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Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 21st June 2017
Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura BrownFriend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown
Published by Avon Impulse on June 27th 2017
Pages: 384
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one-star

I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.

Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.

When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.

I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.

I guess the only thing we can do is try…

‘Friend (With Benefits) Zone’ started out very promising, with the blurb sounding a growing-up story of 2 deaf people trying to find their way in the world just as the notion of building a career looms large. But beyond that, I liked the idea of putting people with disabilities in the spotlight and showing that they actually do lead lives as ‘normal’ as those who don’t—and thought that this would provide a different edge to the best friends turned lovers type of read.

But with the sexual tension between Jasmine and Devon shattering so early on, the direction in which the story was going to go became rather unclear. And I found myself unpleasantly surprised when maturity (or the lack of it) came into play and formed the major part of the conflict—driven mostly by Jasmine. She started out as strongly independent, but that soon moved to bullheadedly, stupidly stubborn when she started insisting on being an island and going at it all on her own, pushing everyone else away because that was the way she wanted it to be. Not accepting help from Devon and her closest friends (then have them trying to reel her back in), using sex avoid the issue, vacillating between wanting Dev and wanting her own way were just signs of her irrational immaturity that frustrated me to no end, which actually went on ad nauseum to the point where I thought they should have given up on her because there was no getting her to see reason.

As much as Devon’s desire to help her and support her in everything, he did come across as somewhat spineless towards the end, when he needed to leave Jasmine on her own for her to finally come to her senses. Instead, he couldn’t quite let her go or do a complete break, even when he had his own share of dodging the intended career path that his family wanted for him throughout. In fact, I needed to see that Jasmine wanted their relationship Devon even if she had nothing to her name. But because Devon had arranged it such that she could have her bar and own it (with the startup costs included as a loan), it felt as though it was only with her future secured and in place that it was easy to get back with him.

This constant push-pull vibe that got stronger, as well as the anti-climatic ending did, unfortunately, grate on me. I couldn’t quite shrug away how much I disliked the characters by the end and this sadly, tanked the whole story for me.

one-star

Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th June 2017
Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne BrockmannSome Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann
Series: Troubleshooters #17
Published by Ballantine Books on July 11th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Navy men don’t come tougher than Lieutenant Peter Greene. Every day he whips hotshot SEAL wannabes into elite fighters. So why can’t he handle one fifteen-year-old girl? His ex’s death left him a single dad overnight, and very unprepared. Though he can’t relate to an angsty teen, he can at least keep Maddie safe—until the day she disappears. Though Pete’s lacking in fatherly intuition, his instinct for detecting danger is razor sharp. Maddie’s in trouble. Now he needs the Troubleshooters team at his back, along with an unconventional ally.

Romance writer Shayla Whitman never expected to be drawn into a real-world thriller—or to meet a hero who makes her pulse pound. Action on the page is one thing. Actually living it is another story. Shay’s not as bold as her heroines, but she’s a mother. She sees the panic in her new neighbor’s usually fearless blue eyes—and knows there’s no greater terror for a parent than having a child at risk. It’s an ordeal Shay won’t let Pete face alone. She’s no highly trained operative, but she’s smart, resourceful, and knows what makes teenagers tick.

Still, working alongside Pete has its own perils—like letting the heat between them rise out of control. Intimate emotions could mean dangerous, even deadly, consequences for their mission. No matter what, they must be on top of their game, and playing for keeps . . . or else Pete’s daughter may be gone for good.

Where do I even begin with Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series? There’s so much diversity in the pairings, so much differing action (you never quite know what you’re going to get) with just so many things going on… to the extent where some of her books have had the power to bore me limp, while others have brought me to my knees with a swoon-worthy type fairytale ending.

With ’Some Kind of Hero’, I was left disappointing unmoved and a more than a tad bit incredulous. But what’s clear however, is that it isn’t quite a standalone.

The initial meeting between Peter Green and Shayla is an out-of-nowhere jump into a car on the street to search for a missing teenager. And during the search, Peter finds himself telling his life story to Shayla while the latter finds herself using her skills as a writer to figure out just what Peter’s teenager could have gotten herself into. Their (coincidental) joint-effort simply eschews Brockmann’s very slow burn between characters that spans books and the quickness with which Peter and Shayla jumped into bed took out any sense of anticipation that I’ve come to expect. Instant-love or lust aside, the shenanigans with the teenagers just felt like an elaborate plot to bring 2 very opposing characters—whose lives otherwise wouldn’t ever intersect—together and it was difficult to buy into this forced connection when it simply felt more like bad parenting going out of control over a teenager who might or might not have done unsavoury things.

In many ways, this story left me in a bind, which on a whole, pretty much describes my entire Brockmann reading experience. There were parts that I couldn’t stop turning the pages, just as there were parts that had me skimming, despite the some amusing meta-details of what is means to be a romance author, fictional voices in head and scatterbrained-moments notwithstanding. On the other hand, Brockmann’s heroes never quite do what you think they do and here, there’s hardly enough SEAl action involved that could make me think of Peter as a SEAL instructor or his friend Izzy as a fellow brother-in-arms when the way they speak or act just lacked that intensity and the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that have pretty much defined the RS ‘alpha’ hero.

Maybe it’s because I’ve not read the entire series that ‘Some Kind of Hero’ made little sense to me overall, but this read (judging from the books that made my favourites list at least) unfortunately fell short by a long way.

two-stars

Burning Love by Trish Morey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 12th June 2017
Burning Love by Trish MoreyBurning Love by Trish Morey
Series: Hot Aussie Knights #4
Published by Tule Publishing on June 12th 2017
Pages: 96
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two-stars

Caleb Knight’s ex accused him of being married to his firefighter job, and maybe she was right. He’s given up looking for happy ever after and finds what he needs between Ava’s scorching sheets. But lately, he’s wondering whether this thing with Ava might become more permanent…

Artist Ava Mattiske's ability to trust was shattered long ago. Her steamy fling with Caleb is perfect until he starts talking long-term. She puts on the brakes, but when a bushfire threatens her studio and Caleb is on the scene, Ava realizes that there is one man she can count on... But will it be too late?

Caleb Knight turned up in his twin brother’s book and it got me curious about how evasive he’d been with Dylan. But when Caleb finally burst onto the page, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed and maybe that was because I just couldn’t feel any particular investment in a couple that was simply making the difficult transition from temporary to permanent with several speed bumps along the way.

‘Burning Love’ is unusual in that it takes place a year into Caleb’s and Ava’s casual arrangement with the story picking up from there, alternating between their hookup sessions, Ava’s art and Caleb’s job, though it’s a cycle that rinses and repeats until something gives. As a whore to her parents’ business to the time she has reinvented herself, Ava nonetheless lets her past dictate her future because of the scars that has left on her, convinced that she wants nothing to do with anything remotely resembling affection or love. Somehow Caleb gets beneath her skin and their agreement to just burn up the sheets in bed for the past year on a casual basis is something she uses against him when he finally wants more.

Apart from some parts that had the camaraderie of the guys on show, it was personally hard for me to get into a relationship that felt lopsided and unequal, made up of pull-push dynamic from start to end as Caleb finally grows past the casual hookup stage with Ava and pushes for more, just as Ava pushes him away in denial that gets rote after a while. The later part of their relationship is one made up of more of the same, except that Caleb spends most of his time trying to reaffirm Ava and rebuilding the shattered confidence that she’d lost in her youth. He’s a top bloke undoubtedly, but for most of the story, it felt like he was the one doing all the work while waiting for Ava to come to her senses—which she did only frustratingly, after a life-threatening event. His hard work pays off, though that much made me think of him playing the role of caretaker/therapist/lover all in one for a needy woman who hides a brittle interior.

I’d hoped that the wrap-up to this interesting series could have been better for me; sadly I never could quite get into this pairing as much as I could the rest.

two-stars

The Bet by Elizabeth Hayley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 29th May 2017
The Bet by Elizabeth HayleyThe Bet by Elizabeth Hayley
Series: The Players #1
Published by Swerve on June 27th 2017
Pages: 254
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two-stars

Jace "the Jet" Benning is a legend on the football field. And off. He has the arm, the charm, and the reputation of being the hottest player in the league.
Too bad Dr. Alessandra Mastrazacoma is not impressed.
With a busy schedule and a bruised heart, Alessandra doesn't have time to date, but when she is lured into making a friendly bet with her best friend, she finds herself agreeing to go out with the next guy that asks...and to give him three shots, three dates, before pulling the plug.
Jace also has a friendly wager with his friends going, and it involves making sure the slightly klutzy, but very pretty, doctor will be his date to the biggest night in sports. With two wagers and two hearts on the line, will Aly and Jace win or are they betting to lose?

‘The Bet’ is mostly an angst-free, light-hearted read of an accidental meeting between a doctor and a famous player (whom the former doesn’t know at all) which progresses mostly because of a bet between friends.

 

Alessandra Mastrazacoma (now that’s a mouthful) and Jace Benning are an unlikely pair and the whole story feels like a journey of the both of them finding common ground, apart from nailing sexual compatibility in the bedroom. Neither of them really pretend to be who they aren’t; Alessandra is outrightly blunt and in unapologetic for being so while Jace still struggles with his poor, smalltown roots but isn’t quite afraid to put everything on the line for her.

The ride isn’t fully of peaks and valleys – and this will probably appeal to readers who are tired of adult histrionics better confined to the high-school classroom – but is instead, one that catalogues each and every step of Aly and Jace getting into their relationship proper. The ending is a predictably neat wrap-up after some grovelling on Jace’s part, a HEA that pushes Aly and Jace into a happily committed relationship after that small hiccup.

As light-hearted and easy a read ‘The Bet’ is however, I found myself mostly uninspired by this pairing, which is probably a just a case of my bucking the trend again. I thought their chemistry rather non-existent as the move straight into the bedroom very early on eschewed any tension that could have made the anticipation more worth it. And as well and good the sex scenes may be written, I was bored (and skimmed those scenes) because I couldn’t find anything compelling about this couple. Consequently, it was difficult to follow the progression of Aly/Jace’s relationship as there just didn’t seem to be anything else to look forward to, except for the bet that Jace made with his buddies and the fallout that you know would come from it at the very end.

 

two-stars

Locke and Key by Cristin Harber

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 27th May 2017
Locke and Key by Cristin HarberLocke and Key by Cristin Harber
Series: Titan #8
Published by Mill Creek Press on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 312
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two-stars

THE STOIC SPECIAL FORCES OPERATOR There’s only one person to blame for darkening the last years of Locke Oliver’s military career: Cassidy Noble. And damn if he doesn’t have to save her from the side of a frozen mountain. Even after the job is done, he can’t shake the woman from his thoughts. He blames her for the deaths in his Army unit so many years ago, and he’s not ready to let that go. It’s driving him to the point of distraction, and now his Titan Group boss says to get his act together or get out.
THE FEISTY, FALLEN REPORTER Cassidy is a disgraced journalist, once accused of treason—Or she’s an American hero. It depends on who you ask. She’s on a mission to rebuild her name and started with a simple question but discovered a complex web of spies and possible human trafficking. Titan Group believes in her. Locke does not. Until he can’t deny the truth any longer about the past or what she’s uncovered in her investigation.
BECOME AN INSEPARABLE TEAM Cassidy volunteers to go undercover. Locke would do anything to stay by her side as she slips into the network and is sold to the highest bidder. All is going right until everything goes wrong. Nothing is as they expect, including falling in love with the woman he thought he hated.

It took me an extraordinarily long time to go through this book that I’m actually wondering whether it’s sort of the end of the Titan series for me right now.

Having been a fan of Titan in the early days, I wondered how Cristin Harber was going to go on with the series after Jared Westin’s core team had found their respective HEAs. ‘Locke and Key’ is a book past that particular series arc but I’ve been struggling since the chapter closed on the core team.

I’ve admittedly found myself lukewarm and half-hearted about the Titan series after Parker’s book came out as a dud for me but the biggest problem in ‘Locke and Key’ was that I couldn’t find any character likeable, despite them having been fantastic protagonists in their own time in previous books who have since undergone some personality transplants. Here, they came across as volatile idiots lacking compassion or any sense of kinship and that famous ‘brotherhood-in-arms’ spirit which I tend to read about in RS books seemed sorely lacking here. Instead, what I saw was loads of peacock strutting, macho posturing and too many over-the-top type of reactions that felt like petty and unnecessary squabbles.

In essence, the volatility of the characters’ behaviours resulted in my own volatile reactions to difference scenes and dialogues. There were chapters that made me think I could get behind some characters and other chapters that had me rolling my eyes and ready to give up the book. The only things that kept me going were the secondary characters whose fight Titan inevitably became a part of to reunite their family and I read on, cheering for them alone.

Obviously, it’s one of those books that grated on me, but I’m hoping at least, that the overall sense of dissatisfaction with the series might pass. Whether there’ll still be Titan or Delta in my to-be-read list however, well, that’s still something that’s up in the air for me.

two-stars

Semper Fi Cowboy by Heather Long

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews 22nd May 2017
Semper Fi Cowboy by Heather LongSemper Fi Cowboy by Heather Long
Series: Lone Star Leathernecks #1
Published by Pocket Star on June 26th 2017
Pages: 145
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two-stars

A Leatherneck by any other name can still kick ass, which is just what retired United States Marine Corps Captain Tanner Wilks plans to do when he returns to his Texas family ranch to care for his ailing father. And nothing will stop him from achieving his mission—not even a lithe, brown-eyed town veterinarian who seems hell-bent on driving him wild.

Captain Tanner Wilks, honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps, returns home to find his father struggling after his latest heart attack. Worse yet, Julia Heller—the sexy new girl in town that he once spent a hot night with—is the resident veterinarian who’s made a home for herself at Round Top ranch, and doesn’t seem to be in a rush to repeat their time together.

It falls on Tanner’s shoulders to take on the ranch and keep an eye on his father before he falls victim to another heart attack. But Julia doesn’t appreciate Tanner coming in or pursuing her. Even if he’s hot as hell and can make her quiver with just a look. Ousting her may give Tanner the leverage he needs to corral his father, but first he has to wrestle with his own heart.

‘Semper Fi Cowboy’ is a quick read, but it’s also oddly slow-going, with paragraphs dedicated to Tanner Wilks’s family, their legacy (military service runs in the family, followed by ranching) and the land that they’ve had for generations. I did get bored at times, as the pacing lagged a little, but having no expectations of this new series by Heather Long, it was easier to go with the flow and see where the story took me.

The quickness with which both Tanner and Jules jumped into bed meant that there wasn’t much build-up or tension that I normally like—or at least there wasn’t anything that led me to the edge of hot and bothered before I fall along with the couple. It’s not a development that I can usually buy into, but the story went on, it became clear that the intention was always to show Tanner’s reintegration into his new life—as well as Jules’s place in it—as he deals with his stick-in-the-mud military father.

The story’s not downright angsty, and the conflict is mostly about smalltime family drama, along with a lot of ranching work details that are typical of such reads. In short, it’s not quite the perfect novella for me (and this has to do with the reasons above rather than Long’s writing style) and the brevity of it means that the love declarations and the resolutions do come faster than I’m used to. But for those who love rural, country-type romances with a quick wrap-up, ‘Semper Fi Cowboy’ would probably be something to dive straight into.

two-stars

Burning Both Ends by Sinclair Jayne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 21st May 2017
Burning Both Ends by Sinclair JayneBurning Both Ends by Sinclair Jayne
Series: Hot Aussie Knights #2
Published by Tule Publishing on May 29th 2017
Pages: 158
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three-stars

Darington Knight has known a lot of loss in her twenty-six years. She can deal, so she resents it when the commander of her Montana smoke jumper unit sends her on a firefighter exchange program in Australia after her unit suffers a double tragedy. Hooking up with a sexy firefighter her first night Down Under improves Dare’s mood considerably until she realizes her hook up is now her station commander and he has a rule book as thick as her arm.

Lachlan Ryker did not make senior station officer as a Melbourne Metropolitan firefighter by the time he was thirty by acting impulsively, but when he meets the sexy, brash American in his favorite pub, his by-the-book, measured approach to life gets kicked to the curb. He and Dare ignite one night of smoldering passion he can’t forget. But before he can call for a second date, Dare strolls into his station newly assigned to him for three months. Lock knows he has to keep his hands to himself. He never breaks the rules. Dare, however, never heard a rule she didn’t want to shatter.

‘Burning Both Ends’ continues the Hot Aussie Knight series, where a legion of Knight family firefighters gather to mourn the family patriarch…and that’s where the stories begin.

I found myself fairly neutral about this one throughout; it’s well-written with all the emotional slips and nuances detailed though it was harder to connect with the characters who didn’t quite do it for me. Dare and Lock on their own, had so many issues in their past that combined, their baggage would have shattered a camel’s back.

Dare – whose behaviour reflects her own name – is as much of a wild-card as she is an emotional drifter with a bold, reckless streak and a penchant for breaking the rules, felt like an out-of-control character for most part, and I spent most of the time waiting for her implosion as she finally confessed that she couldn’t ever betray her first and only love’s memory. In fact, it felt as though Lock had been put, to some extent, in a caretaker role – of her emotions as well as her physical health – gave the relationship a strange and somewhat unequal sheen especially since he was adamant not to fall into the same trap again.

I did however, expect more opposition to the fraternisation between Dare and Lock at the station house, and was quite surprised that didn’t seem to be an issue at all. But the long and short of it is, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the angst and the frequent push-pull in this particular story; there were times the frustration got me as the protagonists hovered at the TSTL threshold as there were other times where they reminded me that they were adults still. Objectively speaking, ‘Burning Both Ends’ isn’t a bad read, but it’s probably more suited to those who like their characters heavily-burdened and tortured with a bucketload of (leftover teenage?) angst to boot.

three-stars
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