Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyTop Secret by Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 7th May 2019
Pages: 267
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three-half-stars

LobsterShorts, 21Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.

LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.
SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.
LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?
SinnerThree: All the time. I'm an equal opportunity player. You?
LobsterShorts: [crickets!]

SinnerThree, 21Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF.

SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?
LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit.
SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries...
LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?
SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me.
LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing...

In a rivals-to-lovers frat house story, Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen head straight into M/M territory after ‘Him’ and ‘Us’ (one of my first few and most memorable stories) once again and I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t excited about this rushed announcement of their collaboration that took off like wildfire all those years ago.

It’s a new pairing all around this time, though the flavour and the context—the college years with all the raunchy going-ons mostly revolving around hook-up culture and to some extent, toxic behaviour regarding sexuality and gender roles—is not too different from what Kennedy and Bowen have been dipping their pens into for quite a while.

Luke Bailey (student, stripper, never commits when it comes to attachments and strapped for cash) and Keaton Hayworth II (poor, rich boy never meeting his daddy’s expectation) clash as rivals for fraternity president, though their mutual dislike stems from something far deeper than that. But they meet online, oddly when Keaton starts researching dudes for a threesome for his girlfriend’s birthday party, and things start taking a turn for the…interesting. Rivals in real life, sexting buddies online—what starts out like a rather twisted version of ‘You’ve Got Mail’ eventually becomes a mortifying discovery about each other and themselves, though it’s not without a huge amount of push-pull and settling for something neither could have ever imagined.

Kennedy and Bowen is a collaboration that does work obviously, and at times, dare I say, write better together than apart: their characters are hilarious and there’re more unexpected turns in ‘Top Secret’ than I could ever have imagined, which kept me guessing at how the story would eventually end.

I can’t help the comparison between this book and Jamie/Wes nonetheless, the latter of which stay pretty close to my heart, which probably accounts for my somewhat less enthusiastic rating for the book. There’s probably nothing more insidious than a reader upholding past characters as a standard for what authors have to meet in the future and I’m guilty here of that. Luke/Keaton were fun, but ultimately, didn’t move me as much as Jamie/Wes, for the amount of pushing away that Luke kept doing, or that Keaton had to fight for everything when Luke just couldn’t meet him halfway. I wasn’t entirely convinced as a result, that Luke would have the guts to stay committed to Keaton when his first instinct was to always run.

The minor quip aside, ‘Top Secret’ is a fun and easy read—there’s never too much angst that bogs the story down—though the writing duo of Kennedy and Bowen should be enough to make M/M readers sit up and take note.

three-half-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

Nothing but Trouble by P. Dangelico

Nothing but Trouble by P. DangelicoNothing But Trouble by P. Dangelico
Series: Malibu University #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 26th March 2019
Pages: 229
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four-stars

Reagan Reynolds...Water polo god. Owner of a face that belongs under Wikipedia’s definition of drop dead gorgeous. Too charming for his own good. But most importantly––the worst driver on the planet.

No, really, I’m pretty sure his blind nana taught him how to drive.

I had no idea who he was until he almost ran me over. And frankly, I kind of wish I still didn’t because then I wouldn’t have a sprained ankle to show for it. And my leg wouldn’t resemble a boa constrictor that’s swallowed a feral pig.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

I’ve spent years saving every penny I’ve ever earned to be able to transfer to Malibu University. And now my entire future––including my scholarship––is in jeopardy.

So I either accept the help he insists on giving me, or lose everything I’ve sacrificed for.

In the meantime, I’m going to ignore the fact that we’re becoming friends.

And I’m definitely going to pretend he’s not turning into the object of my…umm, dirty fantasies.

That’s not happening.

Not even a little.

Because the minute I clapped eyes on him I knew he was nothing but trouble.

What I’ve mostly found with New Adult books is that emotions (and with it, some irrational behaviour) hold huge sway over what characters say and do—hormones I guess, do play a huge part—and that’s both a boon and bane of this sub-genre that can go so wrong and yet so right.

‘Nothing but Trouble’ is my first P. Dangelico read and it kept me up past my bedtime, with a NA/YA story that started out lighthearted but soon unravelled into angst, unrequited emotions and heavier issues—parental, peer pressure, drugs—that some New Adult books have cut their cloth with.

The frat-boy syndrome swings into play here: athletes and manwhoring seem to be synonymous terms and appear in way too many sports romance books. Reagan felt a bit like an anomaly of sorts, but make no mistake, most of his team wholly embrace the bevy of bunnies that flock to them. Still, Dangelico’s male characters can undoubtedly be bastards, nonetheless. Reagan’s indecision (and his pulling several dickish moves throughout despite some tragic, trying circumstances), and his constant swaying regarding wanting to keep Alice at a distance while giving her more mixed signals made her in contrast, a stalwart, steady protagonist whom I found myself liking a lot.

Still, I was pulled in by the circling, the heart-breaking push-pull and the electric, growing tension between Reagan and Alice until it finally broke. Their story is well-written and engrossing in a way I hadn’t expected when I picked this up with a seamless introduction to secondary characters and hints of their future HEAs, even if I’m a little more sceptical about what they’ll turn out to be.

four-stars

Tormented by Alison Aimes

Tormented by Alison AimesTormented by Alison Aimes
Series: The Condemned #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 29th 2019
Pages: 266
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three-half-stars

She was never meant to be his…

Two ruthless enemies.
One cage.
Zero chance of escape.
An explosive lust that can’t be contained.

Council assassin Jade Lakotesh survives by trusting no one. Attachments a weakness. Sex a weapon. Her mission success rate flawless. Until she ends up naked, captured, and collared, her latest assignment in jeopardy. The blame for her predicament: the hothead, scarred man who prowls the cage beside her—his confusing appeal a danger she has no idea how to neutralize.

Ex-Resistance fighter Walsh Ryker hit rock bottom with the deaths of those he loved most. Now, he’s plummeted to a new low, trapped with a cellmate as ice cold as she is stunningly hot. She’s out for blood, lacks any ability to cooperate…and leaves him more alive than he’s been in years. For a man no longer interested in feeling anything at all, she may be the greatest hazard he’s faced to date.

As danger mounts and they must work together to defeat a shared threat, will the unwelcome passion between these two enemies entomb them in the dark forever—or be the key that sets them free?

It has been quite a while since I’ve returned to Alison Aimes’s ‘The Condemned’ series, but it’s entertaining as hell with a bit of a spin to the tale of enemies-to-lovers and a flashy, bloody and violent B-movie erotica vibe.

I was hoping in some ways, for a continuation for Bella and Caine’s story after the first book. But Aimes is taking the series in a different direction and I’m slowly coming round to it, as her focus shifts onto the inhabitants of the brutal penal planet Dragath25 and the slow unravelling of the politics between a dystopian earth and corruption that shows good/evil is not as it seems.

Aimes pits the cold, robotic Jade Lakotesh against former resistance fighter-turned-slave Walsh Ryker and it’s not at all smooth-sailing from start to end, but I was surprised—pleasantly—by the twists and turns in story, and the gradual expansion of the world-building that seemed to be gaining steam without any signs of flagging. Essentially, it was much more than what the blurb suggested and much more than what I was expecting and that always turns out well.

The instant lust that made me cringe aside, Aimes does handle character and pacing quite well (there were parts that had me rather frustrated with them both nonetheless). Still, the biggest draw of ‘Tormented’ isn’t just about Jade and Ryker, but rather, the sudden opening up of the penal planet ‘verse and the insertions of so many secondary characters that have so much untapped potential.

Sure, it’s flashy and sometimes, probably a little gratuitous when it comes to sex and violence – the amount of dirt and dust had me cringing during the smutty scenes that went on as though these were niggly details not worth bothering about – but at its most basic, this was a fun, roller-coaster ride.

three-half-stars

Remedy by Kaylee Ryan

Remedy by Kaylee RyanRemedy by Kaylee Ryan
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 15th January 2019
Pages: 310
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three-half-stars

It took one night with her to know she was my forever.It took one minute for me to climb out of bed and drive away from her.It’s taken me three years to confess that leaving her behind was the biggest mistake of my life.

I won’t stop until she knows what she means to me. I’ll convince her to listen to her heart.

It took one night for all of my dreams to come true.It took one morning, waking up alone, for those same dreams to come crashing down around me.It’s taken me three years to confess that night changed me forever.

He says this time is different, but how do I open my heart up to a man who’s already ripped it to shreds?

‘Remedy’ is an exercise in grovelling, at least for the first half of the book. The backstory is as the blurb suggest: a spurned (and now understandably gun-shy) heroine and a hero left with profound regrets and is now back to right the wrongs he’d done. Kudos to him though—Kaylee Ryan doesn’t have Grady Carmichael faltering in any sense of the word and his relentless pursuit of his best friend’s sister whom he’d left three years ago. The result is unanimous: he gets the girl, even though her resistance, as expected, proves a little bit of an obstacle at first.

What happened in their past is told in a half-hearted fashion however, and the flashbacks took place in a way that didn’t make too much of an impact on me, or at least enough to convince me that the ‘lost night’ of three years ago was a monumental as both made it seem.

Still, Kaylee Ryan does address the questions I normally have with second-chance romances (namely, why did it take him all this time? Why only now?) though I thought Grady’s explanations not as rock-solid as I would have liked. The saving grace? It’s at least remedied in his unwavering affection for Collins.

In short, if you’re in for a low-angst and a sort of uplifting, loyal-to-each-other kind of pairing, ‘Remedy’ is the kind of read to go for. I had an easy time with this story nonetheless and predictable as it might have been, it was quite a joy to breeze through it – a rare occurrence these days.

three-half-stars

Buried by Brenda Rothert

Buried by Brenda RothertBuried by Brenda Rothert
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 15th November 2018
Pages: 167
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two-stars

Do you believe in fate?

I didn’t. I’d worked since childhood to become an NFL starting quarterback. All the blood, sweat, and tears were about to pay off with my name in the record books. Setting an NFL record was going to be the crowning achievement of my career. Hell, of my life.But then fate, the cagey bitch, threw me a curveball I never saw coming. I ended up trapped in a doomsday bunker with four strangers, my chances at that record slipping away as days turned into months.

I never would’ve given Erin a second look. She was gorgeous, sure, but not my type. I liked women who were strong. Fearless. Resilient. Not to mention that she hated me.

But I was so wrong about her. And in that bunker, I fell in crazy, stupid love. I thought a record would be my greatest triumph. But now, all I want is a shot with Erin. I’ve faced down massive linebackers intent on ending me. For her, I’ll go toe-to-toe with fate.

I’ll say from the outset that ‘Buried’ rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but putting people in a forced underground bunker albeit by accident wasn’t the scenario I’d envisioned at all. Being stuck in close quarters or rather, cabin fever does make people do things they normally wouldn’t—including hooking up with other people who don’t normally cross their radar.

The life-changing event took place long enough to get everyone’s priorities rearranged while showing up the good, bad and the ugly. But that this was the basis of Erin’s and Derek’s relationship bothered me more than it should, because I wasn’t convinced that he would have spared her a second glance otherwise, nor chosen a woman like her to fit that smarmy playboy athlete lifestyle. How often has the excuse of sports taking up so much time that it becomes a valid reason to become a player on and off the field?

That he also had the urge not to ‘fuck’ her as he did with other women (as usual, she made him want more when he never wanted before, though I’d question if this was just prolonged cabin fever talking)…was a comparison that proved the last straw and an absolute put-off.

It was far easier to like Erin’s more even keel and compassion, and her matter-of-fact view of the player lifestyle not meshing with hers, and how she didn’t turn hysterical when it was clear that their time together was up.

The twist at the end felt more like something done for shock value (things just didn’t really add up satisfactorily as well), after which we were skipped straight to the epilogue. It didn’t seem to do much more other than add an unfinished touch to the entire story, instead worsening what already was a middling read for me.

two-stars

Ivan by Kit Rocha

Ivan by Kit RochaIvan by Kit Rocha
Series: Gideon's Riders, #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services on 28th March 2018
Pages: 378
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three-half-stars

As the sheltered princess of Sector One, Maricela’s life is defined by duty: to her people and to her family. Her wealth and influence have allowed her to build a better world, but they come with a price---the responsibility to secure political stability with a practical marriage. Maricela cherishes the idea of marrying for love, but there’s not much romance in the endless line of suitors interested only in prestige and power.

And her handsome, brooding new bodyguard isn’t helping the situation.
Ivan is the perfect, deadly warrior, a man trained from childhood to be the ultimate protector to the Rios family. His focus on keeping her safe is intense--and a little intoxicating. When the threat of danger cracks his icy control, Maricela realizes she’s not the only one fighting against temptation.

Ivan knows that the blood on his hands makes him unworthy of the pure-hearted princess. But from the first kiss, their forbidden affair feels inevitable. He can give her a glimpse of life outside her gilded cage and a lover who wants the woman instead of the crown. The only thing he can never do is promise her forever.
Because spurning her noble suitors to marry her bodyguard wouldn’t just be a scandal. It could set off a political firestorm that would tear Sector One apart.

Where has Kit Rocha been my entire life?

That may have been an exaggeration. This writing duo has only occasionally crossed my feed and I’d never really paid more than a cursory glance at what they’ve written.

Seduced by the blurb, I found that I loved the writing style immediately, despite having no knowledge of the world-building that Kit Rocha has done. Still, jumping straight into ‘Ivan’ was a bad idea.

Alluring and mysterious as this whole futuristic, dystopian world is—with biker-warriors mimicking the warrior Templars of old, a futuristic idea of royalty and competing sectors—, it was nothing but a struggle when characters from other books and more alarming details from a history I had no idea started slipping in and out, worsened by the insertions of different POVs at certain intervals.

Only Ivan’s and Maricela’s electric chemistry carried me through, as Rocha worked slowly through all the riders finding their HEA.

The pairing alone however, is an unexpectedly sweet one; both Ivan/Maricela weren’t what I thought they’d be at all and if I skimmed parts I didn’t fully understand, I sat absorbed in their slow-burn relationship that burned hot as it picked up.

If ‘Ivan’ didn’t really work for me, it was only because I lacked the the backdrop that the entire series would have provided. All it does however, is make me want to start from scratch.

three-half-stars