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Damn weird

Never Let Go by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 28th September 2017
Never Let Go by Cynthia EdenNever Let Go by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #1
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on January 1st 1970
Pages: 278
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three-stars

He was more than just a man...

Dr. Elizabeth Parker didn't like wild, dangerous men...yet she still found herself falling for sexy Navy SEAL Sawyer Cage. He was her exact opposite--a man she should definitely stay away from, a man who lived for the thrill of danger...but he was also the man she found herself wanting more than any other.

But their secret relationship ended in heartbreak when Sawyer was killed on a mission. Grieving for him, the last thing Elizabeth ever expected was to find Sawyer listed as a test subject for the top secret government project she was heading--a project called Lazarus.

For years, Elizabeth had worked feverishly to unlock the secrets of life and death, and with her Lazarus formula, she finally thought she'd made a breakthrough. Only she never expected to use Lazarus on her lover.

But the choice is taken out of Elizabeth's hands...

Sawyer is given the Lazarus formula, and he's transported to a remote government facility. At that facility, Sawyer wakes once more, only he's not the same man. He's stronger, he's faster, his reflexes and his senses are ten times better than an average man's. The government calls Sawyer a super soldier... Elizabeth still calls him...hers.

Unfortunately, Sawyer has no memory of his life before Lazarus. All he knows is that something about the sexy doctor awakes a primal response in him. He wants her, and he'll do anything to possess her. Soul-deep, he feels that she was meant to be his.

Death waits in the darkness.

But something is wrong inside the Lazarus facility. The test subjects are holding back secrets, and danger seems to lurk in the air. The Lazarus subjects are super-human now, and some of those subjects have a very, very dark side. Twisted cravings drive them to the very edge of sanity. Can Sawyer keep Elizabeth safe from the madness around them...or will the growing darkness consume them both?

NEVER LET GO...a gripping new romantic suspense from New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Cynthia Eden.

There’s always something darkly seductive and irresistible about the super-soldier romance for me, seeing as these sort of stories are always finely balanced on the knife-edge of suspense and erotica. Depending on the severity of the super-soldier transformation however, it’s also undeniable that these tales run the risk of normalising the clichéd caveman behaviour of the heroes in question as the status quo in this sub-genre, as is the expected offshoot of writing altered personalities.

‘Never Let Go’ isn’t a new concept (Rebecca Zanetti’s Sin Brothers or Christine Feehan’s Shadowalkers come to mind immediately) though it definitely is an intriguing start, with a little twist of how the super soldiers actually get to where they are. I can’t quite say it’s a perfect read however, as it carries all the hallmarks of an establishing book with the same pattern of logic-deficient neanderthals who are primally ruled by instinct, libido and emotion…along with many loose ends which hint at a bigger picture that hasn’t yet quite coherently come together.

I’m still glad that Cynthia Eden has jumped on this bandwagon nonetheless, even though there are unavoidable pitfalls of this particular sub-genre of romantic/paranormal suspense: the most glaring ones being the cavemen who run around and the brutal savagery that results as part of their transformation, but also several authors’ tendencies to emphasise a narrowed definition of the good and the bad—no grey area of morality seems to exists apart from the questionable idea of ethics and playing god using frontier medicine and technology—which, if handled carelessly, can turn the characters into flatter and puppet-like figures.

And clearly, there were some parts where ‘Never Let Go’ that were grounded in those stereotypes, which tanked my enjoyment a little. As much as I liked Elizabeth’s and Sawyer’s early relationship before he went, well, ‘monstrous’, the middle bit of the story actually got quite hysterical, with parts resembling a b-grade slasher film as Sawyer struggled to fight the darkness in him and Elizabeth seemingly frozen between speechless terror and speechless desire. I was simultaneously horrified, incredulous and disbelieving, yet glued to the book while also wondering if there were going to be more mad turns and madder character deviations that the story was going to take.

That said, I’m not counting out this series just yet. Far from it, in fact. I just wish that I could have suspended my disbelief a little more, though there is cause for more cautious optimism given the hints that have already been dropped about the rest of the project and the other primals waiting in line to pounce.

three-stars

Tangled in Time by Barbara Longley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 14th September 2017
Tangled in Time by Barbara LongleyTangled in Time by Barbara Longley
Published by Montlake Romance on October 24th 2017
Pages: 272
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two-stars

To set him free from an ancient curse, she must travel to a time of myth and legend…

Regan MacCarthy’s ability to see ghosts is a gift inherited from her Irish ancestors, but it’s one she’d dearly like to give back. In an attempt to return her powers to their source, she travels to Ireland to harness the ancient magic that still permeates the mystical site of Newgrange. Instead, something far more unexpected awaits her: a strapping, gorgeous stranger who insists he’s a centuries-old Celtic warrior.

Fáelán was one of Fionn MacCumhaill’s elite soldiers before being cursed by a resentful fae princess. The only way to free himself is to fall so deeply in love that he’d sacrifice his life. Not an easy matter when he’s invisible to most. Yet Regan sees him—not just the proud, handsome warrior on the surface, but the complex man beneath. Only when it’s too late does Fáelán realize that drawing this beautiful mortal into his world has endangered them both, and may destroy the happiness he’s waited an eternity to claim…

‘Tangled in Time’s premise has a certain fairy-tale like veneer to it: a man stuck in some indeterminate, liminal realm, cursed by a fae princess, to be set free only when he finally falls in love and gets a woman to return that sentiment.

The only problem is, Regan MacCarthy refuses to believe that Faelan of the Fiann is anything but a ghost and the latter’s effort trying to convince her takes up a significant part of the first part. The first part of the story goes as expected: Faelan is already half in love with Regan for engaging him and seems to be determined that he will be falling in love with her. Gotta love that ardent, earnest spirit, hey? Except that this happens only for the first half of the story, until Faelan’s curse isn’t released at all, because well, a vengeful fae refuses to let him go.

I spent a fair bit of the first part simply trying to figure out the mythology of the fae and the realms and Longley’s interpretation of Faelan’s cursed existence, which left me more puzzled by how it all worked. But being stuck in the void is just weird business: Faelan, as a 1800-year-old cursed guy, can ‘teleport’ himself past his island, though he isn’t susceptible to the elements, can shave with a disposable plastic razor (does he really shuttle material things back and forth the realms?!), speaks like a Scot, can’t smell, and even manages to alternate between ancient and modern clothes—it’s a mental tally that I’d gotten going subconsciously as it sort of became clear how he managed that.

Yet I was going along with the ride though, until some twists and turns came towards the middle of the book and these revelations made the story difficult to continue after that. There is sort of another woman involved, though not in the traditional sense and the consequences of Faelan’s ancient indiscretions as we learn later, is actually the basis for why he’s stuck that way. Despite the interesting paranormal slant to the story, the heavy involvement of OWs is a personal turn-off and then throwing some foetuses into the mix just makes it worse.

I’m just sorry to say I can’t give a better review and rating to this story whose blurb intrigued me so much. It was fun to see the mythical Ireland reconstructed through Barbara Longley’s pen, complete with mists, rolling hills and magic dust and I really thought I’d enjoy this a lot more than I would but after a while, ’Tangled in Time’ almost felt like a morality tale of not messing with more powerful spirits or things living in the unseen realms of existence…or else.

two-stars

Mr. Rook by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 12th July 2017
Mr. Rook by Mimi Jean PamfiloffMr. Rook by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: Mr. Rook's Island #1
Published by P&S, Inc - Mimi Boutique on June 13 2017
Pages: 157
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three-stars

The women who vacation on Mr. Rook's exclusive island are looking for one thing and one thing only: to have their wildest romantic fantasies come to life. Pirates, cowboys, billionaires--there's nothing Rook's staff can't deliver.

But when Stephanie Fitzgerald's sister doesn't return after her week in paradise, Stephanie will have to pose as a guest in order to dig for answers. Unfortunately, this means she'll need to get close to the one thing on the island that's not on the menu: the devastatingly handsome and intimidating Mr. Rook. And he's not about to give the island's secrets away.

There are times when I’m stuck between ratings, particularly if it’s a 3-ish but not a 4-star read. But never quite have I found myself in a situation where I could give a book any amount of stars and that would have worked out as well.

“Mr. Rook” takes that kind of prize (it’s *that* batty!), even though it isn’t so much of a dubious honour as it is a book that I can’t quite let go of as much as I hate several parts of it. Still, this has to be one of the more bizarre reads I’ve ever gone into. Being taken for a wild ride doesn’t even begin to cover it and the cliffhanger ending makes is both dissatisfying and intriguing because well, nothing really quite makes sense and you know you are still 2 books—and what’s probably a good year to go—away from getting to the bottom of it all.

On Mr. Rook’s famous island that promises to fulfil all fantasies, the owner himself is this strange beacon of untouchable sexual magnetism when all is permitted and the odd way Stephanie inserts herself into this well-run hedonistic playground is nothing short of sliding down the rabbit’s hole into a sexually-deviant version of Alice in Wonderland, complete with half-truths, bizarre circumstances and partial revelations.

The truth is, I still don’t really know what’s going on. ‘Mr. Rook’ is a story full of extremes and loose threads, and at times it reads like a thriller or a paranormal ghost story (which it isn’t) but that right there, is the problem of the unreliable narrator coming to the fore with only Stephanie’s POV in place when suspense mixes with weird erotica and some odd gothic moments.

Let’s not even talk about a book hangover, because frankly, this has thrown me so far for a loop. With a sequel somewhere far on the horizon, it’s best I forget this for now…if only I could.

three-stars

Deceiver by Robin Lovett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 23rd June 2017
Deceiver by Robin LovettDeceiver: A Dark Revenge Romance by Robin Lovett
Series: Dark Stalker #2
Published by Swerve on July 11th 2017
Pages: 215
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two-stars

The plan was to ruin a man’s life. Not seduce the man’s daughter. But sometimes, the unlikeliest of people becomes the target. And sometimes revenge can make a man vulnerable in ways he didn’t know existed…

I’m bored. Tired of my meaningless life. The garden parties, the white sundresses, and politely saying “no” to the sliver of cake—it’s the life my mother and father wanted for me, worked tirelessly for me to have. And the monotony makes me reckless.

But when I go to Blake Vandershall’s party, his dark, menacing eyes and his hard, unyielding stare make me want things that have never been offered to me before. He’s the type who would ravish you in your father’s law office. The kind who would lie without blinking an eye in order to get what he wants.

And the repressed bad girl in me wants to give him what he needs.

**

Daisy Nowell is nothing to me.

I don’t care that underneath that blue-blood lifestyle, she’s burning to be unleashed. My victim is her father—the one man who had the chance to save my mother from a brutal fate. The coward did nothing, and it’s my turn to make his life a living hell.

He’s about to lose his precious daughter to me, a man whose sole mission is to destroy him. I’ll do anything, say anything, in order to tear this woman from her safe life as I hurtle down my path towards destruction. But I didn’t count on her seeing through me. I didn’t count on her tapping into my weaknesses, pushing my dark heart in ways I don’t want. Ways I hate.

I need to find a way to exact my vengeance and leave this all behind. Before this woman ruins me for good.

A revenge plot—of enemies to lovers—turns one of my reading screws, always.

But after the somewhat abrupt ending of the previous book—with a pairing that was difficult to buy into—I was rather hesitant about this one when the opening of ‘Deceiver’ was just as awkward and abrupt and seemingly without context: Blake Vandershall hosts a party to lure Daisy Novell in through seduction as part of his scheme to bring her father down. Like the first book, there’s a close stalker element to this as well, as Blake mows down the Lovells’ carefully-constructed lives and exults in it.

What I couldn’t really understand was how Daisy couldn’t quite see through his scheme or remain stubbornly oblivious to it, as Blake wasn’t at all subtle about it—that much she needed to cut herself free of the stifling lifestyle she lived that any ol’ distraction would do? In fact, I wondered why she wasn’t too suspicious, and was astounded even, when she dallied, played the game and flirted without quite having any 6th sense that something was off with Blake when he’d pretty much revealed he knew all about her and her family. Yet all it takes is an orgasm very early on to have Blake remorseful about his own behaviour while the simmering anger that he seems to carry around is enough to turn Daisy on.

Daisy in essence, is attracted to an arse of a man (which might be a trigger for some) but as the blurb unapologetically goes, don’t expect any ‘normal’ romance character traits here. As with a story like this, the turn from enemies to lovers can’t simply be an uneasy truce with sex thrown in for me; it’s made all the more difficult because I need more than the usual convincing that such a pairing—while not all sunshine and roses—is a viable one and it’s what I’ll be looking out for. To some extent they are the perfect pair in a twisted manner of speaking, as one uses the other for their own selfish motives consciously: Daisy as a means to break out of her caged life and Blake who uses her as an outlet.

Seen in this light, ‘Deceiver’ probably succeeds and for that reason, I’m not sure how to rate this read. But take a chance on this if you like hate (and taunting-type) sex, ambiguous and deviant relationships that defy every trope you like in romance.

two-stars

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 disappointingly 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

Revenge by Lexi Blake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th April 2017
Revenge by Lexi BlakeRevenge by Lexi Blake
Series: Lawless #3
Published by Berkley Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 352
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three-stars

When Drew Lawless discovers a fatal flaw in his plan to avenge his parents' deaths, he turns to the one woman he promised he wouldn't touch. He offers her a deal, one that will bring her into his investigation, his life, and his bed. Investigative reporter Shelby Gates never dreamed how twisted the case would become--or how fascinated she would be with Drew. Every day they spend together binds them. And every night brings her closer to realizing he might be the man for her. As Drew's feelings for Shelby grow, so does the danger. From the streets of Dallas to Austin's high-tech business world, Drew and Shelby play a game begun twenty years before--a game they will win, or die trying.

‘Revenge’ isn’t meant to be a standalone—that much becomes evident after the first few paragraphs into chapter 1. Too much has happened to the Lawless siblings and the murder mystery surrounding their parents and while Drew’s plot for revenge is detailed in the beginning, it involves manipulation and a rehash of so many details that a reader who hasn’t yet gone through the rest of the previous books would have difficulty assimilating all of them. But it’s also a setup of Drew/Shelby’s story, starting with his trying to convince her of taking up a contract and a non-disclosure agreement to work with him with several dangling carrots for her at the end of it all, only to take it all away.

I liked Shelby at first; she seemed sharp and capable as a reporter, lured as she is by Drew’s false promise that she would get a story of a lifetime while helping the family find justice. It was also difficult not to feel sorry for her, knowing she was also just a pawn to be moved about if Drew really had his way. Yet there’s a core of softness and naïveté that seemed out of place for an investigative reporter that had her being taken advantage of too easily. Drew, on the other hand, is as large a bundle of contradictions as Shelby: cold, manipulative, yet childlike in his need for touch and comfort. There are however, discrete parts of Drew and Shelby’s personalities that don’t fit and perhaps that’s what really threw me off, as did the idea that a family could be so rotten to the core—affairs all around, with psychopathic tendencies thrown in—where money and ambition instead of love fuel every action.

But the plot wasn’t quite what I expected as it took some strange turns along the way that made the storyline a little odd with characters turning on each other and muddying up the black and white lines drawn within the Lawless family. It’s also dialogue-heavy and much like a chess-game, with many threads that you can be expected to untangle right up until the climax of the story where a psychopathic mother finally faces off her own children.

‘Revenge’ straddles the line between intrigue, mystery and romantic suspense, and while actual action is lacking, the corporate espionage and the many bedroom games can keep you entertained…if this is the sort of thing that thrills you.

three-stars

Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid Paulson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 24th March 2017
Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid PaulsonWhy I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid Paulson
Published by Entangled: Teen on June 6th 2017
Pages: 287
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three-stars

Per her 537 rules, Harper Campbell keeps her life tidy—academically and socially. But the moment Sterling Lane transfers into her tiny boarding school, her twin brother gets swept up in Sterling’s pranks and schemes and nearly gets expelled. Harper knows it’s Sterling’s fault, and to protect her brother, she vows to take him down. As she exposes his endless school violations, he keeps striking back, framing her for his own infractions. Worst of all, he’s charmed the administration into thinking he’s harmless, and only Harper sees him for the troublemaker he absolutely is.
As she breaks rule after precious rule in her battle of wits against Sterling and tension between them hits a boiling point, she’s horrified to discover that perhaps the two of them aren’t so different. And maybe she doesn't entirely hate him after all. Teaming up with Sterling to save her brother might be the only way to keep from breaking the most important rule—protecting Cole.

This is one of the oddest, most entertaining and weird books I’ve read in a long, long while. There’s the stilted speech of English boarding schools (the kids sound like uptight lawyers-in-training with sticks up their arses) and good ol’ teenage pranks wrapped up in the scheming of Cruel Intentions, the cold malice of mafia movies and the calculative manoeuvrings of some spy shows.

But you know what they say about hate being the other side of the coin of love. At least I think it is, because I couldn’t quite be sure by the time I finished the book when denial and doublespeak hadn’t quite let down yet. Written wholly in Harper’s POV, I couldn’t decide where she was the judgemental, self-righteous, rule-following shrew or whether Sterling was truly the devil’s spawn wrapped up in sheep clothing. And without Sterling’s POV, he never quite appeared more than a shady character whose personality way surpassed his rich-kid stereotype who sort of decided that he could be more serious about his future post-boarding school.

The book really begins with a ‘mortal enemies’ type of situation, where rule-follower (and breaker) Harper is determined to take down the rich, spoiled lazy kid whose schemes actually match hers for deviousness. Attraction only creeps in way, way later and their ‘relationship’ is barely formed when the book finally ends. I had a few good laughs though (the pranks *were* hilarious), despite my bewilderment at the tone, the setup and the characterisation and perhaps, the story’s prominence simply lies in how much it differs from the typical NA/YA books that have sailed by as ships passing in the night.

three-stars
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