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Jax by Cristin Harber

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 14th October 2017
Jax by Cristin HarberJax by Cristin Harber
Series: Titan #9
Published by Mill Creek Press on October 10th 2017
Pages: 258
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two-half-stars

Seven is an enigma. A motorcycle club princess. The daughter of a notorious gangster. The best friend of the deputy mayor. A coffee shop owner. The single mom of two young, adopted children. She’s colorful, in every way possible—from her attitude to her piercings and bright pink hair—and she’s a woman on a mission with the power to help broker a clean break between a powerful motorcycle club and a South American drug cartel. But not all players are ready for the game to change, including the ones she can’t see like the CIA. Jax Michaelson has a bad attitude and a good shot. The former Navy SEAL has been on Titan’s problem list for running his mouth since the day he showed up for work, but he does a hell of a job, and they’d never let him go. Call him cocky, that’s fine, because then you’d have to admit he’s the best at anything and everything—except diplomacy. When Titan is forced into the seedy drug world filled with cartel glitz and Harley-riding MCs, Seven and her family become an unexpected bargaining chip right after she and Jax find a way to stand each other—in bed. Will friends become lovers? Or are they too far gone to be opposites that attract? Is Jax nothing but a bad boy who leaves her hoping for a military hero when the burden of living as Mayhem royalty backfires and her children disappear.

One consistent thing about Cristin Harber’s characters is that they do tend to behave in ways I’ll never expect. Jax and Seven are no exception to this general rule that I’ve come to learn of the Titan gang; neither is the direction that Harber takes in this book that completely surprised me. Characters whom you thought you can’t warm to can suddenly turn around and show that the notion of ‘heroism’ doesn’t always conform to some pre-determined idea that you have…though as much as I hate to say it, the opposite applies too.

Titan’s ops thus far have been more paramilitary covert ops, so when Jax’s story came wrapped up in a MC’s dealings, I couldn’t say I was entirely enthusiastic about this turn, but it’s clearly my own sub-genre preferences speaking here. Jax, the known arse and the bastard-to-go-to in the past few Titan books, had a story and I was itching to uncover it, and this itch surpassed even my general dislike for MC stories.

The result is an MC-centric book that I couldn’t really get into but for Jax’s and Seven’s dance around each other and the fact that they aren’t quite the stereotypical characters I tend to read in such stories. There is action, of course and Jared Westin’s mobilisation of his Titan troops is always an awesome thing to read about, but that only comes much later…past the talking, posturing and the laborious sifting through truth and lies.

Above all, Jax made the story for me, as self-titled as this books is anyway, I didn’t expect anything different when Harber fleshed him out to be a protagonist who was so much more than his crusty, abrasive surface. I couldn’t quite say the same for the rest of the characters, who were simply varying shades of unlikable. In fact, I cheered Jax for giving it stubbornly to the Titan team who admittedly hadn’t been on his side to begin with and Jared/Sugar—a couple whom I’d adored when their book came out—behaved in fact, like idiots for most of this, tarnishing the sheen of the halo I’d initially put on them. Soon enough, it got just as hard to like Seven, whom I felt simply needed to grow a spine where Jax was concerned because she couldn’t decide where her loyalties were going to lie when it was all said and done.

‘Jax’ is a very different type of Titan book for which I needed a huge effort to suspend disbelief. That Jax’s so-called mortal enemy was dealt with all-too-easily—he was flitted in and out, appearing to play an important role but didn’t, and realising that he was ultimately, another plot device to help alter other characters’ perception of Jax tanked the read for me.

But I’ll reiterate that my own response to the plot and characters is just that—a catalogue of issues that just didn’t work for me, which simply outweighed Jax as the shining star of his own book and explains my half-hearted rating of it.

two-half-stars

Twisted Truths by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 12th October 2017
Twisted Truths by Rebecca ZanettiTwisted Truths by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Blood Brothers #3
Published by Forever on November 14th 2017
Pages: 432
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three-stars

You can't escape the past . . .

Noni is desperate. Her infant niece has been kidnapped, and the only person who can save her is a private detective with too many secrets to count--and more enemies than he can name. A man who walked away from Noni without any warning a year ago, a man who broke her heart. But with Talia's life on the line, Noni needs his help now more than ever--and this time, she won't take no for an answer . . .

The moment Denver Jones sees Noni, the memories come rushing back. The fire in her eyes. The determination in her voice. The danger of having her in his life. Denver had to push her away once, but now with vicious criminals threatening Noni and her niece, he'll do whatever it takes to protect them. But enemies from his past are circling, and they'll use anything--and anyone--to get to Denver.

It’s through the ‘inheritance’ of a friend’s baby that Noni Yuka gets tangled up in a gang’s trafficking activities while doing an online search for him—and trumpeting his presence when all Denver Jones wants is to lie low. It’s also the reason that he’d cut their affair short and found solace in a bottle, though Noni’s explosive return to his life thrusts him and his brothers into greater danger.

2 storylines converge in ’Twisted Truths’—which accounts for the length of the book—and without prior knowledge of the previous books in the series (as well as maybe the series before this) this might be a little hard to follow despite the brief recaps that Rebecca Zanetti does here and there. In short, the crazy brand of villainy that has been stalking the Dean brothers and now the Jones brothers come to a head here as the evil pair of Madison and Cobb pit themselves against Denver and by extension, the rest of the Jones boys.

As difficult as it might be to read as a standalone, ‘Twisted Truths’ is nonetheless full of action, some sexy times, some bizzare twists and turns (along with some TSTL moments from Noni), and sort of held together by a villain so overblown that an evil, giggling cartoon character might as well populate the pages. This closure however, is long time in coming and Zanetti does it by highlighting the bonds between brothers who may or may not be blood-related—who also jump in with seemingly unlimited resources to save the day.

three-stars

Code of Honor by Tonya Burrows

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 2nd October 2017
Code of Honor by Tonya BurrowsCode of Honor by Tonya Burrows
Series: HORNET #4
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on October 23rd 2017
Pages: 224
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three-stars

Jesse Warrick used to consider himself a kickass medic, but a teammate’s brush with death has him questioning everything. Now he’s been promoted to field commander of HORNET. How can he lead when he can’t get his shit together? And how can he focus when the sexy new recruit makes him want to break the rules?

Lanie Delcambre can’t seem to find solid footing within the elite hostage rescue team. Worse, the man she’s loved for most of her life is now her boss. She’d kill to act on the chemistry between her and Jesse, but she can’t risk ruining her career.

It was only supposed to be a training mission. No live ammo, no hostages, and no real bad guys—only someone didn’t give the bad guys that memo. When their hotel is taken hostage with half of HORNET inside, Jesse and Lanie are the team’s only hope of escaping alive…

Tonya Burrows’s long-running HORNET series has so far, been a breath of fresh air. ‘Code of Honor’ is Jesse/Lanie’s story and as newly-minted team leader, Jesse’s off to a bad start, burdened by his self-doubts, his desire for a childhood friend and a son who doesn’t give him any time of day. A hostage situation at the end of their training however, exacerbates this, throwing the group as well as his teetering confidence into chaos.

Unlike the other paramilitary or security companies formed by a tight group of ex-military buddies, Burrows’s HORNET men are openly broken, psychopathically quirky and badly damaged—physically and mentally—that it’s a wonder they can ever be functioning as individuals let alone as a cohesive security group. But they stumble along, badly might I add, flying by the seat of their pants from a disaster to another while trying to hold themselves together, not dissimilar to a boy-band put together by an executive producer and told to sing/dance in harmony in front of squealing fangirls from the onset.

This bunch of misfits and their antics however, keep me coming back to this series, because it’s entertaining (with some bit of schadenfreude on my part thrown in) to see how they get themselves into deep water (yet again) and then fight their way out of it with nary a thing but their wits and pocket knives.

For most part, I liked the action and the suspense, and the introduction of a kickass former Texas Ranger and Jesse’s blast from the past brought a different dynamic to the misfits of HORNET. Yet while the action flowed, along with an overarching plot that reeled me in, the romance bit gave me pause, because it wasn’t something I could envision at all, or at least, found difficult to buy into.

Had Lanie really never stopped loving Jesse from afar, even though Jesse had moved on so thoroughly that he’d married 3 women after having feeling something for her as a teenager, then only confessing at the end that he’d only wanted her? That it had taken over a decade to make this happen seemed like an unfair deal for Lanie, who didn’t seem to question Jesse’s faux-pas, his personal angst, his inability to see past his own issues and his circling around the block for nearly 20 years before coming back to her.

Admittedly, the second-chance romance is a trope that’s problematic for me. A character tends to struggle more than the other with unrequited feelings and resentment, and sometimes even the admission of having ‘loved’ a person for so long yet doing the opposite thing about it (in Jesse’s case at least) makes it more unforgivable. The story’s focus on suspense meant that Lanie/Jesse’s romance was too easily squared away with love declarations and a simple apology to Lanie about having broke her heart all those years ago seemed to resolve it all for them, even when seen in the light of how easily they could lose their lives in the most unexpected of ways. With an epilogue that quickly shifted the focus away from them and onto Jean-Luc’s half-cocked effort to save a woman he barely knew, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in how Jesse/Lanie was handled as a pairing.

It isn’t to say that the other aspects of romantic suspense weren’t handled well, because those parts of ‘Code of Honor’ were engaging with some emotional twists and turns that secondary characters inadvertently revealed about themselves when they’re thrust into critical situations. So while I’m mixed about this book, I’m hanging onto the HORNET series for that alone, then crossing my fingers for a romance that I can actually get fully invested in.

three-stars

Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Erotica/ Reviews 29th September 2017
Wrong to Need You by Alisha RaiWrong to Need You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts #2
Published by Avon on November 28th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

He wasn’t supposed to fall in love with his brother’s widow…

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jackson Kane fled his home, his name, and his family. Ten years later, he’s come back to town: older, wiser, richer, tougher—and still helpless to turn away the one woman he could never stop loving, even after she married his brother.

Sadia Ahmed can’t deal with the feelings her mysterious former brother-in-law stirs, but she also can’t turn down his offer of help with the cafe she’s inherited. While he heats up her kitchen, she slowly discovers that the boy she adored has grown into a man she’s simply unable to resist.

An affair is unthinkable, but their desire is undeniable. As secrets and lies are stripped away, Sadia and Jackson must decide if they’re strong enough to face the past...and step into a future together.

‘Wrong to Need You’, like its predecessor, thrusts you straight back into a soap opera whose edges have already been sharply defined: family feuds, circles of friends and boundaries of rifts that have been established ‘off-stage’, leaving only forbidden relationships within this framework that need to be worked out. There’s a bit of a repetitive go over with the previous story (close family-rifts tend to do that) as it deals with lost, damaged individuals who have barely managed to hold it together, almost as if proving that time barely has an effect on closing up wounds, let alone healing them.

Sadia Ahmed’s and Jackson Kane’s relationship is wrong on so many levels, as it soon becomes apparent, not least because Sadia used to be married to Jackson’s brother. Sadia’s family beliefs, the apparent screwup she has made of her own life, her bisexuality, her dead husband versus Jackson’s deliberate unfeeling rootlessness, his unrequited love and the injustice that had been done to him—if these aren’t issues that will break the donkey’s back, I don’t know what will.

It’s admittedly difficult to write a pairing like this, with everything riding against the wave of approval. But the lure of the forbidden is always strong and Alisha Rai certainly thrives on teasing out every nuance of Sadia/Jackson’s emotional angst and fraught feelings. Forbidden doesn’t just describe Jackson and Sadie however; the story does skirt the edge of voyeurism, and some sexual deviant behaviours that might be triggers for some readers though there’s the gratuitous bit of illicit (and explicit) feeling running throughout the story that makes ‘Wong to Need You’ the complete package.

Yet throughout, I’ve found myself asking the question: is it possible to like a book but not exactly be invested in the pairing? This sounds more so unforgivable, considering romance really is about 2 protagonists getting together though there isn’t a rule—unspoken or otherwise—that states a pairing has to be the be-all or end-all in it. I wasn’t exactly rooting for Jackson or Sadie that much, but the unfolding drama itself is compelling and that alone propelled me to want to know how things would work out.

That said, Rai’s writing is easy to get lost in and I for one, can’t wait for Eve/Gabe’s story.

three-stars

Never Let Go by Cynthia Eden

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 28th September 2017
Never Let Go by Cynthia EdenNever Let Go by Cynthia Eden
Series: Lazarus Rising #1
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on January 1st 1970
Pages: 278
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three-stars

He was more than just a man...

Dr. Elizabeth Parker didn't like wild, dangerous men...yet she still found herself falling for sexy Navy SEAL Sawyer Cage. He was her exact opposite--a man she should definitely stay away from, a man who lived for the thrill of danger...but he was also the man she found herself wanting more than any other.

But their secret relationship ended in heartbreak when Sawyer was killed on a mission. Grieving for him, the last thing Elizabeth ever expected was to find Sawyer listed as a test subject for the top secret government project she was heading--a project called Lazarus.

For years, Elizabeth had worked feverishly to unlock the secrets of life and death, and with her Lazarus formula, she finally thought she'd made a breakthrough. Only she never expected to use Lazarus on her lover.

But the choice is taken out of Elizabeth's hands...

Sawyer is given the Lazarus formula, and he's transported to a remote government facility. At that facility, Sawyer wakes once more, only he's not the same man. He's stronger, he's faster, his reflexes and his senses are ten times better than an average man's. The government calls Sawyer a super soldier... Elizabeth still calls him...hers.

Unfortunately, Sawyer has no memory of his life before Lazarus. All he knows is that something about the sexy doctor awakes a primal response in him. He wants her, and he'll do anything to possess her. Soul-deep, he feels that she was meant to be his.

Death waits in the darkness.

But something is wrong inside the Lazarus facility. The test subjects are holding back secrets, and danger seems to lurk in the air. The Lazarus subjects are super-human now, and some of those subjects have a very, very dark side. Twisted cravings drive them to the very edge of sanity. Can Sawyer keep Elizabeth safe from the madness around them...or will the growing darkness consume them both?

NEVER LET GO...a gripping new romantic suspense from New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Cynthia Eden.

There’s always something darkly seductive and irresistible about the super-soldier romance for me, seeing as these sort of stories are always finely balanced on the knife-edge of suspense and erotica. Depending on the severity of the super-soldier transformation however, it’s also undeniable that these tales run the risk of normalising the clichéd caveman behaviour of the heroes in question as the status quo in this sub-genre, as is the expected offshoot of writing altered personalities.

‘Never Let Go’ isn’t a new concept (Rebecca Zanetti’s Sin Brothers or Christine Feehan’s Shadowalkers come to mind immediately) though it definitely is an intriguing start, with a little twist of how the super soldiers actually get to where they are. I can’t quite say it’s a perfect read however, as it carries all the hallmarks of an establishing book with the same pattern of logic-deficient neanderthals who are primally ruled by instinct, libido and emotion…along with many loose ends which hint at a bigger picture that hasn’t yet quite coherently come together.

I’m still glad that Cynthia Eden has jumped on this bandwagon nonetheless, even though there are unavoidable pitfalls of this particular sub-genre of romantic/paranormal suspense: the most glaring ones being the cavemen who run around and the brutal savagery that results as part of their transformation, but also several authors’ tendencies to emphasise a narrowed definition of the good and the bad—no grey area of morality seems to exists apart from the questionable idea of ethics and playing god using frontier medicine and technology—which, if handled carelessly, can turn the characters into flatter and puppet-like figures.

And clearly, there were some parts where ‘Never Let Go’ that were grounded in those stereotypes, which tanked my enjoyment a little. As much as I liked Elizabeth’s and Sawyer’s early relationship before he went, well, ‘monstrous’, the middle bit of the story actually got quite hysterical, with parts resembling a b-grade slasher film as Sawyer struggled to fight the darkness in him and Elizabeth seemingly frozen between speechless terror and speechless desire. I was simultaneously horrified, incredulous and disbelieving, yet glued to the book while also wondering if there were going to be more mad turns and madder character deviations that the story was going to take.

That said, I’m not counting out this series just yet. Far from it, in fact. I just wish that I could have suspended my disbelief a little more, though there is cause for more cautious optimism given the hints that have already been dropped about the rest of the project and the other primals waiting in line to pounce.

three-stars

Heart of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 24th September 2017
Heart of Fire by Amanda BouchetHeart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #3
Published by Piatkus on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 448
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two-half-stars

Who is Catalia Fisa?With the help of pivotal figures from her past, Cat begins to understand the root of her exceptional magic, her fated union with Griffin Sinta, and Griffin's role in shaping her destiny.

Only Cat holds the key to unlocking her own power, and that means finally accepting herself, her past, and her future in order to protect her loved ones, confront her murderous mother, and taking a final, terrifying step--reuniting all three realms and taking her place as the Queen of Thalyria.

What doesn't kill her will only make her stronger...we hope.

War-games and politics converge in the last installment of Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker series, though admittedly, it isn’t that much different from the first and second book, except for the fact that the plot moves on with loose ends consolidating and the sun setting over a new, united kingdom. In essence, a ‘Heart on Fire’s’ ending cannot come without sacrifice and blood and tears as with the epic tales that follow this trajectory, along with the big questions of destiny and human choice that run consistently through the narrative.

The biggest draw of this series had always been the intriguing mix of gods and people with magic swirling in the midst of them—with screwed up characters mingling with equally screwed up deities who do nothing but act on their own whims just because. It’s deeply imaginative and what I envisage pre-Christian, ancient Greek civilisation of mythology could have been, supercharged in a way that can only come alive in fiction with many modern inserts in it.

Yet apart from Greek gods messing around in people’s lives and paving the way for a woman who’s supposedly unique in the whole universe, I found myself having the biggest problem with Cat Fisa at the start: petulant, juvenile and reckless, though this isn’t too far-off from what might come from a teenage girl thrust into power and kingship, who’s doing everything she can just to survive and go with the flow.

But somehow I expect characters in New Adult fantasy to be larger than life with traits that transcend petty teen tendencies which means I need to see some kind of exponential growth from the Cat as the main protagonist, so the depiction of an immature twit with TSTL moments didn’t gel with these expectations. Yet because Cat annoyed me so much, the little pockets of drama involving secondary characters had turned out to be more entertaining than the main plot itself. As was the descriptions of the magical parts and the landscape that thrilled me more than the adventures of Griffin and Cat (who can suddenly grow wings) with too many ‘easy’ Deus Ex Machina devices here at play.

In short, ‘Heart of Fire’ wasn’t quite the breath of fresh air as the first book was, and it required a greater suspension of belief that took a lot of effort on my part. And before it becomes mortifyingly obvious that I’m just desperately digging around for things to like about this story, it’s probably best to say that this is a series that I should have stopped earlier on.

two-half-stars

The Pretender by HelenKay Dimon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Mystery/Crime/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 23rd September 2017
The Pretender by HelenKay DimonThe Pretender by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Games People Play #3
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

They say it takes a thief to catch a thief, and Harrison Tate is proof. Once a professional burglar, he now makes a lawful living tracking down stolen art. No one needs to know about his secret sideline, “liberating” artifacts acquired through underhanded methods. At least until one of those jobs sees him walking in on a murder.

Gabrielle Wright has long been estranged from her wealthy family, but she didn’t kill her sister. Trouble is, the only person who can prove it is the sexy, elusive criminal who shouldn’t have been at the island estate on that terrible night. She’s not expecting honor among thieves—or for their mutual attraction to spark into an intense inferno of desire.

Under the guise of evaluating her family’s art, Harris comes back to the estate hoping to clear Gabby’s name. But returning to the scene of the crime has never been riskier, with their hearts and lives on the line.

‘The Pretender’ is HelenKay Dimon’s third foray into a group of mysterious men who do mysterious things and it’s one of those books that tend to leave me (as the previous books in this series have) with a very unfulfilled sense of ending, because of the very nature of these men and women who are frankly, difficult to get into.

It isn’t a slight on Dimon’s writing at all, because that itself is quite polished and I love this particular bit about Dimon that keeps me coming back for her books. In fact, the beginning chapter sucked me in straight as a watching art thief gets embroiled in a vicious murder, whose presence—should he confirm it—would exonerate a woman accused of many things. But from there onwards I found myself putting down and picking up the story so many times over the span of about a week or so, just unable to get deeper into the mystery that didn’t unfold as quickly for me as I liked.

There is a boat load of things going on, as there is a weird claustrophobic feel of the island setting as characters find themselves as potential pawns and suspects, but the pieces of this puzzle are doled out piecemeal and very sparingly in the first half.

It was tooth-clenchingly hard to get them put together, and I was frustrated when the pacing stuttered because the protagonists chose sex over talking too often, leaving half-truths on the table as trust is treated almost as secondary to passion. There is some form of continuing deception and dishonesty on both Harris and Gabby’s sides while a murderer is running loose, and this proves ultimately not only distracting but puts the whole relationship on shaky foundation that consequently made it hard to get invested in.

But because ‘The Pretender’ tried to juggle the whodunnit element of a mystery thriller with the obstacles of what deception might to do a relationship that began on the wrong footing, there were parts where the mystery was going nowhere when motives didn’t generally become that much clearer even as the story went on. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed with this one—the difficulty in finishing the book was enough proof of it.

two-stars
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