Tag: Indifferent shrugs

Taken by Rebecca Zanetti

Taken by Rebecca ZanettiTaken by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Deep Ops #1.5
Published by Zebra on 30th April 2019
Pages: 111
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three-stars

Hunter Holt might be the most stubborn ex-soldier ever born, but when he’s called on to help find a lost foster kid, he jumps into action. Even if it means working with the woman who broke his heart five years ago—the woman who still haunts his dreams . . .

Faye Smith has spent five long years trying to get her life back on track. She knows she should’ve turned toward Hunter and not away from him. But they both had too many demons to destroy. Maybe now they’ll get another chance—and save someone else’s life too . . .

But first they’ll have to stop arguing long enough to trust the Deep Ops team. Hunter was a lost boy himself once. In fact, he ran away from the exact same man, their monster of a father. Now he and Faye will have to unite to find the brother he never knew—and maybe each other . . .

As a side-story of Rebecca Zanetti’s Deep Ops series, ‘Taken’ is pretty much a compact standalone as Raider Tanaka’s old friends take the stage in a short, second-chance romance.

In this case however, the brevity of the story probably made me less engaged than I could have been, since this felt as though it could have been a full-length book and had lost so much because it wasn’t. All we know is that Hunter Holt and Faye Smith had once been together; she’d split five years ago and is now back to get him to search for his teenage half-brother he’d never known existed. In fact, I felt as though I’d been missing a big chunk of their backstory—the breakup, the —even though it was sort of told in a few lines what had happened to Faye and Hunter.

Coming back together in the midst of the search, then pledging themselves to each other again after scorching sexy times or talking things through to re-cement their broken bond just seemed too easy, too soon…too coincidental. Would Faye really have searched Hunter back out had it not been for this incident when she’d done nothing for five years? As a result, Faye/Hunter were a pairing that seemed to happen only again because unexpected circumstances forced them back again, rather than a pairing that actively wanted to solve the problems that had first rent them apart while finding their way back to each other again—a rather common occurrence in the second-chance romance trope that typically leaves me feeling scratchy on the inside.

There’s no denying that Zanetti writes pretty well though, but what constantly threw me off were the strange and awkward inserts of humour that broke the intensity of what would have been otherwise an enthralling narrative. In here, it come in the form of out-of-the-blue humour, even odder animal behaviour and weird pick-up lines that bad-ass characters spout, incongruous to what you think they might behave.

In short, ‘Taken’ was pretty much what I thought it would be—no big surprises and not entirely a let-down either but not something I could really get excited about…at least not while Raider’s story is in the making.

three-stars

Still Burning by Leora Gonzales

Still Burning by Leora GonzalesStill Burning by Leora Gonzales
Series: Braving the Heat, #3
Published by Lyrical Press on 28th May 2019
Pages: 227
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two-stars

Sasha Kendall grew up in a family of firefighters. So when she falls hard for Jack Turner, her brother’s best friend and fellow firefighter, everyone's thrilled. But when her brother is killed in the line of duty, Sasha knows she can’t handle another loss. Jack will have to choose between her and his career . . .

Jack knew Sasha was meant for him right away—the same way he knew he was meant to fight fires and saves lives. Letting Sasha go was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. But even though she left town, he’s never given up hope that heat between them still burns . . .

Four years later, Jack and Sasha meet again at a friend’s wedding—older, wiser, and hotter than ever. Will they flame out, or do they finally have what it takes to keep their love alive for good . . .

Coming straight into this particular story without having read the previous books, the setup of the ‘Still Burning’ isn’t difficult to grasp: there’s the death of a firefighter, some grieving and a breakup—written and done in short order in the first chapter before the story picks up again 4 years later.

And this is on me, really, not having realised that this was a second-chance romance that had iffy conditions surrounding a pairing’s reunion when I requested this book. Mea culpa.

But I suppose having a protagonist rub you the wrong way didn’t bode well for the entire read at all.

There just weren’t enough emotional peaks and troughs in what I thought could have been a turbulent, heartfelt reunion between a couple who split so suddenly. I get it—the death of a loved one can make people do things. Stupid things or otherwise. But I didn’t feel it too much here, sadly, except for the gross injustice Sasha dealt Jack when she upped and left and cut off all frantic contact with him the the next 4 years, without much that she needed to make up for even when they finally met again.

That Jack suddenly muscled back in on her date out of the blue in 4 years, asking to try again, without the breathless feels, the awkwardness and the backlog of pain and angst took me by surprise for starters, at how…too easy it all went. And having come across as rash, selfish and impulsive after breaking up with Jack over the fact that Sasha couldn’t date another firefighter, to the extent where it was ‘easier’ to suffer a break up than risk him dying, playing the non-committal woman the second time around who just didn’t do enough to fight for a relationship made it all tank for me. I mean, should that poor man really do all the work here?

Throw in some odd and perplexing time jumps past their reunion, the unresolved arson case, and the unwelcome intrusion of a psychotic ex-girlfriend to stir up more drama and I was about done with the bumpy reading experience. That Jack hadn’t moved on properly, so to speak, with an insane woman stalking him and creating more drama—using the villainous ex as a plot device to steer the reader’s attention to how Sasha’s the only one for him-didn’t sit well at all.

Needless to say, ‘Still Burning’ didn’t work out as a good read for me. I’d hoped I was getting a brother’s-best-friend kind of trope, but hey, failing to read the blurb properly after the initial excitement of seeing another firefighter story? That’s my fault.

two-stars

Royally Endowed by Emma Chase

Royally Endowed by Emma ChaseRoyally Endowed by Emma Chase
Series: Royally, #3
Published by Emma Chase LLC on 14th August 2017
Pages: 211
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three-stars

Logan St. James is a smoldering, sexy beast. Sure, he can be a little broody at times—but Ellie Hammond’s willing to overlook that. Because, have you seen him??

Sexy. As. Hell.

And Ellie’s perky enough for both of them.

For years, she’s had a crush on the intense, gorgeous royal security guard—but she doesn’t think he ever saw her, not really.

To Logan, Ellie was just part of the job—a relative of the royal family he’d sworn to protect. Now, at 22 years old and fresh out of college, she’s determined to put aside her X-rated dreams of pat-downs and pillow talk, and find a real life happily ever after.

The Queen of Wessco encourages Ellie to follow in her sister’s footsteps and settle down with a prince of her own. Or a duke, a marquis…a viscount would also do nicely.

But in the pursuit of a fairy tale ending, Ellie learns that the sweetest crushes can be the hardest to let go.

Logan St. James grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, in a family on the wrong side of the law. But these days, he covers his tattoos and scars with a respectable suit. He’s handsome, loyal, brave, skilled with his hands and…other body parts.

Any woman would be proud to call him hers.

But there’s only one woman he wants.

For years he’s watched over her, protected her, held her hair back when she was sick, taught her how to throw a punch, and spot a liar.

He dreams of her. Would lay down his life for her.

But beautiful Ellie Hammond’s off-limits.

Everybody knows the bodyguard rules: Never lose focus, never let them out of your sight, and never, ever fall in love.

I’m leery of getting into royalty-type, aristocratic stories.

There you have it, my confession. Not just because royalty stereotypes tend to mirror the British royal folks too much (writ large, with many liberties taken especially with the playboy princes), but because I’ve also a huge hang-up when the series revolves around a fake country – where the hell is Wessco? – that pops up in my own mental map of the world.

I decided to give Emma Chase another go years later, when ‘Tangled’ just didn’t work out for me, but also because ‘Royally Endowed’ involves peripheral characters who are associated with the royal line and not the royals themselves. It’s essentially, a bodyguard and mark love story written along New Adult lines with the ongoing fairy-tale of princes and castles already in full swing.

And in short, there were parts that I liked despite the predictable journey: Ellie Hammond and Logan St. James were clearly made for each other despite dancing around for 5 years. The sudden tumble into hurried confessions and scorching sexy times did kind of work after the slow, slow burn.

Yet there were parts that were cringeworthy (getting it on in the throne room without security cameras?!) and too ridiculous to buckle down and believe. Chase’s execution of Ellie/Logan’s 5-year-ride was done bumpily, with small developments at several points in the journey that didn’t seem significant enough to record – basically, with several scenes that I thought should be shown rather than told and vice versa.

That said, Chase’s writing is easy to get through within a few hours or arm-chair travelling to ‘Wessco’: there’s enough fire between these two to keep the burn going and if the bottomline of romantic fiction is to produce a pairing that readers can and want to get behind, then I’d say ‘Royally Endowed’ has got it made.

three-stars

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker

The Austen Playbook by Lucy ParkerThe Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities #4
Published by Carina Press on 30th April 2019
Pages: 400
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three-stars


Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

Sometimes I pity Jane Austen and sometimes I think she’s got it all…a few hundred years too late. Think of the number of works of hers that so many have twisted, manipulated, adapted, lovingly massaged and downright massacred through the years and the poor gal should be turning in her grave, or exulting in her posthumous fame.

With a title like ‘The Austen Playbook’, you suspect you know what you’re in for.

Rife with Austen, classic-lit and pop-culture references (not to have Austen meta would have been a sin), I was tickled from the start with the parallel of Darcy’s dissing of Elizabeth as belly-gutting arts critic James Ford-Griffin unknowingly cut Freddy Carlton open in a noisy pub with his analysis of her acting—but that’s barely a hint of where the story will lead.

But the love-hate, actor-critic relationship gets a revamp when they are unwittingly reunited on Griff’s estate along with bitchy reality-tv-series-type drama, a rather mad discovery big-time plagiarism (the sins of the fathers) and unexpected lust/lust coming into play.

Parker’s writing is undoubtedly unique: assured, wry, quirky and with banter that is lofty, sneaky and full of high-brow snark. But admittedly sometimes hard to get through when all you want is straightforward talk minus the distracting character movements, turnarounds and exaggerated descriptions. For this reason, Griff and Freddy, like all of Parker’s characters, are eloquent, always know what to say and sometimes say the unexpected.

I loved the starting quarter, but my attention dipped when talk went deep into secondary characters, the protagonists’ relatives (don’t get me started on the convoluted history) then perked again Parker introduces the attraction between Griff and Freddy with hallowed tenderness.

There were some surprises by the end of it—veering sometimes into the unbelievable—but it was all fodder for entertainment, more so because Parker has made this book about acting, writing and celebrity gossip after all. Ultimately, there were parts of the story I liked and some not too much, but if you’re in because you like a particular writing style like Parker’s, then ‘The Austen Playbook’ should do it for you.

three-stars

Keeping a Warrior by Melanie Hansen

Keeping a Warrior by Melanie HansenKeeping a Warrior by Melanie Hansen
Series: Loving a Warrior #2
Published by Carina, Carina Press on April 22nd 2019
Pages: 264
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three-stars

Sometimes the only hope for the walking wounded is in each other’s arms.

Devon Lowe is a survivor.

A survivor of war. Of combat. And of a betrayal by men she considered her brothers-in-arms. But her trailblazing work as a Cultural Support Team member working alongside the navy SEALs is too important for her to back down now.

Fresh off a painful breakup, air force pararescueman Rhys Halloran recognizes Devon’s trauma for what it is—something that’s left her isolated but far from irreparably damaged.

With Devon’s trust still lying shattered back in Afghanistan, putting her faith in a man who’s nursing a broken heart isn’t easy. But she’s tired of people making her feel weak, and Rhys makes her feel anything but, sparking a heated attraction that was never part of the plan.

With all eyes on Devon to prove herself in a brutal man’s world, having it all will mean putting her heart on the line like never before. But when it comes to Rhys, it’s an uphill battle she’s ready to fight.

Melanie Hansen is a new author to me and I hadn’t really known what to expect with ‘Keeping a Warrior’ when I got into it, only that it was heavily woman-focused, so to speak, despite it being touted as a military romance.

Much of this ended up being a story about Devon Lowe as a solitary woman in a testosterone-driven man’s world and in this role-reversal—her love ‘em, leave ‘em ways, her sometime-recklessness, her prickly behaviour, calling the shots and all—, Hansen eagerly showcases her capability in the military and how she can excel in every training exercise that all the men can do. There’s plenty of action, a close look at how the platoon trains, the SEAL brotherhood and the assumed places of men and women in the military, which can be quite engaging.

And it’s all written—uniquely, you might say—through the eyes of a woman and how she copes with all of it.

If it isn’t a nod to girl-power or the #metoo movement, I don’t know what it is. Cheering for the constant insistence on female equality aside however, I wasn’t used to, or frankly, wasn’t sure if I liked what I thought of as the role reversal, of an alpha heroine in the driving seat all the time and an admiring and smitten beta hero who mostly defers to her.

I’ve nothing but admiration for Hansen’s attempt to focus on sexual assault in the military and its impact on women in particular but the constant dick-waving and posturing got me tired, including—yes, shoot me for it—Devon’s every attempt to one-up the men in trying to prove herself worthy with a very slow-burn romance on the side as Rhys Halloran struggles with his own failed relationship and takes his own form of baby steps around Devon.

In fact, I liked the volatile, cutting sexual tension between Matt/Shane more than I liked the Devon/Rhys pairing. Even as a secondary, estranged pairing (I hadn’t read their story in the first book, which is making me want to check them out now), they were the show-stealers and every fraught moment between them made me want more. As a result, ‘Keeping a Warrior’ left me with very mixed feelings, especially since I was more invested in the secondary characters more than the protagonists.

three-stars

Covert Games by Katie Reus

Covert Games by Katie ReusCovert Games by Katie Reus
Series: Redemption Harbor, #6
Published by KR Press, LLC on 22nd January 2019
Pages: 194
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three-stars

She was supposed to be a means to an end…

Redemption Harbor Consulting’s greatest enemy, Alexei Kuznetsov, is in their sights. For RHC cofounder Leighton, toppling the treacherous criminal’s empire is one more small step toward making up for his own past. To destroy Kuznetsov, he’ll go through the Russian’s niece, a woman Leighton suspects may also be guilty of dirty deeds. A woman he doesn’t count on wanting…who boils his blood and makes Leighton want things he doesn’t deserve with someone he can’t have.
Now she’s everything to him…

Despite other prospects, family loyalty has Lucy Carreras running one of her uncle’s prosperous hotels. But the longer she observes its operations, the more she believes the elegant establishment is host to some shady exploits. When her suspicions are confirmed by Leighton—a dangerous man straight out of her fantasies—Lucy’s entire world explodes when she learns just how evil her uncle’s sins are. Now she can’t stand by and let it continue. She and Leighton will take Alexei down together…if they can survive the deadly storm hurtling toward them.

I’ve noticed a trend with the Redemption Harbor series thus far: each time there’s a new release, I eagerly get to it, starting out voraciously until my excitement peters out towards the middle when the peaks and troughs seem a little glossed over. At least, it has been happening with this series of books; it’s like an endless hoping for the book to be a good one based on the exciting blurb, only for it to go somewhat flat by the end.

‘Covert Games’ is a fraternising-with-the-enemy-type of read, though Katie Reus doesn’t quite get the drama overblown at all. There’s always the sense that things are reined in before the deception between the protagonists gets far gone or before the story gets turned into an angst-heavy kind of drama (the adulting in this however, is a plus point), though the instant love/lust came inexplicably out of nowhere between Leighton and Luciana.
Reus does deal with some heavy topics here and these do take priority in the story—it’s the suspense at least, that drives it along. Which might make the romance feel a little more incidental. There are some things in Leighton’s past that make him detached, but it’s not quite explored thoroughly and Luciana’s own childhood fears and suspicions are dealt with in a stroke of sorts in a defining incident that suddenly puts her on the opposing side of it all.
‘Covert Games’ isn’t a bad read at all, I’ll have to say. But this holding pattern of ‘starting high, tapering off’ is something I’m still hoping to break (endless optimism much?) with the next one to come.
three-stars

The Crush Collision by Danielle Ellison

The Crush Collision by Danielle EllisonThe Crush Collision by Danielle Ellison
Series: Southern Charmed #2
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Crush) on 18th February 2019
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three-stars

Haley Howell has had a hopeless crush on her brother’s best friend, Jake Lexington, for as long as she can remember. Too bad to him, she’ll forever be off-limits. But with senior year and acceptance to a college outside their tiny southern town of Culler, South Carolina, comes new confidence. Haley’s ready to get Jake to notice her—whatever it takes.

No one in Culler notices the real Jake anymore—to them, he’s nothing more than the star football player or the kid with the family tragedy. When one mistake lands him in mandatory community service, he’s shocked to find his best friend’s little sister there, too. Jake’s looking for an escape; Haley’s looking for a chance. Together, they’ll find exactly what they need...if only they’re willing to cross that line and risk it all.

To say that I’m reading ‘The Crush Collision’ to get my rare YA fix is partially correct, but the truth is probably closer to the fact that I do like the best friend’s sister/brother kind of trope, which throws in a hint of the forbidden or the unrequited.

‘The Crush Collision’ follows this particular trajectory. Embroiled in his own turmoil, Jake’s grades and social life are suffering and with alcohol as a constant companion, all he can see in front of him is football, his spiralling life…and a girl who’d always been in his orbit but never more than a distant friend. On the other hand, Hayley is determined to let people know that he’s just having a hard time and is misunderstood, then later makes a mountain of a molehill of how Jake should not incidentally be better for her, when she argues that he should do it for himself…and not put it on her for it.

The lady doth protesteth too much, me thinks.

I wasn’t too sure I could empathise with the minute details and the exhaustive analysis of a teen’s every action to see if this was a demonstration of whether ‘he likes me or he likes me not’, along with peer-pressure and overthinking and the prerequisite teenage angst. Then again, it’s a YA read, and Danielle Ellison does capture the voices right—it’s definitely a switch of gear downwards from the more adult romances that I dive into (I had to do some mental readjustments after all), when all that the protagonists are worried about are how their friends perceive them and their relationship.

three-stars