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About that Kiss by Jill Shalvis

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss 3rd December 2017
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

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 27th November 2017
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

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews 26th November 2017
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

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Posted in Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 3rd November 2017
Wildfire by Ilona AndrewsWildfire by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 391
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four-stars

Just when Nevada Baylor has finally come to accept the depths of her magical powers, she also realizes she’s fallen in love. Connor “Mad” Rogan is in many ways her equal when it comes to magic, but she’s completely out of her elements when it comes to her feelings for him. To make matters more complicated, an old flame comes back into Rogan’s life…

Rogan knows there’s nothing between him and his ex-fiance, Rynda Sherwood. But as Nevada begins to learn more about her past, her power, and her potential future, he knows she will be faced with choices she never dreamed of and the promise of a life spent without him.

As Nevada and Rogan race to discover the whereabouts of Rynda’s kidnapped husband and are forced to confront Nevada’s grandmother, who may or may not have evil motives, these two people must decide if they can trust in each other or allow everything to go up in smoke.

‘Wildfire’ is a return to the rollicky, zany fun that I had in the first book, complete with otherworldly creatures, deadpan, quip-filled humour and crazy feats of magic that, on an alternate earth, would send mortals running each time a window gets the slightest hairline crack. This mad magical universe is really what makes this series so irresistible: larger than life, yet still so steeped in a contemporary reality (or rather, downtown Houston) we can sort of relate to and understand.

A huge part of me still longed for the Nevada Baylor of the first book—the woman who kept her powers hidden as she relied on her wits and gun skills instead of playing with the big boys—rather than the newly-minted Prime taking her place in a complex and archaic House system full of backstabbing politics, where the constant game of keeping one’s head above water prevents everything from staying simple. I still cringed every time she used her powers—whether these occasions were justified were still up in the air for me—but this was merely a trade-off it seemed, for Nevada’s rise in magical society and the inevitable ‘revelation’ of her unique ‘gift’.

As much the story was still written in her POV here, Nevada and Connor were by now, an established couple, finding their way around this new relationship and how their magic abilities worked into it, so there wasn’t too much of the tension that we got in the first 2 books.

But I didn’t mind it too much, absorbed as I was in the story’s secondary characters, which were really the best I’ve ever read in a long, long time. For once, Andrews’s secondary characters—who were as multifaceted as the protagonists—kept me riveted, even sometimes taking focus away from the main couple despite the story being related in Nevada’s POV and I didn’t mind a whit.

The bottom-line is, it all went from loopy to loopier and although quite cookie-cutter in the way the authors handled its protagonists’ growth trajectories, ‘Wildfire’ is still a riotous fast-paced read that already hints at more to come.

four-stars

White Hot by Ilona Andrews

Posted in Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 2nd November 2017
White Hot by Ilona AndrewsWhite Hot by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #2
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Pages: 389
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three-stars

Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.

Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice …

After the exhilarating read of ‘Burn for Me’, ‘White Hot’ took the development of Nevada and Rogan in a direction I can’t exactly say I liked.

There were parts that overwhelmed me: the visceral depictions of the brutality that exists when a magical realm is inserted into this alternate world were breathtaking (the feeling’s akin to reading Harry Potter for the first time), as was the soft spot I’d developed for secondary characters like Bug, Cornelius and his animals.

But there were also parts that didn’t—a lot of those had to do with the ‘heroic’ shaping of the protagonists—,which oddly disappointed me because I’d expected Ilona Andrews to eschew the archetypes of fantasy somehow, after the refreshing take on Nevada in the first book. The premium placed on character growth is evident, with Nevada taking on responsibilities (as unwanted as they are) that come with her unleashed power, her learning to play that game while manoeuvring the complexities of the magical families in the process and redefining what lines of morality she’d draw. Yet as enamoured as I was of Nevada in the first book—the underdog who’d been content to be that PI, relying on her sharp shooting instead of her hidden magic—I somehow wished that we hadn’t seen the typical journey of the fantasy hero/heroine growing in power until her skills matched those in the great standing Houses, her own methods of manipulation and mind-violation seemingly justified by the rationale to protect her family as she struggles to live with the magnitude of her skills.

Yet the old Nevada stood out more than the new, reforged one. I found myself constantly missing the cocksure, rough diamond of a woman who relied on her wits, leaned on her compassion and nothing more but the support of her family—that made her greater to me, rather than this new, untouchable truthseeker with powers that suddenly seemed to put her way beyond any mage, who always teetered on the slippery slope to ruthlessness.

On the other hand, Mad Rogan as always, remained frustratingly out of reach (the numerous cock-blocking moments notwithstanding) as every supposed step towards their long, drawn out sexual tension with Nevada was interrupted quite timely with an explosion or an urgent phone call. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the kind of hero he could be since he still seemed alarmingly inclined towards destroying first, negotiating later, if at all. While a small revelation of what made him that way did unravel Rogan a little, he felt cardboard flimsy next to the more multifaceted Nevada, which might be the only minus of the book being wholly written in Nevada’s POV.

At the risk of this entire review sounding like a rant, I’m going to say right now that it isn’t…really. My enthusiasm might have dimmed somewhat for the protagonists, but there’s enough driving force behind the secondary characters whom I like enough to want to carry on. Here’s to hoping ‘Wild Fire’ might bring something back to the fervour I had for the first book.

three-stars

Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews

Posted in Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 1st November 2017
Burn For Me by Ilona AndrewsBurn for Me by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #1
Published by Avon on October 28th 2014
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

‘Burn For Me’ is my first Ilona Andrews read and I can only say I wished I got into this sooner…this being what feels like a grand urban fantasy that slips between the Harry Potter and X-Men universe as a lone woman stands within a maelstrom about to break open.

It’s a solid adventure from start to finish, thoroughly enjoyable only because of a heroine who’s funny, compassionate, protective and thankfully, resistant to the heavy, magic-induced charms of an anti-hero up to the very end. But this being the first in the series, there’s more tension than romance, more action than scorching times between the sheets, particularly when characters are too busy cutting each other down and trying to lay waste to the city.

Despite ‘Burn For Me’ being the first book, the story that Andrews has taken up here seems like a one-and-done episode (even though the narrative arc is clearly unfinished) and it does feel like an establishing novel by way of the characters at least. Connor Rogan hasn’t convinced me yet of his hero status – it feels as though he still needs to undertake that ‘redemptive’ journey so to speak, to add empathy to his character as Nevada has correctly pointed out for him to be worthy of the pairing. The latter, on the other hand, just seems to be ‘destined’ for greater things, though I’m hoping that Andrews will surprise me with the growth trajectory of the archetypical hero/heroine here.

But I’m extrapolating, perhaps. What I am however, is very, very curious about the rest of the series and especially thankful that I can go through all of them at once without needing to wait for the end.

Bring it on.

four-stars

Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Erotica/ Reviews 29th September 2017
Wrong to Need You by Alisha RaiWrong to Need You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts #2
Published by Avon on November 28th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

He wasn’t supposed to fall in love with his brother’s widow…

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jackson Kane fled his home, his name, and his family. Ten years later, he’s come back to town: older, wiser, richer, tougher—and still helpless to turn away the one woman he could never stop loving, even after she married his brother.

Sadia Ahmed can’t deal with the feelings her mysterious former brother-in-law stirs, but she also can’t turn down his offer of help with the cafe she’s inherited. While he heats up her kitchen, she slowly discovers that the boy she adored has grown into a man she’s simply unable to resist.

An affair is unthinkable, but their desire is undeniable. As secrets and lies are stripped away, Sadia and Jackson must decide if they’re strong enough to face the past...and step into a future together.

‘Wrong to Need You’, like its predecessor, thrusts you straight back into a soap opera whose edges have already been sharply defined: family feuds, circles of friends and boundaries of rifts that have been established ‘off-stage’, leaving only forbidden relationships within this framework that need to be worked out. There’s a bit of a repetitive go over with the previous story (close family-rifts tend to do that) as it deals with lost, damaged individuals who have barely managed to hold it together, almost as if proving that time barely has an effect on closing up wounds, let alone healing them.

Sadia Ahmed’s and Jackson Kane’s relationship is wrong on so many levels, as it soon becomes apparent, not least because Sadia used to be married to Jackson’s brother. Sadia’s family beliefs, the apparent screwup she has made of her own life, her bisexuality, her dead husband versus Jackson’s deliberate unfeeling rootlessness, his unrequited love and the injustice that had been done to him—if these aren’t issues that will break the donkey’s back, I don’t know what will.

It’s admittedly difficult to write a pairing like this, with everything riding against the wave of approval. But the lure of the forbidden is always strong and Alisha Rai certainly thrives on teasing out every nuance of Sadia/Jackson’s emotional angst and fraught feelings. Forbidden doesn’t just describe Jackson and Sadie however; the story does skirt the edge of voyeurism, and some sexual deviant behaviours that might be triggers for some readers though there’s the gratuitous bit of illicit (and explicit) feeling running throughout the story that makes ‘Wong to Need You’ the complete package.

Yet throughout, I’ve found myself asking the question: is it possible to like a book but not exactly be invested in the pairing? This sounds more so unforgivable, considering romance really is about 2 protagonists getting together though there isn’t a rule—unspoken or otherwise—that states a pairing has to be the be-all or end-all in it. I wasn’t exactly rooting for Jackson or Sadie that much, but the unfolding drama itself is compelling and that alone propelled me to want to know how things would work out.

That said, Rai’s writing is easy to get lost in and I for one, can’t wait for Eve/Gabe’s story.

three-stars
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