Publisher: Avon

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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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

Wildfire by Ilona AndrewsWildfire by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 391
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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

White Hot by Ilona AndrewsWhite Hot by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #2
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Pages: 389
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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

Burn For Me by Ilona AndrewsBurn for Me by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #1
Published by Avon on October 28th 2014
Pages: 400
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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

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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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

The Pretender by HelenKay Dimon

The Pretender by HelenKay DimonThe Pretender by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #3
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Pages: 368
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

They say it takes a thief to catch a thief, and Harrison Tate is proof. Once a professional burglar, he now makes a lawful living tracking down stolen art. No one needs to know about his secret sideline, “liberating” artifacts acquired through underhanded methods. At least until one of those jobs sees him walking in on a murder.

Gabrielle Wright has long been estranged from her wealthy family, but she didn’t kill her sister. Trouble is, the only person who can prove it is the sexy, elusive criminal who shouldn’t have been at the island estate on that terrible night. She’s not expecting honor among thieves—or for their mutual attraction to spark into an intense inferno of desire.

Under the guise of evaluating her family’s art, Harris comes back to the estate hoping to clear Gabby’s name. But returning to the scene of the crime has never been riskier, with their hearts and lives on the line.

‘The Pretender’ is HelenKay Dimon’s third foray into a group of mysterious men who do mysterious things and it’s one of those books that tend to leave me (as the previous books in this series have) with a very unfulfilled sense of ending, because of the very nature of these men and women who are frankly, difficult to get into.

It isn’t a slight on Dimon’s writing at all, because that itself is quite polished and I love this particular bit about Dimon that keeps me coming back for her books. In fact, the beginning chapter sucked me in straight as a watching art thief gets embroiled in a vicious murder, whose presence—should he confirm it—would exonerate a woman accused of many things. But from there onwards I found myself putting down and picking up the story so many times over the span of about a week or so, just unable to get deeper into the mystery that didn’t unfold as quickly for me as I liked.

There is a boat load of things going on, as there is a weird claustrophobic feel of the island setting as characters find themselves as potential pawns and suspects, but the pieces of this puzzle are doled out piecemeal and very sparingly in the first half.

It was tooth-clenchingly hard to get them put together, and I was frustrated when the pacing stuttered because the protagonists chose sex over talking too often, leaving half-truths on the table as trust is treated almost as secondary to passion. There is some form of continuing deception and dishonesty on both Harris and Gabby’s sides while a murderer is running loose, and this proves ultimately not only distracting but puts the whole relationship on shaky foundation that consequently made it hard to get invested in.

But because ‘The Pretender’ tried to juggle the whodunnit element of a mystery thriller with the obstacles of what deception might to do a relationship that began on the wrong footing, there were parts where the mystery was going nowhere when motives didn’t generally become that much clearer even as the story went on. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed with this one—the difficulty in finishing the book was enough proof of it.

two-stars

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill ShalvisChasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay #4
Published by Avon on September 26th 2017
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Meet cute...

Run for the hills—temporarily. That's Colbie Albright's plan when she flees New York for San Francisco. Wrangling her crazy family by day and writing a bestselling YA fantasy series by night has taken its toll. In short, Colbie's so over it that she's under it. She's also under the waters of a historic San Francisco fountain within an hour of arrival. Fortunately, the guy who fishes Colbie out has her looking forward to Christmas among strangers. But she's pretty sure Spencer Baldwin won't be a stranger for long.

Make merry...

Spence's commitment to hiding from the Ghosts of Relationships Past means he doesn't have to worry about the powerful—okay, crazy hot chemistry—he's got with Colbie. Just because she can laugh at anything, especially herself... just because she's gorgeous and a great listener just because she gets Spence immediately doesn't mean he won't be able to let Colbie go. Does it?

and hope for a miracle.

Now the clock's ticking for Colbie and Spence: Two weeks to cut loose. Two weeks to fall hard. Two weeks to figure out how to make this Christmas last a lifetime.

I’ve always wanted Spence’s story—the hot, smart but lonely geek always there for his friends but also always caught up in his work—and I’m so glad that Jill Shalvis has delivered “Chasing Christmas Eve” just as I thought this poor guy was going to be left behind. And this is a typical Shalvis read as well: light-hearted, never too heavy on the angst, with several scenes and dialogues that have comedic timing down pat.

There hasn’t been a hint of who would be Spence’s other half and it is a surprise in a way, to see that Shalvis pairing him with a famous author who’s unwilling to reveal the kind of fame she has. But like quite a few of Shalvis’s heroines, Colbie tends to run first, shut down, then analyse later, so unsurprisingly, it’s Spence—the more solid yet sweeter and steadfast one—whom I thought would get heartbroken in the end. After all, their affair was meant to burnt bright and hot…and temporary. But the expiry date comes and goes, and with the Christmas magic in the air, miracles do happen and Spence does get his HEA after all. He’s my soft spot after Elle Wheaten and I do admit that I wasn’t as invested in Spence/Colbie as much as I was in Elle/Archer, but that’s obviously a personal preference for character coming through here because I didn’t find Colbie as much as a standout as I’d hoped.

A particular highlight of the book however, is the return of the usual gang and I definitely dig the group dynamics of the Heartbreaker Bay series, especially since it’s always written with charm and quirk that contribute to the quiet sense of comedy. For this alone, I’ll be waiting for the next book to get back into Cow Hollow just to get back the feel-goods.

three-stars