Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-MillsI Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills
Series: The Hook Up #2
Published by CreateSpace, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on 29th October 2018
Pages: 209
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-stars

Sexy Athlete: I bet you…Penelope Graham: Burn in hell, quarterback.

The text is random but Penelope figures out exactly who “Sexy Athlete” is. And why she shouldn't take his wager.

Ryker Voss. Football star. Walks on water and God's gift to women.Just ask him.

His bet? He promises Penelope he’ll win her the heart of the guy she’s been crushing on. His plan—good old-fashioned jealousy. Once her crush sees her kissing Ryker, he'll realize what he's missing. Sounds legit, right? The only question is…why is Ryker being so nice to her?

Penelope Graham. Virgin. Lover of sparkly vampires and calculus. His mortal enemy.

Penelope knows she shouldn’t trust a jock, but what’s a girl to do when she needs a date to Homecoming? And Ryker’s keeping a secret, another bet, one that could destroy Penelope’s heart forever.

Will the quarterback score the good girl or will his secrets mean everyone loses this game of love?

‘I Bet You’ started off as a mixture of odd and affected, with the protagonists acting like they’ve been pretending at being something that they’re not at first. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the high-school-type narrative—admittedly one that I wasn’t expecting at all—complete with the sorority/frat house bitch-testosterone kind of vibe was off-putting at first.

Then again, this is can probably be attributed to my growing wariness and intolerance of the N/A genre, particularly when hormonal characters are still driven by their lustful instincts, which I didn’t expect ‘I Bet You’ to be.

Add the virgin-player trope to it and I was questioning my decision to read this halfway through, but I pushed on because some reviews had suggested that this wasn’t a story that entirely stuck straight to stereotypes and an all-too-predictable ending.

Unfortunately, this didn’t fare all too well for me. Penelope at first glance, came off as flighty and insecure while trying to be spunky. Her somewhat archaic ideas coming from her bodice-ripper mind—losing her mind every single time Ryker came near, blowing hot and cold—felt even more out of place for a N/A virgin heroine who somehow managed to ensnare the usual manwhore quarterback (apparently 4 months of no-sex is a great accomplishment to laud), whose interest in someone-not-his-type seemed inexplicable.

Essentially, much of the entire book had to do with confusing game-playing (and not just in the field), hedging, chasing and pushing. What also felt like bits of the historical-romance genre sensibilities had crept into the story and threw me off quite badly because of how incongruous these were considering the college setting. By the end of it, I still found it hard to buy into a pairing which I thought could have ended up colouring outside the lines of these well-worn tropes but ultimately didn’t.

two-stars

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the time by Kylie Scott

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the time by Kylie ScottIt Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time by Kylie Scott
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on 7th August 2018
Pages: 185
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
two-half-stars

Returning home for her father’s wedding was never going to be easy for Adele. If being sent away at eighteen hadn’t been bad enough, the mess she left behind when she made a pass at her dad’s business partner sure was.

Fifteen years older than her, Pete had been her crush for as long as she could remember. But she’d misread the situation—confusing friendliness for undying love. Awkward. Add her father to the misunderstanding, and Pete had been left with a broken nose and a business on the edge of ruin. The man had to be just as glad as everyone else when she left town.

Seven years on, things are different. Adele is no longer a kid, but a fully grown adult more than capable of getting through the wedding and being polite. But all it takes is seeing him again to bring back all those old feelings.

Sometimes first loves are the truest.

‘It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time’ is quite a mouthful, but it’s hard to put down with the wrenching pain of unrequited love being the driving factor here, given the somewhat forbidden trope of much older man and younger woman, who reunite after the latter pretty much blew up their friendship by making a pass at him 7 years ago. The stupid things teenage girls do when faced with their crushes are what I remember (cringingly fondly?) as well, nonetheless and this was the basis that kept the pages turning. That and that an age-gap like 15 years doesn’t bother me—so I was on it like white on rice.

But Adele’s and Pete’s history is inked in such a way that makes me question the age-gap issue: would a teenager really find a best friend in a 30-year-old man? (As a teen with a limited perspective, I simply remembered that anyone past 25-ish or so, to be naively considered middle-aged and didn’t have much to talk about with them apart from school and, well, nothing much else) How did Pete transition from seeing Adele as the ‘kid’ to a romantic partner and how on earth did Pete and Adele suddenly regress to being teenagers in their interactions when the former couldn’t seem to deal with something that happened years ago?

Adele comes across, as a result, as the more mature, thinking adult, and for some reason, so forgiving of Pete’s indiscretions and indecisiveness. Or at least, with the whole novella written in Adele’s POV, it is so much easier to see her own insecurities and flaws exposed while I felt too kept in the dark about what Pete is thinking. It’s also quite inconceivable that, as Adele mentioned herself, a man at 40 hadn’t seen the light enough to deal with his own abandonment and emotional issues to remain a closed-off player that he goes about it by blowing hot and cold numerous times…all of which suddenly gets shrugged off at the end.

I would have been probably more mollified however, without the ending twist that seemed to forced a happy ending for all involved—2 people hashing it out and dealing with what’s between them would have worked better, instead of the dependence on external circumstances to speed things along quite unbelievably. Honestly, it’s hard to rate this story like this, where I got through it effortlessly – Kylie Scott’s writing is pretty good that I could empathise mostly with Adele – yet detested the slide into the New Adult feel of it when I’d clearly expected the protagonists to behave their own ages.

two-half-stars

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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
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