Tag: I actually laughed

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

The Simple Wild by K.A. TuckerThe Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 7th August 2018
Pages: 388
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Calla Fletcher wasn't even two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when Calla learns that Wren’s days may be numbered, she knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.

She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this rugged environment, Jonah—the unkempt, obnoxious, and proud Alaskan pilot who helps keep her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.

Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. Soon, she finds herself forming an unexpected bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago. It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.

I’ve always wondered if ‘The Simple Wild’ was meant to be an angsty ‘growing-up’ New Adult type book or a smart-alecky rom-com story. But the truth is that it probably falls somewhere in between and had me sniffing a mite bit by the end of it.

From the urban bustle of Toronto to the wilds of Alaska, Calla Fletcher’s reluctant visit to pay her sick father a visit is in essence, a tale of a city girl—horrified by the shit-all to do in a small, small town—forced to relook her own ideas on love and life. In a case of schadenfreude (#iregretnothing), I gleefully relished and cackled my way through every fish-out-of-water moment that Calla had as she learned to operate in a place so out of sync with her own rhythm, liking Jonah even more when he simply came out and accused her of being the shallow, self-absorbed and empty woman that I felt she was. I didn’t quite feel any affinity with her from the beginning and her awkward moments kept me cackling for a while longer, until some kind of character growth happened as Calla finally (and slowly) started to shed that flighty exterior.

That Jonah helped in his caustic, cutting way just gave me extra laughs in the process. Or it could be that I liked his straight, no-nonsense talk, his directness with everything, including his feelings, without the typical games that many characters tend to play.

The loss of the father-figure is a theme that started to dominate more and more as I got into the book, and along with the weight of regrets, resentment and missed chances, ‘The Simple Wild’ suddenly became an incredibly emotional and absorbing read by the time I was halfway through. I gobbled every bit of Tucker’s descriptions of life in the tundra and the day-to-day operation of a flight charter company, revelled in the small-town characters she’d drawn up so sharply, then wanted to cry ugly tears when it all came to a difficult end.

My only quibble is the lack of a concluding, firm-in-the-ground HEA by the time Calla and Jonah met again. Given Tucker’s emphasis on history repeating itself, Calla/Jonah felt like a couple headed for a HFN ending instead as ‘The Simple Wild’ left me loudly protesting that I needed more.

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
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four-stars

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.

four-stars

Her Perfect Mate by Paige Tyler

Her Perfect Mate by Paige TylerHer Perfect Mate (X-Ops, #1) by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 6th 2014
Pages: 316
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three-stars

He's a High-Octane Special Ops Pro
When Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is pulled from an op in Afghanistan, he is surprised to discover he's been hand-picked for a special assignment with the Department of Covert Operations (DCO), a secret division he's never heard of. Terrorists are kidnapping biologists and he and his partner have to stop them. But his new partner is a beautiful, sexy woman who looks like she couldn't hurt a fly-never mind take down a terrorist.

She's Not Your Average Covert Operative
Ivy Halliwell is no kitten. She's a feline shifter, and more dangerous than she looks. She's worked with a string of hotheaded military guys who've underestimated her special skills in the past. But when she's partnered with special agent Donovan, a man sexy enough to make any girl purr, things begin to heat up...

Shapeshifter mythology isn’t a new one to me, but the queasy thought of having a menagerie of animals (when I’d previously been selective of the type of shifter romances I’ve been reading) squawking around was probably the sole reason held me back from going into Paige Tyler’s X-ops series. But I’m glad I dived in nonetheless—even if this is to be considered my personal, baby step into expanding my idea of a shifter universe.

That said, the first book of a series can be a hard one to rate: there’s the introduction of a multitude of characters (all of whom you know will get a story of their own), a backstory, context and world-building, all of which, if not handled properly, can probably cause the book to go down quite spectacularly even before it has even begun. ‘Her Perfect Mate’ is a ‘soft’ introduction so to speak, with a feline shapeshifter paired with a military alpha hero who thankfully doesn’t mansplain or behave in a way that makes you want to swing a block of concrete in his face. By and large, I did buy into Landon’s and Ivy’s romance, though I think I’m probably looking forward to the other pairings that have already been hinted at here.

As with romantic suspense however, villainy and heroism tend to be juxtaposed as extremes—bad is bad, good is good—with no in-betweens. Here, it does get laughable at times, where the cliché is stretched so far that I started to wonder if the bad guys should start wearing faux moustaches and announce their arrivals with evil-sounding snickers. Tyler however, does inject some bits with her trademark, understated humour and that went a long way in making the story a lot more enjoyable.

That said, the good part of getting into a series so late is that there isn’t a wait between books and yes, I’m already diving into the next one.

three-stars

Dangerous Moves by Karen Rock

Dangerous Moves by Karen RockDangerous Moves by Karen Rock
Series: Dallas After Dark #1
Published by Kensington - Lyrical Press on February 13th 2018
Pages: 385
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three-stars

Pounding music. Sculpted men. And a conspiracy that could cost far more than a few dollar bills . . .

HOT COP

Detective Blake Knight has been undercover before. But an assignment to bust a steroid ring running out of Dallas’s elite male strip club means his new cover will be nothing but his own taut muscles and oiled skin. It’s one thing for the tough, by-the-books agent to take down bad guys with his gun. Facing a rowdy crowd in only a G-string is another story . . . especially in front of his new boss, gorgeous, mysterious Reese Landon.

Her father’s club and shady business practices bring back terrible memories for Reese. But when he’s shot and goes into a coma, she vows to protect him the way he never did for her. That means keeping the police at a distance—especially sexy, driven Detective Knight. If she has to give him a cover job, it would be a crime not to put that glorious ass on stage. But no matter how good he looks in a Velcro uniform, she can't trust him, or give into the undeniable heat between them. They're both chasing the truth. And it might expose more than either wants to show . . .

Having a cop going undercover in a male stripper club is is something new and I’ll admit readily that this played a huge part in wanting to read ‘Dangerous Moves’. Marvellous premise, after all and I’ll not say no to this. Romantic Suspense or not, that does start off rather hilariously, as Blake Knight takes on one of the dodgiest cases and had the (good?) fortune of meeting the owner’s daughter.

But with the strip club as a front for illegal activities amid the red-hot male routines, Blake and Reese find themselves on the opposite sides of the law, and that proves to be the rift that this pairing is built on despite the helpless pull of attraction that both have for each other.

Both Blake and Reese clearly have some sort of character-growth arc throughout: Blake for seeing the world in black and white and having his moral code flipping on its head when he learns about dirty activities involving cops and steroids were happening under his nose. On the other hand, Reese’s blind, naive loyalty to her father gets her close to obstructing justice, as is her refusal to see family as anything but culpable. However, it isn’t one that’s realised early on enough until it’s nearly too late, having her come across as naive and a bit TSTL, and possibly a bit selfish, to the point where she thinks that Blake doing his job means not putting her first.

That said, Karen Rock writes the suspense excellently and the pacing during these action scenes is well done. Yet it got predictable—the villain’s identity seemed as obvious as daylight—and there were parts in the middle of a scene or chapter transitions that felt awkward with several odd phrases that stood out during the sex scenes for instance. But there were also bits that had me laughing, particularly in the beginning. I did want to know more about another secondary character however (and was slightly mollified that there will be a book on him) and was disappointed when he merely flitted in and out of the pages like a passing ship in the night.

‘Dangerous Moves’ is nonetheless a decent read, albeit not a perfect one. Rock however, teases the blurb of the next book in here and that’s making me look forward to it already.

three-stars

A Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson

A Cold Dark Promise by Toni AndersonA Cold Dark Promise by Toni Anderson
Series: Cold Justice #8.5
on November 14th 2017
Pages: 144
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five-stars

In the midst of wedding preparations, a shadowy figure from Alex Parker's past reappears and threatens the joy he’s found with Mallory Rooney.

Four years ago, Jane Sanders’s rich and powerful ex-husband kidnapped their young daughter and Jane hasn’t seen her since. Now she finally has a lead on her location and she knows just the man to help her get her daughter back. Trouble is, he’s an assassin. And he terrifies her.

Despite his upcoming nuptials, Alex agrees to help, but it doesn’t take long for the routine operation to turn complicated—and deadly. Can the former CIA operative make it home in time to marry the woman he loves, or will his dark past destroy all hope for their future?

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of ‘A Cold Dark Promise’—the wedding novella of Alex Parker and Mal Rooney—except for the fact that it was a long time in coming, circling back to the original couple that sparked off the whole Cold Justice series. After all, Mal’s unending pregnancy was starting to feel like the official ‘measurement’ for the time it took for all of the series’s characters to fall in love and get their HEA.

‘A Cold Dark Promise’ is nonetheless a special one: Alex Parker is the enigmatic, mysterious brooding man who started it all and I’m pleasantly surprised to see him as the more compassionate man who had grown some funnies along the way as the rest of the Cold Justice books went by. Despite him popping up here and there in other books as a supporting character, I simply liked seeing him taking centre stage again after all this time.

Anderson’s dry British humour flexes its mighty muscles here (unless I’m not supposed to laugh, which means I’ve gotten it so wrong), and that definitely made the book more lighthearted and fun read than the rest of her other Cold Justice books. Her characters were pulled out of their usual comfort zones to do things they didn’t normally do (the Parker/Frazer bromance!) in a last-minute op that had the characters flying by the seat of their pants. Now this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience to read about, all the more so with the slight comedic elements thrown in with the suspense and thrills.

The reunion of all the cast members simply shows how far we’ve come in the series and I think I simply fangirled each time my favourite couples poked their noses out and came out to play, even for a sentence or two. For a novella and a sort-of roundup to the series (though Anderson promises it isn’t the end), ‘A Cold Dark Promise’ packs a huge punch—it’s brilliant, hilarious in parts and proof positive that a wedding could still go off without a hitch (barely) because it took a village for that to happen.

five-stars

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Wildfire by Ilona AndrewsWildfire by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Pages: 391
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four-stars

Just when Nevada Baylor has finally come to accept the depths of her magical powers, she also realizes she’s fallen in love. Connor “Mad” Rogan is in many ways her equal when it comes to magic, but she’s completely out of her elements when it comes to her feelings for him. To make matters more complicated, an old flame comes back into Rogan’s life…

Rogan knows there’s nothing between him and his ex-fiance, Rynda Sherwood. But as Nevada begins to learn more about her past, her power, and her potential future, he knows she will be faced with choices she never dreamed of and the promise of a life spent without him.

As Nevada and Rogan race to discover the whereabouts of Rynda’s kidnapped husband and are forced to confront Nevada’s grandmother, who may or may not have evil motives, these two people must decide if they can trust in each other or allow everything to go up in smoke.

‘Wildfire’ is a return to the rollicky, zany fun that I had in the first book, complete with otherworldly creatures, deadpan, quip-filled humour and crazy feats of magic that, on an alternate earth, would send mortals running each time a window gets the slightest hairline crack. This mad magical universe is really what makes this series so irresistible: larger than life, yet still so steeped in a contemporary reality (or rather, downtown Houston) we can sort of relate to and understand.

A huge part of me still longed for the Nevada Baylor of the first book—the woman who kept her powers hidden as she relied on her wits and gun skills instead of playing with the big boys—rather than the newly-minted Prime taking her place in a complex and archaic House system full of backstabbing politics, where the constant game of keeping one’s head above water prevents everything from staying simple. I still cringed every time she used her powers—whether these occasions were justified were still up in the air for me—but this was merely a trade-off it seemed, for Nevada’s rise in magical society and the inevitable ‘revelation’ of her unique ‘gift’.

As much the story was still written in her POV here, Nevada and Connor were by now, an established couple, finding their way around this new relationship and how their magic abilities worked into it, so there wasn’t too much of the tension that we got in the first 2 books.

But I didn’t mind it too much, absorbed as I was in the story’s secondary characters, which were really the best I’ve ever read in a long, long time. For once, Andrews’s secondary characters—who were as multifaceted as the protagonists—kept me riveted, even sometimes taking focus away from the main couple despite the story being related in Nevada’s POV and I didn’t mind a whit.

The bottom-line is, it all went from loopy to loopier and although quite cookie-cutter in the way the authors handled its protagonists’ growth trajectories, ‘Wildfire’ is still a riotous fast-paced read that already hints at more to come.

four-stars

Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews

Burn For Me by Ilona AndrewsBurn for Me by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #1
Published by Avon on October 28th 2014
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

‘Burn For Me’ is my first Ilona Andrews read and I can only say I wished I got into this sooner…this being what feels like a grand urban fantasy that slips between the Harry Potter and X-Men universe as a lone woman stands within a maelstrom about to break open.

It’s a solid adventure from start to finish, thoroughly enjoyable only because of a heroine who’s funny, compassionate, protective and thankfully, resistant to the heavy, magic-induced charms of an anti-hero up to the very end. But this being the first in the series, there’s more tension than romance, more action than scorching times between the sheets, particularly when characters are too busy cutting each other down and trying to lay waste to the city.

Despite ‘Burn For Me’ being the first book, the story that Andrews has taken up here seems like a one-and-done episode (even though the narrative arc is clearly unfinished) and it does feel like an establishing novel by way of the characters at least. Connor Rogan hasn’t convinced me yet of his hero status – it feels as though he still needs to undertake that ‘redemptive’ journey so to speak, to add empathy to his character as Nevada has correctly pointed out for him to be worthy of the pairing. The latter, on the other hand, just seems to be ‘destined’ for greater things, though I’m hoping that Andrews will surprise me with the growth trajectory of the archetypical hero/heroine here.

But I’m extrapolating, perhaps. What I am however, is very, very curious about the rest of the series and especially thankful that I can go through all of them at once without needing to wait for the end.

Bring it on.

four-stars