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Eyeballs rolled into my head

In the Line of Fire by Joss Wood

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 15th December 2017
In the Line of Fire by Joss WoodIn the Line of Fire by Joss Wood
Series: Pytheon Security #3
Published by Tule Publishing on February 8th 2018
Pages: 154
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two-stars

It just got personal…

As the Delta Force legend at Pytheon International, security expert Jett Smith-Jones has run out of leads in his effort to capture criminal mastermind, The Recruiter, the head of a notorious, international human trafficking and recruitment ring. The Recruiter remains one step ahead but when he threatens the principal players at Pytheon, including Dr Samantha Stone, the game is back on. Jett, while valiantly trying to ignore his visceral attraction to the fiery red head, is determined that she have the best protective detail Pytheon can provide. He is the best they have.

PhD Samantha Stone has been tasked to profile The Recruiter’s next move as a consultant of the psychology of criminal behavior. Too bad she can’t discern her attraction to the hard-eyed Delta Force legend. She avoids men who chase danger, but she can’t stop dreaming of falling into Jett’s very muscular arms. Unfortunately for Sam, The Recruiter isn’t the only criminal wanting a piece of her…

As they tighten the net around The Recruiter, the risk to Sam increases. Jett vows he will keep her safe, but who will protect his heart? And will Jett prove to pose the biggest danger to Sam of all?

I starting reading ‘In the Line of Fire’ not knowing this was the third book in Joss Wood’s Pytheon Security series so it took a while to unravel the supporting characters and what had happened previously. With the assumption that it was a standalone, there was a bit of a mess when it came to unravelling the threats that Sam faced and I got the feeling that I’d actually been thrown deep into a situation that had its beginnings somewhere off-stage, so sorting out the context took a bit of effort.

Joss Wood definitely has a different style of writing that’s a little quirky but one that jumps out at you—the distinct lack of North American vocabulary can be a bit jarring particularly when the story is about American characters working on American soil—and her characters do and say things I don’t expect. But along with the suspense came a scene with Jett’s ex-fiancée that made me cringe, just as I couldn’t fathom how a strong, take-charge woman like Sam Stone devolved into a clingy, needy, near-TSTL heroine just as Jett blew hot and cold and was plain unkind at several moments when the danger really kicked in. In fact, I found myself barely over the distasteful way Jett sometimes treated Sam and the easy way she managed to let it go before they were already talking about their HEA.

The way the action was set-up (along with the revelation of who the baddies were made guessing somewhat easy) and the behaviour of the characters weren’t elements I could get on board with unfortunately. If ‘In the Line of Fire’ started out great, it fell flat for me by the end…but who knows? It could simply just be me and my prickly tastes.

two-stars

On Her Guard by Skyla Madi

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 8th December 2017
On Her Guard by Skyla MadiOn Her Guard by Skyla Madi
Series: Protecting Her #1
Published by Crave Publishing on December 5th 2017
Pages: 109
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two-stars

I don't know how my life got so twisted. One day, I'm working as a cash guard, shooting the tires off a stolen vehicle, and the next I'm a guard for the only daughter of high profile mob boss, Marco Ventilli.

The twist?

I've already met the five-foot-four, one hundred and ten pound bombshell that is Sera Ventilli. In fact, I've had her every way a man can have a woman and if her father ever finds out, he'll skin me alive and bury me six feet under the hot sands of Las Vegas.

I knew Sera looked like the worst kind of trouble, my gut told me she was, but she swore otherwise and I lapped up every single lie she fed me, like a Goddamn idiot.

All I had to do was make good on the promise I made to my mother on her deathbed; Leave the army, find a normal job, a good woman, and get on with my life.

Yeah. So much for that​.

I had to wonder if I was reading a different book from the others after I finished this. The premise sounded promising and the forbidden romance trope always draws me to the story like catnip. But in the end, it was this age-gap and (life experience gap, if there’s ever such a phrase) that played a huge part for me in just showing how painfully mismatched this pairing really was, with reckless rebellion being the name of the game. I only felt sorry that poor Ben was caught up in it, thanks to a one-night stand and an effortlessly-told lie about age.

There was never a moment when I thought Sera behaved like a rational, responsible adult. On the contrary, her spoilt-child, reckless and TSTL behaviour at every turn—a form of rebellious upbringing clearly—made it all the more obvious to me as the pages went on that she and Ben were ill-suited everywhere other than in bed when it was clear she was still acting the way a young adult barely out of her teens would. Flouncing from club to club, thinking of ways to escape her security detail, then causing Ben to run into trouble were simply behavioural traits I associate with pampered but sheltered and irksome princesses (be it the mafia-type or royalty) that Ben had rightly called her out on.

Apart from physical attraction and maybe a bit of daddy issues on Sera’s side, I just could not see this pairing at all, let alone her father’s approval in the very abrupt conclusion when it’d been him who’d viciously near taken Ben apart. I turned the last page feeling wholly dissatisfied, but judging from other glowing reviews, it’s clearly a problem that lies solely with me.

two-stars

Follow by Tessa Bailey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 7th December 2017
Follow by Tessa Bailey
Published by Tessa Bailey on October 30th 2017
Pages: 214
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two-stars

He wants her soul. Too bad she already sold it.

Family is everything to gambling den darling, Teresa Valentini. Blood comes first, especially before men. So when her brother lands himself in hot water, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save him. And showing up topless in her unwitting savior’s motel room is turning out to be the furthest thing from a hardship…

Will Caruso is the bad boy of New York’s financial scene…and he just found out the very thing that drives his success is a damn lie. Now, he’s exchanged his high-stress life for the open road, no one but his Great Dane…and half a million Instagram followers to keep him company. When a mysterious beauty arrives, her secrecy prods his suspicions, even while she tempts his lust to the breaking point.

Teresa met Will under false pretenses, but the bond consuming them is real. They’re strong enough to overcome a little betrayal…aren’t they?

The honey-trap. A hidden motive. The deception and the play for the ultimate goal. At least that’s what Teresa Valentini sets out to do to get her baby brother out of the clutches of a mafia boss. And that admittedly, is a strange proposition that she gets—to seduce his son back to his place in the financial world.

‘Follow’ banks on a very strong, animalistic instant lust attraction that moves the plot along, as Teresa’s seduction plan doesn’t quite go as expected. But the buildup is thick and fast—though not entirely easy to buy into—when the first meeting between Will and Teresa stray into hot and heavy very quickly. I felt as though their attraction was more skin-deep than anything else, particularly since Teresa was actively using her body to point Will in a direction she wanted him to go, just as it was equally hard to believe that Will was taken in by Teresa’s man-eating act enough to have her on that road trip with him simply because she intrigued him with her mysterious air and seductive posturing.

There are blustery emotions and very sensation-focused paragraphs tucked in between the slow revelations of the bits and pieces of each character and it was only after a while that I realised that the road trip is a major part of the story, when I’d actually been impatient and buckling down to get to the part where everything unravelled. And there’s no doubt that Tessa Bailey is good at this part: the drawing out of emotions, the dirty (and sometimes exaggerated) sex and the even dirtier-talking men.

But it’s here that I’ll also readily admit that Bailey’s prioritising of Will/Teresa’s sex games in all its forms over her deception was frustrating, when this type of longstanding pretence where the ultimate ‘reveal’ happens only towards the end just isn’t my kind of thing. A quarter of the book unfortunately, lingered on their dirty-talk and the a sexual push-pull vibes when I was impatient to read more about the unravelling of Teresa’s plan and Will’s discovery of her double play.

So for me, the pacing lagged in the first half—Bailey’s drawn-out descriptions of their attraction and sexual foreplay didn’t give the plot enough momentum—when the battle of wits seemed limited to the bedroom that made the first half of the story read like erotica.

I’d hoped for a clearer thread of honesty that would run through their narrative and was disappointed when it didn’t, because it felt that Will had always been the one who was more honest. It isn’t to say that Teresa’s love for her brother and her obvious like for Will weren’t broadcasting her personal conflict, but I did take issue with the depth of her betrayal and the delay with which the truth was revealed after she’d known that she’d fallen in love with him.

I’m going to say that ‘Follow’ was unfortunately, not a book that I could get into. Nothing to do with Bailey’s writing style—it’s obvious that she can and does write fantastically—but my own issues with plot and characters just got in the way for me to enjoy this at all.

two-stars

Pulled Under by Lisa Renee Jones

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 2nd December 2017
Pulled Under by Lisa Renee JonesPulled Under by Lisa Renee Jones
Series: Walker Security #2
Published by Everafter Romance on November 28th 2017
Pages: 267
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three-stars

Born into a wealthy family he rebelled against, Asher dived into the world of rock n roll, drugs, and women. A blond, tattooed, bad boy, he is the chameleon of Walker Security. A man who manages to switch from rocker leather hotness to perfectly fitted suits. Even effortlessly blending into the underground grunge of the cities. Because he’s lived that world, almost lost himself to that world, until he ends up helping Royce Walker, then a Federal Agent, and now his boss at Walker Security. Royce thinks Asher has conquered his darkness. Some days he thinks he has, too. Some days, he knows he never will.

Present day: When several women end up dead from a new drug on the streets, Walker Security is hired to help the police solve the crimes that have the city in turmoil. Asher goes undercover in the club scene for answers, easily calling on that darkness to fit right in. Why is it that only women are dying? What is this drug they’ve never seen before? Who is behind it? And why does everything lead back to a prima donna on the Upper East Side, whom Asher just saw in a nightclub in leather and lace? The very same woman he took to his bed?

Asher will face a woman seeking vengeance, whose past is a little too similar to his to feel right. Or maybe it’s a little too similar to be anything but right. But he’ll have to keep her alive to find out, despite her best efforts to put herself in harm’s way at every chance.

A woman on the run, a shadowy undercover bartender who decides he’s on her side the moment he pegs her wrongly to be a bar dancer. Cue the sparks, the banter and the near-immediate fall into bed because of the overwhelming attraction, while what appears like separate threats draw ever closer and start dovetailing.

‘Pulled Under’ sounds like the kind of read that’s up my alley and taking a chance on Lisa Renee Jones (a new author for me) simply means there’s another romantic suspense-author on my list to watch out for. And by and large, it was an engaging story and fairly well-paced despite the instant love/lust, with many characters who’d gained their HEAs appearing from Jones’s other books (though they’re foreign to me).

I’m still on the fence with the protagonists however, and there were parts of the book that had me raising my brows in scepticism. Sierra and Asher tussled over the past that hung over her life but they were mostly adults about it, despite the same argument about Asher keeping her safe vs. Sierra not wanting to endanger him coming up ad nauseum. But for a man who had never done relationships, for whom women were mere fuck-buddies, Asher’s sudden, unwavering all-in status with Sierra from the very moment he saw her—the flip of the switch so to speak—and the effusive words of commitment made it all the harder to believe, as was his explanation that it was just that way with him and his other Waker security mates. In addition, the threat to Sierra—elevated to be almost near-untouchable and all-powerful, drawn out tautly over most of the book—was simply wrapped up with an anti-climatic gun-shot that seemed to cancel out all that meticulous planning for an explosive takedown I’d been gearing myself up for.

In all, ‘Pulled Under’ wasn’t quite the perfect read for me, but a good one and yes, it’s probably enough to make me curious about Jones’s other books and the next Walker Security story.

three-stars

Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 29th November 2017
Man Hands by Sarina Bowen and Tanya EbyMan Hands by Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby
Series: Man Hands, #1
Published by Rennie Road Books on December 11th 2017
Pages: 180
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two-stars

He puts the "screw" in screwball comedy...

BRYNN

At thirty-four, I’m reeling from a divorce. I don’t want to party or try to move on. I just want to stay home and post a new recipe on my blog: Brynn’s Dips and Balls.

But my friends aren’t having it. Get out there again, they say. It will be fun, they say. I’m still taking a hard pass.

Free designer cocktails, they say. And that’s a game-changer.

Too bad my ex shows up with his new arm candy. That’s when I lose my mind. But when my besties dare me to leap on the first single man I see, they don't expect me to actually go through with it.

TOM

All I need right now is some peace and quiet while my home renovation TV show is on hiatus. But when a curvy woman in a red wrap dress charges me like she’s a gymnast about to mount my high bar, all I can do is brace myself and catch her. What follows is the hottest experience of my adult life.

I want a repeat, but my flying Cinderella disappears immediately afterward. She doesn’t leave a glass slipper, either—just a pair of panties with chocolate bunnies printed on them.

But I will find her.

Stripped to its core, ‘Man Hands’ is about a woman reeling from her divorce, then getting back on the saddle with a one-night stand by riding a jaded womaniser of a tv personality after a crazy evening when she bumps into her ex…thereafter does a Cinderella-disappearing act on him thereafter. And predictably, this celebrity—used to female attention—is intrigued because the sex is the most memorable he’s ever had. Then comes a sex tape scandal and the damage-control that eventually blows up in their faces.

If the plot is familiar, it’s the execution of it that isn’t. ‘Man Hands’ is a stark departure from the usual Sarina Bowen style that I’m used to, and it was a ride that left me wondering how zany things could get before I could see my feet back on terra firma. Frankly, it was all a little too mad for me as characters stepped out of reality straight into slap-stick land and did/said/thought things that no sane person would try, I think.

I do understand that rom-coms can be tricky: get the balance of the humour and the lovey-dovey bits just a tad wrong and it dumps us into cheesy territory or overdoses us with cavity-inducing sweetness. Overdo the serious stuff and the complaints come fast and furious that the story should have been better classified as angsty drama.

But when everything about ‘Man Hands’ got inflated, dramatic and exaggerated so that hyperbole became comedy, I found myself barely able see past the over-the-top silliness to the point where it was hard to connect with the characters, or at least, with their voices which I hard a hard time reconciling with 30-ish-year-old adults. Scrub out the wacky lines, the erections that come when the slightest wind blew and the hysterical inner monologues that filled the pages, and I couldn’t quite get the substance behind this particular style.

If Brynn barrelling into the first man she saw which led immediately to hot sex wasn’t batty enough, Tom simply came across as sleazy as he straddled the line between being a pining teenager and a man obsessed with his own dick despite having broken his short stint of celibacy.

The long and short of it is, I was just incredibly disappointed by this one, maybe because I wanted so badly to see what Bowen could do with romantic comedy and felt let down when nothing went right somehow. But if ‘Man Hands’ was one that back-fired spectacularly, judging from the glowing reviews, I daresay it’s probably a brand of humour that didn’t resonate with me in any way.

two-stars

An Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th November 2017
An Ex for Christmas by Lauren LayneAn Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne
Series: Love Unexpectedly #5
Published by Loveswept on November 7th 2017
Pages: 218
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two-stars

When a psychic tells spunky, superstitious Kelly Byrne that she’s already met her true love, she becomes obsessed with the idea of tracking him down before Christmas. Kelly immediately writes up an “Ex List” and starts contacting old boyfriends to figure out which one is the one. When her college sweetheart rolls into town, Kelly convinces herself that they’re meant to be. The trouble is, sparks are flying with someone she’s never given a chance: her best friend, Mark.

Mark Blakely has watched the guys on Kelly’s list break her heart, and he’s not looking forward to watching them do it all over again. Mark’s always been there for her, but the timing’s never worked out for their relationship to be something more. Now, just as Mark is ready to move on, the sexual tension between them is suddenly off the charts. With Christmas morning around the corner, he just hopes Kelly will wake up and realize that everything she wants has been right in front of her all along.

I’m starting to wonder if Lauren Layne and I should start to part ways. When I’ve loved her earlier works, these days, I’ve taken more and more issues of late with her characters whom I can’t seem to like at all—and my recent lowered ratings of her books might be an unfair attempt to recapture what I’ve felt about her previous books.

The friends-to-lovers (with an unrequited element) romance is one where I tread very, very carefully, because there’re just too many entanglements and questions that tend not to be satisfactorily answered before a typical, teary grovelling session happens just a page or 2 before both parties ride off into the sunset. Romantic-comedy or not, I do like my couples evenly-paired emotionally at the very least, which means that I do need to see, while reading the romance genre, that both are on the same page when it comes to their feelings for each other, rather than a protagonist hankering after another for an extended period of time, then having the other playing catch up only in the last few pages. Where’s the satisfaction in that?

“An Ex for Christmas” was just that for me, though I was under the impression that it was more of a timing-not-right sort of thing for them, instead of one where an obtuse woman stomps on a man’s heart unknowingly.

For want of a better way of putting things, Kelly seemed to bring out the latent violent tendencies in me as I found myself caught between wanting to smack her and throwing a chair at her for her steadfast refusal to see how much she’d put Mark in the friend zone. Kelly’s perky obliviousness and inability to recognise what was in front of her all along—while flaunting the plan to dates ALL of her ex-es in front of the guy who’s always loved her—was not just cringeworthy, but thoughtless and stupid, considering this came off some screwed-up, superstitious conclusion based on an old woman’s prediction.

In fact, I felt so bad for Mark and actually wished he found someone else other than a woman who’d never seemed to return his feelings beyond platonic friendship. I thought he deserved better instead of Kelly’s ‘sudden’ realisation that she ‘thought she loved’ him despite him going to bat for her—the obstinate search for her ex-es even though those tanked disastrously proved it sufficiently, and I couldn’t blame him at all for finally wanting to give up while the woman he wanted simply went off doing her own merry thing.

Obviously my sentiments lie in the minority here—unrequited love stories tend to do that for me, particularly with the one who pined for a long time—but exasperation and irritation just got the better of me for this one. So I skimmed, if only for poor Mark, feeling relieved when I got to the end, though not any happier about it still because their love affair all sat wrong with me. Like I said, maybe this is sort of the end of the road for me when it comes to Layne’s stories; never say never though, but I’m going to be taking a wide berth for now.

two-stars

Head Coach by Lia Riley

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Reviews/ Sports 8th November 2017
Head Coach by Lia RileyHead Coach by Lia Riley
Series: Hellions Angels #2
Published by Avon Impulse on November 21st 2017
Pages: 158
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three-half-stars

Neve Angel’s life is all work and no play, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. One of Denver’s top sports reporters, she's fought hard to make it in a male-dominated world, and she won’t back down from a fight with anyone–not even the Hellions’ gruff head coach, Tor Gunnar. Her hostile relationship with the icy Scandinavian is the stuff of local legend.

Tor Gunnar hates dealing with the media; at best, they are a nuisance and at worst, a distraction. And no one distracts him more than the scrappy, sexy reporter who gets him hot under the collar. When he wins a not-so-friendly bet with Neve, he decides it’s high time they either kiss or kill each other, and invites her as a date to an out-of-town wedding.

But what happens when enemies become lovers? Will they be able to smother their sizzling attraction, or is it time to start playing for keeps?

‘Head Coach’ is a enemies to lovers romance—a favourite trope of mine—with a conflict built into ‘opposing’ careers: a sports journalist and the celebrity coach of a famous team who have certainly done enough egging and prodding each side over the years. So it was more than fun to watch that relationship flip on its head one weekend as Tor Gunnar and Neve Angel suddenly waded into uncharted but scorching hot territory.

Yet this conflict that had conveniently put them in opposing camps now worked against their relationship past that infamous weekend—I did cringe at how reactive Neve could get sometimes—though Lia Riley does get through it a little too easily before this rather short story closed on their HEA. But apart from the all-too-convenient resolution that seemed to come out of nowhere that made it all the more unbelievable as a quick resolution, ‘Head Coach’ was still an easy read with the angst kept at a minimum and the immaturity metre dialled to low.

I do like Lia Riley’s writing as well; it reminds me of the assured style of Tessa Bailey complete with the dirty-talking alpha males while her characters sometimes get into unexpected situations that came out of the blue.

‘Head Coach’ is my first Lia Riley story and it definitely wouldn’t be my last.

three-half-stars
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