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Absolved by Marnee Blake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 28th November 2017
Absolved by Marnee BlakeAbsolved by Marnee Blake
Series: Altered #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on December 11th 2017
Pages: 174
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Since a brain-altering drug killed most of Luke Kincaid’s town—including his father—and left him telekinetic, he’s determined to stop the fanatic who stole the drug to create his own super-powered army. That means working with scientist Dr. Beth Jenkins, whose graphic tees and beautiful smile are some of Luke’s biggest distractions.

A science prodigy, Beth works with the FBI and solves the toughest crimes, but she can’t figure out what caused her mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The drug that ravaged Luke’s town is volatile, and the mortality rate is still high, yet Beth is convinced it holds the key to saving her mother, even if sexy and tortured Luke doesn’t believe it should be adapted for commercial use.

When bodies start to pile up, though, the two loners must decide if the goals that tie them together are greater the fears that would tear them apart.

Plunging into ‘Absolved’ felt like being hurled into the deep end of the pond and swallowing mouthfuls of pond water while trying to stay afloat, despite having read the first 2 books of Marnee Blake’s Altered series. The break between books meant that it was difficult to catch up on (and remember) what had happened during an apocalypse-like situation where a drug kills half the population and infuses the other half with telekinetic/mind-reading superpowers.

What I could figure out early on was that there were baddies to fight—bad guys with the notion that the drug responsible for the fall of the human race can help create a new world order—with a ragtag band of people to fight them, as was the growing push-pull tension between a scientist prodigy and a tortured computer guy trying to atone for his misdeeds woven into the whole story.

A prologue perhaps, or some insertion of context would have made ‘Absolved’ a lot easier to get into especially for first time readers; placing the scene or working out the back story out was an exercise in frustration because it was difficult to get to a point where pieces had to fall into place before I could get lost in the narrative without needing to re-read the first 2 books. That said, though it took a while for me to get into it, to sort out the details of what really happened before I could actually sit back and enjoy the story, ‘Absolved’ by and large, took off as soon as I fought my way through the bits that needed time to fall into place.

Clearly then, this isn’t a standalone, and as a YA/NA-type book, the sexual situations never quite went all the way, so to speak (as with all the books in this series) because the romance took a back seat to the rush to make the ruined world right again. Beth and Luke, like all the other pairings in the rest of the series, become the ‘heroes’ when hit by the drug, in contrast to the few who become villains because of it, but it was a pairing I couldn’t exactly get into.

Apart from the conflict that kept both Luke and Beth on opposing sides of the argument for most of the story, I found myself preferring ‘old’ Beth more before she was hit by the drug somehow—the problematic definition of what it meant to be heroic came into play for me here, though it’s probably nitpicking on my part or my rooting for the underdog—and was vaguely disappointed that she could suddenly achieve what she did and get past Luke’s feelings only when she had super-enhanced senses, which felt almost like a cop-out for the solution to her problems. Would a ‘normal’ person then, not be able to do what she did and help save the world, by this implication? Along with the change, the ‘new’ Beth became someone I couldn’t recognise and was frustrated with when it often seemed to be on Luke to fight that uphill battle to get back into her graces when it was clear he had demons of his own to fight—when she could seem to do no wrong in contrast.

Unfortunately, while I really liked Blake’s 2 previous books, I think ‘Absolved’ fell somewhat flat at all for those reasons above. I just wished I’d liked this one a lot more, but there just wasn’t enough for me to cheer for, not least the characters who went from push-pull to a rushed HEA that was hard to swallow.

Solo by Lauren E. Rico

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th April 2017
Solo by Lauren E. RicoSolo by Lauren E. Rico
Published by Entangled Publishing on May 8th 2017
Pages: 364
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four-stars

When graduate student Katherine Brenner walked into my class, I couldn’t stand her -- all perfect skin and big, blue eyes -- just like the woman who broke my heart.
If it wasn’t for that blizzard, if her car hadn’t broken down outside my house, if she hadn’t looked amazing by the firelight, I never would have kissed her. No matter how hard I try, every excuse I make not to see her comes up flat.
I can’t stop thinking of her lips. Or the way her curves fit perfectly in my hands. There’s a million reasons why this won’t work. I’m her professor. It’s against university policy.
And if this gets out, I could lose everything.

There was so much I loved about this book, not least because the subject matter had me so captivated. Not only was it the forbidden relationship that had developed out of an initially antagonistic one that drew me in, but the fact that it was built around and based on a love for classical music that had me turning the pages and losing sleep, bringing me back to a time when it’d played a large role in my life. It felt like a reminder of (or maybe even a stunning tribute to) the power of music and it was easy to be swayed when Lauren E. Rico’s clear investment in her characters and love for the subject shone through so clearly.

Yet ‘Solo’ is also a story of two people trying to rise from the ashes after years of conflict and hostility—I wished the book cover and the suggestive and short blurb reflected this! After getting past my incredulity, the story took over and I gobbled it down hook, line and sinker, loving the complexity already written into this problematic set-up from the very start.

Drew Markham has it out for his graduate student (taking out his anger unconsciously on a woman who resembles his ex) while all Kate is trying to do is to lie low and distance herself from her ‘celebrity’ status as a Senator’s daughter. Serendipity brings a huge snowstorm to their small mountain town however, just as an assignment deadline looms large, and forces this switch that morphs into friendship, tentative attraction and eventually, full-blown affection.

I think the bottom line for me was that both Kate/Drew were sympathetic enough characters that it was easy to cheer for them as a couple. As an aspiring female conductor with enough gumption to get through grad school on her own, Kate gained my admiration early on, although it was harder to warm up to Drew’s volatile nature, especially when he wronged her too many times for my liking. Nonetheless, I liked how natural it felt as Drew and Kate took days to work out their differences—the injection of maturity and the communication really helped—but also how their HEA doesn’t come without consequences as well. The dose of realism that you could see coming miles away was painful to take in, though not unexpected and Rico doesn’t shy away from laying it out. But once Drew/Kate got going however, their rocky road together was far from easy and even as I’d hoped for a more conclusive epilogue, their happiness seemed hard-fought and consequently, deserved as they weathered the whole fall-out.

four-stars
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