Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

Fast Justice by Kaylea Cross

Fast Justice by Kaylea CrossFast Justice by Kaylea Cross
Series: DEA FAST #6
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, Kaylea Cross Inc. on March 17th 2018
Pages: 352
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four-half-stars

Sacrifice is a requirement of the job. Rowan Stewart walked away from the love of a lifetime to focus on the demands of her job as Assistant US Attorney. Now she's working on the biggest case of her career, prosecuting one of the Veneno cartel's most notorious members. Except the case presents unexpected challenges-including the man she can't forget...and a threat she could not foresee. But this time, it could cost her life. Special Agent Malcolm Freeman is FAST Bravo's point man. On an op he's the first one through the door, leading the way for his team. Professionally, he's at the top of his game. His personal life is a different story. After Rowan ripped his heart out a year ago he closed himself off to any relationships. When fate throws them together he steps up to ensure she's protected, even though it might mean getting his heart broken again. But protection isn't enough. The enemy is determined to use Rowan to get what they want. With her life hanging in the balance, Malcolm and his team race to find her before it's too late. He lost her once. He can't lose her now. This time, failure is not an option.

Finally, finally, finally.

‘Fast Justice’ reminds me of all the reasons why I read Kaylea Cross’s books and having ploughed through the somewhat lacklustre stories from the previous stories in this series, having Rowan/Mal’s tale kick my enthusiasm back to life (measured in terms of the loss of sleeping hours) has been beyond a pleasant surprise. The hints of their broken romance in the previous book had gotten me intrigued and Mal, who is predictably gun-shy about starting up with Rowan again, finally gets his due…in a story that provoked a range of emotions from me.

Apart from the thoroughly engaging suspense, Cross writes about a woman who is willing to own up to her mistakes, who swallows her pride and grovels because she knows she’d left a heartbroken man in her wake…and finally goes after what she wants. I loved the excruciating moments of tension between Ro/Mal, the reluctant truce that breaks down because Rowan decides to shake it all up and her lead role in trying to build them back together again as she tries to mend the damage that she had done to them. For this reason, I couldn’t help but love a woman who’s brave enough to show this sort of maturity when too many cowardly characters that have recently come across my feed have nearly made me thrown several books against the wall in frustration. (Proverbially speaking, because I use an e-reader.)

By and large, this was a compelling read. The entanglements with the Veneno Cartel are woven deep into ‘Fast Justice’ and the developmental arc is more tightly spread over the last few books. In fact, I was surprised at how much of the events that happened in the previous books spilled over into this, wondering if it might be somewhat difficult for ‘Fast Justice’ to be read as a standalone. Cross does provide some explanation—though some parts might still be confusing to readers who step in at this point in time—and without shying away from the brutality of cartel activity, throws in a few twists and turns that helped balance the angst of Rowan/Mal’s situation.

The hasty conclusion after the climax and the loose threads that aren’t tied up by the end are probably my only complaints. It’s evident that Cross intends to continue this arc until the baddies drop dead one by one, but it’s going to be a wait that will span several books before this happens. But until that happens, I’m happily going to go back to the good bits that had me gnawing down my own teeth.

four-half-stars

Hostage by Skye Warren & Annika Martin

Hostage by Skye Warren & Annika MartinHostage by Annika Martin, Skye Warren
Series: Criminals & Captives #2
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on January 27th 2018
Pages: 359
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three-stars

I NEVER KNEW WHEN HE'D COME TO ME. ONLY THAT HE WOULD.

I’d never even kissed a boy the night I met Stone. The night I saw him kill. The night he spared my life. That was only the beginning.

He turns up in my car again and again, dangerous and full of raw power. “Drive,” he tells me, and I have no choice. He’s a criminal with burning green eyes, invading my life and my dreams.

The police say he’s dangerously obsessed with me, but I’m the one who can’t stop thinking about him. Maybe it’s wrong to let him touch me. Maybe it’s wrong to touch him back. Maybe these twisted dates need to stop. Except he feels like the only real thing in my world of designer labels and mansions.

So I drive us under threat, until it’s hard to remember I don’t want to be there.

Until it’s too late to turn back.

Throw away all fixed ideas about how a hero or even an anti-hero should behave, entertain the idea of the antithesis of a fairytale romance, then come to ‘Hostage’ expecting that you’ll be getting the entire opposite of a sanitised HEA. ‘Hostage’ requires a lot from a reader, even for those who might like their stories tuned up, edgy and dirty. For a conventional romance reader, going into this book might even seem like going against the idealised structure and characters of a romance and the kind of happy-ever-after that typically ends with a ride off into the sunset.

‘Hostage’ is as the title implies, the forcible kidnapping of a girl because she witnesses a murder, then strangely developing an obsession with her as the months pass, because she represents a part of life that’s foreign and way out of reach.

Stone Keaton appeared in ‘Prisoner’ as an absolute son-of-a-bitch, and there are many lines in the story that reinforce this. I’m constantly reminded that he feels no emotion, keeps things together in the most brutal fashion, and stamps his own cruel brand of revenge in the blood and gore for the sake of others. The only ‘saving grace’—even this is dubious—comprise his loyalty to his brothers and his protectiveness towards Brooke over a period of a few years (a girl who isn’t even legal when they meet), as well as the mantle of vigilantism that he takes on in a city where corruption runs rife.

‘Hostage’ deviates so far from the norm that the age-gap between Brooke and Stone is the last thing I’m bothered about, considering Skye Warren and Annika Martin write about almost everything that crosses the grey boundary of good and evil. The way Brooke is written surpasses that of the typical 18-year-old’s mind however; only her with (possibly misplaced) compassion and an overly soft romanticising of Stone remind me from time to time just how young she really is, which does go a bit of a way to soften the hardness of the latter. But while I sort of understood Stone’s obsession with Brooke, it is harder to take the leap and believe their so-called connection becomes a kind of twisted love after a time.

My rating is just a reflection of my own wishy-washy attitude to this book. What I like here, oddly, isn’t exactly a pairing that I find hard to get invested in; instead, it’s the indirect commentary on current politics—complicity, the guilt of big wigs, #fake news(!)—that Warren and Martin write into the narrative which is ironically and chillingly reflective of present-day reality. Even if that only becomes more and more evident as the pages go on, that alone gives that book a depth that I can appreciate, even if the romance isn’t quite what I can buy into.

three-stars

Twisted Twosome by Meghan Quinn

Twisted Twosome by Meghan QuinnTwisted Twosome by Meghan Quinn
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on July 16th 2017
Pages: 251
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three-stars

Racer McKay is a broody bastard. From the moment I met him, he's been rude, irritable, and unbearable. And worse? He's broke. A contractor working to remodel my parents pool house for extra cash, he stomps around in those clunky construction boots with his tool belt wrapped around his narrow waist, and a chip on his shoulder. Racer McKay is also infuriatingly . . . sexy as hell. I want to take that pencil tucked behind his ear, and draw lazy lines slowly up and down his body all the while wanting to strangle him at the same time. We try to stay out of each other's way . . . that is until I have no other option but to ask for his help. But what I don't realize is he needs me just as much as I need him. I have money he's desperate for, and he holds the key to making my dreams come true. Our pranks turn from sarcastic banter, to sexual tension and lust-filled glances. Bickering matches quickly morph into slow burn moments. We're hot, we're cold. We push and pull. I need him, I don't want him. We're on the verge of combusting with an agreement dangling dangerously between us. Neither one of us can afford to lose one another and yet, we're finding it quite hard to decipher the line that rests between love and hate.

Sometimes a character surprises you in the best way, particularly when it’s a secondary character from another book that couldn’t be taken seriously at all. Racer was such a character in Meghan Quinn’s first book and I didn’t quite know what to make of him. In fact, I barely gave him a thought at all until ‘Twisted Twosome’ came out and then my reading world got squeezed through the rabbit hole of this rather complicated man.

But Racer is, no doubt about it, the shining star of the story, because he’s so much more than the front he shows, and damn if that front is hilariously obnoxious, unapologetically arrogant and deliberately crude. I had the laugh of my life especially when he pitted himself against Georgiana until their love-hate, antagonistic relationship turned into something else entirely as the jibes grew less mean and increasing like foreplay.

Admittedly, it did get a bit much sometimes, but overall, I liked what Racer represented and how real he was as a character was underneath the insults, pranks and the fuck-all, mega man-child front. Quinn does writes his grief—and all the desperate financial struggles especially after losing the closest person he’d ever been to—in such a tangible way that I couldn’t help but wish for something better for him as he lurches from a project to another just to get by.

Racer and Georgiana do sort of make a believable pair, but it’s one that is solidified by constant arguing and banter—if that’s what could be considered the cornerstone of a relationship, because along with the taunts, so does the sexual tension mount along with them. Yet I was still caught by surprise when they fell into bed, because I didn’t think they liked each other enough for it. That part happened somewhat suddenly, though the conflict between their ‘social class’ was something I could sniff out a mile away. And as a little too neatly wrapped up as the end was, Quinn did have me rooting for them after all, because I was mostly invested in the both of them from the start.

three-stars

Elusive by L.A. Fiore

Elusive by L.A. FioreElusive by L.A. Fiore
Series: Shipwreck #1
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on July 21st 2017
Pages: 253
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two-stars

I didn’t set out to be a pirate.Life for me was about surviving the ugliness that people knew existed but didn’t talk about. I lived in hell. Then I saw her. I knew I couldn’t keep her, but for just a little while I had found heaven. Eight years later, I can’t get her out of my head. It is a mistake sailing to her island. It is a mistake reaching out to her. She doesn’t recognize me. Or maybe she does. Closure, it is all I’m after. Then my past comes back to haunt me. She’s thrust into my ruthless world. An angel. A romantic who has a journal that leads to a shipwreck and a lost treasure. She’s wants to find the ending to a love story that is over two hundred years in the making. I want to help her find it. I didn’t set out to be a pirate.I didn’t set out to fall in love with an angel. I did both anyway.

A modern-day pirate story is as rare as the treasures found deep on the sea floor these days. ‘Elusive’’s blurb doesn’t reveal that much, but it was enough to draw me into a book that I honestly thought I would have liked better. It’s my first L.A. Fiore book in any case, and I hadn’t a clue what to expect.

Much of the first half traces separate lives and timelines of the 2 protagonists and it was done well and believably enough for me to get into the brutal world that Noah/Kace had grown up in as opposed to the relatively sheltered life that Willow led. The journey after their meeting however, meandered through several other scenes which I assume continued to chart their separate development as individuals, right up to the point where they met again.

I wondered where the initial lack of focus on them as a couple was going to lead, and found it equally difficult to buy into their story when they finally met and came together for the second time. There was of course, the obvious parallel of an 18th century man’s love for his young wife that was drawn here, though I wasn’t as enthusiastic about Noach’s and Willow’s love story than I was with the action and the suspense that naturally come with treasure hunting and adventure diving.

That latter part, I enjoyed a lot more, and it was more the characterisation than the action, that I struggled with. Noah and Willow were, for the lack of a better word, hard to pin down, blowing hot and cold, rational and sometimes irrational as far as the crow flew.

Based only on an impulsive night 8 years ago—memories do fade and rose-tinting does come into play—Willow’s infatuation somehow grew into love as she had added naive romanticism as a layer on top of it. In the present, Willow acknowledged herself that she’d built up a ‘pirate ideal’ in her head, then superimposed it onto the hardened man she saw later—a man who frankly, treated her callously in ways he only knew how to.

In fact, Noah’s affection for Willow seemed to have extended only to lust, and that selfish tinge of him putting money and his ragtag crew first didn’t convince me that he actually loved her as much as she’d loved him. But Willow—for all her naïveté—did have to grow up somehow, the hard way and I’m glad that Fiore charted her transformation more carefully than Noah.

In all, it’s a story of characters who definitely live unapologetically on the wrong side of the law—don’t read this if you want your men upright and full of integrity—and where amoral decisions rule. Most of all though, I had a hard time suspending my disbelief throughout and that pretty much summed the whole experience up for me.

two-stars

Falling Fast by Kaylea Cross

Falling Fast by Kaylea CrossFalling Fast by Kaylea Cross
Series: DEA FAST #1
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on January 18th 2017
Pages: 170
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three-stars

She's putting herself in harm's way to make a difference. Having grown up in a household of elite, overprotective male Marines, Charlie Colebrook is savoring her hard won independence and avoiding a serious relationship that could tie her down. As a computer forensics expert for the DEA she might be a civilian rather than an agent, but she's far from helpless, and she's hungry to prove herself. So when her boss asks her to take on a dangerous undercover assignment that could expose the key money launderer for the biggest, and most lethal drug cartel in the Western hemisphere, Charlie seizes her chance. There's just one catch: the man assigned as her partner is the only man she wants...and he won't settle for less than everything she has to give. Now he's the only one who stands between her and a ruthless cartel. DEA Special Agent Jamie Rodriguez has tried like hell to ignore the explosive chemistry he has with Charlie. Not simply because she's his best friend's sister-but because with her, he wants all or nothing. As a member of the agency's elite FAST Bravo unit, he's got the skill and experience to keep her safe. Now that he's assigned to protect her on this op, he'll do it at all costs, even if she tempts him as no other woman ever has. But the final op tests them both to the breaking point, and when things go to hell, it will take everything they've got to survive the deadly trap set for them.

Kaylea Cross does manage a pretty good transition (read: hooks) from the Colebrook siblings trilogy by setting up the unresolved tension between Jamie Rodriguez and Charlie Colebrook. But I’m treading cautiously here, even though the start of the DEA Fast series has made me wonder about several aspects of the RS genre that Cross tends to overuse.

I do have some questions that are yet unanswered, or at least some questions that this books can’t quite answer yet. Thus far, this series hasn’t shown itself to be any different (apart from the focus on drugs and cartels as opposed to the terrorist/hostage angle) from the previous HRT series and her characters do, at the moment, look rather interchangeable, as are the high stakes situations and the burst of explosive danger that they tend to get themselves in before one party will realise his/her feelings. The writing style is classic Cross as well: with particular phrases that do find themselves repeated through her series of books, as is the similarity it bears to Katie Reus’s writing.

But I must admit that the premise for the pairing did seem rather ridiculous to me: hiring an untrained civilian for undercover, then going undercover with Jamie as a ‘neighbour’ seemed far-fetched, as is the role-reversal option of having the woman being the commitment-phobic one.

Maybe this series will grow on me…but who knows?

three-stars

The Goal by Elle Kennedy

The Goal by Elle KennedyThe Goal by Elle Kennedy
Series: Off-Campus, #4
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on September 26th 2016
Pages: 319
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two-stars

She’s good at achieving her goals…
College senior Sabrina James has her whole future planned out: graduate from college, kick butt in law school, and land a high-paying job at a cutthroat firm. Her path to escaping her shameful past certainly doesn’t include a gorgeous hockey player who believes in love at first sight. One night of sizzling heat and surprising tenderness is all she’s willing to give John Tucker, but sometimes, one night is all it takes for your entire life to change.
But the game just got a whole lot more complicated
Tucker believes being a team player is as important as being the star. On the ice, he’s fine staying out of the spotlight, but when it comes to becoming a daddy at the age of twenty-two, he refuses to be a bench warmer. It doesn’t hurt that the soon-to-be mother of his child is beautiful, whip-smart, and keeps him on his toes. The problem is, Sabrina’s heart is locked up tight, and the fiery brunette is too stubborn to accept his help. If he wants a life with the woman of his dreams, he’ll have to convince her that some goals can only be made with an assist.

Sabrina James and John Tucker is a pairing I didn’t think I’d come across, but then Elle Kennedy is adventurous that way and writes a believable relationship between a mismatched pair by the time their HEA rolls around.

Kennedy can always be counted on to give the down and dirty side of the college hookup culture, or rather, the subculture that’s more concerned with parties, casual relationships and the good life apart from studies. ‘The Goal’, like the rest of her series, revolves more around off-campus activities and the way jocks and the girls meander their way down to love after they start from lust and playing the field with a multitude of people. There is quite an overlap with book 2 and while I can’t exactly remember the details of it, it definitely works as a standalone.

While it did get a little shallow for my liking with my inability to really connect with the romantic leads at all, in truth, I was waiting for the holding pattern that these 2 college kids have gotten going, to fall apart. When it finally happened, I was gleeful to see Tucker’s and Sabrina’s ordered worlds collapsed with the introduction of a factor neither had thought about. Consequently, the last quarter of the book was the most interesting but also the most frustrating to read, as Sabrina alternated between self-recrimination and holding onto her pride about needing no one while Tucker reminisced fondly about staying with his old roommates with the constant stream of girls coming around. While I appreciated how the realism of their on-off, undefined relationship made for the long, slow journey to their happy end, it did drag a little too long for my liking.

Kennedy’s writing style is engaging albeit with very very crude college humour that hasn’t quite passed into wit yet and it’s probably a book for those who really appreciate all the tropes in New Adult sports romances: unapologetic, no holds barred types of hookups instead of relationships (thereby upping the body count as much as possible), with most of the characters going happily about bumping uglies with whomever they can whenever they feel like it, until something momentous happens to flip it all into blissful monogamy. Still, Kennedy nails the tone for this genre, filled with innuendoes that can be cringe-worthy and sometimes, amusing banter that goes nowhere, yet captures the mental state of this particular group of young adults who try to be grown up yet sometimes painfully fall short of it.

two-stars

Managed by Kristen Callihan

Managed by Kristen CallihanManaged by Kristen Callihan
Series: VIP #2
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on November 14th 2016
Pages: 348
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one-star

It started off as a battle of wits. Me: the ordinary girl with a big mouth against Him: the sexy bastard with a big...ego.
I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I was upgraded to first class on my flight to London.
That is until HE sat next to me. Gabriel Scott: handsome as sin, cold as ice. Nothing and no one gets to him. Ever. He’s a legend in his own right, the manager of the biggest rock band in the world, and an arrogant ass who looks down his nose at me.
I thought I’d give him hell for one, long flight. I didn’t expect to like him. I didn’t expect to want him. But the biggest surprise? He wants me too. Only in a way I didn’t see coming.
If I accept his proposal, I leave myself open to falling for the one man I can’t manage. But I’m tempted to say yes. Because the real man beneath those perfect suits and that cool façade just might be the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And I just might be the only one who can melt the ice around his heart.
Let the battle begin…

I got as far as the first chapter, only to think that I was probably better off not finishing the book.

It was impossible to get past that crazy, annoying woman – and I don’t mean this kindly – who engaged a stranger in inane, nonsensical talk, then climbed all over him in a first-class seat, unbuttoning his shirt while supposedly helping him counter his fear of flying. Not only could I not find this believable, but the term ‘harassment’ actually came to mind, when her apparent ‘cuteness’ wasn’t something I could even think of as endearing.

Some books just rub you the wrong way and in a direction that’s contrary to the great reviews they have garnered. ‘Managed’ is one of those. Clearly not a book for me at all.

one-star