Publisher: Swerve

Beautiful Killer by Sherilee Gray

Beautiful Killer by Sherilee GrayBeautiful Killer by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings, #3
Published by Swerve on January 9th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

She’s wanted a big family ever since her distant father and cold stepfamily isolated her from affection. He’s an ex-SEAL sniper with PTSD.

Too bad she’s been told she can never have children, never have a family of her own.

Too bad he’s shut off his heart from love.

What do you do when one secret could bring you ultimate happiness…or destroy everything you hold close?

I was hesitant about ‘Beautiful killer’ because of my not-too-great experiences with Sherilee Gray’s last couple of books that actually left me reeling, but I’m glad that I picked up this one. ‘Beautiful Killer’ leans towards suspense-erotica (if there’s even such a term) rather than contemporary romance, like the rest of the other books in the series, though I did like Gray’s tortured, intense hero (I can’t begin to count how many times he actually growled and felt more animal than man) and a woman who’d always felt left behind.

It isn’t an unpredictable read, and there’s some slight suspense involved, which also proves to be the catalyst for Zeke and Sunny getting together, though their combined issues were certainly drawn out long enough in a push-pull vibe that stretched up to the end. Ultimately, both did seem somewhat self-absorbed in the beginning: Zeke in his own world of pain, regret and self-recrimination to see beyond how he isn’t good enough for anyone, and Sunny’s solitary state that’s self-pitying in her defeatist attitude of seeing everyone leaving her.

Still, I felt sorry for them somehow (developing a soft spot for the tortured arse hero too) and did think that they could be good together…if only they could stop the dance that circled around the word ‘love’ but never quite hitting the mark. With Zeke hardly speaking—his growly ways almost felt like a substitute for speech—and Sunny constantly retreating with Zeke’s inability to confront his past, I was left wondering how he and Sunny could actually communicate beyond scorching the sheets.

That said, ‘Beautiful Killer’ might be angsty, but it was for me, a nice change from the rest of the series that I didn’t really like. There might have been some frustration involved as it seemed as though something catastrophic needed to happen before they both got their acts together, but I can’t deny I felt more for the characters here than I have in a long time with Gray’s other books.

three-stars

Should’ve Been You by Nicole McLaughlin

Should’ve Been You by Nicole McLaughlinShould've Been You by Nicole McLaughlin
Series: Man Enough #3
Published by Swerve on January 30th 2018
Pages: 250
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two-stars

National Guardsman Jase Beckford wants to live a quiet life raising cattle and taking care of his mother. His childhood friend and neighbor Hannah is still his best friend, but when he walks into the Walters house one morning and sees her twin sister Becca for the first time in five years, he wonders if he missed out on something special.

Becca Walters has nursed a secret crush on Jase since childhood, but he always preferred Hannah, so she buried her feelings assuming her sister and Jase would one day turn their flirtation into a real relationship. And this Christmas, she is anticipating a proposal of her own, so Jase’s reappearance in her life doesn’t mean anything. Much. Okay, maybe more than Becca would like to admit.

However, when Becca’s sister gets engaged to someone who’s not Jase, Becca and Jase find themselves spending more together. And when secrets are revealed, suddenly those dormant feelings come back to life; but is the possibility of something between them worth risking the happiness of everyone they love?

I do like Nicole McLaughlin’s writing and was hoping that ‘Should’ve been you’ could recreate the sort of feels I got with ‘Maybe I Do’.

What a mess this turned out to be.

Let’s start with the unrequited love (or crush) that Becca had on Jase for many years. But he was the boy who never noticed her because he and her twin sister Hannah had always seemed to be on the edge of something more. And though they’d never gotten there, Becca had since moved away and on with her life, to get to get out of their way, and to escape the pain of feeling something for someone who doesn’t reciprocate.

I do root for the underdog, so the character who nurses a secret crush, and tries to do something about it instead of pining for decades without moving on gets my sympathy and vote. But what I found out to my horror however, was a love triangle of sorts where everyone seemed unsure of what they felt and ended up instead playing each other, whether intentionally or not.

Jase/Hannah/Becca were never too sure about where the boundaries between friends and lovers lie and as a consequence, I couldn’t be sure myself if the Jase/Becca were the main pairing here or relegated to secondary characters in their own story, given how much Jase/Hannah seemed to take centre stage in the first half of the book. Throw in Becca’s own jealous ex and things get doubly more complicated and convoluted, particularly when Jase finally decided that he wanted Becca after clarity finally struck…at a somewhat bad time in their lives.

Jase and Becca did eventually get their act together, though their rushed HEA, after all the drama (some of it bordered on cheating, perhaps, depending on your definition of it), didn’t seem as though it’d come convincingly. It’d felt too conveniently like Jase jumping from one sister to the other and I couldn’t quite believe that he and Becca had actually sufficiently worked out their years of angst, misunderstandings and their own confused desires before they jumped into bed and declared all was well with the world. For all that McLaughlin had laid out for us, their colossally knotted issues would have taken more than just the whole Christmas period to untangle.

Sadly, ‘Should’ve been You’ turned out to be more of a disappointment because it fell flatter than I expected. There’s no denying that it is a cute story with everything nicely wrapped up in a bow-tie kind of end, more so because it’s a holiday book where you see the snowflakes and feel the holiday cheer. But looking past the glitter, I simply couldn’t feel that kind of book-satisfaction and the couple-love despite their happy ending.

two-stars

Wicked Attraction by Megan Hart

Wicked Attraction by Megan HartWicked Attraction by Megan Hart
Series: The Protector #2
Published by Swerve on February 6th 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

A female bodyguard with enhanced abilities. A billionaire playboy committed to destroying people like her. A romance they didn’t expect…

Dive into the second book in this fantastic new series set in the near future from New York Times bestselling author Megan Hart!

Ewan Donahue has made a lot of mistakes, but making Nina Bronson want to leave him has been the worst. With the initial threats on his life out of the way, he doesn’t really need her protection, but hiring her to take care of him again is the only way to get her back in his life. When Nina shows up ready to work —and nothing else — Ewan’s determined to win her back. If he can break through the walls his earlier betrayal built, maybe they can have another shot at love. When it turns out that this time, it’s Nina who’s being targeted for danger and possibly death, Ewan’s the one who has to keep her safe.

Cliffhanger endings can be brutal, but that’s always the risk with a series that deals with the lows and highs of a single pairing, and especially so if the narrative arc stretches out over all the books. Needless to say, ‘Wicked Attraction’ isn’t a standalone.

Here, the rift between Nina and Ewan widens, though that doesn’t stop both of them from dancing around each other, getting into the same arguments and eventually into bed. Rinse and repeat. She tells him off tearily but says she can’t ever hate him, he grovels and declares his love, once even to the point where he’d literally brought to his knees. The push-pull as always, is a constant repetitive issue here, though there is some development on fronts that feel a bit more peripheral to the issue dividing Ewan and Nina.

Nonetheless, my reading experience with ‘Wicked Attraction’, was on the whole, quite uneven. Ups and downs, if you like. There were parts that interested me more than others and parts where I simply just flipped and skimmed. I was engrossed in the enhancement technology and what was happening to Nina’s body, couldn’t stop rolling my eyes about her neurotic slipping in and out of bed with Ewan yet protesting too much about how much he’d betrayed her (the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, perhaps?), liked some actions scenes and didn’t exactly care about the work that Ewan did with the talented kids as part of his latest project. Nina also did seem like a different character from the more stoic, alpha soldier in the first book; she was more given to emotional outbursts and more dramatic responses, though that was in part, attributed to the changes she was undergoing.

For these minuses however, Megan Hart does write well as I’ve said before, and her sensory prose continues here, which helped get me through the bits that lagged. There were bigger issues that seemed vital to the entire narrative arc but slid past me—the importance of memory and who should get to control them through technology—and I wished I were harder ‘hit’ by what Nina and Ewan were arguing for.

In short, I sort of did like Hart’s concept but I wasn’t always able to keep my interest in the development of the story. It was easy to pick up (and put down, unfortunately) and my ability to fully get into the characters each time made this a decent, but not entirely memorable read. \\

three-stars

Dangerous Promise by Megan Hart

Dangerous Promise by Megan HartDangerous Promise by Megan Hart
Series: The Protector #1
Published by Swerve on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

A female bodyguard with enhanced abilities. A billionaire playboy committed to destroying people like her. A romance they didn’t expect…

Nina Bronson used to be all human -- until the experimental surgeries and internal technology that saved her life and enhanced her as a soldier also forced her to leave the army for private service. Now she and her peers are facing slow, painful deaths unless their technology is upgraded, and the one man keeping those upgrades illegal and unavailable is an obnoxious billionaire. A man too gorgeous for his own good.

A man she’s supposed to guard with her life.

Ewan Donahue is the public voice speaking out against the enhancement procedures of injured soldiers. But when his lobbying leads to death threats, he needs someone to protect him around the clock. He doesn’t want to rely on an enhanced soldier—Nina’s tech goes against everything he stands for. But he really doesn’t want her to be beautiful like she is. Doesn’t want her to suffer like she will.

Doesn’t want to succumb to the searing desire he feels for her.

As a series of attacks on his life send them to a remote cabin, their close proximity brings them together in ways they never imagined. They know they must prevent the need simmering between them, resist each other at all costs. But when tensions are high and danger is close, passion burns hottest of all…

‘Dangerous Promise’ is quite a unique, somewhat futuristic take on the bodyguard cyborg and the client, or at least it’s probably one that will appeal to readers who are hungry for a kickass, enhanced, ex-military female who conducts her personal life like the stereotypical no-strings military alpha hero that are dime a dozen in this genre.

Not that a role reversal is uncommon in the plethora of romance stories today, but Nina Bronson is a female protagonist unusual enough to make anyone sit up and take note. That’s the book’s standout feature, along with the immediate conflict posed by Nina’s very own abilities being the very issue the billionaire womaniser Ewan Donohue has aggressively fought against. As the female mirror image of the alpha hero, Nina is an unmistakably strong female lead with technological enhancements that only elevate her above a ‘normal’ book-heroine, right down to her own casual hookups and her willingness to sleep with clients if that would protect them (if that even makes sense).

Unafraid to call out misogyny and the double standards that women like her face, Nina might just be a loudspeaker for what many might feel about the double standards and the complaints voiced against the romance genre today as she kicks and punches her way out of things/issues both verbally and physically. Next to her, Ewan can only be the beta hero, dimmed and outshone in every way by Nina’s wonder-woman abilities until he’s a grovelling mess, their only tussling happening in bed after he yields to her judgement when it comes to his protecting his life.

Upping the sexual tension with Ewan as they circle each other in a game that’s akin to a 2-steps-forward-one-step-back dance is perhaps the form of foreplay that Hart wants to bring across, but somehow, Nina’s relationship with Ewan seems unequal in so many ways. Ewan’s own history with women and the way he treated them until Nina didn’t exactly made me a huge fan of his; the constant comparison of how awfully selfish he used to be with others and with Nina proved more of a turn-off than a revelation of how special she is supposed to be. Moreover, for all of Nina’s insistence about owning her own sexuality, her sudden insistence that sex should only happen between consensual adults who want and like each other equally is the argument she uses to keep Ewan at arms’s length. As much as the inevitable sex scenes are hot, I can’t quite get on board with the subtly manipulative and contradictory sides of Nina and Ewan, the former of whom can seem to do no wrong even as she blows hot and cold.

As the first of a 3-book series, ‘Dangerous Promise’ draws out the dialogue and the threats much longer than I expected. The plot advances, albeit slowly and what would be typically resolved in the last three-quarters of the book reads instead like the end of a tv episode, where the characters return for round 2 and subsequently, round 3 as the series goes on. Hart definitely delivers very well-written action scenes, though these are short and brief and interspersed with a lot of dialogue-turned-flirty-banter that can get repetitive, inevitably slowing the pacing of the story. There’s also sort of a cliffhanger but there’s very much the sense that whatever resolution that Hart gives is a temporary one. Nina’s and Ewan’s story is far from over, that much is clear.

It’s kind of tough to write a review for a book which I wanted so much to like but fell a bit short of expectations, and that’s only because I prefer the type of relationships where both the h/hr need each other in equal ways, where both aren’t beyond reproach. But if the alpha female dominating the headlines, so to speak is what you’re after (Nina is a feminist’s wet dream after all), then ‘Dangerous Promise’ is the type of read that will be your catnip.

three-stars

Leveled by Cathryn Fox

Leveled by Cathryn FoxLeveled by Cathryn Fox
Series: Blue Bay Crew #2
Published by Swerve on January 16th 2018
Pages: 155
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three-stars

Jamie Owens doesn’t trust women. Especially not the rich, entitled women looking for a summer fling with a boy from the wrong side of town. But one look at Kylee Jensen in a tiny bikini, and Jamie decides that some rules are made to be broken.

Kylee is tired of being the obedient daughter, and Jamie—shirtless, in a tool belt—is the perfect opportunity to do something for herself, so she hires Blue Bay Construction to work on her cottage. Their hot summer days turn scorching until it’s revealed that Kylee has ties to Jamie’s dark past, forcing them to decide if their dreams, and their relationship, are worth fighting for.

Leveled is a steamy page turner with sizzling emotional intensity and an ending that will hammer readers’ hearts and never let go!

I actually felt nervous when I started ‘Leveled’; Cathryn Fox isn’t always an author whose erotica hits the right spot for me, but I’m actually happy to say that I got my dose of smut with Jamie and Kylee, whose one-night stand-turned-summer-fling because way more than that. Both had a chemistry as well as an ease around each other that I found believable and while some parts became a bit like a porn-movie, it was fun reading about, well, the various ways a hard long object can go into an expandable slot.

The struggle to keep their own personal pasts out of the equation however, came alongside the overwhelming need to keep it about sex only. Jamie’s own demons revisited him in the form of the rich girl looking for fun, though he could barely discern that Kylee was in fact, trying to be only the rich girl looking for fun because of a father who had long dictated her behaviour and choices in life. It’s sort of strange to see both of them coming at it from opposite angles, with this kept up till nearly the end of the book as they try to rein in and downplay their affair as a simply summer fling.

Interfering relatives on the other hand, are the bane of most of the stories I’ve read so far, especially when their irksome actions can span the entire spectrum of giving abysmal advice to being absolutely controlling. Unfortunately, this wasn’t too different in ‘Leveled’, where they actually played a role—how large the role is probably up to interpretation—in keeping both Kylee and Jamie apart, though admittedly, both could have engaged in something called communication instead of running away. I didn’t like how Kylee walked away without the gumption to find out the truth about Jamie’s past and her inability to put herself out there when it mattered kept me frustrated, while on Jamie’s part, the past that came back to revisit him didn’t feel at all resolved.

Obviously, climaxes and resolutions can be tricky; leave it too late and the conclusion and HEA can feel rushed. I don’t doubt that Jamie/Kylee’s HEA was definitely deserved, but I did wish however, that Fox had written things differently at the end which would have made me a more convinced believer in a pair who could fight equally for each other without stumbling when push came to shove.

three-stars

Only You by Addison Fox

Only You by Addison FoxOnly You by Addison Fox
Series: The Brooklyn Brotherhood #4
Published by Swerve on December 12th 2017
Pages: 304
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three-stars

Meet the Brooklyn Brotherhood: three brothers who escaped rough childhoods in Park Heights, Brooklyn who grew into fiercely loyal, sexy men – and who find love when they’re least expecting it.

Fender Blackstone has kept the world at arm’s length, with the exception of his adoptive brothers and Mama Lou, the woman who saved him. Fender is willing to do everything he can to support Lou, but he finds himself drawn to Harlow Reynolds: the daughter of the woman who could destroy everything Lou has worked for.

Even without the emotional turmoil between their families, why would a woman from the highest echelons of Manhattan society ever look twice at a kid from Brooklyn? As forbidden sparks flare between them, Fender and Harlow realize there’s something real forming between them. When Fender’s past resurfaces and threatens the life he’s built, can his love for Harlow survive the aftermath?

After reading ‘Forever Yours’ which was a complete bust for me, ‘Only You’ was in contrast, heart-felt and emotionally nuanced which made the story an even bigger draw as Fender Blackstone (whose story I’ve been wanting) finally finds someone who is his opposite in every way.

‘Only You’ works as a standalone, but there is some history and a backstory to catch up on by the time we get to Fender’s story, all of which which are explained in the previous books and have been mentioned here. But I liked ‘Only You’ primarily because of the ‘adulting’ that’s mostly present in there: both Fender and Harlow acted their ages as they navigated the complicated waters of their relationship and the pages of dialogues and inner monologues did show that. Consequently, it was easy to like Fender for the solidness, and the self-awareness and perception that he displayed about his growing feelings for Harlow mostly—which I find sometimes blindingly lacking in heroes—as it was easy to like Harlow for her wanting to fight for the both of them and her way of doing so. Yet for all their communication, it got frustrating when I’d assumed Fender would come to his senses after spending most of the book being rather wishy-washy about wanting what he and Harlow had, including thinking about and eventually pushing her away—which was only unsatisfactorily resolved by a conflict in the closing pages of the book that made his mind up for him.

I thought the pacing lagged quite a bit in the middle, and I was able to put it down and pick it up numerous times (though without much difficulty) as both Harlow and Fender worked through the circumstances—not just the history between their parents but also a big issue in Fender’s past that he had to confront—that made being together very difficult. That said, there’s a neat HEA for all the characters involved of course, though I was left wishing I’d felt more for the series than I did.

three-stars

Hooking Up by Helena Hunting

Hooking Up by Helena HuntingHooking Up by Helena Hunting
Published by Swerve on November 1st 2017
Pages: 259
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one-star

Amalie Whitfield is the picture of a blushing bride during her wedding reception–but for all the wrong reasons. Instead of proclaiming his undying love, her husband can be heard, by Amalie and their guests, getting off with someone else. She has every reason to freak out, and in a moment of insanity, she throws herself at the first hot-blooded male she sees. But he’s not interested in becoming her revenge screw.

Mortified and desperate to escape the post-wedding drama, Amalie decides to go on her honeymoon alone, only to find the man who rejected her also heading to the same tiny island for work. But this time he isn’t holding back. She should know better than to sleep with someone she knows, but she can’t seem to resist him.

They might agree that what happens on the island should stay on the island, but neither one can deny that their attraction is more than just physical.

Not having read the first book, I’m guessing that the implications of Amalie and her secret hook-up are much larger than I think, though ‘Hooking Up’ does clearly work as a standalone.

Having said that, I had the inkling that the book wasn’t for me at all—an inkling that grew like an ominous thundercloud by the time I got to the part where the shenanigans started a few minutes post-wedding.

Cheating and a tit-for-tat vibe in the story are what push the narrative along: out of spite, Armstrong swopped into get the girl (one which the mystery man sees first), then quite publicly cheated on her in a cringeworthy manner during the wedding reception. The brokenhearted Amalie in turn, went on her honeymoon alone, hooked up with the man who quite literally saw her first while her divorce hadn’t gone through (though it’s pretty much expected that the marriage is over by then). That personally is a trigger for me, so I was struggling with this early on, which clearly places me in the minority as I kept wondering if Amalie/mystery man’s actions were justified nonetheless, especially since this merely took place a few days after the disastrous wedding and not after the dust properly settled.

I also found it hard to sympathise with the jilted woman, whose choice in bad boyfriends (and husband) merely reinforced her lack of judgement and her inability to rein everything in. And unlike our mystery man who seemed stalwart in his desire for her, Amalie merely stayed a whiny, flaky protagonist who spent most of the story vacillating between her regrets and her own abysmal history in ‘love’ which she projected onto mystery man.

I couldn’t finish the story after all—it’s an issue I typically have with characters and issues like cheating. The ease of reading just didn’t surpass how much I disliked the characters in the book save for the mystery man of the story and was actually happy to put Amalie and her antics far behind me.

one-star