Tag: ARC

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda Leigh

Bones Don’t Lie by Melinda LeighBones Don't Lie by Melinda Leigh
Series: Morgan Dane #3
Published by Montlake Romance on March 13th 2018
Pages: 348
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five-stars

Private investigator Lance Kruger was just a boy when his father vanished twenty-three years ago. Since then he’s lived under the weight of that disappearance—until his father’s car is finally dredged up from the bottom of Grey Lake. It should be a time for closure, except for the skeleton found in the trunk. A missing person case gone cold has become one of murder, and Lance and attorney Morgan Dane must face the deadly past that’s risen to the surface.

For Lance, the investigation yields troubling questions about a man he thought he knew. But memories can play dirty tricks. For Morgan, uncovering each new lie comes with a disquieting fear that someone is out there watching, because someone is killing every witness tied to this decades-old crime. Morgan and Lance follow in the shadows of a relentless killer and walk right into the cross fire.

Melinda Leigh’s ‘Morgan Dane’ books are always gripping and suspenseful, locking you down with a twisty case and protagonists who work together so well that you can’t help but love them. I’ve enjoyed every one of those as much as I loved Morgan and Lance, and Leigh certainly doesn’t disappoint with ‘Bones Don’t Lie’, with a case that strikes too close to home for Lance.

Every time I think Leigh can’t do any better, she manages to surprise me once again, starting with pushing Morgan/Lance (somewhat) quietly to the top of my best fictional couples list. Individually, Lance and Morgan are fascinating, complex characters; together, their connection to each other simply feels like a solid entity that is the only constant in this maelstrom. In fact, the tense, unfolding murder mystery is contrasted with the respect and love Morgan/Lance had for each other, even as their slowly maturing relationship is tested with a significant discovery linked to Lance’s unresolved past.

The romance is slight, given that Lance and Morgan are already involved, so the focus in ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ is solely on the murder mystery which is, in itself, remarkable and creepy in its own right as it makes you question all you know about law enforcement  and the contradictions so inherent in human personalities.

Still, I inhaled every line that detailed Morgan/Lance’s interactions—Leigh infuses so much depth and subtlety in crafting these characters—that it’s merely a foregone conclusion that this pairing would only come out stronger and better for it. I love Morgan’s unwavering sense of justice, her own protectiveness towards her children as much as I love Lance’s ability to listen and pull back while not compromising his own integrity and honour. Reading about the other characters in the Scarlet Falls series made me only giddier, though that merely reinforces just how much I need more of Morgan and Lance.

five-stars

Playing House by Amy Andrews

Playing House by Amy AndrewsPlaying House by Amy Andrews
Series: Sydney Smoke Rugby #5
Published by Entangled: Brazen on February 12th 2018
Pages: 250
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two-stars

Eleanor is content with her boring life—mostly. She’s even fine being the quirky sister in a bevy of beauties. So imagine her surprise when one of her brother’s Sydney Smoke mates hits on her at an engagement party. Her. The weird sister, who wears vintage dresses and prefers her books to parties.

Bodie is shocked the next morning to find the soft, sexy virgin who seduced him with corsets is his best friend’s little sister. If he could kick his own ass, he would. And two months later, she’s got an even bigger surprise for him. Now he needs to convince the corset-loving wallflower that he loves her uniqueness if they’ve got a chance at forever.

He always did love a challenge…

‘Playing House’ did kind of fall flat for me with the stereotypes that Amy Andrews played with here—the virgin and the supposed ‘accidental’ manwhore who used to be a committed boyfriend but was cheated on—but I’m writing this review with the understanding that this imprint is more to do with smexy times than anything else. Much of Bodie/Nell’s interactions were unsurprisingly, sex-based, so their time in between the sheets were prioritised over the harder and difficult issues that crop up in romance.

Andrews’s writing is superlative as always, so if you could adjust your expectations about this imprint, then Andrews definitely delivers, objectively speaking. Nell and Bodie did scorch the sheets via a deception Nell played because she just couldn’t wait any longer to lose her virginity.

Personally, I didn’t exactly buy into this pairing somehow—not when it seemed more about animal attraction and lust that apparently overrode every ounce of common sense and worse yet, when Nell simply delayed telling Bodie about the accidental pregnancy because they frustratingly did everything else and got on with sex except to deal with the actual issue at hand. In fact, I found myself skimming the sex scenes and that was when I knew I’d completely missed the point of the Brazen line.

I’m afraid that this book isn’t for me—too many bodily functions seemed to have gone into feeding frenzy along with a heroine whom I couldn’t sympathise with at all for her dodging and running away—at all, though I probably should have known better going into this particular imprint of Entangled’s.

two-stars

True to You by Jennifer Ryan

True to You by Jennifer RyanTrue to You by Jennifer Ryan
Series: Montana Heat #2
Published by Avon on February 27th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-half-stars

A Montana Man risks everything for the woman he loves . . .

Undercover DEA Special Agent Dawson King spent five months in a Montana prison establishing a fake identity to take down a ruthless drug dealer and put him behind bars. Except there’s a wild card . . . the killer’s beloved daughter. Cara Potter may appear to be on the right side of the law, but King has learned the hard way to trust no one—even someone as tantalizing as the coffee shop owner. She’s irresistible . . . but is she also dangerous?

From the moment he enters her life, King makes Cara . . . nervous. The handsome drifter says he wants to get his life together . . . but there is something about him that doesn’t quite ring true. Cara wants to believe in him, yet she holds back despite the way he awakens dormant dreams and leaves her breathless with his sexy smile, steamy kisses, his every touch.

When the explosive truth comes out and she’s betrayed by the ones she loves, Cara must decide—can she trust her heart, or should she listen to her head?

Sometimes book covers can be deceiving, which do a great disservice to the stories in them. What looks like a cowboy romance is in fact, a romantic suspense (yay for me) novel that I would have missed out if I hadn’t taken the time to pick the blurb apart.

Jennifer Ryan is a new author to me, but ‘True to You’ is a fantastic introduction to her writing style; the story is an articulate read, done for most part, in a way where I didn’t find myself bored or skimming through what I usually call ‘filler pages’.

Cara and King were relatable protagonists and good together, and Ryan certainly didn’t waste any time setting up the scene for their paths to intersect. The on-the-edge, delicious tension between them tightened with each fine line that King crossed, as he desperately juggled his attraction to Cara and his work, while trying to be the good guy in the whole thing. But the usual problem with undercover work as a plot device is as always, the extent and depth of the deception (no matter how King tried to mitigate the damage) that cuts to the core, particularly when Cara paid yet again for it, with her already eroded trust in people who had betrayed her in the past.

The story was a little roundabout however—I did have some questions swirling around that weren’t satisfactorily addressed from the start, as were the lack of differentiation of speech/characters at times—and it did take me a while to unravel the facts on my own and get the whole plot straight before I could fully get on board with it. There were also several repetitive lines profiling the characters that didn’t feel necessary, as was the choppy pacing towards the end.

The climax happened at the 3/4 mark, leaving quite a long resolution that was filled with angst, inner monologues and huge emotional turmoil in both Cara and King, the latter of whom seemed to have ‘softened’ so much from the hardline, driven guy we saw in the breathtaking first few chapters. I’d hoped to see more action—more DEA agents scurrying around and King working in his element—in my romantic suspense reads in any case, which simply stopped after the climax took place after a short build-up. Also, with King referred to as ‘Flash’ and ‘Dawson’ as well, then Bennett as ‘Jay’ (all in the same scene) so the name changes threw me off sometimes.

‘True to You’ was in all, a good read, though not a perfect one. Still, Ryan is someone I’d be looking out for the next time something of hers gets published.

three-half-stars

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai

Hurts to Love You by Alisha RaiHurts to Love You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts #3
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Pages: 384
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four-stars

Heiress Evangeline Chandler knows how to keep a secret . . . like her life-long crush on the tattooed hottie who just happens to be her big brother’s friend. She’s a Chandler, after all, and Chandlers don’t hook up with the help. Then again, they also don’t disobey their fathers and quit their respectable jobs, so good-girl rules may no longer apply.

Gabriel Hunter hides the pain of his past behind a smile, but he can’t hide his sudden attraction to his friend’s sheltered little sister. Eve is far too sweet to accept anything less than forever and there’s no chance of a future between the son of a housekeeper and the town’s resident princess.

When a wedding party forces Eve and Gabe into tight quarters, keeping their hands off each other will be as hard as keeping their clothes on. The need that draws them together is stronger than the forces that should shove them apart . . . but their sparks may not survive the explosion when long-buried secrets are finally unearthed.

For a man nearly a dozen years older than Evangeline Chandler, she’s the epitome of the forbidden fruit. The rich heiress shouldn’t fraternise with the housekeeper’s son, after all. Still, Eve had barely registered on Gabe Hunter’s radar when she was younger and their few meetings since then when the families feuded meant that he’d got even fewer glimpse of the Baby Chandler, until she burst back into his life suddenly. But because this is Alisha Rai—one of the reining queens of angst and emotions—‘Hurts to Love You’ is far from the Princess Bride, and instead, a meandering journey of hurt after hurt that every pairing needs to go through before getting their HEA.

Nonetheless, I was oddly charmed by Eve—the rich girl whose personality and struggles spoke the most to me. Then I thought she was one of the bravest characters I’d ever come across, from her moonlighting as a driver, to her her crazy infatuation with Gabe that made me laugh a little because it felt exactly like the innocuous things girls simply did to be close to their crushes. I loved how she tested every boundaries, courageously put herself out there in spite of Gabe’s harsh quickness in shutting down the potential between them. Rai’s nuanced writing won Eve over for me and as the title suggested, it did hurt, or at least I did, for Eve, mostly, as she went through rejection after rejection. Pain became the keyword in this book somehow, because Gabe was too caught up in his self-recrimination about his parentage and his age-issues, while Eve seemed to be the only one to fight for him when it really mattered.

Rai’s ‘Forbidden Hearts’ series is steeped deep in family drama and this installment isn’t too different. But I found it easier to get into and the whole read a more engrossing experience than the previous books, maybe because Eve/Gabe appeared initially unencumbered with the deep entanglement of family that the previous pairings seemed to be mired in from the very start. My rating of the book however, is mostly for Eve—the encapsulation of the strong heroine—and less for Gabe who seemed seemed cowardly in contrast when all he did was mostly run.

This doesn’t change the fact that ‘Hurts to Love You’ gave a good emotional workout…few books simply do those hard emotional punches that well and Rai aptly closes the series with mended but scarred hearts. The ending is as always, bittersweet, but perhaps that’s where it finds the most purchase.

four-stars

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith DuranThe Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran
Series: Rules for the Reckless #6
Published by Pocket Books on February 27th 2018
Pages: 368
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four-stars

BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE...

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

...BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna's courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can't win back Liam's love, then she means at least to save his soul...no matter the cost.

There are few authors who can tempt me back into historical romance and Meredith Duran is always one of them. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that the very peculiar situation of Lord Lockwood, or better known as Liam Devaliant—first revealed in ‘The Duke of Shadows’ as the man with an odd temper, an odder past and an obviously missing bride—is one that’s gripping and compelling enough to wait several years for.

‘The Sins of Lord Lockwood’ is an absolutely unexpected treat, dashing away all my expectations of a wimpy, hiding heroine and a man who constantly pushes her away for his shame at having been kidnapped and imprisoned. Instead, Duran presents a strong heroine capable of matching her husband’s changed mien—riddled with PTSD and a barely-concealed rage that leaks out as near-schizophrenia—and in doing so, has probably crafted one of the most memorable historical heroines I’ve ever had the pleasure of cheering for.

Lockwood’s and Anna’s present reality is interspersed with the lazy days of their meeting and their courtship 4 years prior, as Duran’s narrative weaves between the pragmatic (though flirty) circumstances of their initial union and the strained volatile interactions of their reconciliation. There are hints of what Liam suffered in Elland, but the details are fuzzy: Duran concentrates on sensation, conflict and pain rather than gives a blow-by-blow account of what really happened, as these help to explain why Lockwood seemingly vacillates between moments of forced indifference and letting the tormented beast loose at unexpected times.

What surprises me most perhaps, is how Anna comes across, though Duran—which I loudly applaud—writes very contemporary sensibilities into her heroines that make them three-dimensionally relatable. Anna’s capability, her management skills, her fearless leap into the affairs of men, her strength and determination to pull her husband back from the brink left me in awe…here is the ‘modern historical’ female protagonist whom I absolutely dig (though clearly this is not the norm of Victorian England), the woman whose alpha tendencies could probably have helped front the #MeToo movement if given the chance.

Duran’s superlative prose is as always, a big draw, pulling the nuances of emotions and desire together in a way that makes me stop and savour her written word. That alone is reason enough to put Duran on my reading list, though ‘The Sins of Lord Lockwood’—read it even if only to revisit Emma and Julian—is one that I’ll remember for some time to come for a protagonist who stands starkly apart from so many others.

four-stars

Virgin Territory by Lia Riley

Virgin Territory by Lia RileyVirgin Territory by Lia Riley
Series: Hellions Angels #3
Published by Avon Impulse on March 6th 2018
Pages: 131
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one-star

Practice Makes Perfect

Patrick “Patch” Donnelly has what it takes to be the best goalie in the NHL…if only he could learn to control his temper. When Coach orders him to get his head in the game with private yoga classes, Patch isn’t having it. There’s no way this tough Boston guy would be caught dead downward dog-ing his way to inner peace. But if he refuses, he risks his starting position and the dream he sacrificed everything for, including joining the priesthood.

Yoga instructor Margot Kowalski is over men. After yet another toxic relationship, she’s eager to forget love and focus on growing her business. Doing the Hellions head coach a favor by helping out a troubled player can't hurt, and it might give her career a high-profile boost. But free-spirited Margot is soon charming the pants off Patch. Literally. Her sassy combination of sweet and sexy proves irresistible to the goalie. Before Patch can give into temptation though, he’ll have to confess his biggest secret:

He’s a virgin.

But Patch is hiding more than sexual inexperience, and his dark past soon threatens to destroy his shot at true love.

I like Lia Riley’s writing—which strangely reminds me of the cocksure voices of authors like Kimberly Kincaid, Avery Flynn and a few others—and the self-assured tone that’s found throughout makes the reading process a breeze. And that was enough to request for an ARC of this book, though the premise of the story when I first read it, admittedly made me very wary of it, particularly when this thing called ‘virginity’ comes into question.

So this is all me, my own writerly and readerly hang-ups, that are being reflected in this review.

The imbalance of sexual experience, for want of a better way of putting it, isn’t exactly trope I like to read about; the role reversal here didn’t make much of a difference—the sexually-experienced woman and the virgin man, with the former going as far as to instruct the latter. And that makes me cringe, because reading romance novels has never been a tit-for-tat issue for me; I don’t purposefully go for books that deliberately try to turn the tables on supposed stereotypical gender roles simply because there have been too many manwhores and inexperienced women. While readers may crow about and love the role reversal here, my own reason deviates somewhat: I delve into romance to actually root for a couple that I think I can genuinely get behind and for a few hours of escapism from reality which good writing has the capability of doing, rather than for the purpose of gender shaming or the robust defence of one over the other.

Unfortunately, ‘Virgin Territory’ felt like that for me from the start—too much of it like a woman’s slamming rant against sexist men in order to reinforce what women should be allowed to do/believe in the 21st century. Like in ‘Head Coach’, there was a tad bit much of what sounded like meta-speak for women’s rights: why slut-shaming is wrong, why women should be free to have the sex they want, yada yada and it did come across as somewhat preachy at times…all through the mouth of Margot, whose repetitive, defensive insistence of it felt annoying after a while, particularly when it stemmed from a position of insecurity and loneliness.

There’s also the problem that seems inherent in ‘virgin’ romances, whether the virgin character is male or female—that a huge, huge deal is made out of it, or that it is either a huge stumbling block that makes people pause or that virginity is something pesky to be gotten rid of. Admittedly, that Patch’s religion had a part in this story, that he wanted sex to mean something and for once, I could actually appreciate how the church had been an anchor in his life, rather than the usual interpretation of toxic religion that much of romantic fiction uses as a crutch against love and sex. I felt for Patch, the difficult history he’s had, and the self-awareness he had of himself, which already put him far above many heroes I’ve read about.

Needless to say, for reasons that are clearly my own, ‘Virgin Territory’ was an excruciating read. I found that I couldn’t go on past the halfway mark, not because I don’t like Riley’s style, but because the subject matter put me off too much.

one-star

Levi by Anna Hackett

Levi by Anna HackettLevi by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #15
Published by Anna Hackett on January 30th 2018
Pages: 130
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And…Hell Squad returns with a bang, and quite literally so. I have a soft spot for this apocalyptic world set in the smoking ruins surrounding Sydney, as unbreakable bonds are forged—mostly with hot sex—in the aftermath of an alien invasion, by people who would never have crossed paths otherwise.

Anna Hackett’s series advances the whole narrative arc slowly and ‘Levi’—the 15th book in the series—takes a tiny step further in unveiling new developments in this ruined world: the Gizzida strengthen their hold on earth with their strange technology as the humans fight back slowly but surely. There isn’t much of a huge leap forward here, or a turning point that throws the entire series into a spin, except for the creation of a situation that is tailored to push Levi King and Chrissy Hagen together. The ride is as always, nonetheless, an action-packed and fun one, as are the hints of the couples to come in the next few HS books.

Like most series I read however, there’ll always be characters I like more than others and unfortunately, Levi King wasn’t one of them. Simply put, I’m way too sceptical about over-the-top bad-boys and Levi, with his manwhoring, presumptuous ways didn’t really win me over. That he suddenly sought something committed with Chrissy only because she challenged him still left me wondering about his staying power (blame the daddy-issues here), apart from the possessive vibe he often emitted.

But Chrissy…be still my heart. Hackett, wrote a champion with the marvellous, tough, sassy Chrissy, who was more than a match for Levi, in her stubbornness and refusal to give an inch to his crude pursuit. I loved her grit and her strength, cheered her in every way and was almost sorry when she finally gave into Levi.

That said, Hackett’s HS books are always an easy read; too many of her books in this series feel as though they end too quickly—but ‘Levi’ seemed the perfect length this time around, which definitely made it more satisfying than usual.