Tag: ARC

Eagle by Janie Crouch

Eagle by Janie CrouchEagle by Janie Crouch
Series: Linear Tactical #2
Published by Calamity Jane Publishing, Jane Crouch on 10th October 2018
Pages: 278
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three-stars

He's fighting for what's right... She's fighting just to survive...

When former Special Forces soldier Finn Bollinger is asked to help with a deadly government mission, he's up for the task. His job teaching survival skills to civilians at Linear Tactical keeps him sharp, and he can still handle himself in the field.

But the Army damn well didn't teach Finn how to handle Charlotte Devereux. She's back and she's all sorts of bad news.

Charlotte can't change the past. Can't change the choices she made or the fact that they cost her everything. All she can do is endure the fallout. Even if that means putting her future in the hands of Finn, the man who has every right to want to destroy her.

And can in so many more ways than he thinks.

When the undercover mission goes impossibly wrong, they'll all have to depend on Charlotte's strength in order to survive. But everyone has a breaking point...

What I’ve found so unusual about Linear Tactical is how Janie Crouch has found a way of getting her characters peripherally involved in huge governmental-level-type espionage incidents even if they aren’t actually neck-deep in the deep-end of things and jet-setting all over the world to prevent a nuclear meltdown. It’s romantic suspense done somewhat differently (there’s still plenty of action, deception and loose ends in the small place that they’re all based) and it’s something I’m new to.

Crouch tackles Finn Bollinger’s and Charlie Devereux’s second-chance story in ‘Eagle’, where their history is hinted at in the first book of her Linear Tactical series as an unhappy one. But as it becomes evident that Charlie had left Finn to marry someone else and left him in bad shape 8 years ago, the twist of fate that brings them back together (the former as the special needs tutor of Finn’s son) is more than just one that rekindles their burnt-out relationship. Throw in a boy (who’s got more than meets the eye), a sleazy strip club, a quasi-military operation and a private security firm and a perfect storm starts to brew.

Much of Finn/Charlie’s story came from the anticipation of reading what really happened all those years ago and Crouch certainly took some time to build up to this. Yet the slow trickle of information that filtered through in the form of Charlie’s lack of willingness to be upfront with Finn about her secrets and problems, did make it hard for me to get behind their second-chance romance, let alone a female protagonist whom I wasn’t entirely sure I could support.

I probably would have liked Charlie a lot more had she been more remorseful and upfront about her own hard-headed decisions that she’d taken without seemingly fully considering the damage she’d wrought. In fact, for someone who’d tackled everything else head-on in the swath of destruction she’d left in her wake, I’d expected Charlie to be less cowardly in the way she still chose to assume the worst of Finn and of them when she’d never quite picked him over her own family to begin with.

But a caveat here: I’ll admit readily that the second-chance romance trope isn’t one that I typically like, so my review of ‘Eagle’ (and my rather stinging critique of Charlie) are definitely skewed because of this certain bent.

Despite my own reservations, I did find ‘Eagle’ quite compelling, the last quarter ramping up to be the most intense and heart-pounding part of the story. Crouch does pull all of it together in a way that’s quite neatly tied up—the suspension of disbelief comes into play, of course—while leaving a hook for Aiden’s story to come and that’s already what I’m looking forward to.

three-stars

Fireworks by Sarina Bowen

Fireworks by Sarina BowenFireworks by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North #6
Published by Tuxbury Publishing LLC on 13th November 2018
Pages: 293
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two-stars

Skye Copeland is on paid leave from her broadcasting job after accidentally drawing a pecker on the traffic map.

Let that sink in. Like it’s her fault the traffic pattern that day created a perfect schlong?

Skye isn’t laughing. She needs this job. And that’s the only reason she’s agreed to chase down a story in her least favorite place—that hell on earth known as Vermont.

A quick trip. In and out. Much like - never mind. Skye can sneak into the town that once tried to break her, get the story and get back into the good graces of her producer. Easy peasy.

Except things go sideways even as she sets foot over the county line. Her step-sister is on the run from a violent drug dealer. And the cop on the case is none other than Benito Rossi, the man who broke her teenage heart.

His dark brown eyes still tear her apart. And even as she steels herself to finally tell him off after twelve years, the old fireworks are still there.

Things are about to go boom.

‘Fireworks’ is Sarina Bowen’s ever-growing ‘Truth North’ series as we’re taken back on the ride to Vermont where Skylar and Benito meet again after 12 years. Their history is slowly revealed in flashbacks over the course of the story, enveloped lovingly by the rustic Vermont small-town community and memories that don’t just seem to fade.

If this starts out rather light-hearted, Bowen inserts a little more suspense here along with the quirk and in this way, this particular instalment is a little different from the rest of the books, as a large part of the plot is being driven by an impending drug bust and a sexual predator who’d already left some stains in the characters’ lives.

‘Fireworks’ had some bits that bothered me, in fact—but this was what I’d expected of the ‘True North’ series which has so far, brought my own reactions to extremes. But I like Bowen’s style of writing (though not her characters always), so perhaps this still makes me a glutton for punishment.

I found Skye a sympathetic character mostly; Bowen’s portrayal of a hapless teenager facing down a sexual predator is terrifying and I can certainly understand how these experiences shaped her future though there seemed to be contradictory parts of Skye (practical, wry, yet a complete pushover where her rather dumb stepsister and Benito were concerned) that I couldn’t reconcile with the picture that I’d formed early on of her.

But the late insertion of the classic ‘other woman/hookup’ plot device coming into play later honestly bothered me as much as it did Skye—that it’d taken a lot for her to be naked and vulnerable for Benito, only for him to call that very act casual with another woman—because it simply felt disrespectful and somehow cheapening of their growing romance.

A 12-year separation is a long time and having Benito claim Skye is the only girl he’d ever loved while not actively doing a thing to find her again (as well as hooking up with others in the meantime, with the most recent one being Skye’s rival) felt hypocritical to me. That Benito had been hooking up with a ‘mean-girl’ then flightily going straight onto professing his love for Skye whom he’s always wanted just made this part of the story way too hard to swallow. It’d made him seem like a player and one who simply messed around other women’s feelings even if it was because of his obliviousness.

This device is one that I’ve come to actively detest in recent years; more often than not, it’s used too commonly to create conflict and have one protagonist doubt the other’s devotion or fidelity, only for some grovelling to ensue before the usual trite platitudes (‘it was only sex’, ‘it was only casual’, ’she/he means nothing to me’, ‘it’s only you for me’ or some other phrases with the same flavour) that’ll be thrown out and easily accepted. Yet as a reader, coming back from this type of comparison no matter what the character in question says, is damn near impossible. Like Skye, it’s something that can’t be un-read, or un-heard and thereafter serves as a niggling reminder of the past which pretty much killed the rest of the book for me.

‘Fireworks’ as a result, left me conflicted. I probably would have liked it way, way better minus the Jill Sullivan/mean-girl hookup nonsense which made me stumble irrecoverably, which in turn would have had me more wholeheartedly rooting for this particular second-chance romance—a trope that I already find myself sceptical about.

two-stars

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on 29th January 2019
Pages: 352
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Crush: a strong and often short-lived infatuation, particularly for someone beyond your reach…

… If Darcy Barrett hadn’t met her dream man when she was eight years old, the rest of the male population wouldn’t be such a let-down. No one measures up to Tom Valeska, aka the best man on Earth, not in looks, brain or heart. Even worse is the knowledge that her twin brother Jamie saw him first, and claimed him forever as his best friend.

Tom’s off limits and loyal to her brother, 99%. One percent of Tom has had to be enough for Darcy, and her adoration has been sustained by his shy kindness. And if she’s honest, his tight t-shirts.

Now Darcy’s got three months left to get her life together before her twin insists on selling the tumble-down cottage they inherited from their grandmother. By night, she’s working in a seedy bar, shooting down lame pickups from bikers. By day, she’s sewing underwear for her best friend and wasting her award-winning photography skills on website shots of pens and novelty mugs. She’s enjoying living the messy life, and a glass of wine or ten… until that one night, when she finds a six-foot-six perfect package on her porch.

Tom’s here, he’s bearing power tools—and he’s single for the first time in a decade.

As a house flipper extraordinaire, Tom has been dispatched by Jamie to give the cottage a drastic facelift that will result in a ton of cash. Darcy doesn’t appreciate Tom’s unsentimental approach to knocking down walls, and he really, really doesn’t approve of her current burnout boyfriend. They can’t be in the same room together without sparks flying- and it’s not the faulty wiring. One bedroom wall separates them at night, and even that’s looking flimsy.

Will Tom ever see Darcy as anything other than a little-sister obstacle to get around? And can she stand up to her most formidable opponent—her twin? This time around, she’s determined to make Tom Valeska 99 percent hers, and he’s never managed to say no to her yet…

I’m not sure how to deal with my own sky-high expectations after Sally Thorne’s ‘The Hating Game’, so ‘99 Percent Mine’ having to match these is a tough order to boot. And as much as it pains me to say, my struggles started as I was barely past the first few pages.

Now that didn’t bode all that well. Getting on board with Darcy Barrett’s voice, her inner musings—neurotic, bitchy, lonely and tetchy—written in a first-person POV, New Adult style storytelling was difficult to begin with. There were too many tangents that a single, small thought of hers took, to the point where I wondered what Darcy really was trying to ramble on about as the story wound round and round with her self-deprecating bitterness and her observations of her surroundings (this swung from random things to other random things like a stream of consciousness) before moving forward with some significant developments.

Darcy was also quite the runner in every sense of the word, which isn’t the kind of protagonist I can say I honestly like. (Somehow characters in romantic fiction who drift from country to country, never putting down roots are those who in some clichéd manner, never seem to find their home until the one thing that’s been always bothering them gets put to bed.) Her endless pining for Tom Valeska was described with bombastic, exaggerated care, though much of it just came off as hopeless and reckless, just like what Thorne seemed to portray of Darcy—an annoying and burned-out mess who has descended into a deranged spiral of morbid thoughts of Tom and his supposed fiancée, while going at her own love life and career like the tanked things they were.

In any case, I couldn’t even finish the book at all. Maybe someday in the far distant future, ‘99 Percent Mine’ might be just what I need. But not today.

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Nightchaser by Amanda BouchetNightchaser by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Endeavor, #1
Published by Piatkus Books on 1st January 2019
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Captain Tess Bailey and her crew of Robin Hood-like thieves are desperate and on the run. Pursued by a vicious military general who wants them dead or alive, Tess has to decide if she can trust Shade Ganavan, a tall, dark and arrogant stranger with ambiguous motivations.

Shade Ganavan had oodles of arrogance, oodles of charm, and oodles of something that made me want to kick him in the nuts.

What Tess and Shade don’t know about each other might get them killed…unless they can set aside their differences and learn to trust each other—while ignoring their off-the-charts chemistry.

Being a well-conditioned Star Wars fan, having a ragtag bunch of misfits playing Robin Hood, with its leader as the ultimate rebel sounds exactly like the sort of rogue space adventure I will always want to read. ‘Nightchaser’ is so different from Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles (which I admittedly did struggle with) with the promise of the swashbuckling adventure of space pirates, rogue traders and a large, sort-of evil empire—all with the shades of the much-beloved Star Wars universe that I inhabit—that it was compelling enough to get into: not too epic at the start that I was left lost and wandering in an asteroid field of complex world-building but with just enough futuristic technological details so that I was eased into Bouchet’s own brand of galactic adventure before the heavy stuff comes in.

 

Tess Bailey isn’t who she seems and her story gradually unfurls after a rollicking start, though a little more slowly by the time she encounters Shade Ganavan who in turn, is both enthralled and caught in a moral dilemma where she’s concerned. Bouchet juggles both Tess’s and Shade’s backstories quite well, buoyed by a strong and loyal supporting cast of characters who make up a crew of escaped convicts—all of whose pasts aren’t exactly fleshed out. By the time this instalment ends however, there’re more questions than answers, with things left very much unfinished.

What I find particularly jarring is the use of the first-person POV for Tess, which then moves onto the third-person for Shade, so much so that it feels like the former’s voice is coming straight out of a New Adult Fantasy novel versus the more distant yet crafted/sophisticated narrative voice of the author via Shade. My preference is firmly for the latter and even as I read on, I never quite got used to these switches, as infrequent as they may be.

Still, this is a read that’s not too heavy-going—I found myself putting it down more than I though I would nonetheless—and it’s not hard to get through, even if Bouchet does insert some of the socio-political themes that history cycles though time and again. The sage words of wisdom that several characters dole out are ultimately, variations on the typical but popular moral questions that syfy always posits, or at least, they provide a meta commentary that jumps out from the pages when this happens.

In all, ‘Nightchaser’ is a decent read, even if my lingering sense of frustration from an incomplete narrative arc is going to stay for a while longer yet.

four-stars

Hard Night by Jackie Ashenden

Hard Night by Jackie AshendenHard Night by Jackie Ashenden
Series: 11th Hour #3
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on 27th November 2018
Pages: 304
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two-stars


It's their pleasure to serve . . .

Made up of former soldiers, the men of the 11th Hour play by their own rules to protect the innocent, capture the guilty, and stay in fighting shape for whatever--and whoever--comes their way . . .

Jacob Night, ex-Black Ops, owner of a billion-dollar security company, and leader of the 11th Hour, spends his life completing dangerous missions for others. But there's one personal mission he has yet to complete: Finding his missing brother, who was betrayed by the woman he should have been able to trust. But when he finally tracks down his brother's ex, there's one surprise: she can't remember a thing.

Faith has no memory of who she is. She can't remember life before she came to work for Jacob Night, and she's not sure she wants to. But when she and Jacob are ambushed by men who have come to kill her for sins she can't recall committing, she has no choice but to face the past. Yet once she does, and Jacob's identity--and her own--come to light, they may not survive with their lives intact, let alone their hearts.

‘Hard Night’ starts off odd and somewhat implausible, with a writing style that takes a while to get used to.

So odd that it took me a while to grasp the even stranger relationship that Faith has with Jacob that Jackie Ashenden sets out to write: a woman suffering from memory loss whom he takes in because of several conflicting reasons that are given in the search for his brother.

Mostly, it’s the suspension of disbelief that I had a problem with, which lasted quite a bit of the book at least: that Faith hadn’t questioned very much about Jacob’s intentions and her own circumstances, or that Jacob really couldn’t quite decide if she was the enemy or a tool to use or the time lapse for things to start happening. There’s also the uncomfortable hint of double-dipping, until at least Faith regains her memory, with a sort of split personality coming in here as she finally finds herself at odds with Jacob and his search for his brother.

As far as romantic suspense goes, there’s action from the beginning that thrusts Jacob and Faith in a situation where they are forced to get close despite their living situation, though it quickly dives into erotica after that, with possessive domination and roughness that characterise how sex happens between them.

Most of all however, I think I was simply left flailing, unable to get a foothold in what Jacob/Faith are supposed to be, in the contradictory ways they react to each other, in the push-pull that says one thing at first then another. With a ‘connection’ so physically superficial that it rides more on ideas of ownership—and fighting each other into bed—than anything remotely resembling caring/love, I was likewise, trying (but not really succeeding) to get invested in this pairing, let alone the plot that stuttered because of the exhausting number of pages of rough-and-clothes-ripping-type-sex. Needless to say, this just isn’t a book that worked for me.

two-stars

Fractured Honor by Kaylea Cross

Fractured Honor by Kaylea CrossFractured Honor by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point, #1
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 25th September 2018
Pages: 251
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four-stars

An elite warrior struggling to find his place in the civilian world.

Weary from his years on the battlefield, SF Captain Beckett Hollister has returned home to Crimson Point to take over the family business for his dying father. But adjusting to life outside the military is harder than he imagined, and being back home forces him to confront things he’d rather not face. Including the one woman he shouldn’t want and can’t have—his best friend’s little sister.

A love that was always meant to be.

Town vet Sierra Buchanan has known Beckett her entire life. She’s crushed on him for years, but because of his relationship with her family, the stubborn man refuses to see her as more than the girl he grew up with. As tragedy brings them together, neither of them realizes that the sins of Beckett’s past have come home to haunt him. When Sierra becomes the target of his unforeseen enemy, Beckett must vanquish his demons to save her.

After all these years, Kaylea Cross’s paramilitary romantic suspense books are probably quite an institution in this small corner of the romance fiction market and it’s always exciting to step into a new series Cross begins.

‘Crimson Point’—as exotic sounding it might be—doesn’t really refer to some deliciously mysterious conspiracy theory or some covert military operation despite the very posh-sounding CIA-type name for a series, but rather, the small town where military vets come back to and find their own HEA, with a slight dose of suspense woven into their stories. It’s sort of a departure for Cross given the more contemporary romance focus but there’s enough drama to keep me occupied throughout as ‘Fractured Honor’ deals with an older hero and younger heroine, with the forbidden sister of the best friend trope coming into play here along with the introductions to the supporting characters and potential pairings that will be written into her future books.
Beckett/Sierra’s history stretches over years, though neither have been available throughout their lives (the age-gap probably contributes to this) for this to happen, along with the part where neither Beckett nor Sierra are sure of themselves and their feelings they hold back from each other. Still, Cross writes about two fairly relatable and likeable protagonists who ultimately, do decide to fight for each other without too much pushing and pulling, even if I’m not sure I particularly understand why the best friend’s sister is always a forbidden trope unless the male protagonist is an utter arse, which Beckett certainly isn’t.
All in all, it’s quite an emotional read, though the heartbreak is spread out amongst the individuals in the story that we’re introduced to, so much so that I thought Cross’s attention on the supporting characters—much more than usual—did take the pedal off Beckett/Sierra quite a bit which I hoped to have more of. The resulting slow burn did get frustrating at times, but as an establishing book, ‘Fractured Honor’ does well in weaving in the potential complications to come—there are sufficient hooks after all, to keep us coming back.
four-stars

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