Tag: ARC

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis GravesThe Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
Published by St. Martin's Press on 2nd April 2019
Pages: 304
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three-stars

Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose, is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people's behavior confusing, she'd rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game--and his heart--to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.

Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She's living the life she wanted as a librarian. He's a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

‘The Girl He Used to Know’ is told in a series of flashbacks and switches in both protagonists’ POV, and is pretty much a slow-moving, meditative sort of piece on love, loss and love-regained in the decade when the face of terror changed the world. That doesn’t quite come into play until the end however, as Tracey Garvis Graves places a hyper-focus on the unlikely pairing of Annika and Jonathan from college and how they navigate the tricky waters of a developmental disability that has the former’s inability to deal with social situations, social cues and instinctively-learned behaviours.

For the longest time, I only had the inkling of Annika having done something a decade ago, but the crawl towards that moment is a slow one, as is her equally slow get-together with Jonathan, interspersed with her desperation to make amends and pick up where they left off the moment she bumps into him all these years later.

The serendipity play aside (meeting again and then just taking things up felt like the jigsaw puzzle coming back together too easily for me), the narrative coasted along quite slowly for me—I did find myself skimming some bits—without too many spikes and valleys, which left me not knowing what direction the plot was going to go in. Despite having taken days to finish this, it did get better though; things picked up towards the end but ended abruptly on a note that actually led to some furious screen-tapping because I literally thought my ARC was missing a chapter or two.

In the end, this turned out to be a middling read despite the earnest love story between two everyday characters. I was engaged at times, less at others, but was ultimately left scratching my head at a conclusion that felt as though Garvis-Graves simply threw down her pen and left the book incomplete.

three-stars

Sin and Ink by Naima Simone

Sin and Ink by Naima SimoneSin and Ink by Naima Simone
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Scorched) on 15th October 2018
Pages: 187
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three-stars

There’s sin. And then there’s condemned-to-hell sin.

Being in lust with my dead brother’s wife pretty much guarantees that one day I’ll be the devil’s bitch. I promised my family—no, I promised him—I'd keep away.

My days as an MMA champion are behind me. But whenever I see Eden Gordon, with her wicked curves and that mouth created for dirty acts, it's a knock-down, drag-out fight to maintain my distance. "Hard Knox" becomes more than just the name of my tattoo shop.

There’s no woman more off-limits than my brother's strong-but-scarred widow. But she works with me, so it's getting harder and harder to stay away. She’s terrified of risking her heart again; I can tell. But when she looks at me like she wants my rough hands on that sexy body, I can’t think. I can barely breathe.

Surrendering to the forbidden might be worth losing everything...

‘Sin and Ink’ is somewhat different from Naima Simone’s previous offerings, but considering this is categorised clearly as erotica with several sides of forbidden/pseudo-incest/the tortured hero who wants what he can’t have, I knew what I was in for the moment I requested for this ARC. But every forbidden-type thing in romance is my kind of catnip, so I did expect quite a bit of push-pull and pretty much the soul-hollowing kind of angst that typically accompanies such tropes.

It isn’t to say that it can’t get painfully exhausting. Simone’s writing is drawn up with descriptions of every minute detail that strangely heightens emotion, yet still feel like page filler at times—from interior décor to every small movement that the characters make, to the relentless unravelling of every emotion they have. Both ride the waves of guilt and regret, all through the simmering sexual tension that underlies all of it, though there are parts that feel stifling as well as both Knox/Eden do the one-step-forward-two-steps-back routine until something finally, finally gives.

Essentially, a lot of ‘Sin and Ink’ is a long, long journey of angst and emotional overload of wanting to cross a line; this is however, repeated ad nauseam when Knox keeps swimming in guilt as he rehashes all the reasons why Eden is forbidden goods while the latter tries to decide whom she really loves, with the constant fixation on body parts that leads to imagining how each other would be like in bed. There is the use of a trope that I absolutely detest nonetheless, (Eden watching Knox hook up with another woman in the past and then getting aroused by it ) though this is a clearly personal preference, which in a way, becomes a disturbing part in how Eden—spurred on by this memory—finally decides to do the same to Knox later.

But is this nitpicking on my part? Maybe. I’m well aware of the expectations that I have to manage considering this has been published under Entangled’s Scorched Imprint.

’Sin and Ink’ is after all, primarily erotica and a decently-written one at that if you take into account what this story is supposed to be heavy on sex and lighter on plot. In that, it delivers. The sexy times are abundant and scorching, despite the dead spouse whom Eden can’t seem to let go of and Knox’s constant self-flagellation and the subsequent uncertainty surrounding their forbidden relationship. So if this is exactly what rocks your boat, then ‘Sin and Ink’ does exactly what it promises.

three-stars

Hunting Danger by Katie Reus

Hunting Danger by Katie ReusHunting Danger by Katie Reus
Series: Redemption Harbor, #5
Published by KR Press, LLC on 25th September 2018
Pages: 160
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three-half-stars

When a childhood friend needs help, Nova doesn’t hesitate. They endured the foster system together, forging a bond Nova can’t ignore. Relying on her friends from Redemption Harbor Consulting—including Gage, the computer genius she’s falling for—is out of the question. She used to work for the CIA and she’s trained—she can handle this. Besides, the whole team is working on their own important jobs. She’s not going to drag anyone away when she’s not sure it’s necessary.

Is the one he can’t have…

When Nova asks for time off out of the blue—and use of the company jet—former Marine Gage takes note. Of course, he notices everything about Nova. But as one of her bosses, his growing attraction to her is a line he won’t cross. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll let her run straight into danger—and a quick hack of her computer proves she’s gotten in over her head. Gage is coming along for the ride, whether the sassy assistant likes it or not. He’ll do whatever’s necessary to save her friend…and keep Nova out of the clutches of a lethal enemy who won’t hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way.

Katie Reus’s ‘Redemption Harbor’ series definitely goes from strength to strength with each instalment and ‘Hunting Danger’ takes on the boss/employee relationship that’s got a delicious hint of the forbidden.

Gage and Nova have had the hots for each other stretching back some time though it’s only an event that Nova gets inevitably involved in that proves to be the catalyst for things between them to change. Yet it’s a solid pairing nonetheless, as Reus tends to do with her brand of romantic suspense, which I’ve long come to appreciate. The admission of attraction, the lack of game-playing, the maturity with which the main characters face their issues—these are dominant traits of Reus’s writing I really like and for the romance alone, Reus did a stellar job in portraying pretty likeable protagonists whom I could and wanted to root for.

The only thing I wasn’t entirely convinced about was the structure: the multiple POVs that popped in and out of the entire narrative, the sudden flashback in the middle of the book, the sections allotted to the villain, to the next protagonist in the upcoming book, to the victim’s, to the founders of the company and so on. It was jarring to say the least, to have such insertions that derailed the growing action when all I wanted at times, was to read about Gage’s and Nova’s growing relationship that had been put aside in favour of the suspense and these additional POVs that felt superfluous.

 

Still, I’m glad to see that there’s already another book in the works in this series; Reus’s use of tropes somehow never gets old in the way she writes her main characters and I already can’t wait for the next one in line.

three-half-stars

Wolf Rising by Paige Tyler

Wolf Rising by Paige TylerWolf Rising by Paige Tyler
Series: SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team, #8
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 30th October 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Werewolf SWAT Officer Jayden Brooks has yet to meet The One—but when he rescues teacher Selena Rosa from a hostage situation at her high school, he knows he’s in trouble. Her scent is irresistible.

There’s a reason for that powerful scent—and it isn’t an expensive perfume. Thanks to the traumatizing events at the school, the werewolf gene flipped on and Selena’s going through the change. Even scarier, she’s on track to become an omega—an out-of-control and violent breed. It’s going to take everything Brooks has if he wants any chance to pull her back from the edge…and ultimately win her heart.

Eight books on into Paige Tyler’s shapeshifter SWAT series, ‘Wolf Rising’ finally goes deeper to explore the idea of the omega wolf: the long, violent ranger as opposed to the Alpha wolf pack like the SWAT team this series revolves around.

In the same pattern that Tyler takes with all the SWAT books, there’s the prologue that begins with a violent incident that marks the start of a man-turned-werewolf, then a period of time later as we find them settled as a motley crew of growling, all-too-alpha pack within a SWAT compound in Dallas and searching for their one true mate. The journey to each HEA is as always, fraught with some kind of danger, and it’s no different for Jayden Brooks who finds his one and only here after a traumatic event that starts her shifting process into an omega werewolf.

Tyler juggles several points of conflicts along with the romance: the war on drugs and gangbangers, the looming hunters, the unpredictable and uncontrollable omega wolf. But clearly all isn’t quite resolved yet as issues with the wolf hunters look to stretch further on into the future with barely any progress made on that front seeing as the romance and the omega wolf are what take priority in the plot.

With Tyler going with the myth of each shapeshifter finding the one and only mate for himself is one that I always find rather hard to swallow hook, line and sinker nonetheless—there are several gaps in logic and unanswerable questions that keep coming up—but it’s a trope of shapeshifting fantasy that certainly and conveniently helps cement a pairing together the moment they find each other. It seems that having part-wolf genes provides enough grounding rationale for instant love (or rather, lust), and the quick way in which Selena/Brooks fall for each other—attributed mostly to a scent both can’t shake off that’s probably akin to the first flush of love—left me sceptical.

Still, the mythology of werewolves at least, tailored-to fit in Tyler’s SWAT series, is what kept the pages turning for me as each book reveals a little more about them, despite several predictable plot points. Apart from Selena’s somewhat uncharacteristic TSTL behaviour after finding out what she’d become (this gets back on track rather quickly), ‘Wolf Rising’ is quite a straightforward and decent read that isn’t weighed down too much with convoluted past history despite being the eighth book in the series.

three-stars

Undetected by Anna Hackett

Undetected by Anna HackettUndetected by Anna Hackett
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #8
Published by Anna Hackett on September 4th 2018
Pages: 127
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four-stars

Darcy Ward has sold her soul to the devil. Okay, not quite the devil, but she did agree to work with Agent Arrogant and Annoying—aka Special Agent Alastair Burke of the FBI’s Art Crime Team to lay a trap for infamous black-market antiquities ring, Silk Road. Darcy loves shoes, computers, caffeine, and working at her family business, Treasure Hunter Security.

The only thing missing is her dream of a once-in-a-lifetime love, like her parents share, and a man who’ll put her first. She’s not so crazy about Silk Road trying to kill her family and friends, nor is she fond of an order-giving FBI agent and his distracting cologne. Using a trio of cursed diamonds as bait, she’s working hard to set a trap for Silk Road in the Dashwood Museum, but as the black-market thieves escalate their attempts to stop Darcy, she finds herself swept into Alastair’s strong, protective arms.

Alastair Burke is driven by vengeance. He’s dedicated his life to taking down Silk Road and its mysterious leader, the Collector, and now he finally has his chance. He can’t allow anything to distract him—especially not a sassy, smart woman who tests every bit of his control. But as the opening gala of the cursed diamonds exhibit approaches, the thieves target him and Darcy with a series of deadly attacks…and Alastair realizes he’ll do anything to keep her safe.

With the FBI and the former SEALs of Treasure Hunter Security at their backs, Darcy and Alastair are caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and their fierce attraction. But with lives on the line, Alastair will find himself caught between his desire for revenge and keeping the woman he’s falling for alive.

The simmering tension between Special Agent Arrogant and Annoying (Alastair Burke) and Darcy Ward stretching over the the whole Treasure Hunter Security series, left as the last novella, finally, finally comes to fruition in ‘Undetected’, where it all gets wrapped up in a mere hundred-ish pages. The bad guys go down, in a spectacular, Bruce-Willis-action-movie kind of way (this isn’t to say suspension of disbelief isn’t clearly needed in some scenes), and Darcy and Burke still manage get the hots on after getting bloodied and bruised in the process.

Although definitely not a standalone, ‘Undetected’ works well because of the build-up over the last few books, with the overarching narrative and characters already in place to launch this last instalment off from the get-go. In essence, the story’s loads of fun and full of non-stop action and as anxious as I was to see how Darcy/Burke’s story would play out, I was pretty chuffed with how things went down with them—the push-pull from the both of them coming across as foreplay, the explosive sexy times—though I was pretty outraged at the somewhat rushed ending, but only because I wanted more of them.

four-stars

Cyclone by Jamie Crouch

Cyclone by Jamie CrouchCyclone by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #1
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing on September 25th 2018
Pages: 280
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four-stars

The past haunts her. . .

Doctor Anne Nichols is only back in Oak Creek, Wyoming because she has no other options. She left years ago, broken and bleeding, without anyone really noticing. So she’s not surprised nobody here recognizes her as the stuttering, socially awkward girl she used to be.

Except Zac Mackay. The very reason she ran in the first place.

The present hunts her. . .

Zac’s years in special forces taught him the skills to stay alive in the most dangerous of circumstances. Now he has dedicated his life and built a company—Linear Tactical—to teach those same survival skills to others, so they don’t have to live in fear.

Then why is Annie, the last person he’d ever want to hurt, afraid of him?

Zac’s determined to wipe the fear from the eyes of the woman who has never been far from his mind. And fix the mistakes—his mistakes—that put that look there in the first place. But Zac's not the only one who's set his sights on Annie. Survival skills become much more than lessons when a predator starts prowling the streets of Oak Creek . . . and puts Anne in his crosshairs.

Reading ‘Cyclone’, or rather, getting into the first book of Linear Tactical, is strangely akin to seeing Janie Crouch freed of her writing restraints, and there’s no blunter way of putting it especially when it showcases the writing in fine form. ‘Cyclone’ is a full-length, more colourful, more explicit (hooray) story and simply a lot more compelling than the ‘tamer’ novellas Crouch has done for the Harlequin Intrigue/Suspense imprint in contrast, and begins with a huge misunderstanding and a painful event that neither of the main protagonists have quite gotten over.

Justifiably skittish, broken and gun-shy, Anne Nichols’s return to her small hometown brings her back into contact with the man she’d never wanted to see again, though Zac Mackay isn’t even aware of what exactly had put the rift between them that Anne wouldn’t talk about. And that’s where the pieces slowly come together, as I sat in with spiteful glee and got on the grovelling journey Zac took in trying to make up for his abysmal misdeeds 6 years ago, more so because I found myself sympathising and identifying with Anne’s insecurities, her wariness and even her quiet bravery and the strength that are so easily looked over. That she’s too forgiving made me a little outraged, even.

The element of the forbidden isn’t as strong as I thought here—Anne being the good friend of Zac’s long-dead wife, even if they’d known each other for a long time—and that Anne had always loved him yet tamped it down always made it feel as though Zac had a long way to go before getting up to speed with her. Apart from feeling that Anne was a little short-changed for the longest time, colour me surprised when Zac was able to move forward rather easily with her, as I’d expected some kind of accounting for how he finally had eyes for Anne when he never quite did before.

Still, ‘Cyclone’ is less angsty than I thought it would be, less drawn-out with the push-pull that happens between with a couple so weighed down by their pasts (this is not a NA novel after all), especially after the growing relationship between Anne/Zac is gradually overshadowed by the growing suspense plot that inevitably snares Anne in its trap.

Nonetheless, if ‘Cyclone’ is the standard-setting benchmark for the rest of the books to come—I was impatient to get back to the book each time my attention was called away—, then wherever or however Crouch might take this entire series is something I’m really looking forward to.

four-stars

Tempt the Flames by Marnee Blake

Tempt the Flames by Marnee BlakeTempt the Flames by Marnee Blake
Series: The Smokejumpers #1
Published by Lyrical Liason on September 11th 2018
Pages: 197
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three-stars

Someone is bound to get burned…

Meg Buchanan is determined to prove she didn’t get the trainer job in Redmond, Oregon’s rookie smokejumper class because of her family’s long history as firefighters—or out of pity. But if teaching one of her own brothers isn’t challenge enough, she’s shocked to see Lance Roberts in the new class of recruits. Once her brother’s best friend, and her first, unrequited crush, he’s also the son of the man responsible for her dad’s death.   Lance is stunned to realize that this confident redhead is the stubborn girl he once dreamed about. There’s no way he can fall for her now. He needs to focus all his attention on his training—and uncover the truth behind the long-ago fire that killed both their fathers. But as the undeniable heat between them threatens to ignite, someone attempts to put an end to Lance’s amateur sleuthing—and his life…

Meg Buchanan and Lance Roberts have always been drawn into each other’s orbits, after being separated for a decade, they’re now reunited as assistant trainer and rookie with tons left unsaid and a good dose of suspense on the side. Throw the dangerous, adrenaline-fuelled world of smokejumping into the mix and that’s pretty much Marnee Blake’s new series in a nutshell, which I’m actually quite excited about.

As an establishing novel, ‘Tempt the Flames’ does a good job of introducing the smokejumper rookies around whom the series would presumably be written. And to jump straight in (pun not intended!) with the second-chance, best friend’s sister forbidden tropes with the weight of tragedy behind them is something that makes for a solid plot with tons to be resolved.

There were parts of the storytelling that seemed to falter, however: bits that dwelled too long in the protagonists’ head which slowed the pace (Meg and Lance, who pretty much spent the majority of the time dancing around each other, then prevaricating about whether they should be together or not), the sudden glut of events and twists happening towards the end that came out of left field before the rushed closure, and the writing of action scenes that didn’t quite get my heart into my throat as I’d hoped.

My quibbles aside, I do think that ‘Tempt the Flames’ is a good start to the series and I’m still eager to see how it all shapes out .

three-stars