Publisher: Tule Publishing

You Send Me by Jeannie Moon

You Send Me by Jeannie MoonYou Send Me by Jeannie Moon
Series: Compass Cove, #2
Published by Tule Publishing on 29th May 2018
Pages: 224
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two-stars

Jordan Velsor didn’t want to need anyone. After dumping her cheating fiancé, caring for her sick dad, and nearly being crushed along with her car during a violent storm, she’s pretty much at her breaking point. If anyone needs some luck, it’s Jordan, but the last thing she wants is gorgeous Nick Rinaldi, her landlord’s grandson, hovering over her while she nurses a bad cold. The wounded Navy doctor seems too good to be true… which means he probably is.

Nick Rinaldi left the Navy broken and adrift, wondering if he would ever practice medicine again. When his grandparents’ tenant is almost killed by a falling tree during a storm, he discovers Jordan is not only in shock, but suffering from pneumonia. Not one to miss an opportunity to play white knight, Nick arrives at her cottage to take care of her during the storm… But the lovely teacher has a a fierce independent streak, and as he learns more about her, he wants to do more than merely help.

Can Jordan and Nick let go or their separate pasts and seize their future together?

‘You Send Me’ started out well enough with the kind of drama that sounded promising: a sick woman (who’s also warily heartbroken from a failed engagement), a doctor who goes above and beyond the call of duty and a snow storm that comes at the most convenient timing. Cue the tension and the hot and heavy sparks, right?

The problem was that I got bored when things began to crawl as I read on, made worse by the rather harebrained scheme of Nick—it felt so far-fetched and out of the realm of adult-behaviour, but then, it’s romancelandia here—that obviously snowballed into a situation that neither protagonist wanted nor expected. Add that to the number of nosy characters slipping in and out of the story (because it just seems to be a feature of small-town behaviour), it was just harder and harder to keep my interest up when Nick and Jordan went round and round the merry-go-round of ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ and going through the repetitive reasons of why they could or couldn’t.

While the level of angst was low with a clear number of small-ish obstacles to leap over, it wasn’t too hard to see Nick and Jordan get to where they were supposed to be, despite the overly-tortuous process which did fill like page-filler more than necessary. Admittedly though, I did end up skimming quite a bit before the halfway mark when Nick/Jordan went in circles instead of forward as my initial investment in them waned.

In all, ‘You Send Me’ feels like a simple, while-away-the-afternoon easy read without the startling dramatic, emotional highs and lows, but for something more than overall small-town sweetness and a faster-moving plot, it’s best to look elsewhere.

two-stars

Top Shelf by Shelli Stevens

Top Shelf by Shelli StevensTop Shelf by Shelli Stevens
Published by Tule Publishing on April 17th 2018
Pages: 156
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two-stars

Burned in the past, Navy chief Brett Craven has sworn off serious relationships. But when he meets Kenzie McLaughlin, a gorgeous redhead with a fiery personality, his well-reasoned strategy is blown out of the water.

Years ago, a terrifying attack changed Kenzie’s life, making her trust only a few men, including her brothers and her father. After a sexy Navy guy waltzes into the family pub and doesn’t hesitate to make his interest known, there’s no denying the attraction between them. Can Kenzie let her guard down long enough to fall for Brett?

Shelli Stevens is a new author for me and ‘Top Shelf’ is my first attempt at the McLoughlin series which I can confidently say worked pretty well as a standalone.

Though that was probably as far as it went for me. If it started out well, with some kind of anticipation that built between Kenzie and Brett, that was all dashed away when it became clear that this was going to shape up to be a story about a man who behaved like a world-class moron (taking the romantic stereotypes a little too far here) and a woman who let herself be a pushover for over half of it.

For a story that’s this brief, I had frankly expected more from both protagonists, and felt disappointed when their moving forward was at best, a jerky start-stop before a metaphorical race to the finish. The hesitation to become a serious couple suddenly moved to marriage in a way that left me bewildered and incredulous, and that the book ended somewhat abruptly wasn’t that much of a satisfactory ending for me.

two-stars

Recipe for Disaster by Tracy Solheim

Recipe for Disaster by Tracy SolheimRecipe for Disaster by Tracy Solheim
Series: Men of the Secret Service #1
Published by Tule Publishing on May 7th 2018
Pages: 237
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one-star

Secret Service Agent Griffin Keller always gets his man. And his woman. In pursuit of an international counterfeiter known only as "The Artist", Griffin stumbles across paintings stolen from the White House and swapped with forgeries. His only clue to the thief's identity–a dish towel from the White House kitchen.

White House pastry chef Marin Chevalier desperately needs a date to her cousin's society wedding. Unfortunately, her busy schedule leaves her little opportunity to meet eligible men. When a sexy Secret Service agent shows up in her kitchen—and just about everywhere else she goes—Marin believes she's finally met the perfect date. But when a series of frightening accidents and near misses plague her, Marin must rely on Griffin as more than just her "plus-one."

As dead bodies begin to pile up around Marin, Griffin is convinced she’s the link to The Artist. Too bad the curvy chef has gotten under his skin like no other woman. When the clues finally fall into place and Griffin realizes Marin is not the suspect, but instead the target, he'll risk everything in his arsenal to keep her safe.

Having gone into this thinking this was straight up romantic suspense with the rather unusual pairing of a Secret Service Agent and a well-connected White House pastry chef, I wasn’t entirely too sure personally, if ‘Recipe for Disaster’ really fell into this category.

It’s perhaps best called a mix of some mystery and some romance, as all the parties involved seemed nicely ensconced in their white-tower (or house, is this case) in a way that made it difficult to relate to them, let alone get invested in a pairing that felt forced together only because a special set of circumstances that caused their paths to meet. The huge cast of characters that came in also felt more like a distraction than a boon to the story, seemingly padding out the narrative just to show how they interacted with each other without really achieving anything significant.

When it came down to the protagonists, I found Marin too weepy (or at least on the verge of sobbing) and her constant deep blushing almost anachronistic for our times; her insecurities regarding her body and her elevation of Griffin as the man who wouldn’t date women like her was annoying after a while, as was the insertion of Griffin’s FBI ex-fuck-buddy who flitted in and out of the picture. That Griffin found her resilient and strong baffled me, and the repetitions of the way he thought about her soon came across as a case of the author trying to convince us of Marin as a heroine worthy of Griffin.

Sad to say, while I was very excited about the premise of this from the blurb, ‘Recipe for Disaster’ ended up being a story I struggled to plough through, so clearly this is not the book for me and to use a trite and clichéd phrase…’it’s not the story, it’s me’.

one-star

Take a Chance on Me by Jane Porter

Take a Chance on Me by Jane PorterTake a Chance on Me by Jane Porter
Series: Love on Chance Avenue, #3
Published by Tule Publishing on March 18th 2018
Pages: 146
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one-star

Savvy stylist Amanda Wright loves Marietta, her hair salon, and her clients, and no client is more dear to her heart than eighty-year-old Bette Justice–even if her years have made her a little fragile. So when Bette asks Amanda to help her convince her determined grandson, Tyler, a successful game designer, that Marietta is the right home for Bette, Amanda can’t say no.

Tyler Justice has a one-track mind–he wants to take care of his beloved grandmother. He can’t understand her resistance to move to Texas and is sure that the young friend she keeps mentioning–Amanda–is taking advantage of his grandmother’s generosity. He reaches Marietta determined to put the salon owner in her place and bring his grandmother home…until smart, kind Amanda starts to tug at his heart in ways he never expected.

But just as Tyler and Amanda start to form a real connection, will a long-buried family secret destroy their chance at love?

I was frankly, bored with this. Bored because I could see the conflict and the eventual resolution coming, unmoved because I couldn’t feel any chemistry between Amanda and Tyler.

Porter posits Marietta as a small but pretty base where happiness is an almost-guarantee (Tule’s publishing numerous Marietta books attest to it), so it was a given that Tyler would in the end, learn to love the place as Amanda and Bette do…there was no other option available here, because apparently Marietta was the answer to problems, so the man—who apparently is the one with the one-track mind—has to do all the compromising, when it became evident that the whole book centred around getting Tyler to see the beauty of the community that was Marietta.

In fact, I didn’t think Tyler was an arse at all, not when his way of wanting to move his grandmother somewhere else had merit which no one else would see. That Amanda pushed her own issues of her past on to Tyler rather unfairly, or that Tyler seemed to be the one always giving in made it hard to read on, especially when Tyler was the only one made to go on the uphill climb to find his own feet when everyone else sang the happy song of Marietta.

‘Take a Chance on Me’ rubbed me the wrong way early in the book and sadly, I never quite got back that sense of traction or the desire to go on.

one-star

No Saint by Mallory Kane

No Saint by Mallory KaneNo Saint by Mallory Kane
Series: Louisiana Lawmen #2
Published by Tule Publishing on January 29th 2018
Pages: 227
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two-stars

New Orleans Police Detective Rick Easterling is no saint. He’s the NOPD’s best undercover cop. Known as the Man of a Thousand Faces, he’s a rogue–breaking rules to solve cases his way. But when his brother dies of a drug overdose and he’s suspected of being a dirty cop, Rick vows to clear his name and avenge his brother’s death.

Rookie police officer Lusinda Johnson has a personal axe to grind with dirty cops, so she volunteers to work undercover and shadow Rick. She tells herself she can remain immune to his sexy, brooding demeanor, but the longer they work together, the harder it is to see him as anything other than a hero.

As “Sin” and Rick investigate the corrupt underbelly of New Orleans night life, the lies they must tell each other imperil them almost as much as the drug lords closing in. Will they learn to trust each other in time to save themselves and explore their growing love?

‘No Saint’ was a mixed bag for me, though I thought the premise sounded intriguing: sending a rookie officer undercover to investigate another, who might have turned dirty in all his years of experience working in the underbelly of society.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t really buy into the characters at all, even though the beginning started out quite well. I did find Rick easier to sympathise with; his personal vendetta of avenging his brother’s death, his regret about their relationship and his compassion he showed for others when he didn’t need to made him a likeable protagonist.

I couldn’t quite say the same for Lusinda. For a rookie cop, she seemed painfully naive and amateurish with the lack of experience showing up in sharp contrast to Rick’s hardened undercover mien. Her neurotic act with roaches, the constant monologue about her uncertainty and wavering emotions made her out to be almost like a teenager playing cop, consequently making it harder to believe Rick’s fascination with her, let alone his willingness to break his own rule about getting involved while undercover.

I also thought the writing was also somewhat uneven: well-written, descriptive at times, then repetitive/simplistic at other times to the point where I found myself skimming. ‘No Saint’ had good action however; it was also a gritty romantic suspense drawing out the violence of such work and the thin lines of good and bad, particularly if you’re into books that deal with the shifting identities of undercover cops and the struggle to inhabit separate personas and the surprises that will come your way.

two-stars

On the Edge by Dani Collins

On the Edge by Dani CollinsOn the Edge by Dani Collins
Series: Blue Spruce Lodge #1
Published by Tule Publishing on January 16th 2018
Pages: 299
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three-stars

When Glory Cormer’s father introduces her to ‘their’ new business partner, she’s appalled. Viking-like Rolf Johansson exudes the same alpha-intimidation that jocks used to torment her through high school. After nursing her mother the last several years, she’s trying to break out of her shell and secretly pursue a writing career, but Rolf insists she go through with the rotten deal her father struck with his brother to renovate an old chalet.

Rolf envisions this mountain as a world-class resort for elite athletes and other jet setters. As a downhill champion and owner of a world-renowned sports equipment empire, he knows what it takes to get what he wants. Nothing will stop him, especially not a hotheaded wallflower who turns the ice in his veins to lava.

‘On the Edge’ has me in a bind. Getting an antagonistic relationship—where 2 people truly don’t think much of each other in the beginning—to flip where both become lovers by the end is a favourite of mine. Throw them into a pressure-cooker environment and watch someone snap, even better.

But the story is much more than a secret-romance writer and introvert getting roped into her father’s whimsical project after her famous mother’s death, then getting stuck in someone else’s dream with a difficult business associate who shouldn’t be inspiring the tales in her head.

It’s not often when a tribute to romance authors is actually written into a story so distinctly. Or maybe it’s an ironic poke at the profession and the writers behind them, especially given the (unfair) flak that the romance genre always absorbs from its critics. No matter what it might be, I can’t help but think that ‘On the Edge’ is a sharp response to all of it.

As much as I like the self-reflexive bit that occasionally wiggles its way into a story however, there was just too much meta author-speak in ‘On the Edge’ for me. In fact, Glory’s own fictional characters were given too much free reign on the pages and the romance within a romance that Dani Collins wrote into this story, felt at best, like a distraction that broke up the main story as Glory wrote her attraction for the aloof and cold Rolf Johansson into a fictional couple who got down and dirty early on.  If there was anything to prove that Glory had her heads in the clouds, this was it. At parts, it felt as though Glory was writing her own story into her fictional heroine’s story, and that exasperated me because I couldn’t find myself interested in the ’second’ romance at all that Glory had whipped up in her head.

Instead, I wanted to see the protagonist here (not in her story) who dug down instead of constantly blushing, the one who stood toe-to-toe to Rolf instead of stammering and losing the tail end of her speech simply because a hunky guy stood near her. But to slobber and be skittish over someone as terse, unkind and disdainful as Rolf was hard to read about, particularly when he looked down on her at the start and pretty much acted the bastard because he could.

Still, I felt for her. Stuck between her own failed career and relegated to a supporting character in her dead mother’s book sales, she had to wrestle a father who’d seemingly gone off the rails, hell-bent on an investment project deep in the mountains of Montana that he knew nothing about. Hemmed in by people who didn’t appreciate the work she did in the lodge, an arse of a hero who was all arrogance and no empathy and a father who brought down her ambitions, I thought she deserved way better than the crap she’d been dealt.

It isn’t to say ‘On the Edge’ isn’t a good read; in fact, I found it entertaining, riveting and sometimes even heartbreaking and Collins’s writing was stirring enough to keep the pages turning.

But like many books, I liked and disliked several things all at once. At the very least, I was engrossed in the hostile back-and-forth that characterised so much of Rolf and Glory. I loved how Glory finally stood up to Rolf, took him to task for being an insensitive and selfish clod, how Collins took her time to develop a burn that could only take time to start after an antagonistic first half, apart from the sudden TSTL move at the end that was nothing but Glory’s own insecurity showing. I did find myself skimming the distracting parts of this book however, and thought it would have been a better, more concise story without the secondary romance.

three-stars

In the Line of Fire by Joss Wood

In the Line of Fire by Joss WoodIn the Line of Fire by Joss Wood
Series: Pytheon Security #3
Published by Tule Publishing on February 8th 2018
Pages: 154
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two-stars

It just got personal…

As the Delta Force legend at Pytheon International, security expert Jett Smith-Jones has run out of leads in his effort to capture criminal mastermind, The Recruiter, the head of a notorious, international human trafficking and recruitment ring. The Recruiter remains one step ahead but when he threatens the principal players at Pytheon, including Dr Samantha Stone, the game is back on. Jett, while valiantly trying to ignore his visceral attraction to the fiery red head, is determined that she have the best protective detail Pytheon can provide. He is the best they have.

PhD Samantha Stone has been tasked to profile The Recruiter’s next move as a consultant of the psychology of criminal behavior. Too bad she can’t discern her attraction to the hard-eyed Delta Force legend. She avoids men who chase danger, but she can’t stop dreaming of falling into Jett’s very muscular arms. Unfortunately for Sam, The Recruiter isn’t the only criminal wanting a piece of her…

As they tighten the net around The Recruiter, the risk to Sam increases. Jett vows he will keep her safe, but who will protect his heart? And will Jett prove to pose the biggest danger to Sam of all?

I starting reading ‘In the Line of Fire’ not knowing this was the third book in Joss Wood’s Pytheon Security series so it took a while to unravel the supporting characters and what had happened previously. With the assumption that it was a standalone, there was a bit of a mess when it came to unravelling the threats that Sam faced and I got the feeling that I’d actually been thrown deep into a situation that had its beginnings somewhere off-stage, so sorting out the context took a bit of effort.

Joss Wood definitely has a different style of writing that’s a little quirky but one that jumps out at you—the distinct lack of North American vocabulary can be a bit jarring particularly when the story is about American characters working on American soil—and her characters do and say things I don’t expect. But along with the suspense came a scene with Jett’s ex-fiancée that made me cringe, just as I couldn’t fathom how a strong, take-charge woman like Sam Stone devolved into a clingy, needy, near-TSTL heroine just as Jett blew hot and cold and was plain unkind at several moments when the danger really kicked in. In fact, I found myself barely over the distasteful way Jett sometimes treated Sam and the easy way she managed to let it go before they were already talking about their HEA.

The way the action was set-up (along with the revelation of who the baddies were made guessing somewhat easy) and the behaviour of the characters weren’t elements I could get on board with unfortunately. If ‘In the Line of Fire’ started out great, it fell flat for me by the end…but who knows? It could simply just be me and my prickly tastes.

two-stars