Publisher: Carina Press

Under Control by Shannon Stacey

Under Control by Shannon StaceyUnder Control by Shannon Stacey
Series: Boston Fire, #5
Published by Carina Press on 28th August 2018
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

When faced with the opportunity to change shifts while staying in the same house, veteran firefighter Derek Gilman jumps at the chance. His new schedule means not working Saturdays, which means more time to spend with his two kids. His divorce may have been amicable, but being a firefighter and a single dad is a lot to juggle. And when fate brings a gorgeous, wealthy woman into his life, he’s pretty sure he can’t handle more than he already is.

Olivia McGovern loves plans. She planned to start her own business and planned its growth. It’s earning her seven figures now, but her personal life simply doesn’t exist. Getting trapped in a broken elevator figures in exactly nowhere, and freaking out in front of a sexy firefighter definitely isn’t on the agenda. Especially not one with two kids and an ex.

What would have been a random incident with an attractive stranger becomes something more when a charity event brings them back together. They’re from different sides of the tracks, literally—with friends, family and careers to consider. But as Derek and Olivia are discovering, chemistry doesn’t allow for plans, and love doesn’t bother with logistics.

Since Shannon Stacey’s books deal with firefighters finding their better halves, it’s always a treat to find out who the unknown other half is in every book, as well as the very different story that Stacey tells for ever one of them.

For Derek Gilman, it’s corporate-highflyer Olivia McGovern who’s quite the opposite of his type, it seems, especially for a divorced man who’s caught up in his job and handling his 2 kids.

Past their first tension-filled encounter in a stalled elevator however, things past their second meeting fell into a bit of a lull for me despite their paths crossing repeatedly via mutual friends (the details of Olivia’s corporate career and the charity they were involved in didn’t interest me that much) as I impatiently waited for things to heat up between Olivia and Derek. And heat up they do, though gently and without any (unpleasant) surprises, even if I’d hoped for a bit more first-responder action.

The pluses here however, do outweigh the lull for me: the progressive, natural attraction between them, no clichéd evil ex running interference, no excessive denial of attraction or feelings; everyone generally behaves like the adults they are, working towards a happy home—all refreshing to read. Olivia’s fear of compromising her career plans with a relationship is her biggest worry; the fear of Olivia fitting into his domestic life is Derek’s, though the general lack of angst makes ‘Under Control’ an easy read without the overt strife that can sometimes accompany blended-family-type stories.

three-stars

Counterpoint by Anna Zabo

Counterpoint by Anna ZaboCounterpoint by Anna Zabo
Series: Twisted Wishes #2
Published by Carina Press on 24th September 2018
Pages: 378
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Twisted Wishes lead guitarist Dominic “Domino” Bradley is an animal onstage. But behind his tight leather pants and skull-crusher boots lies a different man entirely, one who needs his stage persona not only to perform, but to have the anonymity he craves. A self-imposed exile makes it impossible to get close to anyone outside the band, so he’s forced to get his sexual fix through a few hot nights with a stranger.

When computer programmer Adrian Doran meets Dominic, he’s drawn to the other man’s quiet voice and shy smile. But after a few dirty, demanding nights exploring Dominic’s need to be dominated, Adrian wants more than a casual distraction. He has no idea he’s fallen for Domino Grinder—the outlandish, larger-than-life rock god.

Dominic is reluctant to trust Adrian with his true identity. But when the truth is revealed prematurely, Dominic is forced to reevaluate both his need for Adrian and everything he believes about himself.

I’ve always been intrigued by Dom Bradley, or at least, with the sexy but untouchable stage persona he assumes that has helped become a weapon against his shyness when performing. And it was more than an inkling that ‘Counterpoint’ would be a book that would tear apart these well-compartmentalised identities, considering meeting and hooking up with Adrian Doran is the catalyst that brings us to this point.

But ‘Counterpoint’ starts with a slow, almost awkward introduction—there isn’t too much of the nerd boy that Zabo explored in her previous book, so it is gratifying to see just how different Dominic/Domino is at the start—that actually left me surprised with the fidgety Dominic whose top layer simply doesn’t resemble the rock god at all.

Still, the burn is slow despite their flirting, the poetry and the literature and the quick hookups, and I got impatient getting to the meat of the story and skimmed even the smutty bits that for some reason didn’t interest me too much, until the conflict finally, finally kicks in towards the end. It is primarily the shifting nature of these identities that Zabo takes on that I wanted to read after all, such that this eclipsed everything else that others might find they like about the story, their bedroom activities and all. So I lapped up all the bits that involved Dom and his difficulties with his stage persona, then found myself skimming the others.

Nonetheless, slippery as it is to handle, I thought the complexity of Dom’s issues is quite well teased out (admittedly for longer than I thought these should have been)—the contradictions, the fear of discovery, the identity that he hides behind—though in contrast, I found Adrian less interesting, who feels more like a typical player who finally can see himself settling down with someone as unusual as Dom, who then fights for a relationship that he suddenly wants so much.

Objectively speaking, ‘Counterpoint’ is more than a decent read and that’s Zabo’s confident writing showing here. But to say that the last quarter is the most thrilling and enjoyable bit is probably the most accurate sum-up for me, just like ’Syncopation’ was.

three-stars

Imperial Stout by Layla Reyne

Imperial Stout by Layla ReyneImperial Stout by Layla Reyne
Series: Trouble Brewing #1
Published by Carina Press on 23rd July 2018
Pages: 268
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

It’s a good thing assistant US attorney Dominic Price co-owns a brewery. He could use a cold one. Nic’s star witness has just been kidnapped, his joint operation with the FBI is in jeopardy, his father’s shady past is catching up with him and the hot new special agent in San Francisco is the kind of distraction best handled with a stiff drink.

Kidnap and rescue expert Cameron Byrne has his own ideas about how to handle Nic, but his skills are currently needed elsewhere. The by-the-book FBI agent goes deep undercover as a member of an infamous heist crew in order to save Nic’s witness, break up the crew and close the case before anyone else gets hurt. Nic in particular.

Things heat up when Cam falls for Nic, and the witness falls for Cam. As the crew’s suspicions grow, Cam must decide how far he’s willing to go—and how far into his own dark past he’s willing to dive—to get everyone out alive.

‘Imperial Stout’ is me stepping out of my comfort zone when it comes to M/M fiction, though Layla Reyne isn’t a new author to me. Written in a fairly different style from what I’m used to, and not having read Reyne’s ‘Agents Irish and Whiskey’ series, this is me coming in as a newbie. So with a very busy first chapter that included not only an action scene but a load of history between the protagonists which sort of involved also a best friend’s partner and ex-flame, I was a little lost, though duly warned about the kind of romance this path would take.

Still, I found it hard to engage with this one with the convoluted way the plot was initially presented, not like the way I was engaged in Reyne’s ‘Changing Lanes’ series, with my attention constantly pulled between the intrigue, the brewery, the huge number of characters mentioned or dropping in and the romance that was supposedly building. The pairing—between a US Attorney and a kidnap and rescue specialist with the FBI—, while intriguing, seemed to fade behind the never-ceasing activity that kept going on and I never quite lost the feeling of trying to play catch up having walked straight into a tv-series mid-season just as the action was heating up.

‘Imperial Stout’ is safe to say, probably more a book for Reyne’s stalwart followers of her previous series who want to continue into this spin-off in this particular world of whiskey, agents and lawyers. That said, while I still do like Reyne’s writing, I’m going to take a pass on this book and the series. I did try to get into Nic/Cam as much as possible, skimming the pages just to see how things finally fell into place for them, but ultimately, I just didn’t feel as though I made any headway into them at all. And without the base appeal of the main pairing in this romance, I couldn’t quite see the point going on.

two-stars

Tight Quarters by Annabeth Albert

Tight Quarters by Annabeth AlbertTight Quarters by Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform, #6
Published by Carina Press on 31st July 2018
Pages: 352
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Petty Officer Bacon, a navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: the silver fox journalist he’s babysitting is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions—especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

It isn’t very often that I venture into M/M romance and Annabeth Albert is an author who’s new to me.

That the ‘Out of Uniform’ series has crossed my feed numerous times which I haven’t yet taken up is just added incentive to get into a military romance of this particular sub-genre. Coming straight into ‘Tight Quarters’ without having previously read the rest of the books in the series was no biggie; I had no problems catching up even with the small references to what happened before without the focus on Bacon and Spencer faltering at all.

A hot-shot journalist embedding with this particular SEAL team (which is, according to Bacon—I just had to have a laugh at his name because his real one isn’t much better) isn’t a scenario I’d ever envisioned, but this was something I was happy to take with a pinch of salt, or better put yet, a willingness to suspend disbelief for what I thought was going to be by and large, some kind of romantic suspense written into the story.

But it wasn’t quite one and because I dove in without expectations, everything felt fresh and new, from the not-quite action in the first half and the rather unusual conflict in the second that simply made it impossible to take sides.

The forced babysitting of Spencer Bryant, a plan that went inevitably wrong during a mission and the action that happened thereafter and the added element of the kind of craving attraction that Albert writes so well just made me a happy camper. The details of the mission itself felt as though they were deliberately left fuzzy, so it was akin to being part of the action but not being in the heart of it, which left the focus on the development of the relationship—both when Spencer and Bacon were together as well as apart.

Past the mission however, ‘Tight Quarters’ felt like a different book in the move from military to the party crowd that Spencer/Bacon got involved in on his leave. The different aspects of their characters coming out to play threw me for a bit when I’d been ready to pigeon-hole both of them as ‘journalist’ and ‘soldier’, in fact. But the thoroughness of Albert’s exploration of the tension between Bacon and Spencer—one that resulted in a slight lull in the first third of the book—was rewarding as a result, especially in the light of the slow, slow burn that was set up as hostile from the start.

By the time Bacon and Spencer talked their way through to their sappy end, I was impressed by Albert’s style—the emotional rawness that emerged later between this pairing—and her handling of gender fluidity. And then I wondered why I didn’t jump on her other books earlier on.

four-stars

Making Up by Lucy Parker

Making Up by Lucy ParkerMaking Up by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities #3
Published by Carina Press on May 28th 2018
Pages: 318
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Once upon a time, circus artist Trix Lane was the best around. Her spark vanished with her confidence, though, and reclaiming either has proved…difficult. So when the star of The Festival of Masks is nixed and Trix is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, it’s exactly the push she needs. But the joy over her sudden elevation in status is cut short by a new hire on the makeup team.

Leo Magasiva: disgraced wizard of special effects. He of the beautiful voice and impressive beard. Complete dickhead and—in an unexpected twist—an enragingly good kisser.

To Leo, something about Trix is…different. Lovely. Beautiful, even though the pint-size, pink-haired former bane of his existence still spends most of her waking hours working to annoy him. They’ve barely been able to spend two minutes together for years, and now he can’t get enough of her. On stage. At home. In his bed.

When it comes to commitment, Trix has been there, done that, never wants to do it again. Leo’s this close to the job of a lifetime, which would take him away from London—and from Trix. Their past is a constant barrier between them.

It seems hopeless.

Utterly impossible.

And yet…

I don’t have much experience with reading Lucy Parker’s books, but ‘Making Up’s enemies-to-lovers blurb drew me right in.

I loved the chaotic opening that was full of sensory delights mixed with the drama that happens both onstage and offstage—that’s what you get for sinking the story straight into one of Westend’s best runs, complete with the out-of-the-world costumes, death-defying acts, impossible characters and finally, the stripped-down actors behind them.

Parker paints stunning pictures with words, no doubt, with so much of the side-of-your-mouth kind of humour here both dry and witty—blink and it’s gone—that ups the pace and makes the pages fly. Even the antagonism between Trix and Leo fell into romcom land as they traded barbs with the frenemies vibe and slung such spirited snarky insults that I was tempted to steal some those in order to expand my own swearing vocabulary.

I did like Parker’s chosen setting of performance art, and the support that went on behind the scenes…Trix and Leo were the furthest from the typical stock characters you see in romance these days and that alone kept me reading. Quirk aside (and there’s quite a fair bit of it that can be funny, if the humour and writing do appeal), I still sort of had a hard time trying to place where ‘Making Up’ fell on my personal ratings spectrum.

It’s far from a bad read, but there were parts that I felt were stylistically overdone: the constant hyperboles and the smart cracks could have been dialled back a wee bit, which, combined with a full boatload of drama—don’t expect any less from the theatre people—nearly caved my head in. The pygmy hedgehog however, was the extra special sparkle in all of it.

three-stars

Hot Response by Shannon Stacey

Hot Response by Shannon StaceyHot Response by Shannon Stacey
Series: Boston Fire #4
Published by Carina Press on April 24th 2018
Pages: 285
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Gavin Boudreau lives for the job, but he also believes in “work hard, play harder.” As the youngest guy in Ladder 37, he figures he’s got plenty of time before settling down becomes a priority. Soft, pretty women who aren’t looking for promises are exactly his type, and he’s comfortable with that. Working with a gorgeous EMT isn’t going to change who he is.

The last thing Cait Tasker needs in her personal life is a firefighter whose challenges on-scene have been a thorn in her side from minute one. Her plate’s too full for a man anyway. Back in her childhood home to help her family cope with an unexpected tragedy, she’s got enough to handle without throwing a hot, testosterone-laden fireman into the mix.

As long days on the job lead to long nights together, Gavin and Cait will discover how far temptation can take them—and what happens when the one you thought was all wrong for you turns out to be the person you can’t live without.

Shannon Stacey’s firefighters are always fantastic entertainment but I think ‘Hot Response’ has so far, knocked this series out of the park as a firefighter and an EMT get off on the wrong foot due to a small series of unintended misunderstandings.

Gavin Boudreau and Cait Tasker didn’t seem like the kind of characters who would have worked out based on the blurb, but the story that Stacey tells turned out to be quite a different one. I never quite even got the idea that Gavin was only up for a good time, and that he tuned out to be an absolute prize—all about family, thoughtful and considerate—surprised me pleasantly, as much as how into the relationship with Cait when that finally took off. That their relationship was hampered by a large issue in Cait’s life was going to be a conflict that I saw coming from afar, though I was glad to see that resolved relatively quickly (though a little abruptly).

What stood out however, was the progression of their relationship; none of it felt forced nor boring, as I was engrossed in the day-to-day routines of them working as first responders and how their jobs intersected from time to time. The episodes with their own families did made me cringe at times, as were the very relatable struggles that both faced, particularly Cait’s, though I could understand Gavin’s own position on Cait’s reluctance to move on.

In any case, ‘Hot Response’ made a perfect weekend read for me: there was a comfortable mix of angst, action and banter and I loved reading about the interactions between the whole fire crew. My only tiny complaint is the rather abrupt resolution and end to the book, though it’s not something I should be nitpicking about because there’s clearly more of this beloved crew to come.

four-stars

The Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton

The Love Coupon by Ainslie PatonThe Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton
Series: Stubborn Hearts #2
Published by Carina Press on March 9th 2018
Pages: 253
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
three-stars

Can you fall in love if you have the right coupon?

Tom O’Connell had a problem. His temporary roommate, Flick Dalgetty was noisy, messy, made of bees and had enough energy to power an amusement park. The problem was he shouldn’t have kissed her.

Flick Dalgetty had a problem. Her landlord, Tom O’Connell was made of granite. He was a big, repressed anti-social ogre, but the man knew how to kiss. The problem was he felt guilty about hooking up and she wanted more.

Until Flick’s gift of thirty coupons, each entitling Tom to one guilt and obligation free activity, from bowling and bubble bathing to morning delight and lingerie buying, removed all the guesswork of being incompatible partners and temporary roommates.

Now the only problem was Flick had to leave and Tom needed to stay and they might be falling in love—and there wasn’t a coupon for that.

Love can be a sexy game until it becomes the only one your stubborn heart wants to play.

Quirk is the order of the day each time I read an Ainslie Paton novel, from the (sometimes hilarious) descriptions of her characters to the even odder situations that they find themselves in. But these can also be a refreshing change from the monotony of encountering variants of the same type of plots that have been reworked in so many ways.

Paton’s style however, does take getting used to—from metaphors that never quite occur to you make regular occurrences to odd, long dialogues to hyperboles that give you pause—and I suspect it might put some readers in one camp or the other. ‘The Love Coupon’ safe to say, follows this kind of pattern in what’s essentially, a roommates to lovers story based on Flick Dalgetty pulling Tom O’Connell out of his comfort zone in every direction he’d never anticipated.

Make no mistake, Flick Dalgetty came in with a bang. True to her name (like a fly you want to flick off), Flick was already made out to be a circus-act protagonist who went at everything like the Duracell Bunny and then some—just to read in third person about her was exhausting. As a character who seemed to exist to poke the conservative, routine-based Tom out of his comfort zone, I couldn’t help but at times find her pesky, needy and almost petulantly acting up when it came to the long-suffering Tom—essentially rubbing me the wrong way because she didn’t know how to leave things alone. There were parts about her family though, that made her vulnerably relatable and those were the bits that I enjoyed reading the most.

What I found odd was that the love coupon part of the story didn’t come in until at least half the story later, the first of which felt like long dialogues and Tom/Flick rather quickly feeling their way around each other, at parts literally. I did however, appreciate Paton establishing their odd relationship first, before the coupon idea came in, which definitely helped solidify this weird bond that they had going by then.

Still, while I’m sold on the premise of the story, Tom/Flick felt like a batty idea that I couldn’t quite shake by the end of their tearful declarations that they couldn’t live without each other. There was overall, still an oddity about ‘The Love Coupon’ that felt a tad ‘off’ to me—this is obviously just me—as Tom/Flick abruptly and impulsively rode off into their (Washington) sunset before the credits rolled. It’s definitely rom-com worthy though, so if that’s your sort of thing, ‘The Love Coupon’ is a perfect bet.

three-stars