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Deep in Geekdom

Zero Hour by Megan Erickson

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th December 2017
Zero Hour by Megan EricksonZero Hour by Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous #1
Published by Forever on January 30th 2018
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Hacker extraordinaire Roarke Brennan lives each hour - each breath - to avenge his brother's murder. His first move: put together a team of the best coders he knows. They're all brilliant, specialized, and every one an epic pain in his ass. Only now Wren Lee wants in too, threatening to upset their delicate balance. The girl Roarke never allowed himself to want is all grown up with sexy confidence and a dark past ... and she's the wild card he can't control.

Roarke might still think she's a kid, but Wren's been to hell and back. Nothing and nobody can stop her - especially the tatted-up, cocky-as-all-hell hacker. But when years of longing and chemistry collide, Wren and Roarke discover that revenge may be a dish best served blazing hot.

‘Zero Hour’ spoke directly to the geek in me. I blank out at many things technical, so hackers (whether they be black/white hats) written as heroes/heroines of romances are relatively new in this genre but so welcome.

I love the lingo, the geek side of things, the stuff that the deep, dark web is made of, most probably because I’ve never been able to get my mind around it. That Megan Erickson has jumped wholly on this subject has made me more than moist with excitement, with the underlying classic tropes of the forbidden best friend’s younger sister while a high-stakes hacker-style investigation into a murder brings it all together. There’s a lot of beguiling intrigue to be explored in this arena after all, and I’ve always wondered why not many authors have chosen to use this very contemporary setting along with the realistic and contemporary threats we face today to weave a pretty little tale.

Unsure as I was about how hackers would appear in this series, I was nonetheless surprised by the tattooed protagonists who sometimes acted more like members of an MC at times instead of thickly-spectacled people who were glued to their computers and surfaced bleary-eyed only for meals and sleep. Yet Erickson gets the anti-social, loner-types pat-down though, by introducing a varied, unpredictable put-together team of characters whose questionable histories are still veiled to us.

Roarke and Wren do have a hell of a backstory and a decade of separate lives that Erickson didn’t make too much of, except for the fact that pining (on both sides) went on while they moved on with others instead. Their sudden reunion—spurred on by the death of his brother and Wren’s own personal motive for revenge—however, felt almost like a coincidence, along with the hidden skills that they’d each picked up which didn’t seem to fit the hacker-skill set. Where had they had weapons training, for instance, at least enough that they would carry guns around? What sort of jobs had they done in the past 10 years that made them what they were today? Why did Wren only return now, at a time when Roarke sought revenge when the tragedy that she and her friend suffered happened years ago?

I think the questions that kept popping up dipped my enjoyment of the story somewhat and the brother’s-best-friend-to-lover trope was less convincing especially after knowing that Roarke and Wren had always wanted each other but never actively did anything about it. The ending, for all the gritty, edgy build-up, seemed a little anti-climatic with the rather convenient end of the mastermind, and the several loose threads hanging, while understandably left deliberately to set up the sequel, didn’t give the story a proper sense of closure.

In many ways, ‘Zero Hour’ reads like the establishing novel it is and while I did like how this narrative arc—the mesh of thriller and digital espionage really gets me going—seemed to be shaping up, I’m already eager to see how Erickson would explore the unstable dynamics of the ad-hoc group brought together by chance and the pairings that will come out of that.

three-stars

Kiss Kiss Bang by Sidney Halston

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 20th October 2017
Kiss Kiss Bang by Sidney HalstonKiss Kiss Bang by Sidney Halston
Series: Iron Clad Security #3
Published by Swerve on December 5th 2017
Pages: 179
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three-stars

Six-foot-two and ripped...with superior computer skills, Josef “Joey” Clad is not your typical ex-Marine. The co-owner of Iron-Clad securities is 100% Alpha male, but under his muscular physique, he's the best hacker in Miami who specializes in running Iron-Clad's cyber ops. The perfect skill set for their new client who is getting threatening emails, a client who he definitely wants to get to know better. Much better.

Single mom, widow, Olivia Monroe has exceptional dreams that she refuses to let go of. Fifteen years ago, she left her broken home in New York City and never looked back. Now a dark horse candidate for Florida governor, she's not looking for a relationship. Even with the hot guy who sweeps in and saves her computer the night before a big speech. Her hero has trouble written all over him. Joey is too handsome, too funny, too confident, and way too hard to resist.

Too bad he's now her bodyguard.

Sidney Halston’s latest Iron-Clad Security series isn’t quite the typical bodyguard-type romance, even though the high-profile/security (geek) guy pairing is in full force here. It’s a rather unusual setup nonetheless (a politician with an ex-military hacker) and while there’s some suspense written into this, the focus is mainly on the romance that grows under adversity, coupled with an annoying child who seems to be constantly hovering at the ‘terrible-twos’ age and a ton of eye-blinding lust.

Joey Clad and Olivia Monroe are likeable, steady characters who don’t generally behave several decades younger than they’re supposed to be. Both are confident in themselves, tough in ways that matter and in this manner, well-suited to each other. Maybe the correct term here is ‘adulting’: behaving with the weight of the awareness that they do have responsibilities and don’t run away from them while talking it out—I literally get quite excited when couples in romantic fiction use their mouths to communicate instead of using sex to put the issue away for another time.

There are moments when Olivia pushes Joey away and gives all sorts of excuses at first while Joey dives straight into their relationship and isn’t unafraid to call her out for them—that part is done away with quickly. I did skim a little past the political issues and the antics of Olivia’s daughter, but mostly, ‘Kiss Kiss Bang’ is a story that deals with the threats thrown at Olivia and her daughter as Joey steamrolls his way into their lives and makes himself indispensable. Nearly emotionally angst-free, the book is, in this aspect, quite a predictable but welcome read—there aren’t that many earth-shaking revelations that turn the pairing against each other or one that contributes to a huge climax—which I could appreciate given the number of blowups that tend to be the norm in the romance genre.

three-stars

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews 2nd September 2017
Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill ShalvisChasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis
Series: Heartbreaker Bay #4
Published by Avon on September 26th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Meet cute...

Run for the hills—temporarily. That's Colbie Albright's plan when she flees New York for San Francisco. Wrangling her crazy family by day and writing a bestselling YA fantasy series by night has taken its toll. In short, Colbie's so over it that she's under it. She's also under the waters of a historic San Francisco fountain within an hour of arrival. Fortunately, the guy who fishes Colbie out has her looking forward to Christmas among strangers. But she's pretty sure Spencer Baldwin won't be a stranger for long.

Make merry...

Spence's commitment to hiding from the Ghosts of Relationships Past means he doesn't have to worry about the powerful—okay, crazy hot chemistry—he's got with Colbie. Just because she can laugh at anything, especially herself... just because she's gorgeous and a great listener just because she gets Spence immediately doesn't mean he won't be able to let Colbie go. Does it?

and hope for a miracle.

Now the clock's ticking for Colbie and Spence: Two weeks to cut loose. Two weeks to fall hard. Two weeks to figure out how to make this Christmas last a lifetime.

I’ve always wanted Spence’s story—the hot, smart but lonely geek always there for his friends but also always caught up in his work—and I’m so glad that Jill Shalvis has delivered “Chasing Christmas Eve” just as I thought this poor guy was going to be left behind. And this is a typical Shalvis read as well: light-hearted, never too heavy on the angst, with several scenes and dialogues that have comedic timing down pat.

There hasn’t been a hint of who would be Spence’s other half and it is a surprise in a way, to see that Shalvis pairing him with a famous author who’s unwilling to reveal the kind of fame she has. But like quite a few of Shalvis’s heroines, Colbie tends to run first, shut down, then analyse later, so unsurprisingly, it’s Spence—the more solid yet sweeter and steadfast one—whom I thought would get heartbroken in the end. After all, their affair was meant to burnt bright and hot…and temporary. But the expiry date comes and goes, and with the Christmas magic in the air, miracles do happen and Spence does get his HEA after all. He’s my soft spot after Elle Wheaten and I do admit that I wasn’t as invested in Spence/Colbie as much as I was in Elle/Archer, but that’s obviously a personal preference for character coming through here because I didn’t find Colbie as much as a standout as I’d hoped.

A particular highlight of the book however, is the return of the usual gang and I definitely dig the group dynamics of the Heartbreaker Bay series, especially since it’s always written with charm and quirk that contribute to the quiet sense of comedy. For this alone, I’ll be waiting for the next book to get back into Cow Hollow just to get back the feel-goods.

three-stars

Bonding Games by Cathryn Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 8th July 2017
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

Exploited by A. Meredith Walters

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 10th June 2017
Exploited by A. Meredith WaltersExploited by A. Meredith Walters
Series: Zero Day, #1
Published by Loveswept on July 25th 2017
Pages: 288
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four-stars

At first glance, I’m nothing out of the ordinary. I am a daughter. A sister. A friend. When you look at me you won’t see anything that warrants suspicion. I don’t look like a criminal.
My name is Hannah Whalen, but most people know me as freed0mov3rdr1v3, or “Freedom Overdrive”—one of the world’s most prolific and notorious hacktivists. My goal—my purpose—is to shed light on the evil that lurks behind the corporate and government lies we have been force-fed for too long.
My story begins with the best possible intention. Devoting my life to exposing the corrupt. The dishonest. The unethical. For that, they label me a cyber-terrorist. Wanted by the FBI, I’ve always been one step ahead.
Until I fell in love.
Because I’m sleeping with the man who’s hunting me. And he has no idea that I am his prey. Now I have to decide what’s more important: my freedom or my heart.

The romance ‘verse of hacking is a relatively unexplored one and diving into ‘Exploited’ was an absolute treat as I’ve always wanted a story that really dug into black hats, the mentality under which they operate and the scrutiny they face.

That said, I do like A. Meredith Walters’s take on vigilante justice and the shadowy line that hackers often cross. Unlike the books that delve into them, ‘Exploited’

is a raw, honest take about the power trips that hackers take they dodge the law and the huge amount of pandering to ego that we see, as much as for Hannah as it is for Mason. But ultimately, put a law enforcement officer on the tail of the hacker (and vice versa) and Walters has a cat-and-mouse game going that you already know can’t end terribly well.

The thing about ‘Expoited’ is that there’s this bleak, eerie melancholy that I can’t seem to shake off somehow. The first-person narrative here isn’t one that only brings you closer and into the characters’ heads; it suffocates you just as Mason and Hannah live their suffocating lives, twisted and burdened by tragedy and circumstances not of their own making. Anger and the burning need for revenge has driven Hannah to her double life as a hacker who doles our her own brand of criminal justice by being one herself; Mason’s own dysfunctional family has brought him down a road where he’s hemmed in both at home and in the office.

In an odd way, I found myself wholly invested in the intrigue and the characters by extension, though Mason and Hannah were a pairing that I could neither get into nor like. Mason and Hannah weren’t protagonists I could root for—the callous way they treated others around them for one—and the games they played felt more like they belonged in an erotic thriller like ‘Basic Instinct’ that has deceit underscoring the action both at work and in the bedroom. I couldn’t quite get Hannah’s connection with Mason, at least because the depth of her manipulation makes her a difficult protagonist to like, but I found myself fascinated with how she was going to twist her way out of her whole setup thanks to her mysterious hacking partner, whose motivations are equally suspect. Mason’s dalliance with a work colleague and that constant comparison to Hannah (his ability to jump between women so quickly) grated on me and that gullibility that he had with Hannah was sort of laughable.

In short, this felt more of a parody of a romance than a proper one, yet that was in itself, a fascinating layer to the suspense that kept the pages turning for me. I found that I could objectively look at two people on the opposite sides of the law playing each other and not quite have an affinity for one or the other while enjoying the tightening of the noose on Hannah’s neck. The pace-perfect cliffhanger ending is predictable though unsatisfactory and more than anything, I want to see how a HEA is even possible in the sequel to this book.

four-stars

The Wrong Kind of Compatible by Drew Kerrigan

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 19th May 2017
The Wrong Kind of Compatible by Drew KerriganThe Wrong Kind of Compatible by Kadie Scott
Series: Love Undercover #1
on June 12th 2017
Pages: 141
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two-stars

Data analyst Cassie Howard may be brilliant (and, okay, a little awkward), but she’s worked hard to get where she is. She definitely doesn’t need some sexy new analyst coming in and taking credit for her work. Or the inappropriate thoughts that keep popping out of her mouth she’d rather he not hear.
For undercover FBI agent Drew Kerrigan, computers have always made more sense than people, but he’d better develop some slick social skills in a hurry if he’s going to win over the too-tantalizing-for-his-sanity Cassie. Hacking their systems was easy. Now he’s just got to hack the one person in the company most likely to see through his ruse…

Cassie Howard is Drew Kerrigan’s mark and for him, going undercover—a rare privilege for a hacker like him—is probably one of the hardest things he’s ever done when the attraction at every turn, threatens to make him forget his mission. Compatibility (physical or otherwise) is clearly out of the question when Drew insinuates himself in her work and her personal life, but his admiration of Cassie poses a huge conflict when the case he’s working on seems to point to Cassie’s complicity in the crime he’s investigating.

I liked that Kadie Scott made both protagonists nerdy and socially-awkward in their own ways, with unintended innuendoes that they both say and realise it too late. That’s rom-com strategy right there and some parts were sort of enjoyable, particularly when Cassie and Drew had to work together, all the while second-guessing themselves and each other. The hot-cold interactions between them however, intended to build tension, got a little tired for me when it dragged on.

There are also unfortunately, characters who many other people like but who rub you the wrong way, and Cassie was that for me. I found her harder to like than Drew, who seemed some what more ‘earnest’ in his dealings with her. I understand her insecurities about being the smart but unlucky-in-love girl to the extent where her achievements are everything to her, but I think I would have liked her better at the beginning had she not been too defensively territorial and too passively aggressive about it with a runaway mouth that made me wince more than it was funny. So much about her was overwrought (which is to some extent, understandable, given her family of overachievers) and her suspicion of everything Drew was doing got annoying after a while as she took out her prickly issues on him then acted like a stick in the mud about it.

For some reason, ‘The Wrong Kind of Compatible’ was a difficult read for me—it took me days to go through the pages when I normally would breeze through light-hearted rom-com books in an afternoon. Geek-type reads are usually a guilty pleasure but clearly, my personal preferences are showing up and I couldn’t find much common ground with the heroine, let alone the couple in question.

two-stars

Smart Tass by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 19th April 2017
Smart Tass by Mimi Jean PamfiloffSmart Tass by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: OHellNo #1
on April 11th 2017
Pages: 157
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three-stars

He’s the hot quarterback all the girls want. She’s the smart girl he loves to pick on.And now that they’re all grown up, things are about to get geekin’ ugly…
My name is Tass. I’m smart, I’m driven, and I am determined not to let prankster Hunter Johnson continue raining on my parade. When we were little, he’d pull my hair and call me names. When we were teenagers, he’d throw food and tease me for being a flat-chested virgin.
But now that we’ve ended up at the same college, he’s out of his hot head if he thinks he can keep messing with my life. It’s like he’s fixated on me or something. Well, guess what, Mr. Amazefootball? I’m not that geeky little girl anymore and you do not screw with a smart woman.
So what’s my plan?
It’s definitely wild, and he’s about to find out…

I’d initially assumed that ‘Smart Tass’ was in fact, a good ol’ enemies-to-lovers thing in college, between two people who’d known each other the whole time but hadn’t gotten along. But it’s so much more than that.

Written wholly in Tass’s POV though, I went from hating Hunter to warming to him, just as she did. Objectively speaking, there is really something quite smart about the way the narrative is set up that got me going. There’s the power of the unreliable narrator here (even though I loved the smart-ass, cocky, biased and very distinctive nerdy but alpha girl voice of Tass), given the very skewed perspective that makes us see what we’re supposed to see and assume before it gets turned on its head and the age-old lesson of not believing everything as it looks.

I wasn’t comfortable about how much of commodification of Tass’s virginity there was by the frat boys, yet it’s also waved proudly about like it’s nothing to be ashamed of from Tass’s side, which was quite a contradiction for me. Yet that was part of the conflict that I could sniff a mile away, which was resolved in a mere few pages at the end which stuttered to a stop in the form of a cliffhanger. I guess I wanted to see more than just a kiss-and-make-up scene or at least some more of a resolute ending before the next book kicks in…after all, there was barely enough of Tass and Hunter on good terms, as much as the antagonism was fun. It was over before I knew it and without an epilogue or anything, ‘Smart Tass’ felt more incomplete than it was a standalone.

three-stars
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