Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert

Arctic Wild by Annabeth AlbertArctic Wild by Annabeth Albert
Series: Frozen Hearts #2
Published by Carina Press on 3rd June 2019
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three-stars

When a plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the best place to land is in the arms of a younger man…

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable—and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

I’m new to Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, so ‘Arctic Wild’ was sort of a pleasant surprise to me—something that didn’t involve her usual military stories and instead, dealt with the Alaskan wilderness was something I couldn’t resist trying out.

But then, there’s nothing too unpredictable about the story. You could see the train collision coming however; big-city silver fox, high-powered lawyer and Alaskan guy who has no love lost for the city, whose relationship started out as unwilling participant and tour guide until an unexpected plane crash forces them together in unexpected ways. Reuben Graham and Toby Kooly couldn’t be more different and they both know it.
Essentially, this was less of a survival-in-the-wilderness type of read than it was a slow-paced, grinding out the differences type of story as both Reuben and Toby drew closer (the latter has colder feet and more commitment issues than the former who longed for a connection) to each other. And as a result, I was more restless than usual at certain parts of the book, despite it being as close to a realistic m/m romance—there’s real life mirrored in there—as it could probably get the way I imagined it
I can’t exactly put my finger on what would have made it a more convincing romance for me—the sexy times are certainly not lacking—but perhaps the depth of Toby’s own feelings and commitment after Albert had so painstakingly painted him as a casual-sex person who slept around because he didn’t want any more burdens added to his life was what ironically made me doubt the feasibility of this pairing even by the HFN at the end.
So in all, a somewhat engaging but middling read—just wish I could have been more excited about this whole story.
three-stars

Daddy’s Best Friend by Kelli Callahan

Daddy’s Best Friend by Kelli CallahanDaddy's Best Friend by Kelli Callahan
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on April 16th 2019
Pages: 160
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two-stars

This is a really bad idea...

She just showed up on my doorstep.
My best friend's daughter.
The girl I remember is all grown up,
But she's still a brat.

A place to stay?
I'll give her that and a whole lot more.
She needs a firm hand,
And a little bit of discipline.

Or maybe I'm just looking for an excuse to put my hands on those gorgeous curves...

She can whisper all of her secrets into my ear.
But I don't think I'm going to be able to let her go.
My best friend might have been her father...
But she's never had a Daddy.

There’s a definite kink in ‘Daddy’s Best Friend’—the Daddy/Dom/BDSM type—that, in the blurb and the title, should be enough of a warning for those who can’t stomach the older man-younger-woman sort of romance with a bit of a different flavour.

A bit of an age difference doesn’t bother me much really, as long as we’re talking about the legal age of consent…well, that and the quality of the writing. Kelli Callahan tackles Chrissy’s and Greyson’s back story with a bit more context thrown in, which meant that their sexual relationship started small and somewhat tentative, until it became a full-blown exploration of the Daddy-dynamic from the quarter-mark.
Kink and fetish aside, I realised that I wanted to read that their relationship was more than just Chrissy working out a daddy-issue or her needing him to be her spanky-panky-disciplinarian daddy (which would ultimately be wrong and incestuous in so many ways) and that a romance between 2 equals could legitimately grow out of this and not just stay in the iffy-icky part of arse-blistering. The transition wasn’t as marked or as convincing as I’d hoped, which ended up with more cringeworthy than I’d expected, as did the insane number of times the word ‘SMACK!’ appeared in the entire story when I was certain there had to be better ways to describe every action of that brought palm to arse.
two-stars

Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat

Kings Rising by C.S. PacatKings Rising by C.S. Pacat
Series: Captive Prince, #3
Published by Berkley on 2nd February 2016
Pages: 352
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four-stars

Damianos of Akielos has returned.

His identity now revealed, Damen must face his master Prince Laurent as Damianos of Akielos, the man Laurent has sworn to kill.

On the brink of a momentous battle, the future of both their countries hangs in the balance. In the south, Kastor’s forces are massing. In the north, the Regent’s armies are mobilising for war. Damen’s only hope of reclaiming his throne is to fight together with Laurent against their usurpers.

Forced into an uneasy alliance the two princes journey deep into Akielos, where they face their most dangerous opposition yet. But even if the fragile trust they have built survives the revelation of Damen’s identity—can it stand against the Regent's final, deadly play for the throne?

Kings Rising’ left my head spinning and it is a thrilling conclusion to the series really, as C.S Pacat pushes the envelope with court machinations, battle strategies (on and off field). Or rather, it’s akin to following a game of chess as the pieces are moved around – by whom, you wonder? – in such a way the battle lines look straight but are in fact, blurred, where trust is an empty word since betrayals and backstabbing and pre-empting are part for the course here.

The third book builds on the first and the second, and there’s something – having come this far – I think I’ll always miss about the first book particularly since it all felt a little simpler than this. But so it goes with power-hungry royalty and the devious lengths they all go to in order to be the supreme ruler.

It’ll be years before I’ll forget Laurent (and to a lesser extent, Damen), who’s probably a triumph of characterisation: complex, contradictory, sweet yet cruel and way too volatile to handle with care. For Laurent alone, ‘Kings Rising’ is worth all the stars I can give, except for the abrupt ending minus a badly-needed epilogue that made it seem just too short.

four-stars

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince by C.S. PacatCaptive Prince by C.S. Pacat
Series: Captive Prince, #1
Published by Viking: Penguin on 7th April 2015
Pages: 262
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four-stars

Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos, but when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity, and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.

Beautiful, manipulative and deadly, his new master Prince Laurent epitomises the worst of the decadent court at Vere. But in the lethal web of Veretian politics, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen is caught up in a dangerous play for the throne, he must form an alliance with Laurent to survive and save his country.

For Damen, there is just one rule: he must never reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else...

When I finally got my claws embedded in ‘Captive Prince’, I hadn’t expected that it would have taken me a few years to read after C.S. Pacat’s name spread like wildfire. But better late than never and as good books are, they reel you in, sink deep into your consciousness and won’t let go until you’ve finished the trilogy.

I’m only a third through the series, through only the first book and already I need all of it.

The blurb is as the story begins: the rightful heir to the throne of Akielon finds himself a slave in enemy territory and personal slave to the Prince of Vere and while there’s no love lost between these two countries,

Seeing it all through an outsider’s eyes—through the former prince (now slave) Damen’s Akielon eyes—makes us experience what he does: the slithering movements of the dirty court, the political machinations of the tussle for the throne, the carful and sly interplay of power between Laurent and the Regent, but above all, Laurent…the fascinating, brutal, calculative young prince who seems to stay ahead of everyone by calling checkmate every time.

I can understand why ‘Captive Prince’ is so polarising. Lying sort of in a parallel world that very, very vaguely corresponds to a mash-up of medieval Europe and classical Greek/Roman culture (the given map looks like a misshapened form of Italy and Sicily), Pacat’s world is as complex, bloodthirsty, multifaceted and as debauched as you can imagine. Slaves, courtiers, lords and soldiers mingle in a politically unstable time as the gift of Damen as a slave standing heads and shoulders above the rest starts the juggernaut rolling.

There’s also the unflinching use of rape as a tool of control, of submission, along with the fluidity of sexual/gendered relations that belongs to a time long past which can be very, very uncomfortable to go through. Pacat provides no apology for it in any case; it’s all in or none at all, the explicitness in all its glory, forcing you to either step in or turn away.

But there’s so much else to it than the amazingly detailed landscape Pacat has written. The characters that stand out, honed and sharp as a knife blade, whose motivations keep you guessing as train wrecks happen time and again…and you can only stare, wide-eyed, as it happens in technicolor right in front of your eyes.

Perhaps my only complaint here is the use of obscure words as though Pacat intended to ‘elevate’ the prose, to get the story to rise above the 21st century lay reader, or to even distance the reader even further from the reality we know. Still those threw me off—the lexical range of the story felt a little less impressive than if Pacat had simply relied on solid characterisation and more direct prose.

I’m hooked, no doubt about it.

four-stars

Flirting with Disaster by Jane Graves

Flirting with Disaster by Jane GravesFlirting with Disaster by Jane Graves
Series: The DeMarco Family #3
Published by Tule Publishing on 16 April 2019
Pages: 438
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two-stars

He was the man she couldn’t have…she was the woman he couldn’t forget.

On a humanitarian mission to fly doctors to a remote village in Mexico, pilot Lisa Merrick discovers something sinister lurking behind the organization in charge. Her plane is sabotaged, leaving her trapped in the Mexican wilderness with a price on her head and no way out. Injured and desperate, she contacts the one man she knows will help her: Dave DeMarco, a tough but compassionate Texas cop with whom she was once wildly in love.

Dave DeMarco is stunned when a woman from his past calls him late one night with an incredible story of smuggling, sabotage and attempted murder. Soon, though, his mission to rescue Lisa becomes a struggle for survival against an enemy who wants them both dead. When the danger they face clashes with the passion that still burns between them, Dave vows to protect the woman he never stopped loving – and keep her in his life forever.

‘Flirting with Disaster’ is my first Jane Graves book—an author that somehow slipped under my radar—and from what it looks like, a second edition reprint of a previously-published book of the early 2000s.

This does feel like reading an older style of romantic suspense so to speak: where action and passion collide, both burning hot and fast, the protagonists (linked only by a tenuous thread in their high school years very long ago) suddenly diving into each other like the end of the world is coming when danger flares. Somehow I think of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in ‘Speed’, or some other movie in that sort of similar make, where the connection is fast but cursory and I can’t think of anything else past that moment of seizing the day.

Like a movies with scenes told through multiple POVs at breakneck pace, both Dave and Lisa felt like they were carved out of stereotypes at times. The white-knight with a messiah complex, going by way of the cop family tradition and the latter, a wildcard, impulsive and petulant pilot who runs off the deep end just because she can, self-absorbed in putting her own needs and ambitions first (with several TSTL moments), and as a result turns out to be pretty much the female equivalent of the manwhore.

I wasn’t comfortable with the bashing of the dead wife, when it felt like the justification of the romance both Dave/Lisa had going on. Essentially, with the total opposites in play here—the needy, dependent late-wife vs. the fierce, independent woman who’d never left Dave’s memories at all felt like unnecessary drama and ruined it for me. What was wrong with having Dave in a happy or fulfilling marriage with a perfectly good wife before taking up with Lisa as a widower? Why was it necessary to dishonour his previous relationship by saying that Dave admit Lisa a very long time at the very end, all throughout his marriage to another woman—with emotional adultery? (I guessed this was a trigger that was pulled for me)

The secondary romance between Sera/Adam was oddly, the one that drew me in more. I liked their dynamic better, perhaps more so because it also revolved around a dead spouse without the misplaced affections.

In any case, ‘Flirting with Disaster’ was a quick read, but a middling one at best. Graves does write well undoubtedly, but it was just the pairing that didn’t do much for me.

two-stars

His Forbidden Desire by Katee Robert

His Forbidden Desire by Katee RobertHis Forbidden Desire by Katee Robert
Series: Island of Ys #1
Published by Trinkets and Tales LLC on 25th March 2019
Pages: 256
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two-stars

Princess Camilla Fitzcharles is willing to risk everything to escape her gilded cage of her life. She's secured an invitation to participate in the Wild Hunt, a deadly game hosted annually on the secretive Island of Ys.

This year's prize is the one thing that can set her free. Cami just has to survive long enough to win it.

Luca has spent the last fifteen years waiting for vengeance. Now the plans are in motion, and there's no going back. He couldn't have anticipated Cami, though. She's an innocent, a reminder of the life that was stolen from him. Something to be protected, not leveraged in this dangerous game.

This year the Wild Hunt has changed. For the first time since its inception, an outsider is named as the White Stag, the prey the rest of them hunt-Cami. She's on the run and in danger, and Luca will do anything to keep her safe.

The person she needs the most protection from?

Him.

‘His Forbidden Desire’ starts off as an odd cross between fictional European aristocratic romance and the Hunger Games series, where a princess thinks the latter is key to the gilded cage that she’s found herself in.

I’m unfamiliar with this particular aspect of Katee Robert’s writing; then again, Robert is an author who dabbles quite significantly in overlapping genres and I never quite know what I’ll get out of her next book. ‘His Forbidden Desire’ falls within the realm of speculative romantic fiction if labels are to be put on it, but then, I had a hard time getting past the feeling like I’d missed a big chunk of a back story that was never fully laid out.

Essentially, I went through the pages thinking that I barely knew anything by the end of the book: the four Horsemen—alternative identities laid out deliberately and elaborately by abuses children who banded together and now seek revenge—whose pasts are only hinted at, the wild scheme on an island off the African coast where cut-throat games are held for stakes higher than we know about, and a princess competitor who wants her freedom by winning the competition but exactly how that could be achieved isn’t quite told.
For this reason, I couldn’t get into Cami and Luca at all too. Hooking up during a hunt, pulled together and apart by competing agendas—it was quite a mess where emotions barely got a chance to ride out their full potential, busy as the protagonists were trying to avoid getting caught, and then the lust that somehow gets transformed into love by the time a betrayal is executed.
But in all, just too bizarre and frustrating to buy into the whole scheme.
Maybe I do prefer my stories more grounded in ‘reality’ so to speak as ‘His Forbidden Desire’ has taught me, where fictional countries and even odder but dangerous competitions stay as territory that I’ll only venture into when I’ve got nothing else lined up. Not the fault of Robert, obviously, just me.
two-stars

The Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson

The Friend Zone by Sariah WilsonThe Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson
Published by Montlake Romance on 11th June 2019
Pages: 304
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three-stars

Disgraced college quarterback Logan Hunt was on his way to NFL stardom when he messed up big-time. Now the Texas star player with a bad temper has a new option: Seattle’s EOL College—as in End of the Line, to his fellow misfit recruits. It’s Logan’s last chance. If he can follow the rules.

No parties, no fighting, no swearing, and oh, no dating the coach’s daughter, Jess. Simple. Yeah, right. For Logan, there has never been a rule he’s more tempted to break.

The deal is “just friends.” The pretty, confident, and fiercely smart math whiz is fine with pizza, tutoring, and keeping Logan in line. But the closer Jess gets, the more receptive she is to his warm heart and spirit—not to mention his irresistible off-field passes.

With defenses down, they’re both heading into the danger zone.

It’s more than thrilling. It’s love. It’s also a game changer that could sideline Logan’s NFL goals—and more important, a future with Jess. But dreams are worth fighting for, right?

Sariah Wilson’s ‘The Friend Zone’ harks back to a time when I remember YA/NA reads to be a lot more innocent and docile, both in speech and thoughts and deeds—or at least, when more risqué activities were kept firmly behind closed doors and stayed there, where the hottest things got were kisses and monologue-driven, self-actualising type of pining and many, many scorching looks.

It does take getting used to though, having this version of sparkly clean YA/NA sports romance graze my e-reader after being inured to a million sex scenes, to the uninhibited partying lifestyles of manwhore athletes and the women who prostrate themselves without care at their feet. So much so, that I kept wondering if Logan Hunt and Jess were going to go beyond censoring themselves and feeling hot under the collar after their bouts of denial, the chest-heaving sense of attraction, the running away and the pushing and pulling.

The answer, in short, is…no.

Wilson instead, does it the old school, slow-burn way: through friendship with some romantic, underlying tension and lets it grow and grow and…well, grow, with some bouts of humour in between. There isn’t a climax that ends up in torn clothes and smexy times (that did leave me somewhat disappointed anyhow) and with an ending that felt a little rushed and one that by-passed the physical nature of their relationship, I turned the last page still somehow wishing there had been more.

three-stars