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Risky Redemption by Marissa Garner

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th October 2017
Risky Redemption by Marissa GarnerRisky Redemption by Marissa Garner
Published by Forever Yours on November 7th 2017
Pages: 416
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one-star

Four years ago, Angela Reardon was brutally attacked, and she still bears the physical scars and traumatic memories. While she's worked hard to overcome her fears and build a successful business, she's still haunted by her inability to identify her assailant. Now Angela only wants to be left alone-until a shadowy stranger reignites her desire to be loved. But their time together may be brief...because someone wants her dead.

CIA assassin Jake Stone's targets deserved to die. Until now. Until he falls in love with the innocent woman he's been hired to kill. Jake can't fight his attraction to Angela, and he knows that someone else will be sent to finish the job. So can he save Angela and redeem himself by uncovering who wants her killed? When the trail leads him into the carnal underbelly of L.A., the truth is more shocking than even he could ever imagine.

From the blurb, ‘Risky Redemption’ sounds exactly like the type of read that’s up my alley: a woman with amnesia, mistaken for a mark for treasonous activity and is put as a target for a honey trap, until she really disappears when her innocence is proven. Angela Reardon’s secrets however, aren’t the type that should concern the CIA at all and in a case that’s not just about mistaken identity, the rot in the system appears too little too late, until she looks to be the kind of collateral damage swept under a rug unless a valiant, truth-seeking hero uncovers the dirt.

That was as much as I could put together for the first half of the book given the constant and numerous flashbacks interspersed with the present which made it difficult to get the timeline straight in my head. With a time gap that the storytelling struggled to bridge (the number of events that’d led us to this point only unfurl through flashbacks), the hints that were dished out merely left me with an increasing stockpile of questions that weren’t addressed as the pages turned.

With the narrative was constantly broken up between Jake/Angela’s first few meetings and the point where she apparently disappears, I had a hard time grasping the story’s coherence—it felt more like a jigsaw that frustratingly, couldn’t be put together at all—with the constant refrain of Jake’s self-recrimination, the lamenting of his lack of moral compass and generally, the weight of his regrets that seemed to pour off the pages instead of a hard, forward momentum that I’d expected of this genre. Unevenly paced, the middle-half of the book dealt solely with Jake’s investigations and Angela’s absence was starkly felt, except for her appearances in the flashbacks.

But throughout, I couldn’t get over the fact that Jake acted like a man-child who blew hot and cold with his emotions and was generally petty in a manner that I associated more with tantrum-throwing children than a grown adult. Too many lines about how easy he had it with women throwing themselves at him which he took every advantage of cemented my impression of him as a highly-reactive protagonist whose uncontrolled moods swings above all, just didn’t seem to fit the bill of the cold contract killer that Marissa Garner was trying to flesh out. Proudly proclaiming that he hadn’t had sex since he’d met her a mere 2-3 weeks ago, then trying to take on the mantle early on as her sex ‘helper’ to escape her past as a rape victim and get her to enjoy sex again—before getting frustrated because his own sexual needs weren’t satisfied when she hesitated—just upped the creep factor…and pretty much made me stop reading after this.

There were secrets to uncover and too many gaps to fill, without a doubt. But having found the protagonists generally unlikable and having struggled so much with the style of the storytelling, I can only say this just isn’t the book for me when I found I couldn’t pay attention long enough to discover what those secrets were.

one-star

A SEAL’s Strength by J.M. Stewart

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews 6th October 2017
A SEAL’s Strength by J.M. StewartA SEAL's Strength by J.M. Stewart
Series: Military Match #2
Published by Forever Yours on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 240
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two-stars

This second chance was worth the wait . . .

As a SEAL, Gabriel Donovan did the toughest jobs imaginable without blinking an eye. But three years after his wife's death, the idea of dating still makes him sick to his stomach. His daughter desperately needs a mother, though, and there's nothing Gabe won't do for his little girl.

Stephanie Mason doesn't run from anything. Not even coming face to face with the "one that got away" on a blind date. Steph's body vividly remembers every single thing about Gabe and while some things have changed, the way he makes her feel sure as hell hasn't.

Gabe and Steph know that love comes with risks, but if they're brave enough, this second chance might just bring them the love of a lifetime.

J.M. Stewart writes emotional journeys that dig deep and raw and ‘A SEAL’s strength’, like its predecessor, is more tangentially military than it really is a contemporary romance that explores second chances that come by way of tragedy and coincidences.

Stephanie Mason wasn’t so much as the one who got away as the one whom Gabriel Donovan had let go, only to hop onto someone else 2 months later which pretty much decided the rest of the decade for him. But a few years after his wife’s death, his unwilling hop back onto the dating train leads him straight back to Steph and a past that might be better left buried. Ironically, it was Gabe’s original ‘sin’ along with some other knocks along the way that had made Steph’s big heart the way it is today and their temporary affair—courtesy of a match-making site—brings back to light the deep hurts of yesterday.

Despite my wariness of the second-chance trope, I picked it up because I like Stewart’s writing and her characterisation though this book left me rather pessimistic by the end. Learning Steph’s and Gabe’s backstory made me restless as I’d assumed that Steph and Gabe hadn’t had that much of a prior association. But they’d been more than that: best friends and lovers—a relationship that he dropped too easily—to the point where it’d scarred and influenced Steph’s emotional state. Ultimately, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that Steph had indeed gotten the shorter end of the stick when she merely settled for the bits she could reach for with Gabe—without knowing what he could really offer—only because her friends convinced her about keeping up the affair with him. That Gabe rounded off the story’s conflict and HFN ending with no iron-clad promise but rather, with a softly-softly approach to the future left me feeling as though this relationship hadn’t moved past shaky ground at all.

Both protagonists’ maturity however, was admirable—Stewart prioritises honesty and communication in a way that thankfully eschews any game-playing between the both of them—and this was exactly what made it so difficult to rate this book. Above all, I struggled with the issue of forgiveness and the ideas of loyalty that Gabe espoused here, yet knowing a decade of life-changing experiences for the both of them had blurred the blacks and whites to muted shades of grey. I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied nonetheless, that for all the adulting both characters had done to get to where they were at the end, Steph hadn’t gotten the much more that she deserved.

two-stars

The Story of Us by Tara Sivec

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ New Adult/ Reviews 15th June 2017
The Story of Us by Tara SivecThe Story of Us by Tara Sivec
Published by Forever Yours on June 11th 2017
Pages: 336
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three-stars

How much can a man take before he breaks?

1,843 days. That's how long I survived in that hellhole. They tried to break me, but I resisted. And I owe it all to the memory of warm summer nights, the scent of peaches, and the one woman who loved me more than I ever deserved to be loved. Now, I'll do anything to get back to her.

Only Shelby Eubanks isn't the girl I left behind all those years ago. She's someone else, a stranger. My Shelby-my little green-eyed firecracker-would never give up her dreams, would never disappear into her mother's ambitions. But I won't give up on her. On us. I may be broken, and scarred, and not the man I used to be, but I will do whatever it takes to remind her of the story of us.

High (or melo)drama and a convoluted back story make this a soap-opera-worthy kind of read, complete with a flood of tears and tons of yelling, so much so that it’s easy to forget that adults are behaving that way—some of it’s even justified—or that teenage hormonal angst is doing all the talking instead.

‘The Story of Us’ is not just about a prisoner-of-war returning to find that things have changed drastically. It’s sort of a second-chance type romance, but with layers of deception and manipulation that made this read a mountain full of angst as both Eli and Shelby vacillated between heaving sobs and tearful promises never to let each other go again.

The long and short of it is, there are so many parts to their story and each part could have a whole book on its own. In fact, I think I would have liked to have read more of Eli/Shelby during their tumultuous stable boy and post-college years, rather than have it retold in bits and pieces or as flashbacks and letters which pretty much broke the narrative for me. I wanted to see the build-up, the breaking tension and the subsequent falling apart as a whole, but having it interwoven into the present made it more confusing as I spent the time instead, trying to put things together on my own instead of focusing on the emotion and the relationship between them. More so, the huge twist that was thrown in lost its full impact because of the disjointedness of the narrative. Mix this up with severe PTSD, a parent-plot type conspiracy and a series of coincidences and a villainous ex-fiancé (whose clout with the top brass could apparently affect deployments? really?) who seemingly disappeared down the line just when I thought it was going to come together, it all ended, way too abruptly before I could digest anything.

It’s an intense read nonetheless—my issues with it aside—though the sheer amount of tragedy and drama would be better suited to those who like the introspective type of storytelling, with loads of emotion that roll off the pages without letting up. And if you’re that kind who goes for these? Get your tissues ready.

three-stars

Risk of Exposure by Emmy Curtis

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 5th May 2016
Risk of Exposure by Emmy CurtisRisk of Exposure by Emmy Curtis
Series: Alpha Ops #6
Published by Forever Yours on May 3rd 2016
Pages: 224
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two-stars

He is a trained professional—but nothing can prepare him for the hottest mission of his life. Assigned to protect his boss’s daughter, British former SAS operative Malone Garrett breaks the first rule of covert surveillance—don’t make contact. And especially don’t take your mark out to dinner, then agree to a rooftop quickie. But now that Mal has Abby in his arms, he has no intention of ever letting her go.Abby Baston told herself it was a hit and quit, a one-nighter with a hot, handsome stranger whose hands were trained to take action. Working undercover for the CIA, she can’t risk anything more. But when an international crisis ignites, Abby must make a call: trust Mal with her secret—and her heart—and partner up, or lose everything in a split second . . .

While it all started out quite well and witty, I eventually found it hard to go on soon enough. Unfortunately, it was characterisation that tanked the story for me, made all the more disappointing because of the fantastic blurb, but mostly because it was difficult for me get a read on the lead characters who behaved so oddly and almost with artifice, like they were in some play on stage acting out for an audience with dramatic hand gestures and movements. Nothing much around them seemed real enough to like at least and while I understand the need for covers, illusions and protective shells, both Malone Garrett and Abby Baston made the incredible but unbelievable leap from that to ‘true love’ like trapeze champs.

The ‘sparks’ between Malone and Abby came in the form of sniping, temper tantrums, blackmail and sudden bouts of emotional outpourings, interspersed with hot sex and quite a bit of it at inappropriate times, which makes me wonder about their self-preservation instincts.

Great, if that’s your thing, but it clearly isn’t mine.

Usually it’s a special sort of banter that makes a growing relationship fun to pursue and great to read, but everything about Malone/Abby simply came off as bizarre and forced. Consequently, all I wanted to do by the time I hit midway was to give their flimsy, changeable-as-weather personalities and that volatile joke of a relationship a wide berth; they were arses in their own special ways most of the time and not likeable enough for me to cheer for their own HEA.

Or maybe it’s just my inability to appreciate that form of humour and that sex really is a clearing path to a happy ending.

two-stars

Pushing the Limit by Emmy Curtis

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 4th November 2014
Pushing the Limit by Emmy CurtisPushing the Limit by Emmy Curtis
Series: Alpha Ops #3
Published by Forever Yours on November 4th 2014
Pages: 272
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three-stars

After their one-night fling at a wedding, archaeologist Henrietta “Harry” Markowitz thought she’d never see war hero Matt Stanning again. So when they’re paired up to investigate a military plane crash in Iraq, she’s not sure if the three-month reunion is serendipitous or cursed. What she does know is this gorgeous man lights her body on fire—and incredible sex is always a welcome distraction.
Air Force Sergeant Matt Stanning has been called a hero, but he feels nothing like one when he realizes the sexy blonde in his bed is the widow of his fallen brother-in-arms. Even worse, he actually has to work with her, and she’s unearthed evidence that points to a military conspiracy. If they dig deeper, they’ll put their lives in danger. If they don’t, they’ll never know the truth—not only about the mysterious plane crash, but about each other.

‘Pushing the Limit’ is Henrietta’s and Matt’s story and the opening scene is one that’s fit to burn up the sheets. Three months after an erotic encounter at a wedding, they meet again under more serious circumstances, in Iraq where an archaeological dig brings up something that calls for Matt’s expertise.

In this case, characterisation was probably my biggest issue with the whole story and in some moments, overshadowed the action. Harry (what’s with the masculine name, even as a short form?) isn’t that likeable or sympathetic a character to me unfortunately, and her issues with locking up her heart after her husband’s death 7 years ago are understandable, but the constant inner turmoil about her unwillingness to trust Matt grated on me eventually. There were a few TSTL moments but thankfully, those were countered by some form of remorse later, which at least makes her somewhat redeemable. Matt on the other hand, seemed more solid and stable, though not as hulking and alpha as I imagined him to be. Both had some revelations that they needed to have; Harry more than Matt it seems, though I wished it didn’t take until the end of the book for those enlightening moments to come.

It’s not to say the book isn’t worth reading; it certainly is at least, given that Ms Curtis offers an unusual and engaging plot combining the military and archaeology with several twists and turn, some of which were truly surprising. I did have my suspicions about the bad guy and did guess correctly after all.

three-stars
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