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Deceiver by Robin Lovett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 23rd June 2017
Deceiver by Robin LovettDeceiver: A Dark Revenge Romance by Robin Lovett
Series: Dark Stalker #2
Published by Swerve on July 11th 2017
Pages: 215
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two-stars

The plan was to ruin a man’s life. Not seduce the man’s daughter. But sometimes, the unlikeliest of people becomes the target. And sometimes revenge can make a man vulnerable in ways he didn’t know existed…

I’m bored. Tired of my meaningless life. The garden parties, the white sundresses, and politely saying “no” to the sliver of cake—it’s the life my mother and father wanted for me, worked tirelessly for me to have. And the monotony makes me reckless.

But when I go to Blake Vandershall’s party, his dark, menacing eyes and his hard, unyielding stare make me want things that have never been offered to me before. He’s the type who would ravish you in your father’s law office. The kind who would lie without blinking an eye in order to get what he wants.

And the repressed bad girl in me wants to give him what he needs.

**

Daisy Nowell is nothing to me.

I don’t care that underneath that blue-blood lifestyle, she’s burning to be unleashed. My victim is her father—the one man who had the chance to save my mother from a brutal fate. The coward did nothing, and it’s my turn to make his life a living hell.

He’s about to lose his precious daughter to me, a man whose sole mission is to destroy him. I’ll do anything, say anything, in order to tear this woman from her safe life as I hurtle down my path towards destruction. But I didn’t count on her seeing through me. I didn’t count on her tapping into my weaknesses, pushing my dark heart in ways I don’t want. Ways I hate.

I need to find a way to exact my vengeance and leave this all behind. Before this woman ruins me for good.

A revenge plot—of enemies to lovers—turns one of my reading screws, always.

But after the somewhat abrupt ending of the previous book—with a pairing that was difficult to buy into—I was rather hesitant about this one when the opening of ‘Deceiver’ was just as awkward and abrupt and seemingly without context: Blake Vandershall hosts a party to lure Daisy Novell in through seduction as part of his scheme to bring her father down. Like the first book, there’s a close stalker element to this as well, as Blake mows down the Lovells’ carefully-constructed lives and exults in it.

What I couldn’t really understand was how Daisy couldn’t quite see through his scheme or remain stubbornly oblivious to it, as Blake wasn’t at all subtle about it—that much she needed to cut herself free of the stifling lifestyle she lived that any ol’ distraction would do? In fact, I wondered why she wasn’t too suspicious, and was astounded even, when she dallied, played the game and flirted without quite having any 6th sense that something was off with Blake when he’d pretty much revealed he knew all about her and her family. Yet all it takes is an orgasm very early on to have Blake remorseful about his own behaviour while the simmering anger that he seems to carry around is enough to turn Daisy on.

Daisy in essence, is attracted to an arse of a man (which might be a trigger for some) but as the blurb unapologetically goes, don’t expect any ‘normal’ romance character traits here. As with a story like this, the turn from enemies to lovers can’t simply be an uneasy truce with sex thrown in for me; it’s made all the more difficult because I need more than the usual convincing that such a pairing—while not all sunshine and roses—is a viable one and it’s what I’ll be looking out for. To some extent they are the perfect pair in a twisted manner of speaking, as one uses the other for their own selfish motives consciously: Daisy as a means to break out of her caged life and Blake who uses her as an outlet.

Seen in this light, ‘Deceiver’ probably succeeds and for that reason, I’m not sure how to rate this read. But take a chance on this if you like hate (and taunting-type) sex, ambiguous and deviant relationships that defy every trope you like in romance.

two-stars

Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

two-stars

The Story of Us by Tara Sivec

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Military/Paramilitary/ New Adult/ Reviews 15th June 2017
The Story of Us by Tara SivecThe Story of Us by Tara Sivec
Published by Forever Yours on June 11th 2017
Pages: 336
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three-stars

How much can a man take before he breaks?

1,843 days. That's how long I survived in that hellhole. They tried to break me, but I resisted. And I owe it all to the memory of warm summer nights, the scent of peaches, and the one woman who loved me more than I ever deserved to be loved. Now, I'll do anything to get back to her.

Only Shelby Eubanks isn't the girl I left behind all those years ago. She's someone else, a stranger. My Shelby-my little green-eyed firecracker-would never give up her dreams, would never disappear into her mother's ambitions. But I won't give up on her. On us. I may be broken, and scarred, and not the man I used to be, but I will do whatever it takes to remind her of the story of us.

High (or melo)drama and a convoluted back story make this a soap-opera-worthy kind of read, complete with a flood of tears and tons of yelling, so much so that it’s easy to forget that adults are behaving that way—some of it’s even justified—or that teenage hormonal angst is doing all the talking instead.

‘The Story of Us’ is not just about a prisoner-of-war returning to find that things have changed drastically. It’s sort of a second-chance type romance, but with layers of deception and manipulation that made this read a mountain full of angst as both Eli and Shelby vacillated between heaving sobs and tearful promises never to let each other go again.

The long and short of it is, there are so many parts to their story and each part could have a whole book on its own. In fact, I think I would have liked to have read more of Eli/Shelby during their tumultuous stable boy and post-college years, rather than have it retold in bits and pieces or as flashbacks and letters which pretty much broke the narrative for me. I wanted to see the build-up, the breaking tension and the subsequent falling apart as a whole, but having it interwoven into the present made it more confusing as I spent the time instead, trying to put things together on my own instead of focusing on the emotion and the relationship between them. More so, the huge twist that was thrown in lost its full impact because of the disjointedness of the narrative. Mix this up with severe PTSD, a parent-plot type conspiracy and a series of coincidences and a villainous ex-fiancé (whose clout with the top brass could apparently affect deployments? really?) who seemingly disappeared down the line just when I thought it was going to come together, it all ended, way too abruptly before I could digest anything.

It’s an intense read nonetheless—my issues with it aside—though the sheer amount of tragedy and drama would be better suited to those who like the introspective type of storytelling, with loads of emotion that roll off the pages without letting up. And if you’re that kind who goes for these? Get your tissues ready.

three-stars

Burning Love by Trish Morey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

two-stars

The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

three-stars

Stranger: A Dark Stalker Romance by Robin Lovett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Mystery/Crime/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 4th June 2017
Stranger: A Dark Stalker Romance by Robin LovettStranger: A Dark Stalker Romance by Robin Lovett
Series: Dark Stalker #1
Published by SMP Swerve on June 13th 2017
Pages: 300
Buy on Amazon
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three-stars

This isn’t supposed to be a love story. This is not the kind of book where a girl gets swept off her feet. Where the hero is her knight in shining armor. This is a novel about ruining someone’s life. But even the simplest plans for revenge can go wrong.

I like the way he watches me, this man I don’t know. It’s something I’ll never confess to, never tell a soul. But with one look of those penetrating eyes, I feel as if he’s unwrapped me, turned me inside out, rubbed away at my trust-fund-holding, good-girl exterior until I’m raw and exposed.

He looks like he wants to destroy me. Like he wants to obliterate me and my shallow, perfect life until there’s nothing left.
And once I meet Logan, the crazy part is, I want him to.

***

I hate Penny Vandershall.
I hate her money and her family and her privilege. I hate her innocence and her smile and her shine. I want to annihilate her lightness and consume her with my darkness, my anger, my red-hot rage until there is nothing left of her.
I know the truth about her, the truth that will make it easy to bring her down. To ruin her for good. But through the blinding haze of my hatred, my burning need for revenge, she's starting to get to me. She looks at me in wide-eyed fear, like a girl approaching the tiger’s cage. And yet she refuses to walk away; edging closer until she can meet the beast who wants to rip her apart.
And even though I set out to ruin her, she may be the one to destroy me.

‘Stranger’ quite boldly goes where many romances don’t go, with its questionable take on love (if anyone can even call it that) and revenge that comes in the form of blackmail with sexual gratification and revelation of information as the bartering currency. The subversiveness in the blurb appealed from the start and but it did cross some boundaries into the darker aspects of sex and ‘love’ while juggling some mystery and suspense, so it’s probably not for those who prefer cute reads.

’Stranger’ is a no-holds-barred version of lust, hate and destruction, that much I get and accept and even like because of how far this actually deviates from the enemies-to-lovers trope. Robin Lovett does write—believably—about the blurred boundaries between depravity, pleasure and despair, and how freedom, no matter how fleeting, can be found in the most unexpected places with the worst kind of people. Logan and Penny, for most part, are caught in this downward spiral of hate sex and denial and I did wonder how they were both going to come out of this drama created out of their own making, let alone find that HEA.

Instead, this cycle goes on for pages without really getting to the heart of the mystery and it ultimately proved frustrating. Disclosure were slow in coming and I had questions that weren’t ever quite addressed fully even by the end of the book, all of which contributing to the stuttering pacing that did weaken the story’s overall impact for me.

Why had Penny fallen so easily to Logan’s blackmail without even thinking of asking to see factual evidence of what Logan was accusing her dead father of—before agreeing to marry him just so he could have access to her trust fund? Why didn’t she call the police which would have been a natural reaction, it seems, for most people, when she realised he was stalking her? Was Logan’s endgame really only to get Penny’s money after years of plotting, despite his saying that it as to destroy her family and her too facile? And if so, why had he waited until her father died to exact his revenge?

There is nonetheless, a thread of tension and wariness that never goes away by the end, although there is, to some extent, some depth of character that accounts for my rating of the story. Penny’s self-centered world of denial did shatter when Logan revealed his version of the reality she never could accept, though I would have liked it better if Penny had tried figuring out her own mind and emotions rather than constantly struggling and bouncing between her brother and Logan, whose aggression and dominance did seem too much for her. Yet I couldn’t help but feel Logan remained as shady as ever (his past was never really revealed) and all he seemed to be was a poor man of vengeance dressed as a beach bum, whose future was always in doubt, right up to the cliffhanger end which pretty much confirmed that the story arc was far from finished.

three-stars

Arm Candy by Jessica Lemmon

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 1st June 2017
Arm Candy by Jessica LemmonArm Candy by Jessica Lemmon
Series: Real Love #2
Published by Loveswept on September 5th 2017
Pages: 191
Buy on Amazon
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two-stars

Davis:
I’ve had my eye on Grace Buchanan for a while now. Unlike the bubbly blondes I usually date, the feisty, flame-haired bartender both intrigues and bewilders me. Something about Grace—the tattoos? the nose ring?—makes every part of me sit up and beg. There’s only one problem: She hates me. Trading insults and one-liners has become our M.O. But when Grace bets me that I can’t get a date with a non-blonde if my life depends on it, I’m determined to prove her wrong by landing the ultimate non-blonde: her.
Grace:
I’m used to regulars hitting on me, and I’ve turned them all down, except for one: Davis Price. I like giving him a hard time, and he’s kind of cute in his suit and tie—if you’re into that kind of thing. Anyway, I don’t care how many blondes he takes home . . . until one of them sidles up to him in my bar. Nuh-uh. But after my little bet with Davis backfires, our first date lands us in the sack. So does the second. And the third. Neither of us wants more than the best sex of our lives. The trouble is, it’s not a question of what I want. It’s what I need. And what I need is Davis.

Jessica Lemmon’s sassy, confident writing is what had me requesting this ARC, though this turned out to be yet another chick-lit book that disappointed me with its predictability from start to finish, with main characters that are dime a dozen in the romance genre. 2 non-committal people make the (rather cynical) sex-only agreement, then find out they could be more thereafter, though it was an uphill climb to believe that genuine trust, respect and love could blossom out of chemistry in the bedroom and months of foreplay, as it always is when sex is done and out of the way so very early on in the story.

Admittedly though, the rating reflects a case of my liking a main character and intensely disliking the other—rather than the quality and style of Lemmon’s writing itself. Davis has had his heartbroken a few years ago and the default mode (as with most male protagonists in the romance genre, being cowardly and gun-shy after that) he goes back to after that wedding incident is being a manwhore about his dates and being unapologetic about deliberately living in an environment where he and the rest of the women can walk away after sex before anything can begin. It’s his way of ‘killing time’ supposedly, but no matter how Davis tries to rationalise it to convince himself that Grace is worth it, I couldn’t quite buy the fact that he wanted it all simply after a bet that Grace has impulsively taken up.

My own personal biases against such players do prevent me from liking protagonists like Davis, whose shallowness I couldn’t get over—the offering of the ‘Davis’ package then flaunting his hookups just to get Grace to take up a bet was quite the last straw which I found more sleazy than charming. It was in short, difficult to think of Davis as something other than a huge cliché whose background and personal history dictate his behaviour with women and his escort-like packages and frankly, it was more of a turn-off than anything else. Grace on the other hand, is as jaded as Davis and yet there seemed to be more nuances to her character, although her own fear of commitment—for different reasons other than Davis’s ones—certainly isn’t hampered by her falling prey to Davis’s charm.

In short, without a grounding belief that Davis and Grace could work together, the rest of the story was hard to follow through when I stayed sceptical of them throughout when both characters seemed at various points in time, to have a foot out the door because fear, as always, took control up until the very end. ‘Arm Candy’ was unfortunately, a story that left me frustrated and less than enthused, because it simply felt like another variation of 2 people getting invested in each other after getting the best-of-their-lives-smexy times.

two-stars
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