Tag: Instalove Purgatory

Covert Vengeance by Kaylea Cross

Covert Vengeance by Kaylea CrossCovert Vengeance by Kaylea Cross
Series: Vengeance, #2
Published by Kaylea Cross Inc. on 30th July 2019
Pages: 232
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one-half-stars

Revenge came at a heavy price.

Valkyrie hacker Amber Brown is deadly in her own right, but her preferred weapon is a keyboard. So after her teammates left her for dead, she took her revenge the way she was trained to—swiftly and brutally. Except one of her targets might be innocent. To right that wrong, Amber vows to rescue the at-risk Valkyrie no matter the cost, and this time she’s working alone. So when a sexy stranger shows up in the middle of a firefight and announces he’s been sent by her sister, it’s going to take a whole lot more than his word to make her trust him.

Chasing redemption may prove deadly.

Elite gun for hire Jesse Cordova lives on the edge of the law. When a new job offer sets off warning bells, he digs deeper and finds the startling truth. The woman he’s been tasked with capturing is a secret government assassin, and Amber Brown is unlike any target he’s gone after before. But bringing her in opens them up to a whole new level of danger, pitting them against one of the most ruthless assassins in the world. Now that the sexy Valkyrie has stolen his heart, Jesse will risk everything to see their mission through—knowing that the only way this ends is with one of them dying.

I’m taking extraordinarily long with a Kaylea Cross book, which is unusual to say the least, which really meant that ‘Covert Vengeance’ was a massive disappointment on a scale that horrifies me, seeing how Cross used to be a staple of mine.

The series of avenging women out for blood is an intriguing one, but thus far, I think I’m simply reading variations on a theme about closed-off, distrustful and distant women who operate alone (aren’t bred for relationships and commitment, naturally) who finally find someone to trust—after a series of suspenseful events that typically involve some life-or-death scenarios. Like ‘Stealing Vengeance’, ‘Covert Vengeance’ traverses the same blurred lines of conspiracy theories and secret dealings though it’s a lot more toned down here without the particular rough edge that I associate with suspense writers.

Cross’s Valkyrie characters didn’t seem to carry the cloaking weight of tragedy or angst that I’d expected them to have; instead, Amber and Megan felt like brashly petulant characters bulldozing their way around to kill everyone who’d wronged them, to the point where they trampled over their own partners in their blazing self-righteousness to be judge, jury and executioner.

Jesse/Amber as a pairing was as well, a lukewarm one that felt forced and emotionless (though Cross does write steamy scenes) and a connection that, like Tyler/Megan, was made with inexplicable near-instant love—somehow, they are right for each other because they have similar occupations—because this is after all, romantic suspense. In short, I just didn’t feel it and no amount of espousing a character’s beauty/strength/determination—traits that could as well, be negatively interpreted as headstrong, foolish and plainly TSTL at times—helped change my mind about them.

Maybe the Valkyrie sisterhood is one that Cross attempts to highlight, though the bonds weren’t so tangible that I felt moved by them; neither did I even like the women characters at all, much less Amber, which kind of defeated the whole point of the book and the romance which was clearly meant to take centre-stage.

one-half-stars

War by Laura Thalassa

War by Laura ThalassaWar by Laura Thalassa
Series: The Four Horsemen, #2
Published by Independently Published on 11th July 2019
Pages: 502
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three-half-stars

They came to earth-Pestilence, War, Famine, Death-four horsemen riding their screaming steeds, racing to the corners of the world. Four horsemen with the power to destroy all of humanity. They came to earth, and they came to end us all.

The day Jerusalem falls, Miriam Elmahdy knows her life is over. Houses are burning, the streets run red with blood, and a traitorous army is massacring every last resident. There is no surviving this, especially not once Miriam catches the eye of War himself. But when the massive and terrifying horseman corners Miriam, he calls her his wife, and instead of killing her, he takes her back to his camp.

Now Miriam faces a terrifying future, one where she watches her world burn town by town, and the one man responsible for it all is her seemingly indestructible "husband". But there's another side to him, one that's gentle and loving and dead set on winning her over, and she might not be strong enough to resist.

However, if there's one thing Miriam has learned, it's that love and war cannot coexist. And so she must make the ultimate choice: surrender to War and watch humankind fall, or sacrifice everything and stop him.

The premise of the Four Horsemen (and the mortal women they find along the way) is an unusual one and it’s a massive read that you’ll need to hunker down with.

After going through ‘War’ and ‘Pestilence’, it does appear that the emerging pattern winding its way through the series will probably involve every horseman on the warpath of judgement and destruction while their mortal women fight to save the human race. But Laura Thalassa doesn’t shy away from brutality and perhaps that’s in part, what makes ‘War’ so difficult to put down as I made my way wide-eyed through the pages and saw things through Miriam Elmahdy’s eyes as they happened. The imagining of a post-apocalyptic world that burns and crumbles when wave after wave of destruction hits, where judgement is unrelentingly meted out by otherworldly beings is strangely, a seductive idea.

But it’s precisely here that I stumbled too. The biblical overtones—the title and the series say it all—made it impossible to ignore the eschatological implications of whatever one’s religious leanings might be about the end of the world. Still, whether theology or religion or whatever those beliefs are though, it could be harder for some more than others, I think, to swallow an author’s execution of the end times, hook, line and sinker.

The harder part to believe however, was that a long-lived ‘heavenly’ (manwhoring) creature got laid low by a young woman, then had his plans for riding through the earth and bringing death derailed because he fell in love and gained some measure of human emotion. That their heavenly mission so to speak, was eventually realised as a ‘wrong’ one made it seem like a negation of the idea of supernatural judgement—one that Thalassa pulled out so strongly from the start—and perhaps, a reversal of what the book was so strongly built on (and which I had already bought into) from the very start.

Thalassa hints at War and Miriam as broader types of war and love and that the reconciliation of these both as ideas and characters would mean some kind of catastrophic turn in the plot – and a turn there was. The irony was that as War shed his otherworldly beliefs and took on more empathetic human traits, the story lost a little more of its sheen for me at the very end.

The long and short of it is, suspension of disbelief is par for the course and if the middle sags a little with a bit of repetitive storytelling, the riveting last quarter most likely made up for it. ‘War’ is by and large, well-written, both in characterisation and the odd (meta) pockets of humour that peeked out of the pages—this is where the lengthy storytelling helped and very few of the scenes actually felt like page-fillers for the sake of…page-filling. But it succeeded in making me think, so in many ways, I’d say ‘War’ is quite the success.

three-half-stars

Black List by Lynn Raye Harris

Black List by Lynn Raye HarrisBlack List by Lynn Raye Harris
Series: Black's Bandits #1
Published by H.O.T. Publishing, LLC on 26th March 2019
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Jace Kaiser is a man without a country, without connection. His only loyalty is to the group who saved him, and the man who leads them.
Until her...

The assignment should have been easy. Capture a deadly assassin and take her to HQ. But flawed intel leads to disaster, and Jace abducts a beautiful art appraiser instead. Intrigued by her courage, he's drawn to her in ways he can't explain. Dr. Madeline Cole stood up to him, fought for her identity, and never backed down. She's the kind of woman he could fall for if it wasn't so dangerous--for her.

Then Maddy is targeted for elimination because she's the sole person who can identify the mysterious female assassin--and the only thing standing between her and certain death is the sexy mercenary who swears he'll die before he lets anything happen to her. As the passion between them ignites, it seems clear that keeping Maddy safe has become the most important assignment of Jace's life.

Even then, protecting her might not be enough--because Jace has secrets that could destroy them both. And someone is determined to unmask them all...

Ian Black has always been an enigmatic character in Lynn Raye Harris’s canon of H.O.T. men and the call for his book that has instead led to a whole new series—hopefully leading up to Black’s own story—that actually has me intrigued. The tone’s slightly different here, along with a lot more tight-lipped head nodding, the telling of lies and covert operations, just as the suspense and action are toned down a little more.

But the ‘Black List’, however, despite it revolving around Black’s shenanigans, his pivotal and black-op dabbling in international affairs and his merry group of men, was just a little more than lukewarm for me, despite the initial, exciting premise of mistaken identity, spies and double agents.

It was made clear that Jace Kaiser had a fractured history, but I think I would have liked a greater insight into his past than just the short retelling of what happened to him and his sister—a story that did in the end, turn out central to the entire plot. The focus however, on surveilling Madeline Cole and Jace’s very brazen attempt to seduce her instead, made the middle of the book flat for me, and pulled the story towards more instant lust than love. Or at least the journey from the former to the latter seemed to typically involve a streak of protective behaviour first that somehow translated into love after a very short period of time.

A main issue I’ve struggled with here, especially with a classic Lynn Raye Harris male protagonist is the sudden impetus to put roots down after a sudden, intense burst of action and adrenaline. How had Maddy’s blowjob ranked differently from the rest of the other women for Jace, despite the fact that he’d been given many blowjobs by women (which has got to be one of the most distasteful things I’ve ever read)? Had he simply fallen for her because he’d had a bit more time with her and had developed a need to protect her (keeping in mind that he’d had another one night stand just before meeting her)?

In any case, Maddy/Jace’s romance didn’t feel the most convincing of the lot that Harris had done so far—unbelievability played a huge part of it for me, at least like they hadn’t gone through enough together to be a rock-solid pairing I could get behind. The cloak and dagger business of Ian Black’s activities was also something I wanted more of but didn’t really get so it’s something I can only hope to see more in the next few books.

three-stars

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

Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett
Series: Team 52, #4
Published by Anna Hackett on 10th February 2019
Pages: 149
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three-half-stars

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers.

As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

‘Mission: Her Defense’ starts off as Kill Bill on steroids as cursed Japanese swords find themselves in the wrong hands, thus necessitating the need for Team 52 to step in. Though since it encroaches on Las Vegas Metropolitan Police turf, it means that Blair Mason and Luke Kincade cross paths (and later, body fluids) once again.

It’s not quite a rivalry between them that’s been sufficiently explained, but Blair/Luke’s fractious relationship is one that has been building for some time and is rather similar to Darcy Ward’s and Alastair Burke’s rival-to-lovers tale in the neighbouring ‘Treasure Hunter series’. Blair straddles the line between being fearless and foolhardy—the definition of bad-assery doesn’t necessarily have to extend to impulsively jumping into every fight scene—and there were too many moments when I thought ‘Slow down, woman, stop pushing away and stop being stupid!’ needed to be her mantra.

The story does start off awesomely exciting, though. With more blood-lust than the usual action blood-spilling scenes, incorporating mythology from Japanese sword-making, I was absorbed in the setup immediately, though it went a little flat for me later when the plausible scientific explanation that Hackett gave for the strange phenomenon occurring became a little too thick to swallow.

As with the typical Hackett read these days, there’s more than a hint of a quick slide into love (or lust?) before before both protagonists really get to know each other…but perhaps, the brevity of every story she puts out has made every pairing inevitably so, unless it has been one that has been hinted at over the course of several books. Still, I can’t deny that there are bits about Hackett’s other series that I miss more than her latest books, even if her imaginative writing is as strong as ever.

three-half-stars

Protecting Piper by Cynthia Eden

Protecting Piper by Cynthia EdenProtecting Piper by Cynthia Eden
Published by Hocus Pocus Publishing, Hocus Pocus Publishing inc. on 29th January 2019
Pages: 178
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two-stars

She was off limits.

Eric Wilde has always known that Piper Lane isn’t for him. She is his younger brother’s best friend…and probably more. But that hasn’t stopped Eric from wanting her. For longing for the one woman that he can’t have. Sure, he’s rich, successful—he’s built a security empire, and he’s got the world at his feet. Only he doesn’t have her.

He is the one man she needs the most.

Free-spirited Piper Lane has always considered Eric to be the enemy. He’s seemed to resent her, and the guy just flat-out makes her nervous. Every time she’s around him, she winds up doing something horribly embarrassing. But, this time…everything has changed. This time, he’s the one man she needs the most.

Something is stalking Piper.

A stranger has broken into Piper’s home twice, and she feels like someone is following her. Watching her every move. She needs a professional to help her—so enter Eric Wilde. He promises her protection, he promises to put his best investigators on her case, and he even moves her into his house. Suddenly, the guy who has always been the villain in her life…he’s now playing the role of hero.

Everything will change as the danger mounts.

And maybe Eric isn’t so bad, after all. The more time that Piper spends with him, the more she realizes that her feelings for Eric are far more complicated that she ever imagined. Desire explodes between them even as the danger deepens around her. Someone in the dark is targeting Piper, and he is determined that if he can’t possess her…then he will destroy her.

‘Protecting Piper’ was one I was eager to read, seeing how it was not tied to any of the long-running Cynthia Eden series at all and that it does have the best friend’s brother’s trope (and the sort of liking each other from afar) in it.

Apart from the very quick suspense setup that Piper Lane had a stalker, the first half however, was off-putting.

And that was mostly in part due to Eric Wilde who acted the epitome of the bully who couldn’t use his words to pursue the girl, who bulldozed and snarled his way through every man who came near to Piper when he didn’t throughout all the years he’d known her.

That Eden played up the double standard here —having Eric question the number of lovers Piper had while he screwed around with tons of others—was rather infuriating, along with the juvenile behaviour Eric displayed of tormenting her because he supposed loved her from afar, while not manning up to do anything about it until she was in danger. Having Piper going inexplicably from teenage crush to dislike to all-in love made the inconsistencies in the characters’ emotional development even starker.

Eden’s rather simple whodunnit novella would have been more enjoyable I think, had there not been her trademark overuse of ex-lovers always circling the pond and muddying the waters between the protagonists. ‘Protecting Piper’ became a less-than-stellar read as a result, where the romance was reduced to sudden realisations that they’d been idiots all along while ex-lovers rigorously defended as meaningless.

two-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