Publisher: Montlake Romance

Hot Asset by Lauren Layne

Hot Asset by Lauren LayneHot Asset by Lauren Layne
Published by Montlake Romance on May 22nd 2018
Pages: 270
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Ian Bradley is the definition of a Wall Street hotshot: seven-figure salary, designer suits, and a corner office. His drive off the floor is just as potent. Every woman who knows him has felt the rush. But now he’s met his match in Lara McKenzie—a woman with the power to bring Ian to his knees.

An ambitious, whip-smart daughter of FBI agents, Lara is a rising star in fighting white-collar crime. Her latest case—the investigation of Ian Bradley for insider trading—could make her career. She knows a scoundrel when she sees one. Ian fits the bill: a cocky, ridiculously handsome bad boy with a slick swagger.

She’ll do anything to prove he’s guilty. He’ll do anything to prove he’s not. But it’s only a matter of time before their fierce battle of wits gets oh so hot and personal. Now, taking down Ian has become more than business for Lara. It’s become a pleasure—and there’s more at risk than she ever dreamed.

Schmooze, you lose. ‘Hot Asset’ has all of the trademark Lauren Layne hallmarks in it: the sharp banter (though there’s an edge here as it starts out hostile), the reformed manwhore by the end of the story and a brewing conflict that one can see coming miles away. Layne’s character voices are distinct, along with a solid introduction to secondary characters who will get their own books, as Ian/Lara’s own tale moves along at a brisk but steady pace, making ‘Hot Asset’ an easy afternoon read.
Written in the alternating first person POV, ‘Hot Asset’ starts off ominously nonetheless—not in the horror story sort—but with a cocky and smarmy male voice who lauds his work achievements (as well as the women he always manages to snag and never for a second-time around because he casually attributes it to ‘faulty wiring’). Whatever Lauren Layne means to achieve with these few starting paragraphs, I wasn’t sure if Ian Bradley tanking to the depths in my esteem is it because he starts off as a protagonist I love to hate.
And ‘Hot Asset’ fails in this particular bit for me, because Ian is the furthest from what I can actually imagine as a romantic hero worthy of a HEA with a woman who frankly, deserves a lot better. Maybe Layne has characterised Brady all too well such that he fits the manwhore financial guru to a ’T’, to the extent where everything he says and does not only becomes predictable, but also eye-rollingly repulsive.
Lara’s steely-eyed determination and perception in contrast, unfazed as she is when faced with these men who think the world of their own invincibility, is no small pleasure I take as she and Ian clash. Still, it’s hard to recover from the respect Ian’s lost in my eyes as he talks about women as commodities or as a sum of her body parts. ‘Leftovers’ for instance, is a word I detest, because it shows the dismissive regards he has for his hookups. That he eyes every woman in terms of her looks (hot or not) and the potential of a hookup made him distasteful, or that he also uses Lara’s attraction to him as a weapon or rather, as an attack on her lack of personal life, undercuts every preconception of what a romantic hero should be when I first started ‘Hot Asset’.
I hated that Ian doesn’t stay the professional path in getting his name cleared, but uses his womanising/flirting skills to get her to prove his innocence and is hurt when it doesn’t really work. Re-thinking his meaningless work-hard, play-hard life because he’s terrified that jail will take it all away from him…surely there’s more depths to plumb in the shallows of Ian Bradley? I never quite got the idea that Lara stands out for Ian other than being someone who is off-limits to him, and that’s the only difference it makes among the sea of good-looking women he’s slept with.
I think the risk of writing such egomaniac womanisers—Layne’s constant emphasis on this truly doesn’t help the case—who finally fall for one woman, is that believability thereafter becomes the issue, where the uphill task thus falls on the author to get a reader to believe that a man like Ian can finally commit and hasn’t till now only because he hasn’t wanted to try enough. Trying to get a reader to see that there are other qualities to this man despite this glaring fault somehow didn’t work with me at all, not when I couldn’t overlook the lascivious ways he eyes women as challenges to overcome and yes, Lara as well, who has become part of his tried-and-true tricks.
I’m painfully aware this puts me in the minority, but Layne’s portrayal of sleazy Ian has been nothing but an immense disappointment. I usually expect more of male protagonists in romantic fiction, at least for integrity and respect they can show women and I struggled hard to find this in Ian, especially in the end when it was one of his (adulterous) flings that caused him to land in hot soup. The only consolation I took was in Lara’s own strength and determination (though she obviously caves to his charm) in seeing the case through, though that didn’t seem enough to redeem this couple that Layne tries hard to build.
The rant is probably enough to say that ‘Hot Asset’ isn’t a read that sat well with me, which is an understatement as it comes. It has sort of diminished my enthusiasm for the rest of the books in the series, to be honest, because I’d always thought Layne could do much, much better than this.

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda Leigh

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda LeighBones Don't Lie by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #3
Published by Montlake Romance on March 13th 2018
Pages: 348
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Private investigator Lance Kruger was just a boy when his father vanished twenty-three years ago. Since then he’s lived under the weight of that disappearance—until his father’s car is finally dredged up from the bottom of Grey Lake. It should be a time for closure, except for the skeleton found in the trunk. A missing person case gone cold has become one of murder, and Lance and attorney Morgan Dane must face the deadly past that’s risen to the surface.

For Lance, the investigation yields troubling questions about a man he thought he knew. But memories can play dirty tricks. For Morgan, uncovering each new lie comes with a disquieting fear that someone is out there watching, because someone is killing every witness tied to this decades-old crime. Morgan and Lance follow in the shadows of a relentless killer and walk right into the cross fire.

Melinda Leigh’s ‘Morgan Dane’ books are always gripping and suspenseful, locking you down with a twisty case and protagonists who work together so well that you can’t help but love them. I’ve enjoyed every one of those as much as I loved Morgan and Lance, and Leigh certainly doesn’t disappoint with ‘Bones Don’t Lie’, with a case that strikes too close to home for Lance.

Every time I think Leigh can’t do any better, she manages to surprise me once again, starting with pushing Morgan/Lance (somewhat) quietly to the top of my best fictional couples list. Individually, Lance and Morgan are fascinating, complex characters; together, their connection to each other simply feels like a solid entity that is the only constant in this maelstrom. In fact, the tense, unfolding murder mystery is contrasted with the respect and love Morgan/Lance had for each other, even as their slowly maturing relationship is tested with a significant discovery linked to Lance’s unresolved past.

The romance is slight, given that Lance and Morgan are already involved, so the focus in ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ is solely on the murder mystery which is, in itself, remarkable and creepy in its own right as it makes you question all you know about law enforcement  and the contradictions so inherent in human personalities.

Still, I inhaled every line that detailed Morgan/Lance’s interactions—Leigh infuses so much depth and subtlety in crafting these characters—that it’s merely a foregone conclusion that this pairing would only come out stronger and better for it. I love Morgan’s unwavering sense of justice, her own protectiveness towards her children as much as I love Lance’s ability to listen and pull back while not compromising his own integrity and honour. Reading about the other characters in the Scarlet Falls series made me only giddier, though that merely reinforces just how much I need more of Morgan and Lance.


Protected by Elisabeth Naughton

Protected by Elisabeth NaughtonProtected by Elisabeth Naughton
Series: Deadly Secrets #3
Published by Montlake Romance on March 20th 2018
Pages: 304
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Up-and-coming designer Kelsey McClane is on the cusp of success. Recently divorced, she should be enjoying her newfound freedom and glamorous future. Instead, she’s living in fear of the past. When she returns home to Portland on a press tour, danger creeps closer than ever. As threatening messages from her bitter ex-husband leave her vulnerable, a new man in her life makes her feel protected.

Former Army Ranger turned security professional Hunter O’Donnell is hired to guard Kelsey. When a shattering explosion rocks her world, Kelsey’s ex is the prime suspect, but Hunter speculates there’s more to the situation than Kelsey’s letting on. Intent on keeping her safe, he delves into Kelsey’s past. As the two work together to unmask her stalker’s identity, a fire ignites between them that they both struggle to contain.

While the investigation proceeds, it draws them closer not only to each other but also to a lethal plot that’s been in the works behind their backs. And with each new secret unveiled, it’s not just temptation putting them at risk—it’s a madman who will not stop until Kelsey is dead.

What I like so much about Romantic Suspense sub-genre is the blend of heart-pounding action and steamy romance (sometimes with a little mystery written into it) and when written well, provides a bum-clenching, fuck-the-world kind of escape that almost nothing comes close to. ‘Protected’ is one of those reads, reeling me in from the start with unresolved tension that’s almost immediately followed by an explosion that throws the life Kelsey McClane has been rebuilding back into chaos.

There’s a huge backstory to go into once the dust settles but I’ve found it an engaging read that was hard to put down, with several turns that were surprising but needed a little more suspension of disbelief. ‘Protected’ is nonetheless a good standalone, with minimal links to the rest of the series.

Elisabeth Naughton did write Kelsey and Hunter mostly as sympathetic characters: I understood Kelsey’s insecurities, empathised with the emotional abuse and the past she had and her reasons for drawing back from Hunter when she distrusted her own judgement. Warming up to Hunter took a little more time for me—the apparent two-timing act early on didn’t quite endear me to him—but seeing him stepping into his role as protector later on, strapping in despite his own reservations did make him and Kelsey a pairing that I thought I could get behind. There were waffling moments between them however, flawed as they were, and the HFN ending when the wounds have barely healed might seem somewhat unsatisfactory.

That said, ‘Protected’ was a thoroughly absorbing afternoon diversion, and didn’t get any better than the straight-up romantic suspense read.


Show Me by Abigail Strom

Show Me by Abigail StromShow Me by Abigail Strom
Series: Me
Published by Montlake Romance on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 256
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“Houston, we have a major attraction.”

After years of dealing with a heart condition and an overprotective mother, Airin Delaney is finally having her first taste of freedom in Waikiki—and it’s intoxicating. But it’s nothing compared to the out-of-this-world attraction between her and astronaut Hunter Bryce. Airin is determined to shoot for the stars and experience her first real kiss.

All Hunter has ever wanted is to explore the universe. That is, until a certain black-haired, wide-eyed beauty shakes him to the core. Hunter knows almost nothing about Airin, not even her last name. All he knows is that she’s the kind of girl he could fall over-the-moon in love with. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse. While Airin is celebrating her first night of freedom, Hunter is celebrating his last—before embarking on an eight-month mission.

It was only supposed to be one night. But sometimes that’s all fate needs to change two lives forever.

Unlike its predecessor, ‘Show Me’ is written in a very different vein—much more than just an astronaut looking to fulfil his lifelong dream beyond Earth’s atmosphere and a woman so sheltered that the whole world seems new. If ‘Tell Me’ is an opposites-attract story, ‘Show Me’ continues this trend in a different way. Unlike Caleb and Jane who are inherently different in their personalities and what they wanted out of life, Hunter and Airin are opposites in in their experiences though there’s the ironic twist of the latter having much to teach the former as well.

There was something whimsical and lofty about ‘Show Me’—I essentially thought this read like a dreamer’s book with lots of hopes that pour through the pages—where talk extended beyond present reality to interstellar travel and the inevitable rush of philosophising that comes with it. The undertones were great: the ideals of humanity vs. the pragmatism needed about reality as we know it, the long-debatable merits of space exploration, the politics that comes with it.

I wasn’t entirely thrilled though, with the extremes in Airin’s and Hunter’s experiences; too often it comes across in many books as the manwhore and the virgin trope and the inevitable comparisons of how special a heroine is in contrast to his countless other flings. And I was even less enthused about a meddling mother whose protective desperation turned so manipulative that it caused most of the rift and the push-pull dynamics in the story.

It’s not easy to rate this story nonetheless. Strom’s writing was enjoyable and there were parts that I could relate to, just as there were bits that I couldn’t, like Airin’s wide-eyed honest cataloguing of every new thing. Hunter’s and Airin’s HFN ending was given that same dreamy tinge, though the look into the future remained just that—a veiled hope that still left me wondering if this was a pairing that could weather the storms.


Burn For You by J.T. Geissinger

Burn For You by J.T. GeissingerBurn for You by J.T. Geissinger
Series: Slow Burn #1
Published by Montlake Romance on October 17th 2017
Pages: 348
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The marriage is fake. But for a sassy chef and an arrogant billionaire, the sparks are real…

Jackson “The Beast” Boudreaux is rich, gorgeous, and unbelievably rude to the staff at Chef Bianca Hardwick’s New Orleans restaurant. Bianca would sooner douse herself in hot sauce than cook for Jackson again, but when he asks her to cater his fund-raiser, Bianca can’t refuse, knowing the cash will help pay her mother’s medical bills. Then Jackson makes another outrageous request: Marry me. The unconventional offer includes an enormous sum—money Bianca desperately needs, even if it does come with a contract—and a stunning ring.

The heir to a family bourbon dynasty, Jackson knows the rumors swirling around him. The truth is even darker. Still, he needs a wife to secure his inheritance, and free-spirited, sassy Bianca would play the part beautifully. Soon, though, their simple business deal evolves into an emotional intimacy he’s built walls to avoid.

As the passion heats up between them, Bianca and Jackson struggle to define which feelings are real and which are for show. Is falling for your fake fiancé the best happy ending…or a recipe for disaster?

J.T. Geissinger is an author whose name and books have crossed my feed a fair bit, though I’ve never gotten around to reading any of her works, so ‘Burn for You’ is a fresh start for me. And what an introduction it was.

There can never be enough fairy tale retellings for me—the raunchier the better, the funnier the more cherished and the dirtier, the more I fall to my knees in worship. Geissinger’s ‘Burn For You’ fits all of these categories quite comfortably, so needless to say, I had a good time going through this incredibly spirited Southern version of beauty and the beast.

The enemies-to-lovers trope is one of my favourites, so when ‘Burn For You’ started out with the unbridled antagonism, I simply sat back, waited for the claws to get unsheathed and the knives to start flying. The first chapter didn’t disappoint in its explosive introduction to the battling protagonists, as the very distinctive voice of Bianca Hardwick—filled with that kind of wry, sarcastic humour I love—made Jackson Boudreaux out to be the untamable, hairy devil-beast with the appearance and temper to match. Their locking horns was enjoyable as hell, though I wasn’t disappointed when we moved past that and into the harder bits that slayed me the moment Jackson’s tortured past was revealed.

Written with some ‘historical’ romance kind of flair, a mad amount of slang, and buoyed by a tinge of melodrama, ‘Burn For You’ did go a little weirdly hysterical towards the end, with some over-the-top clichés that had me cringing a bit. Still, I went happily along for the ride—that much invested I was in the story by then—and decided immediately by the end that Geissinger would be on the ‘authors-I sniff’ list.


Tangled in Time by Barbara Longley

Tangled in Time by Barbara LongleyTangled in Time by Barbara Longley
Published by Montlake Romance on October 24th 2017
Pages: 272
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To set him free from an ancient curse, she must travel to a time of myth and legend…

Regan MacCarthy’s ability to see ghosts is a gift inherited from her Irish ancestors, but it’s one she’d dearly like to give back. In an attempt to return her powers to their source, she travels to Ireland to harness the ancient magic that still permeates the mystical site of Newgrange. Instead, something far more unexpected awaits her: a strapping, gorgeous stranger who insists he’s a centuries-old Celtic warrior.

Fáelán was one of Fionn MacCumhaill’s elite soldiers before being cursed by a resentful fae princess. The only way to free himself is to fall so deeply in love that he’d sacrifice his life. Not an easy matter when he’s invisible to most. Yet Regan sees him—not just the proud, handsome warrior on the surface, but the complex man beneath. Only when it’s too late does Fáelán realize that drawing this beautiful mortal into his world has endangered them both, and may destroy the happiness he’s waited an eternity to claim…

‘Tangled in Time’s premise has a certain fairy-tale like veneer to it: a man stuck in some indeterminate, liminal realm, cursed by a fae princess, to be set free only when he finally falls in love and gets a woman to return that sentiment.

The only problem is, Regan MacCarthy refuses to believe that Faelan of the Fiann is anything but a ghost and the latter’s effort trying to convince her takes up a significant part of the first part. The first part of the story goes as expected: Faelan is already half in love with Regan for engaging him and seems to be determined that he will be falling in love with her. Gotta love that ardent, earnest spirit, hey? Except that this happens only for the first half of the story, until Faelan’s curse isn’t released at all, because well, a vengeful fae refuses to let him go.

I spent a fair bit of the first part simply trying to figure out the mythology of the fae and the realms and Longley’s interpretation of Faelan’s cursed existence, which left me more puzzled by how it all worked. But being stuck in the void is just weird business: Faelan, as a 1800-year-old cursed guy, can ‘teleport’ himself past his island, though he isn’t susceptible to the elements, can shave with a disposable plastic razor (does he really shuttle material things back and forth the realms?!), speaks like a Scot, can’t smell, and even manages to alternate between ancient and modern clothes—it’s a mental tally that I’d gotten going subconsciously as it sort of became clear how he managed that.

Yet I was going along with the ride though, until some twists and turns came towards the middle of the book and these revelations made the story difficult to continue after that. There is sort of another woman involved, though not in the traditional sense and the consequences of Faelan’s ancient indiscretions as we learn later, is actually the basis for why he’s stuck that way. Despite the interesting paranormal slant to the story, the heavy involvement of OWs is a personal turn-off and then throwing some foetuses into the mix just makes it worse.

I’m just sorry to say I can’t give a better review and rating to this story whose blurb intrigued me so much. It was fun to see the mythical Ireland reconstructed through Barbara Longley’s pen, complete with mists, rolling hills and magic dust and I really thought I’d enjoy this a lot more than I would but after a while, ’Tangled in Time’ almost felt like a morality tale of not messing with more powerful spirits or things living in the unseen realms of existence…or else.


Her Last Goodbye by Melinda Leigh

Her Last Goodbye by Melinda LeighHer Last Goodbye by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #2
Published by Montlake Romance on September 26th 2017
Pages: 334
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Young mother Chelsea Clark leaves the house for a girls’ night out…and vanishes. Her family knows she would never voluntarily leave her two small children. Her desperate husband—also the prime suspect—hires Morgan to find his wife and prove his innocence.

As a single mother, Morgan sympathizes with Chelsea’s family and is determined to find her. She teams up with private investigator Lance Kruger. But the deeper they dig, the deadlier their investigation gets. When Morgan is stalked by a violent predator, everything—and everyone—she holds dear is in grave danger.

Now, Morgan must track down a deranged criminal to protect her own family…but she won’t need to leave home to find him. She’s his next target.

Sometimes it seems as though I’ve been waiting for Melinda Leigh’s sequel to ‘Say You’re Sorry’ for too long. But Lance Kruger and Morgan Dane have not strayed too far from my thoughts so it’s relatively easy to slip back into their world where they are more than friends but not quite lovers, working together against crime just as they iron out the kinks in their own relationship. Leigh left them in a very hopeful position when the first book ended, and I was thrilled to read more simply because she handles pacing, dialogue and adult character-interactions brilliantly.

A new case that Lance and Morgan deal with—the disappearance of a parent of an infant—takes precedence over the romance, as it did with the first book. On its own, the case didn’t seem like a standout at first, but Leigh’s writing is compelling enough to make me stick with it, if only for the way her characters carry out an adult relationship that I find so sorely lacking in books these days. Lance and Morgan, whose romance is barely there at all, have such chemistry it’s hard to look away as they work as a team already in sync. Sometimes it seems as though they’re superhuman, doing all the things they do with little sleep and a ton of other things to juggle.

The mystery of the missing women—when truth finally came out—was a bit more contrived than I expected but it’s something I can overlook maybe because the rest was just done deftly. Generally speaking though, intelligent writing, maturity of characters and some subtle inserts of heat and humour have made me a fan of this series and ‘Her Last Goodbye’ is definitely more than a decent read.