Tag: ARC

Threat of Danger by Dana Marton

Threat of Danger by Dana MartonThreat of Danger by Dana Marton
Published by Montlake Romance on June 5th 2018
Pages: 304
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four-stars

Jess Taylor and Derek Daley were in the throes of first love in a small Vermont town when they were kidnapped by a serial killer. They escaped his clutches—but not the trauma of the unsolved crime. With their lives changed forever and their romance cut short, they went their separate ways to exorcise their fears.

Jess is living on the edge as Hollywood’s hottest stuntwoman. It’s no longer terror thrumming through her veins. It’s adrenaline. Derek is a former Navy SEAL spinning his ordeals into heart-pounding bestselling thrillers. But when Jess is called home on a family emergency, she must face the past—and face the man she left behind, who is just as haunted and, like her, still so much in love.

Now, as an old flame reignites, Jess and Derek are taking advantage of second chances and putting their bad memories behind them. But here, in the quiet town of Taylorville, a killer is getting a second chance as well.

With Dana Marton, each book is radically different: characters, histories and backstories, all of it and it’s this kind of unpredictability that makes Marton a compelling writer. In fact, ‘Threat of Danger’ is nothing like its predecessor (save the good writing), is only very marginally linked to it and a solid standalone in its own right.

‘Threat of Danger’ is in essence, a whodunnit mystery that builds up to the revelatory moment and it’s closer to a typical ‘crime’ story rather than a military one that I’d expected. Jess/Derek’s story unfolds slowly, almost painfully as the memories return, the irrational blame that Jess places on Derek for their ordeal in the woods a decade ago coming to light as she’s forced to revisit her hometown. Jess’s family business of sugaring fascinated me, as did Marton’s deliberate but unusual pairing of a stuntwoman who lives on adrenaline highs (yet stays anonymous) and a retired SEAL who’s now a bestselling thriller writer.

Jess’s and Derek’s story is also a second-chance one that, because of the circumstances laid out, is more or less a believable one, though it does seem as though Jess and Derek come together incidentally because of her return. This pairing would absolutely not have existed otherwise save for the hand of fate so to speak, and the quick fall back in love (was it ever?) felt a mite bit forced, especially over the few weeks that Jess stayed.

The biggest issue I have is the perp’s (somewhat weak) motivation for committing crimes which didn’t entirely make too much sense, but then again, should there really be expecting a solid, logical reason for characters doing what they do? Maybe. Nonetheless, I would have liked to be more convinced about the deeper, more twisted psychological rationale behind the string of serial killings that the perp committed at least, particularly in a story that’s all about shoring up the moments until the momentous climax.

There’s no doubt that Dana Marton’s writing is thrilling, her opening scene superbly crafted, as dreaded anticipation cuts the knife edge of a vague menace that we never quite find out about. That much I knew from the prologue that I’d better buckle in for the ride that awaited me and I was right. ‘Threat of Danger’ is engrossing, compelling and thankfully, filled with mature characters (some of whom act as tragic parallels to Jess/Derek’s relationship) who add rather than detract from the entire storytelling. It’s in all, an entertaining read that had the time passing without me even knowing it, and I finished the book moist with anticipation with what else Marton has up her sleeve in the rest of this series.

four-stars

More Than Words by Mia Sheridan

More Than Words by Mia SheridanMore Than Words by Mia Sheridan
Published by Forever on 12th June 2018
Pages: 336
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one-star

The moment she met Callen Hayes, eleven-year-old Jessica Creswell knew he was a broken prince. Her prince. They became each other's refuge, a safe and magical place far from their troubled lives. Until the day Callen kissed her--Jessica's first real, dreamy kiss—and then disappeared from her life without a word.

Years later, everyone knows who Callen Hayes is. Famous composer. Infamous bad boy. What no one knows is that Callen's music is now locked deep inside, trapped behind his own inner demons. It's only when he withdraws to France to drink his way through the darkness that Callen stumbles into the one person who makes the music return. Jessica. His Jessie. And she still tastes of fresh, sweet innocence . . . even as she sets his blood on fire.

But they don't belong in each other's worlds anymore. There are too many mistakes. Too many secrets. Too many lies. All they have is that instinctive longing, that need—and something that looks dangerously like love.

The blurb for ‘More of You’ was intriguing and given that there are some of Mia Sheridan’s work I do like, I have to say that this book tested my patience and crossed several personal boundaries for me: adultery and cheating, even though it’s probably Sheridan’s idea to show how far Callen had fallen before the journey of his redemption begins, with a girl whom he’d once shared some dreams with.

From the start, I had the inkling that ‘flights of fancy’ might have been the phrase to describe the sort of relationship Jessica and Callen had. In the prologue, Jessica and Callen had a connection forged in in fairytales and fantasies which felt fanciful for me, but then this is probably my cynical self speaking—I found it less grounded in reality and more wrapped in cotton-wool in fact. Granted, as children, seeking to escape the difficult situations at home, this was a scenario that I could accept.

But it was hard to continue thereafter—maintaining objectivity was harder if I was supposed to be invested in this story as a romance—when it became clear Callen wasn’t a character who had integrity, whose reprehensible, degenerate behaviour wasn’t what I could or wanted to root for in the beginning, much less care about his journey back to ’normalcy’ from the start. Having spent most of the book insisting that he was could not be the man Jessica deserved and pushing her away merely gave weight to what he really was after all: unworthy.

That Jessica, who remained an inexperienced virgin throughout the 10 years and kept trying to see him as her prince with rose-coloured glasses didn’t make her any less bewildering or weak a character for doing so. Her caving so easily to his charms while he became a manwhore was the last straw for me, especially when it sounded like this was going to be a contrived virgin-saves-the-rake-with-her-purity and goodness sort of tale.

I couldn’t scrub my mind off this book quickly enough. I never quite thought this day would come, but my stabby, explosive and fit-throwing reaction to ‘More of You’ is probably a good sign that Mia Sheridan and I need to part ways.

one-star

Forged in Ember by Trish McCallan

Forged in Ember by Trish McCallanForged in Ember by Trish McCallan
Series: Red-Hot SEALS #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 15th May 2018
Pages: 394
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three-stars

In the final novel in the scorching Red-Hot SEALs series, a desperate mother and a Navy SEAL fight fire with fire to protect their love and save the world…

Amy Chastain has made a lot of enemies—none so ruthless as the insanely powerful New Ruling Order (NRO). When they killed her husband, it was hell. Then they targeted her children by injecting them with a dangerous, experimental isotope. Now Amy trusts only one man to help her: the ex-commander of SEAL Team 7.

In the company of Navy SEALs, Jace “Mac” Mackenzie was in his physical element. Now he’s on the run from the same cabal that poisoned Amy’s children. That doesn’t stop him from launching a mission to bring down the NRO—and find an antidote. But the clock is ticking. And as the sparks fly between him and Amy, Mac realizes he has more to lose than ever before.

As Mac closes in on the NRO, he uncovers a plot that threatens more than Amy’s children. Now it’s a race against time to stop a global conspiracy, save the woman he loves, and protect the family that’s starting to feel like his.

Driven by hate, Amy Chastain seeks vengeance for her children who have been used as scientific subjects. She’s not the only one part of the collateral damage when a flight was hijacked months ago, though that critical event has made it obvious that there are bigger things at play. Smack in the middle of the instability are new bonds that are made (though not without much friction in the process) and with a revelation of a Dan-Brown-type conspiracy, 4 SEALs manage to fall in love along the way. That, in a nutshell, is how far we’ve come.

‘Forged in Ember’ closes the whole series as the bad guys are dispatched, only with a loose thread or so left hanging so that there’s room for a sequel. There’s also a helpful recap of the entire story-arc in the beginning, which makes ‘Forged in Ember’ a passable standalone, but the odd bits of paranormal activity, coupled with the suspense, would probably mean that the rest of the books in this series are best read in order before tackling this one.

There’s no bigger relief than this—to see the final book in Trish McCallan’s ‘Red-Hot SEALs’ series appear, especially since the wait time for it has stretched an excruciating number of years. But I’ve held out, unable to forget that the series contains an odd but good mix of conspiracy theories, military suspense and paranormal happenings that form a cocktail potent enough to keep me constantly lapping at the pages. That McCallan’s writing style is exactly what I go for in this particular genre for doesn’t hurt either.

I’ve always been intrigued by the tension between Jace McKenzie and Amy Chastain after their very unusual meeting (in rather tragic circumstances) in the first book, anyway, and ‘Forged in Ember’ finally tells their story. Amy Chastain has always stood out like a beacon of unflagging courage and fortitude—the horrors of what she’d suffered from the first book have made me want her story from the start, as McCallan pairs a woman whose strength can’t afford to waver with a rough-hewn, temperamentally impulsive commander who’s as brutish, gruff and blunt as they come. Still, their coming together is more muted that I thought, hindered many times, by the race to save her son.

As a result, the HEA in the uneasy aftermath feels like shaky foundation on which this book ends. McCallan’s SEALs get their happy rides into the sunset, banished as they are from active duty as they know it, reinstated into another secretive order that will probably see the light of day again. There are things that I thought somewhat bizarre and out of place—the large insertion of native Indian tribal rites and rituals, the super-secret, well-stocked military base off the official lines, the influence of the supernatural here—which also takes a great amount of the suspension of disbelief. Or that paranormal abilities, which defy all attempts at rational explanation anyway, conveniently pop up at times give a deus-ex-machina cop-out to prevent more characters from dropping dead like flies and help save the day.
three-stars

Stripped by Tara Wyatt

Stripped by Tara WyattStripped by Tara Wyatt
Series: Blue HEAT, #1
Published by Avon Impulse on 15th May 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Detective Sawyer Matthews isn’t just having a bad day—he’s having the worst day. His hunt for the criminal who killed his team member has stalled and now… he’s got to play nice with his new, totally unwanted partner. It’s not that she isn’t qualified, or that he doesn’t like her—it’s because he knows what she looks like naked. So very, very naked.

Brooke Simmons finally landed her dream job working for H.E.A.T, an elite undercover detective squad, and she’s not giving up simply because she had a one-night-stand with her sullen—but undeniably sexy—new partner. They’ll just have to keep it professional. Easier said than done, considering their first case requires Sawyer to infiltrate a drug cartel operating out of a male strip show. Watching him do his best Magic Mike impression every night isn’t just hot—it’s torture.

Sawyer doesn’t need any distractions, yet his attraction to Brooke is explosive and he can’t resist going for round two. Or three. Or four. But as their investigation progresses and danger mounts, they’ll have to put their jobs, hearts, and lives on the line to fight… for each other, for survival, and for justice.

Tara Wyatt’s newest law enforcement series sounded like the kind of romantic suspense I wanted to dig my heels into and ‘Stripped’—in more ways than one—is the introduction to a trio of detectives seeking to avenge the death of their friend, while finding their HEA along the way.

It’s not quite a workplace romance gone wrong, but Brooke and Sawyer went at it in reverse—from a one-night stand to the mortifying discovery that they actually work together—with Brooke as a replacement for Sawyer’s fallen best friend. As they got very hot and extremely heavy in the opening scenes for what was meant to be a one-nighter, I felt a tad bit cheated out of the usual play of tension that I normally like before they actually fall into bed, then felt equally off-centre as both Brooke and Sawyer did as I didn’t know where the direction of ‘Stripped’ was going.

My own expectations of a high-octane, non-stop police drama weren’t quite fulfilled; instead we had Sawyer and Brooke sniping post-hookup (and basically being jerks to each other) that got annoying at times instead of the heavy and heated glances that typically build. Then it got weirdly comical when Sawyer went undercover as a male stripper, kicking off a raunchiness that rivalled a porno given the amount of sexy times in it when I wanted to read more about hard-core police work.

There were overly-used clichéd phrases written in that made me cringe as well, and some unwelcome development of secondary characters whose future stories I know I might not be looking forward to read. In all, there was certainly action that kept me going (of the actual road-rash-giving kind) and I did, for most of it, liked Brooke’s no-nonsense character save for the last, somewhat out-of-character TSTL move on her part.

But there were lulls in the pacing that made the whole story move along in a jerky fashion and I did at times, feel somewhat untethered to the plot that just didn’t build or move when I thought it would, in a direction I thought it would. That said, ‘Stripped’ is far from a bad read, only that I wished I enjoyed it more.

three-stars

Built to Last by Julie Ann Walker

Built to Last by Julie Ann WalkerBuilt to Last by Julie Ann Walker
Series: Black Knights Inc., #12
Published by Sourcebooks on 3rd July 2018
Pages: 384
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two-stars

Masterful, mysterious, and completely ruthless, Jamin “Angel” Agassi joined the Black Knights Inc. after a mission-gone-wrong forced him to undergo extensive plastic surgery and change his name. He's going to bring down the world's worst crime syndicate, and hopefully keep Sonya Butler, a love from his past, from discovering who he really is...

When a dark-eyed stranger gets caught up in Sonya’s latest mission, she starts to question all her hard-won instincts. Something about Angel tells her he's more than he seems, and sometimes, when she least expects it, he reminds her of a man she used to know. As the bullets fly, she realizes that in love and war nothing is ever what it seems...

As the tail-end of Julie Ann Walker’s ‘Black Knights Inc.’, ‘Built to Last’ has an interesting premise and one that reminds me strongly of another book that I’ve read and found confounding, but the lure of black-ops, action and suspense is always hard to resist.

No doubt this has a sweeping narrative arc—a feature of the typical romantic suspense novel that I love—and coming into this so late in the game means that it can be hard keeping the story straight in my head. I lacked the context about the hows and whys of this particular mission and being dropped like this into the story was disconcerting. My bad here.

But this much I knew: Jamin “Angel” Agassi felt like most remote of the lot and as an agent, well, he’s one to be admired and feared for doing his job well. Country above everything. Duty above love. The righteousness of sacrifice being the mantra he works according to, which happens to give leeway to do things using a bewildering number of identities. And that’s all the positive things that I can give about this character.

Walker writes a second-chance romance and I was hoping that this would be one of the rare few that would work for me. The validity of the explanations for the separation and what both characters did in the years are usually the answers that I seek in this trope.

‘Built to Last’ unfortunately, couldn’t satisfy those prerequisites I have.

My scepticism about Angel’s and Sonya’s romance stems from the fact that Angel had buried his head in the sand after he’d chosen his country over Sonya, destroyed the both of them, tried to forget her, then had a woman in every port, all the while saying that he still loved her. And then continued reprehensibly, to lie to her about his identity as she felt guilty about projecting her feelings for a man she thought dead onto him, while knowing full well about the consequences of his own actions that he didn’t want to face.

Perhaps this sits perfectly fine with other readers who like this sort of star-crossed kind of vibe where the number of bed partners they’ve had in the intervening years is inconsequential. This connection between Sonya and Angel, supposedly forged long ago and sparking to life again, wasn’t one I could buy into, more so on Angel’s part, given that he’d done nothing to question his own choices—and wouldn’t have—until he saw Sonya again. For this reason I couldn’t believe that they belonged together, not when Angel (the only one who could but didn’t) didn’t move heaven and earth to be with Sonya. Merely paying lip service to the expansive declaration that he’d loved her for a decade, the regrets he expressed at the end merely seemed too panicky, too little, too late.

In short, less the past romance is crowed about and exalted, the less I feel compelled to argue for the kind of hypocrisy involved in ‘moving on’.

So for the hero that Angel is to the rest of the world, I could only call him a coward.

My beef with characterisation aside, Angel/Sonya’s story, interspersed with sudden flashbacks, POVs from the villain and another pairing, did feel disjointed as well. The sly but strange insertions of humour (?) and exaggerated snark sometimes seemed ill-fitting, bordering the absurd for the situation at hand when all I wanted was a more straightforward progression of the plot and the relationship.

The conclusion as a result, felt abrupt considering the plot juggled more than just a pairing here, but I’m guessing that this would deliriously please the hard-core fans of this series who have been invested in the characters and the narrative from the beginning.

‘Built to Last’ isn’t good as a standalone. Would I have been a happier camper having gone through all the other books? Perhaps. But this swan-song, long-awaited or not, wasn’t one I could enjoy at all, unfortunately.

two-stars

Tight Quarters by Annabeth Albert

Tight Quarters by Annabeth AlbertTight Quarters by Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform, #6
Published by Carina Press on 31st July 2018
Pages: 352
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four-stars

Petty Officer Bacon, a navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: the silver fox journalist he’s babysitting is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions—especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

It isn’t very often that I venture into M/M romance and Annabeth Albert is an author who’s new to me.

That the ‘Out of Uniform’ series has crossed my feed numerous times which I haven’t yet taken up is just added incentive to get into a military romance of this particular sub-genre. Coming straight into ‘Tight Quarters’ without having previously read the rest of the books in the series was no biggie; I had no problems catching up even with the small references to what happened before without the focus on Bacon and Spencer faltering at all.

A hot-shot journalist embedding with this particular SEAL team (which is, according to Bacon—I just had to have a laugh at his name because his real one isn’t much better) isn’t a scenario I’d ever envisioned, but this was something I was happy to take with a pinch of salt, or better put yet, a willingness to suspend disbelief for what I thought was going to be by and large, some kind of romantic suspense written into the story.

But it wasn’t quite one and because I dove in without expectations, everything felt fresh and new, from the not-quite action in the first half and the rather unusual conflict in the second that simply made it impossible to take sides.

The forced babysitting of Spencer Bryant, a plan that went inevitably wrong during a mission and the action that happened thereafter and the added element of the kind of craving attraction that Albert writes so well just made me a happy camper. The details of the mission itself felt as though they were deliberately left fuzzy, so it was akin to being part of the action but not being in the heart of it, which left the focus on the development of the relationship—both when Spencer and Bacon were together as well as apart.

Past the mission however, ‘Tight Quarters’ felt like a different book in the move from military to the party crowd that Spencer/Bacon got involved in on his leave. The different aspects of their characters coming out to play threw me for a bit when I’d been ready to pigeon-hole both of them as ‘journalist’ and ‘soldier’, in fact. But the thoroughness of Albert’s exploration of the tension between Bacon and Spencer—one that resulted in a slight lull in the first third of the book—was rewarding as a result, especially in the light of the slow, slow burn that was set up as hostile from the start.

By the time Bacon and Spencer talked their way through to their sappy end, I was impressed by Albert’s style—the emotional rawness that emerged later between this pairing—and her handling of gender fluidity. And then I wondered why I didn’t jump on her other books earlier on.

four-stars

Burning Up by Jennifer Blackwood

Burning Up by Jennifer BlackwoodBurning Up by Jennifer Blackwood
Series: Flirting with Fire, #1
Published by Montlake Romance on 8th May 2018
Pages: 256
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three-half-stars

Unemployed schoolteacher Erin Jenkins is back in Portland, the town she hasn’t called home for more than a decade. It’s not the way she wants to spend her last days of summer: in between jobs and avoiding her mother’s snooping by escaping to the ice-cream aisle. But when the opportunity arises for her to accompany her brother’s best friend—her lifetime crush—to a wedding, summer gets a whole lot more interesting.

Firefighter and single dad Jake Bennett has built a nice, safe wall around his heart—no romance, no getting burned. That doesn’t mean he’s ruling out a fling. Considering Erin’s visit is temporary, they’re the perfect fit for a scorching no-strings one-night stand. Or two. Or five. Until the worst thing happens: Erin and Jake are feeling more. Damn that four-letter word.

Now their hearts are on the line, and when their smoldering summer comes to a close, it’s going to be harder than ever to put out the fire.

If there’s anything to be expected of Jennifer Blackwood’s writing, it’s the hefty dose of humour inserted in straight from the start, or at least it’s what I’ve come to associate Blackwood with.

‘Burning Up’ began with a woman on the outs and her embarrassment all because of (wrong) timing—the usual thing that creates comedy—and the characters’ as well as the reader’s reactions to it were enough to bring me on board with it. For a firefighting book however, the burn between Erin/Jake was slower than I expected, with few sparks that flare here and there, interspersed with some firefighting action and the day-to-day scenes (some unusually funny) of the EMTs that I usually like reading about.

And that’s probably as far as I should get with the fire analogies before they start getting corny.

By and large, Blackwood’s jaunty, funny writing made it quite easy to sail through the forbidden brother’s best friend kind of story. There were however, some parts that were frustratingly dedicated to the push-pull decisions both protagonists made as well as the shady implication that Jake needed Erin’s brother’s ‘permission’ or approval to date her and that Erin seemed to constantly pick up the breadcrumbs Jake left for her even as he pushed her away repeatedly, unable to decide what he really wanted. Their HEA, left to the last minute, was an abrupt one, done to the extent where I flipped the page wondering if I’d actually missed something or accidentally ghosted a few paragraphs that would have helped solidify the ending.

In any case, ‘Burning Up’ reads like the establishing book that it’s meant to be: done with a setup of future pairings, the slight hints of the characters who will next get their story and the presence of a close community that help structure the context and the scene. It’s a series that I’ll be watching out for, even if it’s just for the sheer fun factor that Blackwood’s confident writing has.

three-half-stars