Publisher: Avon

Beautiful Sinner by Sophie Jordan

Beautiful Sinner by Sophie JordanBeautiful Sinner by Sophie Jordan
Series: Devil's Rock #5
Published by Avon on 30th October 2018
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Locked in with the town bad boy . . .

Most women would be scared, but Gabriella’s only worried about resisting Cruz Walsh, who’s even hotter than he was back in high school. Cruz was wrongly accused of the high-profile crime for which he was imprisoned; Gabriella’s desperate for the scoop that will get her career off the ground and get her out of Sweet Hill, where everyone still remembers her as “Flabby Gabby.” Being stuck in a supply closet with Cruz is the perfect opportunity to land an interview. What Bri doesn’t count on is Cruz taking “up-close and personal” to a whole new level.

If there’s a silver lining to the hell Cruz went through, it’s that losing his freedom put everything in perspective. Maybe starting over someplace new would be easier, but after years locked up, Cruz values his family—and his true friends—more than ever. So he’s back home, facing the gossip, dodging reporters . . . and face-to-face with Gabriella Rossi. They’ve both changed: Bri wants a story and Cruz just wants her. Another thing he’s learned? Don’t let a good thing slip away.

Sophie Jordan’s ‘Devil’s Rock’ series is not an easy one to pin down. I’ve been mixed on these books, but keep on going back because I like the premise of how her protagonists pick themselves up again after life kicks them down. And what best demonstrates this spiral than time in prison, where things can only go up from then onwards?

‘Beautiful Sinner’ is just that: a wrongly-accused man who’s free but who can’t escape his past, paired with a woman who happens to want him…and something from him. There’s little else, apart from a huge preoccupation with the heroine’s body issues, and pages and pages trying to ramp up sexual tension before Cruz and Gabriella fall into bed which then later turns supposedly into love, so much so that the story could have been cut in half and still been told satisfactorily.

There’s also an intensely N/A feel to it, if that’s your thing: the flashbacks, the innumerable self-image issues that Gabriella faced, the inability to get past those teenage years with peripheral characters behaving like stereotypical mean-girls, the journey of self-discovery along the way…all of which had me turning the pages wondering if I’d fallen into high school or college drama without meaning to.

The baffling bit is a small bit of history over a decade ago that Cruz apparently can’t forget—a make-out session with a mystery girl who did a Cinderalla-move on him where she pretended to be someone else, before disappearing for a long time. Yet what tossed my suspension of disbelief out of the window however, was the painfully ridiculous notion that Cruz, at that time (even as a manwhore), couldn’t tell the difference between girls in total darkness (they’re not the same size!) as they made out. That this particular night was given so much weighty significance 12 years later left me incredulous (most people barely remember such things), because well, I’d thought that life experience and a myriad of memories in the intervening years would have long overshadowed that night that both apparently could never forget.

It’s also hard to deal with a heroine so insecure about her own body and so downtrodden in so many ways, seeking validation in every small compliment she can get. Even harder yet to deal with is the way Gabriella had made Cruz out to be the one and only man who could persuade her with sex so different and so out-of-the-world from her other boyfriends. (It certainly helps that Cruz only wants her type of body) Body-image issues are hard to deal with—this much I acknowledge. But to read how it becomes all-consuming where a heroine can’t believe anyone would want her, let alone a man with a smoking hot body pushes it too far even for me.

I think I was looking for more to this story but never quite got it, until way past the halfway mark when the conflict finally kicked in. It was only then when things got more interesting, though by which time, I was a little too ready to throw in the towel.

two-stars

Disturbing His Peace by Tessa Bailey

Disturbing His Peace by Tessa BaileyDisturbing His Peace by Tessa Bailey
Series: The Academy #3
Published by Avon on April 24th 2018
Pages: 384
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four-stars


She’s got probable cause to make her move . . .

Danika Silva can’t stand Lt. Greer Burns. Her roommate’s older brother may be sexy as hell, but he’s also a cold, unfeeling robot. She just wants to graduate and forget about her scowling superior. But when a dangerous mistake lands Danika on probation—under Greer’s watch—she’s forced to interact with the big, hulking jerk. Call him daily to check in? Done. Ride shotgun in his cruiser every night? Done. Try not to climb into his giant, muscular lap and kiss him? Umm…

Greer doesn’t let anythingor anyone—distract him from the job. Except lately, all he can think about is Danika. He’s wanted the beautiful, cocky recruit since the moment he saw her. But she’s reckless and unpredictable, and Greer is painfully aware of what can happen when an officer doesn’t follow the rules. Probation seemed like a good idea, but now Danika’s scent is in his car and he’s replayed her voicemails twenty times. Christ, he’s a goner.

Danika’s melting Greer’s stone-cold exterior one ride-along at a time. Being together could have serious consequences… but breaking a few rules never hurt anybody, right?

In the first 2 books, Tessa Bailey teased us with this simmering tension between Greer and Danika, so the final installment of The Academy series is one that I’d been impatiently waiting for. And as I’d expected of Bailey, Greer/Danika’s story is volatile but scorching, with the requisite bouts of self-doubt and angst, as Greer (the hardass) Burns finally meets his match when recruit Danika Silva gets under his skin.

Like all of Bailey’s males, Greer magically turned into alpha-aggressive, dirty-talking man in bed, though this much I’ve already come to expect of him. But while it was fun to read about the prim and buttoned-up Lieutenant lose his cool, I actually preferred and liked the tortured soul that Bailey showed here, as much as I liked the cold exterior that he displayed to the world because his layers went that much deeper.

In contrast, I’d been unable to get a grasp on Danika’s character from the past 2 books, but I’d been hesitant to see Greer/Danika as a pairing when the latter had come across as cocky, impetuous and rebellious without a cause simply because her buttons were pushed by a stone-cold Lieutenant. Yet the Danika here seemed so more likeable and understandable as Bailey un-peels the layers from her: she is the responsible caretaker, the reliable and dependable one who takes people’s burdens because she can, until it becomes both a crutch and a source of pride. In this way, Danika was who Greer needed, though it did, predictably, come to a point when Danika tried to take too much on her shoulders and ended up in danger because of it.

So to this extent, ‘Disturbing his Peace’ doesn’t disappoint.

But Bailey’s stories do follow a pattern: the meet/greet, the hot and steamy, the emotional sharing, the conflict (and temporary breakup) and the grovelling/HEA. To say that I dreaded the conflict is an understatement, because it was sniffable a mile away.

The issues I had, apart from the implausibility that a department would grant an instructor/recruit leeway for being together, was that the blame for their conflict late in the story seemed to be laid solely on Greer’s feet as though Danika had nothing to make amends for when she actually needed to own the mistake she made. There were clearly lessons to learn on both sides—and issues to be sorted out—and despite this, I felt that Danika hadn’t put enough of herself out there at the end, despite all the lip-service she’d paid to the sentiment earlier on in the book. I thought she was too quick to write Greer off, too impatient in expecting a lot out of a man who’d closed himself up for years, and too hard-headed to be understanding at the point where Greer had needed her most.

That said though, ‘Disturbing his Peace’ is an easy read, never straying into the heavy angst under Bailey’s excellent handling of her characters’ emotional states. For that reason alone, I keep coming back—though it’s harder in this particular case, to say goodbye to this series that had drawn me in from the start.

four-stars

True to You by Jennifer Ryan

True to You by Jennifer RyanTrue to You by Jennifer Ryan
Series: Montana Heat #2
Published by Avon on February 27th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-half-stars

A Montana Man risks everything for the woman he loves . . .

Undercover DEA Special Agent Dawson King spent five months in a Montana prison establishing a fake identity to take down a ruthless drug dealer and put him behind bars. Except there’s a wild card . . . the killer’s beloved daughter. Cara Potter may appear to be on the right side of the law, but King has learned the hard way to trust no one—even someone as tantalizing as the coffee shop owner. She’s irresistible . . . but is she also dangerous?

From the moment he enters her life, King makes Cara . . . nervous. The handsome drifter says he wants to get his life together . . . but there is something about him that doesn’t quite ring true. Cara wants to believe in him, yet she holds back despite the way he awakens dormant dreams and leaves her breathless with his sexy smile, steamy kisses, his every touch.

When the explosive truth comes out and she’s betrayed by the ones she loves, Cara must decide—can she trust her heart, or should she listen to her head?

Sometimes book covers can be deceiving, which do a great disservice to the stories in them. What looks like a cowboy romance is in fact, a romantic suspense (yay for me) novel that I would have missed out if I hadn’t taken the time to pick the blurb apart.

Jennifer Ryan is a new author to me, but ‘True to You’ is a fantastic introduction to her writing style; the story is an articulate read, done for most part, in a way where I didn’t find myself bored or skimming through what I usually call ‘filler pages’.

Cara and King were relatable protagonists and good together, and Ryan certainly didn’t waste any time setting up the scene for their paths to intersect. The on-the-edge, delicious tension between them tightened with each fine line that King crossed, as he desperately juggled his attraction to Cara and his work, while trying to be the good guy in the whole thing. But the usual problem with undercover work as a plot device is as always, the extent and depth of the deception (no matter how King tried to mitigate the damage) that cuts to the core, particularly when Cara paid yet again for it, with her already eroded trust in people who had betrayed her in the past.

The story was a little roundabout however—I did have some questions swirling around that weren’t satisfactorily addressed from the start, as were the lack of differentiation of speech/characters at times—and it did take me a while to unravel the facts on my own and get the whole plot straight before I could fully get on board with it. There were also several repetitive lines profiling the characters that didn’t feel necessary, as was the choppy pacing towards the end.

The climax happened at the 3/4 mark, leaving quite a long resolution that was filled with angst, inner monologues and huge emotional turmoil in both Cara and King, the latter of whom seemed to have ‘softened’ so much from the hardline, driven guy we saw in the breathtaking first few chapters. I’d hoped to see more action—more DEA agents scurrying around and King working in his element—in my romantic suspense reads in any case, which simply stopped after the climax took place after a short build-up. Also, with King referred to as ‘Flash’ and ‘Dawson’ as well, then Bennett as ‘Jay’ (all in the same scene) so the name changes threw me off sometimes.

‘True to You’ was in all, a good read, though not a perfect one. Still, Ryan is someone I’d be looking out for the next time something of hers gets published.

three-half-stars

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai

Hurts to Love You by Alisha RaiHurts to Love You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts #3
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Pages: 384
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four-stars

Heiress Evangeline Chandler knows how to keep a secret . . . like her life-long crush on the tattooed hottie who just happens to be her big brother’s friend. She’s a Chandler, after all, and Chandlers don’t hook up with the help. Then again, they also don’t disobey their fathers and quit their respectable jobs, so good-girl rules may no longer apply.

Gabriel Hunter hides the pain of his past behind a smile, but he can’t hide his sudden attraction to his friend’s sheltered little sister. Eve is far too sweet to accept anything less than forever and there’s no chance of a future between the son of a housekeeper and the town’s resident princess.

When a wedding party forces Eve and Gabe into tight quarters, keeping their hands off each other will be as hard as keeping their clothes on. The need that draws them together is stronger than the forces that should shove them apart . . . but their sparks may not survive the explosion when long-buried secrets are finally unearthed.

For a man nearly a dozen years older than Evangeline Chandler, she’s the epitome of the forbidden fruit. The rich heiress shouldn’t fraternise with the housekeeper’s son, after all. Still, Eve had barely registered on Gabe Hunter’s radar when she was younger and their few meetings since then when the families feuded meant that he’d got even fewer glimpse of the Baby Chandler, until she burst back into his life suddenly. But because this is Alisha Rai—one of the reining queens of angst and emotions—‘Hurts to Love You’ is far from the Princess Bride, and instead, a meandering journey of hurt after hurt that every pairing needs to go through before getting their HEA.

Nonetheless, I was oddly charmed by Eve—the rich girl whose personality and struggles spoke the most to me. Then I thought she was one of the bravest characters I’d ever come across, from her moonlighting as a driver, to her her crazy infatuation with Gabe that made me laugh a little because it felt exactly like the innocuous things girls simply did to be close to their crushes. I loved how she tested every boundaries, courageously put herself out there in spite of Gabe’s harsh quickness in shutting down the potential between them. Rai’s nuanced writing won Eve over for me and as the title suggested, it did hurt, or at least I did, for Eve, mostly, as she went through rejection after rejection. Pain became the keyword in this book somehow, because Gabe was too caught up in his self-recrimination about his parentage and his age-issues, while Eve seemed to be the only one to fight for him when it really mattered.

Rai’s ‘Forbidden Hearts’ series is steeped deep in family drama and this installment isn’t too different. But I found it easier to get into and the whole read a more engrossing experience than the previous books, maybe because Eve/Gabe appeared initially unencumbered with the deep entanglement of family that the previous pairings seemed to be mired in from the very start. My rating of the book however, is mostly for Eve—the encapsulation of the strong heroine—and less for Gabe who seemed seemed cowardly in contrast when all he did was mostly run.

This doesn’t change the fact that ‘Hurts to Love You’ gave a good emotional workout…few books simply do those hard emotional punches that well and Rai aptly closes the series with mended but scarred hearts. The ending is as always, bittersweet, but perhaps that’s where it finds the most purchase.

four-stars

About that Kiss by Jill Shalvis

About that Kiss by Jill ShalvisAbout That Kiss by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay #5
Published by Avon on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

When love drives you crazy . . .

When sexy Joe Malone never calls after their explosive kiss, Kylie shoves him out of her mind. Until she needs a favor, and it’s a doozy. Something precious to her has been stolen and there’s only one person with unique finder-and-fixer skills that can help—Joe. It means swallowing her pride and somehow trying to avoid the temptation to throttle him—or seduce him.

the best thing to do . . .

No, Joe didn’t call after the kiss. He’s the fun time guy, not the forever guy. And Kylie, after all she’s been through, deserves a good man who will stay. But everything about Kylie makes it damned hard to focus, and though his brain knows what he has to do, his heart isn’t getting the memo.

… is enjoy the ride.

As Kylie and Joe go on the scavenger hunt of their lives, they discover surprising things about each other. Now, the best way for them to get over “that kiss” might just be to replace it with a hundred more.

I’m a bit at a loss here when it comes to writing this particular review. I often associate Jill Shalvis’s books with romantic comedy with touches of the whimsical thrown in, so ‘About That Kiss’ threw me off a little with the genres it straddled.

There were pockets of quirky humour that I associate with Jill Shalvis’s writing and those were ever-present here, as were the cast of nosey supporting characters who’d long gotten their HEA while dishing out the weirdest advice about love thereafter. The fun part was definitely there as well, especially with the rather cute (and near-benign) case of a wooden penguin turning up in the Amélie-like manner in precarious positions—how does Shalvis think of these things?!—and the amusing chase after the potential suspects who might have been doing threatening things to a precious but inanimate object.

But it wasn’t long before ‘About That Kiss’ felt oddly familiar, like a pared-down, lighthearted version of romantic suspense minus the tense and hard-edges, with the kind of protagonists that I usually expect to see in the romantic suspense genre: the commitment-free male protagonist—either military or ex-military—who is emotionally unavailable (then uses this as an excuse to play fast and loose with many women) and the strong, stubborn female protagonist who promises nothing more will come out of a friends-with-benefits type arrangement until she realises that she can’t.

Joe and Kylie for most part, fitted those categories, though the context of their coming together (along with some TSTL behaviour) somehow felt gentler in Shalvis’s Heartbreaker Bay world that’s buoyed with feel-good laughter and caring characters rather than heavy angst and hard-driven suspense. For this reason, this ‘softer landing’ so to speak, makes ‘About That Kiss’ a very accessible read and while the stereotypes of the protagonists made it a little hard for me to get invested in Joe/Kylie as a pairing, I’m nonetheless glad that this series isn’t quite over given the very intriguing tease about yet another couple which I do hope Shalvis follows up with.

three-stars

Indecent Exposure by Tessa Bailey

Indecent Exposure by Tessa BaileyIndecent Exposure by Tessa Bailey
Series: The Academy #2
Published by Avon on January 30th 2018
Pages: 384
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four-stars


Is there a problem, Officer?

Jack Garrett isn’t a police officer yet, but there’s already an emergency. His new firearms instructor—the one who just dropped every jaw in the academy gym—is the same sexy Irish stranger Jack locked lips with last night. The Olympic gold medalist and expert markswoman is now officially off-limits, but Jack’s never cared much for rules . . .

Katie McCoy’s been cooped up in a shooting range for too long. A wild love affair is just what she needs to let loose, though she never imagined it would be with her smokin’ hot trainee. She cannot get involved with Jack—but a quick fling? Perfect. Falling hard for a charismatic recruit with an equal amount of sex appeal and secrets? Bloody stupid.

Jack’s charmed the pants off plenty of women (literally), yet few have ever looked beyond his perfect surface. Until Katie. He’ll do anything to keep her in his life . . . except tell her about his past. But a tiny lie of omission never hurt anyone, right?

Tessa Bailey’s ‘The Academy’ series is shaping out to be quite a gem of all her books. ‘Indecent exposure’ is engaging, fun, appropriately angsty when the occasion calls for it and more emotionally resonant than the first book in the series.

A deadbeat loser was what I’d thought of Jack Garrett and I was nothing but sceptical when Bailey insisted on writing his HEA. But Bailey’s rather insightful articulation of Jack’s issues, emotions and personal demons deserve some applause here, as she makes him a sympathetic hero whose upbringing and past explains—though doesn’t necessarily excuse—the way he always behaves. Just as Jack is the drifter with no ambition in life, Katie McCoy’s upbringing has been the exact, regimented opposite with high after high and prize after prize.

In many ways, Jack and Katie are complete opposites and their coming together is probably nothing short of a miracle save for Katie’s honesty, openness and compassion which makes Jack need to level with her. I was in fact, surprised at the speed at which they shared so many things about each other when I’d barely gotten to a quarter of the book, but it does in fact, smooth the way for sizzling sexy times (which are frankly, over-the-top as usual) and a more intimate connection where there would be none.

Nonetheless, I did think however, that Jack really needed some time apart from Katie to work on himself and to fix his issues—time and the skin-flaying kind of therapy. Katie did hit the nail on the head when she said that she couldn’t be a crutch for him as he started his long recovery and I wished that Bailey had actually separated them, just so that Jack could meet her as a better man and in a better position from when they first started. I would have liked to see them together 6 months or a year down the road though, as a yardstick of how far they’d come together, but the epilogue—just a mere 48 hours after the climax—wasn’t sufficient for me to believe the rather rushed and abrupt HEA that Bailey wraps up for them both.

That said, I’m liking this series quite a lot and with a fiery recruit and a stodgy lieutenant next in line? Bring it on.

four-stars

Beautiful Lawman by Sophie Jordan

Beautiful Lawman by Sophie JordanBeautiful Lawman by Sophie Jordan
Series: Devil's Rock #4
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Pages: 368
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three-stars

From the wrong side of the tracks and with most of her family in jail or dead, Piper Walsh is used to everyone in town thinking the worst about her. It doesn’t seem to matter that she’s worked hard to build a good life for herself. So she isn’t surprised that when she comes into contact with Sweet Hill’s wildly irresistible, arrogant sheriff, Hale Walters, they’re instant adversaries. Piper has nothing in common with the town golden-boy-turned-lawman—and she refuses to be a notch on his bedpost.

Despite rumors, Hale avoids fooling around with the women of Sweet Hill, many of whom are hoping to get him to the altar. But staying out of Piper’s path is proving near impossible. The infuriating troublemaker clearly has no respect for his badge. As she continues to push his buttons, it becomes clear to Hale that he must either arrest Piper—or claim her as his own.

Whatever it is—jobs or money or security—that most people take for granted, Piper Walsh hasn’t had an easy time of it.

It isn’t often that I feel a huge affinity for a protagonist, but Piper certainly made my chest ache big time. There was so much I loved about her: her work ethic, her willingness to sacrifice so much for her family, as she silently took the barbs in about being the town’s loser family (with the often run-in with law enforcement and several family members in jail) that can do nothing right. But that desperation hasn’t eliminated her pride and her thick-skinned, desperate search for a way out in a town dripping with nothing but disdain for her was just so admirable.

In steps Sheriff Hale Walters at the strip club where she works and that very thing changes the course of small town history so to speak, because he’s absolutely the worst person—considering the Walshes’ history with the police and the town—that Piper can ever get into bed with. The cop and the perceived delinquent…it’s a toxic mix, at least on paper.

This antagonistic sniping doesn’t last long though, and the shift to full-blown desire and fumbling still caught me by surprise because I didn’t quite feel that they’d gone past their dislike of each other to give lust its full reign, just as I was more convinced that their relationship at the end still had more to do with lust than love. I was definitely sold by their sexual compatibility but not by their falling for each other, because there just didn’t seem to be enough persuasive scenes of Hale or Piper reaffirming each other’s qualities beyond how explosive they were physically together—the criterion of not being able to imagine being with another person in bed seemed to be a good enough argument why they should stay together, in fact.

Overall, ‘Beautiful Lawman’ became more of Piper’s story for me than Hale/Piper together, despite the pairing being the primary part of the romance bit of the book. Sophie Jordan’s ‘Devil Rock’ series has been a standout for its unusual premise to begin with and even though it sounds like I’m nitpicking in this review, it’s a series that I do like and want more of.

three-stars