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Burn For You by J.T. Geissinger

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Fairytale/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 5th October 2017
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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four-stars

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.

four-stars

Tangled in Time by Barbara Longley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 14th September 2017
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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two-stars

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.

two-stars

Her Last Goodbye by Melinda Leigh

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 26th August 2017
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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four-stars

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.

four-stars

Turned Up by Erin Nicholas

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 16th August 2017
Turned Up by Erin NicholasTurned Up by Erin Nicholas
Series: Taking Chances #3
Published by Montlake Romance on August 29th 2017
Pages: 252
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three-stars

Dillon Alexander has been Kit Derby’s nemesis since third grade, when he beat her in the school spelling bee. They’ve been competing ever since, driving each other to be the best at everything from science fairs to bake sales. While working together one night during their senior year, they stopped bickering long enough to share an emotionally charged kiss. But a tragedy that same night left them both racked with guilt, driving Dillon out of town and leaving Kit determined to keep her distance.

Now an emergency room physician, Dillon has returned to their hometown of Chance, Nebraska. Soon he and Kit fall back into old habits, sparring in public while trying to stay out of each other’s arms. But when a blizzard traps them overnight at Kit’s grandmother’s farmhouse, the real competition begins: Who will be the first to give in to the feelings they’ve denied for a decade?

Erin Nicholas’s ‘Turned up’ is generally an easy, light read and while I hadn’t been invested in small town Chance for a long while, Kit’s and Dillon’s supposed enemies-to-lovers trope brought me back instantly to that simmering sexual tension that had to snap sometime.

Only that I didn’t quite know what to feel about their complicated history that started in high school which Nicholas outlined, seeing as I was expecting (and perhaps hoping for) more of a straight-up competitive ‘hate’ to love sort of relationship because those seem…hotter somehow. Yet, what it takes for them to move past the will-they-won’t-they stage is apparently some kind of disaster or a snowstorm, where dating, rather than occasional pent-up sex over the months and years will become the new norm.

But as most stories go, past the initial honeymoon stage, there’re always obstacles to flatten, some of which become the biggest thorn in the flesh that eventually lead to the pairing’s HEA. The format here isn’t too different, only that I felt emotional mountains were made of molehills that could have easily been solved by talking and some strategic and intelligent positioning so that Kit/Dillon wouldn’t have to listen to what everyone in a small town and what they had to say about their relationship.

I didn’t like how Kit gave credence to how the mayor’s wife tried to dictate the way Dillon’s and her relationship should go and that she did irked me, because it really looked as though they were getting into a whole new rhythm of their own before she starting doubting everything they had. Seriously? Worse yet, she’d started to believe that she could only be the best when Dillon was there to compete with her and push her to be better and that this eventually became the conflict in the climax seemed, well, annoyingly petty. Kit’s way of running to deal with feelings got tiring (and in some way, TSTL) as well, when her inability to face up to how relationships DO change people felt like an identity crisis that only teenagers rather than professionals should be worrying about. Thankfully though, that was brief enough, though sufficiently lengthy to trigger the personal peeve of mine when couples get together deliriously happy before someone suddenly shifts and turns tail because of an external influence and then acts completely out of their depth.

And I’m going to say right here, that this is probably splitting hairs because of my admittedly short fuse when it comes to stupid behaviour. Yet that was the only downer—with enough push-pull that just didn’t convince me at all—that would have otherwise made this a very, very good read.

three-stars

Crossing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 25th July 2017
Crossing the Line by Kimberly KincaidCrossing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Cross Creek #2
Published by Montlake Romance on August 8th 2017
Pages: 316
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three-stars

Cocky farmer Eli Cross plays twice as hard as he works. When his latest stunt drums up a heap of negative PR for the family farm, he grudgingly agrees to play host to an ambitious New York City photographer. Her feature on Cross Creek could be just the ticket to show the country what the Cross brothers do best…which is more problem than solution for Eli.

Scarlett Edwards-Stewart has photographed everything from end zones to war zones. She’s confident she can ace this one little story to help her best friend’s failing magazine. At least, she would be if her super-sexy host wasn’t so tight lipped. But the more Scarlett works with Eli, the more she discovers that he’s not who he seems. Can his secret bring them closer together? Or will it be the very thing that tears them apart?

Eli Cross’s modus operandi is to operate with a firmly-affixed front of cocky deflecting, grinning-and-bearing, and simply be labelled as the good-for-nothing brother who’s also the least hardworking one on the farm that is in sore need of a good financial haul.

But his love has never been for agriculture like the rest of his brothers and being stuck in that position means to just stay as much under the radar and keep his love for journalism under wraps until it, well, all blows up in his face. And as we all know it, it does, upon the arrival of a famous photographer who’s out in the middle of nowhere as a favour for a friend.

I just wasn’t too convinced at the reason he had to keep his love for writing a secret because it simply doesn’t seem like something to be ashamed about. That he didn’t assert his own love for it while working on the farm was quite incomprehensible to me.

What was surprising though, was that the cocky, hell-if-I-care exterior was nowhere in sight when Scarlett shows up and tags along. He’s distanced but polite at first, without the charm that I thought he’d be laying on thick to deflect Scarlett’s curiosity about his personal life. Initially, I had a hard time figuring out how Eli/Scarlett would work out in ‘Crossing the Line’ but it eventually became clear that they were displaced in their own, similar ways—and acted out in an opposite manner—and in so doing, rather poignantly find their common ground.

I wasn’t entirely sure what purpose the last bit of drama that came in at the end served though (apart from inserting the customary-ending conflict between Eli and Scarlett) and that kind of threw me off the narrative a bit. The ending as a result, came rather abruptly and we don’t really know how Eli/Scarlett work their arrangement out past their love declarations so that felt a little unfinished.

That part aside, Kimberly Kincaid’s writing is always lovely to read. It’s flowing and easy, and ‘Crossing the Line’ is no different. Thee three Cross brothers are well on their way to get their HEAs and because the grumpy ones do tend to excite me more, I’m already expecting Owen’s story to be a hoot.

three-stars

The Hunting Grounds by Katee Robert

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 4th July 2017
The Hunting Grounds by Katee RobertThe Hunting Grounds by Katee Robert
Series: Hidden Sins #2
Published by Montlake Romance on July 25th 2017
Pages: 318
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two-stars

Maggie Gaines used to be an FBI agent—top of her class and one of the bright, up-and-coming stars—until she spectacularly fell apart during her first high-profile case. That was eight years ago. Now she’s a ranger at Glacier National Park, and she’s found some measure of peace. But when the body of a murdered woman is discovered, she must finally put the past behind her and work with the one man she thought she’d never see again.

For months, Vic Sutherland has been hunting a killer who’s been targeting unsuspecting hikers in national parks—and now the predator has come to Glacier. Vic knows the case will bring him face-to-face with his former partner, yet nothing can prepare him for seeing Maggie again after all these years, or for the memories of passion it stirs in both of them.

As the investigation brings them closer together—and closer to the killer—Maggie and Vic fear they have only each other to trust. But even that might not be enough to make it out of Glacier alive.

I’ve been intrigued by Katee Robert’s move into the more hardcore romantic suspense/thriller-type reads. Since ‘The Devil’s Daughter’ didn’t seem to be a bad debut, ‘The Hunting Grounds’ looked even more enticing because of a serial killer hunting in national parks and how that brings a second-chance romance into play.

Yet I wasn’t pulled in as I thought I’d be, despite the theories that kept flying and the case of teenagers-turned adults who never quite managed to get their screw-ups resolved. I found that the juggling of two separate groups (loosely put) of characters—the protagonists who are also the romantic pair as well as a group of young adults whose lives are just still unsorted—broke the narrative too often, just as I was about to get into it. Maggie/Vic were more interesting than the potential victims (and perpetrators) and while complicated group dynamics always make for interesting reading, I felt that they were distracting instead, written in a way that drew the story out superfluously as it oddly and awkwardly straddled the New Adult genre at times with teenage-hormone-ridden drama peppering certain scenes.

Flashbacks tended to interrupt Maggie/Vic’s progress with the case, and it was difficult to try to get back on board after those, let alone feel any heat or chemistry between 2 people who actually have so much history together. There were tender moments between them, which I liked and that both Maggie and Vic pretty much ‘adulted’ through it all. With the focus on the suspense and the serial killing however, the developing romance wasn’t a drawn out one, just that Maggie/Vic played no games (perhaps because of the lack of time) and that everything happened fairly quickly in the span of a few days.

I’ll readily admit that authors can and do a difficult time getting that tricky mix of romance and suspense down, especially with readers who often prefer one over another. Having a healthy and equal mix of both is what I prefer though and ‘The Hunting Grounds’ doesn’t quite fulfil that. Coupled with an abrupt end—credits roll as people are bruised and recovering in hospital along with unexpected declarations of love thrown in—the story seemed to have ended on an unfinished note that left me wondering if I’d actually missed several pages.

two-stars

The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th June 2017
The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne WhiteThe Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White
Series: Angie Pallorino #1
Published by Montlake Romance on June 20th 2017
Pages: 524
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three-stars


He surfaced two years ago. Then he disappeared ...

But Detective Angie Pallorino never forgot the violent rapist who left a distinctive calling card—crosses etched into the flesh of his victim’s foreheads.
When a comatose Jane Doe is found in a local cemetery, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and nearly drowned, Angie is struck by the eerie similarities to her earlier unsolved rapes. Could he be back?​Then the body of a drowned young woman floats up in the Gorge, also bearing the marks of the serial rapist, and the hunt for a predator becomes a hunt for a killer. Assigned to the joint investigative task force, Angie is more than ready to prove that she has what it takes to break into the all-male homicide division. But her private life collides with her professional ambitions when she’s introduced to her temporary partner, James Maddocks—a man she’d met the night before in an intense, anonymous encounter.
Together, Angie and Maddocks agree to put that night behind them. But as their search for the killer intensifies so does their mutual desire. And Angie’s forays into the mind of a monster shake lose some unsettling secrets about her own past . . .
How can she fight for the truth when it turns out her whole life is a lie?

There’s no doubt that Loreth Anne White writes excellent police procedurals in their gritty, brutal glory. Her angst-ridden characters, worn down by the nature of their work, are jaded and cynical with nary an ounce of optimism in them and as we tend to learn at the start of the book, wrestle with their own broken lives as they keep disappointing their families before they find some kind of equilibrium by the end of it. Their behaviours tend to mirror the nature of the crimes they’re investigating, stopping short of going past the grey areas into the forbidden and while the psychology behind it all is intriguing, I always find myself coming out of every White suspense read unsure, uncertain and strangely in need of a thorough cleaning.

Irascible, combative and abrasive, Angie Pallorino is straight out, a character difficult to like or side with, unlike a typical romance heroine for whom an author tries to get the readers to have an affinity. Everything about her, like White’s protagonists, can and does rub me the wrong way especially in the manner she uses people and men. But her tenacity is also what makes her a good detective and her career is probably all she has.  Like Angie, James Maddocks is running on his own fumes, rebuilding his life in a place where he can hopefully also rebuild his relationship with his daughter. They don’t get off to the best start: a one night stand that ends in coitus interruptus followed by a hostile meeting at the work place. But Maddocks is the upstanding, strong one who’s got his head on relatively straight in contrast and I liked that steadying presence he seems to provide throughout.

There’s very little on the romance in White’s latest suspense books and this is no different. The multiple POVs and the doubts cast on each and every character does a good job of distancing you from them, bringing into focus instead, the complicated but excellent set up of the crime scenes. The search for justice and laborious police work are White’s focal points—along with the superb Hitchcockian suspense kind of writing—and her characters merely players as they try to untangle this web of brutal deaths. It’s packed with tons of details that makes it a difficult read in that sense, and heavy-going in a way gritty crime fiction can be, which naturally brings me to the question that I’ve always struggled with when it comes to romantic suspense that’s heavy on the suspense: is it possible to ‘love’ a read when it’s simply about the case (that’s fantastically set up, no doubt), even if there are characters you don’t exactly connect with or feel for?

Angie’s story however, is pretty much unfinished. ‘The Drowned Girls’ seems to end on tenterhooks, on a tipsy toast that hopes for a better tomorrow, but with the sequel in store, you just know it’s going to unravel once more, until you’re back down through the looking glass, as dislocated as the characters who themselves don’t know any better but to screw things up.

three-stars
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