Tag: Deep in Geekdom

Prince Charming by C.D. Reiss

Prince Charming by C.D. ReissPrince Charming by C.D. Reiss
Published by Everafter Romance on January 4th 2018
Pages: 421
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Keaton Bridge is exactly the kind of guy a straight-arrow like Cassie doesn’t need.

For one thing, he’s a criminal—and she fights crime for a living. And being criminally handsome isn’t helping her say no, either. Everything about him screams trouble, from his British accent to his mysterious past.

And Cassie doesn’t do trouble.

Keaton’s got his own trouble. He’s trying to go legit, and an FBI agent hanging around is the last thing that will help his credibility. All it took was one night of passion to sear her into his skin. Now he can’t imagine living happily ever after without her.

All they have to do is walk away.

But neither of them ever walks away from danger.

C.D. Reiss doesn’t often come around on my need-to-read list, but there’s no doubt her stories are stylishly written and her plots imaginative. The blurb of ‘Prince Charming’ spoke to the geek in me and the hacking, white-collar crime, the criminal and the fed were just ingredients that could and should have made a story as explosive as I’d expected.

The web Reiss wove from the beginning had a noir-ish, sometimes claustrophobic (though sexually-charged) feel to it. But if I was initially intrigued and loving the toxic, uncertain atmosphere of distrust mixed with attraction, my excitement flatlined a bit as I couldn’t see where the story was heading, except for the instant lust and the moral ambiguity that seems to be all-pervasive each time Keaton Bridge enters the picture. With every action described, every thought catalogued in a cat-and-mouse game of questions going nowhere that was perhaps meant to build suspense, but got distracting and draggy instead—oddly enough, because Cassie’s and Keaton’s attraction seemed inversely proportionate to the pacing. Cassie’s and Keaton’s to-and-fro dialogue always seemed to be heading for a stalemate (though his constant arousal and her wet panties are a separate issue entirely and rather bewildering), interrupted often by long, protracted mental musings. The point is, both of them were dodgers in so many ways and the pages and pages of dialogue and their dangerous, reckless relationship showed it.

I’m guessing that this might not be a book for everyone—the style and the introspective narrative might not be for those who prefer ‘straight-up’ writing—and I found myself on the fence about it, especially when I started getting impatient for things to roll on instead of stalling when Cassie and Keaton hit the sheets with so many questions still left unanswered. That said, the plot was well-drawn, and the details of cyber crime, the dark web and the hackers involved believably thrilling. There were some twists that I didn’t expect, carrots dangled, and like rewards for continuing to turn the pages, they were hooks that I bit into despite skimming some parts of the story.


Show Me by Abigail Strom

Show Me by Abigail StromShow Me by Abigail Strom
Series: Me
Published by Montlake Romance on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 256
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“Houston, we have a major attraction.”

After years of dealing with a heart condition and an overprotective mother, Airin Delaney is finally having her first taste of freedom in Waikiki—and it’s intoxicating. But it’s nothing compared to the out-of-this-world attraction between her and astronaut Hunter Bryce. Airin is determined to shoot for the stars and experience her first real kiss.

All Hunter has ever wanted is to explore the universe. That is, until a certain black-haired, wide-eyed beauty shakes him to the core. Hunter knows almost nothing about Airin, not even her last name. All he knows is that she’s the kind of girl he could fall over-the-moon in love with. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse. While Airin is celebrating her first night of freedom, Hunter is celebrating his last—before embarking on an eight-month mission.

It was only supposed to be one night. But sometimes that’s all fate needs to change two lives forever.

Unlike its predecessor, ‘Show Me’ is written in a very different vein—much more than just an astronaut looking to fulfil his lifelong dream beyond Earth’s atmosphere and a woman so sheltered that the whole world seems new. If ‘Tell Me’ is an opposites-attract story, ‘Show Me’ continues this trend in a different way. Unlike Caleb and Jane who are inherently different in their personalities and what they wanted out of life, Hunter and Airin are opposites in in their experiences though there’s the ironic twist of the latter having much to teach the former as well.

There was something whimsical and lofty about ‘Show Me’—I essentially thought this read like a dreamer’s book with lots of hopes that pour through the pages—where talk extended beyond present reality to interstellar travel and the inevitable rush of philosophising that comes with it. The undertones were great: the ideals of humanity vs. the pragmatism needed about reality as we know it, the long-debatable merits of space exploration, the politics that comes with it.

I wasn’t entirely thrilled though, with the extremes in Airin’s and Hunter’s experiences; too often it comes across in many books as the manwhore and the virgin trope and the inevitable comparisons of how special a heroine is in contrast to his countless other flings. And I was even less enthused about a meddling mother whose protective desperation turned so manipulative that it caused most of the rift and the push-pull dynamics in the story.

It’s not easy to rate this story nonetheless. Strom’s writing was enjoyable and there were parts that I could relate to, just as there were bits that I couldn’t, like Airin’s wide-eyed honest cataloguing of every new thing. Hunter’s and Airin’s HFN ending was given that same dreamy tinge, though the look into the future remained just that—a veiled hope that still left me wondering if this was a pairing that could weather the storms.


Zero Hour by Megan Erickson

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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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.


Kiss Kiss Bang by Sidney Halston

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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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.


Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis

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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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.


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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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.


Exploited by A. Meredith Walters

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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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.