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True Hearts by Jeannine Allison

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 26th June 2017
True Hearts by Jeannine AllisonPure Hearts by Jeannine Allison
Published by Amazon Digital Services on June 22nd 2017
Pages: 391
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two-stars

She gave me her kidney. I gave her my heart...

Nicholas Blake learned a long time ago that nobody does anything for free. He’s felt the pain of lies and manipulations enough times to know that people only look out for themselves, and that all good deeds come with a price. So when he wakes up from a near deadly car accident and finds out a stranger is offering to donate her kidney, he’s immediately suspicious of her intentions.

What he doesn’t expect is Iris Chamberlain, a beautiful woman with a big smile and an even bigger heart, claiming she just wants to help. The more time Nick spends with Iris, the more he starts to believe in what he always thought was impossible: a pure heart.

But betrayal leaves a bitter mark. Will Nick be able to let go of his past and let Iris in? And will Iris be able to show him what it truly means to have a pure heart?

’True Hearts’ is a very much a feel good type of read, with a kind of New Adult-ish introspective vibe about the cynic who is inclined call everyone’s action out as self-serving until proven otherwise who goes up against a someone who wholly (or at least habitually) believes in human goodness and sincerity.

And that was where my reservations slid in.

Call that my own cynical self talking here, especially when it begins with the donation of a kidney after what appears like a paranormal ‘sign’ that fates are intertwined—with no expectations thrown into the mix. I found it difficult to accept the very selfless and positive Iris Chamberlain when it was way easier to sympathise with Nick and his understandable behaviour traits knowing what he’d gone through. Iris was, well, surreal in her giving selflessness, when the way she chose to see nothing but good made her more like a saint about to be canonised than a flawed character. But Jeannine Allison makes Iris out to be the exact kind of person that Nick actually needs—at least, a person who is determined to wear down his cynicism—though she stumbled where it really mattered most, or at least where I needed her not to.

Throughout the book, I felt mostly caught between Iris and Nick, never quite able to step out of Nick’s more ‘realistic’ way of perceiving the world as opposed to Iris’s steadfast one-woman stand against Nick’s fatalistic pessimism. In fact, I found myself repetitively questioning Iris’s naïveté, the appalling behaviour of her relatives, and how the characters did nothing but try to turn Nick into a happier version of himself without acknowledging too much that his own perception of the world had merit. That they’d tried to defend their own behaviour, implicitly putting the fault mostly on Nick’s door was quite the last straw for me.

I think the long and short of it is that ‘True Hearts’ is a rose-tinted affirmation of the goodness left in humanity, though it’s a simplistic ideal here that I can’t quite buy into.

two-stars

Shattered King by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 22nd June 2017
Shattered King by Sherilee GrayShattered King by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #1
Published by Swerve on June 27th 2017
Pages: 320
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two-stars

He’s out to get revenge for a crime he didn’t commit…

Hunter King just got out of prison. Incarcerated for three years though an innocent man, his rage against the people who put him there knows no bounds. First up on his list for vengeance: the woman who betrayed him years ago. The woman he loved fiercely, the one bright light in his otherwise hard, ruthless life. She has information he needs. And he’s going to kidnap her, hold her hostage, in order to get it. But one look into Lulu’s eyes unleashes the true beast within. Hunter’s never hated anyone this deeply, or wanted any woman this badly.

Lulu had no choice: Either help send Hunter to prison, or see him destroyed. She couldn’t do that to the man she loved. Couldn’t do it to the father of her child. But Hunter was locked away before he had a chance to learn about his son—and a hard layer of despair has formed around his heart that she’s desperate to crack. And if Hunter is to give himself and Lulu a second chance at love, he needs to find a way past his darkest demons.

A new series always excites me, though there’s always some trepidation because many of them don’t quite hit their stride until a few books in, especially when the starting one is full of establishing plotlines, histories and characters. ‘Shattered King’s’ blurb drew me in immediately: betrayal, secrets and lies all tangled up in a hard, brutal second chance romance after Hunter King’s life takes a turn for the worse when Lulu—the only woman he’s ever loved—sent him to prison.

My first impression of ‘Shattered King’ is the overall grittiness and the barely-leashed edge of violence that Sherilee Gray excels at here, in which hard sex plays a major role. Her characters stay just at the boundary of the wrong side of the law, crossing these lines sometimes with no qualms and are the anti-heroes who would keep you safe at any cost just as they keep your panties constantly wet. But there’s also a load of high drama and a considerable number of triggers here that might go down on the wrong side of some readers’ sensibilities.

It was hard however, to see anything beyond the overflowing lust that supposed proves compatibility, because it seemed to trump even their volatile personalities and apparently, solve most problems. The copious amount of sex replaced actual communication, because by god, it was what both Hunter and Lulu needed to do but didn’t, as body parts suddenly spoke louder than words and that proved frustrating. But this is suspense as much as it’s erotica, so I was in a way, expecting more than just sex to eclipse everything else.

I think ‘Shattered King’ would have worked better for me if the story’s protagonists weren’t always on the verge of going off the deep end at the slightest push of a button. Hunter’s sudden switch from pissed-off alpha male to possessive alpha male was too abrupt, just as I couldn’t entirely trust Lulu not to stop running, which seemed to be her only modus operandi throughout the entire story, either from her hellish stepfather or for the sake of her son. Held at ransom for so long, I’d expected a gutsier female lead despite the amount of abuse she’d faced but her tendency to not want to face things couldn’t make me warm up to her enough, especially when she couldn’t seem to take active steps to sort out the mess she’d made of her own life as well as Hunter’s. The long and short of it is that Lulu does run in the end and predictably ends up in the hands of her worst enemy like the damsel constantly in distress, even as Hunter bails her out at the last minute.

‘Shattered King’ is not a bad start to the series, but it’s probably better suited for those who like the MC-type of stories and a HEA that comes amidst bloodshed and shady activities. But just because I couldn’t really feel Hunter/Lulu’s connection doesn’t mean that anyone else can’t, and I’m simply going to continue reading because there are stories that I know Gray can write that I’ll love. It’s just not this one.

two-stars

Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ New Adult/ Reviews 21st June 2017
Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura BrownFriend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown
Published by Avon Impulse on June 27th 2017
Pages: 384
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one-star

I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.

Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.

When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.

I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.

I guess the only thing we can do is try…

‘Friend (With Benefits) Zone’ started out very promising, with the blurb sounding a growing-up story of 2 deaf people trying to find their way in the world just as the notion of building a career looms large. But beyond that, I liked the idea of putting people with disabilities in the spotlight and showing that they actually do lead lives as ‘normal’ as those who don’t—and thought that this would provide a different edge to the best friends turned lovers type of read.

But with the sexual tension between Jasmine and Devon shattering so early on, the direction in which the story was going to go became rather unclear. And I found myself unpleasantly surprised when maturity (or the lack of it) came into play and formed the major part of the conflict—driven mostly by Jasmine. She started out as strongly independent, but that soon moved to bullheadedly, stupidly stubborn when she started insisting on being an island and going at it all on her own, pushing everyone else away because that was the way she wanted it to be. Not accepting help from Devon and her closest friends (then have them trying to reel her back in), using sex avoid the issue, vacillating between wanting Dev and wanting her own way were just signs of her irrational immaturity that frustrated me to no end, which actually went on ad nauseum to the point where I thought they should have given up on her because there was no getting her to see reason.

As much as Devon’s desire to help her and support her in everything, he did come across as somewhat spineless towards the end, when he needed to leave Jasmine on her own for her to finally come to her senses. Instead, he couldn’t quite let her go or do a complete break, even when he had his own share of dodging the intended career path that his family wanted for him throughout. In fact, I needed to see that Jasmine wanted their relationship Devon even if she had nothing to her name. But because Devon had arranged it such that she could have her bar and own it (with the startup costs included as a loan), it felt as though it was only with her future secured and in place that it was easy to get back with him.

This constant push-pull vibe that got stronger, as well as the anti-climatic ending did, unfortunately, grate on me. I couldn’t quite shrug away how much I disliked the characters by the end and this sadly, tanked the whole story for me.

one-star

Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 17th June 2017
Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne BrockmannSome Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann
Series: Troubleshooters #17
Published by Ballantine Books on July 11th 2017
Pages: 368
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two-stars

Navy men don’t come tougher than Lieutenant Peter Greene. Every day he whips hotshot SEAL wannabes into elite fighters. So why can’t he handle one fifteen-year-old girl? His ex’s death left him a single dad overnight, and very unprepared. Though he can’t relate to an angsty teen, he can at least keep Maddie safe—until the day she disappears. Though Pete’s lacking in fatherly intuition, his instinct for detecting danger is razor sharp. Maddie’s in trouble. Now he needs the Troubleshooters team at his back, along with an unconventional ally.

Romance writer Shayla Whitman never expected to be drawn into a real-world thriller—or to meet a hero who makes her pulse pound. Action on the page is one thing. Actually living it is another story. Shay’s not as bold as her heroines, but she’s a mother. She sees the panic in her new neighbor’s usually fearless blue eyes—and knows there’s no greater terror for a parent than having a child at risk. It’s an ordeal Shay won’t let Pete face alone. She’s no highly trained operative, but she’s smart, resourceful, and knows what makes teenagers tick.

Still, working alongside Pete has its own perils—like letting the heat between them rise out of control. Intimate emotions could mean dangerous, even deadly, consequences for their mission. No matter what, they must be on top of their game, and playing for keeps . . . or else Pete’s daughter may be gone for good.

Where do I even begin with Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series? There’s so much diversity in the pairings, so much differing action (you never quite know what you’re going to get) with just so many things going on… to the extent where some of her books have had the power to bore me limp, while others have brought me to my knees with a swoon-worthy type fairytale ending.

With ’Some Kind of Hero’, I was left disappointing unmoved and a more than a tad bit incredulous. But what’s clear however, is that it isn’t quite a standalone.

The initial meeting between Peter Green and Shayla is an out-of-nowhere jump into a car on the street to search for a missing teenager. And during the search, Peter finds himself telling his life story to Shayla while the latter finds herself using her skills as a writer to figure out just what Peter’s teenager could have gotten herself into. Their (coincidental) joint-effort simply eschews Brockmann’s very slow burn between characters that spans books and the quickness with which Peter and Shayla jumped into bed took out any sense of anticipation that I’ve come to expect. Instant-love or lust aside, the shenanigans with the teenagers just felt like an elaborate plot to bring 2 very opposing characters—whose lives otherwise wouldn’t ever intersect—together and it was difficult to buy into this forced connection when it simply felt more like bad parenting going out of control over a teenager who might or might not have done unsavoury things.

In many ways, this story left me in a bind, which on a whole, pretty much describes my entire Brockmann reading experience. There were parts that I couldn’t stop turning the pages, just as there were parts that had me skimming, despite the some amusing meta-details of what is means to be a romance author, fictional voices in head and scatterbrained-moments notwithstanding. On the other hand, Brockmann’s heroes never quite do what you think they do and here, there’s hardly enough SEAl action involved that could make me think of Peter as a SEAL instructor or his friend Izzy as a fellow brother-in-arms when the way they speak or act just lacked that intensity and the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that have pretty much defined the RS ‘alpha’ hero.

Maybe it’s because I’ve not read the entire series that ‘Some Kind of Hero’ made little sense to me overall, but this read (judging from the books that made my favourites list at least) unfortunately fell short by a long way.

two-stars

Burning Love by Trish Morey

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 12th June 2017
Burning Love by Trish MoreyBurning Love by Trish Morey
Series: Hot Aussie Knights #4
Published by Tule Publishing on June 12th 2017
Pages: 96
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two-stars

Caleb Knight’s ex accused him of being married to his firefighter job, and maybe she was right. He’s given up looking for happy ever after and finds what he needs between Ava’s scorching sheets. But lately, he’s wondering whether this thing with Ava might become more permanent…

Artist Ava Mattiske's ability to trust was shattered long ago. Her steamy fling with Caleb is perfect until he starts talking long-term. She puts on the brakes, but when a bushfire threatens her studio and Caleb is on the scene, Ava realizes that there is one man she can count on... But will it be too late?

Caleb Knight turned up in his twin brother’s book and it got me curious about how evasive he’d been with Dylan. But when Caleb finally burst onto the page, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed and maybe that was because I just couldn’t feel any particular investment in a couple that was simply making the difficult transition from temporary to permanent with several speed bumps along the way.

‘Burning Love’ is unusual in that it takes place a year into Caleb’s and Ava’s casual arrangement with the story picking up from there, alternating between their hookup sessions, Ava’s art and Caleb’s job, though it’s a cycle that rinses and repeats until something gives. As a whore to her parents’ business to the time she has reinvented herself, Ava nonetheless lets her past dictate her future because of the scars that has left on her, convinced that she wants nothing to do with anything remotely resembling affection or love. Somehow Caleb gets beneath her skin and their agreement to just burn up the sheets in bed for the past year on a casual basis is something she uses against him when he finally wants more.

Apart from some parts that had the camaraderie of the guys on show, it was personally hard for me to get into a relationship that felt lopsided and unequal, made up of pull-push dynamic from start to end as Caleb finally grows past the casual hookup stage with Ava and pushes for more, just as Ava pushes him away in denial that gets rote after a while. The later part of their relationship is one made up of more of the same, except that Caleb spends most of his time trying to reaffirm Ava and rebuilding the shattered confidence that she’d lost in her youth. He’s a top bloke undoubtedly, but for most of the story, it felt like he was the one doing all the work while waiting for Ava to come to her senses—which she did only frustratingly, after a life-threatening event. His hard work pays off, though that much made me think of him playing the role of caretaker/therapist/lover all in one for a needy woman who hides a brittle interior.

I’d hoped that the wrap-up to this interesting series could have been better for me; sadly I never could quite get into this pairing as much as I could the rest.

two-stars

The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 11th June 2017
The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne WhiteThe Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White
Series: Angie Pallorino #1
Published by Montlake Romance on June 20th 2017
Pages: 524
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three-stars


He surfaced two years ago. Then he disappeared ...

But Detective Angie Pallorino never forgot the violent rapist who left a distinctive calling card—crosses etched into the flesh of his victim’s foreheads.
When a comatose Jane Doe is found in a local cemetery, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and nearly drowned, Angie is struck by the eerie similarities to her earlier unsolved rapes. Could he be back?​Then the body of a drowned young woman floats up in the Gorge, also bearing the marks of the serial rapist, and the hunt for a predator becomes a hunt for a killer. Assigned to the joint investigative task force, Angie is more than ready to prove that she has what it takes to break into the all-male homicide division. But her private life collides with her professional ambitions when she’s introduced to her temporary partner, James Maddocks—a man she’d met the night before in an intense, anonymous encounter.
Together, Angie and Maddocks agree to put that night behind them. But as their search for the killer intensifies so does their mutual desire. And Angie’s forays into the mind of a monster shake lose some unsettling secrets about her own past . . .
How can she fight for the truth when it turns out her whole life is a lie?

There’s no doubt that Loreth Anne White writes excellent police procedurals in their gritty, brutal glory. Her angst-ridden characters, worn down by the nature of their work, are jaded and cynical with nary an ounce of optimism in them and as we tend to learn at the start of the book, wrestle with their own broken lives as they keep disappointing their families before they find some kind of equilibrium by the end of it. Their behaviours tend to mirror the nature of the crimes they’re investigating, stopping short of going past the grey areas into the forbidden and while the psychology behind it all is intriguing, I always find myself coming out of every White suspense read unsure, uncertain and strangely in need of a thorough cleaning.

Irascible, combative and abrasive, Angie Pallorino is straight out, a character difficult to like or side with, unlike a typical romance heroine for whom an author tries to get the readers to have an affinity. Everything about her, like White’s protagonists, can and does rub me the wrong way especially in the manner she uses people and men. But her tenacity is also what makes her a good detective and her career is probably all she has.  Like Angie, James Maddocks is running on his own fumes, rebuilding his life in a place where he can hopefully also rebuild his relationship with his daughter. They don’t get off to the best start: a one night stand that ends in coitus interruptus followed by a hostile meeting at the work place. But Maddocks is the upstanding, strong one who’s got his head on relatively straight in contrast and I liked that steadying presence he seems to provide throughout.

There’s very little on the romance in White’s latest suspense books and this is no different. The multiple POVs and the doubts cast on each and every character does a good job of distancing you from them, bringing into focus instead, the complicated but excellent set up of the crime scenes. The search for justice and laborious police work are White’s focal points—along with the superb Hitchcockian suspense kind of writing—and her characters merely players as they try to untangle this web of brutal deaths. It’s packed with tons of details that makes it a difficult read in that sense, and heavy-going in a way gritty crime fiction can be, which naturally brings me to the question that I’ve always struggled with when it comes to romantic suspense that’s heavy on the suspense: is it possible to ‘love’ a read when it’s simply about the case (that’s fantastically set up, no doubt), even if there are characters you don’t exactly connect with or feel for?

Angie’s story however, is pretty much unfinished. ‘The Drowned Girls’ seems to end on tenterhooks, on a tipsy toast that hopes for a better tomorrow, but with the sequel in store, you just know it’s going to unravel once more, until you’re back down through the looking glass, as dislocated as the characters who themselves don’t know any better but to screw things up.

three-stars

The Legend by Donna Grant

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 5th June 2017
The Legend by Donna GrantThe Legend by Donna Grant
Series: Sons of Texas #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on June 27th 2017
Pages: 320
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three-stars

A LONE STAR LOVER
Callie Reed doesn’t need a man to protect her. An expert sharpshooter and renegade hacker, this Texas-born spitfire’s got the skills and the courage to stand up to any danger―no matter how deadly. But when she becomes the target of a shadowy organization known as the Saints, Callie is forced to team up with the one man she can’t outshoot: the gorgeous, and infuriating, Lone Star legend named Wyatt Loughman…
A Delta Force Colonel with a rock-hard body and stone-cold heart, Wyatt has been teasing and tormenting Callie since they were playmates on his family’s ranch. Of course, he’s wildly attracted to the fiery, strong-willed Callie. But he’s always hidden his feelings behind a wall of Texas tough and military cool, even as he’s burning up with desire. Can Wyatt save Callie’s life―without putting her love in the line of fire?

It’s clear from the first few pages that ‘The Legend’ doesn’t function well as a standalone and because I’ve not read the first book and went through the second quickly, this third one left me all at sea as I struggled to keep up.

As far as I could gather, there is a bioweapon at large, a sinister group of powerful people all over the world infiltrating important government positions, and some crime family descending on a ranch to wipe out a ranching family that also happens to do black ops. And as exciting as the action could get at times, a lot of it feels very unfinished as well by the very end. It’s the end of a battle though not the end of a war as it gets increasingly clear, as the bad guy is diminished but goes free.

By and large, catching up was a hugely difficult task, yet I pushed on because the drama between Wyatt and Callie was compelling enough for me to want to know what really happened between them in this second-chance romance. Yet Donna Grant does balance the action with some character development though, so apart from my incredulity of a ranching family getting hunted meticulously by several groups, it was easy enough to suspend my disbelief as Wyatt and Callie raced through Texas trying to save each other.

I loved Callie’s strength and determination, though wished she’d had enough gumption to turn Wyatt away when he clearly hadn’t done enough to deserve her, at least not the way he left her with deliberate words meant to scythe and hurt. That it’d taken 15 years and serious injuries before realising that his wanting to protect her from a distance was an argument never held water to begin with, it always felt as though Wyatt had a foot out the door, never being determined enough to stay for Callie despite the pages of self-recrimination that he seemed to undergo. It had to take Callie putting herself out there at every turn, right up to an obstinate declaration of love to change his mind, which was quite the last straw for me.

Frankly, I’m not quite too sure yet what to make of this book. Beyond the rather hasty, teaser-like wrap-up and the trail of destruction left behind, is this one of those endings where the couple in question finally gets together, but stare into the distance wistfully just as they prepare for war?

three-stars
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