Publisher: Carina Press

End Transmission by Robyn Bachar

End Transmission by Robyn BacharEnd Transmission by Robyn Bachar
Series: The Galactic Cold War, #3
Published by Carina, Carina Press on 20th May 2019
Pages: 170
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two-half-stars


Firefly
meets James Bond in this action-adventure romance set in an alternate future where the Cold War never ended…

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

As a syfy-novella, ‘End Transmission’ works pretty well. As someone who dove straight into this installment without having read the first 2 books in the series, Robyn Bachar’s world-building is intriguing, sort of easy to get into and pretty absorbing considering the alternate-earth direction that this series has taken and extrapolated. Split into 2 factions—the bad Soviets and the supposed not-bad camps—this extreme form of rivalry has extended into the space age where the initial Cold War rift had snowballed into something way, way bigger than anyone living in the present can imagine.

Still, the political tenets remain the same: conspiracy, espionage and undercutting, with a huge emphasis on intrigue and intelligence…issues that hardcore syfy books tend to reimagine, comment on, criticise and re-write. ‘End Transmission’ might revolve around a particular prototype designed for mind and behaviour-control coupled with several great inserts like a fake honeymoon, getting stuck in confined spaces with a so-called rival, but Bachar’s other books (as inferred) had already padded out so much that I was wondering just how much I’d missed out with some info-dump happening midway through.

I took an extraordinary long time to finish this nonetheless, skimming at times, caught between the perfunctory romance and the very detailed world that Bachar has written in this short novella.

As a syfy-story, ‘End Transmission’ is great, though as a romance, not so. Maria and Tomas seemed more at loggerheads (or simply, characters who just didn’t see eye to eye) minus the sizzling chemistry of an enemies-to-lovers vibe, with a switch suddenly flipping between them at the 3/4 mark that had me befuddled because I just couldn’t see it coming. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure they even liked each other despite the love declarations at the end—that much of a negative dynamic Maria/Tomas had that didn’t even have me rooting for their HEA or HFN.

In short, a middling read for me at least, though I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about their story.

two-half-stars

Lost in You by Lauren Dane

Lost in You by Lauren DaneLost In You by Lauren Dane
Published by Carina Press on 13th May 2019
Pages: 176
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one-star

Getting lost in the arms of a bad boy never felt so good

Time and the military have made Joe Harris a better man than he was when he left Petal, Georgia, ten years ago. Now that he’s back, all he wants is to take care of his dad, get his garage up and running and spend time with his dog. He has no plans for a relationship, especially one with his best friend’s kid sister, no matter how much she tempts him. And boy does she ever.

Beth Murphy grew up surrounded by trouble, so these days she steers clear when she sees it. Until Joe Harris rides back into town—he’s the kind of trouble worth getting tangled up in. She knows he’s not the same guy he once was, but there’s something he’s not telling her.

When things at home take a turn, Joe does the only thing he can: he pushes Beth away. This is his responsibility, not hers. But Beth isn’t about to lose him—not when they’ve already lost their hearts to each other.

‘Lost in You’ started out promising, but dipped quite early on when I realised there wasn’t much else but talk about Beth going after Joe and Beth really going after Joe.

And that was my red flag, even though the best friend’s sister trope is one that I do nose around for whenever I can. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get engaged beyond the point where Beth started chasing Joe because there wasn’t much more to look for beyond that. A forthright heroine who knows what she wants is always a welcome change in direction in romance, but the small town talk simply seemed to be about everything and nothing as Joe and Beth danced around each other in a two-steps-foward-two-steps-back choreography.

Not having read Lauren Dane’s other series, ‘Lost In You’ did feel like I’d stepped in the middle of a show whose beginning I knew absolutely nothing about. Secondary characters who must have played an important and heartfelt role in previous books made appearances here but because I wasn’t invested in them at all, such scenes actually felt redundant and dragged the story under—this is obviously on me, but it was also a sign that ‘Lost in You’ just wasn’t my thing as well.

one-star

Reverb by Anna Zabo

Reverb by Anna ZaboReverb by Anna Zabo
Series: Twisted Wishes #3
Published by Carina Press on 6th May 2019
Pages: 286
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three-stars

The tougher they are, the harder they fall.

Twisted Wishes bass player Mish Sullivan is a rock goddess—gorgeous, sexy and comfortable in the spotlight. With fame comes unwanted attention, though: a stalker is desperate to get close. Mish can fend for herself, just as she always has. But after an attack lands her in the hospital, the band reacts, sticking her with a bodyguard she doesn’t need or want.

David Altet has an instant connection with Mish. A certified badass, this ex-army martial arts expert can take down a man twice his size. But nothing—not living as a trans man, not his intensive military training—prepared him for the challenge of Mish. Sex with her is a distraction neither of them can afford, yet the hot, kink-filled nights keep coming.

When Mish’s stalker ups his game, David must make a choice—lover or bodyguard. He’d rather have Mish alive than in his bed. But Mish wants David, and no one, especially not a stalker, will force her to give him up.

I think Anna Zabo goes where not many mainstream authors tread, where sexuality (and what it means) is put to the forefront of the Twisted Wishes series. ‘Reverb’ on the surface, might seem like an M/F book as opposed to the first to M/M ones, but I’ve always thought that Mish—the unapologetic loudmouth, Spartan rock queen, bold and take-no-prisoners bass player Mish Sullivan—wouldn’t settle for anything vanilla. Apparently Zabo thought so too.

Getting stuck with a bodyguard isn’t Mish’s idea of a good time, but the internet stalker is making the band nervous enough to put her under David Altet’s watch. What follows is an oddly sweet, progressive step—from attraction and lust to something deeper—with the idea of the band as a close-knit family being reiterated throughout Mish/David’s story.

I’m guessing (and I might be wrong here) that it’s not a book that all readers would take to—to each her or his own, really—especially since the Twisted Wishes series is the furthest from heterosexual pairings. Anna Zabo didn’t make David’s transgender status a big issue at all but then queerness in the band members in the previous 2 books had already set the stage for Mish’s own book where bucking gender norms had already taken centre stage.

What I did have a bit of an issue with however, was that both David’s and Mish’s pasts were very much glossed over in favour of the here and now. There were merely hints of the traumatic times both had in their earlier years, and where I was hoping for a deeper (and perhaps more painful, brutal look) at David’s transition, his deployment in the army and Mish’s own difficult childhood, what came instead were quite a few repetitive scenes of the band touring, its meteoric rise and the building chemistry between David/Mish.

Their easy, developing affection—with a more alpha, dominating female and a sensitive transgender man—surprised me nonetheless, when I thought it’d be full of angst and suppressed passion. Quickly falling into sync together, so much of them together consisted of laughter, desire and acceptance…well, at least until it came to a climax, the pushing away and the pre-requisite grovelling.

‘Reverb’ turned out to be a sweeter, more yearning read than I thought, at least with less of an edge that the first two books had. There’s still a certain sense of satisfaction in seeing Mish’s story that rounded out the band members’ own zig-zagged paths to their own HEAs, but the bottom-line perhaps, is that I enjoyed myself for most part.

three-stars

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker

The Austen Playbook by Lucy ParkerThe Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities #4
Published by Carina Press on 30th April 2019
Pages: 400
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three-stars


Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

Sometimes I pity Jane Austen and sometimes I think she’s got it all…a few hundred years too late. Think of the number of works of hers that so many have twisted, manipulated, adapted, lovingly massaged and downright massacred through the years and the poor gal should be turning in her grave, or exulting in her posthumous fame.

With a title like ‘The Austen Playbook’, you suspect you know what you’re in for.

Rife with Austen, classic-lit and pop-culture references (not to have Austen meta would have been a sin), I was tickled from the start with the parallel of Darcy’s dissing of Elizabeth as belly-gutting arts critic James Ford-Griffin unknowingly cut Freddy Carlton open in a noisy pub with his analysis of her acting—but that’s barely a hint of where the story will lead.

But the love-hate, actor-critic relationship gets a revamp when they are unwittingly reunited on Griff’s estate along with bitchy reality-tv-series-type drama, a rather mad discovery big-time plagiarism (the sins of the fathers) and unexpected lust/lust coming into play.

Parker’s writing is undoubtedly unique: assured, wry, quirky and with banter that is lofty, sneaky and full of high-brow snark. But admittedly sometimes hard to get through when all you want is straightforward talk minus the distracting character movements, turnarounds and exaggerated descriptions. For this reason, Griff and Freddy, like all of Parker’s characters, are eloquent, always know what to say and sometimes say the unexpected.

I loved the starting quarter, but my attention dipped when talk went deep into secondary characters, the protagonists’ relatives (don’t get me started on the convoluted history) then perked again Parker introduces the attraction between Griff and Freddy with hallowed tenderness.

There were some surprises by the end of it—veering sometimes into the unbelievable—but it was all fodder for entertainment, more so because Parker has made this book about acting, writing and celebrity gossip after all. Ultimately, there were parts of the story I liked and some not too much, but if you’re in because you like a particular writing style like Parker’s, then ‘The Austen Playbook’ should do it for you.

three-stars

Keeping a Warrior by Melanie Hansen

Keeping a Warrior by Melanie HansenKeeping a Warrior by Melanie Hansen
Series: Loving a Warrior #2
Published by Carina, Carina Press on April 22nd 2019
Pages: 264
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three-stars

Sometimes the only hope for the walking wounded is in each other’s arms.

Devon Lowe is a survivor.

A survivor of war. Of combat. And of a betrayal by men she considered her brothers-in-arms. But her trailblazing work as a Cultural Support Team member working alongside the navy SEALs is too important for her to back down now.

Fresh off a painful breakup, air force pararescueman Rhys Halloran recognizes Devon’s trauma for what it is—something that’s left her isolated but far from irreparably damaged.

With Devon’s trust still lying shattered back in Afghanistan, putting her faith in a man who’s nursing a broken heart isn’t easy. But she’s tired of people making her feel weak, and Rhys makes her feel anything but, sparking a heated attraction that was never part of the plan.

With all eyes on Devon to prove herself in a brutal man’s world, having it all will mean putting her heart on the line like never before. But when it comes to Rhys, it’s an uphill battle she’s ready to fight.

Melanie Hansen is a new author to me and I hadn’t really known what to expect with ‘Keeping a Warrior’ when I got into it, only that it was heavily woman-focused, so to speak, despite it being touted as a military romance.

Much of this ended up being a story about Devon Lowe as a solitary woman in a testosterone-driven man’s world and in this role-reversal—her love ‘em, leave ‘em ways, her sometime-recklessness, her prickly behaviour, calling the shots and all—, Hansen eagerly showcases her capability in the military and how she can excel in every training exercise that all the men can do. There’s plenty of action, a close look at how the platoon trains, the SEAL brotherhood and the assumed places of men and women in the military, which can be quite engaging.

And it’s all written—uniquely, you might say—through the eyes of a woman and how she copes with all of it.

If it isn’t a nod to girl-power or the #metoo movement, I don’t know what it is. Cheering for the constant insistence on female equality aside however, I wasn’t used to, or frankly, wasn’t sure if I liked what I thought of as the role reversal, of an alpha heroine in the driving seat all the time and an admiring and smitten beta hero who mostly defers to her.

I’ve nothing but admiration for Hansen’s attempt to focus on sexual assault in the military and its impact on women in particular but the constant dick-waving and posturing got me tired, including—yes, shoot me for it—Devon’s every attempt to one-up the men in trying to prove herself worthy with a very slow-burn romance on the side as Rhys Halloran struggles with his own failed relationship and takes his own form of baby steps around Devon.

In fact, I liked the volatile, cutting sexual tension between Matt/Shane more than I liked the Devon/Rhys pairing. Even as a secondary, estranged pairing (I hadn’t read their story in the first book, which is making me want to check them out now), they were the show-stealers and every fraught moment between them made me want more. As a result, ‘Keeping a Warrior’ left me with very mixed feelings, especially since I was more invested in the secondary characters more than the protagonists.

three-stars

Flare up by Shannon Stacey

Flare up by Shannon StaceyFlare Up by Shannon Stacey
Series: Boston Fire #6
Published by Carina Press on 29th January 2019
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Nursing a broken heart while everybody around him seems to be drowning in happiness has Grant Cutter wondering whether staying with Engine 59—or even Boston Fire—is in his future. It’s tempting as hell to pack up what fits in his Jeep and hit the road. But then a 911 call brings the woman who shattered his heart back into his life, and he knows he won’t ever be able to fully leave her in his rearview mirror.

For a few months, Wren Everett had thought the nightmare of her past was behind her and she might live happily ever after with Grant. Until she got the phone call letting her know the time her ex had spent in jail for assault hadn’t cooled his temper or determination that she belonged with him. Cutting ties with Grant was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, but it was also the only way to keep him safe.

Now that Grant is back, he’s not letting Wren push him away again. And even with the trust issues between them, Wren dares to hope she and Grant might have a future together after all…if they’re willing to fight for it.

Shannon Stacey’s second-change romance trope begins with a character’s rather illogical stupidity—Wren leaving Grant because she’s afraid of hurting him as an ex hunts her down—is how ‘Flare Up’ begins. The backstory quickly unravels (Stacey doesn’t take too long in expounding this history after Wren walks away) and from there on, the story rolls on without too much angsty rehashing. Past Grant’s heartbreak and the bit where he gets justifiably angry, there’s still the hero-complex that insists on keeping Wren safe despite his better judgement.

For someone who moans that characters seldom talk it through like the adults they are, it’s easy to appreciate that Stacey doesn’t leave the unfinished business between Grant/Wren before the slight suspense and action kick in. I liked that they talked it out and laid all the cards on the table, and if the story’s a bit of a slow start with a lesson learned, who am I to argue?

Still, Grant/Wren’s actual getting back together—along with the time taken to get back their footing—was where it flagged and got staid for me, but maybe that’s because I’m the sort of reader who likes the first-time thrill more than the tentative steps back into vulnerability in a second-chance romance. In fact, I was looking forward to more firefighting action but instead stumbled into pages of Wren’s slow reintroduction to Grant’s circle of friends and their eventual coupledom.

The actual stalker-business sort of does pick up towards the end of the story, but the build is slow nonetheless, which never quite led up to anything more than a whimper of a climax when I’d been expecting a little more bang. In short, it’ll be a slow, pleasant read if you like more romance rather than suspense/firefighting, but sadly, this one turned out to be more of a miss than a hit for me.

two-stars

Between The Lines by Sally Malcolm

Between The Lines by Sally MalcolmBetween the Lines by Sally Malcolm
Published by Carina Press on 10th December 2018
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three-half-stars

Theo Wishart has given up on finding love.

Luca Moretti doesn’t want to find it.

A handful of summer days may change their lives forever—if they’re brave enough to look between the lines.

Eyes might be windows to the soul, but for Theo Wishart they’re all shuttered. His dyspraxia makes it hard to read people. He doesn’t do relationships and he certainly doesn’t do the great outdoors. Two weeks spent “embracing beach life” while he tries to close the deal on a once great, now fading seaside hotel is a special kind of hell.

Until Luca. Gorgeous, unreachable Luca.

Luca Moretti travels light, avoiding all romantic entanglements. Estranged from his parents, he vows this will be his last trip home to New Milton. His family’s hotel is on the verge of ruin and there’s nothing Luca can do to save it. He’s given up on the Majestic, he’s given up on his family and he’s given up on his future.

Until Theo. Prickly, captivating Theo.

No mushy feelings, no expectations, and no drama—that’s the deal. A simple summer fling. And it suits them both just fine. But as the summer wanes and their feelings deepen, it’s clear to everyone around them that Theo and Luca are falling in love. What will it take for them to admit it to themselves—and to each other?

three-half-stars