: a pairing that is cemented through the undertaking of a massive quest—typically a search for something or someone—in which sparks fly, and love eventually comes along.

I’m a little uncertain about the short length of this novella duo—most of my other reviews of Hackett’s books often gripe about length and/or development of plot or relationships—though it’s easy to say as always, that there’s a lot packed into the 70-odd pages allotted to each couple here. For something already so short, Hackett’s couples do run the risk of instalove and I did get the feeling that things got hot and heavy way too quickly (along with the revelation that they’re falling in love with each other, which leaves me feeling sceptical) despite the slight buildup in the previous books.

‘Rogue’, for its 2 novellas, magnifies this problem of believability (I’m just speaking pairing-wise), but it isn’t to say that the ride isn’t a fun one. It’s wild, crazy and showcases the author’s sheer imaginative power that always brings to mind the great adventure movies with the backdrop of an epic syfy series. And obviously, I’m left still wanting more.

four-stars
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