Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

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
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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

Pestilence by Laura Thalassa

Pestilence by Laura ThalassaPestilence by Laura Thalassa
Series: The Four Horsemen #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 20th 2018
Pages: 382
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three-stars

They came to earth—Pestilence, War, Famine, Death—four horsemen riding their screaming steeds, racing to the corners of the world. Four horsemen with the power to destroy all of humanity. They came to earth, and they came to end us all.

When Pestilence comes for Sara Burn’s town, one thing is certain: everyone she knows and loves is marked for death. Unless, of course, the angelic-looking horseman is stopped, which is exactly what Sara has in mind when she shoots the unholy beast off his steed.

Too bad no one told her Pestilence can’t be killed.

Now the horseman, very much alive and very pissed off, has taken her prisoner, and he’s eager to make her suffer. Only, the longer she’s with him, the more uncertain she is about his true feelings towards her … and hers towards him.

And now, well, Sara might still be able to save the world, but in order to do so, she'll have to sacrifice her heart in the process.

Now then, how’s this for a monumental twist of enemies-to-lovers? Saying that ‘Pestilence’ subscribes to this trope is like putting a pram’s wheels on a Ferrari. Or some other super car. Somehow Laura Thalassa manages it at least in the beginning half with a chilling and riveting start of 4 horsemen of the apocalypse riding through earth bringing death and destruction.

Particularly visceral is the trek down the famous highway 99 from Whistler to Squamish, a dystopic vision of a lone horse rider and his unwilling companion now superimposed on my memories of one of the most scenic routes I’ve ever been down. The extended time Pestilence and Sara spend together is in itself unusual: one filled with macabre curiosity and horrors, necessitating a slow, slow burn as Pestilence somehow finds a human side to get in touch with.

Yet what started as fascination turned into uneasiness, which then turned into pure disbelief. Issues of faith, religion and judgement—or at least what Thalassa presented—were never far from my mind running as meta commentary as I kept on reading, which Thalassa definitely succeeded in doing if this was always her aim.

As a romance however, it just became painfully obvious that Pestilence and Sara was a pairing that became harder and harder to get invested in as time wore on, the primary difficulty being reconciling the idea of the otherworldly Pestilence falling prey to human charms and human fallacies with the perpetual image I have of these perfect and deadly creature who always seem far above imperfections. To be laid low by a 21-year old who pretty much showed the ever-changing sides of a young adult (part-petulant, part-annoying, part-compassionate and part-self-righteous) who came close and pushed away repetitively? It just seemed somehow below an eternal being who’d never once wavered from his monumental task since time immemorial, who was now swayed too easily by a firefighter with a crude mouth and a penchant for not making up her mind.

What finally turned me off her however, came tragically at the end, where Sara’s own twisted rationale of love gave her the courage to walk away as she finally deemed Pestilence—who had a heavenly duty to fulfil—unworthy of her affections. Accusing Pestilence of judgement when she was guilty of doing the same, then having him crawl back to her was when I felt Thalassa had personally taken off the shine of what had made Pestilence so unique as an anti-hero, before imbuing him with the earthly loyalty of a teenage boy with stars in his eyes.

On the other hand, the constant vacillation of characterisation had me struggling with Pestilence, vague as Thalassa is with his origins and more so with his personality, the reasoning being that we mere mortals can’t ever hope to understand his higher purpose (it just made him frustratingly unknowable and too mysterious for all the millennia he’d been around).

With an ending that had me more baffled than happy, the story finishes on a grim warning and a rather uneasy HFN (to put it badly, considering Pestilence had somehow condescended to be human for the time both he and Sara will be around). I was still left feeling out of my depth as a reader, unable to hang on fast a pairing that took root but didn’t quite take off.

three-stars

Filthy Gods by R. Scarlett

Filthy Gods by R. ScarlettFilthy Gods by R. Scarlett
Series: American Gods #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on May 15th 2018
Pages: 119
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five-stars

Young. Wealthy. Elite. Attractive. The gentlemen’s secret society at Yale was filled with them.

And Nathaniel Radcliffe, the bane of my existence, was one of them.

As the right hand of the American Gods, he was conceited and arrogant. A dangerously handsome man in a tailored custom suit and shiny black oxford loafers.

The classroom was our battlefield. We made a sport out of arguing and debating, ready to do anything in order to win over the other.

Deadly opponents, deadlier minds.

I'd sworn I'd never give him the upper hand, until...

The secret I’ve been hiding for the last three years?

He just discovered it… and now he has all the power.

R. Scarlett is a new author to me, but ‘Filthy Gods’ won me over completely with sultry writing shot through with that delicious tinge of darkness I can’t seem to resist.

The name of the series itself was eye-catching, so much so that I thought of Neil Gaiman’s mythical story of the same name where types of mythological figures populate a fictional, worn-down America. Scarlett’s series revolving around rich, untouchable, blue-blooded elite boys of society isn’t quite that similar, though it might just be too early to tell given we’re barely into the start of it with a hot summer affair between 2 college rivals: the right-hand man of the American gods and the girl who has worked her way up with her own resources.

Nathaniel and Juliette left me hot and bothered from the start with simmering tension that was shiver-inducing—from the hostility, to the chase, to the scorching clashes both outside and in bed. Reducing this to the rich boy and the poor girl story however, wouldn’t do ‘Filthy Gods’ justice, because it feels like there’s still so much more waiting behind the proverbial curtain: the undercurrents and the dynamics of the strange but odd relationships, the intriguing back drop that frames the privilege of this highly-exclusive gentleman’s club, the secrets that burst at the seams waiting to be revealed.

The brevity of this prelude to the series did have something going for it: providing the forward momentum that drove Nathaniel and Juliette from enemies-to-lovers without sagging in the middle, without the games that I loathe. Still, I thought it was over too soon, with the climax and ending did come a wee bit too quickly when all I wanted was more of the both of them.

This gentlemen’s club and secret society rolled into one, the not-quite brotherhood that borders indecency almost (given the amount of obscene power and wealth they all wield)?

I think I want in.

five-stars

Manic Monday by Piper Rayne

Manic Monday by Piper RayneManic Monday by Piper Rayne
Series: Charity Case #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 24th April 2018
Pages: 290
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two-stars

The perfect man for me is a charming, sexy, hot as hell lawyer who knows how to negotiate his way into my panties.

#Pfftwhatever

Been there.Done that.Burned the T-shirt.

I didn't swear off all men after my divorce, but I sure as hell swore off anyone remotely like my ex. On the top of that list? Attorneys. Everyone knows they can't be trusted.

Now that I've moved back into my childhood home in Chicago, my focus is my daughter, my mom and me. I haven't given up on finding my happily-ever-after, it's just on hold-indefinitely. Yup, life is in a real upswing.

Then I see Reed Warner again, and I'm reminded of all my mistakes. I push him away, but somehow he weasels his way into every part of my life, not willing to take no for an answer.

In spite of my better judgment I can't stop thinking about the way his designer suits fit his muscular frame, or the way his blue eyes seem to eat me up with every glance.

You know when you're on a diet and even hummus seems irresistible? Reed is like the equivalent of chocolate éclair and my willpower is fading fast.

The problem? Not only is he a lawyer…

He was the best man at my wedding.

‘Manic Monday’ is a book that’s been on my reader for a while but had unfairly been passed along for other reads, which I immediately sought to remedy the moment I had a free slot. The once-bitten-twice-shy thing runs practically in all romance books after all, the only difference being the extent to which this has shaped characters’ behaviour and subsequently, the entire course of the novel.

I can well understand a woman’s uncertainty in stepping back into the dating world with a particular man—a lawyer and the ex-best man whom she hasn’t seen in a long time—and her newfound determination to not sacrifice anything of hers (dreams, future and hopes) in the meantime. The problem was, it all felt after a while, like this was about Victoria’s needs, her wants, her insecurities and damn anyone else who suggests that relationships are about compromise and since she’d gone through this tough period of losing herself, the world now apparently owed her something.

Being badly burnt in the past isn’t a sure ticket to behaving badly or rudely, not least towards the person only peripherally associated with the nasty ex-husband of hers. I just felt that Victoria was given too much ‘authorial’ leeway, so to speak, to behave like a very prickly hedgehog as possible simply because her awful past supposedly entitled her to do so. More so when she kept pushing a perfectly nice guy away and unfairly expected Reed to make every leap for her while she stood and waited for him to jump over hurdle after hurdle in an effort to prove himself unlike her ex.

Which brings me to the idea of the ‘chase’ in romance—it’s a thrilling aspect of this genre, I’ll admit, though too rarely do I find couples fighting for each other nonetheless (and the book that actually has this tends to get my wholehearted attention). Often, it’s taken too far, when one party—mostly the male protagonist—does all the work while the other taps her foot and expects him to hit milestone after milestone while positioning herself as the ultimate prize to be won and just not doing her part of the compromise.

And that was how I found myself detesting Victoria’s own brand of selfishness, to the extent where Reed had to make the sacrifice of his career for her without her actively trying to fight for their relationship at all.

I loved Reed in contrast who was a good guy all around and adorably (and acceptably) imperfect—his confidence in his own identity, his stalwart determination in giving back to society as a mentor and his insinuations into every part of Victoria’s life—as a male protagonist who just wasn’t fazed by Victoria’s issues at all, but gladly jumped into this challenge from the beginning.

‘Manic Monday’ in short, was a bit of a mixed bag for me, mostly because I liked one protagonist way more than the other, the latter of which I felt didn’t exactly deserve the former. Piper Rayne’s set up of 3 friends and the books to come did look promising however, though it did get a little too emotionally dramatic for me in parts, and it has made me wonder how this series is going to progress.

two-stars

The Good Guy by Celia Aaron

The Good Guy by Celia AaronThe Bad Guy by Celia Aaron
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 21st May 2017
Pages: 414
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two-stars

My name is Sebastian Lindstrom, and I’m the villain of this story. I’ve decided to lay myself bare. To tell the truth for once in my hollow life, no matter how dark it gets. And I can assure you, it will get so dark that you’ll find yourself feeling around the blackened corners of my mind, seeking a door handle that isn’t there. Don’t mistake this for a confession. I neither seek forgiveness nor would I accept it. My sins are my own. They keep me company. Instead, this is the true tale of how I found her, how I stole her, and how I lost her. She was a damsel, one who already had her white knight. But every fairy tale has a villain, someone waiting in the wings to rip it all down. A scoundrel who will set the world on fire if that means he gets what he wants. That’s me. I’m the bad guy.

Going into ‘The Good Guy’ was my own choice and doing of course; knowing that this was a ‘dark romance’ which clearly didn’t involve traditional ideas of love but rather of obsession and the funny way emotions (or lack thereof) work is entirely on me.

And I wasn’t surprised to find that this wasn’t quite my cup of tea at all, even though Celia Aaron does a pretty good job in portraying a Sebastian who wavered between childish bewilderment and cold, un-empathetic psychopath and the rather thorough unravelling of how he reacted to the world around him.

There were parts that I thought absolutely ridiculous – notions that went against my own ideas of love and need at least -, more so when I couldn’t quite imagine someone like Camille reacting to Sebastian the way she did after a while. Yet Aaron’s contrast between Sebastian and Link, if it was just to show the former in a better light or to show the different sides of villainy didn’t quite convince me either, because it merely felt like a trapped choice between bad (unfeeling psycho) and worse (sleazy cheating bastard) rather than opt for who might be the good, or in this case, the better guy.

But that admittedly, might be my own (possibly limited) understanding of normal’ relationships speaking when there are clearly other shades of grey that I can’t personally attest to.

That I found myself only softening towards Sebastian after he approached something remotely resembling normalcy – the kind of love he admits he has when it comes to Camille – probably shows that I’m still better off staying within the more conventional boundaries of what I personally define as romance.

two-stars

Outcast by Jamie Schlosser

Outcast by Jamie SchlosserOutcast by Jamie Schlosser
Series: The Good Guys
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 15th 2018 by
Pages: 251
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five-stars

KAYLA My infatuation with Ezra Johnson started how all obsessions begin—with a simple crush. Over the years I silently soaked up every shy smile and random act of kindness, wrestling them away to a secret place in my heart meant for unrequited love. Because if it wasn’t for the fact that I tutor him once a week, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even know I exist. Then I find his sketchbook. And it changes everything.

EZRA There are two certainties in my life: I’ve been in love with Kayla Reynolds since I was fourteen, and I can’t have her. I’ve spent years settling for a two-dimensional fantasy world, capturing her beauty with a pencil and paper. She’s kind, smart, gorgeous… And she belongs to someone else. Or so I thought. An interesting turn of events makes me realize things aren’t always how they appear on the outside, and now I’ve got my chance to be the man she deserves. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been called a loser. The cripple. An outcast. But maybe—just maybe—this time the good guy won’t finish last.

If I didn’t like Jamie Schlosser’s ‘Dropout’, I knew however, that Ezra Johnson’s story, from the way he was described in the book, was one I wanted already. Sometimes, it feels as though ‘Outcast’ is the sugary-sweet, feel-good New Adult book that I’ve always wanted to read. It ticks so many of my boxes after all: protagonists who have eyes only for each other, who journey together in their emotional and sexual development and who pretty much know what they want, despite their insecurities.

Schlosser’s diverse cast win a thumbs-up from me, as do the number of positive ‘messages’ that are incorporated in the story without sounding preachy or incredulously (but falsely) positive. I’m also applauding the rarity here of 2 protagonists who actually don’t go the well-trodden path of a sub-genre laden with numerous and meaningless hookups/identity-crises, who navigate the tricky waters of college life that wraps in an overwhelming all’s-well-that-ends-well way.

I sailed through this book (and actually put down several others I was reading just to get my grabby hands on this), lapped up every bit of awkward high-school interaction (Schlosser ups the clichés about the pretty girl and the unpopular, shy boy), gleefully laughed over their stupid-sweet secret crushes, and swooned at the frog-prince-type transformation after Ezra’s fat camp.

Apart from my vague alarm of their incredibly early marriage (clearly my own reservations speaking), ‘Outcast’ kept me going more than caffeine could because I was determined to finish the it. The bottomline is that it’s such a happy story (and possibly an unrealistic one for detractors who prefer angsty reads), and leaves you thinking for a sliver of a time that all can be right in the world.

five-stars

City Under Siege by R.J. Prescott

City Under Siege by R.J. PrescottCity Under Siege by R.J. Prescott
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on February 19th 2018
Pages: 412
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two-stars

London is a city in flames. Tensions are high and a critical situation is about to go from bad to worse. The Prime Minister wants to send a message, and the SAS will be the ones to deliver it.

Emotional detachment is my speciality. I’m ruthless and cut throat, but there is nobody better.

Sarah Tatem is an innocent. Caught up in a world in which she doesn’t belong, and trying desperately to do the right thing. My job is to keep her safe long enough to get what’s needed, and bring an end to this siege of terror.

But something has changed. I’ve learned that the only thing stronger than loyalty is love, and now she’s gone.

My name is Lieutenant Tom Harper, and I’m about to unleash hell.

‘City Under Siege’ does have an exciting premise and to be honest, I was also lured in by the cover that depicted a post-apocalyptic London which I always seem to have an unholy fascination with.

But for someone who loves romantic suspense, this was a hard book to get through, even to the midway mark. I definitely liked the plot, which (plus points given for starting out strongly) unfortunately stuttered in the middle with the action taking a lull. Add to that endless and very long dialogues—some bordering on the ridiculous—taking place in scenes that I feel weren’t especially necessary and ‘City Under Siege’ found one of its victims in me.

Perhaps these scenes were meant to know the growing bond between Tom and Sarah, or perhaps they were meant to inject some levity into a serious situation, but these ended up mostly flat for me, with some secondary characters coming in and being over-the-top ridiculous in their villainy. Consequently, I was bored boneless and struggled to the midway mark while wondering when things were going to start rolling again.

I’m not quite sure if I’m able to put a finger on it specifically, but the combination of poor editing and the constant spelling errors like ‘metal/mettle’, ‘saught/sought’, ‘discrete/discreet’ was off-putting. In addition, I thought the plot and pacing also needed more developmental work for a better flow. ‘City Under Siege’ sadly, didn’t live up to its potential for me, more so because I had high hopes after reading all the glowing reviews about it.

two-stars