Publisher: Forever Yours

Wanting You by Leslie A. Kelly

Wanting You by Leslie A. KellyWanting You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #2
Published by Forever Yours on 31st July 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

A cold case is suddenly too hot to handle

Police officer Rowan Winchester wants nothing to do with his family's A-list Hollywood legacy. Working with the LAPD is his way of atoning for the Winchesters' dark and secretive past. And, right now, the last thing Rowan needs is true-crime novelist Evie Fleming nosing around the most notorious deaths in Los Angeles - including the ones that haunt his own family. To make things worse, he's torn between wanting the wickedly smart writer out of his city... and just plain wanting her.

While researching her latest book, Evie suspects that a dangerous new killer is prowling the City of Angels. Now she just has to convince the devastatingly handsome cop that she's right. Soon Evie and Rowan are working together to try to find the killer, even as their attraction ignites. But when the killer hones in on Evie, she and Rowan realize they'll have to solve this case fast if they want to stay alive.

‘Wanting You’ reads more like a typical murder-mystery in the RS genre as compared to the previous book—since it involves law enforcement and a true crime writer—, which isn’t a bad thing. If Leslie A. Kelly’s first book in the series felt more like a glitzy portrayal of celebrity romance, Evie/Rowan’s story delves into the grittier side of violent crime in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, with a lot less of the stardust that one would expect of this kind of story.

The book functions well as a standalone, but there’s a heavy reliance on a tragic narrative arc and a convoluted, mysterious back story involving child actors, fame and what might be cover-ups. Kelly recounts it just fine, so catching up wouldn’t be an issue at all if that’s a concern. Disparate pieces of the mystery did throw me off though, when I found myself struggling to make the connections between Rowan’s family history, Evie’s current writing project (and the dangers that brings on its own), a deranged stalker and how these really linked up when they felt like smaller, unrelated threads that weren’t satisfactorily tied together. The latter half of the book settled into a police procedural as the newly minted team of Evie and Rowan go on a serial killer’s trail and felt more predictable in the way it throws shadow on everything, though I did spend a goodly bit of time wondering where this was all leading.

Speaking of couple-chemistry, Evie and Rowan do clash in their objectives and that’s typically what I dig when it comes to the romantic portion of it all: the sparks, the secrets that the latter guards and what the former wants to crack open, all of which seemingly putting each other on opposite sides despite their attraction. The quick way they fell into lust which then strayed into a holding pattern that mostly had Rowan blowing hot and cold proved a lull unfortunately, along with the roundabout police procedural that made me skim a bit.

That said, I liked Evie a lot—her determination, her compassion and forwardness—and this was a huge plus point in the general unevenness of the storytelling, which, don’t get me wrong, is something that still piques my interest. Kelly’s writing can be absorbing, and even if there were parts I was more engrossed in than others, I’m this far into the series not to want the last book in it.

 

three-stars

Free Fall by Emmy Curtis

Free Fall by Emmy CurtisFree Fall by Emmy Curtis
Series: Elite Ops #3
Published by Forever Yours on 10th July 2018
Pages: 240
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two-stars

A legend among black ops teams, Col. Duke Cameron can't wait to get back in action again-no matter how high the risk. Two of the world's best military pilots are missing after a midair collision, and he's made it his job to find out why.

U.S. Air Force veteran Casey Jacobs loves working for a cutting-edge, high-tech company - until she suspects their newest design might have caused a horrible plane crash. But after a few "accidents," it's clear no one wants her asking too many questions. The only person she trusts to help her is Duke, the sexy secret crush from her flying days who still turns her on like no one ever has.

But someone is watching their every move, making sure they don't uncover the truth. And when the danger turns physical, it's not just their love that's on the line. It's their lives.

‘Free Fall’ has a very tempting burb and I couldn’t wait to dive into it.

But my excitement turned to confusion as I flailed about in the opening few chapters, feeling as though I’d plunged straight into a conspiracy mystery without knowing the head or tail of its context (I’d actually flipped the pages wondering if I’d missed a chunk of the beginning of it).

I felt too scattered, too lost, in short, with the first and foremost question running through my mind being: is ‘Free Fall’ meant to be a standalone? Do I actually need to backtrack to read the rest of the books in the series before embarking on this? There were bits of a backstory that came through dialogue or inner monologues but it was difficult to piece even that together when my attention was already flagging, when I was trying hard to simply stay in the story with a level of confusion that showed no signs of abating.

So what really stood out for me were random actions scenes (written like movie action scenes which were quite thrilling), followed then by the lulls of the talk of the conspiracy involving Casey’s employer (which had me struggling to piece together) and then steamy times (which required no introduction)—in all, not quite sufficient to say that I could enjoy the overall flow of the story. I gave up, in the end, despite trying to power through.

two-stars

Hot Target by April Hunt

Hot Target by April HuntHot Target by April Hunt
Series: Alpha Security #4
Published by Forever Yours on April 10th 2018
Pages: 94
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three-stars

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS . . .

How did a nice girl like Rachel Kline end up in a jail cell in Vegas? Don't even ask. She came to Sin City to find her missing friend and accidentally got swept up in a police raid. Even worse, she's being bailed out by the last man she wants to see right now: the irresistibly sexy, infuriatingly cocky Alpha op who rescued her a year ago. What are the odds?

Logan Callahan is six-and-a-half feet of solid muscle and Texas charm, a hard-fighting ex-Marine with a soft spot for Rachel. He's more than obliged to hang up his cowboy hat and help her out. But when someone takes a shot at her, he knows there's a good chance what happens in Vegas won't stay there. With targets on their backs and killers on their tails, it's one high-risk game they're playing. And it's not just their hearts that are on the line . . .

Sometimes, not being able to remember the plots of previous books in a series can be a bloody bane. As a result, ‘Hot Target’—a novella to boot—felt like a zany read that had me tumbling into the craziness of Vegas with Rachel and Logan with a backstory that I struggled to remember despite the bits of retelling in this short story.

There was ample material to get on board with however, despite the brevity of the book (this came in at about 90-ish pages) and the plot, once in locked in place with the details hammered out, moved at a fast clip as Logan and Rachel finally stopped their year-and-a-half-long dance around each other. Logan/Rachel were an entertaining couple, though I particularly loved seeing Logan with the many faces he wore around people and the way that fell off when it came to Rachel.

Several unfamiliar characters that flitted in towards the end made me a little confused but I’ll probably remember this for the very, very charming Logan whom I wished had his own full novel-length novel just to get him in action.

three-stars

Watching You by Leslie A. Kelly

Watching You by Leslie A. KellyWatching You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #1
Published by Forever Yours on March 13th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

In the shadows, someone is always watchingAspiring screenwriter Jessica Jensen grew up on movies starring heartthrob Reece Winchester, the eldest brother of a Hollywood dynasty. She never thought she'd meet the man in person, though. Actor, director, millionaire, and gorgeous mystery man-he's every woman's fantasy.

Reece wants Jessica the moment he sees her, and he's a man who always gets what he wants. At first he was only after a night in her bed, but as he comes to know the smart, confident woman beneath the stunning exterior, he realizes once will never be enough.

Unfortunately, Jessica's real-life Cinderella story is about to take a deadly turn...

Reece's world is filled with fierce ambition and dark family secrets the Winchesters desperately want to hide. But he and his brothers aren't the only ones who know those secrets. Someone else is out there, waiting to strike. Waiting-and always watching.

When danger finally steps out of the shadows, Reece will have to face his past. And Jessica will have to decide just how far she can trust the man she loves with her heart...and her life.

‘Watching You’ reads like the establishing book of a series that it is: there’s a big back story kept under lock and key for ages, loose hanging threads that don’t necessarily come together, multiple POVs that aren’t confined to the male/female protagonists and possibly a cliffhanger which no one’s fond of.

And it’s tricky business, I understand, because the first book always needs to get the narrative arc just right without compromising the romance while leaving too many loose ends. A little of the Cinderella story is also written into this by nature of the plot (top director with an unknown, aspiring screenwriter), though Leslie A. Kelly’s version of Hollywood is one that’s filled with backstabbing nasties, sudden danger, numerous characters with their own less-than-noble agendas and the putrid stink of catty insincerity.

The start was admittedly a hard one for me, and made me question the ‘legitimacy’ of the pairing, so to speak. I found it difficult to understand Reece’s sudden, inexplicable obsession over a woman whom he’d first seen through security cameras, let alone his setting up a first meeting in such a calculated way that it simply came out as creepy.

Love at first sight seemed a rather mild way of putting what felt like a stalkerish situation, given the manipulatively controlling manner that Reece used to manoeuvre Jessica into his planned seduction. I was mollified however, as the author acknowledged this misstep of his and then later rectified it with several twists in the story that sort of helped tilt my worldview upright again. Kudos as well, to a heroine who pushed back and called Reeces out for behaviour that can’t and shouldn’t be excused.

I found myself absorbed nonetheless, as the story came slowly (maybe a little too slowly) together. There were many loose, hanging threads, multiple POVs that came in later in the book, which merely expanded the puzzle that I thought would have started coming together by the three-quarter-mark of the story. What I also thought of as interlinked incidents turned out to be somewhat entirely separate issues and not tied together in the greater mystery of Reece’s shady past that Kelly had been constantly hinting at, and that was somewhat disconcerting given the build-up. It did however, come out as a flood of revelations at the end worthy of a Hollywood climax, though it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock considering what has been dominating the celebrity-world headlines in the past few months.

As the first book in the series, ‘Watching You’ is more than a decent read. There were parts I couldn’t totally get on board with, but there is a goodly amount of suspense, intrigue and mystery to keep me past my bedtime, and Kelly has sunk the 3 Winchester brothers deep enough in my book psyche for me to be wanting the rest of their stories.

three-stars

A SEAL’s Honor by J.M. Stewart

A SEAL’s Honor by J.M. StewartA SEAL's Honor by J.M. Stewart
Series: Military Match #3
Published by Forever Yours on January 16th 2017
Pages: 240
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three-stars

Rules are made to be broken . . .
When it comes to dating, ex-Navy SEAL Marcus Denali has a few simple rules. Never date a coworker. Never date a friend's sister. And never ever date a girl whose brother is a coworker, a friend, and a fellow SEAL. So why would Marcus dance so closely---and flirt so shamelessly---with Mandy Lawson? Simple. It's a Fourth of July masquerade ball. He doesn't know she's his buddy's little sister. And once the masks come off, the real fireworks begin . . .

Mandy doesn't care about the rules. She's been crushing on Marcus for years, and she's not giving up now that she has proof he wants her too. She has a plan to show this military man some moves he never learned in basic training. And Marcus is going to learn that some rules-the rules of attraction---are just too strong to fight.

You’ve heard this story before: girl has thing for guy who typically doesn’t do commitment, both get into an agreed sex-only fling for a period of time, girl convinces herself to keep it only physical, but fails, but takes it anyway because he’s what she wanted for so long. It all leads to a climax—sometimes literally—where someone breaks it off, which also happens to be a kick in the arse or an epiphany for the other party who then wakes up and grovels for something he/she had always wanted but denied.

It’s a formula that has worked in romance multiple times despite how often this has been repeated in different contexts, with the details and names differing. ‘A SEAL’s Honor’ is yet another iteration of this, so there are no surprises here, only in how J.M. Stewart steers her characters and the circumstances that shape the coming together of this particular pairing. Stewart however, does throw in some surprises here—and with assured writing that keeps the pages turning—with a steel-spined heroine as the driving force behind the action and a male lead who isn’t afraid to talk.

Older brother’s best friend or not, it was more than impressive to see Mandy Lawson taking charge, insisting on keeping her end of the bargain and pushing for what she wanted the whole time as she pursued Marcus Denali relentlessly the way the heroes in romantic fiction normally do—age gap, differences in outlook be damned. And in the end, it was Mandy who bailed on the arrangement as well, after realising she couldn’t have more than what Marcus was (not) offering. Still, with both protagonists talking an honest game, both Mandy and Marcus were easy to sympathise with—and even like, no matter who took point in steering the development of the relationship.

I did struggle however, with the ‘flip of the switch’ type of ending and this isn’t a struggle that’s confined to this story alone. Can someone’s decades-long belief of not ever being good enough or good in a relationship really change at the snap of the fingers, or after a good talking to? Can years of resentment and accumulation of emotional dirt just fall away when epiphany strikes? Romance stories don’t necessarily always provide a convincing way of showing this when it happens; romantic moments (typically accompanied by waves of emotion) tend to overshadow this niggling bit tends to stay a loose end.

‘A SEAL’s Honor’ nonetheless, is definitely a decent read. It faltered here and there for me, but the maturity of the protagonists was the biggest draw of it all.

three-stars

Risky Redemption by Marissa Garner

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

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