Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Her Perfect Mate by Paige Tyler

Her Perfect Mate by Paige TylerHer Perfect Mate (X-Ops, #1) by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 6th 2014
Pages: 316
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three-stars

He's a High-Octane Special Ops Pro
When Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is pulled from an op in Afghanistan, he is surprised to discover he's been hand-picked for a special assignment with the Department of Covert Operations (DCO), a secret division he's never heard of. Terrorists are kidnapping biologists and he and his partner have to stop them. But his new partner is a beautiful, sexy woman who looks like she couldn't hurt a fly-never mind take down a terrorist.

She's Not Your Average Covert Operative
Ivy Halliwell is no kitten. She's a feline shifter, and more dangerous than she looks. She's worked with a string of hotheaded military guys who've underestimated her special skills in the past. But when she's partnered with special agent Donovan, a man sexy enough to make any girl purr, things begin to heat up...

Shapeshifter mythology isn’t a new one to me, but the queasy thought of having a menagerie of animals (when I’d previously been selective of the type of shifter romances I’ve been reading) squawking around was probably the sole reason held me back from going into Paige Tyler’s X-ops series. But I’m glad I dived in nonetheless—even if this is to be considered my personal, baby step into expanding my idea of a shifter universe.

That said, the first book of a series can be a hard one to rate: there’s the introduction of a multitude of characters (all of whom you know will get a story of their own), a backstory, context and world-building, all of which, if not handled properly, can probably cause the book to go down quite spectacularly even before it has even begun. ‘Her Perfect Mate’ is a ‘soft’ introduction so to speak, with a feline shapeshifter paired with a military alpha hero who thankfully doesn’t mansplain or behave in a way that makes you want to swing a block of concrete in his face. By and large, I did buy into Landon’s and Ivy’s romance, though I think I’m probably looking forward to the other pairings that have already been hinted at here.

As with romantic suspense however, villainy and heroism tend to be juxtaposed as extremes—bad is bad, good is good—with no in-betweens. Here, it does get laughable at times, where the cliché is stretched so far that I started to wonder if the bad guys should start wearing faux moustaches and announce their arrivals with evil-sounding snickers. Tyler however, does inject some bits with her trademark, understated humour and that went a long way in making the story a lot more enjoyable.

That said, the good part of getting into a series so late is that there isn’t a wait between books and yes, I’m already diving into the next one.

three-stars

The Ones Who Got Away by Roni Loren

The Ones Who Got Away by Roni LorenThe Ones Who Got Away by Roni Loren
Series: The Ones Who Got Away #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Liv's words cut off as Finn got closer. The man approaching was nothing like the boy she'd known. The bulky football muscles had streamlined into a harder, leaner package and the look in his deep green eyes held no trace of boyish innocence.

It's been twelve years since tragedy struck the senior class of Long Acre High School. Only a few students survived that fateful night—a group the media dubbed The Ones Who Got Away.

Liv Arias thought she'd never return to Long Acre—until a documentary brings her and the other survivors back home. Suddenly her old flame, Finn Dorsey, is closer than ever, and their attraction is still white-hot. When a searing kiss reignites their passion, Liv realizes this rough-around-the-edges cop might be exactly what she needs...

I’d be hard-pressed to say that the second-chance romance trope is one that’s always believable or easy to swallow. Roni Loren however, presents one of the most unusual and unique premises for reconciliation and reunion that this particular trope gains firm standing in circumstances wrought by extreme trauma that you can’t help but accept and understand why people can and do go their separate ways.

PTSD isn’t a cut and dried issue according to Loren and not typically confined to just the military heroes that seem to walk around bearing this tag in romantic fiction. It’s complicated and not just something that’s shrugged away. Reactions to trauma differ and for this reason, Liv and Finn struggle in their own ways (she through the self-destructive habits of drunkenness and promiscuity and Finn by channelling his efforts into law enforcement) to cope. Yet both are realistically flawed and behave in a way that shows a type of maturity that goes beyond just growing up.

I liked Finn more than I liked Liv and clearly my own preference is rearing its head here—I generally find it hard to sympathise with characters who are self-destructive in the way that they use people sexually to self-medicate while lacking the self-respect and dignity to get therapy until they hit rock bottom. Liv’s reckless, loose-cannon-type personality that was a front for running away (Loren reminds us of this quite a few times about the many men she went through), in contrast to Finn’s driving need to right this particular aspect of society’s wrongs, felt more self-indulgent than beneficial (in the way Finn had centred his own career around it) even though those demons driving the both of them were essentially the same.

If the first quarter of the story was stellar however, I thought the pacing lagged a little in the middle as Finn and Liv danced around the same issues of wanting more but not wanting to step out to make the out-of-the-comfort-zone decision. After Finn/Liv agreeing to spend the weekends together, I thought the plot didn’t seem to move forward very much, up until the point at the end where they finally decided to give a real relationship a go.

Loren’s evocative writing nonetheless, brings to light the complexity of these struggles and the impossibility of outrunning these traumatic memories. It’s a series I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for and I can’t wait to see what tropes Loren will write into her next few books.

three-stars

Every Deep Desire by Sharon Wray

Every Deep Desire by Sharon WrayEvery Deep Desire by Sharon Wray
Series: Deadly Force #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 6th 2018
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one-star

He's taking it all backHis honor, his freedom, and the woman he loves

Rafe Montfort was a decorated Green Beret, the best of the best, until a disastrous mission and an unforgivable betrayal destroyed his life. Now, this deadly soldier has returned to the sultry Georgia swamps to reunite with his brothers, and take back all he lost. But Juliet must never know the truth behind what he's done...or the dangerous secret that threatens to take him from her forever.

It took Juliet Capel eight long years to put her life back together after her husband was taken from her. Now Rafe is back, determined to protect her at any cost, and it's not just her heart that's in danger. The swamps hold a secret long buried and far deadlier than either of them could have imagined...

I had a bit of a trying time with ‘Every Deep Desire’, though the blurb did given an indication that it wasn’t going to be a typical romantic suspense novel. The extent to which it was atypical however, came as quite a surprise.

And the setup is not unpredictable: after a 8-year hiatus, Rafe Montford returns to a marriage that he supposedly tore apart. Branded as a traitor and jailed for a few of those years, nothing keeps him from wanting his ex-wife safe after the cryptic notes that she has been getting—a sure sign of his past coming back to haunt him. The details thereafter, are hazy, with many hints that point at something, but that something big isn’t unravelling until you get deeper and deeper into the book.

This much sounds normal, yet the way the suspense is woven and written is in no way usual.

But as much as this odd tilt of literary (read: Shakespearean) and mythical (or Italian) undertones with Romeo/Juliet leanings that also reminded me of Dan Brown-type conspiracy theories made the story unique, it frustrated me in part because getting a grasp of the story, place, context and its characters—who go by a variety of codenames, to add to the confusion and secrecy—was basically a struggle. I couldn’t go on without feeling like there were a few missing vital jigsaw pieces that prevented the whole picture from coming together. The uphill battle to make sense of the whole setup went on for me for a quite a while—so call me slow and most unintuitive—and got exhausting as I tried to make sense of it.

There are brutal anti-heroes and then there are brutal anti-heroes, characters who stood on sides that made them both villains and heroes at the same time…and so difficult to root for. With the story’s greyed out boundaries, with drug-lords, mafia kingpins and arms-dealers given that mystery and glitz in that Baz Luhrmann Romeo+Juliet way (throw in military suspense into it as well), it pretty felt after a while, like stylish overkill.

I’m going to just say it’s not the book for me, though maybe those who like Shakespeare with a very huge twist can get into this a lot better than I did.

one-star

Love Game by Maggie Wells

Love Game by Maggie WellsLove Game by Maggie Wells
Series: Love Games #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on February 6th 2018
Pages: 384
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Kate Snyder scored her first national championship in her undergrad days at Wolcott University, and now she’s a coaching legend. The last thing she wants is to work beside a washed-up coach escaping scandal, but the University hands her Danny McMillan.

Danny was hoping his transition at Wolcott University would go smoothly, but clashing with snarky Kate has made things difficult. Even as she finally lightens up towards him, a local reporter can’t get enough of their verbal fireworks on camera. What the cameras don’t know is that the sparks are even hotter behind the scenes…

Maggie Wells is a new author to me and I did take to her her smooth writing, even though the technical and political details of sports and its management at collegiate and semi-professional level escaped me somewhat. The enemies-to-lovers vibe was strong—especially when it came to the (justifiably) issue of gender inequality exemplified in sports—that was played out in the pages as a running theme here.

Above all, I liked Well’s articulate ‘meta-speak’ on the problems with women and the blatant inequality that they face in the workplace, more so in male-dominated industries.

What I really appreciated was the portrayal of a no-nonsense, strong heroine who has made her way in the male-dominated world of sports first as a celebrated player, then as a legendary coach. Kate’s hard-earned position simply showed what women can do today—despite the fact that she’s probably one of the rare few earning that sort of accolade—and that much kept me going, even if it was to glow (by proxy) in what fictional women can achieve. I felt for Kate nonetheless—the price she kept paying for the position she’d reached was the constant hemming in and the harassment by other male voices whether intentionally or not and it’s a struggle that I think readers can relate to which Wells writes about excellently.

Yet I hadn’t expected her to cave so easily to Danny however, especially after her continued mantra about staying strong and resisting him.

On the other hand, Danny came across as sleazy because of his past—his affair with a student, the scandal that surrounded his previous job, his ready exploitation of willing women because he could, his blatant ignoring the non-fraternisation clause—and somewhat reckless as he fell in lust with Kate and then pursued it with as much vigour as he could, along with some dick-waving episodes with the other characters in the story. That said, I thought Kate/Danny’s connection was more lust than love, which made for a copious amount of scorching sex but apart from that, I couldn’t get their emotional connection. There were parts that I actually struggled through, unable to be convinced about Danny’s declaration of love when it felt like yet another mutinous thing in he’d done in his career.

I think it’s strange to be moved more by the issues here that Wells brought up through Kate than the actual romance itself, which I couldn’t quite take a shine to. Because that was what ‘Love Game’ felt more like to me: the struggle for an independent, successful woman to just be seen as equal despite her achievements, the constant fight to stay on top and the pain borne on the way, rather than a search for a man to add colour to her life.

Wolf Hunger by Paige Tyler

Wolf Hunger by Paige TylerWolf Hunger by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT, #7
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on December 5th 2017
Pages: 212
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four-stars

Wolf shifter and SWAT Officer Max Lowry falls hard for she-wolf Lana Mason, but things spiral out of control when wolf hunters track her down, and Max realizes Lana has no idea who--or what--she really is.

When I first began Paige Tyler’s SWAT series some time ago, I did not expect it to take several turns which just didn’t resonate enough with me from book 3 onwards as SWAT members one after another, fell for their one and only mate in a blazing fashion that pretty  much meant instalove, instalust and an insta-HEA all rolled in one.

With ‘Wolf Hunger’ though, the series seemed to regain lost ground and the story was pretty much a savagely entertaining ride throughout. I’ve always wanted Max’s story and Tyler definitely delivered, especially after the listless reads from the previous books in this series that meandered a couple of times around the ‘been there, done that’ patch of grass, with a mythos that got less and less convincing as it wore on. But for this one, I jumped straight into Max’s and Lana’s story, only to get gut-punched by his tragic history, before getting reeled in by the thoroughly engrossing journey of Max finding his One (who didn’t know she was a werewolf) just as the werewolf hunters closed in on them.

There was some instalove involved still—the attraction between Max and Lana is written as iron-clad, set-in-stone and pretty much unshakeable from the beginning—but because both are generally likeable characters who don’t lurch into TSTL territory. Coupled with the fact that the instalove was also quite well-balanced by the suspense, I didn’t find it too hard to get invested in this pairing hook, line and sinker.

Above all, Tyler’s expansion of her werewolf universe certainly gave ‘Wolf Hunter’ more nuance and depth while melding a little humour with a ton of paranormal suspense. I liked that the introduction of the hunters showed the SWAT team’s vulnerability—that they do have enemies that can develop effective weapons against them—and I’m already hoping that Tyler works along this line for the next few books to come.

four-stars

All I Want for Halloween by Marie Harte

All I Want for Halloween by Marie HarteAll I Want for Halloween by Marie Harte
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 26th 2017
Pages: 352
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two-stars

When Sadie Liberato is cajoled by her brother to attend a costume party a month before Halloween, she had no idea she'd fall for a handsome devil in a mask. Or that she'd have one hellishly fine encounter in the dark. But when her masked devil turns out to be Gear Blackstone, fallen TV reality star of the super popular show, Motorcycle Madnezz, she wonders if this is a match made in heaven or hell...

‘All I want for Halloween’ starts out fun and gossipy in a way about celebrities that had me laughing at the parody, then made it work by introducing a female lead who seemed to know just what she was doing, and yet was funny and gutsy to boot. And I’d thought there and then, that we had a winner.

After all, who can say that they’ve looked with disdain from afar, then came face to face with the very person you’ve been seeing on screen and been judgemental about? As someone watching from the outside, Sadie Liberato’s own reaction to the whole mess of a cheating ex and Motorcycle Madnezz’s end of an era on tv closely mirrored mine…minus the incidental meeting and the sexy times.

But past Gear’s and Sadie’s first (rather acrobatic) public, masked-sex at the party, it was hard to sustain interest in a pairing because I couldn’t tell just what direction their relationship was going to take. Throw in the sudden influx of characters in the midway point and the copious number of sex scenes—I really did get the point early on that sex between them was hot and stratospheric and got bored when that just went on and on—, it started to fall flat at the quarter-mark of the story, when Gear and Sadie find themselves in a semblance of dating but are convinced that they’re nothing more than that while their actions prove otherwise. Adamant that their ‘relationship’ is casual, much of it felt like lust masquerading as love still, even as both eventually do come to the conclusion that they are already there with their emotions.

Overall, I feel as though I should have liked this better than I did, but throughout it all, I simply found myself impatiently wanting to see the story get somewhere and was disappointed when it didn’t quite. Instead it dragged on and I finally started to skim, almost relieved when Gear/Sadie got it into their heads that they were on the same emotional page because that was where the story also ended.

two-stars

Wolf Hunt by Paige Tyler

Wolf Hunt by Paige TylerWolf Hunt by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT #6
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on June 6th 2017
Pages: 352
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two-stars

A STORM IS BREWING...Remy Boudreaux is back in his hometown, New Orleans. He's there with three of his fellow Dallas SWAT officers for a week of training with the NOLA PD. On the eve of a tropical storm, Remy and his buddies prowl the French Quarter. One tantalizing scent captures Remy's senses, forcing him to follow until he is face to face with Triana Bellamy—his beautiful high school crush.
After reconnecting, Remy and Triana are close—very. Remy struggles to keep things casual. Ever since his partner—and first love—was killed on the job, he's kept women at a distance.
But when a mysterious wolf pendant ropes them both into danger, Remy's protective instincts kick in. He may have to reveal his true self...and hope Triana accepts him.

I started out with high hopes for Paige Tyler’s SWAT series, liking the idea of a police SWAT team comprising alpha wolves and the surprising levity that came with Tyler’s storytelling. The idea has sunk in no…few books later and when it comes to setting up action and suspense, I’d be the first to say that ‘Wolf Hunt’ does well. I liked the New Orleans setting for one—the mystical bits especially seemed to gel quite well with the whole werewolf mythology and the unsolved case of Triana’s father’s murder that fell in line along with it. The bigger plot here is that there is an ongoing drug war that SWAT is facing as they fight to keep it off the streets. The cases are peripherally linked in some ways and Triana’s werewolf father adds a twist to the mix.

There are pitfalls though with this series—which is clearly something that affects just me.

I think the problem is that the idea of the werewolf’s soulmate—at least in Paige Tyler’s mythology—conveniently permits ‘destined’ couples to hook up early and without much of a period where even the possibility of being together is considered. But the insertion of paranormal elements, while exciting, reduces the impact of the romance itself because these elements seem to justify the existence of stereotypical character behaviour in this SWAT series and compromising character depth in favour of plot and action.

Tyler’s SWAT men are macho and testosterone filled—more so because they’re wolves—with a sexual appetite to boot (and therefore can tomcat around because their ‘primal sides’ need it), yet fall prey to the One woman (instant love) who can and will tame them after they’ve sampled all that other women have to offer, succumbing to several of the biggest clichés in romance in one fell swoop. It’s all attributed to fate rather than deliberate thought or action on the part of the characters, which just feels like a rehash of the romance trope of the free-swinging manwhore who is downed by one woman in the end.

In the opening chapters, after a brief explanation of being each other’s high school crushes that ultimately went nowhere, Remy and Triana dance, kiss and already plan for a hookup, effectively cancelling the sexual tension or at least some kind of build-up that could have had the readers on tenterhooks. Much of it is explained as though this hookup is merely a way of seizing the opportunity when they’d missed it so long ago and the chemistry that somehow instantly fizzled between them wasn’t entirely believable, especially not after a huge period of separation and losing touch.

Yet it’s as though the years have disappeared and suddenly, physical attraction is king when Triana is no longer the awkward, gangly girl that Remy can find himself ‘safely’ attracted to. Their background is pretty much angst-free, but I had the feeling that getting Remy and Triana together quickly was something get over with (coupled with typical descriptions that no other woman felt like her despite having slept with plenty), rather than it being the main part of the story, considering the action and the werewolf revelation to come, which made their underdeveloped, straight-to-sex relationship sort of trite.

Remy’s confession that he’d loved her since high school however, ruined the romance for me as it seemed not only to cheapen his previous relationship with Jess (whom he’d first claimed was the love of his life) but also the ‘one true pairing’ with Triana which he didn’t do a thing about back then.

Again, these are clearly my own issues with the SWAT team; ‘Wolf Hunt’ has disappointed me in several ways but my fondness for this series means I can’t quite let it go…just yet.

two-stars