Tag: Indifferent shrugs

In Her Sights by Katie Ruggle

In Her Sights by Katie RuggleIn Her Sights by Katie Ruggle
Series: Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters, #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 26th March 2019
Pages: 384
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two-stars

Bounty hunter Molly Pax fought hard for everything she has, turning the bail recovery business she shares with her sisters into an unqualified success. So when their sticky-fingered mother jumps bail and puts the childhood home up as collateral, Molly's horrified. To make matters worse, every two-bit criminal in the Rockies now sees her family's misfortune as their next big break.

She needs help, stat.

Enter rival bounty hunter John Carmondy: six feet of pure trouble, with a cocky grin to match. John's the most cheerfully, annoyingly gorgeous frenemy Molly's ever had the pleasure of defeating...and he may be her only hope of making it out of this mess alive.

As the caretaker of a dysfunctional family, Molly Pax handles it all: her sisters, the her manipulative mother and the very annoying (but hot) John Carmondy who can’t seem to leave her alone even though they’re both career-rivals.

I didn’t know what to expect from Katie Ruggle’s new series—my experience with Ruggles’s writing has been varied—but bounty hunting sisters finding their HEA sounded like a unique-enough premise to branch out from her Rocky Mountain books.

There was more quirk and light-heartedness than I thought for an RS book and much of the drama—to my disappointment—for at least halfway, dealt with the Pax sisters’ panic about their mother’s shenanigans and the fear of losing their house as John played a longing, moony sidekick role at the fringe. I started skimming a lot as the investigation went seemingly in circles and Molly/John’s relationship development felt more like a slow burn that had me struggling to keep my interest up. That there wasn’t a point in time I wanted to re-read what I’d missed was probably a warning red flag hoisted high about my boredom levels.

The bottomline is, I wish I were more excited about the start of Ruggle’s new series. I do like Ruggle’s writing style and her protagonists by and large (which is why I do keep coming back to her books from time to time) but the plot however, wasn’t just something I could be enthusiastic about in this mild enemies-to-lovers type story. It’s also more romantic-suspense-lite and strangely more family-friendly, so ‘In Her Sights’ is probably a book more suited to those who prefer to keep just their toes in the genre.

two-stars

Flare up by Shannon Stacey

Flare up by Shannon StaceyFlare Up by Shannon Stacey
Series: Boston Fire #6
Published by Carina Press on 29th January 2019
Pages: 352
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two-stars

Nursing a broken heart while everybody around him seems to be drowning in happiness has Grant Cutter wondering whether staying with Engine 59—or even Boston Fire—is in his future. It’s tempting as hell to pack up what fits in his Jeep and hit the road. But then a 911 call brings the woman who shattered his heart back into his life, and he knows he won’t ever be able to fully leave her in his rearview mirror.

For a few months, Wren Everett had thought the nightmare of her past was behind her and she might live happily ever after with Grant. Until she got the phone call letting her know the time her ex had spent in jail for assault hadn’t cooled his temper or determination that she belonged with him. Cutting ties with Grant was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, but it was also the only way to keep him safe.

Now that Grant is back, he’s not letting Wren push him away again. And even with the trust issues between them, Wren dares to hope she and Grant might have a future together after all…if they’re willing to fight for it.

Shannon Stacey’s second-change romance trope begins with a character’s rather illogical stupidity—Wren leaving Grant because she’s afraid of hurting him as an ex hunts her down—is how ‘Flare Up’ begins. The backstory quickly unravels (Stacey doesn’t take too long in expounding this history after Wren walks away) and from there on, the story rolls on without too much angsty rehashing. Past Grant’s heartbreak and the bit where he gets justifiably angry, there’s still the hero-complex that insists on keeping Wren safe despite his better judgement.

For someone who moans that characters seldom talk it through like the adults they are, it’s easy to appreciate that Stacey doesn’t leave the unfinished business between Grant/Wren before the slight suspense and action kick in. I liked that they talked it out and laid all the cards on the table, and if the story’s a bit of a slow start with a lesson learned, who am I to argue?

Still, Grant/Wren’s actual getting back together—along with the time taken to get back their footing—was where it flagged and got staid for me, but maybe that’s because I’m the sort of reader who likes the first-time thrill more than the tentative steps back into vulnerability in a second-chance romance. In fact, I was looking forward to more firefighting action but instead stumbled into pages of Wren’s slow reintroduction to Grant’s circle of friends and their eventual coupledom.

The actual stalker-business sort of does pick up towards the end of the story, but the build is slow nonetheless, which never quite led up to anything more than a whimper of a climax when I’d been expecting a little more bang. In short, it’ll be a slow, pleasant read if you like more romance rather than suspense/firefighting, but sadly, this one turned out to be more of a miss than a hit for me.

two-stars

The Tycoon by Molly O’Keefe

The Tycoon by Molly O’KeefeThe Tycoon by Molly O'Keefe
Series: King Family #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 12th July 2018
Pages: 246
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two-stars

The cruel and beautiful man who ruined my life has everything he wants—everything except me.

Five years ago, Clayton Rorick loved me. Or so I thought. Turned out he only wanted to get his hands on my daddy’s company. Heartbroken, I ran away with nothing but the clothes on my back. Like a twisted Cinderella. When my father dies, leaving my sisters in a desperate situation, it’s up to me to help them.

I’ll have to beg the man who broke my heart to save us.

But Clayton hasn’t forgotten me and what he wants in exchange for his help is…my body, my heart and my soul.

‘The Tycoon’ took me an extraordinarily long time to finish, despite the novella-length of the whole story. Admittedly, I was distracted with everything else that left reading the last priority on my list.

But still, I got through it, albeit on first or second gear throughout, and at a snail’s pace and there just wasn’t enough rev for me to keep my eyes glued to it. The long story short is: woman finds out that she’s been played by her father and fiancé all along; 5 years later, they’re reunited unwittingly and in a twist of events, she gets manoeuvred into a marriage to help save her sisters who are all in some trouble of their own.

Molly O’Keefe tackles a tricky second-chance romance trope; I think most readers, after reading the injustice done to Veronica would expect some sort of grovelling or some grand gestures that would place Clayton on a playing field where he could ‘earn’ back Veronica’s affections. What we got however, were Veronica’s own musings and doubts about Clayton’s supposed change and how much he was willing to compromise for her this time, though her wariness didn’t always seem backed up by his actions.

But an imbalance in the POVs here meant that we mostly had Veronica’s side of the story—her struggles, her feelings, her emotions—while Clayton’s few scenes in his POV simply made him as remote, aloof and cold-hearted as ever. Acknowledging his mistake with Veronica 5 years ago and apologising in so few lines, then expecting Veronica to cave to his manipulative marriage demands made him seem an unsympathetic, unremorseful character, especially since he’d admitted to using sex as a way to get her defences down.

Seriously?!

It levelled out eventually: less lies, more truth, less obscuring, more sharing and the easing into forgiveness, though by that time, I was bored and skimming. ‘The Tycoon’ would have been a better read for me if there’d been more peaks and valleys—more spikes of the emotional fallout, I guess, but since that didn’t happen, it ended up more exasperating than exciting.

two-stars

Love Around the Corner by Sally Malcolm

Love Around the Corner by Sally MalcolmLove Around the Corner by Sally Malcolm
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 29th November 2018
Pages: 125
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three-stars

Real life enemies, online lovers. Two lonely men, destined for each other--if only they knew it.

Real life enemies.

Alfie Carter grew up in New Milton, caring for his sick father and keeping their auto repair shop on its feet. He’s touchy about his poor education and doesn’t take kindly to snide remarks from the town’s prickly bookstore owner—no matter how cute he looks in his skinny jeans. Leo Novak’s new life as owner of Bayside Books is floundering. And he could do without the town’s gorgeous, moody mechanic holding a grudge against him after an unfortunate—and totally not his fault— encounter last Christmas.

Online lovers.

Left to run the family business alone, Alfie spends his lonely evenings indulging his secret passion for classic fiction and chatting online with witty, romantic ‘LLB’ as they fall in love over literature. Leo's still reeling from a bad breakup and struggling to make friends in New Milton, so seeks comfort instead in his blossoming online romance with thoughtful, bookish ‘Camaro89’.

But as the holidays approach, ‘LLB’ and ‘Camaro89’ are planning to meet, and realities are about to collide…

Two lonely men, destined for each other—if only they knew it.

I’m not too sure how to rate a book that captures my love for ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and my general disdain (a recent thing) for a few of Jane Austen’s books, which were admittedly my favourites until they stopped.

Sally Malcolm’s ‘Love Around the Corner’ is a combination of both, revolving around their love of books between Leo Novak and Alfie Carter. This connection is made online, over a period of a year, until a planned meeting goes wrong. The trajectory of the plot is a predictable one – as long as you know Jane Austen’s more famous works and ‘You’ve Got Mail’ – and there is much deviation from it unless you count the different ways in which someone grovels at the end.

Maybe it’s the short length of the story, but I couldn’t exactly get into both Leo Novak and Alfie as a couple: there was something oddly pretentious about Novak that I couldn’t quite get around, while Alfie seemed like a more down-to-earth sweetheart whose appearances just didn’t match what he was on the inside.

Malcolm’s writing is faultless however, and I’ve always liked what she does with words. It certainly isn’t the last of New Milton that I think we’ll be seeing, but this one was just lukewarm for me.

three-stars

Buried Lies by Kaylea Cross

Buried Lies by Kaylea CrossBuried Lies by Kaylea Cross
Series: Crimson Point, #2
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 27th November 2018
Pages: 228
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three-stars

She left her painful past behind.

Poppy Larsen is finally free. She moved to Crimson Point to make a new life for herself, full of bright possibilities. A whole new world awaits her, if she can find the courage to trust again—even her gorgeous neighbor, the town sheriff. But darkness lurks in the picturesque Oregon Coast town, concealing a deadly threat that’s closer than she ever imagined.

Now a killer is watching her from the shadows.

Sheriff Noah Buchanan can’t help but be intrigued by his new neighbor. She’s hard working, sexy as hell, and unlike most of the women in town, she hasn’t thrown herself at him. After it becomes clear that she plans to put down roots here, he finds himself falling more and more for Poppy and her big heart. When someone from her past tries to hurt her, it triggers all his protective instincts. But the real danger is hiding in plain sight. When the unthinkable happens, Noah is thrust into a race against time to save her before it’s too late.

‘Buried lies’ continues Kaylea Cross’s small-town romantic suspense series and it’s quite a departure from her usual offerings of military romance thrillers in war-torn places and high-level conspiracy that I’m still not too sure what to make of it. Noah Buchanan and Poppy Larsen are next in line after Sierra and Beckett to get their HEA, as Cross sets up a series that’s gentler than the fare she typically offers up and is a bit more focused on family and friendship where reaffirmation and new starts bound.

These close friendships and ties also mean that there are continual hints and setups of pairings apart from Noah/Poppy here, as Cross juggles some (tragic) drama that continues its run as part of the narrative arc of this series. There’s still some suspense that keeps you guessing nonetheless—newcomer and new shop owner Poppy is gun-shy and hiding something in her past when she moved to Crimson Point to start anew—but overall, ‘Buried Lies’ is slower paced, with a leisurely build-up that doesn’t rush into instant lust or love.

Poppy/Noah’s story is easy to read, though more predictable than I thought. Frankly, Poppy/Noah weren’t exactly standout protagonists that imprint themselves indelibly in my memory and neither was the suspense that I was hoping would leave me gasping in the wake of its high-octane fumes. I couldn’t quite tell what Noah found special about Poppy—after being a serial dater after having been dumped by his fiancée years ago—but that he suddenly wanted everything with her made it bewildering, more so because Cross uses the experienced man (or player?) versus the inexperienced woman trope here and made me cringe, even with the understandable circumstances that Poppy had found herself in.

Neither could I quite get the bizarre motivation behind Poppy being a target of a mysterious serial killer, which ultimately made the climax fall a little flat.

‘Buried Lies’ ended up as a middle-of-the-road type of read. It’s not enough for me to give up on this series, though I’ll have to say it’s probably more suited to readers who prefer romances that aren’t always going full-steam ahead with the world’s fate hanging in balance.

three-stars

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left Cuba by Chanel CleetonWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on 9th April 2019
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Beautiful. Daring. Deadly.

The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.

As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart...

‘When we left Cuba’ isn’t quite a sequel to Chanel Cleeton’s much-loved ’Next Year in Havana’, the latter of which I do consider one of my best reads of the year. Still, it’s a book that stands on its own feet even if it’s less sweeping than its predecessor. Still, ‘When we left Cuba’ is a compellingly written story of the oldest Perez sister who struts her way through the pages, armed with the thirst for revenge as she somehow moseys her way into the clutches of the CIA while tangling with a senator whose a player in politics and in every sense of the word.

Within the fodder material of the fabled and many attempts of the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro is where Cleeton posits Beatriz Perez after her escape from Cuba, navigating the thorny issues of policy and politics of the time. Bold, hot-headed and reckless, Beatriz carves a path for herself that’s as treacherous as you’d expect, resulting in having her loyalties sorely tested as her decisions change the course of her life.
Cleeton writes in favour of long, descriptive passages of place and emotion; the pace is slower as a result, the plot a little more convoluted. The romance isn’t quite the focus here; rather, Beatriz herself is the star of the show, front and centre. Her long, longstanding affair with a powerful senator is carried out amidst society’s expectations and the uncertain political climate, a subplot that runs alongside her involvement with the CIA.

I’ll admit though, that it is harder to be singularly or emotionally invested in Beatriz completely as I was in Cleeton’s first book about Elisa and her granddaughter. Undoubtedly, Beatriz is a colourful character who stands out sharply—sometimes too painfully sharply like a woman cut from a different cloth—not just by means of her birth but also her life experiences, but ultimately, she’s still a protagonist whose story I read about from a distance as she made her own small stamp on history, for better or worse.

Cleeton’s impactful writing carries it all here, despite the odd hollowness I felt about Beatriz by the end. It’s what took me through the politics, the lies, the dirty games and the passing of time within the pages after all and it’s what keeps me coming back.
three-stars

Desperate Play by Barbara Freethy

Desperate Play by Barbara FreethyDesperate Play by Barbara Freethy
Series: Off The Grid: FBI Trilogy, #3
Published by Fog City Publishing, LLC - Hyde Street Press on 13th June 2018
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Special Agent Wyatt Tanner has always worked undercover. He thrives in the dark of the night. He survives by turning himself into someone else. But living so long in the shadows can make a man forget who he really is. When people start dying, when he finds blood on his own hands, he questions the choices he has made, the people he is with.

Can he find his way back to the light? Can he trust the beautiful woman who needs his help? Or does she also have a secret life?

He'll have to make one desperate play to find out…

Barbara Freethy is not an author I usually turn to for my usual Romantic Suspense fix, but the blurb of this book sounded interesting enough. At least, well enough because it rubs all my kinks about undercover and double identities the right way.

Freethy has up a great opening that catches Wyatt Tanner smack dab in the middle of an undercover op, or at least in the middle of a nefarious start of one, where he infiltrates a possible case of industrial espionage at Nova Star for the FBI. That much sets the tone for ‘Desperate Play’, where he gets tangled more and more in the affairs of Astrophysicist and employee of Nova Star Avery Caldwell who’s found herself an unwitting player in a murder investigation.

Freethy’s red herrings—in the form of random suggestions, insinuations and some supposed clues—that throw suspicion on every character do keep the good ol’ whodunnit mystery rolling and kept me guessing because the big picture couldn’t be put together. The only downside is that it didn’t make the secondary characters likeable at all, while putting only the protagonists above questioning.

Still, ‘Desperate Play’ ended up an unexpectedly slow read for me somehow, with a writing style—sentences, dialogue, etc—that felt a little…amateurish(?) at times…this is however, a personal preference about style coming into play here.

From a steady trot in the first quarter, I also thought that the pacing faltered towards the middle as I went through pages of Avery being a naive pushover where her dead, flaky friend was concerned (the questions she asks as well seem to show that), with Wyatt’s rather adept juggling of his undercover identity becoming the only thing that kept me going.

The rather unsettled ending is certainly a set-up for Freethy next few books in this series, but I did finish the book feeling a bit more short-changed than usual.

three-stars