Reckless Honor by Tonya Burrows

Reckless Honor by Tonya BurrowsReckless Honor by Tonya Burrows
Series: Hornet, #5
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on April 23rd 2018
Pages: 374
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three-stars

Jean-Luc Cavalier has only ever cared about three things: sex, booze, and the dangerous missions he undertakes with HORNET. Laissez les bons temps rouler is more than a Mardi Gras motto—it’s the way he lives his life. But all that changes the night he rescues Dr. Claire Oliver from deadly mercenaries.

Now he can’t get the gorgeous blond virologist out of his head.

Claire is running for her life. Someone wants her antiviral research and they’re willing to kill anyone and everyone to get it. She has no one to turn to except a womanizing Cajun with a silver tongue and devastating smile.

But when an ultra-deadly virus decimates the Niger Delta, saving Claire and her research becomes the least of HORNET’s concerns. The virus has all the markings of a bioweapon and Nigeria is only the testing grounds…

Jean-Luc Cavalier, like his last name suggests, has been difficult to take seriously in all of Tonya Burrows’s HORNET books I’ve gone through. The voodoo spell on his man bits that had cursed him into celibacy? Jean-Luc the manwhore had always looked like a joke to me and that’s putting it quite kindly. The womanising bastard of a language-expert hasn’t made his mark on me like some other characters in this series have, and I’ll readily admit my own scepticism when the time rolled around for his own story.

But the context in which Burrows has written his and Claire’s story is undeniably irresistible: the threat of a virus in far-flung Nigeria, the high-stakes of biological warfare coming into play? I’m fidgety with excitement. It’s a story that has its roots in the previous book (which I don’t really remember now), so I struggled a little in catching up with a plot that races through a hot-zone and tries to uncover the mystery behind a rapidly-spreading, man-made virus.

There was a bleakness to this that isn’t present in Burrows’s other books and perversely, I found myself liking the head and dankly pervasive atmosphere of the angst and the hopelessness that surrounded the dying camp that Jean-Luc and Claire found themselves in, while the geek in me slurped up every word to do with viruses and mutations. But as with most RS books, this took a suspense of disbelief to get through—the flitting from exotic location to yet another exotic location, the James Bond-esque type of action, the miraculous happenings when you least expect them.

What I wasn’t sold on was Jean-Luc, unfortunately. Not when I couldn’t shake the longstanding idea of him being a self-serving bastard and deem him a credible hero. Mostly the problem I have with manwhore types is this—I will always doubt their ability to commit no matter how special they make out a woman to be, let alone stick to that very one woman despite the extraordinary circumstances that bring them together.

Past the adrenaline rush and the intense emotions deadly situations tend to pull out of people, I couldn’t be convinced that Claire would have been enough for Jean-Luc not when nothing else has made him changed his mind on the ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’ motto he went by until the threat of violent hemorrhagic death came on him, curse on his dick aside. That he wanted a chance with Claire because the threat of pending death brought the weight of regrets down on him or that she’d helped saved him…well anything less extreme than that wouldn’t have made him change on his own volition otherwise, would it? The suddenness with which Jean-Luc opted for monogamy was beyond unbelievable as a result and I was surprised in fact, that Claire didn’t have the same reservations, the giving, determined doctor that she is.

But Claire’s constant heart-sickness and the pain she felt about her own dilemma concerning the virus and the people she’d left behind made her a heroine laden with her own burdens—so much so that I didn’t see her getting her head past it at all. From her wanting a night to forget to her inexplicable falling in love with Jean-Luc baffled me as well, when most of the book was spent dodging mercenaries, arguing about playing god and figuring their way out of tricky situations with their only connection being the virus and her determination not to let anyone die because of her.

While Claire/Jean-Luc wasn’t quite a pairing I could realistically buy into, Burrows’s writing has always appealed to me nonetheless, which is what keeps me coming back to her HORNET series. The insertion of the rest of the guys is always a boon—the slight focus on Harvard, Ian and Marcus made me want their own stories, yes, these HORNET men nearly unhinged with their own deep issues—and a timely reminder that there’re so many loose threads yet to be tied up, as each one bleeds into the next story.

three-stars

Fast Justice by Kaylea Cross

Fast Justice by Kaylea CrossFast Justice by Kaylea Cross
Series: DEA FAST #6
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, Kaylea Cross Inc. on March 17th 2018
Pages: 352
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four-half-stars

Sacrifice is a requirement of the job. Rowan Stewart walked away from the love of a lifetime to focus on the demands of her job as Assistant US Attorney. Now she's working on the biggest case of her career, prosecuting one of the Veneno cartel's most notorious members. Except the case presents unexpected challenges-including the man she can't forget...and a threat she could not foresee. But this time, it could cost her life. Special Agent Malcolm Freeman is FAST Bravo's point man. On an op he's the first one through the door, leading the way for his team. Professionally, he's at the top of his game. His personal life is a different story. After Rowan ripped his heart out a year ago he closed himself off to any relationships. When fate throws them together he steps up to ensure she's protected, even though it might mean getting his heart broken again. But protection isn't enough. The enemy is determined to use Rowan to get what they want. With her life hanging in the balance, Malcolm and his team race to find her before it's too late. He lost her once. He can't lose her now. This time, failure is not an option.

Finally, finally, finally.

‘Fast Justice’ reminds me of all the reasons why I read Kaylea Cross’s books and having ploughed through the somewhat lacklustre stories from the previous stories in this series, having Rowan/Mal’s tale kick my enthusiasm back to life (measured in terms of the loss of sleeping hours) has been beyond a pleasant surprise. The hints of their broken romance in the previous book had gotten me intrigued and Mal, who is predictably gun-shy about starting up with Rowan again, finally gets his due…in a story that provoked a range of emotions from me.

Apart from the thoroughly engaging suspense, Cross writes about a woman who is willing to own up to her mistakes, who swallows her pride and grovels because she knows she’d left a heartbroken man in her wake…and finally goes after what she wants. I loved the excruciating moments of tension between Ro/Mal, the reluctant truce that breaks down because Rowan decides to shake it all up and her lead role in trying to build them back together again as she tries to mend the damage that she had done to them. For this reason, I couldn’t help but love a woman who’s brave enough to show this sort of maturity when too many cowardly characters that have recently come across my feed have nearly made me thrown several books against the wall in frustration. (Proverbially speaking, because I use an e-reader.)

By and large, this was a compelling read. The entanglements with the Veneno Cartel are woven deep into ‘Fast Justice’ and the developmental arc is more tightly spread over the last few books. In fact, I was surprised at how much of the events that happened in the previous books spilled over into this, wondering if it might be somewhat difficult for ‘Fast Justice’ to be read as a standalone. Cross does provide some explanation—though some parts might still be confusing to readers who step in at this point in time—and without shying away from the brutality of cartel activity, throws in a few twists and turns that helped balance the angst of Rowan/Mal’s situation.

The hasty conclusion after the climax and the loose threads that aren’t tied up by the end are probably my only complaints. It’s evident that Cross intends to continue this arc until the baddies drop dead one by one, but it’s going to be a wait that will span several books before this happens. But until that happens, I’m happily going to go back to the good bits that had me gnawing down my own teeth.

four-half-stars

The Start of Something Good by Jennifer Probst

The Start of Something Good by Jennifer ProbstThe Start of Something Good by Jennifer Probst
Series: Stay #1
Published by Montlake Romance on June 5th 2018
Pages: 345
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three-stars

When Ethan Bishop returns to the Hudson Valley, his body and spirit are a little worse for wear. As a former Special Forces paratrooper, he saw his fair share of conflict, and he came home with wounds, inside and out. At his sisters’ B & B and farm, he can keep all his pain at a safe distance. But quiet time isn’t easy when a fiery woman explodes into his life…

It’s business—not pleasure—that brings Manhattan PR agent Mia Thrush reluctantly to the farm. Tightly wound and quick tempered, Mia clashes immediately with the brooding Ethan. Everything about him is irritating—from his lean muscles and piercing blue eyes to his scent of sweat and musk.

But as the summer unfolds and temperatures rise, Ethan and Mia discover how much they have in common: their guarded histories, an uncontrollable desire, and a passion for the future that could heal two broken hearts. But will their pasts threaten their fragile chance at a brand-new future?

I love a good a enemies-to-lovers story, and Jennifer Probst’s throwing together of a wounded soldier and an uptight, prickly PR shark sounded like a read up my alley. As total opposites (at least on the surface), Ethan and Mia clash immediately. The latter wouldn’t be caught dead on a horse-rescue farm while the former is the furthest away from branded designer wear and corporate work having been burnt by the bad experience he’s had in the past.

‘The Start of Something Good’ however, has all the hallmarks of the rom-com movie: characters that do fit a certain mould as their relationship finally coasts after a rocky start…until crunch time arrives. And all of it’s done with no small amount of irony, some banter and humour and a supporting cast of characters that form part of a backdrop that’s supposed to be sepia-toned kind of charming.

Mia’s portrayal is however, a little too stereotypical for my taste—the spoilt, shrewish city princess on a strict carb-free diet got me rolling my eyes after a while and her insistence on doing things the only way she knew how did get a tad bit irritating. On the other hand, Ethan’s master of all trades persona and the idyllic life in the country felt a little oversold as the story seemed to build its case around a city vs. the country sort of dilemma.

The choice between frenetic city-living and the slowness of small town life is one that I saw coming from the very start the moment Probst laid out Ethan’s and Mia’s obvious differences. Small town quirks admittedly, aren’t exactly to my own liking—the emergence (inevitable, it seems in such stories) of nosey, cock-blocking senior citizens who take glee in other people’s businesses being one of them—and the oneupmanship between Ethan and Mia got old quickly as the middle part lagged a little after a good setup in the animosity between them. Still, it’s a journey that’s fairly predictable and the conflict that’s about to come past the usual angst about short-term fling and settling down could be sniffed out a mile away.

I did like Probst’s way of getting Mia to reevaluate her notions of success as well as the incisive, assured writing that catalogues the changes wrought in both Ethan and Mia as they slowly start to see each other beyond the gripes and the snipes. ‘The Start of Something Good’ is a decent read nonetheless, and the setup for the next books sounds interesting enough for me to warrant a closer look at this developing series.

three-stars

Too Hard to Resist by Robin Bielman

Too Hard to Resist by Robin BielmanToo Hard to Resist by Robin Bielman
Series: Wherever You Go, #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on April 16th 2018
Pages: 335
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two-stars

One rookie assistant + one demanding executive = flirting that is too hot to handle.

Have you ever wished for the perfect job? Me, too. So when I land a temporary gig with a worthwhile and exemplary startup, I'm determined to make it permanent. That my boss is the gorgeous, clever Elliot Sax is nothing I can't handle. We may steal glances at each other and straddle the line of playing it safe, but our partnership is too important for complications. Not to mention workplace hookups are against the rules.

But when our attraction flames hotter, our best efforts are put to the test. I never imagined having to fight my feelings for him on a daily basis and keeping my hands to myself is absolutely killing me.

Until I can't. Until we can't. And what's at stake becomes more than our jobs. What's at risk is our hearts.

I dived into Robin Bielman’s ‘Too Hard to Resist’ without having read the other books in this series, happy to say that this works perfectly as a standalone. And the pages do turn quickly, with the gradual upping of sexual tension until it eventually breaks.

A friends-to-lovers romance isn’t my favourite though the forbidden workplace one is one that I was eager to delve into. But ‘Too Hard to Resist’ is a hard one to write about, not because it wasn’t an easy read (it was) but because the to-and-fro-ing and the somewhat predictable plan that Elliot and Madison make to keep a distance from each other that didn’t work out in the end.

And round and round the game went as both parties vacillated between flirting and not wanting to cross that line, to the point that I got bored (when I should have been excited) by the time they finally fell into bed.

There also seemed to be a greater affinity with Madison that I felt, like I knew her feelings, hopes and plans more intimately than I knew Elliot, who in comparison, seemed to take a greater interest in Madison only when she became his assistant. His mostly lustful thoughts of her and nothing much else besides how good she was as his co-worker were what I got from him instead—that he wanted her physically wasn’t in any doubt, but I didn’t feel as though that extended to beyond the bedroom or the office as his assistant or that he was prepared to sacrifice anything for this hookup he wanted so badly.

The contrast between rather inexperienced heroine and the player hero was a little irksome nonetheless as Elliot made (dickish) moves that were clearly meant to distract her from dating other guys when I, liked Madison, couldn’t figure out his game beyond wanting her in bed as every chapter written in his POV has some kind of sentence that emphasises her hotness or involves body parts squishing together in a hookup. That there were occasional ex-fuck-buddies of his coming into the picture here and then didn’t bode all too well; neither did Madison’s inexperience that somehow translated into inexplicable naïveté and insecurity towards the end when the stakes never seemed equal between them.

I do like Bielman’s writing, but ‘Too Hard to Resist’ sadly didn’t quite work out too well for me as a result—the inequality of feelings, the way I felt more for one protagonist than the other were writ too large for me to look away from, despite the forbidden romance trope that I typically like.

two-stars

Recipe for Disaster by Tracy Solheim

Recipe for Disaster by Tracy SolheimRecipe for Disaster by Tracy Solheim
Series: Men of the Secret Service #1
Published by Tule Publishing on May 7th 2018
Pages: 237
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one-star

Secret Service Agent Griffin Keller always gets his man. And his woman. In pursuit of an international counterfeiter known only as "The Artist", Griffin stumbles across paintings stolen from the White House and swapped with forgeries. His only clue to the thief's identity–a dish towel from the White House kitchen.

White House pastry chef Marin Chevalier desperately needs a date to her cousin's society wedding. Unfortunately, her busy schedule leaves her little opportunity to meet eligible men. When a sexy Secret Service agent shows up in her kitchen—and just about everywhere else she goes—Marin believes she's finally met the perfect date. But when a series of frightening accidents and near misses plague her, Marin must rely on Griffin as more than just her "plus-one."

As dead bodies begin to pile up around Marin, Griffin is convinced she’s the link to The Artist. Too bad the curvy chef has gotten under his skin like no other woman. When the clues finally fall into place and Griffin realizes Marin is not the suspect, but instead the target, he'll risk everything in his arsenal to keep her safe.

Having gone into this thinking this was straight up romantic suspense with the rather unusual pairing of a Secret Service Agent and a well-connected White House pastry chef, I wasn’t entirely too sure personally, if ‘Recipe for Disaster’ really fell into this category.

It’s perhaps best called a mix of some mystery and some romance, as all the parties involved seemed nicely ensconced in their white-tower (or house, is this case) in a way that made it difficult to relate to them, let alone get invested in a pairing that felt forced together only because a special set of circumstances that caused their paths to meet. The huge cast of characters that came in also felt more like a distraction than a boon to the story, seemingly padding out the narrative just to show how they interacted with each other without really achieving anything significant.

When it came down to the protagonists, I found Marin too weepy (or at least on the verge of sobbing) and her constant deep blushing almost anachronistic for our times; her insecurities regarding her body and her elevation of Griffin as the man who wouldn’t date women like her was annoying after a while, as was the insertion of Griffin’s FBI ex-fuck-buddy who flitted in and out of the picture. That Griffin found her resilient and strong baffled me, and the repetitions of the way he thought about her soon came across as a case of the author trying to convince us of Marin as a heroine worthy of Griffin.

Sad to say, while I was very excited about the premise of this from the blurb, ‘Recipe for Disaster’ ended up being a story I struggled to plough through, so clearly this is not the book for me and to use a trite and clichéd phrase…’it’s not the story, it’s me’.

one-star

Dirty Bastard by Jessica Clare

Dirty Bastard by Jessica ClareDirty Bastard by Jessica Clare
Series: Roughneck Billionaires, #3
Published by Intermix on May 15th 2018
Pages: 203
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two-stars

Knox Price has always fallen short in comparison to his brothers. Boone is the ambitious one. Clay is the nice one. Gage is the handsome one. And Knox? Well, he's the cynical one. The odd man out in the ultra-wealthy but rather unique Price family. It's not that Knox hates people--it's that humanity always disappoints him. When you become an oil-rich, Texan billionaire overnight, people treat you a certain way. Just once he'd like to meet someone that isn't dazzled by his wallet.

Then, he meets struggling yoga teacher Lexi Brandon. She's weird. She's unpredictable and tends to say strange things. She lurks in the bushes and dresses in all black. She loves when people cross the street to get away from her. Lexi's definitely not his type, but she's also the first one to ever truly see him and not just another rich, dirty Price.

And that's...fascinating. But how do you catch the interest of a woman who goes out of her way to be odd? When an unexpected surprise throws them both for a loop, Knox decides it's time to get down and dirty, abandon the rules, and be who he truly is--a bastard.

I’m a little unsure about my own feelings when it comes to Jessica Clare’s roughneck billionaires. Yes, these Price brothers from different mothers are similar in their crude, blunt ways and as they’re the opposite of smooth and sleek and schmoozy, they’re refreshingly different from the suit-clad businessmen with their ability to get everything they want. But these brothers are also sometimes unavoidably simplistic and they do in some ways, remind me of Alexa Riley’s heroes who fall hard and instantly with the burning need to claim women they see at first glance as theirs.

Knox equating a one-night stand with the notion of forever does seem somewhat excessive, but the instalove that Knox feels isn’t really out of character for these Price brothers however. ‘Dirty Bastard’ does however, take a direction I didn’t expect or like nonetheless. I should have been expecting this considering the sheer stupidity of Lexi going into an affair with Knox for the express and calculated purpose of avoiding her stalker. From the start, Lexi runs away and keeps running away when this night (again due to her own recklessness) results in unintended though not unexpected consequences, then using her own issues as ammunition to petulantly refuse everything Knox offers made her thoroughly unlikeable. Acting like a spoilt teen makes their 5-year-age-gap (older woman, younger man) of no consequence as a result, as Lexi seems to regress into someone who sits on a raised chair while waiting for Knox to climb the uphill battle on his own to get into her ‘good’ graces.

From here onwards, I struggled hard to continue the book, not just because of the storytelling and characterisation that at times, made both Knox/Lexi seem like high-school figures rather than the adults they are, but also because of the way Lexi sat high and mighty while poor Knox had to bend backwards for her. As Lexi used Knox’s age as an excuse to get out of commitment by saying *he* was the one who wanted to play the field when all he did was want the opposite made me throw in the towel in the end. Not being able to get behind this pairing was almost a guarantee when there was an annoying protagonist whom I felt just didn’t deserve the title of ‘heroine’ at all, nor of Knox.

two-stars

His Beauty by Sofia Tate

His Beauty by Sofia TateHis Beauty by Sofia Tate
Published by Forever (Grand Central Publishing) on May 8th 2018
Pages: 171
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three-stars

She never should have come here. Twice a week, Lily Moore comes to work for me, stealing my breath with her light and beauty and sweetness. She doesn't know the dangerous path she's on. All she knows is that I am a reclusive artist living on a crumbling estate. That I am scarred, broken by life. A beast . . .

Lily ignites a hunger unlike anything I've known, one that could shatter the isolated world I live in. Even as I see the same longing for me in her oh-so-blue eyes, I know she belongs to another---one who does not deserve her. But it's just a matter of time before the tension between us breaks. For this beast will have what he desires. To hell with the consequences. This is my world . . . and I will claim my beauty.

Sucker for fairytale retellings that I am (I can’t ever get enough), I dove into ‘His Beauty’ for what’s probably my favourite tale of all time.

What I’ve always enjoyed isn’t just the meeting of the beauty and the beast, but also the differing contexts and backgrounds (be it a contemporary or a historical spin on the fairytale) in which they meet. ‘His Beauty’ starts out slow, detailing the circumstances under which Lily finds herself at Grayson’s door, painting a picture of the life she leads—a life that’s about to drastically change when she takes on a cleaning job at a recluse’s mansion.

If Disney’s version revolves around books and reading, Sofia Tate’s subject matter here is art. Her characters, which are more mellowed versions of a beauty and beast who don’t go through the same jagged highs and lows that seem par for the course. Instead, ‘His Beauty’ is more slow-going, with a burn that starts from friendship as Lily spends half the story with a fiancé, and while getting a little too…sensitive and emotional when it comes to Grayson (read: fretting and weepy).

I didn’t quite get the angst, or the sharp yearning from both sides that I normally associate with this fairytale; instead, I got increasingly frustrated when Lily kept resolutely wanting to continue with her jerk of her boyfriend to others, thus putting the relationship-development with Grayson on hold.

Consequently, as their attraction comes to a boil only much later in the book, it didn’t feel as though there was a sufficient build-up of the both of them, and I was actually thrown off when the more explicit scenes (and the vocabulary associated with them) came in from almost nowhere after Lily’s fiancé was finally out of the way.

As far as retellings go, if you prefer a slower-paced, less angsty version (with a teeny, teeny bit of suspense), ‘His Beauty’ is one to shelve. There’s an almost-disney-certified HEA, where all’s right with the world, but it’s not quite a ‘yay’ from me, sadly.

three-stars