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Dangerous Promise by Megan Hart

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 14th December 2017
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

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 13th December 2017
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

Don’t Go by Alexa Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th December 2017
Don’t Go by Alexa RileyDon’t Go by Alexa Riley
Series: For You #3
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 78
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three-stars

CEO Henry Osbourne has only ever desired one woman—the one who got away.

I’ve spent the past ten years convincing myself that what I felt for her was teenage infatuation. That love so consuming couldn’t be real. Then everything went to shit, and in an instant, she was gone.

Kory Summers knew returning to New York meant running into Henry. The way her heartbeat picked up at just the thought was nervousness—not anticipation. Oh, no. She never expected to find him on her doorstep looking as handsome as ever.

She’s mine. She always has been. I’ve waited this long for her…but time’s up. I’ll use all my power, all my connections, to convince her she’s the one.

Kory ran from a boy, but a man of power and persuasion now stands in his place.

‘Don’t Go’ is in fact, part of the ‘For You’ series, though it’s now Miles/Mallory’s son’s story, which can be a little jarring since it wasn’t too long ago that I read his parents’ HEA, though in Riley’s fictional world of the Osbournes, over 2 decades have gone by. The biggest issue I have with this series is the lack of chronological order in which the books come about and the time-gap that these stories span—which is at least a generation, but that might just be splitting hairs here.

Alexa Riley’s commitment to short and safe might cause some raised brows when it comes to instalove (or lust) and the all-in stance of the male protagonist. And, honestly, I do sometimes count myself among these brow-raisers. But in rare cases, Riley’s short and safe novellas can and do make an impact.

In ‘Don’t Go,’ Riley writes about 2 people so devoted to each other as well as the memories of that single Cinderella-esque night that there wouldn’t be space to ask the messy and difficult questions that typically appear as part of a second-chance romance. In fact, questions about the contentious separation period and the believability of the pairing’s second-chance romance don’t really factor into the equation here, simply because there have been no one else for Henry and Kory.

From there onwards, it’s pure Alexa Riley that takes over: the instalove (this is sufficiently warned by the authors to be fair), the possessive hero and the iron-clad HEA that probably spans a quarter of the entire short book. It’s not for everyone, clearly, because of how implausible and admittedly unrealistic the pairing and story might come across, but if devotion that sometimes seems out of the real world is what you’re looking at, then Alexa Riley is the kind of read to go for.

three-stars

Undone by You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 11th December 2017
Undone by You by Kate MeaderUndone By You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #3
Published by Pocket Star on March 5th 2018
Pages: 184
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four-stars

Dante Moretti has just landed his dream job: GM of the Chicago Rebels. And screw the haters who think there should be an asterisk next to his name because he’s the first out managing executive in pro hockey. He’s earned the right to be here and nothing will topple him off that perch—especially not an incredibly inconvenient attraction to his star defenseman, Cade “Alamo” Burnett. Cade has always been careful to keep his own desires on the down low, but his hot Italian boss proves to be a temptation he can’t resist. Sure, they both have so much to lose, but no one will ever know...

As Dante and Cade’s taboo affair heats up off the ice and their relationship gets more and more intense, they’ll have to decide: is love worth risking their careers? Or is this romance destined to be forever benched?

A 12-year-age gap between a closeted player and an openly-gay manager along with the implications of a relationship that’s probably forbidden and mostly likely to be massacred by the press and the public? The odds seem unsurmountable. That Cade and Dante play starring roles here made my mind up for me to grab ‘Undone by You’ by hook or by crook.

And Kate Meader makes it work with writing that’s so confident and assured, more so since M/M stories aren’t always on my priority list.

In fact, for its relatively short length, there certainly wasn’t any time wasted with narrative meandering, which made ‘Undone by You’ short, sharp and quite to the point. Cade surprised me by his straight-shooting talk and the mindgames in the dating game that he steered of when it came to Dante won me over. That he was the pursuer took me aback at first, though it wasn’t long that Meader had me rooting wholly for him, particularly when Dante was being a frustrating arse with his inability to decide what he really wanted.

I did think the flurry of activities however, rooted Dante/Cade’s burgeoning relationship very much in the present and I couldn’t even quite determine if their happy-for-now ending was going to last. The story seemed to end on their happy-but-shaky foundation (undoubtedly hard-earned) and the odd epilogue disappointed me when I expected an HFN/HEA-type of closure and I think I would have preferred a ‘boring but normal’ one with Dante and Cade some time down the road, settled in their relationship.

Nonetheless, the aspects of coming out to family and friends and what it meant to be homosexual in a workplace as testosterone-laden as competitive sports made this book a compelling read and Meader’s prose tied these together nicely through that mix of witty dialogue and the internal monologues of both the protagonists and the supporting characters—which I can’t wait to meet again as the series goes on.

four-stars

Final Siege by Scarlett Cole

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Final Siege by Scarlett ColeFinal Siege by Scarlett Cole
Series: Love Over Duty #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 30th 2018
Pages: 300
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two-stars

IN THE LINE OF FIRE…

Former SEAL Malachai “Mac” MacCarrick is all about the future he’s created with his Navy brothers in Eagle Securities, taking assignments in the most dangerous places, and doing things no one but ex-military would attempt. But when an urgent phone call brings his troubled past—and the woman he once loved—into the present, it’s a chance to redeem himself that he can’t refuse.

STRAIGHT TO THE HEART…

An investigative journalist researching an explosive story, Delaney Shapiro tells herself she got over Mac—and his role in her brother’s death—a long time ago. But the first moment she sees him at her bedside in an overseas hospital, she knows it’s not true. Every moment together rekindles the desire that once burned between them, and now that she’s a target for an emerging Russian arms dealer, Mac won’t let her out of his sight. To protect her, he’ll risk it all—including his life…

A separation caused by tragedy, and a coincidental ‘rescue’ so to speak, 14 years later, leading to a second-chance romance did sound like the kind of story I wanted to dig into. Delaney and Mac do have weighted history and I was eager to see what Scarlett Cole would write about such a story and second chances, particularly after I got a sniff of what happened in their past.

But as an RS reader, I’m admittedly used to a style of writing that has gotten ingrained over the years, so these are my own preferences that I’m highlighting here—preferences that perhaps show how unused to Cole’s style I am.

For this reason, ‘Final Siege’ was hard to get into despite the enticing blurb, and these were mostly structural (narrative-wise) quibbles for me. Cole’s writing did throw me off in the instances of head-hopping—when the perspectives sometimes switched without warning—and the lack of demarcating in spots where scenes and dialogues just didn’t break or signal any time passing. With the lack of paragraphing and breaks, the whole narrative felt a little rambly, along with some awkward insertions of sentences that didn’t quite seem to flow with the development of a scene or aid in characterisation. Some parts, however, were well-written, though it was hard to get past the uneven way the whole story was laid out, particularly at the beginning of chapters where I found myself scrambling to make sense of context.

By and large, Delaney and Mac danced around the biggest ghost in their past that haunt them. Delaney did turn out frustrating at times: her inability to get over Mac’s supposed part in her brother’s death felt like something she hung onto simply so that she had a reason to keep on hating Mac. There was also a large focus on the push-pull happening between Delaney and Mac that got cloyingly repetitive when I’d expected the suspense to take priority after they meet again. That however, only kicked in somewhere near the halfway point, which made ‘Final Siege’ seem rather slow-paced for an RS book and in some way, like a game that went a step forward and 2 steps back.

That said, I’m not too sure how much of final revisions ARCs actually undergo. ‘Final Siege’ does unfortunately, look like a book that still needs a bit of editing; otherwise, it’ll be left as a story that’s got a potential which it never quite reached.

two-stars

Zero Hour by Megan Erickson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Zero Hour by Megan EricksonZero Hour by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous #1
Published by Forever on January 30th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Hacker extraordinaire Roarke Brennan lives each hour - each breath - to avenge his brother's murder. His first move: put together a team of the best coders he knows. They're all brilliant, specialized, and every one an epic pain in his ass. Only now Wren Lee wants in too, threatening to upset their delicate balance. The girl Roarke never allowed himself to want is all grown up with sexy confidence and a dark past ... and she's the wild card he can't control.

Roarke might still think she's a kid, but Wren's been to hell and back. Nothing and nobody can stop her - especially the tatted-up, cocky-as-all-hell hacker. But when years of longing and chemistry collide, Wren and Roarke discover that revenge may be a dish best served blazing hot.

‘Zero Hour’ spoke directly to the geek in me. I blank out at many things technical, so hackers (whether they be black/white hats) written as heroes/heroines of romances are relatively new in this genre but so welcome.

I love the lingo, the geek side of things, the stuff that the deep, dark web is made of, most probably because I’ve never been able to get my mind around it. That Megan Erickson has jumped wholly on this subject has made me more than moist with excitement, with the underlying classic tropes of the forbidden best friend’s younger sister while a high-stakes hacker-style investigation into a murder brings it all together. There’s a lot of beguiling intrigue to be explored in this arena after all, and I’ve always wondered why not many authors have chosen to use this very contemporary setting along with the realistic and contemporary threats we face today to weave a pretty little tale.

Unsure as I was about how hackers would appear in this series, I was nonetheless surprised by the tattooed protagonists who sometimes acted more like members of an MC at times instead of thickly-spectacled people who were glued to their computers and surfaced bleary-eyed only for meals and sleep. Yet Erickson gets the anti-social, loner-types pat-down though, by introducing a varied, unpredictable put-together team of characters whose questionable histories are still veiled to us.

Roarke and Wren do have a hell of a backstory and a decade of separate lives that Erickson didn’t make too much of, except for the fact that pining (on both sides) went on while they moved on with others instead. Their sudden reunion—spurred on by the death of his brother and Wren’s own personal motive for revenge—however, felt almost like a coincidence, along with the hidden skills that they’d each picked up which didn’t seem to fit the hacker-skill set. Where had they had weapons training, for instance, at least enough that they would carry guns around? What sort of jobs had they done in the past 10 years that made them what they were today? Why did Wren only return now, at a time when Roarke sought revenge when the tragedy that she and her friend suffered happened years ago?

I think the questions that kept popping up dipped my enjoyment of the story somewhat and the brother’s-best-friend-to-lover trope was less convincing especially after knowing that Roarke and Wren had always wanted each other but never actively did anything about it. The ending, for all the gritty, edgy build-up, seemed a little anti-climatic with the rather convenient end of the mastermind, and the several loose threads hanging, while understandably left deliberately to set up the sequel, didn’t give the story a proper sense of closure.

In many ways, ‘Zero Hour’ reads like the establishing novel it is and while I did like how this narrative arc—the mesh of thriller and digital espionage really gets me going—seemed to be shaping up, I’m already eager to see how Erickson would explore the unstable dynamics of the ad-hoc group brought together by chance and the pairings that will come out of that.

three-stars

Follow by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th December 2017
Follow by Tessa Bailey
Published by Tessa Bailey on October 30th 2017
Pages: 214
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two-stars

He wants her soul. Too bad she already sold it.

Family is everything to gambling den darling, Teresa Valentini. Blood comes first, especially before men. So when her brother lands himself in hot water, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save him. And showing up topless in her unwitting savior’s motel room is turning out to be the furthest thing from a hardship…

Will Caruso is the bad boy of New York’s financial scene…and he just found out the very thing that drives his success is a damn lie. Now, he’s exchanged his high-stress life for the open road, no one but his Great Dane…and half a million Instagram followers to keep him company. When a mysterious beauty arrives, her secrecy prods his suspicions, even while she tempts his lust to the breaking point.

Teresa met Will under false pretenses, but the bond consuming them is real. They’re strong enough to overcome a little betrayal…aren’t they?

The honey-trap. A hidden motive. The deception and the play for the ultimate goal. At least that’s what Teresa Valentini sets out to do to get her baby brother out of the clutches of a mafia boss. And that admittedly, is a strange proposition that she gets—to seduce his son back to his place in the financial world.

‘Follow’ banks on a very strong, animalistic instant lust attraction that moves the plot along, as Teresa’s seduction plan doesn’t quite go as expected. But the buildup is thick and fast—though not entirely easy to buy into—when the first meeting between Will and Teresa stray into hot and heavy very quickly. I felt as though their attraction was more skin-deep than anything else, particularly since Teresa was actively using her body to point Will in a direction she wanted him to go, just as it was equally hard to believe that Will was taken in by Teresa’s man-eating act enough to have her on that road trip with him simply because she intrigued him with her mysterious air and seductive posturing.

There are blustery emotions and very sensation-focused paragraphs tucked in between the slow revelations of the bits and pieces of each character and it was only after a while that I realised that the road trip is a major part of the story, when I’d actually been impatient and buckling down to get to the part where everything unravelled. And there’s no doubt that Tessa Bailey is good at this part: the drawing out of emotions, the dirty (and sometimes exaggerated) sex and the even dirtier-talking men.

But it’s here that I’ll also readily admit that Bailey’s prioritising of Will/Teresa’s sex games in all its forms over her deception was frustrating, when this type of longstanding pretence where the ultimate ‘reveal’ happens only towards the end just isn’t my kind of thing. A quarter of the book unfortunately, lingered on their dirty-talk and the a sexual push-pull vibes when I was impatient to read more about the unravelling of Teresa’s plan and Will’s discovery of her double play.

So for me, the pacing lagged in the first half—Bailey’s drawn-out descriptions of their attraction and sexual foreplay didn’t give the plot enough momentum—when the battle of wits seemed limited to the bedroom that made the first half of the story read like erotica.

I’d hoped for a clearer thread of honesty that would run through their narrative and was disappointed when it didn’t, because it felt that Will had always been the one who was more honest. It isn’t to say that Teresa’s love for her brother and her obvious like for Will weren’t broadcasting her personal conflict, but I did take issue with the depth of her betrayal and the delay with which the truth was revealed after she’d known that she’d fallen in love with him.

I’m going to say that ‘Follow’ was unfortunately, not a book that I could get into. Nothing to do with Bailey’s writing style—it’s obvious that she can and does write fantastically—but my own issues with plot and characters just got in the way for me to enjoy this at all.

two-stars
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