Tag: Gave me the willies

Watching You by Leslie A. Kelly

Watching You by Leslie A. KellyWatching You by Leslie A. Kelly
Series: Hollywood Heat #1
Published by Forever Yours on March 13th 2018
Pages: 384
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In the shadows, someone is always watchingAspiring screenwriter Jessica Jensen grew up on movies starring heartthrob Reece Winchester, the eldest brother of a Hollywood dynasty. She never thought she'd meet the man in person, though. Actor, director, millionaire, and gorgeous mystery man-he's every woman's fantasy.

Reece wants Jessica the moment he sees her, and he's a man who always gets what he wants. At first he was only after a night in her bed, but as he comes to know the smart, confident woman beneath the stunning exterior, he realizes once will never be enough.

Unfortunately, Jessica's real-life Cinderella story is about to take a deadly turn...

Reece's world is filled with fierce ambition and dark family secrets the Winchesters desperately want to hide. But he and his brothers aren't the only ones who know those secrets. Someone else is out there, waiting to strike. Waiting-and always watching.

When danger finally steps out of the shadows, Reece will have to face his past. And Jessica will have to decide just how far she can trust the man she loves with her heart...and her life.

‘Watching You’ reads like the establishing book of a series that it is: there’s a big back story kept under lock and key for ages, loose hanging threads that don’t necessarily come together, multiple POVs that aren’t confined to the male/female protagonists and possibly a cliffhanger which no one’s fond of.

And it’s tricky business, I understand, because the first book always needs to get the narrative arc just right without compromising the romance while leaving too many loose ends. A little of the Cinderella story is also written into this by nature of the plot (top director with an unknown, aspiring screenwriter), though Leslie A. Kelly’s version of Hollywood is one that’s filled with backstabbing nasties, sudden danger, numerous characters with their own less-than-noble agendas and the putrid stink of catty insincerity.

The start was admittedly a hard one for me, and made me question the ‘legitimacy’ of the pairing, so to speak. I found it difficult to understand Reece’s sudden, inexplicable obsession over a woman whom he’d first seen through security cameras, let alone his setting up a first meeting in such a calculated way that it simply came out as creepy.

Love at first sight seemed a rather mild way of putting what felt like a stalkerish situation, given the manipulatively controlling manner that Reece used to manoeuvre Jessica into his planned seduction. I was mollified however, as the author acknowledged this misstep of his and then later rectified it with several twists in the story that sort of helped tilt my worldview upright again. Kudos as well, to a heroine who pushed back and called Reeces out for behaviour that can’t and shouldn’t be excused.

I found myself absorbed nonetheless, as the story came slowly (maybe a little too slowly) together. There were many loose, hanging threads, multiple POVs that came in later in the book, which merely expanded the puzzle that I thought would have started coming together by the three-quarter-mark of the story. What I also thought of as interlinked incidents turned out to be somewhat entirely separate issues and not tied together in the greater mystery of Reece’s shady past that Kelly had been constantly hinting at, and that was somewhat disconcerting given the build-up. It did however, come out as a flood of revelations at the end worthy of a Hollywood climax, though it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock considering what has been dominating the celebrity-world headlines in the past few months.

As the first book in the series, ‘Watching You’ is more than a decent read. There were parts I couldn’t totally get on board with, but there is a goodly amount of suspense, intrigue and mystery to keep me past my bedtime, and Kelly has sunk the 3 Winchester brothers deep enough in my book psyche for me to be wanting the rest of their stories.


Hostage by Skye Warren & Annika Martin

Hostage by Skye Warren & Annika MartinHostage by Annika Martin, Skye Warren
Series: Criminals & Captives #2
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on January 27th 2018
Pages: 359
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I’d never even kissed a boy the night I met Stone. The night I saw him kill. The night he spared my life. That was only the beginning.

He turns up in my car again and again, dangerous and full of raw power. “Drive,” he tells me, and I have no choice. He’s a criminal with burning green eyes, invading my life and my dreams.

The police say he’s dangerously obsessed with me, but I’m the one who can’t stop thinking about him. Maybe it’s wrong to let him touch me. Maybe it’s wrong to touch him back. Maybe these twisted dates need to stop. Except he feels like the only real thing in my world of designer labels and mansions.

So I drive us under threat, until it’s hard to remember I don’t want to be there.

Until it’s too late to turn back.

Throw away all fixed ideas about how a hero or even an anti-hero should behave, entertain the idea of the antithesis of a fairytale romance, then come to ‘Hostage’ expecting that you’ll be getting the entire opposite of a sanitised HEA. ‘Hostage’ requires a lot from a reader, even for those who might like their stories tuned up, edgy and dirty. For a conventional romance reader, going into this book might even seem like going against the idealised structure and characters of a romance and the kind of happy-ever-after that typically ends with a ride off into the sunset.

‘Hostage’ is as the title implies, the forcible kidnapping of a girl because she witnesses a murder, then strangely developing an obsession with her as the months pass, because she represents a part of life that’s foreign and way out of reach.

Stone Keaton appeared in ‘Prisoner’ as an absolute son-of-a-bitch, and there are many lines in the story that reinforce this. I’m constantly reminded that he feels no emotion, keeps things together in the most brutal fashion, and stamps his own cruel brand of revenge in the blood and gore for the sake of others. The only ‘saving grace’—even this is dubious—comprise his loyalty to his brothers and his protectiveness towards Brooke over a period of a few years (a girl who isn’t even legal when they meet), as well as the mantle of vigilantism that he takes on in a city where corruption runs rife.

‘Hostage’ deviates so far from the norm that the age-gap between Brooke and Stone is the last thing I’m bothered about, considering Skye Warren and Annika Martin write about almost everything that crosses the grey boundary of good and evil. The way Brooke is written surpasses that of the typical 18-year-old’s mind however; only her with (possibly misplaced) compassion and an overly soft romanticising of Stone remind me from time to time just how young she really is, which does go a bit of a way to soften the hardness of the latter. But while I sort of understood Stone’s obsession with Brooke, it is harder to take the leap and believe their so-called connection becomes a kind of twisted love after a time.

My rating is just a reflection of my own wishy-washy attitude to this book. What I like here, oddly, isn’t exactly a pairing that I find hard to get invested in; instead, it’s the indirect commentary on current politics—complicity, the guilt of big wigs, #fake news(!)—that Warren and Martin write into the narrative which is ironically and chillingly reflective of present-day reality. Even if that only becomes more and more evident as the pages go on, that alone gives that book a depth that I can appreciate, even if the romance isn’t quite what I can buy into.


Syncopation by Anna Zabo

Syncopation by Anna ZaboSyncopation by Anna Zabo
Series: Twisted Wishes #1
Published by Carina Press on April 9th 2018
Pages: 295
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Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter. If Ray’s up for the challenge.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. And Zavier has always had big dreams; this gig was supposed to be temporary. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

Music excites me and everything about the blurb of ‘Syncopation’ was catnip: a fledgling garage band on the verge of making it big, a new cocky (and talented) drummer taking the place of the old one, an unspoken, straining attraction between 2 people who’d had a rocky relationship years ago and the slow unravelling of a frontman who takes on too much on his own shoulders.

The title ‘Syncopation’ is a fitting one somehow—the beat that the band conjures, that Zavier and Ray dance to…it’s a story paced like a musical score, a build-up, with several sparks thrown in, then finally the climax that leaves one breathless. I loved the rush, the electrifying atmosphere that exploded to life on the page and the highs and the lows that Zabo writes so intricately about. In fact, Zabo’s descriptions of the exhilaration of performing and the adulation of the audience felt spot-on, as were her ways of talking about synaesthesia in the way it gave voice to music through shapes, colours and lines.

There are tons of triggers here, though, so going into this with eyes wide open is a necessity. What I personally hadn’t expected was the BDSM, the brutal, power-play kinks and the absence of love declarations in the traditional sense, though these were edgy enough to give the story a dirtier, flintier side as Zavier and Ray worked through their history while on tour. And as the tour amped up with each stop, so did the tension between them which I knew was going to explode in a fit so spectacular taking cover was probably necessary.

Still, I couldn’t exactly shake the feeling that for at least the first half, Zavier and Ray didn’t feel like equals (the former never looked like an open book, even by the end of it), coloured as they were by Zavier’s arrogant assumption about Ray’s punk status (10 years earlier!)—a subtle dynamic that seemed to have carried over to their interactions in the band. But I liked their slow, almost-grudging shift into friendship, the vulnerability that had Ray stripped bare, the inherent contradictions in both Zabo’s protagonists: the confidence, the conviction and the absolute commitment Ray had in the band and Zavier’s protectiveness towards him, then their role reversal in the bedroom.

My tastes are admittedly, a tad bit vanilla for all that went on however, as the BDSM really kicked in by the second half of the story. While I loved Zabo’s writing and the masterful pacing this story, the other bit of me cringed when the kinks took me for a ride—pun intended—longer and deeper than I was hoping for. With an ending that defied the usual ‘HEA/HFN’, I’m not entirely sure how to classify my own reaction to ‘Syncopation’ and it’s a rating that reflects that. Will there be more Zabo books in the future for me? Possibly so, since the secondary characters here have hooked me in and I’m already leaning towards wanting to read their stories.


White Hot by Ilona Andrews

White Hot by Ilona AndrewsWhite Hot by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #2
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Pages: 389
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Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.

Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice …

After the exhilarating read of ‘Burn for Me’, ‘White Hot’ took the development of Nevada and Rogan in a direction I can’t exactly say I liked.

There were parts that overwhelmed me: the visceral depictions of the brutality that exists when a magical realm is inserted into this alternate world were breathtaking (the feeling’s akin to reading Harry Potter for the first time), as was the soft spot I’d developed for secondary characters like Bug, Cornelius and his animals.

But there were also parts that didn’t—a lot of those had to do with the ‘heroic’ shaping of the protagonists—,which oddly disappointed me because I’d expected Ilona Andrews to eschew the archetypes of fantasy somehow, after the refreshing take on Nevada in the first book. The premium placed on character growth is evident, with Nevada taking on responsibilities (as unwanted as they are) that come with her unleashed power, her learning to play that game while manoeuvring the complexities of the magical families in the process and redefining what lines of morality she’d draw. Yet as enamoured as I was of Nevada in the first book—the underdog who’d been content to be that PI, relying on her sharp shooting instead of her hidden magic—I somehow wished that we hadn’t seen the typical journey of the fantasy hero/heroine growing in power until her skills matched those in the great standing Houses, her own methods of manipulation and mind-violation seemingly justified by the rationale to protect her family as she struggles to live with the magnitude of her skills.

Yet the old Nevada stood out more than the new, reforged one. I found myself constantly missing the cocksure, rough diamond of a woman who relied on her wits, leaned on her compassion and nothing more but the support of her family—that made her greater to me, rather than this new, untouchable truthseeker with powers that suddenly seemed to put her way beyond any mage, who always teetered on the slippery slope to ruthlessness.

On the other hand, Mad Rogan as always, remained frustratingly out of reach (the numerous cock-blocking moments notwithstanding) as every supposed step towards their long, drawn out sexual tension with Nevada was interrupted quite timely with an explosion or an urgent phone call. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the kind of hero he could be since he still seemed alarmingly inclined towards destroying first, negotiating later, if at all. While a small revelation of what made him that way did unravel Rogan a little, he felt cardboard flimsy next to the more multifaceted Nevada, which might be the only minus of the book being wholly written in Nevada’s POV.

At the risk of this entire review sounding like a rant, I’m going to say right now that it isn’t…really. My enthusiasm might have dimmed somewhat for the protagonists, but there’s enough driving force behind the secondary characters whom I like enough to want to carry on. Here’s to hoping ‘Wild Fire’ might bring something back to the fervour I had for the first book.


Risky Redemption by Marissa Garner

Risky Redemption by Marissa GarnerRisky Redemption by Marissa Garner
Published by Forever Yours on November 7th 2017
Pages: 416
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Four years ago, Angela Reardon was brutally attacked, and she still bears the physical scars and traumatic memories. While she's worked hard to overcome her fears and build a successful business, she's still haunted by her inability to identify her assailant. Now Angela only wants to be left alone-until a shadowy stranger reignites her desire to be loved. But their time together may be brief...because someone wants her dead.

CIA assassin Jake Stone's targets deserved to die. Until now. Until he falls in love with the innocent woman he's been hired to kill. Jake can't fight his attraction to Angela, and he knows that someone else will be sent to finish the job. So can he save Angela and redeem himself by uncovering who wants her killed? When the trail leads him into the carnal underbelly of L.A., the truth is more shocking than even he could ever imagine.

From the blurb, ‘Risky Redemption’ sounds exactly like the type of read that’s up my alley: a woman with amnesia, mistaken for a mark for treasonous activity and is put as a target for a honey trap, until she really disappears when her innocence is proven. Angela Reardon’s secrets however, aren’t the type that should concern the CIA at all and in a case that’s not just about mistaken identity, the rot in the system appears too little too late, until she looks to be the kind of collateral damage swept under a rug unless a valiant, truth-seeking hero uncovers the dirt.

That was as much as I could put together for the first half of the book given the constant and numerous flashbacks interspersed with the present which made it difficult to get the timeline straight in my head. With a time gap that the storytelling struggled to bridge (the number of events that’d led us to this point only unfurl through flashbacks), the hints that were dished out merely left me with an increasing stockpile of questions that weren’t addressed as the pages turned.

With the narrative was constantly broken up between Jake/Angela’s first few meetings and the point where she apparently disappears, I had a hard time grasping the story’s coherence—it felt more like a jigsaw that frustratingly, couldn’t be put together at all—with the constant refrain of Jake’s self-recrimination, the lamenting of his lack of moral compass and generally, the weight of his regrets that seemed to pour off the pages instead of a hard, forward momentum that I’d expected of this genre. Unevenly paced, the middle-half of the book dealt solely with Jake’s investigations and Angela’s absence was starkly felt, except for her appearances in the flashbacks.

But throughout, I couldn’t get over the fact that Jake acted like a man-child who blew hot and cold with his emotions and was generally petty in a manner that I associated more with tantrum-throwing children than a grown adult. Too many lines about how easy he had it with women throwing themselves at him which he took every advantage of cemented my impression of him as a highly-reactive protagonist whose uncontrolled moods swings above all, just didn’t seem to fit the bill of the cold contract killer that Marissa Garner was trying to flesh out. Proudly proclaiming that he hadn’t had sex since he’d met her a mere 2-3 weeks ago, then trying to take on the mantle early on as her sex ‘helper’ to escape her past as a rape victim and get her to enjoy sex again—before getting frustrated because his own sexual needs weren’t satisfied when she hesitated—just upped the creep factor…and pretty much made me stop reading after this.

There were secrets to uncover and too many gaps to fill, without a doubt. But having found the protagonists generally unlikable and having struggled so much with the style of the storytelling, I can only say this just isn’t the book for me when I found I couldn’t pay attention long enough to discover what those secrets were.


Broken Rebel by Sherilee Gray

Broken Rebel by Sherilee GrayBroken Rebel by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #2
Published by Swerve on October 10th 2017
Pages: 244
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They used to be best friends...but now, all they do is fight each other at every turn. She's loved him since he saved her from her evil stepmother all those years ago. He's sworn to never love her for fear of tainting her innocence with his criminal past.

What do you do when the one person you love is the one person you can’t have?

I’ll say from the start that I love Sherilee Gray’s writing, which is probably even harder to admit that the Lawless Kings series has been a sore disappointment so far. Gray’s prose is always easy to get through and her stories are decently plotted, so it was a huge surprise (or shock even) when I ended up with the problem of trying to get behind the protagonists and failing miserably.

‘Broken Rebel’ is in essence for me, a version of a toxic relationship—of enabling and needing—that presents a different definition of love that I find myself struggling to subscribe to. It’s something that the protagonists do acknowledge as well, which forms the basis for the screwed up relationship that they’ve always had. Having known each other all their lives and coming from broken pasts, Neco has always assumed the role as protector when she needed him. The years pass and Ruby appears to yearn for that status-quo, doing everything she can to get his attention back on her, which he rebuffs by doing every cruel and vile thing possible (including screwing a woman so that Ruby could see it) in the attempts to wean her off him.

I found it immensely difficult to even get on Neco’s side as he gives the (rather hypocritical and unbelievable) rationale that he is not good for her—having done unsavoury things—and is protecting her even from himself and his shady criminal past. With the idea that she’s forbidden goods, Neco’s repetitive justification of keeping her at a distance, saying hurtful things and screwing women while pretending it’s Ruby just didn’t sit with me at all. I got unhappier with page after page of the injustice he’d done to her, then suddenly turning up to ‘claim’ her as her man after she gets hurt badly and he wasn’t there to respond because he was preparing to get a blowjob in a strip club.

There were parts where I felt sorry for Ruby for enduring all that she had to endure just to get Neco’s attention, though her desperation for him made me cringe at times. Taking him back so easily after her short, albeit failed attempt to be the strong independent woman free of him meant she got him after all this time (with him reciprocating), though his obnoxious, protective and controlling behaviour even after this finally made me give up on the story.

Truth is, I’m conflicted about rating this book the way I have, all the more so because I know Gray has written books that I love. But the long and short of it is, ‘Broken Rebel’ doesn’t quite feel like a romance to me. Instead the ingredients for a ‘darker’ type of erotica are there, like the scorching sex, the alpha posturing, the overprotective ‘claiming’, but with Neco/Ruby having been caught in the game of hurtful push-pull for ages, the chest-heaving, angsty emotions that bled off the page merely convinced me that both these broken rebels might have really been better off without each other.


The Knocked Up Plan by Lauren Blakely

The Knocked Up Plan by Lauren BlakelyThe Knocked up Plan by Lauren Blakely
Published by Lauren Blakely Books on June 23rd 2017
Pages: 225
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There are three little words most guys don’t want to hear on the first date. Not those…I mean these… “knock me up.”

This single gal has had enough of the games, the BS and the endless chase. I know what I want most, and it’s not true love. It’s a bun in the oven, and I’m not afraid to hit up my sex-on-a-stick co-worker to do the job. Ryder is gorgeous, witty and charming — and he’s also a notorious commitment-phobe. That makes him the perfect candidate to make a deposit in the bank of me.

I won’t fall for him, he won’t fall for me, and there’s no way baby will make three. Right?

****There are four words every guy wants to hear on the first date — “your place or mine?”

When my hot-as-sin co-worker makes me a no-strings-attached offer that involves her place, my place, any place — as well as any position — I can’t refuse. After all, my job is like a coach and my latest assignment for the good of mankind is to create a fail-safe, battle-tested, proven guide of what to do or say to get a woman to fall into your bed — I mean, fall for you. So when Nicole says she’s game to work through my list in a hands-on way, I take her up on her deal even with her one BIG condition.

There’s no way I’ll want more from one woman than any position, any where, any night? Except . . . what if I do?

Pregnancy and baby romances aren’t my cup of tea and that’s my straight-out admission about my whole stance on the issue. Make it the central plot around which a relationship is built and I’m out of the door quicker than my own shadow can cringe and wave goodbye. But Lauren Blakely can offer something good (Blakely can be a mixed-bag author for me) and this is why I’ve picked up the story—to be planted straight in chick-lit zone, even if it’s just pure fiction indulgence, more so than ever.

Honestly, I was squeamish. And got even more squeamish as the pages went on.

‘The Knocked up Plan’ is a title that says it all: a plan to have children, with or without a man, simply because a woman can do it on her own the way Nicole believes. Except that the sperm donor that she wants is a friend and a colleague and the arrangement has to be exactly what it is—a transaction that has has Ryder uninvolved past the process of knocking Nicole up. But the catch is always coming—minus the distancing sterile environment of a sperm bank and the gift that anonymity presents, and no matter how much fun in and out of bed both of them have, feelings will and do get in the way. Basically, what Ryder and Nicole think might be a good idea is a bad idea all around and it’s plainly obvious to all but the protagonists themselves because if there’s actual sex in the mix between two people who like and respect each other, it’s just a sweeter deal.

It was easy to power through the book nonetheless, because there’s a confident woman who can easily be the representative for the independent 21st century feminist and a somewhat broken man who’s more real than many of the protagonists I’ve read about recently. There’s minimal angst really, unless you count the hormonal mood swings of pregnancy, and there’s a tooth-achingly sweet HEA that Blakely drives home.

Some parts do read laughably like pure exaggeration (making it too clear that this is a woman writing a romance for woman, imagining a man’s thoughts) and I do cringe at some descriptions that seem to take the metaphors of sex way too far. But Ryder isn’t a clueless, emotionally-challenged idiot and neither is Nicole a clingy soul and the lack of drama along with the dual POVs go a long way in making the entire book a sweeter deal for me.