Shipped by Karrie Roman

Shipped by Karrie RomanShipped by Karrie Roman
Published by NineStar Press on 18th June 2018
Pages: 258
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Ryan Lowe has been a lonely nobody all his life. The only time he ever feels the rush of living is when he’s acting. Wanting to get as far away from his small town life and alcoholic father as possible, he leaves Australia to pursue a career as an actor in the bright lights of Hollywood, never stopping to consider the fame that might come with it.

Lucas Evers understands fame. He’s been a successful actor on the small-screen for years and loves his career. Nothing comes for free though, and the price he’s paid for his success is keeping who he is hidden from the world. He married his best friend to keep both of their secrets, and until now, he has been content with the cost of his fame.

When Lucas and Ryan are cast in a new television series based on a wildly popular book series everything changes for them. The show is a worldwide hit and together they have just become the most popular ship on the planet. As they begin to realize it’s not just their characters falling in love, the cost of their fame rises. Together they must face stalkers, anxiety, panic attacks, and attempted murder.

My mind went straight to some odd, romantic version of ‘Supernatural’ the moment I started ‘Shipped’ and thankfully, Lucas and Ryan aren’t brothers. Just co-stars who have an electrifying connection that neither can separate from screen time when life starts to imitate art. Or rather, fiction imitating art, when UST on-screen bleeds off-screen and turns everything else awkward between a supposedly happily-married rising star in Hollywood and a new guy from Down Under.

Whatever is done onscreen thus, is repeated off-screen so as readers, there’s double the dose of UST to pining to RST—a bonus if you want the repeat for both Lucas/Ryan and Sam/Dom because it all gets washed and rinsed through twice. It actually became confusing to me at times when their stories got so intertwined in the beginning of the story, thereafter sagged in the middle the moment ‘real life’ for Lucas and Ryan took over.

What sat oddly with me was the New Adult feel in ’Shipped’, dialogue and all (some were cringeworthy because I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to snort), when I think I just expected something more ‘adult-ish’ in the storytelling. Between Ryan being generally overwhelmed with everything and the constant self-recriminating ‘I’m always unloved’ vibe and Lucas doing the hormonal self-introspection about his own ‘marital’ status, I thought their relationship pretty much wobbled from bursting-at-the-seams-teenage-angst to trying-valiantly-to-adult and back again. Throw in the dark side of fame and fortune and the cycle of dysfunction is quite complete.

On the bright side, if you like 2 very, very earnest men finding their feet around each other while hanging on desperately with everything the world throws at them, ‘Shipped’ is the just book to read.

three-stars

A Daughter’s Choice by Lee Christine

A Daughter’s Choice by Lee ChristineA Daughter's Choice by Lee Christine
Series: A Mindalby Outback Romance Series #4
Published by Escape Publishing on 31st July 2018
Pages: 190
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-half-stars

Mindalby, a small town, a community, a home. But when the mill that supports the local cotton farmers and employs many of the town's residents closes unexpectedly, old tensions are exposed and new rifts develop. Everyone is affected and some react better than others, but one thing is certain: living on the edge of the outback means they have to survive together, or let their town die.

Lynsey Carter's relationship with her father is fraught, so when she hears that the cotton mill that is her birthright has closed down (and her father is lying low), she returns to Mindalby to support her mother and seek out answers. She hasn't been back since high school, since she left her heart behind with Julian Stone. But Julian didn't want it, or her; he wanted a life in Mindalby.

Torn between family loyalty and duty to the community, between the life she's built for herself and the passion for Julian she just can't seem to shake, Lynsey needs to decide if her home–coming is for a visit – or for real.

I’ve always like Lee Christine’s writing and ‘A Daughter’s Choice’ is no different. The context and the circumstances in which this story are unusual to say the least, though distilled, it’s one of a girl returning home to the Australian Outback to take care of affairs that have gone awry (thanks to a corrupt, deadbeat father), then meeting an old flame who’d broke her heart. With a narrative built around the failure of a mill on which the livelihood of a small community depends, Lynsey and Julian reunite out of necessity—returning home does that in a small town—and it takes only just a few days together to remind them how good they could be and have been.

But more on that later.

Pacing-wise, I thought the story did drag on a bit when it became slower going than I expected (Christine is an author I read for romantic suspense after all) and the slower pace did throw me off a bit. That translated to me put this down and taking it up numerous times, and when I took it up, there were parts I trudged through just trying to stay interested in the subject matter.

Apart from following the developments and the slight suspense written into this (which perked me up), I was baffled how Lynsey and Julian fell into bed when nothing between them was resolved, all within a few days after a separation of 9 years. Julian’s supposed friends-with-benefits situation with another woman seemed to become a non-issue when I’d actually hoped for that particular casual relationship to be dissolved even before Lynsey/Julian got together again. Admittedly, second-chance romances don’t necessarily sit all too well with me when the slightest thing give me cause to question the validity of the reunion. Essentially, I thought there were relationship issues which needed ironing out but felt glossed over in favour of the suspense despite both protagonists trying to be mature about themselves.

In all, the dive into the Australian Outback is always a cultural shift that I love to read about after all because such writers—and I’ve gone through quite a few of them—offer such different perspectives especially in the romance genre, I think I surprised myself most of all by not really feeling this story at all.

two-half-stars

Unidentified by Anna Hackett

Unidentified by Anna HackettUnidentified by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #7
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on June 10th 2018
Pages: 120
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

The Emerald Tear: ambitious archeologist Oliver Ward leads a dig in the wild jungles of Ecuador and collides with feisty, independent treasure hunter Persephone.

Oliver Ward loves getting his boots dirty on fascinating digs, and investigating strange ruins in Ecuador is no exception. When bandits threaten his team, a small, tough treasure hunter bursts into his world to save the day. He finds himself captivated by the bright, vibrant woman and sucked into a wild and dangerous treasure hunt for a lost Incan emerald.

Daughter of a con artist, Persephone Blake trusts no one and has a plan—find and sell artifacts until she can retire on a white-sand beach. But her plans are derailed when a handsome, smart, and stubborn archeologist pushes his way onto her hunt. She finds herself irresistibly tempted by Oliver, and as they trek deeper into the jungle, danger follows. And Persephone isn’t sure what is in more danger—her body or her heart.

The Emerald Butterfly: former Navy SEAL Diego Torres finds himself helping the one woman who drives him crazy—the DEA agent who boarded his ship and handcuffed him.

Injured and tortured on a mission, Diego Torres was ready to leave the SEALs and loves being captain of his salvage ship, the Storm Nymph. As he begins his vacation, he planned for solitude, late mornings, and drinking beers while watching the Florida sunsets, what he didn’t plan for was the gorgeous DEA agent who boarded his ship several months before. And he really didn’t plan for an underwater expedition in search of a shipwreck and a priceless Incan emerald.

Sloan McBride’s grandfather dreamed of finding the Emerald Butterfly his entire life. Now he’s dying and she vows to find it for him…even if she has to work with the hard-bodied ex-SEAL she got off to a very wrong start with. But as Sloan and Diego work side by side, dogged by dangerous black-market thieves Silk Road, they uncover a scorching hot passion. They will do anything to protect each other, including calling in their friends from Treasure Hunter Security, and they’ll risk everything to beat Silk Road to the emerald.

‘Unidentified’ is Anna Hackett’s double romance within a novella, so make that 2 very short vignettes tucked neatly into a normal ‘Hackett-sized’ book. I’ll admit that I have my doubts about the short length of each story, wondering how Hackett would juggle not only the action-packed adventure with the eroticism written in for both couples.

But these 2 stories feel very much like side helpings in some ways, like a comet’s short burst of magical brilliance that’s ephemeral: full of treasure-hunting Indiana-Jones style goodness but thin on the romance (though copious on the sex). Oliver and Persephone Ward’s story made me do the side-eye look; knowing that they are the parents of the protagonists of the first 3 books in the series made me a little squeamish—akin to watching or reading about your parents having sex in the 70s porny style—about this couple and their romantic connection. I took to Diego/Sloan’s story somewhat better given their short but hostile(ish) history, yet finished the entire book with some scepticism about the ‘same-ish’ feel that this series has, seeing as it was a repeat about finding a treasure (the goal), beating the bad guys, and then riding happily into the sunset together.

In short, the fun times are there in ‘Unidentified’, especially if you’re looking for a short, short read with some thrills and can sort of brush off the instant-lust and love romance that’s formed in the heat of the moment.

three-stars

Break Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Break Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezBreak Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Bounty Bay, #5
Published by Icon Publishing on 15th June 2018
Pages: 227
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

Fake girlfriend. Real sizzle. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam Ngata has the talent of creating something out of almost nothing in his successful wood carving business, Kauri Whare. That talent doesn’t extend to producing a serious girlfriend out of nowhere when he implies to a huge overseas investor that he’s a one-woman kind of man. Big on domestic bliss and honesty, the investor is due to arrive in less than ten days time with a deal that’d provide Sam’s family-operated business with invaluable future security. Now Sam just has to find a woman willing to fake it until they make it — the deal, that is — with no strings attached.

Single mum Vee Sullivan needs a man in her life like a flightless kiwi bird needs wings to soar. She has a precocious little girl to provide for and she’s in the middle of expanding her clothing business — with an eye on Kauri Whare’s newest retail space. Unfortunately, it’d take a small miracle for her to afford the lease. So when childhood crush, Sam, offers her a one week only role of pretending to be his ‘serious’ girlfriend in exchange for three months waived lease, Vee is sorely tempted. But saying yes to fake girlfriend means she might not be able to say no to real passion. Someone’s going to get their heart broken…

Surfer-dude-player-slash-artisan badly needs to convince an overseas investor to get his business made. Cue the fake girlfriend (who so happens as well to be a childhood acquaintance that didn’t exactly run in his circles) to help project a wholesome reputation that’s so far from what he’s been. Add the dog and the child as well, since the fake girlfriend just so happens to be a single mum who is so far from his regular hookups. And of course, it all goes sideways towards the end, forcing this farce out into the light.
I was a little hesitant when I saw the direction in which Tracey Alvarez was going to take Sam Ngata’s story, but Alvarez’s writing is one that I always come back to, so it was with some apprehension that I dove into this book.
But after the high of Isaac’s book which I loved to bits, ‘Break Your Heart’ sadly, brought me to a new low. While I loved all the descriptions of the Kiwi landscape, I didn’t quite enjoy this as much as Sam’s brother’s (Isaac) story, since it felt a little more clichéd-driven (though there’s plenty of heat and lust which somehow get mistaken for falling in love) and more of a playing-to-stereotypes kind of read with the player, non-committal bachelor suddenly looking for a fake girlfriend for his business to perk up.
I thought Sam was too cocky, too full of himself—a veneer that he didn’t quite seem to shrug off anyway—while Vee simply sought to protect her daughter and her own heart. The admission that he’d hooked up with every girl but her because he wanted her so much over the years was simply an explanation I couldn’t and wouldn’t buy into in any case; most of all, it simply painted Sam in an awful and hypocritical light, period. How could he have always wanted her when they’d moved in different circles anyway? And then, saying that he’s always been hers, always wanted her when he’s gone around with other women in sight for decades?
What made this a particularly hard review to write was this pervading sense of disappointment (and some disgust) that I was left with after finishing an Alvarez book, more so because I typically do like what she writes: the style and her obvious love for her country make Alvarez that kind of stand-out author. But ‘Break Your Heart’ trod repeatedly on my triggers and left me foaming at the mouth despite the jaunty writing that Alvarez is known for and it became a book that I couldn’t wait to forget. Admittedly, this is all me, though, and my review is most likely one that will be the anomaly.
two-stars

Down Deep by Kimberly Kincaid

Down Deep by Kimberly KincaidDown Deep by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Station Seventeen #4
Published by Kimberly Kincaid Romance on June 18th 2018
Pages: 343
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Ian Gamble has a past he’d rather forget—which is exactly what he’s doing at The Crooked Angel Bar and Grill when the place catches fire. Between his active duty in the Marines and his experience as a firefighter, his instincts get him and hot, headstrong bar manager, Kennedy Matthews, to safety. But those same instincts kick into high gear when the fire is ruled an arson, and he discovers Kennedy’s got secrets of her own.

The only thing that matters more to Kennedy than her bar is her brother. When she finds out he’s in over his head with a dangerous arsonist, she’ll do anything to keep him safe—even if it means teaming up with Gamble, who’s too sharp-eyed and hard-bodied for his own good. With every step, their attraction flares hotter and the risks grow more dangerous. Can Gamble and Kennedy face their fears—and their secrets—to catch a terrifying enemy? Or will they go down in flames?

To say that ‘Down Deep’ has got ‘lasting power’ makes it rather cringeworthy without the other kinds of innuendos that will probably come up here given the genre that I’m reviewing. Yet I’ve put book down and taken it up numerous times not because of boredom (but because of other things calling) and never once did I feel that it was difficult to get back into the flow of the story.

It’s easy and exciting enough to follow, the rather slow burn and build-up aside. But then, Kimberly Kincaid’s ‘Station Seventeen’ series has not really disappointed me from its inception, through the pairings of first responders with the law-enforcement people that have become par for the course.

Kincaid effortlessly weaves the community of the firefighters into the suspense and action in Station Seventeen—each book builds subtly and slowly on an arc about arson but they work just as well as a standalone—and while it isn’t an unusual take on firefighting romances, it’s Kincaid’s vivid and engaging writing that always makes her stories stand out. Both Ian and Kennedy were good protagonists to follow as well; I loved the latter’s fierce protectiveness of her wayward brother above all, her tenacious hold on never giving up on him, along with the take-no-shit attitude with Gamble when he tries to ghost her away.

I did however, struggle with Kennedy/Ian’s connection going beyond lust and need in the heat of the moment, finely-tuned as it was because of the circumstances that pushed them together. I got that they cared about each other, liked each other even, but the transition to love felt tenuous nonetheless, more so when their brand of love seemed to be defined as a heart-to-heart talk combined with stratospheric sex. The rushed conclusion (that was strangely more telling than showing) and the rather odd fade-to-black climax scene threw me off as well, along with some strings that seemed to be left hanging by the end of the story.

So while not everything worked out for me like clockwork, ‘Down Deep’ was still a pretty good take on the kind of suspense that revolves around arson and firefighting—there’re just too few of these around—and I’m infinitely grateful that Kincaid fills this gap with this series.

four-stars

I Think I Love You by Lauren Layne

I Think I Love You by Lauren LayneI Think I Love You by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford #5
Published by Loveswept on 17th July 2018
Pages: 184
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Brit Robbins knows that dating in New York City is hard—she just hoped to have it mastered by age thirty. But after yet another promising suitor says they have no sparks, Brit decides it’s time to torch her dating game and try a new plan. And who better to coach Brit through the art of seduction than the guy who first gave her the “let’s be friends” card?

Hunter Cross has always figured there’s nothing his best friend Brit can do to surprise him. But Brit’s request is a surprise he doesn’t see coming—and one he’s definitely not prepared for. Hunter and Brit have always been careful to keep things perfectly platonic, but the fake dates and faux flirting are starting to feel like the real deal. And soon Hunter realizes he has taught Brit too well. Not only has she become an expert at seduction, the man becoming thoroughly seduced is him.

‘I Think I Love You’ feels like the true end to Lauren Layne’s Oxford series, a not quite full-length tale of the last standing couple, who don’t even know they’re meant to be paired with…yet. Layne tackles the friends-to-lovers trope here and straightaway, I knew it would be a tricky one with questions that needed to be answered—questions that this trope always seems to invite for the pairing to be a believable and satisfying one.

Brit and Hunter slide in somewhere later in the Oxford series as best friends, and as boss and subordinate, whose status-quo hasn’t changed in years, until Brit stirs the waters by adding a particularly farcical element in the setup which, according to Layne, has the power to change everything they know about each other. As a plot device that sets the action and the romance on a predictable path, Brit’s apparent seduction tutoring works all too well. So the story goes.

It inevitably goes sideways and it isn’t a surprise to see Hunter screwing up colossally, but what is frustrating is his not doing enough to make up for it and Brit being too soft-hearted about it. With the abrupt conclusion however, there isn’t a chance to see Hunter fighting for a relationship with Brit, which I knew I needed to read after the way he’s waffled too much in his manly cowardice. In other words, the grovelling hardly matches the crime.

I was actually more interested in the implications of this trope and how Layne would tackle the explanation of the sudden flip in the switch in their relationship when years of never looking at each other ‘that way’ were thrown to the wind—because this would probably justify the validity (which I can’t quite blindly accept as timing, serendipity or the sudden realisation of scales falling from eyes) so to speak, of best friends becoming lovers. How does a seduction plan inexplicably turn Hunter into looking at Brit from a platonic friend into someone else? There’s a suggestion here that a platonic friendship perpetually hangs on a knife’s edge, needing merely the slightest thing for it to tip over into a different space, so would that have meant that Hunter and Brit would never have crossed any line had Brit not taken the first step?

The long and short is, I’m not entirely sure if I’m quite convinced about this trope still. It’s probably cynicism speaking here nonetheless and that Layne chooses to tackle this once again isn’t surprising seeing how often it appears in her books. I do think Hunter and Brit do ultimately belong together—best friends can and do make good lovers—only that I had hoped for a more solid grounding for them becoming a couple other than sudden, forced proximity with all the talk of dating and seduction giving them the orgasmic shivers.

As far as it goes, my wistfulness with finishing this series probably has to do with my introduction to Layne via Penelope/Cole, whose story started my going down the Oxford rabbit hole. I loved seeing the rest of the Oxford crew even if some stories worked better than others for me, and with all the series I’ve gone through, I had hoped this one ended more on a bang for me.

three-stars

Free Fall by Emmy Curtis

Free Fall by Emmy CurtisFree Fall by Emmy Curtis
Series: Elite Ops #3
Published by Forever Yours on 10th July 2018
Pages: 240
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

A legend among black ops teams, Col. Duke Cameron can't wait to get back in action again-no matter how high the risk. Two of the world's best military pilots are missing after a midair collision, and he's made it his job to find out why.

U.S. Air Force veteran Casey Jacobs loves working for a cutting-edge, high-tech company - until she suspects their newest design might have caused a horrible plane crash. But after a few "accidents," it's clear no one wants her asking too many questions. The only person she trusts to help her is Duke, the sexy secret crush from her flying days who still turns her on like no one ever has.

But someone is watching their every move, making sure they don't uncover the truth. And when the danger turns physical, it's not just their love that's on the line. It's their lives.

‘Free Fall’ has a very tempting burb and I couldn’t wait to dive into it.

But my excitement turned to confusion as I flailed about in the opening few chapters, feeling as though I’d plunged straight into a conspiracy mystery without knowing the head or tail of its context (I’d actually flipped the pages wondering if I’d missed a chunk of the beginning of it).

I felt too scattered, too lost, in short, with the first and foremost question running through my mind being: is ‘Free Fall’ meant to be a standalone? Do I actually need to backtrack to read the rest of the books in the series before embarking on this? There were bits of a backstory that came through dialogue or inner monologues but it was difficult to piece even that together when my attention was already flagging, when I was trying hard to simply stay in the story with a level of confusion that showed no signs of abating.

So what really stood out for me were random actions scenes (written like movie action scenes which were quite thrilling), followed then by the lulls of the talk of the conspiracy involving Casey’s employer (which had me struggling to piece together) and then steamy times (which required no introduction)—in all, not quite sufficient to say that I could enjoy the overall flow of the story. I gave up, in the end, despite trying to power through.

two-stars