Tag: Favourites

Outcast by Jamie Schlosser

Outcast by Jamie SchlosserOutcast by Jamie Schlosser
Series: The Good Guys
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on March 15th 2018 by
Pages: 251
Buy on Amazon

KAYLA My infatuation with Ezra Johnson started how all obsessions begin—with a simple crush. Over the years I silently soaked up every shy smile and random act of kindness, wrestling them away to a secret place in my heart meant for unrequited love. Because if it wasn’t for the fact that I tutor him once a week, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even know I exist. Then I find his sketchbook. And it changes everything.

EZRA There are two certainties in my life: I’ve been in love with Kayla Reynolds since I was fourteen, and I can’t have her. I’ve spent years settling for a two-dimensional fantasy world, capturing her beauty with a pencil and paper. She’s kind, smart, gorgeous… And she belongs to someone else. Or so I thought. An interesting turn of events makes me realize things aren’t always how they appear on the outside, and now I’ve got my chance to be the man she deserves. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been called a loser. The cripple. An outcast. But maybe—just maybe—this time the good guy won’t finish last.

If I didn’t like Jamie Schlosser’s ‘Dropout’, I knew however, that Ezra Johnson’s story, from the way he was described in the book, was one I wanted already. Sometimes, it feels as though ‘Outcast’ is the sugary-sweet, feel-good New Adult book that I’ve always wanted to read. It ticks so many of my boxes after all: protagonists who have eyes only for each other, who journey together in their emotional and sexual development and who pretty much know what they want, despite their insecurities.

Schlosser’s diverse cast win a thumbs-up from me, as do the number of positive ‘messages’ that are incorporated in the story without sounding preachy or incredulously (but falsely) positive. I’m also applauding the rarity here of 2 protagonists who actually don’t go the well-trodden path of a sub-genre laden with numerous and meaningless hookups/identity-crises, who navigate the tricky waters of college life that wraps in an overwhelming all’s-well-that-ends-well way.

I sailed through this book (and actually put down several others I was reading just to get my grabby hands on this), lapped up every bit of awkward high-school interaction (Schlosser ups the clichés about the pretty girl and the unpopular, shy boy), gleefully laughed over their stupid-sweet secret crushes, and swooned at the frog-prince-type transformation after Ezra’s fat camp.

Apart from my vague alarm of their incredibly early marriage (clearly my own reservations speaking), ‘Outcast’ kept me going more than caffeine could because I was determined to finish the it. The bottomline is that it’s such a happy story (and possibly an unrealistic one for detractors who prefer angsty reads), and leaves you thinking for a sliver of a time that all can be right in the world.


Fair Game by Amy Andrews

Fair Game by Amy AndrewsFair Game by Amy Andrews
Series: Women of W.A.R #3
Published by Escape Publishing on February 20th 2018
Pages: 150
Buy on Amazon

How to mend a broken heart...

Darcy Clarke would do anything to play for the new Women’s Aussie Rules league, even put up with her ex, Tony, who just happens to be the coach of the Brisbane Banshees. Tony stomped out of their apartment – and all over heart – two years ago, but she’s moved on, and she deserves her jersey.

As his best friend’s girl, Darcy has always been out of Levi’s reach, even after Tony dropped her and moved out of the apartment they all shared. Now, two years on and still sharing the same apartment, she should be fair game. But Levi is no closer to getting Darcy to think of him as anything but a roommate and a friend.

But when Darcy injures herself in play, Levi’s qualifications as a sports massage therapist are put to good use. Suddenly, their relationship becomes very hands on, and Darcy sees a whole new side of her old friend. A pity he seems immune to her charms. When Tony makes it clear he wants back into her life, she has a decision to make: between the man she once loved and the man who never left her side.

I’m going to remember ‘Fair Game’ as one of Amy Andrews’s best. For not just the unusual portrayal of a hands-on, sporty, low-maintenance market gardener and the unusual man-bunned, sports therapist, yoga-loving man but also proving, in the world of alpha males and women who sometimes struggle to understand them, that non-stereotypical roles can not only function but function brilliantly.

Who would have thought that an understanding of anatomy would be so useful?

But the best of all? It doesn’t take a footy fan to understand the development of the relationship between Levi and Darcy; Andrews writes their friends-to-lovers journey with a sweet but raunchy and believable build-up, concentrating on characterisation instead, up to the point where you’re convinced that the clothes have to come off (and thankfully they finally do). Levi came across as one of the best top blokes – understanding, supportive and so thoughtful – I’ve had the privilege of reading about and while I didn’t exactly understand Darcy’s initial insistence that a relationship would detract from the many things that were going on in her life, I’m glad that this was resolved fairly easily and quickly with a conclusion that I thought could have benefitted from an epilogue.

Still, ‘Fair Game’ left me a happy camper and considering the reading slump I’ve been having so far, this just made my day.


Down by Contact by Santino Hassell

Down by Contact by Santino HassellDown by Contact by Santino Hassell
Series: The Barons, #2
Published by Intermix on January 16th 2018
Pages: 124
Buy on Amazon

Simeon Boudreaux, the New York Barons’ golden-armed quarterback, is blessed with irresistible New Orleans charm and a face to melt your mama’s heart. He’s universally adored by fans and the media. Coming out as gay in solidarity with his teammate hasn’t harmed his reputation in the least—except for some social media taunting from rival linebacker Adrián Bravo.

Though they were once teammates, Adrián views Simeon as a traitor and the number-one name on the New Jersey Predators’ shit list. When animosity between the two NFL players reaches a boiling point on the field, culminating in a dirty fist fight, they’re both benched for six games and sentenced to joint community service teaching sullen, Brooklyn teens how to play ball.

At first, they can barely stand to be in the same room, but running the camp forces them to shape up. With no choice but to work together, Simeon realizes Adrián is more than his alpha-jerk persona, and Adrián begins to question why he’s always had such strong feelings for the gorgeous QB…

The ultimate enemies-to-lovers showdown begins during a pre-season football game with cutting words and ends in an injury, fights that spread even to the fans and a stint doing community service for several weeks. I loved the explosive conflict right from the start—it had me laughing yet tingling with anticipation as I wondered how Santino Hassell was going to navigate the tricky waters of coming out, bisexuality and parental pressure, particularly as top level athletes.

But Hassell manages remarkably well. I didn’t think that Simeon and Adrian could get past their hot, heavy but difficult history, but Hassell’s slow revelation of Adrian’s sullen, vindictive nitpicking at Simeon’s sexuality is a perceptive one, as is his writing of Simeon as someone who isn’t the typical dumb jock/joker unable to see what Adrian is trying to do. And like the men they are, their behaviour is spot on: not terribly heavy on the emotions or the angst. There’s the typical deflection, roundabout admissions and the finality of the acceptance that I’ve come to expect, up to the last few pages when it’s simply breathtaking just to read the complete turnaround that Adrian makes.

There are subtle differences that distinguish Hassell’s writing from the rest of the (rather few M/M) sports romances I’ve read so far, but it’s a style I can easily get used to. It’s stylishly done, perfectly paced, with dialogue that’s unexpectedly edgy, harder and unpredictable—not to mention, the excellent way both Simeon and Adrian are set up that I’m always left guessing how both might react in the situation they find themselves in.

Even as a non-fan of American football, ‘Down By Contact’ is a fantastic read. Hassell has made it more about the protagonists than about the sport (I don’t thankfully, get lost in the details) and way before after Simeon and Adrian ride happily into their sunset, I’m already wondering how Hassell is going to top this.


Beast by Anna Hackett

Beast by Anna HackettBeast by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
on October 31st 2017
Pages: 130
Buy on Amazon

Vek—the blue man/beast who has been roaring and growling his way into the hearts of Anna Hackett’s readers since the series introduced him—finally takes centre stage in this novella, with a woman who has the strange power to soothe him.

It’s nothing less than a thrilling ride with several surprisingly revelations along the way, as Hackett’s imaginary Cathargo (a mix of an ancient gladiatorial theatre in a dusty Star-Wars world with the technology of Bladerunner) springs to life yet again with an enthusiastic expansion of this odd place and the mad number of species that populate it. This far down the series, Galactic Gladiators has definitely gotten better and more enthralling as Hackett’s world-building expands—which possibly makes many of her books difficult to enjoy as standalones—as ‘earth people’, post-capture after the raid of a space station near Jupiter, find themselves in situations too alien (pun intended) for them to resist while finding love on the way.

There were many parts of ‘Beast’ that I liked, and the action and the secondary characters populating the universe notwithstanding, Vek and Mia actually turn out to be a pairing that’s probably the most unusual and heartrending thus far. Hackett proves that Vek is so much more than a killing machine with a sad past, and that with a shave and haircut, along with the love and care of a pint-sized human, is just as redeemable and deserving of a HEA as any of her other characters.


Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonNext Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on February 6th 2018
Pages: 336
Buy on Amazon

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

The Cuban revolution and this transitory time of change are wholly unfamiliar to me, but ‘Next Year in Havana’ brings it all to life through broad, sweeping strokes that tell parallel stories of a woman’s journey out of Cuba and her granddaughter’s journey back there nearly 60 years later.

Chanel Cleeton’s precise yet lyrical prose rolls through constant reiterations of the resilience of memory and all the versions of Cuba that emerge through every character’s eyes. Marisol Ferrera and Elisa Perez’s fervent (and doomed) love affairs might be wrapped up in the city’s fading glory and the wire-tight tension of impending upheaval, yet these star-crossed lovers seem merely a metaphor for the Cuban individual’s love unending love affair with his/her country—it’s just how effortlessly their romances have been woven into the backdrop of revolution, reform and change.

It’s that curious strain of hope that can’t ever die—and perhaps the eternal yearning for something that they can’t have—which seems to be the poignant and loudest message that Cleeton brings across in this enthralling read. Like in many stories of revolution, the academics and thinkers (and the women who stay hidden in the shadows) matter—it’s brain over brawn, passion over looks—and they bear the burden of carrying the mantles of heroes and or the swords of villains. Sometimes both. Marisol’s and Elisa’s voices are as much tethered to their love of their country as they are tied to their love for their revolutionary men, but it’s also the selfsame passion and emotion that Pablo and Luis carry in their intellectual rhetoric that had me mesmerised from start to finish.

‘Next Year in Havana’ isn’t a book that lets bygones be bygones, after all. Yet the story’s power lies not quite in the galvanising force of political dialogue or the hard, dirty work of nonviolent change but in loss, tragedy and the love that came incidentally—the untold stories that were left by the wayside because bigger things eclipsed these. So when Cleeton told them, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, swooning. And I might have also shed a tear or two.


Hot Valor by Lynn Raye Harris

Hot Valor by Lynn Raye HarrisHot Valor by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Hostile Operations Team #11
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on July 18th 2017
Pages: 316
Buy on Amazon

Colonel John "Viper" Mendez searches for a ghost from his past... and when he finds her, nothing will be the same!

They told him she was dead. They lied...

Colonel John "Viper" Mendez is having the second-worst day of his life. Accused of using the Hostile Operations Team to assassinate a foreign official, he's gone from being a respected military black-ops commander to a fugitive in the space of an hour. On the run, hunted, and stripped of his honor, Mendez has nowhere to go--and few people he can trust.

Russian spy Ekaterina "Kat" Kasharin is a carbon copy of the woman Mendez once loved. Twenty-one years ago, Valentina vanished from his life. Kat claims to be her twin--but Kat's lying. Ordered by her superiors in Russian Intelligence to abandon the man she loved--or watch him die--Kat had no choice but to obey.

But twenty-one years is a long time to love a man from afar, and Kat won't stand by as a traitor plans his death--even if it means risking her heart and her life to save him. She can never reveal her true identity--or the secrets she keeps locked away. Secrets he would hate her for. Working with him is strictly business, and she won't let emotions get in the way. But the attraction between them is smoking hot--and it's not long before they're burning up the sheets.

When the truth comes out, the mission implodes. Everything Mendez thought he knew was a lie. He'll have to pull it together though before a deadly foe succeeds in taking away all he loves. By the time he realizes Kat might be most important of all? It could be too late to save her...

Now then, just spank me silly. Who knew Mendez had it in him?

‘Hot Valor’ is one of the better HOT books I’ve read by Lynn Raye Harris in a long while.

John Mendez has been the grumpy, terse guy in charge since the beginning and I’ve never had any inclination to read his story (if he even had one) but Harris has made him grow as a compelling character as time went by. ‘Hot Valor’ is simply the culmination of all those glimpses that we’ve had of him throughout, unveiling the layers of Mendez and I loved that he was paired with a ghost from his past—a woman as deadly and competent as he is, but with the calmness and toughness of an operative worthy of HOT. I hadn’t an inkling of what would happen in this installment but the ride was a good one nonetheless, with an uneasy nod to the politics of Russian meddling taking the headlines these days.

But ‘Hot Valor’ stands out mostly because it defies the majority of the books that have 20- or 30-something heroes/heroines by putting a silver fox and a woman in her forties at the forefront. It’s also a story of 2 people who have fallen down a long time ago, gotten up, dusted themselves off and learned the meaning of carrying on.

And maybe that’s where the prickly issue of age might come in for some people, but having an older pairing here simply showed the finer points of romantic suspense with a distinct lack of TSTL moments and hormonal tantrums. Both Mendez and Kat should be over the hill, but they aren’t and as Harris shows in such a brassy fashion, competence and coolness—acquired only through pain and tragedy—are actually sexier than the typical hot-headed traits that seem imbued in the romance genre’s many alpha men (and women).

Mendez and Kat do have an intriguing history that I knew I wanted uncovered immediately and it was frankly, easier to sympathise with the both of them and what they’d gone through in their private lives. Kat/Valentina hadn’t disappeared from Mendez’s life on a whim because she had personal issues; she’d left only because there was a danger to Mendez and her dedication to someone who hadn’t been a part of her life for 2 decades in the way she rushed to keep him alive was top class. That Mendez could, by the end, get over it enough to get his own HEA was probably icing on the cake.

I had hell of a time, to say the least, drawn in as I was to the romance as well as the intrigue and the politics of the HOT universe. ‘Hot Valor’ did make my day and while Harris’s books are typically a hit or miss for me, I’m actually quite grateful to say that this made me one happy girl.


Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyStay by Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Series: WAGs, #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 259
Buy on Amazon

Can you fall in love with someone you've never even met?
Hailey Taylor Emery has a hunch that her favorite client at Fetch--an anonymous virtual assistant service--is actually hockey star Matt Eriksson.
Although it's against the rules for her to check his file, she's 95% sure she spends at least part of each day texting with her lifelong crush and catering to his every need. Still nursing a wounded heart thanks to her recent breakup, Hailey is perfectly content with some harmless online flirting...until she has to meet her client. Face to face. Cue: utter panic.
Matt Eriksson is no stranger to heartbreak. He's still not over the destruction of his marriage, and it sucks to be the only guy on the team who knows the truth--that hockey and long-term relationships are a toxic mix. He barely sees his kids, and dealing with his ex makes him feel insane. The only person in his life who seems to understand is someone who won't show her pretty face.
But it's nothing that a pair of fourth row hockey seats can't fix. Hailey can't resist the offer. Matt can't resist Hailey. Good thing he doesn't have to. Fire up the kiss cam!
Warning: Contains rabid hockey fans, misunderstood dick pics, hockey players at the opera and exploding ovaries.

I hadn’t realised that revisiting the team and seeing how far all of them have come since Wes and Jamie got off their rocky beginnings actually made me somewhat wistfully nostalgic enough to want to re-read the entire series.

If I haven’t yet mentioned how much I loved the ‘Him’ and ‘WAGs’ series, then well, mea culpa. ‘Stay’ couldn’t make me love this particular group of people more.

Matt Eriksson is the older guy in the Toronto hockey team and with a divorce just behind him and retirement a few years down the road, still struggles with handling his twin daughters, a nasty ex-wife and a virtual personal assistant who somehow, knows what he needs. Little does he know that a call to walk the dog would lead to premier tickets for a hockey match and that the online relationship he’s always had with the person handling tiny details in his life would turn out into something much more than he can ever expect.

Yet he is still the all-round good guy who’s easy to love, juggling life post-divorce with a gruelling schedule and kids who are not often around enough. For Matt at least, the divorce is a big failure that has him second guessing himself and his ability to be a good husband and parent while being a professional athlete. It has also made him cynical and jaded and a little gun-shy about sharing that same kind of lifestyle with another woman whom he thinks would come to resent him for it.

There’s a ring of maturity and a kind of stuttering rhythm that mirrors real life going through Matt’s and Hailey’s story, which is probably the story’s strongest selling point. Too often, the protagonists go off wild benders (hookups, as it typically goes) in the wake of a bad breakup and turn a hundred-eighty into commitment-phobes because they can’t apparently, trust another member of the opposite sex as they’re now painted with the same broad brushstrokes that their ex-es are coloured with. In ‘Stay’, we get instead quiet doubts about failure, self-confidence and the fear of putting oneself out there once again that gives the story depth and heart. I loved above all, that Matt and Hailey aren’t characters who simply react to the heartache of divorce by sleeping around then pushing each other away but instead, struggle with their inadequacies in different ways that I can believe and respect.

Yet it’s also swoony, steamy and in parts, funny and deeply romantic. What more do I need?