Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC

Entropy by Jess Anastasi

Entropy by Jess AnastasiEntropy by Jess Anastasi
Series: Atrophy, #4
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC on 23rd July 2018
Pages: 271
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Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin's mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.

After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father's wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she's just landed in the middle of it.

Qaelan Foster’s latest outings with his cousin have been more misadventures than adventures and mostly of the dodgy variety. But then he gets entangled with the likes of Camille Blackstone, which brings a whole new meaning of trouble.

But first, context is king: ‘Entropy’ isn’t exactly a standalone and there’s quite a backstory as to how this book begins. Basic knowledge of Jess Anastasi’s world-building surrounding the Imojenna and its ragtag crew would provide a fuller appreciation of Qae/Camille’s relationship and why we keep getting teased with Rian’s own ‘will-they-won’t-they’ relationship with Ella). And that’s as much as I should say, without needing to go into any longwinded recounting (which a book review isn’t supposed to be anyway) of the whole story.

Sadly, I wasn’t too sold on Qae and Camille to begin with: their (sort-of?) one-night stand, without the buildup or chemistry didn’t do much for me so very early on in the story, though it was a clever twist on how things ended up—Anastasi leaves a little bit to anticipate—before the story really kicks in.

Unlike the trajectory that the Atrophy series has been taking, ‘Entropy’, with the story of Qae/Camille, is like a diversion, steered towards a different path of space adventures because it isn’t directly focused once more on Rian, his demons and his endless chasing after an enemy that he may never overpower. Whatever few scenes with Rian/Ella/others I lapped up; the rest with Qae/Camille, I read with a bit more lukewarmness and frustration. Because despite their flirty push-pull, foreplay-esque tussles which I probably would have liked more if there weren’t the weight of the narrative arc already written into the series, all I could keep thinking about was Rian and when he’d finally get his own story straightened out. It’s that heavy of a presence he has in ‘Atrophy’, which I find impossible to shrug off.

Even if Qae/Camille’s tale and their frolic with the space pirates didn’t exactly keep me engaged, I still like the organic whole of the ‘Atrophy’ series and that isn’t often that I can say this. Reading any book of Anastasi is like having a mish-mash of scenes from syfy-series that I’ve enjoyed over the years flash fondly through my mind. There’re parts of everything I love/hate, along with the understated dashes of humour which make me laugh not only because they always serve as shadows of what I miss in those—like new wine continually put in old wine skin.

But until Rian’s story comes, I suspect I’ll be in a well of frustration.

When Danger Bites by Heather Long

When Danger Bites by Heather LongWhen Danger Bites by Heather Long
Series: Bravo Team WOLF #1
Published by Entangled Publishing on May 8th 2017
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Buttoned-up Corporal Kaitlyn Amador is dangerous on every level. As a human, she poses a threat to Marine Captain Jax Raymond’s special Force Recon unit. Though the team has a reputation among the other recon units, only their commanding officer knows their secret. As a woman, the danger posed is entirely different. Jax can survive the temptation for only so long before his wolf takes over and pursues what it wants.
Military intelligence specialist Corporal Kaitlyn Amador is the first woman in the Marines to be assigned to a recon team. And everyone’s watching her. Her mission? Not only prove herself worthy of her place in the group, but uncover the mystery of why Bravo Team is so successful. A mission that gets more difficult every time she’s near Jax...

I went into this not quite knowing what to expect despite having some experience reading different authors’ takes on the way they take on shapeshifters. Heather Long’s story however, is a nuanced one, pitting a strong, kickass intelligence officer holding her own in a secret pack of marine wolf-shapeshifters. But because Bravo wolf team is classified—their existence is a result of secret government pacts with several wolf alphas—, Kat Amador’s secret mission will compromise them all and put everything into peril.

Long’s own brand of wolf-shapeshifter mythology is part-Nalini Singh and part-Paige Tyler, a good mixture that subscribes to the wolf pack canon at least, with a lot of attention paid to dominance and submission which is admittedly part of this sub-genre of the paranormal universe which I don’t exactly like but something that seems necessary. It’s very well-written though, with dialogue that very clearly puts across the conflicts on varying levels: military command vs. pack order, a sole human woman needing to find her own footing amongst testosterone laden shapeshifters who are also soldiers and how Jax tries to reconcile his personal desires with how he was meant to make Kat wash out.

Overall though, ‘When Danger bites’ is a good read but it’s also one that feels like an ‘establishing’ book, as Long sets up the context, the history and the Marine wolf team out for us, while juggling a pairing that spent most of their time training and trying to ignore the attraction that’s between them. While I liked Jax/Kat’s chemistry as well as the camaraderie between the other soldiers, I couldn’t exactly get into the pairing seeing as so much of the focus lay with Kat trying to keep up with the team while trying to rein in her own growing suspicions about their success.

When it all finally comes out, the conflict and resolution are somewhat blurred lines, with mentions of mating, an unknown, faceless alpha and ‘turning’ a human—all of which felt like teases that were never really elaborated upon, let alone seen materialised. Instead, the ending bit, which was really Kat’s triumph in yet another survival course, felt like a let-down and I couldn’t really tell what would happen with Jax and Kat past their agreement to go ‘steady’. These loose threads curtailed my enjoyment somewhat of what could have been a very solid read, seeing as I would have liked to have seen a greater development of Jax/Kat’s relationship. But it’s something to hope for in the next few books in the series as the other wolves finally settle into their skin.

three-stars

Hot for the Fireman by Gina L. Maxwell

Hot for the Fireman by Gina L. MaxwellHot for the Fireman by Gina L. Maxwell
Series: Boston Heat #1
Published by Entangled Publishing on March 27th 2017
Pages: 328
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two-stars

Ex-Army Ranger Erik Grady lives for the job. So when his chief at the Boston Fire Department offers him two choices—mandated therapy for supposed PTSD or a permanent desk job at the station, he reluctantly agrees to see a shrink. Only this doctor is unlike anything he expected. Female and curved in all the right places? Check. Hotter than a four-alarm fire? Check. The kind of woman that can heat his blood in and out of bed? Check, check. And oh, yeah, he just happens to have first hand experience...
Of all the men to walk into psychologist Olivia Jones' office, why did it have to be him? Her one-night stand isn't playing by the rules of just. One. Night. She’s had her heart broken in the past, and no way is she going there again. And now he's blackmailing her into three dates? Well, if that's what it takes to make him see a different therapist, fine. She can handle it. So what if the chemistry between them is combustible? She's a professional, damn it. She'll date Mr. I'm Too Sexy For My Bunker Pants. But it won’t end in the fun he expects.
It’s time to see how much heat this fireman can take...

It’s a one-night stand that should have had both parties going away satisfied. But coincidence (or the unlikeliest chance) has dictated that Erik and Olivia are going to meet again as therapist and patient as Erik works out his PTSD issues before getting cleared for active duty in the fire station. Early on, Gina L. Maxwell establishes that we’re looking at a firehouse of skirt-chasers and players—only the extent to which they tom-cat around varies—and it becomes clear that we’re going to see fireman after fireman take the fall when they meet their women.

I’m going to say right out that this was a difficult book to read and an even harder review to write, especially when I found myself struggling at every turn of the page as it began with a compendium of clichés. My own, deep scepticism about deep and lasting emotional connection developing after exploring physical attraction aside, it was the way both Erik and Olivia were portrayed that nearly had me running for the hills.

But perhaps, this disconnect exists only on my part, judging from the other reviews of this book.

The sex is hot, detailed and graphic. Erik’s the dirty-talking alpha, wild in bed and predictably, able to give Olivia the hottest night of her life as he uses his well-developed appendages with great expertise. They find each other beyond sexy and get it on too easily. But…what then? Maxwell’s investment in Erik’s and Olivia’s overwhelming physical attraction to each other had a 2-fold effect on me: it’s well-written—though filled with porn-like clichés in so many parts—but emphasised the sexual connection they had for most of it that I ironically had difficulty seeing past this to any compatibility that they might have had outside the bedroom.

Erik pursues Olivia based, apparently, on her hotness factor after he decides that their one-night stand can actually become much more. I couldn’t quite understand this, let alone get behind Erik’s idea that their a one-night stand was actually fate in action. Suddenly he wants a chance with the reluctant doctor when he never quite wanted with other women (the reason isn’t quite given except that she made him way hotter), then pursues her with single-minded determination until she gives in, then betrays that trust in the end when he uses sex to punish her for wanting to stick around. PTSD gets the better of some people, I understand, and it forms the major conflict towards the end of the story, but the inevitable blow-up and the resulting grovelling all come as predictable elements of a well-worn formula that I was simply left underwhelmed by the end of it.

There are other issues that I had with the story, not just with the characters, but with the patient/therapist rules that both Erik and Olivia skimmed over. On the one hand, I understand that it’s fiction, where most things can happen and will happen without too many consequences. But Erik’s cocky open talk about their hook-up with her boss/uncle made my jaw drop (not in a good way), not just because of the sheer professionalism, but that I really, really couldn’t see this happening at all in any alternate universe where people/characters could get away with it. On the other hand, Erik’s passive-aggressive brag about how he wants Olivia while insinuating about the number of hose hunnies waiting for him in bed felt patronisingly insulting somehow, even if it’s Maxwell’s way of showing how big a decision it seems for him to commit himself to one woman right now.

I wished I could have liked this more; whether I’d continue with the series is still a huge question mark, but I suspect I’m looking forward to seeing some kind of equality been the H/hr where the latter doesn’t crumble like dust in the wind at the drool-inducing sight of bulging biceps and rock-hard abs…and vice-versa. Whether the rest of Boston Heat continues in this vein, well, is still up in the air, innit?

two-stars

Emergency Attraction by Samanthe Beck

Emergency Attraction by Samanthe BeckEmergency Attraction by Samanthe Beck
Series: Love emergency #3
on April 17th 2017
Pages: 260
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four-stars

Ten years ago when Shane Maguire chose the Marines as his escape from some trouble of his own making, he only regretted one thing—leaving Sinclair Smith behind. Despite his best intentions, she ended up as the one that got away. Now he’s back, determined to reclaim everything he gave up, including Sinclair.
Sinclair is immune to Shane’s charms. She’s immune to stolen kisses behind the gym. And she’s definitely immune to that maneuver he did in the back seat of his car… Okay, maybe her hormones are susceptible, but she has absolutely no desire to risk anything on the bad boy who broke all his promises.
When a little emergency lands her at his mercy, he offers her a deal she can’t refuse. And this time, she’ll show Shane what it means to be left wanting…

A ten-year separation – due to circumstances that were truly out of their control – isn’t that difficult to get over the moment a dance during a wedding reminds both Sinclair and Shane of the spark that had never died between them.

For Sinclair, apart from her memories of him, Shane isn’t the bad boy in town who had no future to his name any longer; he’s now a respected emergency manager with so much experience in doing what he does. And as impressive as it is to see what he had made of his life, it’s how impulsively and wholly they loved each other back then that has her evaluating their relationship. Tragedy, however, has made her wary of every good thing that might come her way and Shane, from the onset, is determined to convinced her that fate will not outrun them this time.

There was a lot to savour about this book – the moment I got past my wariness about second-chances romance – not least of all, it’s really about Samanthe Beck’s fluid writing and her beautifully detailed descriptions of Sinclair’s and Shane’s personal battles to become the people they are today. Tangled up in their burgeoning relationship is also a zoning matter that threatens Sinclair’s home and tests her trust in Shane, but there isn’t mistaking the heat that can and still exist between them despite this difficulty. I also liked Shane’s fast and furious all-in stance (a far cry from too many male protagonists in books these days) and how he’d never let up in his efforts to win her back, though it truly wasn’t quite his fault when he left and never came back. In short, Beck not only makes the 10-year separation acceptable, but their coming back together a believable one. Once I breathed a sigh of relief at that, the story was all a-go for me.

The epilogue wraps up this series quite perfectly: men in a domesticated scene (and struggling with it), getting into trouble only just as the women return home to witness it. But Beck injects so many feels and so much poignant emotion into it that you can quite believe that these couples are truly living their HEA.

four-stars

Delicious Satisfaction by Sabrina Sol

Delicious Satisfaction by Sabrina SolDelicious Satisfaction by Sabrina Sol
Series: Delicious Desires #3
on February 27th 2017
Pages: 136
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two-stars

As LA’s hottest up-and-coming chef, Alexa Montoya is known for her ruby red lipstick, award-winning arroz con pollo and a penchant for falling for the wrong kind of men. And when a confrontation with a loser ex-boyfriend lands her in some legal trouble, she’s forced to call her long-time friend, Dante Perez, to bail her out. Only this time, Dante seems different, somehow. More gorgeous, more sexy, more…mouthwateringly irresistible. Suddenly she’s tempted to give the lawyer much more than a simple thank you…
Dante is tired of seeing Alexa with guys who only know how to steal her money and break her heart. He’s watched--and waited for--her long enough. Helping with her legal situation will finally give him a chance to win her over for good. His plan? He’ll seduce her into finally believing that there’s something deliciously right between them…
Despite their chemistry, Alexa can’t trust that Dante won’t leave. But Dante knows how to win a case. And he’ll do whatever it takes to convince Alexa that she’ll always leave him hungry for more…

The Entangled Brazen imprint cycles through tropes of second chances, friend-to-lovers frequently and I’m wondering if I’ve actually come across every iteration there is in this imprint. “Delicious Satisfaction”—despite the different plot—somehow feels like a very familiar read with characters who exhibit similar kinds of fears and weaknesses as they follow a breakneck route from a recollection of the past to the hotness of the present to a rush to bed with a brevity that that does compromise on depth and development. Alexa Montoya and Dante Perez fall squarely in this category and pretty much went on to do what I thought they would do without surprises.

Honestly, I didn’t think Alexa the smartest of female protagonists though—after talking over needing to be less impulsive with her friends, she decides of all times, to apply that very action to Dante, the man she wants yet is afraid to go for and keep because it’s somehow good practice for the behaviour modification she’s trying to achieve. And because she’s typically unable to leave emotions out of her actions, this thing with Dante goes south quickly and predictably as most no-strings arrangements do in romantic fiction at least. Her insistence on needing to keep things casual was brought up so many times that it became a source of annoyance for me and she predictably runs, scared that she’s unable to do the very thing that has been her downfall. But then it’s up to Dante to convince her that they’re good together, which made me think of her as one of the wimpiest heroines that I thought couldn’t put herself out there properly.

Sabrina Sol is a relatively new author to me and it was more of curiosity that had be sniffing out new titles on Netgalley for my next hit. ‘Delicious Satisfaction’ isn’t a bad read really. Yet I just didn’t find myself sufficiently moved or getting hot and bothered by the story as well as the pairing. But maybe as a cynical reader (but devoted fan of Entangled), I think I’ve inadvertently started to expect more and more.

two-stars

The Bad Boy Next Door by Jody Holford

The Bad Boy Next Door by Jody HolfordThe Bad Boy Next Door by Jody Holford
Published by Entangled Publishing on March 20th 2017
Pages: 183
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one-star

Shay Matthews moved to Boston for a fresh start...new apartment, new job, new routine. After too many years being coddled by her overbearing older brothers, Shay’s ready for some freedom and maybe a nice, easygoing guy. She wasn’t expecting to literally run into the scowling, brooding, (and unfairly smoking hot) guy next door.
Fresh off a haunting undercover assignment, detective Wyatt Daniels is jaded about life, relationships, and especially happily-ever-after. But there’s something about the independent and beautiful Shay that makes him want to dig deeper. Or stay away, which is definitely the smarter option of the two.
But the more Shay tries to convince herself that her sweet building manager, Brady, is the guy for her, the more Mr. Completely Wrong-for-Her Wyatt invades her mind and her heart.

“The Bad Boy Next Door” feels like a complete misnomer for a rather light-hearted story between a detective and a coddled young woman attempting to find her feet in a new city. But I pushed on, wondering if this was going to be part-suspense, part rom-com and for me, it was really neither as it wasn’t a story that resonated with me at all. Much like a drama centred on a building and its occupants, Shay and Wyatt get pushed together mostly because of proximity and a series of events that neither could have foreseen.

As far as pairings go, it was hard to see Shay and Wyatt as a convincing (and likely) couple because they did seem like a forced pairing. As they were so far apart in terms of experience and personality, I found myself constantly looking for the spark or the strong tie between them but there seemed to be nothing apart from the inexplicable inability to forget each other after an accidental meeting in the basement. But while attraction does and can work in mysterious ways, most of their relationship also felt bland as they tried to find their footing with each other because of the vast differences in their outlook on life. In fact, Wyatt seemed drawn to Shay because she represented the innocent part of life that his months of undercover work took from him; Shay’s reasons for wanting him seemed more nebulous to me apart from him being the grumpy but nice guy next door. Shay did seem too naive however, and too coddled and sensitive for the secretive nature of Wyatt’s work—her own hysterics and tendency to jump to conclusions caused the usual rift at the end…and yet it was Wyatt who found he needed to apologise for being the unfeeling tool.

It’s hard to recommend a book when nothing worked in the story for me, but unfortunately, this was one of those that I needed to pass on.

one-star

Only For You by Naima Simone

Only For You by Naima SimoneOnly For You by Naima Simone
Series: Lick #3
on December 12th 2016
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three-stars

It’s been five years since I’ve seen her.
Five years since Gabriella James damn near destroyed me with her betrayal, sending me to hell in a cage.
I’ve crawled free, escaped the mob, opened a night club, and continue to battle my demons through underground fighting and sex. But now Gabriella’s back, begging for absolution, wanting my forgiveness. All I want is what she’s denied me for all these years — her body.
Sex. That’s all we’ll ever have.
Because Gabriella is still keeping secrets. I see it in her eyes.
I don’t trust her, and I’ll never forgive her betrayal.
But that won’t stop me from taking her.
Over...and over...and over...

Killian Vincent seeks punishment and absolution: it’s found in the fights and the pain he doles out and takes, and later, in a heavy, BDSM encounter with Gabriella James, the woman who betrayed him five years ago and left him to the dogs. As a wronged party who needs closure, he finds it in dominating and punishing sex when she turns up one night long after he thinks he has escaped his tortured past.

Naima Simone can write a deliciously dark romance—now that I know exactly what to expect from the Lick series—but it ends too quickly as it begins, closing on the implication that betrayal can after all, be forgiven and forgotten by a night of domination, spanking and submission. It’s not for the faint-hearted who want only hearts, flowers and angst, because ‘Only For You’, as with all the Lick series books, delves into anything but vanilla sex and sits on the knife-edge of humiliation and torture. By the end of it however, I remained sceptical, expecting Gabriella to make some grand gesture which never materialised and wondered why Killian was the one who had to make amends in the end when the onus was on her to make that first step.

But with this particular imprint, perhaps the sexual encounter is the point rather than the focus on forgiveness and moving ahead. As much as I do like Simone’s writing, I would have loved a more drawn-out book where both Gabby and Killian could have taken their issues out of the bedroom—only so that the HEA and the epilogue would feel richer and somehow, more worth it.

three-stars