Her Wild Hero by Paige Tyler

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 5th January 2018
Her Wild Hero by Paige TylerHer Wild Hero by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 5th 2015
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Name: Kendra CarlsenRank: Trainer, Dept. of Covert OpsObjective: Get out of the office and into the field

Name: Declan MacBrideRank: Munitions Expert, Dept. of Covert OpsStatus: Bear ShifterObjective: Protect Kendra at all costs

The steamy Costa Rican jungle brings out the bear in Declan MacBride when he and new operative Kendra Carlsen are ambushed. In the midst of relying on each other to survive, and fighting his explosive attraction to Kendra, this shifter is about to lose control...

When Kendra and Declan were introduced in Paige Tyler’s X-Ops series in the first book, I had high hopes. Until I realised Tyler had set up a situation where Declan hankered after Kendra while Kendra hankered after Clayne (who’s the hero in the second) book, slept with him, and never quite gave up the infatuation, and someone else now hankers after her.

Call my idea of romance a narrow-minded one, but this setup inevitably made Kendra/Declan a pairing that was hard to swallow, let alone get invested in.

This alone made ‘Her Wild Hero’ a hard read to go through, though I was starting to feel as though the series was lagging, with the introduction of hybrids and ‘micro-situations’ that felt like filler scenarios to get a particular paring together, as well as provide opportunities for Landon’s ex-Special Forces team to get involved in DCO tasks.

Still, the biggest problem I have with this series so far however,—and it’s a glaring one—is the number of ‘unrequited’ pairings and the trial-and-error basis that some non-couples go through before ending up with their mates. Thankfully, it isn’t the grating idea of finding the only one destined for themselves as in Tyler’s Werewolf series, but that there’s just much more room for occasions where ‘second chances’—where one party finally notices another, for instance—just never live up to my own expectations.

If I thought Declan was an adorable gentle giant, I actually loathed Kendra. Not for her stunning abilities to take care of herself in the field, but that her obsession with Clayne, her sleeping with him, only to find out that they had no chemistry, her deliberate keeping it from Declan when she knew he and Clayne didn’t like each other, her subsequent rising interest in Declan only when her crush on Clayne didn’t work out…just weren’t sufficiently dealt with, at least enough to be satisfactory.

Throw in her stubborn and stupid comparisons of Declan to Clayne and I actually thought Declan was her backup option, despite declaration that he was the only man she should be with when he’d been in front of her all this time. Her refusal to see Declan on his own terms (it had to take sleeping with Clayne to show her that?!) until getting stuck in a jungle with him just didn’t seem to give her all-in with Declan any credence. And then the sudden switch 7 years later from Clayne, Clayne and Clayne to Declan simply made her indiscretion more unforgivable.

I wished ‘Her Wild Hero’ was a book that I could get on with, but the ranting above probably shows that I really thought of the pairing—loved the H, hated the Hr. Everything was just details, which in the end, I found myself skimming. Clearly the glowing reviews show that I’m probably the only one who feels this way, but this is going to make me tread more cautiously with this series from here onward.

two-stars

Her Perfect Mate by Paige Tyler

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 4th January 2018
Her Perfect Mate by Paige TylerHer Perfect Mate (X-Ops, #1) by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 6th 2014
Pages: 316
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three-stars

He's a High-Octane Special Ops Pro
When Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is pulled from an op in Afghanistan, he is surprised to discover he's been hand-picked for a special assignment with the Department of Covert Operations (DCO), a secret division he's never heard of. Terrorists are kidnapping biologists and he and his partner have to stop them. But his new partner is a beautiful, sexy woman who looks like she couldn't hurt a fly-never mind take down a terrorist.

She's Not Your Average Covert Operative
Ivy Halliwell is no kitten. She's a feline shifter, and more dangerous than she looks. She's worked with a string of hotheaded military guys who've underestimated her special skills in the past. But when she's partnered with special agent Donovan, a man sexy enough to make any girl purr, things begin to heat up...

Shapeshifter mythology isn’t a new one to me, but the queasy thought of having a menagerie of animals (when I’d previously been selective of the type of shifter romances I’ve been reading) squawking around was probably the sole reason held me back from going into Paige Tyler’s X-ops series. But I’m glad I dived in nonetheless—even if this is to be considered my personal, baby step into expanding my idea of a shifter universe.

That said, the first book of a series can be a hard one to rate: there’s the introduction of a multitude of characters (all of whom you know will get a story of their own), a backstory, context and world-building, all of which, if not handled properly, can probably cause the book to go down quite spectacularly even before it has even begun. ‘Her Perfect Mate’ is a ‘soft’ introduction so to speak, with a feline shapeshifter paired with a military alpha hero who thankfully doesn’t mansplain or behave in a way that makes you want to swing a block of concrete in his face. By and large, I did buy into Landon’s and Ivy’s romance, though I think I’m probably looking forward to the other pairings that have already been hinted at here.

As with romantic suspense however, villainy and heroism tend to be juxtaposed as extremes—bad is bad, good is good—with no in-betweens. Here, it does get laughable at times, where the cliché is stretched so far that I started to wonder if the bad guys should start wearing faux moustaches and announce their arrivals with evil-sounding snickers. Tyler however, does inject some bits with her trademark, understated humour and that went a long way in making the story a lot more enjoyable.

That said, the good part of getting into a series so late is that there isn’t a wait between books and yes, I’m already diving into the next one.

three-stars

Crashed on an Ice World by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 4th January 2018
Crashed on an Ice World by Anna HackettCrashed on an Ice World by Anna Hackett
Series: The Phoenix Adventures #9
Published by Anna Hackett Pages: 125
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three-stars

He’s her boss. She’s his best friend. These two deep-space convoy security specialists are fighting their simmering attraction…until a starship crash on a deadly ice world changes everything.

Elana Korra loves her security job as a medic on the convoy ship, the Sky Nomad…except for the fact that she’s in love with her boss. Rynan is tough, loyal, and protective, and she knows he will never cross the line with her despite her deepest fantasies. But one scorching kiss sets up a smoldering tension, and as they head off into uncharted space on a treasure hunt to find an invaluable old Earth treasure, Elana knows it is time to make a change—get Ry to admit how he feels about her or leave. But a deadly attack leaves Ry and Elana on a damaged, out-of-control ship hurtling toward an unforgiving ice world.

Rynan Phoenix lives for his job of keeping the Phoenix Deep-Space Convoy safe. The nightmare of his childhood has taught him to steer well clear of romantic relationships, and he’s forced himself to ignore Elana’s compact body and gorgeous face. But when they find themselves stranded on an ice world with passengers to protect and space pirates hunting them down, Ry is forced to confront just how he feels about the most important woman in his life.

Ry and Elana will need all of their training in order to keep themselves alive. As they find hints to the old Earth treasure, their desire turns hotter and deeper…but then they discover that far more dangerous things call this ice planet home…

I got into this one with trepidation, not because of Anna Hackett’s world-building—that one’s flawless, imaginative and has a tendency to suck you in no matter what book series Hackett is publishing at any time. The search for a Viking treasure trove on an ice planet, the chase by space mercenaries, the ultimate find…let’s just say it’s an exhilarating ride, the way any Indiana Jones movie is.

But if I found the treasure-hunting adventure fascinating, the relationship between Rynan and Elana was less so, simply because this dealt with the unrequited love of a woman who had gone years putting her dreams aside for her best friend who didn’t want to see her as anything more, yet hooked up with everyone and anyone in this time, right in her face. All this because of his mummy-issues that he couldn’t get over, and also used as excuses for his lifestyle and behaviour.

That alone nearly made me put down the book several times in the story.

In ‘Crashed on an Ice World’, several pivotal moments changed this holding pattern, though apparently all it took was the word of an old woman to make Rynan realise that he had been in love with Elana all along, to suddenly want to be all-in with her. Elana quitting to finally move on with her life, was still not enough for Rynan to risk stepping past that boundary. This ‘conversion’ was way too unbelievable, but apparently a leopard could change its spots, as Rynan went from commitment-phobic to all-committed in the space of second…free to suddenly take up with Elana at the flip of the switch.

I wish I could recommend this one more, but the pairing and the convenience of it just made me cringe. The whole treasure-hunting journey kept me reading however—it’s a very, very short read that tops out at 125 pages—though I found it simply hard to get on board with a protagonist who’d for so long, wanted the woman in front of him, but shoved it aside for other women.

three-stars

Man Card by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 3rd January 2018
Man Card by Sarina Bowen and Tanya EbyMan Card by Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby
Series: Man Hands #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on January 15th 2018
Pages: 452
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four-stars

Nothing ventured, nothing banged...

AshI still don't know how it happened. One minute I was arguing with my arrogant competitor--our usual trash-talk over who deserves the larger commission. But somehow I went from throwing down to kneeling down... It can never happen again. I don't even like Braht. He's too slick. He's a manipulating mansplaining party boy in preppy clothes.So why can't I get him out of my head?

BrahtThere are two things I know without question. One: Ash and I are destined for each other. Two: never trust a man with a unibrow.Ash is my missing my piece. She's the sweet cream to my gourmet espresso. And nothing gets me going faster than her contempt for me. They don't call her the Ashkicker for nothing. Eventually I'll win her over...if my past doesn't ruin everything first.

A not-quite secret: ‘Man Card’ was something I hesitated a long time over, but gave in because, well, it’s Sarina Bowen, an author who seems to take on anything, anyone and everything without fear, no matter the consequences.

And I’m glad I took the time for this one. I found the slapstick comedy in ‘Man Hands’ near intolerable, but ‘Man Card’ was thankfully a return to the comfort zone for me, which was akin to not barrelling into walls and left feeling bewildered by a certain type of humour that never really worked for me. In fact, Braht’s and Ash’s story was a wittier, more relatable, less over-the-top, more believable version than its predecessor in a fremenies-to-lovers story. There were scenes and internal monologues so hysterical and unnecessarily exaggerated that even sitcoms would be taken offline—the constant talk of tightening nipples repeated ad nauseum for one—but by and large, ‘Man Hands’ was a way better read, and yes, I laughed in parts with some unexpectedly funny pop-up lines.

I actually liked Braht, despite the ridiculous name and the showy personality that we saw in the first book. Adored his all-in, completely besotted and devoted attention to Ash that worked strangely well with his cocky confidence, adored the amusing swagger that poured through the pages while he kept trying to win his lady over. It was Braht’s difference that made him a standout hero as well; unlike the usual alpha, testosterone-laden males that tend to come off the pages of romance novels, Braht is lanky, blond and James Spader-ish of the 80s, a metrosexual to the core and even more high maintenance than Ash herself.

Strangely enough, Braht and Ash did seem well-paired and their lusty, irrepressible banter was what kept me going throughout. The angst was kept to a minimum, the conflict thankfully not overinflated and the storytelling mostly lighthearted. Admittedly, some of the humour wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but this zany read marking the start of the new year was still oh, so welcome.

four-stars

Brave by Tammara Webber

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 2nd January 2018
Brave by Tammara WebberBrave by Tammara Webber
Series: Contours of the Heart #4
Published by Tammara Webber on December 17th 2017
Pages: 249
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three-stars

Courage means rising up to defend your beliefs...or daring to question them.

Erin McIntyre was captivating, but forbidden. His professional subordinate. The embodiment of unearned privilege. The daughter of his sworn enemy

Isaac Maat was impossible to read. Smart, ambitious, and emotionally detached. Hotter than anyone's boss should ever be and definitely hiding something...

He told himself that getting to know her would help him take down her father. She told herself that getting under his skin would distract her wrecked heart from its misery.

Neither predicted their private war would lead to an intimate battle in which the victor would be the first one to SURRENDER.

It has been a long, long time since I’ve read a Tammara Webber book and coming back to one is a reminder of ‘Contours of the Heart’ as one of the first few books that actually made me aware of the then-emerging New Adult (sub)genre that had suddenly scored big hits with so many people.

As the rocky relationship between Isaac Maat and Erin McIntyre emerges in the first few chapters however, what I’d evidently also forgotten is Webber’s seductively poetic and perceptive writing of this pairing—particularly so for a NA story—just as her portrayal of her characters are realistic, quite multifaceted and believable, with the undertones of racial bias that sets up the conflict of the story years before Isaac and Erin are even on the scene.

These alone makes ‘Brave’ easy to go through, as Webber unravels the heroine, strips her bare, then puts her in front of the reader like a bold testament to the flawed (and young) heroine…complete with broken dreams, scorching fantasies, colossal fuck-ups and everything else in between. With only Erin’s POV available to us though, it is more difficult to figure out who Isaac really is, and my own inference in this case, coming through the filter of Erin’s own perceptions, doesn’t peel back that much. Consequently, Isaac remains relatively shrouded in mystery (and very alluringly sexy) but as unreadable and unattainable as Erin makes him out to be.

I did find myself somewhat bored for the first half—the slow burn also translates into slow pacing—as Erin and Isaac take a while to warm up to each other, then flatten out until the climax near the end and a hurried resolution that’s unsatisfactory because of its swiftness and abruptness. The romance at some points, seems to flicker out, only to return when Erin/Isaac sort out the fallout from the big reveal and this, coupled with the rushed (and only) sex scene at the end, just left me needing a lot more than a HFN conclusion.

three-stars

Show Me by Abigail Strom

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 31st December 2017
Show Me by Abigail StromShow Me by Abigail Strom
Series: Me
Published by Montlake Romance on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 256
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three-stars

“Houston, we have a major attraction.”

After years of dealing with a heart condition and an overprotective mother, Airin Delaney is finally having her first taste of freedom in Waikiki—and it’s intoxicating. But it’s nothing compared to the out-of-this-world attraction between her and astronaut Hunter Bryce. Airin is determined to shoot for the stars and experience her first real kiss.

All Hunter has ever wanted is to explore the universe. That is, until a certain black-haired, wide-eyed beauty shakes him to the core. Hunter knows almost nothing about Airin, not even her last name. All he knows is that she’s the kind of girl he could fall over-the-moon in love with. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse. While Airin is celebrating her first night of freedom, Hunter is celebrating his last—before embarking on an eight-month mission.

It was only supposed to be one night. But sometimes that’s all fate needs to change two lives forever.

Unlike its predecessor, ‘Show Me’ is written in a very different vein—much more than just an astronaut looking to fulfil his lifelong dream beyond Earth’s atmosphere and a woman so sheltered that the whole world seems new. If ‘Tell Me’ is an opposites-attract story, ‘Show Me’ continues this trend in a different way. Unlike Caleb and Jane who are inherently different in their personalities and what they wanted out of life, Hunter and Airin are opposites in in their experiences though there’s the ironic twist of the latter having much to teach the former as well.

There was something whimsical and lofty about ‘Show Me’—I essentially thought this read like a dreamer’s book with lots of hopes that pour through the pages—where talk extended beyond present reality to interstellar travel and the inevitable rush of philosophising that comes with it. The undertones were great: the ideals of humanity vs. the pragmatism needed about reality as we know it, the long-debatable merits of space exploration, the politics that comes with it.

I wasn’t entirely thrilled though, with the extremes in Airin’s and Hunter’s experiences; too often it comes across in many books as the manwhore and the virgin trope and the inevitable comparisons of how special a heroine is in contrast to his countless other flings. And I was even less enthused about a meddling mother whose protective desperation turned so manipulative that it caused most of the rift and the push-pull dynamics in the story.

It’s not easy to rate this story nonetheless. Strom’s writing was enjoyable and there were parts that I could relate to, just as there were bits that I couldn’t, like Airin’s wide-eyed honest cataloguing of every new thing. Hunter’s and Airin’s HFN ending was given that same dreamy tinge, though the look into the future remained just that—a veiled hope that still left me wondering if this was a pairing that could weather the storms.

three-stars

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran

Posted in Historical/ Historical Romance/ Reviews 30th December 2017
A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith DuranA Lady's Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran
Series: Rules for the Reckless #5
Published by Pocket Books on February 28th 2017
Pages: 400
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two-stars

A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL...Trapped in the countryside, facing an unwanted marriage and the theft of her fortune, Jane Mason is done behaving nicely. To win her freedom, she’ll strike a deal with the most dangerous man she knows—a rising star in politics, whose dark good looks mask an even darker heart.

...NEVER GOES TO PLAN.The bitter past has taught Crispin Burke to trust no one. He’ll gladly help a lovely young heiress, provided she pays a price. Yet when a single mistake shatters his life, it is Jane who holds the key to his salvation. And in a world that no longer makes sense, Crispin slowly realizes that she may be the only thing worth fighting for...

The marvellous Meredith Duran—whether the plot is something you like or not—always weaves something so well-written that it leaves you breathless with her poetic prose and her sharp insights into human nature. That much is axiomatic and if the rating seems contrary to this, it’s only because I couldn’t buy into the romance and the circumstances under which Jane Mason and Crispin Burke were brought together.

Still, I had to stop from time to time in admiration of how Duran writes.

In fact, the first pages were brilliantly absorbing. I loved Jane’s steely will, the quest for independence and the plotting that provided her the opening that allowed her to escape the oppressive thumb of her uncle, all pitted against the cunning and cold manipulations of Crispin Burke. But after Crispin’s amnesia, I’d initially thought her actions showed a desperate woman trying to take flight; after that however, I thought they made her a hypocrite. That deception carried and drove this romance all along wasn’t something I liked at all (and which was something that Jane let go of in small doses).

The romance between Jane and Cripsin—the hard, unyielding man—before the accident was what I wanted to read, and not the man who suddenly seemed to ‘turn good’, as was the (rather unbelievable) implication that the knock on the head could be so strong as to be personality altering. That Jane wanted to separate the Crispin before and the Crispin after his amnesia never sat well with me, and this was only addressed towards the very end only, which I thought could have been acknowledged way earlier—that this was the same man still, an anti-hero, the schemer that was equally deserving of a HEA and whose machinations were precisely what she wanted while never admitting she needed that part of his personality for her own ends.

That said, Duran hasn’t stopped being my gold standard for 21st century historicals. If I don’t read enough of her works, that’s just all on me.

two-stars
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