Tag: Category books

Sin and Ink by Naima Simone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three-stars

Major Crimes by Janie Crouch

Major Crimes by Janie CrouchMajor Crimes by Janie Crouch
Series: Omega Sector: Under Siege #4
Published by Harlequin Intrigue on 19th June 2018
Pages: 288
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three-stars

Working together would bring down a killer

But her secrets could tear them apart…

Hayley Green never wanted to see Omega special agent Cain Bennett again. Ever. He seduced her, then sent her to prison for hacking, and Hayley’s only just started piecing her life back together. Except now Cain needs Hayley’s help to catch a murderer. Their past is colliding with their still-smoldering attraction…and the only thing more dangerous than the killer is the secrets Hayley’s been keeping.

It isn’t often that I do up a review for a category book, not because they don’t work for me, but because the formulaic writing that seems to be dictated by length also tends to bring what could have been a stellar story down to a mediocre read. Too often this happens, even with authors that I like writing under such particular imprints.

The blurb of Janie Crouch’s ‘Major Crimes’ is exactly what I wanted to read—there was I knew, a huge amount of emotional distance to cover and loads of trust to regain on one side—because I had a gut feeling that I could sympathise strongly with a female protagonist who’d already gone through so much. And that happened in fact, to the point where I wondered if Hayley should have been stronger to fight off her attraction to the man who’d thrown her in jail and did nothing but hang on to his righteous attitude for the whole time.

Sailing through this however, left me a little less than satisfied. This is where the brevity of a typical Harlequin read works against the story: for Hayley’s traumatic past and her (rightful) hurt and anger at Cain, I’d expected more grovelling, more insight, more regret; instead, these were relegated to single-sentence telling rather than showing, leaving out the bits that could have made the emotions rawer and the forgiveness less easy to come by. (Vindictive self speaking here)

Coupled with the suspense and the action which overtook the emotional weight of their past that I badly wanted to read about, ‘Major Crimes’ wrapped up too easily and quickly for me, particularly when it came to kissing and making up. The wrongs were righted, the bad guy was shot and the HEA were all delivered of course, but I couldn’t nevertheless, imagine Hayley/Cain moving forward without the huge load of past hurts and resentment popping up from often in their future…and that sort of dragged the happy ending from under my feet.

three-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

Scoring with the Wrong Twin by Naima Simone

Scoring with the Wrong Twin by Naima SimoneScoring With the Wrong Twin by Naima Simone
Series: WAGS #1
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Brazen) on January 15th 2018
Pages: 236
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one-star

Shy, awkward Sophia Cruz has a hard time telling her vivacious identical twin “no.” But when her sister begs her to swap places for a modeling shoot, she caves … again. Then Zephirin Black walks onto the set. The brooding, aloof, and gorgeous tight end for the Washington Warriors. But she can keep it professional… She has to. Because the adorkable Cruz twin has no luck with guys once they compare her to her sister.

After a bad break-up, Zeph hasn’t been big on second chances—and even less with trust. But he finds himself giving please-call-me-by-my-middle-name-Sophia both. The woman he’d dismissed as a spoiled cover model is different from the first time he met her. Quirkier. Funnier. Definitely sexier. What started as one night turns into another…and another…and another…

Still, Sophia can’t go on keeping her secret from him. But telling Zeph the truth will mean losing him for good.

Giving a 1-star review to a Naima Simone book is shocking even for me, particularly because I do like Simone’s writing and her play of emotions that tends to jump out at every turn of the page.

Where do I even start?

I went into ‘Scoring with the Wrong Twin’ knowing that deception was going to play a part in this story, though I’d hoped it wouldn’t be the primary source of the conflict that carried the plot. Or that the story would have taken a different turn after their one-night stand, where Sophia admitted early on that she simply wasn’t who she was.

Unfortunately, this turned out exactly the way I wish it didn’t, as Sophia allowed her identity deception to continue for a multitude of reasons, all of which that had to do with her supposed inability to be comfortable in her own skin and her low esteem that badly needed bolstering by a celebrity football player who would apparently, otherwise, have never turn her way. If I’d initially felt sorry for her, as the girl who’d been left in the shadow of her more glamorous model sister, my sympathy turned into irritation when she deliberately led Zephirin on, without having the courage to face up to her lie. Having the self-awareness of her own guilt, then ignoring it just made matters worse for me.

Too many times have such ‘heroines’ given such excuses and as time goes on, I’ve found myself getting more and more intolerant of behaviour that was simply too irksome to ignore. In fact, Sophia irked me so much that I couldn’t continue reading, leaving me sputtering at not just her delaying telling him the truth, but also her justification of her behaviour after her apologies, even after finding out that what she’d done was to strike precisely at Zeph’s achilles heel.

I stopped reading there and then; how Zeph and Sophia finally patched things up simply didn’t interest me anymore, especially not with a ‘heroine’ I merely thought of as cowardly and defensive.

one-star

Bachelor Games by Daire St. Denis

Bachelor Games by Daire St. DenisBachelor Games by Daire St. Denis
Series: Tropical Temptation #3
Published by Entangled Publishing: Brazen on October 9th 2017
Pages: 256
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one-star

Brilliant, but plain scientist Becca Evans has always done everything she could to make her beautiful sister, Grace, happy. So, when Grace started entering beauty contests, Becca did everything she could to make sure her sister won.

Now, she’s looking at another pageant—at a resort in the Caribbean. The prize? A date with America’s most eligible bachelor, Calum Price. For Grace, it would be the ultimate coup—landing a billionaire. Unfortunately, Calum seems to like Becca better...

Still, she’s determined to help her sister win. Calum doesn’t have to know that she’s the brains behind the beauty, the voice behind the veil, the finger behind the sexting...

But when things go too far, Becca must decide where her loyalty lies—with her sister...or the man she’s falling in love with.

Let the games begin.

The quiet, unnoticed geek amongst a bevy of gorgeous women catching the eye of the hot billionaire sounds like a story I can dig, especially since it feels like it might have some shadow of the Cyrano de Begerac effect here.

However, I didn’t quite expect ‘Bachelor Games’ to become a ‘forced’ love triangle type story of the female protagonist’s own making, as her altruistic but misplaced idea of family loyalty resolutely determines that her sister should get the good things (as well as the hot guy) because she happens to be the more good-looking one. It is exactly what Becca Evans does, which pretty much tanked the story for me.

To begin with, I didn’t find Calum’s and Becca’s first meeting realistic at all, let alone that banter and teasing one might carry out with a stranger on a plane, but this may be my awkward, distant and sceptical self speaking here. But that someone with poise and beauty like Grace would need Becca’s coaching seemed ludicrous and the artlessness of her behaviour during the pageant as a result of that came across as stilted and naive instead of endearing.

To add to that, Becca’s rather stilted ‘I like you but you’re better for my sister because no one really looks at me’ type of reasoning got me annoyed instead of sympathetic—aren’t we past this self-esteem business already? I wished she would simply own her attraction to Calum, rather than remain indecisive about them while seemingly being unable to help herself but end up in bed with him and then lie to her sister about it. Grace, on the other hand, had made no explicit mention of her desire for Calum, so Becca’s unfounded guilt felt like a mountain made of a molehill that sorely tested my patience and made me give up halfway.

Sadly, ‘Bachelor Games’ isn’t a story that clicked for me, especially with a heroine that rubbed me the wrong way every time. But as I’ve said numerous times before, personal tastes are just that—personal. This probably has a premise that would appeal to those who root for the underdog no matter what the circumstances are, so give it a whirl because Becca’s character could be read in a multitude of ways that I simply couldn’t, as other reviewers have already pointed out.

one-star

Shocking the Medic by Elizabeth Otto

Shocking the Medic by Elizabeth OttoShocking the Medic by Elizabeth Otto
Published by Entangled Publishing: Brazen on September 25th 2017
Pages: 198
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three-stars

Paramedic Luke Almeda can't believe he's working with his best friend, Greer. She was supposed to go off and be a hot shot lawyer like the rest of her family. He has to keep reminding himself that no matter how beautiful, sweet and caring she is, there is no way they can ever be together. Even if it weren't prohibited at work, they are from two different worlds.

Greer is determined to prove herself to Luke and her family. Luke sees her as some goody-two-shoes, and she's determined to prove she's anything but. After a devastating 911 call, Greer ends up in Luke's bed, and it's more than she could have ever dreamed it would be. Too bad one night is all it can be. Because trying to have more could cost them everything....

Let’s face it—the blurb was enticing—enticing enough that a one-click request was the only way to go, despite my reservations about this particular trope.

I’ll readily admit that the friends-to-lovers romance is a tricky one for me and mostly that’s because all too often one party has been secretly pining—while watching the other merrily playing the field for years either obliviously or deliberately keeping a distance—for years before something finally snaps and calls that change. ‘Shocking the Medic’ does follow this pattern, though Elizabeth Otto does take the pain to show how the solid base of friendship is enriched when sex and intimacy are thrown into the equation.

And by and large, the pacing was good, the smexy times copious as with the Brazen imprint and Otto moves the story along in a way that I had no problem finishing it in record time.

I liked Greer lots. Her gumption to walk away from law, from the usual expectations to get into paramedicine yet with a compassion that spills over for the people she helps. I only wished that she’d come to expect more from the manwhore who’s also her best friend, wished she hadn’t pined for him no matter how far she thought she’d buried that hope. That she was willing to settle for scraps, to take what he would offer until he tired of her made me wonder at her self-esteem where he was concerned, though the way she put herself out there for Luke and for everything she wanted was admirable.

But where do I start with Luke? I think at the heart of it, I couldn’t get over the way he thought despite him being a good friend to Greer. I didn’t like the idea that he’d always loved her, always wanted her (that sentiment was reciprocated) but never felt good enough for her, so instead, whored around with other women openly because he believed that he’d never rise above his station. For me, that just read like emotional betrayal, especially since Greer had always been holding on for him (for 17 years?!) which was massively unfair in the least.

Overall though, I wasn’t quite convinced of Luke’s frustrating chip on his shoulder which contributed to the huge end conflict and climax; his supposed grovelling didn’t seem sufficient for what Greer had put on the line for him after his blowing hot and cold on her. As their HEA came too quickly and conveniently along with an epilogue that was just as abrupt, all I could really say was that I was happy Greer got what she wanted, though I did wish it’d been with someone way more deserving of her.

three-stars

Bonding Games by Cathryn Fox

Bonding Games by Cathryn FoxBonding Games by Cathryn Fox
Series: Tropical Temptation #1
Published by Entangled Publishing: Brazen on July 24th 2017
Pages: 210
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three-stars

Former Navy SEAL Josh Steele gets tasked with a babysitting mission—watch over his boss’s daughter—a job he can only describe as hell. But when his assignment takes him to a tropical island, and he begins to see another side of Holly Fairfax, attraction sizzles between them—but he knows better than to risk his job for it.

Holly can’t believe that underneath those baggy clothes tech-guru Josh Steele is all ripped abs and sexy hotness. Ignoring said hotness is tough, especially since she has to work with him on the team-building exercises her boss has assigned if she wants a coveted promotion. It’s even harder when she discovers being around Josh brings out her naughty side – one she didn’t know she had.

But if she cracks the code on his cover, everything they’ve built could come crashing down.

‘Bonding Games’ started out great as a former SEAL goes undercover as a geek in a company in order to suss out an apparent threat to a woman who is trying her hardest to live a life away from her controlling father. But to Holly Fairfax, Josh Steele is merely a co-worker, or rather, a laid-back gamer-type until an elaborate company bonding session puts them in close proximity as partners.

The journey from there onwards however, is fairly predictable, which somehow didn’t quite live up to the potential of the promising blurb. Holly and Josh go from zero to a hundred in a matter of pages, and the overwhelming lust comes with every innocent touch and every fanciful imagining of what lies beneath each other’s clothes, despite the individual reminders to themselves that they want nothing more than a fling. They hit the bed early on as they go on every team-bonding activity and as expected, Holly hits the roof when Josh’s actual purpose for being in the company is inadvertently revealed.

Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out why it fell flat for me after the fun setup of their relationship. I’ve always loved the undercover business part, particularly when it involves some kind of double-crossing, though that always risks some TSTL behaviour when the deception is taken too far or when someone tends to overreact and forget their actual age. Maybe it’s because Holly/Josh’s story treads the same ground as so many others have gone before—not that I don’t enjoy authors’ different takes on them—, or maybe it’s all wrapped up too neatly after the hysterical blow up and the customary grovel, or that Holly/Josh didn’t feel too multifaceted in their portrayals despite their own prejudices. But overall this wasn’t too memorable and that ironically, defined this read for me.

three-stars