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Ash by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 10th October 2017
Ash by Anna HackettAsh by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #14
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

In the middle of an alien invasion, will the bad boy berserker catch the geeky tech genius?

Computer genius Marin Mitchell is doing her part to help humanity survive the raptor invasion, working tirelessly to decrypt alien data. She spends her days working and drooling over a certain tattooed, biker berserker from Squad Three. But Marin knows the rules: geeks do not snag sexy bad boys. She spends her nights playing her favorite computer game where she is a kick-butt badass, and a match for her mysterious online fight partner, SuperSoldier3.

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Ash Connors knows that whenever he reaches for something good, life slaps him back down. He gave up on his dreams a long time ago, and instead, focused on running his motorcycle club with his best friend. But after the alien invasion, he does what he does best, fight and take down the aliens. When cute, smart, and sweet Marin catches his eye, he tries to steer clear, but can’t seem to stay away…online or in real life.

When Marin discovers information about a central alien data hub, her skills are needed to hack into the system. That means a deadly mission deep underground, right into the heart of alien territory. That throws her right into Ash’s tattooed arms. As the sexy berserker fights to keep her safe, he also vows to show Marin that while she might follow the rules, he likes to break them.

Finding love in an alien-apocalypse-survivor world is far from impossible, at least according to Anna Hackett, because all it really takes is a kind of desperation to survive, to cherish whatever you have, to live in the present and to take what you want—to the point where protagonists who wouldn’t have given each other time of the day in the ‘normal’ world actually work in this context.

More like a miniseries of novella than a full-length books, ‘Ash’, like all of Hackett’s books, is a fast read with a bit of instalove, with enough sexy times to scorch the pages and action-packed scenes that don’t let up. But I’ve missed this world of hers and ‘Ash’ is a great return to it.

Hackett tells a riveting story, as each book slowly advances the plot with a new discovery that helps flesh out this post-alien-earth, while serving as a catalyst at the same time to cement the growing relationship between the pairing in question. The geek factor is played up a fair bit in Ash/Marin’s story and it’s computer gaming that brings an unlikely pair together—a tech geek and an ex-biker who has had his own dreams dashed before the alien invasion. And while I do like the dynamics of Marin and Ash, I cringed a little at Marin losing her brains at the sight of a muscular, handsome ex-biker and becoming all awkward when she saw him.

As a novella however, Ash/Marin, like all of Hackett’s other pairings, find their HEA fast enough, given that there are bigger and more worrisome entities to care about. No time is wasted with their getting together, though a late twist in the game gives too much of a Deus Ex Machina moment for me to fully buy into it. Still, it’s a solid addition to the series as far as things go and it’s making me very curious about how Hackett will end this entire narrative arc in this universe when it finally ends.

four-stars

Untamable by Jamie Schlosser

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 4th October 2017
Untamable by Jamie SchlosserUntamable by Jamie Schlosser
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on September 29th 2017
Pages: 215
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three-stars

Emery Matheson knows p*ssies. Cats, that is. As the star of a reality show called The P*ssy Tamer, it’s his job to fix extreme feline behavioral issues.

When he hears about his next project—a lonely cat hoarder named Estelle—he expects a little old widow, not the blond bombshell who opens the door.

With a 100 percent success rate, Emery has never had trouble finishing a job. But just a few hours into the first day of filming and one thing is clear—Estelle and her band of misfit p*ssies will give him a run for his money… and his heart.

This is a fun book, no doubt about it.

A man cat-handler (though the cringe-worthy name of ‘The Pussy Tamer’ just shouldn’t be here at all), akin to Jackson Galaxy with his cat hoarder lady with the antics of felines all over? I really did think it should have been a win for me, but I found myself strangely neutral towards the book and somewhat unexcited about the pairing.

Both Emery and Estelle were quirky, standout characters with personalities of their own that are distinct; they did seem good together, though I supposed I couldn’t quite get their connection apart from their inexplicable first-look attraction and their shared love for cats.

I did like Jamie Schlosser’s take on Emery’s show nonetheless and seeing how each cat—with a name so human I actually mistook them for people at times—was getting treated with the kind of respect and care (despite this being fictional) was just heartwarming.

three-stars

In Too Deep by Kimberly Kincaid

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 30th September 2017
In Too Deep by Kimberly KincaidIn Too Deep by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Station Seventeen #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Kimberly Kincaid Romance on October 17th 2017
Pages: 345
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four-stars

As Station Seventeen’s rookie, Luke Slater knows his fire and EMS training will be both rigorous and risky, but he never imagined having to partner up with the one woman he wants to keep at arm’s length most of all. Quinn Copeland is as wide-open as Luke is reserved. He has no interest in letting the sweet and sexy paramedic rock his hard-earned control. But the need for composure becomes the need to survive when they find themselves in the crosshairs of a brutal gang leader on their first shift together.

Paramedic Quinn Copeland’s station mates aren’t just her friends. They’re her family. She’d do anything to keep them safe—including reluctantly trusting her impossible-to-read, impossibly gorgeous new partner with the one thing she holds close. As the passion between Luke and Quinn goes from a slow burn to a sizzle, their steps grow more and more dangerous, both in the fire house and out. Can they outwit a cold-blooded killer and face the fears that could cost them everything? Or are they in too deep?

Kimberly Kincaid’s Station Seventeen isn’t just a bunch of firefighting men who go out to battle the blazes, although the mention of bunker gear, sexy times involving dirty firemen and fire-heroics is probably enough for many readers. But Kincaid serves up a hefty dose of good ol’ romantic suspense where characters from law enforcement and emergency responders mingle and rally around each other to get the plot going. Not only is this right up my smelly, cat-littered alley, but I love it when a story surprises me…the good way.

‘In Too Deep’ just had one of those great combinations that did it for me: a solid, believable suspense plot, likeable protagonists who don’t cross TSTL lines and sufficient twists and turns that just ramp up the tension. It was thoroughly addictive as a result and I hadn’t expected to like Luke Slater and Quinn Copeland as much as I did along with the interaction of the secondary characters that helped pad out the narrative and shape both Luke’s and Quinn’s contrasting characters. Kincaid’s handling of these interactions was top-notch and it was balanced quite nicely with the unfolding drama that got more intense and riveting as the pages went on.

While I appreciated Kincaid not making light at all about the younger man (rookie) and the slightly older woman (an experienced paramedic), what impressed me most was the way Kincaid tried to level the characters by giving Luke the bigger, calmer voice of reason and Quinn, a character who in turn, didn’t use her age or professional experience to belittle him. I liked their similar backgrounds, their latent attraction and chemistry, which was why the short rift and the easy resolution between them at the end felt forced and written for the sake of creating conflict, when there was already plenty enough to go around.

Overall though, ‘In Too Deep’ exceeded my expectations once it was established that the plot wasn’t going to revolve around a decision that could have made Quinn look like a TSTL heroine. The book was absorbing enough that I didn’t want to put it down, which made me impatient by the end for what Kincaid already has up her sleeve for the next book in this series.

four-stars

The Learning Hours by Sara Ney

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 27th September 2017
The Learning Hours by Sara NeyThe Learning Hours by Sara Ney
Series: How to Date a Douchebag #3
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on September 26th 2017
Pages: 345
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three-stars

He's not a douchebag; but that doesn't stop his friends from turning him into one.

MY FRIENDS WANT ME TO GET LAID.

So much so that they plastered my ugly mug all over campus, in bold printed letters:

Are you the lucky lady who's going to break our roommate's cherry?Him: socially awkward man with average-sized penis looking for willing sexual partner. You: must have a pulse. He will reciprakate with oral. Text him at: 555-254-5551

The morons can't even spell. And the texts I've been receiving are what wet dreams are made of. But I'm not like these douchebags, no matter how hard they try to turn me into one.

THIS ISN'T THE KIND OF ATTENTION I WANT.

One text stands out from hundreds. One number I can't bring myself to block. She seems different. Hotter, even in black and white.

However, after seeing her in person, I know she's not the girl for me. But my friends won't let up--they just don't get it. Douchebags or not, there's one thing they'll never understand:
GIRLS DON'T WANT ME.

Especially her.

‘The Learning Hours’ is my first Sara Ney book, but I’m glad I chose to read this from the blurb, as I suspected that it had a very different kind of hero to grace the pages. Put a non-douchey jock who’s not good-looking, who calls out those who are superficial and douchey because he walks the straight and narrow? Now *that* is enough to make me moist with excitement.

It is easy to love Rhett Rabideaux from the start because he stands out as the only shining light of sensibility and integrity among the moral cesspit of the frat house and the rest of the athletes, though I felt so sorry for him for all the things he had to go through for just being himself. But considering it’s a book about arses, pricks and bitchy behaviour as well—pitched so perfectly that it’s easier to hate than like—so while it isn’t surprising to see all of it appearing as a thunderstorm over Rhett’s head, I questioned the sanity of Rhett’s pairing with a flighty, vain, mean-girl-type character whose depth resembles that of a roadside puddle.

Rhett’s straightforward cluelessness with Laurel after he got past his anger and her grovelling however, made me laugh; he’d won me over as a stalwart fan, so I enjoyed every moment of Laurel’s failure to play the dating and flirting game with him, as much as I relished how hard she had to work for his attention and friendship. Call it ‘character Schadenfreude’ or something, but the biting satire in some parts made those bits oh-so-satisfying when Laurel finally realises that Rhett is the real deal.

As much as I loved Rhett’s magnetic ability to change people because of his warmth and kind-heartedness, it did seem more important that the idea of physical attraction bring something that can grow on you even if the person isn’t blindingly modelesque good-looking came though (which Ney does show via Laurel’s stumbling journey towards enlightenment), maybe because that just isn’t emphasised enough in romantic fiction. That alone made a huge difference and while both Laurel and Rhett aren’t exactly on par with the likeability factor as protagonists, I can’t deny that I had an entertaining time with their story.

three-stars

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 20th August 2017
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana ZapataThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on February 28th 2016
Pages: 403
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four-stars

Vanessa Mazur knows she's doing the right thing. She shouldn't feel bad for quitting. Being an assistant/housekeeper/fairy godmother to the top defensive end in the National Football Organization was always supposed to be temporary. She has plans and none of them include washing extra-large underwear longer than necessary.

But when Aiden Graves shows up at her door wanting her to come back, she's beyond shocked.

For two years, the man known as The Wall of Winnipeg couldn't find it in him to tell her good morning or congratulate her on her birthday. Now? He's asking for the unthinkable.

What do you say to the man who is used to getting everything he wants?

I survived another Mariana Zapata book and am damned proud of it. The length of her stories are daunting, make no mistake, and to go through all near-500 pages of a wry, sometimes-neurotic, sometimes-hilarious female voice telling only her side of the story can and does take patience, though the experience isn’t necessarily a dull and colourless one. I do always think twice before embarking on a Zapata story however and length does play a significant role in this decision.

But honestly, I’m not too sure if this book could be shorter though and functioned just as well. The aloof, impersonal start of Van and Aiden and the gradual transformation of their relationship—years!—from trying-to-please PA to a begging Aiden (with a marriage of convenience thrown in after Van quits) rightly needed a slow burn and Zapata’s style of writing certainly suits this kind of plot line.

Instalove? Not in Zapata’s vocabulary. That bit is gratifying, particularly since there are too many gooseflesh-raising stories trying to sell the unbelievable with alpha, dirty-talking men falling hard inexplicably for a woman and want nothing but to ‘claim’ and ‘breed’ her.

In this case, (real) time is as always, Zapata’s solution to the answer for a relationship to turn, with gaps so painstakingly filled in, sometimes mundane, everyday scenes appear as though they’re randomly inserted that there’s no need for the byline ‘x number of years later’. That much I can appreciate, because the result is a multifaceted and real character (at least for Vanessa) that comes through the pages, though the single POV makes Aiden still somewhat of a closed-off ‘hero’ when all I can extrapolate of his brick-ish, stony personality is what Vanessa and other secondary characters say of him. Aiden/Van’s HEA is as well, unequivocally ironclad and that’s also a kudos to Zapata’s careful development of their relationship.

I’m not exactly an apologist for the excruciatingly long, slow burn, despite my defence of the justifiable length of ’The Wall of Winnipeg and Me’. I found myself absorbed for most part without my interest really slipping and for most part, it was so easy to like the characters in this book that it certainly wasn’t a pain to go on and on before the bed finally called to me.

It isn’t to say I wouldn’t take a deep breath before plunging into another Zapata book, because I will. I still look at the books by her that I’ve not yet read (there’s just one more that I want to tackle) and I still think that I don’t have the courage yet to take it on. But having just been brought on a satisfying journey with Van and Aiden, that day might be sooner rather than later.

four-stars

Beautiful Beast by Aubrey Irons

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 21st July 2017
Beautiful Beast by Aubrey IronsBeautiful Beast by Aubrey Irons
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on July 17th 2017
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two-stars

Anastasia:

Here’s the first thing you should know: this is not a fairytale. Happily-ever-afters are fables, and Prince Charming is a sweet little lie.I know all this because he taught me.Once upon a lifetime ago, the rich, arrogant, sinfully gorgeous, and tragically broken dark prince of the Hamptons was my tormentor. My darkness, my shameful attraction, my all-consuming, forbidden temptation.I hate Sebastian Crown because nine years ago, for one night, I was stupid enough to think I loved him. And I’ve been paying for it ever since.Except now, he needs me to help him save his empire.…And he’s not taking no for answer.

Bastian:

She’s my nemesis. My addiction. My weakness.My obsession.I used to tell myself I hated Anastasia Bell - for being poor, for not worshipping the ground I walked on, for looking at me like she pitied me for being me.When the rest of my world always told me yes, she was the ever-provoking no.She thinks I’m a monster - a tragic, fucked-up, broken beast.She doesn’t know the half of it.Because she can’t begin to know the crimes of my past, or imagine the things I’ve done to her behind the scenes since she left this place.Years ago, I thought breaking her would fix me.I was wrong.Now I’ve got her in my sights again, and this time, I won’t be letting her go. Even if it means we both go down in flames...

The warning does say it all: this isn’t a fairytale of a prince and an impoverished princess. Instead, be prepared to read about one of the most obsessive-compulsive, manipulative and biggest bastards of them all, which is safe to say is what slid me straight into objective, neutral territory as I read this twisted fairytale where the briar-covered HEA is lined with thorns and spikes.

To be fair, I had those trigger-warnings and I went straight into this knowing that I was going to read about characters and their so-called love story from a protracted distance that I don’t normally take with romance books. With this mindset, or this particular disconnect, rather, locked in place, it was easy to read on and on, which was also in part due to Aubrey Irons’s compelling writing that kept me glued to the story.

Because the characters sure as hell didn’t.

Sebastian Crown isn’t someone I could like at all, but what I couldn’t understand as well was Ana’s little resistance that crumbles so easily at his advances when all he’d done was to shatter her spirit and break her heart, even behind her back. She flops happily at his masterful puppeteering somehow, never gets her strings cut and generally goes too easy on him where I would have wielded a scythe and sent Bastian straight to the lowest levels of hell for eternity.

I finished the story, which, on its own, is easy to get lost in as it doesn’t go down without several twists and turns. But did I like it? Not exactly. Yet neither did I exactly dislike it, because I knew from the start how I was going to approach the book—with critical eyes and indifferent shrugs at 2 protagonists who can’t see beyond each other though they’re probably better off without each other, with no strings attached. It did come down to whether I could get invested in the characters and whether they were likeable enough for me to form any connection with them.

The answer is: no.

I found nothing redeemable about Sebastian , who seemed more like the antagonist rather than the protagonist throughout and I actually felt bloodthirsty, grim satisfaction and hard-won poetic justice when he hit rock bottom for all the fucking he did with Ana’s life.

The point here is that Irons simply provides an alternative definition of obsessive ‘love’ that has nothing self-sacrificial about it and how it’s in fact, given other names such as ‘addiction’ or ‘obsession’, with several generous servings of masochism and uncontainable lust.

Ultimately though, Ana/Bastian’s flimsy representation of love is not quite the romantic ideal I subscribe to. It’s a version of romance that I can’t exactly calibrate with the kind of escapist fantasy that I want to get lost in, nor with the sort of characters I want to read about, so it’s most likely back to the straight and narrow for me.

two-stars

Tied by Carian Cole

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 29th June 2017
Tied by Carian ColeTied by Carian Cole
Series: Devils Wolves #2
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on June 26th 2017
Pages: 280
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four-stars

He was the myth and the legend of our small town. But no one knew the truth... except me.

Me My childhood was stolen by a monster. I've forgotten what love feels like. What happiness feels like. What hope feels like. I am numb.

Him He's possibly as damaged as I am. Maybe even more. Scarred just as much on the inside as the outside. Just like me. He doesn't speak. He doesn't smile. He hides in the woods like an animal. I should be scared of him. But I'm not. He's the only one that has ever made me feel. And I want to make him feel, too. Everything...

Carian Cole’s ‘Tied’ is so different from its predecessor that I don’t quite know how to rate and review this.

If Tor and Kenzi were a couple with deliciously forbidden ties, Tyler and Holly are a different breed altogether: scarred, damaged and so screwed up in the head that I thought it would take a mountain of trying just to get them together. In fact, both Tyler and Holly have issues upon issues, years of festering guilt and self-doubt and put together, their combined baggage weight would break an elephant’s back.

But like an oncoming train wreck, I couldn’t look away. The pages kept turning and the slow burn kept burning, especially when it took that long a time to get trust (and by extension, touch and intimacy) to build between 2 scarred people. Cole is quite painstakingly thorough with this process, which I could definitely appreciate and the hiccups they faced along the way seemed sufficiently realistic for me to believe. Tyler/Holly is a pairing that had me sceptical at first, but Cole does convince, to an extent, that healing can come in many forms and sometimes, that comes from another person who is as equally damaged as you.

It’s in short, a completely unexpected read, intensely emotional and bordering on the dramatic at times, but different enough that I’ll probably look at what else Cole has in store for this series.

four-stars
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