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Hard Target by Pamela Clare

Hard Target by Pamela ClareHard Target by Pamela Clare
Series: Cobra Elite, #1
Published by Pamela Clare on 25th April 2019
Pages: 261
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three-stars

Derek Tower has spent his life at war, first as a Green Beret and then as the owner of a private black-ops company, Cobra International Security. When a high-ranking US senator asks Cobra to protect his daughter, a midwife volunteering in Afghanistan, Derek’s gut tells him to turn the senator down. The last thing he wants to do is babysit an aid worker. But Jenna isn’t just another assignment. She’s also the younger sister of his best friend, the man who died taking bullets meant for him. There’s no way Derek can refuse.

Jenna Hamilton doesn’t need a bodyguard, especially not one hired by her intrusive and controlling father. She knew the risks when she signed on to work in rural Afghanistan, and the hospital already has armed security. She also doesn’t need the distraction of a big, brooding operative skulking about, even if he is her late brother’s best friend—and sexy as hell. As far as she’s concerned, he can pack up his Humvee and drive into the sunset. And, no, nothing her hormones have to say about him will change her mind.

From the moment his boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, Derek does his best to win Jenna over, posing as her brother so the two of them can spend time alone. Except that what he feels for her is anything but brotherly. Stolen moments lead to secret kisses—and an undeniable sexual attraction that shakes them both to the core. But events have been set into motion that they cannot escape. When a ruthless warlord sets his sights on Jenna, Derek will do whatever it takes to keep her safe, even if it costs him his heart—or his life.

‘Hard Target’ is classic Pamela Clare fare, full of action and hot scenes and while I do like her Colorado High Country books, I’m still glad she’s decided to return to romantic suspense in this new series.

Derek Tower isn’t a new character to grace Clare’s canon of works; he’s appeared in a few books as a peripheral figure and ‘Hard Target’ is his story of encountering the woman who also happens to be the sister of his dead comrade – and someone whom he’d never met before. First tasked to bring her home by a controlling father, it’s only a while later that Derek starts to realise that Jenna is her own woman intent on helping the Afghani women – which leads him to vow to protect her at all costs.

Clare constantly bucks the trend of creating unnecessary drama between her protagonists – this surprises me still – because she does by and large, write mature characters who mean what they say and show a lot of chutzpah and bravery while they’re escaping the bad guys and facing their biggest fears. Admittedly, I wasn’t as fond of Derek as I was of Jenna nonetheless; the latter seemed so much stronger, resilient and compassionate in contrast to the more commonly-used trope of the male protagonist using excuses to explain away why he didn’t do relationships.

It’s probably just me here, but I thought this didn’t quite have the hard edge or the soulful depth of the earlier RS books that Clare wrote. I found it a little hard to swallow and believe that a father – corrupt senator or not – would have gone to such lengths to get his 30-year-old daughter home for the reason that wasn’t entirely made clear other than she ‘should have stayed home’ instead of working in Afghanistan.

Still, the action and drama in Afghanistan was the book’s highlight, as well as the eye-opening descriptions that Clare had painstakingly taken to write about midwifery in a place where women are repressed and treated like sub-humans through Jenna’s experience.

‘Cobra Elite’ is still a series I’d love to see develop nonetheless. The establishing novel is not bad, though I’m hoping it’ll just get better from here.

three-stars

Her Deadly Secrets by Laura Griffin

Her Deadly Secrets by Laura GriffinHer Deadly Secrets by Laura Griffin
Series: Wolfe Security, #2
Published by Gallery Books on 2nd July 2019
Pages: 368
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two-half-stars

Private Investigator Kira Vance spends her days navigating the intricate labyrinth of Houston’s legal world, and she knows all of its shadowy players and dark secrets.
On a seemingly normal day, she’s delivering a report to her top client when suddenly everything goes sideways and the meeting ends in a bloodbath. Twenty-four hours later, the police have no suspects but one thing is clear: a killer has Kira in his sights.

Fiercely independent, Kira doesn’t expect—or want—help from anyone, least of all an unscrupulous lawyer and his elite security team. Instead, she launches her own investigation, hoping to uncover the answers that have eluded the police. But as Kira’s hunt for clues becomes more and more perilous, she realizes that she alone may hold the key to finding a vicious murderer. And she knows she must take help wherever she can find it if she wants to stay alive.

‘Her Deadly Secrets’ is the murder mystery aficionado’s sort of read—and a little different in than the usual Laura Griffin Tracers style—, as PI Kira Vance finds herself somewhat over her head investigating an associate’s murder and the hot-shot lawyer that she suddenly reports to.

But the security team that he’s called on her brings on a tagalong bodyguard that she resists, until it seems that what she’s looking at is a vicious killer who’s got her in his sights.

It’s a template that has been told many times before—variations on a theme in a way, that Kira Vance treads where many others have trodden before. As a police-procedural-type series with an intense focus on the unsolved crime, this works perfectly fine.

But the book’s billing as romantic suspense however, doesn’t, especially not when the romance has been written in awkwardly, with 2 people thrown together by force and then suddenly developing a romance when there’s a distinct lack of romantic chemistry between them.

For someone who expected a bit more of the latter after going through Griffin’s Tracers books, I was actually taken aback with surprise when the first kiss happened, left incredulous with anything that hinted of romance between them past the initial, weak attraction. In short, Kira/Jeremy as a pairing were sidelined here so much that I hesitated to even call this a connection (as hurriedly as it was developed) in favour of tying all the loose ends of the plot up.

It isn’t to say that the book isn’t written with Griffin’s usual aplomb: meticulously planned and executed with the kind of writing that pulls you in.

But the storytelling felt somewhat unbalanced—exciting at the start, only to head, rather frustratingly, into a lacklustre and sagging middle—along with a romance that hardly took off. In short, ‘Her Deadly Secrets’ is probably a book suited to those who prefer the journey of uncovering the whodunnit mystery than following the emotional development of the protagonists.

two-half-stars

Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert

Arctic Wild by Annabeth AlbertArctic Wild by Annabeth Albert
Series: Frozen Hearts #2
Published by Carina Press on 3rd June 2019
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three-stars

When a plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the best place to land is in the arms of a younger man…

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable—and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

I’m new to Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, so ‘Arctic Wild’ was sort of a pleasant surprise to me—something that didn’t involve her usual military stories and instead, dealt with the Alaskan wilderness was something I couldn’t resist trying out.

But then, there’s nothing too unpredictable about the story. You could see the train collision coming however; big-city silver fox, high-powered lawyer and Alaskan guy who has no love lost for the city, whose relationship started out as unwilling participant and tour guide until an unexpected plane crash forces them together in unexpected ways. Reuben Graham and Toby Kooly couldn’t be more different and they both know it.
Essentially, this was less of a survival-in-the-wilderness type of read than it was a slow-paced, grinding out the differences type of story as both Reuben and Toby drew closer (the latter has colder feet and more commitment issues than the former who longed for a connection) to each other. And as a result, I was more restless than usual at certain parts of the book, despite it being as close to a realistic m/m romance—there’s real life mirrored in there—as it could probably get the way I imagined it
I can’t exactly put my finger on what would have made it a more convincing romance for me—the sexy times are certainly not lacking—but perhaps the depth of Toby’s own feelings and commitment after Albert had so painstakingly painted him as a casual-sex person who slept around because he didn’t want any more burdens added to his life was what ironically made me doubt the feasibility of this pairing even by the HFN at the end.
So in all, a somewhat engaging but middling read—just wish I could have been more excited about this whole story.
three-stars

The Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson

The Friend Zone by Sariah WilsonThe Friend Zone by Sariah Wilson
Published by Montlake Romance on 11th June 2019
Pages: 304
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three-stars

Disgraced college quarterback Logan Hunt was on his way to NFL stardom when he messed up big-time. Now the Texas star player with a bad temper has a new option: Seattle’s EOL College—as in End of the Line, to his fellow misfit recruits. It’s Logan’s last chance. If he can follow the rules.

No parties, no fighting, no swearing, and oh, no dating the coach’s daughter, Jess. Simple. Yeah, right. For Logan, there has never been a rule he’s more tempted to break.

The deal is “just friends.” The pretty, confident, and fiercely smart math whiz is fine with pizza, tutoring, and keeping Logan in line. But the closer Jess gets, the more receptive she is to his warm heart and spirit—not to mention his irresistible off-field passes.

With defenses down, they’re both heading into the danger zone.

It’s more than thrilling. It’s love. It’s also a game changer that could sideline Logan’s NFL goals—and more important, a future with Jess. But dreams are worth fighting for, right?

Sariah Wilson’s ‘The Friend Zone’ harks back to a time when I remember YA/NA reads to be a lot more innocent and docile, both in speech and thoughts and deeds—or at least, when more risqué activities were kept firmly behind closed doors and stayed there, where the hottest things got were kisses and monologue-driven, self-actualising type of pining and many, many scorching looks.

It does take getting used to though, having this version of sparkly clean YA/NA sports romance graze my e-reader after being inured to a million sex scenes, to the uninhibited partying lifestyles of manwhore athletes and the women who prostrate themselves without care at their feet. So much so, that I kept wondering if Logan Hunt and Jess were going to go beyond censoring themselves and feeling hot under the collar after their bouts of denial, the chest-heaving sense of attraction, the running away and the pushing and pulling.

The answer, in short, is…no.

Wilson instead, does it the old school, slow-burn way: through friendship with some romantic, underlying tension and lets it grow and grow and…well, grow, with some bouts of humour in between. There isn’t a climax that ends up in torn clothes and smexy times (that did leave me somewhat disappointed anyhow) and with an ending that felt a little rushed and one that by-passed the physical nature of their relationship, I turned the last page still somehow wishing there had been more.

three-stars

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. TuckerSay You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 6th August 2019
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.

On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus, she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.

Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group Industries, and coincidentally the first love of her life.

The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counsellors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.

Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is not only alive but stronger than ever, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.

The rich girl—entitled and privileged and knows it while walking the fine line between being smug and modest about her status—with a guy on the wrong side of the tracks come together during a fateful summer camp? It sounds partway like ‘Grease’ with a bit of a twist and the added growing pains that still impact adulthood over a decade later. Or at least, there’s lots of nostalgic and wistful recollection of the days tainted rose-gold as people always fondly say ‘those were the days’ in reference to the years gone by.

The summer lovin’ that K.A. Tucker writes about between Kyle Miller and Piper Calloway sit fully in the New Adult category—there’s a huge element of teenagers simply trying being teenagers, testing and breaking every boundary just because they can—as past and present are simultaneously told in alternating chapters. And as with Tucker’s writing, the way to a happy-ever-after is paved with thorns and the ending always bittersweet, never one that’s allowed to be all sunshine and roses.

Painting Kyle/Piper’s teenage love as absolutely unforgettable even though their time together lasted just a few weeks allows Tucker to use this particular point in time as the base event to which everything in the present was tied to. However, reconnecting 13 years later with no contact between the 2 protagonists whatsoever was still a bit of a stretch for me, because the weight of the past didn’t feel momentous enough for me to buy into the fact that the teenagers who had grown into adults with diverging paths, changing priorities and life goals, still wanted what they had so long ago and for so short a time.

‘Say You Still Love Me’ is undoubtedly more layered and complex than the typical NA/YA novel that revolves around hormonal shenanigans. But it did feel a tad too long, filled with too many details that helped with the building dread of Kyle/Piper’s separation but didn’t seem fully relevant to the forward momentum and the big-reveal at the end. With a rushed HFN ending after the pages of build-up, I think I finished the story still mixed…needing a more concrete ending after the angst but not quite getting it.

three-stars

End Transmission by Robyn Bachar

End Transmission by Robyn BacharEnd Transmission by Robyn Bachar
Series: The Galactic Cold War, #3
Published by Carina, Carina Press on 20th May 2019
Pages: 170
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two-half-stars


Firefly
meets James Bond in this action-adventure romance set in an alternate future where the Cold War never ended…

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

As a syfy-novella, ‘End Transmission’ works pretty well. As someone who dove straight into this installment without having read the first 2 books in the series, Robyn Bachar’s world-building is intriguing, sort of easy to get into and pretty absorbing considering the alternate-earth direction that this series has taken and extrapolated. Split into 2 factions—the bad Soviets and the supposed not-bad camps—this extreme form of rivalry has extended into the space age where the initial Cold War rift had snowballed into something way, way bigger than anyone living in the present can imagine.

Still, the political tenets remain the same: conspiracy, espionage and undercutting, with a huge emphasis on intrigue and intelligence…issues that hardcore syfy books tend to reimagine, comment on, criticise and re-write. ‘End Transmission’ might revolve around a particular prototype designed for mind and behaviour-control coupled with several great inserts like a fake honeymoon, getting stuck in confined spaces with a so-called rival, but Bachar’s other books (as inferred) had already padded out so much that I was wondering just how much I’d missed out with some info-dump happening midway through.

I took an extraordinary long time to finish this nonetheless, skimming at times, caught between the perfunctory romance and the very detailed world that Bachar has written in this short novella.

As a syfy-story, ‘End Transmission’ is great, though as a romance, not so. Maria and Tomas seemed more at loggerheads (or simply, characters who just didn’t see eye to eye) minus the sizzling chemistry of an enemies-to-lovers vibe, with a switch suddenly flipping between them at the 3/4 mark that had me befuddled because I just couldn’t see it coming. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure they even liked each other despite the love declarations at the end—that much of a negative dynamic Maria/Tomas had that didn’t even have me rooting for their HEA or HFN.

In short, a middling read for me at least, though I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about their story.

two-half-stars

Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh

Wolf Rain by Nalini SinghWolf Rain by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity, #3, #3, Psy-Changeling #18
Published by Berkley on 4th June 2019
Pages: 416
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three-half-stars

The end of Silence was supposed to create a better world for future generations. But trust is broken, and the alliance between Psy, Changeling, and human is thin. The problems that led to Silence are back in full force. Because Silence fixed nothing, just hid the problems.

This time, the Psy have to find a real answer to their problems–if one exists. Or their race will soon go extinct in a cascade of violence. The answer begins with an empath who is attuned to monsters–and who is going to charm a wolf into loving her despite his own demons.

Nalini Singh’s über-popular Psy-Changeling series probably needs no introduction that far gone into its second series, set in the future when the Trinity Accord has been signed and a cautious peace has settled amongst the three races populating an alternate version of Earth.

The Psy-Changeling verse has expanded so much by this point that it’s practically impossible to jump into and rush through ‘Wolf Rain’ as a standalone. By and large, I did think Singh handled most aspects of the sheer size/weight of her own intricate world-building quite deftly here: the precarious juggle between the bonds of pack and romance and the weighted history that the races have, the larger, wider implications of the collapsing Psy-Net, the latent and new threats and the supporting characters who still have dedicated scenes for readers who can’t let them go.

‘Wolf Rain’ deals with the subtleties of the Psy, or rather, the subtleties of the Empaths who’d been cast aside who rose to prominence after the fall of Silence with the introduction of a rather aggravating, loud-broadcasting captive Empath Psy who simply doesn’t fit the designation E to a tee. After a quick look at other changeling groups in the first two books of this new season however, ‘Wolf Rain’ for this reason, feels oddly like a return to, or at least, a lateral expansion of the Snowdancer/Dark River-centric books where changelings shifters mostly get paired by with their former Psy enemies. Alexei Vasiliev Harte finds his mate in Memory here (battling a serial-killer at the same time) while sub-plots push forward the ongoing story of Psy-life after Trinity.

Every path is a hard-fought one, on the personal and the collective level—reflected by the longer than usual narrative—and needless to say, Alexei/Memory’s one is also a push-pull based on experience, insecurity and fear. Admittedly, this is a pairing that didn’t enthral me as much as Singh’s other couples and as a romance, didn’t quite live up to other pairings that had moved me a lot more…so this sort of impacted my rating of the overall story nonetheless.

Still, I liked the nuanced exploration of the fascinating PsyNet that draws so much from facets of computer networking and meta systems and that alone perhaps, makes ‘Wolf Rain’ worth it.

three-half-stars