Browsing Tag

I actually laughed

Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 14th June 2017
Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyStay by Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Series: WAGs, #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 259
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five-stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

five-stars

Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 9th June 2017
Cover Fire by Jess AnastasiCover Fire by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, Entangled: Select Otherworld on June 19th 2017
Pages: 267
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four-stars

He'll protect her with his life...but who will protect his heart?

If the assignment is crazy, dangerous, or a little of both, Sub-Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne can’t help but take on the challenge. So when Command Intelligence tags him to fly one of their agents behind enemy lines, it seems like just another routine death-defying mission. Crash landing on the planet was a piece of cake, but the gorgeous agent he delivered safely to her meeting is now believed dead and he must return to retrieve her body.

After Agent Jenna Maxwell realizes her own people attempted to have her killed, she enlists the hot stick jockey’s help. His new mission? Sneak her back onto his ship to ferret out who wanted to get rid of her and why. But she fears her growing feelings for Seb have blinded her to his reckless insistence on helping her stay alive, and his rash behavior will cause them both to lose their lives.

Coming back to the Valiant Knox series is like peeking back into the lives of old friends through a small, open doorway. But it’s also plain fun to see how some of the loveable heroes of the fighter pilot force go down, sometimes literally, then wonder, how the hell they’d been so dumb to get themselves into such situations.

‘Cover Fire’ is one of those reads, as cocksure, flirty, impulsive but honourable-at-his-core fighter pilot Sebastian Rayne meets more than his match in intelligence officer Jenna Maxwell, never once believing that it would bring him down one of the most reckless paths he’s ever been down yet. But since he’s no stranger to going balls-deep into danger and finding every experience exhilarating, what’s one more hole in his belt to get that adrenaline going?

By and large, it has been a fun ride. It was amusing too, to see Seb lurching from disaster to disaster with nothing but wits (that fail at times) and reckless impulse, all of which ends badly for him when most situations call for skills he doesn’t have outside that of being a fighter pilot. And it’s a refreshing change as well to have Jenna as the competent one, or at least as the cool spy who knows what’s she doing more than Seb. The romance did seem a little rushed for me, and their penchant for having sex in inappropriate places and at inopportune times—in a cramped cargo hold of a ship, or while barely recovering from a bad injury— left me more incredulous than turned-on as I wondered how the hell Seb really got it up while injured and in pain.

Superman-tendencies aside, Seb and Jenna proved somehow that desire can trump pain and injury as they get their happy ending for now and a promotion to boot. I only wished we saw more of the crew working together instead of Seb/Jenna vs. the rest of them, but that’s merely a minor quibble as I’d always loved the team dynamics in the Valiant Knox anyway.

There’s such a strong visual element in Jess Anastasi’s writing such that reading every book of hers is akin to watching a novelisation of a fast-paced tv episode that’s a combination of a space opera and a summer blockbuster. And it rings every bell that I have and for most part, the action, intrigue and romance make me a happy camper by the end of it.

four-stars

My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan Quinn

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th June 2017
My Best Friend’s Ex by Meghan QuinnMy Best Friend's Ex by Meghan Quinn
Published by Amazon Publishing on June 1st 2017
Pages: 248
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five-stars

When I found an eviction notice taped on my apartment door, I had two options: find a comfortable cardboard box to call home, or move in with Tucker Jameson.
Seeing that cardboard makes me feel itchy, I chose the latter. Which shouldn't be that big of a deal since Tucker is one of my good friends. And because he's still pining after his ex-girlfriend and I'm trying to finish my nursing degree, there is nothing to worry about in the romance department, making my last semester an easy one to conquer.
Boy, was I wrong.
Rules are set, dinners are made, conversations are had, and a shirtless, swoony roommate walks around in nothing but a pair of black briefs, ruining me for every other man.
Before I know it, I turn into a panting, lust-filled woman begging for Tucker to kiss me, touch me, and show me exactly what is hiding under those briefs.
But with great orgasms, comes great consequences.
Tucker might be my friend and roommate but he’s also my best friend's ex-boyfriend, making him completely off-limits. At least that's what my brain is telling me, my heart is speaking an entirely different language.

At this very point in time—the very moment I finished turning the last page of this book—I’m inclined to think that I’ve barely yet recovered from the amazing Tucker Jameson (who made my heart break many times throughout for him yet I loved him more for it) before I needed to pound out a review for a story that pretty much took my breath away.

‘My Best Friend’s Ex’ is so much more than what the flirty little blurb suggests; it’s instead a perfect mix of funnies and heartbreaking moments that leave you breathless with laughter then wrung out completely the next.

And that’s mostly due to Tucker and Emma—2 characters with so much chemistry and so much love between them that you can’t help but think there’s no better out there for either of them. I loved every bit of the build-up and how they re-established their relationship and despite some cock-blocking moments, was gratified when they finally hit the sheets. I’ve no desire really, to read the first book that introduced Tucker as a broken, peripheral character (especially if he’s the one left behind in it), who’d been alone in dealing with his bitterness, guilt and hurt when the group of friends he had pulled away from him as well.

But even with a huge load of tragedy behind him, Tucker is admirable in the way he pulls himself up and away from it, finally putting himself out there again for Emma, who is as compassionate and understanding as they come, living up to her reputation as the one who has always taken care of others. But because they’d been friends long before that, the journey is slightly easier, softened by years of memories and camaraderie, so this friends-to-lovers trope is in some way, easier to bear, given their history.

There isn’t much more that I can say, except that this has been a perfect afternoon indulgence that made me run the entire gamut of emotions and then once again. And if this genre can’t do it, then what can?

five-stars

Tempt the Boss by Natasha Madison

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th May 2017
Tempt the Boss by Natasha MadisonTempt The Boss by Natasha Madison
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on April 3rd 2017
Pages: 230
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three-stars

Going back to work was supposed to be a painless transition, but when my new boss turns out to be an arrogant, cocky jerk, he quickly turns my professional life into a world of torture. Okay, fine, calling him an asshat before knowing he was my boss wasn't my finest moment. Hating him should be easy. I just never counted on him being so gorgeous or charming when he's not annoying me.
AustinI expected my new assistant to be professional and punctual, but all I'm getting are dirty looks and rude comments. I should fire the little hellion, but instead all I can think about is bending her over my desk and breaking every rule I've ever made for myself.
One look. One touch. One night. If we break the rules, our lives will never be the same again.
Good thing rules were made to be broken. And besides, it feels so good to Tempt the Boss.

My first instinct after reading ‘Tempt the Boss’ was to surreptitiously check the back cover for the plaster cast of feminists because it reads so much like a contemporary, older woman’s fantasy. In fact, I’m tempted to call the book one of the shining examples (or even a manifesto) of the post-fem-lib movement.

Our recently-divorced heroine is a mother of 2 who gets back so successfully into the workforce after a decade away, that she aces her job while managing to snag the attractive boss along the way, though not without several war games both in and out of the bedroom. And as a woman with experience, Lauren knows exactly what she wants sexually as well, so it’s equality all around, with sass, witty comebacks and all thrown in with it. I found that I wasn’t even bothered by her cheating ex at all as Lauren definitely knew how to deal with him yet keep her head as a responsible mother taking on the world once more—that loudly does Natasha Madison shout for the liberated 21st century woman whom Lauren definitely personifies.

But as much as I liked the initial antagonism of this pairing, I wasn’t expecting the war games that they played with each other which were alternatively hilarious and juvenile. The laugh-out-loud moments took me by surprise and those made for a very entertaining first half despite the laddish behaviour and comments from secondary characters which I found abhorrent. My interest also began to wane slightly the moment the sexual tension broke however, and the little bumps along the way made the story a tad more predictable from then onwards.

Don’t get me wrong though, ‘Tempt the Boss’ is a very easy, very entertaining read all around, with a very strong heroine who steals the limelight the whole way. I only wish these men can grow up and keep up.

three-stars

Gone to Dust by Liliana Hart

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 25th April 2017
Gone to Dust by Liliana HartGone to Dust by Liliana Hart
Series: Gravediggers #2
Published by Pocket Books on June 20th 2017
Pages: 384
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four-stars

Sometimes the dead do rise…
Miller Darling is one of the most popular romance novelists of her time. Not bad for a woman who doesn’t believe in romance. She’s as logical as they come, and she doesn’t believe in happily-ever-afters. What she does believe in is family, so when her brother disappears, she doesn’t think twice about packing her bag and her laptop and heading out to find him.
Elias Cole has an axe to grind. Of all the Gravediggers, he’s the most reluctant in his new role as dead man walking. He’s angry, and being stuck in the tiny town of Last Stop, Texas might as well be purgatory. He misses his country and the life he had before he was betrayed. The only thing keeping him sane are the men who are like him—the Gravediggers—and the woman who makes his head spin. He’s never met anyone like Miller Darling. She’s not intimidated by his scowls, and damned if he doesn’t find that appealing.
When Miller sneaks out of town in the dead of night, her suitcase in tow, he has no choice but to follow. He’s made an oath to the Gravediggers. Only death can separate them. But he’s willing to risk it all to follow the one woman who drives him crazy halfway around the world. But when the ones who own his soul find out that he’s deserted them, there will be nowhere to hide.

Elias Cole and Miller Darling have a recent and unhappy history, and it’s mostly a funny one of unfulfilled sexual tension where Elias left Miller, well, wanting. They’re brought closer together by circumstances that are odd but befitting the life of a romance author who lives inside her head when she receives a finger with a ring that says her equally oddball and irresponsible brother has gone missing.

Elias is literally forced to go with Miller as she goes after her brother and the journey is a hilarious one, peppered mostly by Miller’s fanciful imaginings that started to feel a lot like a parody of romance authors whose heads stay mostly in the clouds. I loved every minute of the banter, especially how often Miller makes Elias speechless with her overactive imagination.

At the same time, Elias’s own reasons for wanting revenge lends gravity to his purpose for being a Gravedigger and I was eagerly waiting for his backstory, as I do for the rest of the motley crew. Sadly, not too much of it is given and his purpose in seeking revenge is somewhat dimmed by the end of the book, proving a disappointment as I half-expected that goal to be fulfilled.

But as far as pairings go, I loved how Elias/Miller both surprised me at every turn, both with their conversations and actions that were as non-stereotypical as they could be in this genre. That they made me laugh most of the way was a fantastic bonus that helped make this book a standout.

Like the first book, this one made me sit up and take note, not just because of the intrigue that’s presented here—I’ve not forgotten that the funeral parlour in an ugly town in Texas houses the world’s deadliest operatives—but also because of the direction that the story took. I’d been expecting more counterterrorist-type scenarios as it did in Deacon’s case, but that was hardly the case this time around.

‘Gone to Dust’ has a heavy focus instead on the journey that Elias and Miller took and the development of their relationship, but eschewed the details about the treasure, the myth and Justin’s ultimate fate in favour of banter and steamy sex. In fact, the story ended very soon after they yanked Justin out of his hiding place and got the bad guy, making me feel as though I was left hanging when Elias and Miller finally decided that they loved each other enough to stay together after a very brief meltdown on Elias’s side.

I think I would have enjoyed it more if the ending had been less abrupt and if I’d seen more of the Gravediggers in action—there were admittedly fewer scenes with them here than in the first book—mostly because their strange relationships and quirky interactions were the highlight of this series so far. The rushed epilogue felt like a HFN without a definite plan for the future (that itself is briefly explained) but still, it would have been nicer to have ‘Gone to Dust’ more conclusively wrapped up without me feeling stunned and wondering if some pages had been missing after all.

Still, it’s a memorable read and as a series that’s only just beginning to gather steam, I’m eager to see what Hart has in store next for this group of unlikely brothers.

four-stars

Phantom Pearl by Monica McCabe

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense/ Speculative Fiction 24th April 2017
Phantom Pearl by Monica McCabePhantom Pearl by Monica McCabe
Series: Jewel Intrigue #3
Published by Kensington - Lyrical Press on June 27th 2017
Pages: 288
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four-stars

Riki Maddox is not your average tomb-raiding treasure hunter. Her targets are carefully chosen to wound her father's killers, the Japanese Yakuza. To thwart their quest to recapture World War II loot initially stolen by Japanese forces, she puts herself in constant danger--and in the sights of a man as driven and as daring as she is.
Working for the Department of Homeland Security, Special Agent Dallas Landry is a rare breed: an academic with an unmatched lust for adventure. He had a perfect success rate recovering stolen art and antiquities--until he came up against an intriguing menace known as Riki Maddox. She's placed his reputation on the line, and stopping her becomes his number one priority.
Now the two will cross paths once again in Australia--on a quest for the legendary Phantom Pearl, a priceless mammoth tusk carved by 15th century monks. Barely one step ahead of the Yakuza, it's a three-way race to recover the long lost treasure. One Riki is hell-bent to win. But playing games against a federal agent like Dallas will cost more than her freedom. The chase will demand she risk her life and her thirst for revenge--but it just might offer something more to live for...

Riki Maddox and Dallas Landry want the Phantom Pearl for very different reasons and that has pit them against each other. And it’s not a rivalry that is new either; Riki has rubbed Dallas’s losses in his face by winning the treasure hunt (or rather, artefact) first, leaving him a laughing stock in front of Homeland Security and Dallas has finally, finally caught up this time around in the search for the Pearl. It’s a chase that takes them half around the world and as they tangle with the Yakuza, Riki and Dallas learn that there is no end to treachery and are forced to reevaluate the meaning of allies and foes.

Coming off ‘Phantom Pearl’ is akin to stepping off the platform of a roller-coaster ride still woozy and dazed, with the sun a little too bright in my eyes. It’s that exciting a ride which makes you—quite paradoxically—want to slow down to savour every moment of it even as the pace picks up enough to break your neck.

I was immediately intrigued by the setting and the context, never having even heard of Yamashita’s gold despite having having some kind of familiarity with Asia-Pacific history. Monica McCabe blends fact and fiction seamlessly and easily made this summer blockbuster material for me, where every page is filled with wry humour, unexpected laughs and a treasure-hunting adventure in far-flung locations rich in mystery, action and swashbuckling romance. It’s so different from many romantic-suspense-adventure-type stories set in South America or even Europe that ‘Phantom Pearl’s’ sheer daring was enough to make me sit up and take notice.

While I couldn’t exactly swallow the sudden realisation of love sneaking over both Dallas and Riki just as I couldn’t quite imagine the huge climatic scene in Singapore’s largest shipyard happening without setting off international furore, I’m reminded yet again that ‘Phantom Pearl’ is fiction layered over fact and it’s all in the name of having an entertaining good time—which I did.

The Jewel Intrigue series are all standalones—all the books are entirely unrelated, linked loosely only by the theme of treasure hunting—and every story is a thrill ride that needs no prior knowledge to enjoy. McCabe is going instantly on my watch-and-read-list and needless to say, I can’t wait to see what else she has up her sleeve.

four-stars

Viable Threat by Julie Rowe

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 5th April 2017
Viable Threat by Julie RoweViable Threat by Julie Rowe
Series: Outbreak Task Force, #1
Published by Entangled Publishing (Select Suspense) on May 22nd 2017
Pages: 393
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five-stars

Special Forces soldier and medic Walter River would give anything to snatch more than a few seconds of down time to see if he can rattle the no-nonsense and incredibly hot Dr. Lloyd he's protecting, but dodging explosions, snipers, and student radicals who've unleashed a lethal bio-engineered microorganism have made that almost impossible. Maybe he'll get a chance—if he can figure out how to keep them both alive.
CDC microbiologist Ava Lloyd races to find a cure for a bio-terrorism organism sweeping El Paso. The few stolen moments with her very hunky bodyguard River have been explosive, but no matter how alluring he is, she can't afford to get distracted. The clock is ticking, people are dying by the hundreds, and once this crisis is solved, they'll both be off on their next assignment, thousands of miles apart.

I think Julie Rowe has written a winner with this one. ‘Viable Threat’ is thrilling, heart-pounding, a fast-paced ride that whisks you through the tense situation of a sudden outbreak and a series of attacks in the city that point to biological terrorism. And in the maelstrom, a Special Forces soldier and a microbiologist join forces to help contain it and get to ground zero, but the journey ahead is fraught with nothing but danger and minefields.

There’s also a lot of arguing over territory, conflicting agendas and hidden motives as the ugly politics of emergency management come to the fore…while bodies drop like flies during a plague. As dry as this bit of the conflict can be, Rowe handles it well, with way more realism than I expected and throws in more than a spicy dash of conspiracy theories and odd, but not unwelcome bits of humour that kept me wide-eyed and entertained.


That’s the beauty of fast-paced action and suspense in the RS genre when done right. But the characters as well as the protagonists ground the story, so strongly-crafted and so memorable that they’ll probably stay in my mind for a long time. A side-note here: the Drill Sergeant gets my vote as a fan favourite, by the way.

But River and Ava stole the show completely. River was serious and confident when he needed to be, quietly flirtatious with his ‘mouse’ in a way that made me laugh, unfailingly loyal when given his orders to stick by Ava yet never quite overstepping his boundaries as he defers to her—a rare quality in any case, matched only by his atypical appearance that isn’t quite what the usual RS hero looks like. I loved how competent they both were without the necessary posturing and their partnership—as put together as it is—did seem like a good, solid one that will outlast this outbreak.

There’s no dancing around their attraction or silly games because the stakes are too high for anything else. Battling the sudden outbreak takes priority and everything else fades into the background for now, which is what both characters do, dedicated as they are to their jobs. Yet bonds are forged in risky, life-and-death-type situations and Ava/River’s growing loyalty to each other is no less reminiscent of the brotherhood formed among soldiers who go to war together. It’s an added dimension to the usual physical and emotional connection that most readers crave for in romances and with this unshakeable bond forming in times of emergency, ‘Viral Justice’ gives this burgeoning relationship depth, but it’s compressed so much within this short time span (just over 24 hours) that made me wonder if it’s merely adrenaline and sexual tension sparking between them.

The somewhat rushed conclusion aside, Rowe’s Outbreak Task Force is going to be a series I’ll be keeping an eye on—if the sequels are going to be anything like this explosive thriller, I’m down for the count.

five-stars
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